Henry Goss Architects

Journal

BD Blog No. 7

Are You Sure About That?

All designers are opinionated. It must surely be a prerequisite for any creative person to establish a position from which to create. This requirement is all the more significant for those who happen to be practising disciplines which also combine an artistic facet — thus adding an additional layer of complexity to the already challenging considerations of practical problem-solving.

Having recently been involved with the shortlisting process for the London RIBA Awards, I was duty bound to take stock and be a little more analytical than I otherwise might be.

An exclamation of “that is absolutely rad” in my long-moribund 1980s skateboarder’s vernacular, followed by “what a load of bull s**t” in response to a less than obviously impressive work of architecture, doesn’t quite fulfil the five points of the RIBA’s judging criteria in terms of breath and insight. 

Not usually one to buy into pop psychology, I was intrigued by the ideas put forward by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2005 publication Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking in which he conjectures that people are capable of mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. Referred to as “thin slicing”, this is an idea that spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones.

As a designer, the apparent arrogance and surety of expressing such an immediate aesthetic opinion can irritate people. Not shy of expressing an opinion herself, my cousin Hester, who frequently indulges my propensity for architectural lyrical waxings, can sometimes find it difficult to swallow. 

It may simply be the mix of hyperbole coupled with lack of qualification that grates or perhaps the inadequate opportunities for remonstration (to which she is particularly partial) against an argument so loosely constructed that little reasoned debate may arise.

Many of the architects and indeed engineers with whom I have worked including John PardeyRick MatherMagnus Strom and perhaps most notably Bob Barton, wield the fibre-tip with an effortless certainty which, even as a confident designer myself, can be deeply persuasive and intimidating.

I’m sure however or at least I’d like to believe, that behind this almost hubristic confidence a continual process of iterative interrogation and reinterpretation of the problem at hand is being played out. In short, design is taking place.

And therein lies the key perhaps, the ability to have the “blink” moment and then develop it with rigour, not so much a choice between the spontaneous decisions and the carefully considered but rather a marrying of the two? I’m just not sure

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