Bright colors hang on the gallery wall. A din buzz of conversation murmurs like white noise around you. Maybe with hummus in hand, or a glass of cheap white wine picked up casually downstairs. You approach one of the more abstract pieces. It could be Dorothea Rockburne’s Euclidean geometry - inspired spirals, or Mike Osbourne’s ominous prints, and – a synapse fires in your brain’s mangled mesh of wire nerves.
This phenomenon goes by many names, depending on whom you ask: inspiration, revelation, vision. Whatever name you give this moment of connection, it cannot be denied. At this point in our education we are privileged to have access to forms of design outside of just architecture, and the importance of seeking them out can only be beneficial.
Architecture schools can feel like insular institutions at times: we spend a disproportionate amount of our time at our desks in a cluttered studio space in which it is all too easy to get caught up in deadlines and drawings. This inward-looking attitude of architectural education limits the avenues of inspiration that can move a project towards a more globally relevant project.
There is precedent for this inter-disciplinary inspiration at the highest levels of architectural design. Connections can be drawn between Picasso’s cubism and Corbusier’s work, and the form of Binet’s Monumental Gate at the 1900 Paris Exposition was directly inspired by lithographic work at the time. Progressive contemporary German architect Judith Haase (of Gonzalez Haase AAS) is quoted as saying “We’re really inspired by everything around us and look to art for inspiration.”
Bringing aesthetic inspiration from art into architecture carries with it the danger of superficiality in architectural design work. We can look at the work of Zaha Hadid as an example of unadulterated artistic conceptualism eclipsing functionality and cultural context. Design critic and founder of the London Design Museum, Stephen Bayley, wrote of Hadid’s highly aestheticized work: “she had no sense of context or locality, preferring to crash land photogenic concepts whose function was not to serve her client's needs”. This critique of Hadid’s work is relevant to any architecture student seeking to bring art into their work. While design is connected to art, architecture as a discipline must constantly be aware of cultural and historical context as well as functionality.
This integrative perspective is what delineates art from architecture. The field of architectural design is at its best and succeeds in producing truly artistic work when all of the factors mentioned above are taken into account and implemented in a sensitive way.
Architecture as a creative process is at its best when it is cross-disciplinary and boundary-crossing. We operate at the intersection of art, design, and humanity; at its best, architecture is able to translate the relationship between these and other qualities into an experience through the built environment.