Great things come in small, foil-stamped packages

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101 Things I Learned In Architecture School cover

I bought a book yesterday:101 Things I Learned In Architecture School, buy Matthew Frederick. I’m not an Architect, so why did I buy it? Well, it was pretty cheap for a start, ~$16 bucks. It’s attractive. It has a thick, raw artboard cover with two-colour foil stamping, and a linen spine. And it’s around A5 size. It took me only four or five pages of flicking in the store to decide to bring it home with me like a sad-eyed puppy.

To give a basic rundown, each page has a new lesson or tidbit of information about architecture — not from a ‘check out this building’ point of view, but from a student-teacher point of view. It’s all the little cool things I ever wanted to know about architecture, condensed into a small, good-looking volume.

This is where this little book sneaks in and bowls me over, intellectually speaking. As I began to read last night, it struck me within minutes, “This is the designer’s Art of War.”

As I live out my hiatus from client work, I’ve been thinking a lot about design. Not graphic design, or website design, or any other specific design, but Design as a whole, and I’m realising that I’m more interested in the design process than the end result. Why something has been designed or made that way. What decisions have been made along the way. 101 Things I Learned In Architecture School defines many design principles in a holistic way, and as such can be immediately be placed in the context of many design disciplines.



A parti is the central idea or concept of a building

A parti [par-TEE] can be expressed several ways but is most often expressed by a diagram depicting the general floor plan organization of a building and, by implication, its experiential and aesthetic sensibility. A parti diagram can describe massing, entrance, spatial hierarchy, site relationship, core location, interior circulation, public/private zoning, solidity/transparency, and many other concerns. The proportion of attention given to each factor varies from project to project.

The partis shown here (figure 1) are from previously conceived projects; it is unlikely, if not impossible, to successfully carry a parti from an old project to a new project. The design process is the struggle to create a uniquely appropriate parti for a project.

Some will argue that an ideal parti is wholly inclusive—that it informs every aspect of a building from its overall configuration and structural system to the shape of the doorknobs. Others believe that a perfect parti is neither attainable nor desirable.

Design concept — architectural, website design, advertising campaign, and so on. The above fits all these. It’s about the concept for a project, and how it must be tailored to that project only. And if the concept doesn’t work for that project:


A good designer isn’t afraid to throw away a good idea

Just because an interesting idea occurs to you doesn’t mean it belongs in the building you are designing. Subject every idea, brainstorm, random musing, and helpful suggestion to careful, critical consideration. Your goal as a designer should be to create an integrated whole, not to incorporate all the best features in your building whether or not they work together.

Think of a parti as an author employs a thesis, or as a composer employs a musical theme: not every idea a creator conjures up belongs in the work at hand! Save your good but ill-fitting ideas for another time and project—and with the knowledge that they might not work then, either.

Wow. Some cool stuff IMHO[1. IMHO = In my humble opinion. Hi mum!.]

Then there are less holistic ideas, but great design ideas:


Use “denial and reward” to enrich passage through the built environment

As we move through buildings, towns, and cities, we mentally connect visual cues from our surroundings to our needs and expectations. The satisfaction and richness of our experiences are largely the result of the ways in which these connections are made.
Denial and reward can encourage the formulation of a rich experience. In designing paths of travel, try presenting users a view of their target—a staircase, building entrance, monument, or other element—then momentarily screen it from view as they continue their approach. Reveal the target a second time from a different angle or with an interesting new detail. Divert users onto an unexpected path to create additional intrigue or even momentary lostness; then reward them with other interesting experiences or other views of their target. This additional “work” will make the journey more interesting, the arrival more rewarding. (Figure 2)

Such a great idea. This is real design thinking! Experience counts, not just the details. And there are tens of other tasty morsels for the designer to read and ponder.

Let’s not forget the plain old cool architecture stuff, like #1: How to draw a line, #22: How to make architectural hand-lettering, and #49: [Shadows:] The altitude, angle, and color of daylighting varies with compass orientation and time of day.

If you’re a designer, and you care about design, you should buy this book. You’ll read it in a couple hours, but you’ll refer to it for a lifetime, metaphorically speaking.


There’s a whole series of these things! I’m gonna keep my eye out for the culinary edition :D