Architalks #36: Explain yourself…

Well folks – I just returned from a relaxing beach vacation, so in a lazy state of meandering thought, I will contemplate the fine art of communication.  To my fellow Architalkers, please excuse my absence over the course of the last few months – I may not have written, but I enjoyed following all of your posts.

Architalks #36

Topic: Communication

Some rambling thoughts about communicating with lines…


For anyone wondering how big ideas, like airports or theme parks or city sewer systems get realized, it’s all through intense layers and networks of communication.  This is of course blatantly obvious to all architects out there, but I guess I’m just explaining to those who don’t really know, don’t really think about it.


I realized that I had a way to go in communicating big ideas when dabbled in stage set design during undergrad.  I fiddled around with sets because I loved the thrill of the theatre, the blending of music, lights, actors and costumes…the creation of a fantasy world.  I was young, I had big ideas and a wild imagination, but I had no idea how to communicate the ideas with others.  How could anything happen at a larger scale without the ability to explain big ideas to an army of people that could help?  I was able to draw, but I didn’t know how to draw in a universally understood way.


Architecture school was a good training camp for visual representation.  I learned how to draw so that others could understand, and I learned that every line had meaning, or could have meaning, and that I couldn’t just doodle around the way I had in the past…I mean, it was frowned upon.


In architecture school, you learn how to draw stuff so that you can explain big ideas to others.  And then you hone your super powers over years and year of practice.  You don’t really realize the powers you have until you might one day notice that you have skills that are unique.  You under-value your skills, and so does the public, because it all seems so easy, it comes so naturally.  But in reality, it takes decades to develop these skills, and that is why we offer value.  But this is a whole other huge topic that I will leave for another time!

Some meandering notions about communicating with words…


I don’t think of myself as a word person, and it doesn’t come naturally for me to talk or to write.  However, at times, I do crazy things…like, I can’t believe it, but for a year or two, I wrote feature stories for our main city newspaper.  My task was to produce these full-page exposés about houses that a wide audience would find engaging, interesting and accessible.  It was a great learning experience for me, to write for the public, in very simple language.  It is easy for us to write using architectural jargon, but it is easy to forget that the general public does not understand or appreciate this language.  If you are an architect, I suggest that you give it a shot.  Try to write about architecturally significant concepts in the simplest words you can muster.  No fancy words!  No name dropping.  Just try it.  And use lots of quotes – and don’t forget to include information about the people that use the house or space, because people love to read about people – it’s a fact.


This topic is huge, I could write for pages, and it has me thinking.  Communication is something that we need to develop, constantly, as architects.  I am sure that my fellow bloggers have posted a wealth of insight, and I encourage you to check out their latest posts.

This is my latest post for “architalks”, a network of practicing architects who blog monthly on common topics.


The topic of the month is COMMUNICATION.


Please take a moment to read what others have written about the topic:

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Communication and the Question of Relevance

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
what does it communicate?

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Types of communication in architecture

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Talk, Write, Draw — A Com Hat Trick

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #36: Project Amplify

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Communication – What, How, Why?

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Tips for Communicating with Your Architect, Interior Designer, or Landscape Architect

Samantha R. Markham – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why Communication Skills are a Must for Aspiring Architects

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Communication in a Yada Yada World

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

1 Comment
  • leecalisti

    March 7, 2018 at 12:20 am Reply

    “Every line has meaning, or could have meaning” – I like that. I agree with the premise that some architects write in difficult sentences in ways that cannot be understood if read twice or even three times, thus the need to explain in simpler terms. The trick I’ve found is to allow it to have the same richness our sketches and drawings have, something the average person cannot do, without delving into nothing more than a pretentious way to say “the building is organized on an axis.” A rich vocabulary is often the sign of someone who reads often and cares to develop it, yet strange metaphors or describing basic architectural principles with heavy language is not a way to engage the public. Welcome back.

Post a Comment