Weasel word hashtags for Architects and Urbanists

Architects always seem to get quite a bit of criticism for adopting strange, eccentric and or opaque language. Recently a friend told me that he heard a Project Manager say that “everything architects write is shit,” I am not entirely sure but maybe that PM had been reading this blog. Especially this extremely popular blog post.

Weasel words defined

This prompted me to think about this and the pressures on architects to employ weasel words to get work. A few years back Paul Keating’s speechwriter Don Watson identified and wrote a book about same weasel words amongst corporates types and the political class. In his introduction he wrote:

Weasel words are the words of the powerful, the treacherous and the unfaithful, spies, assassins and thieves. Bureaucrats and ideologues love them. Tyrants cannot do without them.

To speak the words the powerful speak is to obey them, or at least to give up all outward signs of freedom. Stalin was not the first tyrant to be so feared that those around him preferred to imitate even his malapropisms than give him any reason to think they were not in awe of his authority.

The same mimicry can be expected wherever the official language is a kind of code that we must at least appear to understand, or be excluded. It happens in democracies, and in businesses and government departments. Today it is found everywhere the language of the information age is (compulsorily) spoken; everywhere the management revolution has been; everywhere marketing goes. This is language without possibility. It cannot convey humour, fancy, feelings, nuance or the varieties of experience. It is cut off and cuts us off from provenance – it has no past.

The public language of architects 

Certainly, the same kind of miasma exists in the public life of architecture. Its true for construction and the related disciplines and I am breathing this stuff in all the time in marketised academia. Who is the worst I wonder? The development industry, the real estate industry or the contractors. Architects should know better to avoid the butchering of language, and overuse of signifiers cut adrift from any real architectural theory. For architects weasel words often accompany weasel images.

My point is not that architects do not need a dose of “plain English” speaking.  They already do that. For example, a quick scour of a few architects websites revealed words like client focus, inspiration, evolving, inclusive, distinctive, responsive, quality and of course context. Architects are all these things. But I  hope that in and across all the architectural websites and hashtags there might be a little more clarity, nuance and resistance.

How you talk about projects, like urban design or architecture is just as important as how you might represent them. In recent years with the rise and rise of social media, it seems like every second, Facebook post, Twitter byte, Insta Story or Linked-In post is pushing a new positive and inspiring line about the urban and architectural world. Written in a way that attempts to grab you distract and then grab your mind for a few seconds in the attention economy. Consequently. It seems with the rise of social media we have seen a corresponding surge of weasel words and slogans. With the demise of theory and history and any subject that might help architecture students analyse these words.
Are architects flying into a vortex of dumb and dumber? So here is my own list of Weasel words specific to architects and urbanists. So what is an urbanist anyway? When you hear someone say one of these words or phrases its best that the alarms go off in your head and you drill down into the detail.
The following is a warning and an alert as to what these words might really mean. So here is my list of weasel hashtags. For each #weaselword I added the word architecture or city to and did a Google image search to see what would happen.


Usually followed by words like Architecture, Urbanism, City, City Transition Holy fuck you can add low-carbon as a descriptor to just about anything. Maybe it doesn’t really matter if haven’t actually done a Carbon Audit or you emissions are through the roof.


The low clouds are not carbon emissions


This one has really been overused. We should stop using this word and think of something better. This one is also like Low Carbon. But whereas Low Carbon sounds a bit more techy and quantitative, this one just sounds like mush. But hey sustainable architecture is this in image search.


Naturally 6 stars for this one

#Smart Cities  

What this really means is the opposite. It means dumb cities. Dumb cities with awful curtain walls, mixed-use retail and glassy-eyed towers in the portfolios of middle manager real estate types. The Google image search threw up this.


Just oozing smarts


Ok, I know regular readers of the blog will be accustomed to my hatred of the cult of parametricism. But I could resist. It’s like a label you can use to pretend you have done architecture. Googling Parametric studio gets you 9,960,000 results. When I Google image searched Parametric architecture I got this:


Not so far down the parametric image food chain you start getting timber stuff like this. 


Wow !!


#Liveable = Melbourne. Yes, equals full stop. Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city.   What else could it possibly mean? When I Google image searched Liveable I just got Melbourne:


It’s a great place to sleep out if you are homeless.


