How Does an Architect get Unstuck?

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Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels [cropped]

When we’re stuck it’s tempting to walk away.
It’s too hard.
It seems impossible.
There’s no way forward.

The thing is, as an architect, when you’ve been commissioned to design something, you can’t walk away. So you need to find a way around the stuck.

Here are some things I think about when I’m stuck.

Note, I didn’t say stuck when I’m working on a commission. It is applicable to any of the important work we all do. I assert that this is a design process. Anyone willing to do the emotional labour is capable of this design process thinking.

When I’m stuck. When I sense something isn’t working or I need a new perspective or new idea but just can’t seem to escape the headspace I’ve created, I look for a new way in.

The first way in might be to think of what might be the opposite of what I’m doing. Doing the opposite can free up stagnant thinking. It can test the current thinking. It can unearth a new idea. It can just provide R&R from the weight that has been placed on the current thinking such that when returning to it, you might see something new or that you hadn’t noticed before. The opposite may also turn out ot be the outcome you were looking for.

Another thing I’ll try is to do my work in a different way. If I’m drawing I might make a model, if I’m drawing on the computer I might draw but hand, if I’m drawing by hand I might make a physical model, etc. These ways are relevant to design work, but an equivalent approach would be if your working alone, work with someone else, if it’s work in a team, try it alone, if you’re stuck at a desk go for a walk, if you’re typing into a word processor try doing a diagram by hand or writing by hand. Find a new way in to how you are actually working.

It’s often helpful to identify what else your work looks like. Find a precedent. Find many. How did they do it?

More often than not we need to throw all the cards up in the air and come up with even more ideas instead of trying to fix the one you’re stuck in. I might challenge myself to come up with as many other ideas or ways as possible in 30 minutes. It can be amazing what you realise you hadn’t considered once you’ve done that.

Can it be done at a different scale? What if I drew this smaller, or bigger? Literally or metaphorically.

There are many other aspects to being stuck, fears, support, accountability, hiding, and so on. If we want to rule a line through all of those and for now, just keep going. I think you’ll agree, you have at least one thing you can now try in order to get unstuck.

Architects’ Epilogue

I might be preaching to the choir when describing this process to architects, but I’ll posit that the majority of architects rarely use this design process thinking on any of the other work that they do. I’m curious how they might get better at doing so?

Want to know more about the author?
Michael is the co-founder of
Redshift Architecture & Art, and founder & coach at Ed Shift

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| Not inclined to stay inside the | lines.

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