Repurposing Architecting Skills: Memory and Research

There's often a focus on how architects have utilised their skills in other careers. Architects can also leverage those skills in better architectural practice. This is the third in a series of articles about this possibility.

Design is a skill. In fact, it’s more than a singular skill and is closer to a multi-tool of skills. With good designers utilising many skills in their design work.

In the previous articles of this series I wrote about how architects might utilise their whole design skills in their architectural practice for more than designing buildings. Here I’m focusing on skills that hinge out of the design multi-tool, memory and research.

Memory and research skills are essential aspects of good design skills. They inhabit an overlap with other areas of practice. They’re undoubtedly important, in the design context. Great designers have a great memory for precedents and are inveterate researchers seeking out knowledge, precedent and apply prodigious critical thinking skills (which I discuss in my next post).

We’d all agree that a good memory has benefits and that research is almost always worthwhile. So instead of a deep dive, I’ll focus more on their specific relationship with design.

Some people possess an astonishing memory for facts, for faces, chess gambits, or all manner of things, but they won’t all necessarily be able recall what it was they had for lunch the previous Wednesday. Memory connects with your interests, needs and skills. In a university study discussed in Adam Grant’s Podcast Work life, chess Grand Masters and non-chess players were shown for a short period of time a board set up with pieces from a game that had been played. The board was cleared and the participants then asked to replace the pieces in exactly the same positions. Grand Masters were unsurprisingly substantially better and more accurate than the non-players. Interestingly when the same exercise was repeated, but instead the pieces were placed in random locations impossible in a game of chess, the Grand Master’s success at replacing them was no better than that of the non-player. Memory specifically relates to interests need and skills.

Memory goes hand in hand with research. You can rely on experience or you can actively seek knowledge and understanding. A research strategy might feed into the design and approach to the design work of a practice. The practice of architecture, however, is not solely based on an ability to design a building. Beyond design, the work of architectural practice includes running a business, communication, sales (of sorts), politics and code/document analysis and so on. A research strategy might therefore be adopted in acknowleding the breadth of practice skills, one that considers how all this work might be done better, designed better. Researching practice.

When deciding what to research spread your net wide, consider studying the profession and also precedents that may sit beyond the conventional realm of architecture. We’re looking fro equivalence here — what does this look like? If we use biophilic design as an analogy, it borrows from nature so that a design may better respond and fit into its environmental context. I suggest the same level of consideration and research be taken with practice, what other businesses might you research, other examples that could be taken and applied? One example might be to consider the growing chatter around what is the great disruptor for the architecture profession, what might be equivalent examples to research in the tech world?

What precedents and examples do you need to find and understand in order to either throw a critical light on your own practice, consider better ways of practicing, or simply establish a memory bank of ideas and opportunities in this pursuit?

What’s something that you might do, or an understanding you might gain in research, to assist you to practice better now or in the future?

This applies to those in employment too. How might you show leadership and bring this level of consideration to the office you’re working in? How might you apply this to yourself?


If you think you might need to apply a little Research and Memory training to more than servicing your projects, but don’t know where to start, please feel free to drop me a line. I’m here to support you in building a better practice, forging better human and professional skills, and developing architectural leadership.


If you want to dig into Memory a little more, I recommend listening to the podcast WorkLife with Adam Grant and the Episode “How to Remember Anything”. Don’t be misled by the title, it’s about way more than just trying to remember stuff. The study I mention is discussed in this podcast, I hope I didn’t mis-remember!


Image by Polona Mitar on Pexels

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