This one means usually means we are going to build a massive tower on top of a tiny little historic building. When I Google image searched Visionary architecture I got this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 12.1924603.png.1924605

Those crazy architects !


It should mean when the climate change catastrophe comes how will our community recover. Or it might mean how we can recover from any kind of volatility. But when I Google image searched resilient architecture I got this:


How could that design not be resilient? 


Usually means “we are going to try and do something different that our middle-brow time and cost outcome clients will not like.” Can also be used to explain, to the uninitiated, why the scheme is a completely under designed ad-hoc dog’s breakfast disaster. When I Google image searched innovative architecture I got this:


Innovative and blurry. 


So let’s hear it for those architects and urbanists who bother to think about the words and images they make and send out into the media streams. Let’s applaud those architects who refuse to adopt the official languages of information tyranny and capital. Architectural practice of worth will always pursue architecture as a minor literature in the hope that it can still be a gathering point of critical resistance.

Rising and Falling Stars: Australian vs. Global architectural firms

This last week or so at my graduate school of architecture the students were lining up for selfies with Bjarke when he came as a part of the Beulah International competition. It was quite a commotion. Initially, I wanted to puke, there was a lot of black, and I mean a lot. Black tees, black jackets and black horn-rimmed glasses. Everyone looked liked gangsters on a Eurovision set. Most people who read this blog know how jealous I am of Bjarke’s hairstyle.

After my initial revulsion, I calmed down and realised that Bjarke was here for the Beulah International competition to design a mixed-use high rise complex on Southbank in my City of Melbourne. For Beulah quite a few of the local firms got together with the stars.

Beulah Competition: The Local-Star Match-Ups 

  • Bjarke Ingels Group with Fender Katsalidis Architects
  • Coop Himmelblau with Architectus
  • Mad Architects with Elenberg Fraser
  • MVRDV with Woods Bagot
  • Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) with Conrad Gargett
  • UN Studio with Cox Architecture

In December the South Australian government announced the shortlist for the Adelaide Contemporary Art gallery. This list was as follows:

  • Adjaye Associates (UK) and BVN with Steensen Varming, McGregor Coxall, Barbara Flynn and Yvonne Koolmatrie
  • Bjarke Ingels Group (Denmark) and JPE Design Studio with United Natures, Arketype and BuildSurv
  • David Chipperfield Architects (UK) and SJB Architects with Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture and Arup
  • Diller Scofidio and Renfro (USA) and Woods Bagot with Oculus, Pentagram, Katnich Dodd, Rider Levett Bucknall, Arup, WSP, Deloitte, Kaldor Public Art Projects, Klynton Wanganeen, James Sanders, Dustin Yellin, Right Angle Studio and Garry Stewart
  • Hassell and SO-IL (USA) with Fabio Ongarato Design, Mosbach Paysagistes and Fiona Hall
  • Khai Liew, Office of Ryue Nishizawa (Japan) and Durbach Block Jaggers (Australia) with Masako Yamazaki, Mark Richardson, Arup and Irma Boom

Rant Free Zone

Firstly, I will try and avoid a rant about how much I hate the star system and the paucity of risk-taking on the part of our institutional decision makers. Yes, it was great to see some emerging practices and voices in the Adelaide lineups and a focus on indigenous narratives for some of these teams. As time goes on, I think this focus will increasingly have to be a consideration for public commissions. But what does the overall inclusion of so many stars say about architecture in Australia? Have we lost our nerve?

Local Grunt with Super Star Strategy

In strategic terms what do these collaborations say about global competition, competitive advantage and the branding of architects in Australia and Australian architecture as a brand across the globe.

What struck me was that there is no single stand-alone Australian architect in this bunch. In both of these competitions, the short-listed firms are Australian architects aligned with the so-called star architects. Now far be it for me to preach some kind of little Aussie battler nationalist bias. But it is nonetheless vital to ask a few more questions about this situation:

As a strategy is it wise for local architectural firms in Australia to collaborate with these so-called stars architects? The old aphorism is that the local partner brings along well needed local expertise and on the ground knowledge. In other words, the international star designs and the local, seemingly domestic, partner implements.

Are Australian architects the documentation drudges of the global system? In these competitions have the Australian firms, in these collaborations, become global lackeys. The so-called second rate “drafties” of the global system? But is it really as simple as this? And in an increasingly media driven international marketplace for architectural services perhaps this strategic rationale is only partially valid.


