Making It Up

Architecture students, especially when hurtling towards crits, sometimes complain in exasperation that they are ‘making it up’ – stuck or lost with a part of their proposal, they resort to invention.

‘What are you doing on the south end of the site?’
‘I don’t know. I’m making it up.’

‘I don’t know what’s happening in section here… I’ll make it up.’

This assumes that making it up is somehow different from designing, distinct, and it implies that design can be something other than the invention and imposition of a conceived form.  Surely, though, the core of design – especially in the architecture school project – is to make something up.  We go from existing conditions to a fictitious idea of how things might be.  It is made up.  How else do we get there?

The proposal is made up not only in process, but in form: made up, mocked up, in models and drawings and in the imagined conditions.  And, too, it is made-up cosmetically, beautified, foundation and concealer applied.

To imply that an architectural intervention can be anything other than made up is to deny the role of the designer.  Architecture students are particularly prone to presenting subjective interpretations and the responses which follow as objective outcomes.  We suggest that because a move is in line with a previously established concept or rationale that it somehow has its own independent rightness.  We don’t acknowledge our design instinct in the process of translation, interpretation and implementation, and we don’t acknowledge the subjectivity present in establishing the justification from which the move developed.

David Goldblatt describes these justifications as arbiters – a way of evaluating the design move.  Implicit in this is the fact that they are to some extent arbitrary, as is the way in which they translate into architecture.  He goes on to suggest that the referenced arbiter is valuable for its externality, because it gives the designer something to which to respond which is beyond their control.  It is a way of surrendering decision-making – ‘the disavowal of self’.1

Of course, the external arbiter is a powerful design tool for all the reasons Goldblatt articulates, and to be working without being aware of a rationale on which to pin decisions is uncomfortable.  It is necessary, though, to recognise the importance of subjectivity and instinct and the role they inevitably play.  We can and should make things up.

1. David Goldblatt, ‘The Dislocation of the Architectural Self’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
Vol. 49, No. 4 (1991), pp. 337-348