Look: It's What Architects Do

We have been taught from an early age that the sky is the limit + we often turn our heads upward to imagine what could be. Many good ideas start with a dream, that head-in-the clouds vision. Bringing the dream to reality, however, requires feet firmly planted. Being an architect means looking up, but looking up is not just about lifting your gaze skyward; that is only the beginning.

When you look up, you also look around – at the landscape, the surroundings, the community in which the architecture is to serve, for both ideas + context. To truly experience a space requires an awareness of 360 degrees in all directions. How will the design respond to the buildings next door, down the street? Will it settle in modestly or will it fit in by standing out? We design buildings that bridge the interior + the outside world; it only makes sense that we draw from nature for inspiration. We look around to our contemporaries to gauge the trends, styles, + technologies of the age.  As architects, looking up reminds us to:

Look down – at the ground to see the plinth upon which you have to build. Architects can have a role in all aspects of a project, including site selection + feasibility studies. Evaluating a site requires an understanding of more than what is going on beneath the ground plane. How will the building touch the earth? How will you enter? 

Look out – for safety + well-being, + identifying the needs of the world in which we live. As Charles Eames stated, recognizing a need is the primary condition for design. Architects are activists + we know that the work we create makes a difference in people’s lives. Architects want to solve problems + make life better, more enjoyable. We take the lives of others in our hands when we design the spaces they occupy. It is our duty to create spaces that delight, all the while allowing users to remain safe.

Look beyond – to see what is not there. One of our tallest orders is capturing the vision on paper + turning that sketch into reality, imagining elevated concepts in real-time + scale. We help others visualize a three-dimensional, full size space from a two-dimensional drawing or scaled model. That’s what we are trained to do from the start, + we spend the rest of our lives refining that skill.

Look between – the lines. What the client says versus what they mean or actually want. We see the big picture, but we’re problem solvers by nature + we hone in on the details as well. Details give the design its life. Architects are often called to articulate intangible ideas + parse matters of opinions, + to do so with relative ease.

Look above – think plenum. Architects are the coordinators; responsible for making sure every thing fits + works in tandem. We catch the electrical conduit interfering with the ductwork before it happens, + we make sure there is not a beam running in front of the window. We are overseers; the design process has many moving parts + the architect is the one responsible for keeping the machine running seamlessly.

Look back – to those who came before, the masters; learning from mistakes, as well as building upon foundations already established. Author James Gordon said, ‘Strive to be better today than you were yesterday’. We cannot call ourselves designers + problem solvers if we are not building upon the knowledge that we learned the day before.

Look ahead – to create lasting impressions + useful spaces for future generations, not just for the current. Frank Gehry said, ‘Architecture should speak of its time + place, but yearn for timelessness.’ Architects are directly responsible for the world we leave for our children + we know better than most, the impression that design, good or bad, leaves behind.