In this context, one could argue that the Australian firms might provide the local technical grunt. This is in line with the overall trend towards the global outsourcing of documentation services. Across the global system, privatisation policies, and shareholder value practices have led to a situation where there has been a rise in outsourcing for architectural and building documentation.

The rise of digital technologies and the labour rates in the so-called global south have led to an increase in digital outsourcing for documentation. The late Bharat Dave in his own work noted the rise of offshoring architectural services which began in the late 90. Outsourcing has coalesced in places where there is an ICT infrastructure aligned with skilled workforces and low labour costs. Dave noted in 2010 a situation, that is now commonplace, where designs in one country are modelled in another, documented in yet another and then fabricated in another. It is not hard to concur with his conclusion that this situation necessitates the need for the “reconfiguration of practice in the long term.” ⁠

This situation has only accelerated in recent years, and it is perhaps naïve to think that the reconfiguration of practice is solely about the outsourcing and subsequent commodification of the services, such as technical documentation that designers seem to loathe in the first place.

The problem with partial services 

In these matchups, local architectural firms ruled by economic survival might find some comfort in being more easily able to modify the range of services they provide; being able to provide the technical grunt. Yet this flexibility poses a dilemma: to be more profitable, these firms need to offer a complete range of services. But as a result of changes in technology, partial services are less profitable and also readily supplied by non-architectural competitors. Consequently, many middle-ranking and larger firms have no choice but to provide limited or partial services despite the fact that this only encourages, and leads to, further disintermediation, and commodification in their markets. Providing partial services may be unsustainable in the longer term. For the local collaborating firms it might be a vicious cycle.

Mapping Strategy 

There is another issue that these two competitions point to, and that is the role of the internet and media to shape perceptions and the branding of architects. The following strategy diagrams map media impacts of the collaborations in these two competitions. I charted media hits (as measured by Google) of the stars against the reach of the local firms (number of Australian plus Internationaloffices of the local partner). I will let you make your own analysis of what all this means. My take is that clearly for some offices the match-ups appear to be ad-hoc and without any strategic intent. For other practices, the diagram shows who might gain or lose from the collaboration.


Clearly, it also suggests who might win these competitions if this was the only criteria. It also shows which local firms may be using the collaboration to either extend their range or extend their brand by being attached to a star architect.


For many Australian architects or any firm on the periphery of the global media starchitect system, such collaborations are perhaps necessary.  Since the early 2000s if not before, architects are no longer grounded in a particular office or geographical location. Competition amongst architects is global in the intense global competition for architectural services, arguably Australian firms need to extract value from networks and systems of patronage no matter how distant they may be. The star architects are better able to do this because they operate from larger economic centres.

Commodification of Design 

In any case, this all points to the ongoing commodification of design services. Perhaps the local/star matchups, point to the dumbing down of design into seductively drawn products with market signals that scream out “star-designer.” This is regardless of the fact that these designer products, seem to retain a threadbare relationship to what might have formerly been regarded as a traditional design process. Many of these designer products, indicate no interest in the memory of city or any sense of freedom and politics to be found in local communities.

Taken together, Australian firms need a renewed emphasis on strategic thinking, better management, a recognition of the media landscape, and internal research to gain competitive advantage. Otherwise, Australian firms will be doomed to be secondary actors, and lackeys, swilling around in the global system of architecture.

Surviving the Design Studio: Things to do at Architecture School to make sure you get a job when you finish

Lately, I have had the pleasure of hanging out with actual architects in a number of different forums. Inevitably the conversation comes around to the state of architectural education and architectural graduates. This situation may be more the case now because the employment market in my small city is currently buoyant.

To my surprise, a few common themes seemed to emerge in the conversations about graduates. The first is the sense among most architectural employers that recent graduates are less engaged with architectural culture and that there is an expectation amongst them that they will land a job in an office as a “young” and “emerging” designer leading a project team. Amazingly, for whatever reason, young architects think that they will design. Interesting to think some recent graduates think they will be leading project teams. Especially, given the widespread and prevailing dislike of group work by students. But hey, maybe that’s only in the practice class.

Others are under the illusion that they will be working the fablab machines and robots when they make the transition to practice.

