OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO DIE
This week, it’s not me who writes to you, but it’s one of the founders of Non Architecture that addresses directly to you. Sit tight and enjoy a journey to the Non Architecture past and future:
The end of Non Architecture?
After more than 3 years of intense work and 10 books published, it is time to reduce the amount of things I’m involved in. I tend to get excited and take over tasks I could easily delegate or give up, until it just becomes too much. My articles are one of those things I could let go. I enjoyed very much writing them, but they are part of a bad habit and it is time to step out of it.
Unfortunately changing a habit is no easy task.
“Studies by neurobiologists, cognitive psychologists, and others indicate that from 40 to 95 percent of human behaviour—how we think, what we say, and our overall actions—falls into the habit category. If we select a conservative 50 percent, we are on automatic pilot half the time.” Says Stuart G. Walesh Ph.D.
As Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit, “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”
Most importantly habits work on single individuals as much as on large groups of people. Duhigg explains how marketing builds on consumers habits, how the entire population behave and respond to a series of unwritten rules, rooted in their culture as much as in their brain pattern. Even companies and markets present habitual dynamics that don’t belong to any written code. Architecture makes no exception.
Architectural education, as much as any other kind of training, makes nothing different than building habits in future professionals, so they will act fast and take meaningful decisions in a short time.
Can you imagine how long it would take to design a building if you would start questioning every aspect of it.
How does a column work and why do we need columns? And how do I draw a column? Do I use my computer? How does the computer work? (I could go on forever) Luckily that’s not the case. Our prefrontal cortex, where decision-making happens, intervenes only on important matters, which do not fit our comfort zone, while every routine we already experienced in the past goes through the basal ganglia, where it starts an irrational habit loop. That’s how experienced architects manage to design a building better and faster than an architecture student on the first day of class.
Unfortunately, there is a bad side to it. Habits are irrational processes and they are repetitive. As a designer, you will tend to repeat the same solutions and conventions over and over again without even realizing it.
When Marco Mattia Cristofori and I first thought about Non Architecture we were two very ambitious students with a very abstract idea in mind: we wanted to change architecture forever.
Somehow, we wanted to fight architectural design habits and luckily for us, we understood that you can’t question your profession if you don’t question yourself first.
That brought us not to fall into one of the most common bad habits of designers: designing. We didn’t sit down and start our own firm. We didn’t make any architectural or Non Architectural project. We managed to put our egos aside and accepted that if we wanted to make a real impact we had to work with others. It is hard to change your habits alone.
Basing on the experience of 3NTA, we came up with the idea of a platform. 3NTA was an online magazine we directed with some friends from 2013 to 2015. We published articles, projects and visuals produced by architecture and design students around the world. In 3NTA we understood that to engage a large international online community you need to use processes and habits that are already familiar to users. Eventually, you can add to it a little twist, something manageable they can quickly grasp and process. Competitions are one of the most familiar initiatives in the architecture community, and they are nothing else than a gamified design challenge, with a clear habit loop and reward system for the participants. It was the perfect medium to enable others to overcome their design limits, and hopefully also our own.
We adopted a typical competition model with a couple of small twists in the brief – no scale, no location, no limits to the design – and we turned our research agenda into a competition program.
Even there, we actually wanted to recall themes that were well known to most of the architects all around the world: Live (Sleeping, Eating, Learning ); Work (Making, Thinking, Buying); Play (Training, Showing, Dancing). The Non Architecture Competitions were ready to start.
Since Sleeping, our first competition, we had more than 2.000 designers joining our platform.
The results of the competitions were matched with extra articles, illustrations and interviews from a call for materials. The best content was collected in books, the final carriers of the Non Architecture research. While most people believed we made books from the competitions, truth is we made competitions because we wanted to make books.
Now we are at the end of this journey and the Dying book is the last step of a path we started more than 3 years ago. We achieved more than we expected and Non Architecture, the way we thought of it back then, has served its purpose.
Now it’s time to take another step. Develop another medium. Work on new topics.
Mark your calendar: In January 2020 a new Non Architecture will come.
PS. Do you know what’s the best and worst thing of habits? They are hard to die. I told you this is my last
Non Architecture article but will I be strong enough? At the end of the day, relapse is always around the corner. Especially when it comes to Non Architecture.