Monday, August 24, 2015

Stretching Limits: Designing outside of the box.

Today is the first day of classes, and as I sit here anticipating the first studio class of the new academic year, I cannot help but reflect on my goals for this new group of architectural design students that I am about to meet.

At the beginning of the fall term, I often show a documentary video by Michael Apted titled Inspirations.  In this documentary, Apted profiles 7 artists from various disciplines who each discuss the creative process. At the end of film, each shares advice for creativity, and one of my favorite quotes comes from David Bowie.

“If you feel safe in the area you are working, then you are not working in the right area.  Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of.  Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel your feet quite touching the bottom you’re just in the right place to do something exciting” David Bowie

I was thinking about this quote recently as I completed a design competition entry at the end of the summer.  As I prepared an image for the Chicago Architectural Club’s “Currencies of Architecture” competition, I was reminded of the value of working outside of one’s comfort zone.  This is not the type of design completion I usually am attracted to.  I prefer competitions that have a limited scope, allowing me to design an architectural object where I can get into the details and produce a well-developed, conceptually sound, piece of architecture.  This particular competition is not that at all!  Currencies of Architecture calls on participants to produce a single image addressing the state of architecture today.  What does that even mean?  This project is highly conceptual and completely open ended in terms of the manner in which participants can approach the design – which makes me a little bit more that uncomfortable. 

I was uneasy about how to approach the work, and I am still creatively unsure about my own submission.  If you are interested, you can view the project here.  The point of this post, however, is not about my own work per se, but the value in stretching limits.  For me, this competition was a reminder of the importance (and difficulty) of pushing our own creative boundaries.  There is incredible creative value in stretching your own limits as a designer, but it is also REALLY hard to do.

All of this brings me back to the first day of studio, as I am about to assign a conceptual, open ended project for my students to tackle.  Part of my job, especially in a sophomore studio, is to push students beyond their own preconceptions of what they think Architecture is.  I am supposed to encourage my students to work outside of their own comfort zones.  My job is to encourage my students to design ‘outside of the box’, meaning that I want students to push themselves, explore, and think about their own work as having new and exciting possibilities.  And if / when they struggle with this, I am newly reminded that this is also ok, as it is just as difficult for me at times to push beyond my own comfort zone. 

Most things that are really worth pursuing in your creative career are difficult, and therefore of value.

Good luck to all who are beginning a new academic year…. and I am wearing my David Bowie socks today for luck…