I haven’t looked lately, but I am not sure how many offices have robots or are part of prefabricated supply chains. But shit hey; there is nothing wrong with learning how to code for that brave new future that the technology nutters are telling us will happen. With any luck, we might even get a few future Architects who will understand how to interrogate AI algorithms. But as argued below it is all about balance; and if architects can’t learn to manage new technologies, as compared to merely executing the technologies, then we architects will end up being next too useless.

I think making the transition from postgraduate architecture school to a working life in architecture is a pretty hard thing to do. Its not a great sapce to be in even when the employment market is bouyant. So, if you are a graduate student, here a few things you can do now to make the transition easier.

The first rule is balance

Don’t sacrifice all of your subjects for the design trophy. Keep things in balance. Being fixated on design marks actually means nothing once you graduate. Your final year marks are only one thing that architectural employers will take into consideration. What is more important is where you are positioned in your career two years out after graduation. Are you a BIM monkey drone at that point or are you beginning to assume responsibility and leadership in various practices? Do you have a strategy for your career?

You need to focus on the other things if you are to survive in a competitive marketplace: Architectural Practice (of course), History and Theory and Construction (and that doesn’t mean hanging out with the 3D printers). If you don’t know any of those things or pay little attention to them, you may not necessarily learn them in practice. Moreover, it will take an employer longer to teach you those things. As one practitioner said to me “the recent graduates are loss makers” because even though they are enthusiastic about design, they are too slow doing the other things” You need to balance your time and efforts across everything. Don’t get sucked into the design vortex.

Get with the culture

If you are going to think that you are some kind of star designer, then become one properly. Pick the hardest studios to do, expand your design skill base each time you do a studio at architecture school. Become involved in the local culture of your architecture school. Join SONA. Hang out at architectural events and be engaged. Go to the nearest peer awards presentations. Be interested in the latest architectural and urban controversies. Sitting at home on your computer with the Rhino or Revit family catastrophe is one of the most boring things you can do. You might even get off your computer and organise a studio space with your fellow travellers.

By getting involved with architectural culture, you will help to change it.

Build a profile 

Every architectural employer will look at your social media feeds to see how you fit into the culture of their practice. If your Instagram account is full of images with you taking selfies in bathrooms, skulling alcohol out of the red plastic cups, dancing at the toga parties, or latching onto a bong-pipe or vomiting in stretch limos while wearing the hire tuxedo then maybe it is not such a good look. Keep your professional profile separate from your personal one.

You need to build a “professional” profile. There best way to do this is through social media. Choose which avenues will best help you to do this. This engagement can be great as it is your opportunity to show what you are interested in on Instagram or Pinterest or Linked-In.

Get work experience while studying

Yes, sacrifice that precious studio design time and get a job in an architects office while you are studying. And that doesn’t mean getting a job that is some low-rent unpaid exploitative internship. DON’T EVER WORK FOR NOTHING. Most architectural employers enjoy having students around. Usually, they will actually think your quite smart and will be interested in your views on architecture. But that doesn’t mean you will be designing the latest Opera House.  You will learn more about design in an architects office than you might in a graduate school architectural studio. Of course, it depends on the office and the studio. This is why the balance between the two is so important.

 Be enthusiastic about doing stuff

Oh, and be sober at the job interview: Someone I know who was struggling to find a job in the early 90s recession swallowed a whole lot of homemade hallucinogenic cookies. About ten minutes later the phone rang, and the architectural firm asked if he wanted to come in for a job interview later that afternoon. He said sure. The time was just about when the cookies started to take hold. The rest is history, needless to say, he did not get the job.

In the job interview, don’t shove every design thang, every design sketch, every design robotic fab-labster-lobster thing down the throat of the interviewers. It is a mistake to think this approach will make you seem different. It’s not about you. I once got a job by saying that horse racing was in my blood and I liked nothing more than documenting the joinery and urinals in jockey’s rooms. I got another job as a site architect on a correctional centre PPP by saying I was great at anti-vandalism detailing. That was because I convinced them I could think like a sub-criminal teenage vandal.

