Design Thinking

  • Don’t think, then design.
  • Design is thinking.
  • Don’t imagine, then design.
  • Design is imagining, inventing and creating.

Many students have the idea that you must know what you are going to draw before starting to draw. Some think that you must imagine something, and in some cases even know what it looks like, before starting a drawing. This kind of thinking makes drawing a passive activity – you draw in order to put down on paper something you (think) you already know. In the best case the student will allow the idea to change and evolve as they start to draw it, but in most instances they force what they imagine on to the paper.

It is important to understand that architects draw to think – it is an act of imagination and creativity in itself. This does not happen in the mind but with the hand. This is not a rehash of the tired arguments about hand drawing versus computer drawing. The assumption here is that architects understand that both are necessary and that each has its role – they are not opposed merely different.

Consider the following by the American architect and educator Stan Allen:

“[T]he hardest thing to communicate to students is the confidence that you will discover things through the process of working itself. You don’t have to figure it out beforehand…students have this idea that if they think hard enough, work the idea out in advance, somehow the pieces will magically fall together. I have two issues with this way of working. First, it’s a completely false way of thinking about ideas, as if they were abstract entities floating out there in a void […] and second, the implied linearity of this process seems to me false: the idea that you could ever go in a straight line from idea to project. There is always a detour, and it’s precisely in the course of the detour that you discover things.”

You should, in general, know why you are drawing, but the most important lesson to learn at university is to develop the bravery of drawing (or modelling) without knowing or preconceiving the outcome; drawing in order to find something out; drawing and accepting mistakes, ugly outcomes, wrong turns. Only when you are comfortable with this will you be in the position to discover the happy accident, the solution that the mind could not conceive of, the configuration that no one else could have imagined.

Henri Ciriani at work


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