An Architect? Then this naïve question is supposedly your bonus in an examination: ‘State the lessons that you learnt in architecture school’. The question in a first impression seems dull, but are you- or I- able to deliver definite titles for what we learnt in architecture school to a new architecture student? I would spontaneously say for example: ‘I learned many things, but it was all in the form of continuous acquisition; that is there are no granted broad lines in design that can be ratified to be taught to students. It will restrict them. Architecture is not Math or Science after all.’

Where have we heard this? It’s our professors’ approach. The hazy architecture curricula seems a universal syndrome, and its symptoms show in students spending fruitless nights trying to decipher complicated design approaches, and struggling to find design solutions, and at the end they turn empty-handed. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean they will not eventually find them, but how and after how long and how efficient will that be, are all critical questions. So we will be inspecting:” 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School” by Matthew Frederick, an architect and urban designer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Being a book that architecture professors will ironically dismay students from being quite impressed by, these 101 tips – rather than lessons – basically serve as a foundation for architecture literacy when compared to the chaos that accompanies the first years in architecture studio, that being the author’s purpose.[1]

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Frederick; Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, The MIT press -Cambridge, Massachusetts (August 2007)

 

“101 Things I Learned in Architecture School” are brief tutorials in design, drawing, the creative process, and presentation—from the basics of how to draw to the complexities of design theories. Each lesson is a two-page format, one for explanation and another a diagrammatic or creative illustration to support graphically the author’s statement. So, the ultimate aim is making concrete what too often is left nebulous or open-ended in the architecture curriculum.[2]

 In an endorsement by Roger K. Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland, author of ‘Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession’, the latter describes these 101 tips as” architectural pearls of wisdom that every architecture student should understand, consider and embrace or perhaps reject when first learning the daunting process of design.”, noting that the 101 tips are not golden rules themselves but a bedrock to build a sound understanding of designing buildings, especially when mentioning the word ’reject’. Further, Lewis makes an objective statement about the book as “an eclectic itemization of architectural philosophies, compositional strategies and tactics, design conventions, drawing and presentation techniques”.[3] These are the main topics discussed, and which we will highlight.

As Frederick mentions it, his inspiration was his foggy architectural education and his career as an architectural scholar, and the major contributors to the book being his students. So whatever stand you’re going to take upon reading it, it will still be a subjective one; it will automatically relate to your own architecture education, what it covered and what it lacked. But what I find closer to objective learning is Lesson 8. What is architecture after all? Don’t all students need to at least make sure of this fact away from the dilemma of the art/science? “Architecture is the thoughtful making of space.”—Louis KAHN, chose Frederick, argument settled.[4]

 

About space experience, Frederick talks in lessons: 10, 12, 13, 37, 38, and 87. Space is undoubtedly the most critical term in architecture. After mentioning it in Louis Khan’s definition, he talks about its design, planning, and experience. The second critical term is the “concept” or as Frederick chooses to speak about it, the “Parti”. As he introduces it in Lesson 14:” Architecture begins with an idea[5], he defines it in the Lesson 15:” A parti is the central idea or concept of a building…. A parti diagram can describe massing, entrance, spatial hierarchy, site relationship, core location, interior circulation, public/ private zoning, solidity/transparency, and many other concerns.” The talk flows to lessons: 16, 17, 18, 19, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 100.

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Lessons 10 and 87 talk about our experience of an architectural space: simple drawings revealing major design strategies about approach and anchors.

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Lessons 10 and 87 talk about our experience of an architectural space: simple drawings revealing major design strategies about approach and anchors.

 

Major design approaches have a portion too. Although these are often taught in architecture theory courses, it’s good to get introduced to them at a time, from general to specific. The Figure-Ground theory, Solid-Void, Negative-Positive space, Urban-Suburban Buildings, Denial-Reward approach, along with poetry notion of the Sense of Place are in Lessons: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,9, 10, 11, 73, 91.

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Frederick; Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, The MIT press -Cambridge, Massachusetts (August 2007)

Drawing and presentations are as important for an architect as more theoretical and conceptual aspects. The lesson on “How to Draw a Line” is illustrated by examples of good and bad lines, hand-lettering, the fact that windows look dark in the daytime each item has resonance beyond architecture, sketching a perspective, and other topics are discussed in lessons: 1, 22, 27, 36, 48, 50, 57, 67, 71, 75, 80, 85, 90. How presentation relates to human psychology is a major advantage /or disadvantage, Lesson 36 says:” Value drawings (rendered in shade and shadow) tend to convey emotions better than line drawings. [6]

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First lesson in “101 Things I Learned in Architecture School”: How to draw a line? Though simple, it should probably be the first in architecture studios.

Tips aiding in design process and architectural compositions hold the major emphasis in the book. On the design process, he elaborates in numerous tips, in lessons: 31, 32, 33, 45, 46, 61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 68, 69, 70, 72, 73, 74, 76, 77, 81, 82, 86, 87, and 92. I would mention Lesson 69 for the insight it conveys:” Random Unsubstantiated Hypothesis: A floor plan demonstrates the organizational logic of a building; a section embodies its emotional experience.Though not demonstrated by logic, we all once experienced this at some level. On Compositions he writes in lessons: 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 47, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 60, 64, 75, 79, and 88. Static and dynamic compositions, counterpoints, geometry characteristics, asymmetry, composition types, and balance are mentioned in these lessons.

Views, Proportions, and Compass Directions are mentioned in lessons: 34, 35, 49, 53, 58, 59, and 96. Also law and design limitations, and a mention of architectural styles are included in lessons: 59, 83, 84, 95, 93, 97, 98, and 99. One challenging tip is in Lesson 98:” The Chinese symbol for crisis is comprised of two characters: one indicating “danger,” the other, “opportunity. A design problem is not something to be overcome, but an opportunity to be embraced.[7] Frederick shows what every designer will inevitably face in his design learning and practice.

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Lesson 64: “If you rotate or skew a floor plan, column grid, or other aspect of a building, make it mean something.” Indeed, the sentence we all heard from our Professor in the architecture studio.

 

In one sense, the 2008 Silver Award Winner on Architecture Category (Independent Publisher Book Awards) does de-mythologize the jargon that obscures the real meanings of what is taught in design schools, as Theodore C. Landsmark , President of Boston Architectural College, and President(2006-07) of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture[8] says. In another sense, the book, lacking the coherence and harmony in conveying the 101 lessons in an integral manner, can serve as a handbook as the writer mentioned to remind, inspire, and provide ground for learners and even young practitioners. Yet, it can only provide very broad guidelines. Delving into more intricate learning tips should stem from elaborating on and organizing the knowledge put in this book.

Written by: Zeynab Matar
Edited by: Ibrahim Abdelhady

References:

[1] Frederick; Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, The MIT press -Cambridge, Massachusetts (August 2007), Author’s Note p. 8
[2] Same Source, p. 7
[3] http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/101-things-i-learned-architecture-school
[4] Frederick; Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, The MIT press -Cambridge, Massachusetts (August 2007), p. 26
[5] Frederick; Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, The MIT press -Cambridge, Massachusetts (August 2007), p. 38
[6] Frederick; Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, The MIT press -Cambridge, Massachusetts (August 2007), p. 82
[7] Frederick; Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, The MIT press -Cambridge, Massachusetts (August 2007), p. 206.
[8] http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/101-things-i-learned-architecture-school.

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