Why aspiring design students should consider studying architecture?

Notes for Guinevere :)

I often counsel and advise students who are interested in studying design, and invariably they always grapple with the context of design that most interests them. Many students love design as an idea, or creative pursuit before they become necessarily connected to a context. A few are determined to study fashion, or graphics, or architecture, but the overwhelming majority just love the process of conceptualising and realising their own idea into a tangible product. 

As someone who did study design (product design), I often reflect on my own education and practice, and I have one regret that I always share with students. I wish I had studied architecture as my principle design discipline. I have rectified this with years of informal inquiry and practice, which has only reinforced my advice to students. I think architects make the best overall designers, and here are five reasons why:

1. Process
Design is essentially a process, and understanding that process has consistently been linked with better practice and outcomes. Designers research ideas, they read, model, test, conceptualise, evaluate, analyse, produce, construct, solve problems etc. None of this is particularly linear either. Research has shown that the context helps determine the process, but being aware of good processes really impacts the outcome. The processes involved in architecture are perhaps the most rigorous of all the disciplines. The projects are often costly and a rigorous design process helps to mitigate the risks of a poor outcome for the client. Likewise, architecture has a long and well established place in human culture. This has meant that the evolution of the craft has been subjected to time and testing. So, if you want to become a practitioner of design that really understands the design process, then architecture will expose you to the broadest possible incarnations of design processes. 

Norman Foster:  Molteni, Walter Knoll, Artemide and Alessi are just a handful of the architect’s design partners.  Pictured: Molteni's 'Teso' table, by Foster + Partners  Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/top-20-architects-who-have-turned-their-hand-to-product-design#2e3ompB8yJVmfYLT.99

Norman Foster: Molteni, Walter Knoll, Artemide and Alessi are just a handful of the architect’s design partners. Pictured: Molteni's 'Teso' table, by Foster + Partners
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/top-20-architects-who-have-turned-their-hand-to-product-design#2e3ompB8yJVmfYLT.99

2. Sideways compatibility
I truly believe and have learnt that designers begin their most intensive education after they have graduated. Every project, and every new step in the development of technology, materials and contexts requires designers to continually learn and grow. There is no doubt that fashion designers have unique knowledge, as do graphic designers, and product designers. I argue though, that architects are more capable of designing across disciplines than any other. Architects work in 2D and 3D constantly. Architects engage with the broadest and most complex diversity of materials than any other discipline. Architects navigate space, time, and human interactions more intensively than others. Architects move between form and function constantly, Architects navigate the pragmatics of budgets with creative prowess. There are many aspects of architectural practice that make an architect more capable to transition to alternative contexts. It is in my opinion the most sideways compatible of the disciples. I think an architect could, and regularly do, design fashion, graphics, and products more than any of the other disciples design the built environment. 

Clio Sage studied architecture at Barnard and moved from there into model-making for Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Her clothing design is highly structural and more haute couture than prêt-à-porter. You can see the architectural influence in her defined lines and the emphasis on the fabrication process. 

Clio Sage studied architecture at Barnard and moved from there into model-making for Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Her clothing design is highly structural and more haute couture than prêt-à-porter. You can see the architectural influence in her defined lines and the emphasis on the fabrication process. 

3. Philosophy
An architect must be knowledgeable in history, art, sociology, physics, psychology, materials, symbols, politics and many other fields to be great at the craft. The very early history of philosophy have been linked to architecture (idealism, and neo-Platonic architecture that Plato so heavily influenced). This long association with philosophy has been woven into the fabric of the best architects, teachers, academicians, and architecture schools. It tends to produce more richly broadened graduates that understand aesthetics, modernity, post-modernity, and intellectual ideas that are more capable of creating more thoughtful and thought provoking design outcomes. I think this is essential, not only valuable to designers who will shape the future for future generations. 

Shigeru Ban:  The Japanese architect is known for his masterful work with wood, paper and cardboard.  Pictured: customisable wall system for Hermès  Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/top-20-architects-who-have-turned-their-hand-to-product-design#2e3ompB8yJVmfYLT.99

Shigeru Ban: The Japanese architect is known for his masterful work with wood, paper and cardboard. Pictured: customisable wall system for Hermès
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/top-20-architects-who-have-turned-their-hand-to-product-design#2e3ompB8yJVmfYLT.99

4. Technology
Technology are the tools that we invent, adapt and appropriate to solve problems and meet human needs. All designers will have a unique relationship with technology. They will use them to model ideas, research ideas, fabricate, construct, create new materials, and a plethora of other uses. Architects have a particularly unique experience with technology that is more broadly transferable and exciting. From 3D modelling tools, computer generated design tools, and 3D printing and conceptualisation tools, to the many technologies that are integrated into projects (environmental, energy, materials, systems integration, and numerous other technologies). Architecture will help you to be more technologically savvy than other disciplines. It will help you discern technology more comprehensively, to invent it when you need it, and not to be governed by it. 

Dutch 3D printing firm MX3D cut the ribbon on its project to 3D print a steel bridge across one of the city’s famous canals using two modified, multi-axis robotic arms.

Dutch 3D printing firm MX3D cut the ribbon on its project to 3D print a steel bridge across one of the city’s famous canals using two modified, multi-axis robotic arms.

5. People
All design is about the people the products serve. Designers create useful and used artefacts that serve a purpose, bring joy, and make the world a more wonderful and sustainable place. Architects develop a much more sophisticated sense of people by the diversity of people that spaces serve. They understand that spaces are for workers, children, learners, the elderly, sick, people, spectators, disabled people, families, guests, diners, coffee drinkers, and everyone else. They learn to understand groups of users, and their subsets, interactions etc. These are the types of directly transferable skills that all designers should develop. 

There are many other reasons why I believe that aspirant designers should consider studying architecture. Their fellow student cohorts are typically interesting, diverse, motivated and intelligent; their professors have led their fields in many aspects of the profession, and architecture schools are typically much more established and developed. I also believe that the bigger issues of design, like aesthetics, sustainability, environmental performance, energy, and inclusiveness are more capably addressed in architecture. 

Iraqi-British Zaha Hadid, former winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, is a world famous and widely successful architects who is designing cars.

Iraqi-British Zaha Hadid, former winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, is a world famous and widely successful architects who is designing cars.

Examples abound of architects who have venture far afield into fashion graphics, jewellery, cinema, products, industrial and other disciplines. If you really want to be a designer above and beyond any particular context, or if you're just not quite certain yet, then consider architecture.

Come and talk to us at Saksara if you need some more advice about your future study options in design.