How to communicate your work effectively

Intellectual pontification is bad. This is one of the biggest traps you may fall into. This post may help you work around this classic pitfall.

 

architecture-application-portfolio

 

Intellectual pontification is bad because of one, singular reason. My old tutor used to endlessly repeat this reason. I’d credit him, but I’m not sure who said it first.

‘The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding isn’t made of words.’

This essentially means that you can talk and write about your visual, sensory, audible, tactile etc. work as much as you want with all sorts of lofty ideas and long words but at the end of the day the reality of the thing is in its physicality and not what you say about it. It’s time to turn to visual communication, and not wordsy communication. Can you describe your project to your friend without saying or writing a single word? Can you use only the visual work you’ve made? This is what we want to achieve, and not only is it useful in order to communicate your work more easily to admissions, it is a vital requirement of an architect.

There are times when elaborately describing and explaining your work is important, be it an academic essay, a more intense crit, a dissertation proposal etc. However, as an applicant to architecture school you will be turning from words to the portfolio. This post is not to dishearten you, as I’m sure you love reading, writing and talking and simply want to exhibit that skill to the admissions officers. That is entirely fair enough and it’s an important skill, in moderation.

I’ve extracted an interview transcript between Peter Zumthor and Marco Masetti which explores this issue perfectly. The full transcript can be found at this link:

https://www.archdaily.com/85656/multiplicity-and-memory-talking-about-architecture-with-peter-zumthor

 

Masetti: Architecture is also a language, it is especially a language…

Zumthor: I disagree. It isn’t especially a language. Architecture is something for living, not a language. My mother wants a house for living, not a language. It isn’t possible to live in a language.

Masetti: In fact, you reduce the architectonic language signs to the fundamental signs…

Zumthor: This subject is boring me. Because I’m very committed to making good houses, and I’m disturbed by all the rest. Maybe I’m too old. There is a language, as you well know. It is worth one’s while to be intelligent about all these things, but this isn’t the focal point of my work. I love philosophy, but not the architect’s one, the philosopher’s philosophy. For me it’s better.

 

Zumthor was so tired of answering Masetti’s language questions that he interrupted him on both questions. Zumthor identifies an important point. He loves the language associated with what I assume is continental philosophy but understands and is critical of how it sits within architecture. Architects love to intellectually pontificate and hybridise their work and musings with the musings of continental philosophy as it instantly seems to legitimise everything, if you can quote Heidegger. However, as Zumthor suggests, philosophy is a field in itself, and architecture is about making. Zumthor is known for his interest in phenomenology, one of the heaviest and wordy branches of ontology in philosophy, but clearly rejects it at the level of making. Subjects like phenomenology can only describe architecture in the evening after a full day of designing. It is not a tool of design.

 

Back to the matter at hand. Your application.

 

A common mistake is the following:

‘This conceptual project represents how humanity responds to the circumstantial nature of aesthetics’.

[super interesting image of a really well-made pottery item]

This is a tad vague and imprecise. It also doesn’t really make any sesne, and may have been added after the project was completed in a post-rational kind of way. It also boasts the word ‘conceptual’. Try not to use this word; there’s not a lot of love for it in architecture. Similarly with the term ‘inspire’. They’re quite vague words. However, the actual thing itself is super interesting and really well made! Good job!

 

The amendment:

‘This project attempted to explore pattern cutting with a porcelain pottery process’.

[super interesting image of a really well-made pottery item]

The difference between these two examples is that the amendment focuses on specific technicalities that can instigate a high value conversation at interview, or between admissions officers during a portfolio review. Your work is the work itself, and not the fluff that goes along with it. Invest 99% your time into making great drawings, paintings, photos, models, sculptures etc, and 1% into writing and talking about them. Not the other way around. We want to focus on the really well-made thing, and if there’s any scope for a lot of writing and talking about it then that may be justified by the high quality of the made item.

 

There will be posts to come regarding the personal statement/ application essay, but for now I’ll say the following. The only time you will write about your work with your application will be in the personal statement/ application essay, and a little in your portfolio (though it is highly unlikely this will be read). You may also talk about your work at interview. In all these cases, remember the methods of communication. Your work wants to be communicated visually. It wants to be described and explained visually. It is a visual medium that you’re dealing with, so try to embrace it. Being able to communicate visually is a skill in itself that will comprise more than 50% of your time in architecture school. This is something you can exhibit and boast during your application and will get you big bonus points. Text and speech should be reserved primarily for basic communication to introduce projects or to clear up in more honest, precise and accurate terms exactly what is going on. Leave the rest up to the work itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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