Be different 

Better to tell the potential employers how much you enjoy doing bathroom and tiling details than saying you are some awesome emerging mini-star designer. Become an expert on the mundane things by being curious about those seemingly ordinary things now. Chances are saying that will spin out the employers out so much, at the interview, you will get the job on that basis alone. To the architectural employers, you will seem different and a cut above everyone else. Once you get that post-graduation job, because of your tile detailing or contract admin knowledge skill set, and do anything attitude, you will eventually have to do just about anything once employed in practice.

You might even get the chance to design a few real bathrooms because you will be the person who has to design and document them. There are some great bathrooms in my city designed by the students and the recent grads. And after all, isn’t designing great bathrooms and toilets what design is all about?

The William J Mitchell Archive: Digital Historiography and the fight against banality

Writing in the Introduction to The Electronic Design Studio a book he co-edited William J Mitchell was to proclaim that architects should:

“should think of design systems as open, flexible, constantly evolving knowledge-capture devices rather than static collections of familiar tools and dispensers of established wisdom. When we can do this, I think we will see the emergence of design systems that do not just mechanically assemble banalities, but that have real style and flair”


In 1986, Mitchell was appointed Professor of Architecture and director of the Master in Design Studies Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He later joined MIT in 1992 until his death in 2010. He is perhaps best for his book City of Bits.

William J Mitchell archive

The recently acquired William J Mitchell archive at Melbourne University enables an insight into Mitchell’s career as a thinker in relation to the development of Computer-Aided Design in architecture as well as the early history of parametric design.

Mitchell’s archive points to the problems with the contemporary parametric gospels as well as raising questions about the relationships between architectural theory, historiography and digital archives. In 2011 the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning Prof. Tom Kvan organised for William J Mitchell’s archive to come to Melbourne University. Professor Kvan, had been a former student and collaborator of Mitchell’s.

3.5 inch floppy discs

Included in the collection now at the University of Melbourne are a variety of digital storage media including 104 iOmega Zip disks created between 1995-2001, 51 Maxell 8mm HS-8/112 Data Cartridges first released in 1989, as well as 241 3.5 inch floppy discs of various kinds created between 1985 and 1993.


In the mid to late 1980s, Mitchell was exploring the capabilities of the Apple Macintosh computers in the network he was building at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). In 1986, there were three Apple models available on the market these were the Macintosh Plus, the Macintosh 512Ke, the Macintosh XL. All of these models were aiming at the consumer and education markets.


The disks in the Mitchell archive has been examined using Forensic Toolkit (FTK). FTK is mostly used in digital forensics and law enforcement but can be directly applied to archival contexts.  FTK can interrogate digital media to identify, preserve, recover and analyze digital information.


As result of our work with FTK The software title that appears to predominate on the 3.5-inch disks in the archive relates to Topdown. These disks includes disks that were student submissions as part of teaching at Harvard. Topdown was Milton Tan’s PhD thesis was undertaken at Harvard between 1987 and 1991 which Mitchell supervised; Topdown was developed and coded by Tan, but the work probably started at UCLA in collaboration with Mitchell and also Robin S Liggett who knew how to code.

 The birth of parametrics: Topdown

Topdown was a “knowledge-based design system” that also employed some parametric functions. While AutoCAD 10 had been released in 1988 Topdown was not merely a linear drafting tool drafting tool like AutoCAD. Topdown was developed in Lightspeed Pascal for the Macintosh and in Microsoft Pascal under Microsoft Windows for the IBM P5/2. But in 1989 the system was not yet able to utilize object-orientated programming.


As Mitchell was to liken, it at that time it, most computer drafting systems were seen to “work in a bottom-up fashion.”  As Tan and Mitchell contended Topdown was software that was an attempt to make a tool inherently parametric. Mitchell contended that a “CAD system should automatically maintain structure as a designer manipulates a geometric model.”

In using Topdown in his teaching, Topdown appeared to allow Mitchell’s students to replicate the generative exploration and selective decisions of classical architecture. However, the classical orders were no longer drawn but selected and elaborated via the graphical user interface using a Macintosh personal computer.

Emulation for digital historians 

Further research into the archive will allow for the emulation of the Topdown program itself.  Emulation is the concept that a computer program in one digital device can imitate or mimic another application or device without needing the original hardware. In other words, digital entities or fragments produced on earlier machines can be emulated on later platforms allowing them to be viewed as if they were running on the original system. The development of emulation services suggests that architectural historians must also know computer languages, hardware, networks, storage and memory capacities, graphics, user interfaces, display technology, as well as regimes of application and software development and individual applications.

