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Creativity in the Architectural Design Process

How We Make Sense of the Many Tools That Are Available in Today's Profession

By Ilana Gutierrez, Assoc. AIA and Collaborators Posted on March 13, 2017

Technology has fundamentally changed the way we work and think within the architectural world. I have spoken with many architects at different levels in their career to understand how technology, hand drawing, and other conventions play a role in the design process and the effective communication of architectural ideas.

Through these conversations with principals, directors, and collaborators at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, I have learned that there should be a constant dialogue between all creative conventions of design such as hand drawing, physical modeling or computer programs to enhance the architectural design process rather than allowing creative tools to shape us.

The approach to architectural education teaches us to problem solve using creative tools. Drawing from my experience, the first year of architecture school was spent learning the basics of architectural design by understanding spatial qualities through hand drafting and model building. We focused on understanding the tectonics of architecture and learning how to develop creative thinking skills that help create great spatial experiences. The remainder of my formal architectural education was focused on honing those problem-solving skills and using computer software to implement ideas. Leveraging software to communicate our ideas was high on our list of things to learn while in school, but it can be dangerous in an office because it can be easy to lose sight of the design goals solely

The remainder of my formal architectural education was focused on honing those problem-solving skills and using computer software to implement ideas. Leveraging software to communicate our ideas was high on our list of things to learn while in school, but it can be dangerous in an office because it can be easy to lose sight of the design goals solely though one design convention such as computer programs like Revit. There is a need for balance between worlds.

“School can be a time to dream, while work can be a time to apply these dreams in a practical manner. This insight from Daniel Rothschild, AIA senior principal at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, were words that helped me understand the intent behind our education and the transition into the professional world. He explained that school does not focus on teaching how to be a professional, but rather focuses on how to problem-solve in a creative way.

Creative problem solving encompasses a constant exchange between tools that can lead to more successful design solutions. When I spoke to Mike Gwin, AIA a principal at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, and previously an adjunct studio instructor at Carnegie Mellon, he suggested that one should not rely on one tool to aid in the path of design solutions, but to explore different tools between hand-drawing to computer software. He also stressed that we need to hand draw to help one understand and develop ideas to aid in the communication to others. “It’s a constant dialogue between tools that’s important to understand. There is a need to sketch in between [methods] for there is the speed of the hand that’s an advantage. It’s more about “the process than technology and tools.”

Another principal at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, Geoff Campbell, AIA (above) agreed that there’s a need for constant change of methods. He commented that one needs to learn to think ahead, for some creative tools like computer software have so many tools within reach that the user must first understand his/her goals before one unknowingly allows the computer to make decisions for you.

His comment pointed to that fact that the use of tools allows us as designers to “shift gears” and fill in the gap with other methods, whether it’s physical modeling, sketching or material exploration experiments. It’s an opportunity to understand and enhance the design process, which will ultimately inform you of the next steps of the design process.

One of the challenges with the many tools at our fingertips, is knowing how to communicate effectively with those unfamiliar to the architectural world, especially with our clients. A method of communication that we employ at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative is the Sketchbook Process that was originally created by Daniel Rothschild. This tool allows us to tell a story of the design process and goals through the integration of hand and computer software tools. It is an iterative process that allows the designer to communicate effectively to the public, who also plays a major role in the design process. The interaction of conventions and people lend to the exploration of possibilities to create purposeful, successful spatial experiences.

Through this open dialogue, I have come to realize that the integration of methods is fundamental to the creative process. I have learned that we should strive to continually encourage an open conversation to better understand the creative process whether it’s through creative tools such as hand drawing, model building, computers or language to communicate the design intent. Creativity is what you make it, for everyone is unique.

As someone that had started the professional journey less than two years ago it can be tough to bridge the gap between dreaming and being practical within the design process which is why this discussion should be continuous in our local firms. We can help bridge that gap by opening this conversation. Architecture is a science, an exploration of creativity and conventions to arrive at a creative solution. “It’s up to you to define what creativity is, for we are here to create.” (Daniel Rothschild) We should strive to keep an open dialogue amongst designers, and the public for this can lend itself to more successful and impactful spatial experiences and solutions for all.

All photos courtesy Rothschild Doyno Collaborative.

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