Theory and Practice #ArchiTalks #47

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. The Topic ‘Leader’ for this post ‘Theory / Practice’ is Ann Lebo.

Ann the topic leader has given us all some great guidance:

How do we practice and does theory play an integral role in our practice?

Is there anything you learned in school or that a professor taught you that is crucial to how you see architecture today?

Do I feel like I have to balance both as part of the job, or is it something that I enjoy doing?

What would I tell someone outside the profession about the value of theory in architecture school?

Of all the ArchTalks post I’ve done, this one that at this very moment interests me the most as I’m currently teaching Design and Theory in Architecture at a nearby College (one day a week) whilst still running my architectural practice. You can read more about my first year teaching at ITSligo HERE.

So let’s go through each part and dissect each question:

How do we practice and does theory play an integral role in our practice?

Our practice has always understood the principle of design theory in our work but I’ll be honest that we’ve never really thought deeply about the ‘concept’ that would have occurred (hopefully) at Architecture School. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve really appreciated the importance of a ‘concept’, ‘key idea’ or ‘parti’ (the guiding idea or intent behind a project). Some of our work will never require such thinking but we are increasingly working on projects where such concepts are critical to their success.

Our concepts up to this point have been strong ‘ideas’ but didn’t tie everything together that true Architecture should.

This change in our Practice has been the direct result of me working and teaching in design at IT Sligo.

How would I explain the importance of the ‘concept’?:

Let’s use an example I used recently to students in the 2nd year…

The Imperial War Museum by Daniel Libeskind in Manchester, UK

Image copyright Libeskind, Original at:

Architecture needs meaning.

What does war mean?

Where is war fought?

What happens to peoples lives during and after war?

These are the questions that Libeskind answered in form and space at the Imperial War Museum.

Let’s go through his thought processes to understand the ‘parti’.

War is unfortunately fought by men and women across the world. On the earth, land and sea.

What is the world? A sphere

What does war do? It shatters lives.

So let’s take the sphere and then shatter it.

3 parts of the shattered sphere are then reassembled.

One will symbolise the ‘air’, another the ‘land’ and a third the ‘sea’.

Original image from:

But war shatters lives. And when lives are shattered they are never the same after a war as they were before.

This is why the reassembled shape is not spherical. As lives are shattered but rebuilt. The shattered sphere is rebuilt and it is no longer a sphere but yet it is still rebuilt. Just as our lives can be.

This is what true architecture is about. Concept & meaning.

Another critical jump for the practice was to employ more staff when we got busier and this allowed more time to reflect and implement design strategies with our projects. I have therefore added staff that can help marry the concept with the design. In a similar way that students are learning from me and I from them; I am also learning from my colleagues.

Let’s go back to the original questions…:

Is there anything you learned in school or that a professor taught you that is crucial to how you see architecture today?

I have very few regrets in my life but now that I am trying to mould the minds of the architectural youth; I have in retrospect a couple that stem from Architectural School:

• My god I’d wished I’d taken on board better what the tutors were saying. This is probably a youth thing! (see below)

• I should have spent more time in the studio working alongside fellow students rather than on my own. If there are any architecture students reading this then I would strongly advise you working full-time in the studio for every single year of the course. The benefits of this are immense:

– Your tutors get to see the hard-workers
– You are working alongside your peers. They can help you as you will be helping them

Do I feel like I have to balance both as part of the job, or is it something that I enjoy doing?

I really enjoy it. A alot of our work doesn’t really require it but the projects that do I’m really enjoying implementing the theory with the practice.

This ‘new’ learning has made me reflect upon my college years and think what did I actually learn regarding concepts and design whilst there. There’s something to be said for learning Architecture when you’ve already had some experience rather than going straight from school (as I did) at 18 and straight into an architectural environment. I think I would make a much better job larning now at 56 then I ever did as a teenager – but I guess that comes with age!

Comments as ever welcome and read below how other ‘Architalkers’ have interpreted the same theme in the links below:

ps. We have an exciting project we’re currently working on that requires, meaning, concept, a parti and spirituality – watch this space!

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
You Can Do Better

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
the architecture of theory and how it is evidenced in my practice

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Theory — If Apple Practiced Architecture

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

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
In Theory / In Practice

Larry Lucas – Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
The Theory and Practice of Full-circle Architecture

2 thoughts on “Theory and Practice #ArchiTalks #47

  1. Mark,
    It is such an honor that you get to teach. I like the museum example for 2nd year students, and agree that this is an important early lesson for architecture students. The best design work that I completed in school (and beyond) has involved a parti or a set of organized concepts. Nice post!

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