Shape grammarists 


Mitchell’s and Tan’s work and effort to develop Topdown followed on from the shape grammar work of Stiny and Gips. In the early 1970s, it was Stiny and Gips (above) who advanced theoretical notions of shape grammars and parametric design in a series of papers.


Whereas Stiny saw the link between shape grammars and abstract art, Mitchell saw the connection between shape grammars and the games and systems inherent to classicism in architecture. This is obvious in the publication in 1990 of The Logic of Architecture: Design, Computation and Cognition.In many respects, there was an attempt to replicate the systematic and layered nature of classicism in the Topdown software.


Positioning the digital fragment 

The Mitchell archive suggests the need for architectural historians to develop new methods of archival research. Given the history of incremental and disruptive innovation in computing, the architectural historian and digital archivist must recognize this state of flux. The history of the digital model in architecture is only a partial history if it does not position the digital fragment into its appropriate technological context.

The shift to digital practices, as exemplified in the Mitchell archive, indicates a need to revise principles governing museology, collections, and conservation. In this context, is it merely a matter of developing new technology based methods and practices to extract historical data? Or does the extant digitization of an archive shift how fragments emerge and are selected as quotations in historical narratives?

Forget chronology, style and type.

Historiographical theories and methods can no longer rely on the old taxonomies of physical media based on the verities of chronology, style, and type (isn’t Parametrics now all about overturning the old orders?) In relation to digital archives, instruments of architectural theory and criticism will need to be cognisant of technology. Digital archives suggest the need for socio-material or technical methodologies that account for the materiality of technology and its interconnection with architecture.

In some ways architecture, its canon, norms, and histories is now a creature that has become a kind of cyborg. Architectural theory as an abstract game, as it is for some historians and theorists, sourced in critical theory, continental philosophy and logic will no longer suffice. I would suggest that in this new digital context, historiographic perspectives that recognise socio-technical work and digital ethnographies of the social sciences is the work that needs to be done.

Assembling the banalities.

Mitchell’s Topdown indicates that he saw parametric design as a way to attempt to link the canon and norms of architectural design to computing. It was an effort to both translate and assert architecture as a canon of knowledge into and against the crude digitization of architectural knowledge through machine computing and an effort countering the mindlessness of engineering optimization and efficiency. The paradox is that parametric design methods have themselves now come to exemplify an architectural approach that appears to mechanically assemble the banalities that Bill Mitchell himself loathed.

This blog is based on a paper was written in conjunction with Peter Neish the research data curator at Melbourne University. It was presented at SAHANZ 2017 you can access the full paper here. We would like to acknowledge Geoff Laurenson, and Millicent Weber, who imaged and cataloged the disks as well as Naomi Mullumby, Sarah Charing and Professor Tom Kvan for their role is securing and documenting the archive.

Surviving the Design Studio: How to start making architecture with an actual drawing.

BAN Pinterest

If you think an architectural design is about merely downloading stuff on Pinterest, think again.

 Many architects have now lost the ability to draw. Hey, for some the computer is so much better. But is the machine the same kind of speculative instrument that drawing, or model making, is? I don’t think it is and my concern is that we have substituted Pinterest, and image collecting memes in general, as a way to draw.

Designing has always been about speculation, and I think it is reasonable to collect, download and collage material together and then employ techniques of estrangement and distortion. Why would you do that when everything now ready-made and easily customizable with a bit of site and user functionality and value management thrown in. Why would architectural design be anything else? Plus, those other techniques, the ones of distortion and estrangement, would mean you might actually need some kind of theoretical model or position to work from rather than slopping around in the lather of consumerist capitalism. But I guess Theming everything is oh so easy these days. Contextual theming is the worse and goes like this: “my project design is in an area with lots of (fill in the most predominant and visible thing in the local context) widgets, So I am going to make my building look like a bit like and widget.
Lousy copying in architecture seems to be rife these days. Hey, who needs to draw in the early stages of a project when you hit me up with some of that old vs. new architecture, or give me a slug of arches, or worse still, a shot of archetypal gable profiled zinc. As a friend of mine remarked: Danish or Japanese projects published in Archdaily in the morning quickly end up on Melbourne drawing boards in the afternoon. Nothing like consuming the 24-hour global design cycle.

