Understanding Architecture - It's a Walk in the Park

Read any architecture books with any sort of theory being espoused, or listen to any architect explaining what their building is all about, and you'll soon find yourself in a verbal mire of weird language, odd words and unusual phrases. You'll glaze over...

It's a confusing world to be involved in, and to be honest, most people I know, myself included, can't understand a word of it at the best of times. Architects checking their smartphones at conferences are not being rude, they're using 'thesaurus' to figure out what the hell the speaker is on about !

The snag is, most architects describe buildings from a theoretical point of view, and more often than not are rationalizing their design after it's been built. They are remembering the functional things that got them to the design result - an intellectual approach.

But architecture is not analysed from an intellectual viewpoint when it's being used, it is experiential - people react to architecture with their bodies, senses and feelings. Human feeling is universal, we all get it - and people share feelings regardless of culture or background. Think about how the well known, grand buildings throughout the world are designed to inspire, move and affect the people experiencing them.

During my time in Architecture School I was once asked in an exam to 'describe a recent architectural experience'. Thinking that 'going to the museum' or 'an evening in the Globe' (pub not theatre) could be less than exciting, I tried to think of something 'intellectual' and clever. Confronted by the blank sheet of paper in front of me, nothing sprang to mind that might impress.

That morning though, I had wandered the twisting turning path up Constitution Hill, a small park covered with massive mature trees, made bare by the cold of winter. Their thick trunks rooted in the ground climbed to a towering filigree of branches that overhung the path like the spindly structure of many a famous gothic cathedral. The cold foggy morning had dulled the surrounding traffic noise, and exacerbated the feeling of being somewhere special. It was with a sense of awe that I had trudged amongst those trees and on into the design exam, and I had remembered a clear feeling of peacefulness and quiet. It was a truly wonderful architectural experience, and one that I ended up describing as fully as I could, and which rewarded me with a high grade.

Architecture is not something we need to be obsessed with 'thinking' about, it's something we just need to feel. When you next visit a well known building or place and you are asked to describe it to your friends, think about how you felt, about the emotions that ran through you as you walked around or through the building, piazza, garden or forest.

Excellent architecture is all around us, and it may not just be buildings. Finding it can be a walk in the park.

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