Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Why Architects should always Pin Up, Stand Back, and Listen

Why Architects should always Pin Up, Stand Back, and Listen

Introduction

During our time in architecture school, we were always working long days and nights on our projects with the goal of surviving the next critique. So we sat at our computers with extra-large cups of tea and coffee with the occasional energy drink that would take years off of our lives and repeated the same commands; over and over. Zoom in, pan around, trim a line, extend another, zoom out, pan some more, and repeat.

Finally, when it was the day of the review, we zoom all the way out and see the entire composition of this monster of a baby for the first time. After staring at a screen full of lines for so long, we reach a point where we’re unable to review our drawings for any errors. With a few minutes – or in some cases, seconds – before our time to pin up our work in front of the monochromatically dressed critics, we finally hit the print button and pray. And I mean really pray.

After rushing into the room and interrupting our good friend who’s currently presenting, but is our enemy at this point in time, we unroll our drawings and quickly pin them up. Sweat forms in our palms, the hair stands on the back of our necks, and we constantly mutter to ourselves, “is that pinned up straight?”

The critics turn to us and our professor signals to the “time checker”, who quickly turns on their phone’s timer and gives everyone the thumbs up. We begin our presentation by shakily introducing our names and immediately realize that we’ve never actually seen all of our boards pinned up next to one another before! As we present our project and randomly point towards posters that we vaguely remember placing our plans, sections, and renderings on. Suddenly, the annoying buzzer on the timer’s phone goes off and the student shouts, “TIME!”

Comments start off slowly with questions from the critics followed by deep breaths and sighs. The critics begin covering their eyes with their hands and one decides it’s time to start the round of criticisms. A barrage of comments ranging from drawing graphics to detail errors begin to pile up and we finally realize that all of the useless drawing error comments could’ve been prevented. But how?


Even as professionals, many of us still make this same mistake of working so myopically on our projects in the office that we often forget to see our work as a whole. Project architects and managers constantly rush the designers who quickly pull dimensions all over the floor plans, sections, and elevations or research and draft details for every part of the building. Upon printing the bid document set, we realize that a line is missing, a dimension was slightly incorrect, a component changed in one location but not another, and so on and so forth.

How do we prevent these issues from taking away from our design discussions with professors and critics? How could we minimize the amount of errors that arise in many projects?

The answer is simple. Periodically print, pin up, and stand back from your work.

Seeing projects on the screen is never the same as seeing it on paper

Oftentimes, when we put on our horse blinders and begin drafting full floor plans, sections, and elevations. As we get further into the design process of any project, we begin zooming into the project and working in enlarged plans, sections, interior elevations, and details. We get so used to seeing the same lines and text that our eyes begin to glaze over and errors are overlooked. As project specifications change and communication between different people in the team gets lost, errors start to arise between all trades.

A simple solution to this common issue is to have regular team meetings where the architecture team comes together – project architect, manager, designers, etc. – and discusses any project changes that affects the design, drawings, and specifications of the project. At these meetings, the designers and architects should print a drawing set and pin up the most current sheets. Everyone should stand back, take a second to interpret all of the information, and ultimately decide whether or not the drawing is correct.

Students who are experiencing this issue of missing the small errors that should’ve been caught in the drafting process should also figure out a regular schedule for printing and pinning up their work. This process helps with checking line weights, color coordinating of graphics and renderings between the printer and computer monitor, and most importantly, any design opportunities that would strengthen the project.

By printing drawings and graphics for review, one is able to objectively look for any errors and see a comprehensive set of one’s work.

Pinned up drawings invite collaborative discussions

Both in school and in my office, I’ve noticed colleagues and employees being drawn to any architectural drawings or graphics that are pinned up. In most cases, they’re more than willing to share their opinions about the design of the project and how they would make it better. If a construction document drawing full of details is pinned up on the wall, many of the older architects and managers feel compelled to walk by and check for any big errors, such as missing vapor barriers, incorrect R-values, code violations, and so on and so forth.

Having an active discussion about design or details of a project that’s pinned up on a wall is open and inviting for others to join and share their thoughts. It also increases the awareness of all team members through engaging discussions, questions, and problem solving. These collaborative discussions also help designers gain confidence and energy in their work by being more knowledgeable about the details they’re drawing.

A deadline for pinup reviews helps the project stay on track for completion

Whenever we work on any projects with a long deadline, our pace of work and energy reaches a calm and steady pace. With some of us, this pace slows down and our schedules begin to fill with other projects that take over all of our time. So we slowly chip away at the long deadline project whenever we can and the deadline quickly approaches. Now, all of the work that should’ve been completed over six months must be done within a month!

By setting printing deadlines for all work, everyone is held accountable for developing any project to specific levels of completion by each deadline. In essence, breaking a long term deadline into many smaller deadlines helps everyone maintain a steady pace to complete every project. This also omits many errors by allowing all team members to have discussions about project changes and specific drawing related issues.

Pinning up drawings gives everyone a comprehensive understanding of a project

We all have an idea of the concepts, the programmatic layout of spaces, the innovative technologies and research that has been applied, and many other design aspects of our projects. However, we tend to keep this information in our head or randomly saved in folders throughout or hard drives. When the time comes to present this information to our clients or critics, we begin describing all of these aspects of the design without visuals to accompany our stories.

By taking the time to print out a full presentation set of drawings – plans, sections, renderings, sketches, etc. – we’re able to practice our verbal presentation and reorganize our graphics to match. We essentially construct a storyline where we’re able to explain our design ideas to our clients and critics while they experience the design through our visuals. By having a clear and sequential story that explains our work, others will be able to understand and discuss any issues relating to our design.

Most importantly, stand back and listen to comments

Through my years of architecture school and in the profession, I’ve observed many architects pin up, present their work, and immediately begin to defend their design decisions. We must keep in mind that presenting our work to anyone should involve us listening and interpreting their perspective. In addition, I’ve always found it helpful to present my project and ask my colleagues questions about my work. This is especially true if I’m confused about any of their comments or if I could read their excitement for the possibilities of my project.

So remember to pin up your work, take a deep breath, tell your design story, stand back, and listen.


Why sketching is a powerful tool for a design meeting

Why sketching is a powerful tool for a design meeting

Lessons learned on delegating work

Lessons learned on delegating work