A slight digression

Worse still are the digital poetics advanced by the digital tribes is, regardless of aesthetic appearance, which embodies an overriding sentiment of the architect’s office as a kind of frontier. A frontier where men are real men (just like in the Searchers) and where design workflows can be optimized and rationalized. Nowhere, is this ripsnorting wham-bam, boys with toys technological frontier, and associated frontierism, more evident in the discourse that surrounds the implementation of Building Information Modelling in architecture. BIM has been a central focus for the digital tribes and at the center of this crap poetics of efficiency, is an entity called the BIM model. The BIM model, the holiest of holies, the modern equivalent to the arc of the covenant, is a static centralized and hierarchical conceptual entity. (sometimes I wonder how much research money was spent ton the development of the IFCs).

Arguably, this statism combined constrains architects from design speculation through drawing. Their rhetorics of the frontier around all this stuff makes architects think they are speculating about something when they are doing no such thing. While researching this blog post I found this on the BuildingSmart website, (hey, whats in it for me) and it’s worth quoting in full:

Who benefits from standardized BIM-processes?”

  1. Owners, architects, engineers, facility managers, because they do not need to re-invent the wheel in each project, and because everyone would know the standard procedures. It will be much easier to partner-up in new projects and to build consortia. A lot of money and effort will be saved.
  2. Software vendors, because the market will become much bigger. As procedures become widely accepted state-of-the-art, vendors will increase investment in software development.
  3. Educators, because education is based on state-of-the-art, only on this basis a mass-education can be established and it is worth the effort to develop educational books/media (anything else is just short-term training). If you demand today from universities to educate their students in BIM, most of them are helpless, because they don’t know what to teach. Certificates of education need a standardized basis. State-of-the-art is also a necessary basis for accreditation of studies.
  4. Building owners, because they will ask for state-of-the-art BIM competence confirmed by certificates.
  5. Contractors, manufacturers, authorities, maintainers and operators, because their work processes will be streamlined and efficient.
  6. Everyone in society, because they use the built environment for living, working and life.

Sorry, I know I am digressing a bit. That “living working and life”  bit gets me choked up everytime. Sure, you can play with and do things with the plug-ins nowadays. But is that really the same as drawing? Drawing is a non-standard thing, and the con, of the infamous Non-Standard architecture exhibition in the early 2000s Paris, was to delude architects into thinking that we were all heading into a non-standard world of super digital design.

I wonder if all the above horrors of contemporary design, including digital design, are because we have lost the ability to conduct in-depth research through drawing and sketching

So just like last’s week’s post. Here are few clues to help you get your design drawing skills up and running.

Pinterest DETOX

1.Buy a pen and pencil and get some white paper.


2. Start to do something without overthinking


3. Think about a building or space or place you might like to design.


4. Have a first go at drawing it. Do a section. You can even annotate if you like. You can even employ humour.


5. It may start as a diagram and then evolve.


6. It doesn’t even have to be neat or even legible to others

IMG_50638. Without wanting to sound like one of those awful American Architecture school composition manuals: As you draw think about how the drawing might develop: Which aspects of it could change or remain fixed? What are its limits? Which segments of it do you want to design more than others? Think about its attributes. Most simply, should it be bigger or smaller?


9. Try and draw it in different ways and from different perspectives.


10. Draw quickly then draw slowly and even just scribble a bit if you like.


11. Iterate a few more designs or sketches.


12. Start again and repeat. Try doing all the above in a computer and see how long it takes and don’t forget only the most narcissistic architects will draw these types of sketches on yellow trace. ( if I had signed my drawings with Siza or Hejduk’s signature the might be saleable and people would drool over them).

So, if you cant do this, or couldn’t be bothered, and its more comfortable to pretend to be a BIM superhero, and you still think Pinterest is the only way to go, then don’t bother calling yourself an Architect. But if you try drawing not only will you be a better architect but the profession itself might just be that little bit more resilient, when the value managers come knocking on your door. Especially when you are sitting around a table, and they are trying to delete every bit of pathetic design you have Pinterest plastered into the project.

The feature image is a Raisbeck drawing collage from the early 90s. Its little wonder I was never invited to be a guest critic or “Assistant Professor” at Harvard, Columbia or the AA.