Building Inspiration

All architects have a similar way of designing, they first seek inspirations, develop ideas, and build. Like many things, the first step is often the most important. So how does one seek inspiration? Some seek it through sketching, reading, others, like Professor Kay Bea Jones from Ohio State University, seek inspirations through research, which sometimes can be too valuable to keep it to oneself.1

After years of studying about Franco Albini, Professor Jones is writing a book to inspire other architects and designers by providing insights about Albini’s achievements and most important, yet not completely well-known contributions.2 In her book, she considers Albini as one of the most important Italian architects that deserves more attention from the design community. She notes that his works, which include museums and public buildings, could offer valuable lessons about design rigor, unity, logic, and effects beyond style. It is quite shocking to me that Albini is not situated among the modern masters of the last century such as Carlo Scarpa, Louis Kahn, Phillip Jonson, and Renzo Piano – one of Albini’s student. I suppose it does happen a lot in reality, sometimes the student is a lot more famous than the mentor, because more often than not, the mentor doesn’t get much credits for his or her teachings.

Jones’s essay on Albini made me contemplate what it’s like to be an architecture professor.3 Some people would say that teaching as a profession is the last resort. In my opinion, it is not true. Without good professors, we wouldn’t be able to be better at what we do. Some professors questions our logic, teaches us to think more, creatively help us seek inspiration, and broades our view on our own design. Some, like Albini, teaches us through silence and work, inspire us through actions like the way Albini inspired Renzo Piano to be the architect he is today. Either way, architecture professors don’t often get the attention they deserve. Perhaps it’s true that those who want to teach architecture are those who are not able to design as well as others, but perhaps they are the ones who realize how important it is to share their knowledge with the world and let someone else continue their legacy. Besides, is architecture solely about design?

Doug Patt, an architect who offers insights about architecture in his video series “How To Architect”, believes that architecture is many things, not just design. In his video “The truth about being an architect”, he claims that “architecture is about making form, story, music and inspiration” and it’s also about illuminating one’s life with philosophy, engineering, history, construction, etc. That is why architecture can be a great profession and a horrible business. Consequently, some of us, as architecture students, often get discouraged when we think about post-graduation, we start to worry about where to work, what to do, and lose the motivation to do our best while in school. We look so far into the future that we start to forget what inspires us. We need something, or someone to motivate, remind, and help us find the inspiration we need whether by writing a book like Professor Jones, sharing insights like Doug Patt, or simply teaching architecture. In the end, they are the architects who build inspiration.

-Minh Tran

1.  Kay Bea Jones, guest lecture for the University of Oklahoma, April 16, 2013.

2. Kay Bea Jones, “Chapter One: Introducing Franco Albini”  book manuscript. Renzo Piano, “Pezzo per Pezzo,” essay translated by Kay Bea Jones.

3. Jones, Chapter One.

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