A little history. I wanted to be an architect; I went to architecture school. First year was extraordinary: here was a wonderland of seemingly inexhaustible knowledge, everything I came across was new. But in second year, it changed. The faculty began disintegrating, the students went on strike, I came under the influence of a self-made art guru. Cynicism. Confusion. Then my father died. I did not make it any further.
I had also started to find the Architecture course uninspiring. It was not about the one thing I thought it would be about: imagination. It was about the strength of timber, the size of bricks, the weight of concrete, the minimum width of a stairwell in a public hospital. And drafting. Dull things, even if important. There was history, which was never dull, and romantic architect stories, too: Le Corbusier walking Europe with his sketchbook while the First World War was raging (he didn’t); Ivor de Wolfe driving his Jaguar around Italy, trying to figure out why Italian towns worked so well. (He did, but it was his wife, Ivy, who had the camera.)
de Wolfe’s The Italian Townscape is one of my strongest memories from architecture school. It was re-published a few years ago: hardcover, and still with the grainy black & white photographs, the simple drawings, the olive-ochre pages of text. I’m reading it again, along with Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order and Vitruvius’ On Architecture. Do architects read these books? I don’t know. These are ‘big picture’ books, and the big picture surely must get in the way of an architect’s practice. Architects already have too much to think about.
image: How to draw a line: Frederick, Matthew, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2007.