A Way with Written Words

Thomas discusses his position as a young architectural graduate, using his point of view to discuss the roles of critical writing in practice and as an exercise of personal creativity.

In both academics and practice, architecture is always a multidisciplinary subject matter – people in the field concern themselves with the design and construction of spaces, the technical and philosophical, from the issues of history to humanities.

Architectural writing for me, as has been the case for many, started in my studies; it is generally heavily tied to the academic where the social sciences became the ‘traditional’ core of architectural research. The shift to the more interdisciplinary practical design research has been in gear, attempting to bring the different fields together more cohesively. I quite clearly remember my effort of making sense of this discussion through writing, like it was a year and a half ago (because it was).

Before, I never enjoyed writing at all, not even in the first couple years of my degree… As I progressed and did more, the products became less of a template and less restrictive. One of New Zealand’s leading architectural writers shared with me a story about being approached to teach architectural journalism, and their response simply pointed to ‘practice makes perfect’. It has slowly become an apparatus for pushing my personal creativity, especially after I felt that I found my voice in it.

I recall at the beginning discussions that I had with several architectural practices about finding a balance between learning new things in practice and maintaining that personal creativity, the more imaginative and radical approach. As a young graduate trying to make sense of the wider industry, and of this balance, obviously a bigger personal challenge than the struggle of bringing together questions of design practices for a thesis, I actively find things to draw from, as I’ve outlined to people who mentioned that discussion:

Obviously firstly the things that I only discover from working in our office (or in unique occasions, from home, in 2020) – how they do or do not work, the balance that my colleagues are living. Then there are the lectures, the webinars, the events – great lecture series always run in Auckland where we never know what new things might bring about inspiration and some of the most useful notes.

I happily take on any opportunity to join current student crits – they always float fresh ideas and it is a great communication exercise of initiating quick responses and comments well. I also keep an eye out for exciting conceptual competition opportunities to push my personal critical research and thinking while practicing effective abstract writing, and of course engage with peers from other practices to always obtain a bigger picture.

Critical writing has an ability to curate and address these many inspirations and subjects, often with contradicting opinions, and examine them from all angles, along with the ability to generate questions and discussions. Although a much slower and less spontaneous process than speaking, it allows for careful considerations, offers clarity in argument and more freedom of interpretation for the audience.

Peter Eising told me that efficient writing is a necessary skill for the way that many project proposals are processed. Moreover, the architects’ portfolios usually rely on a short passage to reinforce the values they express visually. Each project packs a multitude of thinking, each one is critical, ethical, emotional, simultaneously working with the wishes, concepts, restraints. With the dominance of linguistics, though our main tool might remain the sketches, hand-in-hand the [written] word helps evoke the imagination and trigger memories.

Surely everyone finds writing to be a different discipline. This is the narrative that I set out to tell, believing it can find a way to resolve disconnects in our processes, ultimately sharing the narratives architecture strives to construct.

Ideas discussed from J. Rendell- Art and Architecture: A Place in Between

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