Architectural Practice from First Principles

Wooden letter blocks
If we were to consider architectural practice from first principles. Might we see new ways to frame practice?

First principles thinking was brought to greater public consciousness by Elon Musk. It’s been around since the Ancient Greeks. Such thinking helps in breaking down complicated problems or systems to their fundamental parts or foundational truths. This is done with the objective to generate new ideas or outcomes from these fundamental parts.

This type of thinking allows for new, innovative solutions to come out of something that might otherwise only be recognised as either fixed or only suitable for incremental change. I’m curious where this type of thinking might lead if applied to architectural practice and because writing helps me think, I’m showing my working here and thinking through what it might look like.

It’s another thought experiment. A space to consider ideas and thinking to see what they might mean or lead.

The form of architectural practice has remained largely unchanged over the last few decades with some exceptions. It’s a model of practice that is repeated over and over and copied by most new practices. Yet the way a practice functions is rarely challenged. A familiar form repeated over and over may not be the best solution despite the majority pursuing it. If as architects say, form follows function, perhaps it time to challenge the function of architectural practice. What is the function of architectural practice?

The function of practice is to design and document a building for construction.

I contend that this includes the construction stage. From this function, various services are provided that are core to function, with others additional to function.

The interesting thing for me that spins out of this functional definition is that it’s contradictory to how I conceived architects might reframe their practice. What is evident with my previous reframe, is that it involves what Elon Musk calls thinking through analogy, where the model is incrementally tweaked or improved based upon the pre-existing thinking. If we instead consider the fundamentals of practice, practice jump outside of the realm of designing buildings and an entire reconsideration of practice becomes possible. The fundamentals allow a new starting point from which to build up practice.

What might be the fundamentals of architectural practice?

  • A Brief.
  • Design work.
  • Documentation.
  • Income. (Practice is a business.)

When we consider these fundamentals, it strips away assumptions. Assumptions relating to, who you work with and how you work, the scope of work, the business model, the type of work, and so on. It might throw up important questions around what you’re in architectural practice for?

This is as far as I’ve got for now. I’m yet to form a clear idea on what new trajectory this might take practice. I can see how reducing to the fundamentals can free thinking to form new ways of practice or how recognising the fundamentals might be allow practice to be enhanced or improved upon.

It’s a starting point and I’m curious what you might think.

Image by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels [cropped & edited]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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