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What’s Black and White and Unread all Over? February 4, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in books, fiction, nonfiction, reading.
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It is a truth universally unacknowledged, that an architect in possession of an imagination, must be in want of something to read.

Those who read books outside their area of concentration will recognize this as a play on the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Or perhaps a play the Zombie version?

But then again you may have already known that, having seen the movie or listened to the book on your Kindle.

Architects Don’t Read

This is hardly news to architects who don’t read. Incredulous, astonishing and offensive to those who do.

This barrage of adjectives doesn’t make it any less true.

And yet it is a well-known homily, universally acknowledged, that architects skim. Architects peruse. Architects gloss over pictures, images, photos and cartoons. If they read at all, it is only to read the captions.

Those who say otherwise are as sincere as those who used to claim “I read Playboy for the articles.”

“I read Architectural Record for the articles.”

Face it, we need pictures.

Pictures are an architect’s lubricant or device intended to enhance their reading pleasure. A graphic is to an architect what a marital aid is to a marriage.

They keep things exciting, visually stimulating, less repetitive. Reducing friction, heat and wear.

Lecturers have known this for years. We’re a visual group and need to have visual stimulation or you’ll lose us.

[I have often wondered: When they lose us, where do we go?]

I once heard architect Richard Meier at the Cultural Center in Chicago speak for an hour with slides flashing by – on automatic changer – every couple seconds. This experiment seemed derelict at the time – there was no relationship between what he was saying and the image that flashed past – but on another level, it didn’t matter. He might have been onto something in that the standing room crown, made up mostly of architects, needed eye candy – no matter what imagery was used. Ironically, directly behind him was a giant window, the soon to be setting sun’s glaring light created a black effigy of the architect, rendering the slides all but unwatchable – and  therefore, his speech all but unintelligible. For what are words without images to distract us away?

Authors also know this – when you write a book for architects you need to have pictures to break up the text (or is it text to break up the pictures?) – as though the whole point of the book was the pictures and that the text was the sorbet between – as though to say, you don’t really think anyone is going to read the text, do you?

As graphic designer Armin Vit wrote in Designers Don’t Read…Enough, “Rudy VanderLans, founder of Emigre, said in an interview with Speak Up, ‘Perusing the visuals is a kind of ‘reading’ also. It requires a certain visual literacy to appreciate looking at reproductions of graphic design.’ ”

Don’t Read This

To some extent this is understandable. We’re inundated with messages all day long and take our email to bed with us. Why read when you can listen to audio books, eBooks and podcasts (these I do consider reading.)

Or watch an author on YouTube.

Video is the future. Books are out. Magazines on the wane. History. Caput.

And yet – and yet. What is it that gives our lives gravitas?

Architect – if you are listening – the next opportunity ask a contractor this question: What is it that gives your life gravitas? On second thought…

Creative director, writer and design advocate Austin Howe has written a cleverly inspired book, Designers Don’t Read, which has quickly developed a passionate and widespread following – despite the fact that it doesn’t have any pictures. Midwest Book Review calls it “a daily consult for designers and busy professionals and offers quick case history examples designed to enhance creative thinking and provide food for thought. More than a set of admonitions, these provide a page or two of detail and depth to advocate change and creative thinking, and is perfect for any design professional or arts library.” If you want to know more about the book, this review is a good place to start.

Excuses

Don’t have time to read (so many books, so little time)…My eyes hurt from staring at a monitor all day…I need a break from thinking…Too much media demanding my attention…Can’t afford books…They put me to sleep…

And then there’s the question of what exactly to read? Fiction? Non-fiction? The Architects Handbook of Professional Practice? One day with a cup of coffee read the tiny print between the graphics in Graphic Standards or what Rem had to say in S, M, L, XL.

It’s those darned hyperlinks (here’s a nifty, concise and comprehensive tutorial on how to create them. Oops I did it again!) Can’t get through a darned sentence without being transported to another site. And it’s only when closing all my windows that I remember where I was 20 minutes earlier.

Architects looking for a way to distinguish themselves – as antiquated as this is going to sound – can do a lot worse than to pick up a book – a Kindle, Sony Reader, nook or the bound paper version – and start reading.

We live in a time when the radical thing isn’t to burn books but to read them.

It is winter in much of the world – a great time to curl up with a blog – as many of you are doing right now in reading this.

But wait you say – surely I read. I’m reading this right now, right? And so you, dear architect, are the exception.

Where to start? Some suggestions?

WHY READ?
Why should architects read? Especially when you can watch… Here are 12 reasons to read more:

  1. Distinguishes you from the masses that merely skim
  2. Provides you with a richer, more well-rounded life
  3. You develop your mind’s eye and imagination
  4. You balance the verbal with the visual, right brain with left
  5. Give you something to talk about with clients when in the elevator or with peers and colleagues during dinner
  6. Provides you with ideas for your designs
  7. Helps you to be well-rounded individual
  8. Gives you a leg up on your competition by keeping you sharp, stimulates the brain
  9. Frees your mind up to work on your ideas by distracting yourself

10.  To learn a new topic, vicariously visit a new place or put yourself in a former time period

11.  To discover a kindred soul out there who thinks like you

12.  For the pure pleasure of reading

What are your reasons for reading? What do you consider essential reading for architects…of all stripes? This might be a good place to start!

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Comments»

1. Nathan English - February 4, 2010

Haha, my parents created the reader I am today, as next to my bed is a minefield of scattered books, where each night I pick a different one up depending on what mood I’m in. I have 2 scifis, a fantasy novel, a ayn rand book, the architects handbook of prof practice, architects portable handbook, and a book on politics. I’m all over the place, but I can pick up a book and instantly be teleported into the setting/story of the book. Thats why I love them (and I love writing as well).

2. Randy Deutsch - February 4, 2010

Nathan
Great to hear from you. And glad to hear that you’re a reader – in my experience all-too-rare in the profession. A one of those who do – you fall under the “incredulous, astonishing and offensive to those who do” in the post above. Do keep up the read and the writing! Great habits to have in these times or in any time. Best to you,
Randy


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