Architects and the power of questioning and collective thinking
When I was in architecture school, I remember spending a majority of my time designing my projects independently. With my sound-canceling headphones on, I would silently work on my 3D models in Rhino and attempt to solve all of my design problems on my own. There was a part of me that was afraid of approaching a classmate and asking them for their opinion on my project.
During my freshman and sophomore years, I worked alone in my dorm room, silently drafting and trying to understand these difficult terms and theories that I’d never heard of before. Although I was doing above average in school, I felt as if being an Architect would be lonely.
While observing other students, who were also introverted like me, presenting their projects in mid-term and final reviews, I realized that we weren’t afraid of approaching other people and asking their opinion. We were afraid of our ideas being rejected, models broken into pieces, and final hand drawings on Mylar being sketched over with a fat red Sharpie marker.
We were so afraid of negative criticism that we never spoke with conviction.
Upon entering my junior year of architecture school and nearly leaving the major twice, I decided to give architecture everything I had for my fall semester. If I still didn’t find my passion for the field, I decided I would leave and move into a different major. I also decided to stop working alone in my dorm room and I started working in my architecture studio and computer lab.
Little by little, my classmates started approaching me after studio hours to check out my project and ask my opinion about their own. I’d walk over to their desk, sit beside them, and I’d ask them to explain their project to me. As they were explaining their design concept, I would observe and listen to them. In every peer to peer discussion I had, each of my classmates would momentarily stop talking, stare into the distance, and rephrase their design concept.
This time, their concept had clarity and it became a part of their belief. Just like their favorite food, the students would explain their ideas, walk you through their floor plans, and immediately disagreed with any suggestions that went against their belief.
Sometimes, we just have to listen.
Whenever I began losing focus on my project, I would walk over to other students in my studio, ask how their projects were coming along, and if they could explain their ideas to me. While listening to them describe their project, I would start formulating new thoughts and ideas about my own project and return to my desk to continue working.
This new social aspect of architecture studio helped me exponentially develop my design skills and I grew comfortable with public speaking. As I continued making more friends, I had an urge to work longer hours in my studio and in the computer lab. After a short period of time, I found myself helping others learn how to use different software, discussing projects with students who were confused or stuck, and entering design competitions with my friends.
Great design comes from questioning and collective thinking
To this day, I find myself regularly competing in architecture design competitions with a diverse group of friends. Every time we start our design meetings, I ask a few questions about what each person has been up to over the past few days. I’ll add a few witty jokes, humiliate myself, laugh with everyone, and transition into our meeting.
Once we get started, I go over a very short bullet-point agenda list that summarizes the goals of the meeting. Then, we go over the work that we produced over the past few days or week and I immediately start questioning some of our design decisions. I’ve found that asking open ended questions about the work that each person produced will start an engaging discussion with every team member.
As everyone starts answering the questions, more ideas start to emerge and I start to ask deeper and focused questions. While the discussion continues, I make sure everyone shares an opinion by directly asking each person to share their thoughts. The level of critical thinking and conceptual development that comes from these discussions helps the project exponentially progress and encourages a positive team dynamic.
Accepting others’ opinions and listening to the end
From my experiences working with many architecture teams on design projects, the most important lesson that I learned is to accept everyone’s opinions and making sure that I listen to their thoughts until the end. During an exciting design discussion, there will be moments when so many ideas emerge that everyone feels compelled to talk over one another.
When this happens, remember to calm everyone down and allow the speaker to finish his or her thoughts before moving to the next person. I almost always acknowledge what was just said by restating some of the key ideas and praising the speaker before sharing any of my own.
Through this engaging questioning and collective thinking session, everyone on the team should have the same design concept and be able to speak about the project with conviction.
Thank you so much for reading and for joining me on my journey as an Architect!