How to Design

If a student of architecture comes to me and ask me this question, I would have to say, at first, “Yes, I could teach you how to design, but from my approach. There are numerous other approaches out there.” I would also add that my approach is probably from a Rationalist School similar to what perhaps Anthony Too and Lim Take Bane and Lim Teng Ngiom might approach, as I believe so. But perhaps not as rigorous and more personalised. I admire architects such as Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier simply because they were the true originators of the game.

I like to call Design or even Life as a Game, but that does not mean that I am flippant about Life, Design and my vocation. In fact I am very serious about it. I like to throw thoughts like bouncing balls off walls. My thought processes are very random, like the pecking sequence of a bird.

That’s why I have to be very organise and vocal about how I organise myself especially if it effects others. Often I think of things months ahead before it starts because I work that way, in a whirl-wind sort of way. I don’t mean to confuse people, but if I do, it’s because I said too much. I use to be worse at that before, so I am progressing to make more sense.

I am a designer but it may not be an architectural design that I may be designing at the moment. The most recent design was the Architectural School’s Curriculum. It is not innovative, but the process was to tighten and apply more content on theory and absorb the pedagogical aims of the University. Yes, we could be designing anything really.

Designing is my passion, which is equal to Teaching. I am not the traditional teacher type, imparting pearls of wisdoms upon students, but more of a moderator and facilitator type. I see patterns in conversation and dialogue, and love to highlight them. That is why you might find me to be rude, interrupting someone in mid-sentence, where I meant to underline the person’s point to the audience. Perhaps that is why I fantasise that I would be great as a TV talk host or my lost vocation of journalism. Putting those divergent thoughts away, I must reiterate that I love design to a fault. So teaching in this school gives me that chance to do what I love most.

Being involved with architectural education for a total of 14 years, I suppose I feel I am qualified to teach architecture even more so than before.

So back to the question of “How to Design”

If you give me a site and a brief, I will draw lines on the scaled plan. I will try to find some plan and some volumes (by sketching sections) by figuring up some proportions. It will not be to scale yet, but my sketch will get scaled early so that I will refine it as I get along. To me there is no time limit or timing to scale it. I think of 3D in plan. I have that skill.

Until I am satisfied with sketching in plan (there could be numerous), then only I will sketch a block in 3D of the volume and mass. Then I will cut it up. Sections. Perspectives. Vignettes. Anything…

I could do all that using a bold pencil – 8B. Or even one of those Graphite leads that are so blunt that I need to hold and press it gingerly. (I use to want to be a surgeon.) I prefer to only start using my 0.6 ‘Artline’ pens (any colour) when I really want to do the finished sketch design. If I think the 0.6 pen is too coarse (some people likes it coarse), I will use the 0.4 ‘Artline’ pens, colours black, blue and red. All colours combined to suggests different things. The 0.6 and 0.4 sometimes get to be combined as well. I draw on butter paper on top of a graph paper

So, how do I find Ideas?

I have lots of ideas in my mind mostly from reading, dialogues, watching television and documentaries. I read Scientific American, Fast Company, Monologue, Newsweek and many magazines that make me think about the world and mankind. Some give me perspectives that I would not normally experience. It is a short-cut to experiencing the world for real, like mountain-climbing or working with Donald Trump or being a Buddhist. Yes, taking roles or imagining yourself like an actor would do (in taking roles) helps too. Just don’t be too conscious about it.

If I think timber is needed, I will work on developing timberwork. Even working on the whole design based on timber. I don’t care if someone says timber is expensive than concrete. It’s my idea. I want to finish it. At least I shall be satisfied of the completed idea, even though the design will not be accepted eventually.

Sometimes I force myself to change and work with something else. Often there are constraints which I have to adhere to. Perhaps I would have a different approach if I was in practice working with bullish or bullying clients or cut-throat prices. I don’t know. But I do want to insist on my ideas. I would have loved to just work on conceptual design and let others build it.

By right, there is no such thing as concept when it’s on drawing form. Yes, ‘concept’ which means similar to conceiving a design must be felt and experience, only then you can really appraise or be critical of the concept. What we are doing before it is being built and use is to move towards a concept. We are mostly dealing with ideas. However, we can use other concepts as ideas, but our concept is our origination.

I think this is good enough for me to explain on paper “how to design”, and it’s an attitude just like any other endeavour. Yes, everyone has to develop their own attitude and approach. As long as you are able to convince others that what you created is good and sound. Having said that, there are many approaches based on fantasy and experimentation, depending on who your audience and assessors are, may or may not be appreciated whole-heartedly.


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