'Discovery Not Invention' in: The Architects' Journal by Patrick Lynch
Encountering your work built for the first time is one of the strangest pleasures of an architect. It doesn’t feel like your work, it feels like something completed by another. The conscious part of any design gets left behind when the work is going well, and you know when to stop, when to let go, when things are going well. Every time it is different though, you fall back on technique, ways of working, habits, professional knowledge, learnt behaviour, tools, tricks, prevarication, oscillation, vacillation, avoidance, sloth, labour, endurance, obstinacy, hubris, exaggerated rules, prescribed parameters, hard work, changes of heart, ecstatic jumps, mistakes, acceptance, conversation, anecdotage, memories of similar things, masquerade, trying things, taking them away again, making up your mind, refusing to settle, repetition, repetition, resignation, sudden insights, clients suddenly being truthful and somehow knowing when something is right, and surprise when a project, like others, can stand up for itself. Design feels more like discovery than invention.
The conscious mind can’t articulate all of the information and problems the brain somehow processes. The addiction of late or all nights are one way of trying to go beyond yourself, when there isn’t yet very much to go beyond. I remember at college there was always as much talk about music as design, but unlike young musicians we were trapped inside a discipline that didn’t allow us to make what we were training to do. I built a few things as a student, but their only worth is as exercises. Unlike rock musicians or mathematicians architects are not burnt out by thirty, we’re hardly begun by forty.
I remember the first time a project really took hold of me and I felt that I was going beyond myself in a way that resembled the earlier bliss I’d felt at sport, when things happen so fast you can appreciate them happening in slow motion, like you’re watching this thing happen to someone else and know exactly what will happen next, where to place your body and know what not do. It grew out of absolute acceptance that I couldn’t do the thing I most wanted to do. I couldn’t design, I couldn’t make anything beautiful, I couldn’t even make things work – I was a failure, things would not congeal, lines wouldn’t sit still on the page for me like lines in the work of the people I admired. I don’t know why I did this, but I picked up some card I’d bought to make a model with and some of my girlfriend’s oil pastels and started to draw on all fours. White pastel on black card, a sharp hard pencil cut lines into the white marks; big arm-opening strokes of white and corrections from the pencil, less lines on paper than incisions in lines. Suddenly spaces opened up for me, and I was inside the line, inside the line of thought of the project that had vexed and disturbed me and now was accepting me inside its own force and logic and time.
Now I don’t know how to replicate this and yet somehow in our professional lives we have to find the space for this type of time. Going on site and seeing something almost built takes me back to this primary experience of design. Each time it reveals itself to us architecture redeems itself and us, our doubtful certainties and fear and pride.