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Monday, July 23, 2012

A Serious Reply

This is a contribution to a long comment string that began with a blog entitled, “Seriously?” posted to the Committee on Design COD at the AIAKnowledgeNet. See also, "Criticism, Questions & Ideas"
The Committe on Design COD Fall Conference in Spain has obviously struck a nerve. I believe the question is what will be learned from the conference and what is its value in relation to the investment? I’ve read a lot of opinion and offered some of my own, but have struggled to define the question. If I’ve come close, it could apply to architecture in general and architectural education in particular.
When I graduated from architecture and summer experience, I abruptly realized that I had little to offer society except opinion. This led me to ponder what I had learned. I had opinion that was challenged by others and logic that was my only defense, since I had few facts to offer.
I began to appreciate the intangible value of my education as I attended management training seminars, where some sessions were devoted to creativity. Their approach told me they didn’t have a clue. The best seminar I ever attended was a week-long session at the University of Virginia Management Excellence Program. It didn’t mention the word “creativity”. It focused on people, a process of logic, and information for evaluation. I’m not sure they would agree with my summary, but it’s what I took away. The underlying message didn’t involve management or memorized response to a question. I came to believe it concerned creativity based on the formation of a question. The wrong question can make ideas an exercise in futility.
The COD conference in Spain will expose the participants to answers formulated by others throughout history, but not to many of the questions they faced during their lifetime. The challenge is the same as it has always been. Define the problem before solutions are sought -- and build skill and knowledge with logic that contributes to the answer. Answers are symbols of the mind at work with the logic, knowledge, tools and talent available.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not denigrating the conference location. I’m trying to place it in perspective. There is no substitute for inspiration where ideas are concerned, but architectural inspiration begins with questions that respond to need. Questions can occur in the shower; but if Spain provides inspiration, so be it. It’s our turn to ask questions and the venue is to some degree irrelevant, although it does limit participation.
My point is that ideas can be questions formed with observation, logic and knowledge at any location. If we are as creative as we contend, answers will be additional ideas offered for evaluation. Thought that begins with answers can be opinion seeking political support. The venue for reflection will always be a matter of choice, or fate.

At this point, I believe architecture must agree on questions before it can begin to seek answers. Our success will be reflected by the cities and shelter we produce in response. They will represent answers to questions that will be pondered by future generations.
Facilitation by an expert with a background in architecture and planning could help to discover and define latent questions; since “excellence” is a goal and not a topic any more than design is an idea without a question. The question, “What will be learned?” from the COD Fall conference is valid. I hope we all learn to ask questions that improve our leadership potential with an expanded and refined body of knowledge. This will be a contribution worth the investment.

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