Context: It’s the middle of November. I’ve been living in Nova Scotia now for almost 3 months, 2 months in my current home, nearly a month now with my girlfriend Jess and our dog Spencer all officially living in Halifax, and over 2 months enrolled in the BEDS program.
The month of October was a whirlwind. It’s starting to become difficult to describe my experience here at architecture school – there is so much to talk about, yet there are little words to articulate the whole thing. At the most basic level, the amount of stuff I’ve learned is so large it’s very difficult to explain. The environment in the studio is a catalyst for you to push your boundaries, and push everyone else’s. You quickly learn who’s invested in the program because you see their faces over and over, every day, and all day. You design, you study, you go to class, and you talk architecture. And when you aren’t doing any of those things, you still study (design software, architects, architectural history, reading, watching, thinking). Many times during the day I find my mind wanders and starts to think about design again. You live architecture, and you breath architecture.
The biggest lesson I learned this last month is that design is hard. The reality is, unfortunately, that design is not a romantic endeavour – design is messy, and it’s a lot of work. In fact, just last week I hit a total wall during my own design. Let me explain…
The final project for the term is to design a response pavilion to a site we studied earlier in the term. For example, I studied Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals (Thermal Bath) in Vals, Switzerland with 3 other class mates. For the remainder of the term, we each design a small “dwelling” (loose term) that responds to the architects design and the site. So my crisis struck after studying the site in depth for weeks, presenting our findings to our classmates, and then studying further. Nearly 10 days after design began, I had tons and tons of drawings and ideas, but nothing solid for a design – not real concept. Night after night I’d toss and turn in bed, thinking, thinking. I started to see why people drop out of the program, and I really started to see just how much work design actually is. The thing is, design is not a solo pursuit. At least once a week (usually more) we talk amongst our studio groups about our design ideas, and we are guided by a design tutor (professor). However, nobody can give you the answer – only direction. So where I found frustration was that there is no guidance to be given when there is no idea there to nurture. I just had to work through it. I had to keep drawing, thinking, reading, and looking.
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Architecture isn’t designing for the sake of designing. It tells a story, shapes a space, and while it may draw on local building techniques and materials, architects have to give more than a pretty building. This, like the above, does not have a definite answer and the criteria is often debated.
To wrap up, as I write this I can say with certainty that I already see progress in my overall body of work this term. Frankly, I can almost go back and laugh at my very first project work, not unlike the difference between year one at university and year five when you look back. Every day I toss and turn in bed thinking about architecture, and then I awake to the thoughts of architecture – this is every day of my life. Even when I’m not at school working or in class, I’m there talking with other students. Furthermore, when I’m not at school I’m off at art or architecture lectures, or watching design movies and TED talks. I often find myself cruising the internet looking at architecture and design content.
The key (well, for myself anyway) is to live a conscious life. I like to ride to school on a fixed gear bicycle where both my mind and body are focused on my bicycle and enjoying the ride. I love coffee, so when I’m at school and I want a coffee I use a hand grinder to grind my coffee beans, and then I brew it up in a french press and decant it into a handmade ceramic mug. I’m not saying you need fancy possessions, I’m just saying it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing, so take your time and do that. The best way to do this is to prioritize. Some days I forget about real life while I’m at school (in class or designing), forget to eat for hours on end, and so on, but I’m never afraid to stop for 5 minutes and make a coffee. That’s my thing, that’s my vice. It’s like a reboot for me.
Speaking of reboot, it’s past 3am and I need to get some sleep.