There is arguably no more important skill for an architect to possess than that of critical thinking. Thinking about their own work and that of others in a critical and constructive way. A skill that’s typically attached exclusively to the design process, albeit one that brings significant benefits when applied across all aspects of architectural practice.
Revisiting research and precedent (from the previous post), we implicitly understand that it’s work not done without critical thought. It’s work that seeks understanding through a critical lens, learning at the feet of others and the application of critical thinking to deepen understanding. Great designers cast a critical eye over precedent, extracting valuable lessons that they’re able to apply to their own work. They’re the most skilled in this thinking, allowing themselves the time to research and to rigorously reflect on precedent, in order to inform their own work.
Critical thinking takes rigour and time for analysis. It’s not simply “gut reaction” and requires time for insight and understanding. Thinking that demands answers to questions and time for deep consideration.
Questions that might be asked in critical design analysis, for example:
What were the design objectives? In what way have the design objectives been achieved? What are the failures or shortcomings of the design? What has been done beyond the ordinary? What was the approach in the design and how has it achieved the outcome? How might it be done better? What else might be learnt in the critical analysis?
The challenge is to then bring that level of critical thought to other aspects of practice. What if architects were thinking critically about their own architectural practice, or components of their practice? Take HR, for example, what are the objectives for HR in the office (the Brief)? Are the objectives being met? What’s working? What’s not working? What can be done better? What are examples of organisations either from within the profession, or beyond, doing HR well? What is it that they do? What can be learnt? and so on.
In design, the key objective is not to simply tear something down, but to learn from it in order to do the next thing better. In thinking critically about your architectural practice, the objective is to build a better practice not tear it down. Here’s the challenge,
What areas of your practice might you start to apply critical thinking to in order to make them better? Here are a few to start with: marketing, HR, business development, design process, office processes, client management, communication, meetings and so on. While you’re doing that, do some research on other organisations, keep in mind there are many other industries that are doing things differently and very well. With the benefit of critical thought, what might you learn?
My note for those in employment, as per my previous posts, this applies to you too. How might you show leadership and bring this level of consideration to the office you’re working in? How might you apply this to yourself?
If you think you might need to apply a little Critical Thinking training to more than servicing your projects, but don’t know where to start, please feel free to drop me a line. I’m here to support you in building a better practice, forging better human and professional skills, and developing architectural leadership.
Michael is the founder of unmeasured, where this post was first published. He supports architects in their practice through coaching, workshops and community. Helping architects find their desire lines in practice.