writing an interesting architectural essay, #MwcWork

Isaac Mathew
5 min readAug 24, 2021

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Architects aren’t taught to write. There is no time for that. Five years are spent learning to draw and plan at different scales. How to articulate those plans into words is never encouraged. I went to college in the early 2000s when internet connections were very sparse and only a few even were inclined to know how to even log into one. If you wanted access to new ideas, you had to read from the books in your library. Then deconstruction as an aesthetic style was in vogue and, obfuscated writing a resultant artistic requirement. Owing to the state of affairs aspiring architects of a generation either knew what was going on or they just did what they were told. For that time there are those who went to the library and those that managed without. It wasn’t very easy to copy deconstructivist spatial strategies from plans and reading the texts that came along needed an informed interpreter.

I was always fond of reading since my aunt, and grandmother brought me books during my school days. The classics, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Hardy Boys were books of a time. My grandfather had a small library. They also had a set of early issues of Reader’s Digests. I liked books and was comfortable with writing, irrespective of its form. The architectural library was without a doubt a very welcoming space. We were from our very first day taught how to look at architectural design books. Looking didn’t mean reading. From looking we were supposed to reproduce concepts and spatial strategies for the design problems we were given. It was how we learned. Taught to teach ourselves to try and assemble a practice of spatial imagination. You could say our learning was visual. How to reproduce, translate from text to drawings was a realm we didn’t get into, describing what we did.

Even though we were in a design school, work produced is restricted to the limits of the system you are in. If there was freedom to do what you wanted, it is limited to the average level of understanding a culture of making you were part of has to offer. Thinking of spatial strategies as texts were scoffed upon and stress was predictably laid on getting the plans in place. If what was discussed was only drawings, then only strategies of articulating plans were worth considered talking about. This was the norm. As this was a culture in academia, in practice too, locally it wasn’t much different or we were told. The books we read were extensions of practice agendas we were taught to emulate but it was followed through only in part.

We learned to read drawings rather than text. From the drawings that we read, we were expected to produce our iterations of it. Drawings were supposed to say it all. This prevented any thinking about architecture outside of writing. What was missed out in the teaching was all the books we referred to were written by architects who could describe, write about their buildings more in words than through drawings. It was that descriptions that made understanding, giving context to their proposals. It was not just the case with our school but that was a culture of thinking on making architecture. Concentrating just on drawings made the local contemporary architect is unable to contribute to a discourse on the profession by the work they did.

Architecture is an art, if you don’t know how to contribute to the art of architecture, what are we left with? It is urgent to recognize how an art practice creates knowledge, it is from that knowledge further contributions to it happen. Architects broadly write about either their work or the work of other architects within an extended writing practice they develop over a course of their time in practice. Therefore, there are practicing architects who write and architects who are writers. Architects who don’t write, wait for the recognition of their work by publications who then write amicably about them. Solely writer architects are a newer contemporary role that facilitates a discussion on building and spatial practices. Their numbers have increased in the recent past owing to the rise in information from and about spatial practices. Practicing architects who write, build books that are used as agents to fuel discussions on what architecture as a practice is and should not be.

It began with Frank Lloyd Wright and his writings in women’s magazines at the time. Discussion of work by a practice to get work is a modernist strategy. Manifestos by Le Corbusier consolidated the role writing plays in design practice and its several benefits. Rem Koolhaas tomes are a post-modernist version of writing pursuits identified by the modernist masters. The practices urgency of these architectural publishing practices creates a discourse around their work and the schemes they promote as architecture. Those who only write about architectural practices work on outlining a culture of architectural production. Why does a type of architectural practice exist within a time and related gaps in knowledge requiring redressal are urgent questions that an architectural writing practice addresses. Books found in architectural libraries were therefore predominantly by these two types of architectural writing practices.

I would have consumed architectural plans differently if I had known there were these distinct practices of writings about architecture.

addendum

Art ideally shouldn’t have any limits imposed on it. Thus too is an aspiration for architecture. What are the various forms of expression of architecture as art is an ongoing question and biases are found depending on who you ask for answers. What a form of architecture as a practice, like forms of its writing, is a discourse to have. It can question some boundaries imposed by anxieties of capital but that space to be critical should be afforded to it. The failure of teaching how to learn from drawings is found in urgencies to direct it immediately to produce derivative drawings. Even when readings are meant to inspire drawings the space where the texts can inform further writing about spatial practices too is a craft developed in time.

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Isaac Mathew

i think #architecture #art #planning #design #engineering