The following article was first published in Architecture Malaysia magazine, Volume 26, Issue 1 and is made available here with permission from the author.
Reading, Writing and Analyzing
By Dr. Veronica Ng
One of the myths of learning architecture is the notion that architecture is simply about designing buildings, and the perception that design is about design, when in fact, a large part of learning architecture is through reading, writing, and analyzing, and how these learning processes enable students to develop and create more meaningful architecture.
Reading, writing and analyzing architecture are different methods in which students acquire a deeper understanding of architecture. For example, students go through a large part of their architecture education doing precedent studies of buildings through diagrammatic studies, writing essays and research papers on architecture, reading theories and attempting to present them in a critical manner. One gap in all these attempts is that students fail to see the relationship of such activities to architecture design. While design is seen as a primary activity in architecture schools, the relation appears weak.
One of the inherent is the narrow perception of architecture as a building that is exclusively shaped by form, function and context. While this understanding is not incorrect, and in many ways shape the architecture curriculum of the first and second years, such perceptions limit the understanding of architecture in a holistic sense, resulting in narrow perception of what architecture is. The tendency is that the different aspects of architecture such as history, philosophy and theory, cultural contexts, environment, technology, practice and regulations are often pigeon-holed.
Analyzing is a task that students are often asked to complete. As part of this activity, students may be required to read and write. Reading and writing nurtures the theoretical rigor of architecture, while analyzing allows one to take an idea, a work, or a text apart, and design follows. Together, they form the theoretical foundation upon which design emerges. The analysis process needs to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, the platform for understanding theory and design relationships. The problem arises when analysis is perceived as simplistic and narrow¬ minded activity. In order to avoid the narrow perception of architecture, it is important to realize that architecture is shaped by multitude of circumstances beyond that of form, function and context. It is shaped by the broader ideology of stakeholders, and more importantly the theoretical foundation upon which design emerges. The analysis process needs to be inclusive, rather than exclusive.
The struggle in reading, writing and analyzing architecture, and subsequently drawing relations to design is further compounded by the multidisciplinary nature of architecture. The challenge in architecture is its multidisciplinary nature, which almost suggests that it is related to anything and everything one can almost think of, such as politics, economics, technology, history, sociology, sciences, environment, business, law, music, performing arts, and fine arts. These diverse relations mean that architecture is a broad domain, and learning architecture is about understanding how these varied aspects effect and shape built forms and their environments.
As such, the BIG picture of what generates architecture needs to be understood, particularly through reading, writing, and analyzing. The purpose of architecture needs to be viewed beyond the singular functional built form and its response to client, context and function. Architecture does not stand in isolation, and broader relations should be drawn into a larger framework of philosophies, theories, manifestoes and the power relations of stakeholders, as well as global forces. Doing so will allow students to become better designers, ones that are driven by intellectual rigor; understanding and attempting to address broader issues of contemporary life.
Reading, writing and analyzing architecture and how they relate to design intersect with the current emphasis in architecture education on "research informing design”. Design is seen as a research-led activity that contributes to the body of knowledge in the form of a creative output, i.e. architecture. The systematic inquiry of how design comes about is related to the process of reading, analyzing and writing. Without them, design stands in isolation. When architecture design responds to the broader domains of theory and practice, it becomes more meaningful and purposeful.
Dr. Veronica Ng is an academic and a researcher who lectures at Taylor’s University, Malaysia. Graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy (Curtin University, Australia), she writes about the concepts of place-making, the sense of place and place-identity. Her interest also includes promoting good Malaysian architects and architecture through writing.