A philosophy of design

The “Critdwg 410 05a  Ground floor plan as proposed” at Architecture School was a terrifying experience. You pinned your work up on the display boards allocated to you, the plans sections and elevations, working details and thinking processes with models and the odd perspective, if you were good at that.  It felt so much like pinning yourself up on the wall naked and exposed to the withering gaze and half concealed contempt of the lecturing staff who came round and systematically demolished your work: the work that you had laboured and sweated over for months and through many all-night sessions, the hard thought through plans and ideas which were mercilessly demolished and torn to shreds. It was an exercise in ritual humiliation designed to harden the feeble student and weed out the failures from the rest.  Judging by the astonishing self-confidence that exudes from students and graduates today, in almost any field, this practice has been replaced with an affirmative approach and positive strokes. I don’t recall any positive strokes. These were reserved for the smart guys. At the end of the session the head of the school would always posit the question “What is your design philosophy?” This was the final crushing blow. Your thinking had been shown to be defective, your ideas crass and your presentation infantile and now you could not actually explain what your philosophy was because you didn’t have one. How I managed to qualify in the end, I will never know.  

dwg 410 12  cross section

Now more than 40 years later, when all my contemporaries, save for a few, are retired or planning theirs, I am beginning to feel that I am getting the hang of this job – designing buildings and maybe I could  answer the question better this time if asked.

What is my philosophy of design? Well, it is about designing, creating something worthwhile, something of value, not wedded to the fashions of the day nor mimicking the patterns of the past. It is about simple things, using a simple palette of light and shade, space and moving through spaces, scale, colour and texture, making restoring adapting buildings to be safe, secure, appropriate, accessible, feasible and workable. It is producing buildings that will sit nicely in their environment, be comfortable in their use and purpose and with a body language that is clear and ambiguous. It is about producing buildings that will delight the eye and inspire the mind and be fired by a desire and a longing for beauty. Essentially that’s what I think it is it is about.  It is about beauty.

I could certainly answer the question this time round with confidence. Achieving it, of course, would be another thing.

dwg 410 08  View of interior

Crawford Mackenzie

2 thoughts on “A philosophy of design

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