Deconstructing Intuition: A Path Toward Objectivity
Joey Carrasquillo, AIA
June 10, 2019
The public architect addresses the conditions of our communities and institutions, and seizes the moment to advance solutions toward opportunity. Intuition — as an inherent by-product of the architect's upbringing, training, practice and worldly experiences — without uncertainty constitutes the architect’s design processes. But ours is only one lens, and the circumstances in play lay in the presence of many: client, user-group, community, authorities, and consultants.
We are one of many involved and it is our role to evolve a singular narrative for the project, built with contributions by the collective. It is important that our design efforts — the act of designing — be conducted and construed as exploration and revelation, rather than imparting a proposition founded on ‘sense’. Acting primarily on inclination and on what one believes from the onset is not sufficient, and perhaps not appropriate. As public architects the work we champion should not be hinged on self-reference; it is not about us or for us. A context in which we are at odds with our peers and clients, due to a design process consumed by emotional and subjective perspective, is likely ill-fated.
This perspective is not intent on dismissing our humanity (nor to challenge the writings of Juhani Pallasmaa). It is to acknowledge that we cannot deny the complexities of our world, as we address the built environment, by simply looking from the lens of our intuitions while deploying solutions strictly through instincts.
Louis Kahn at work at his drafting table in his office at 15th and Walnut Streets; Louis Kahn, The Power of Architecture, Fabric Workshop, Philadelphia, PA
Intuition is not innate, nor is it a gift. It is achieved knowledge and it does not cease to develop, evolve and grow —commensurate with the act of engaging life. And as an architect, through rigorous analysis in understanding the circumstances of projects and tireless exploration in advancing ideas that solve the problems we are presented, reframing these circumstances.
Intuition is understood to be a ‘learned sense of things’; a form of 'subliminal-cognition' that materializes in us through our experiences, memories, and subsequent beliefs, and it 'kicks in’ without rational processing to direct our views and subsequent actions. It tends to be ‘unexplainable’ since it is essentially unconscious, emotion-based information.
Intuition is not innate, nor is it a gift. It is achieved knowledge and it does not cease to develop, evolve and grow —commensurate with the act of engaging life. And as an architect, through rigorous analysis in understanding the circumstances of projects and tireless exploration in advancing ideas that solve the problems we are presented, reframing these circumstances. As a learned attribute, intuition’s limits are set by what we have come to know. As such, what we don’t know can and may inevitably challenge this ’sense’. It is likely that as architects we will come to know more as long as we are listening to our clients, our collaborators, our peers, and our explorations. To this end, our intuitions are ‘worked’ evolving alongside our design process, building a finer grain of coginitive and embodied understanding (to quote Pallasmaa and others). A working intuition is not simply deployed during the act of design but shapes to build perspectives relevant for the project.
We cannot deny the complexities of our world, as we address the built environment, by simply looking from the lens of our intuitions while deploying solutions strictly through instinct.
The notion that an act of design is not explainable or cannot be articulated through reason due to a genesis rooted in sensibility and feeling (“I can’t explain it, it just feels right”) is simply skipping a step in the design process. The deconstructing of one’s intuition is taking one's beliefs, inclinations and values, and re-evaluating them, perhaps even setting them aside, from other vantage points. Even the act of making — writing, drawing, sculpting, modeling — affords room for scrutiny, as it is not necessarily indicative of a productive design effort if it simply feeds our inclinations. It is probably most important and valuable to generate a product that deliberately works against any form of intuition or instinct that one is inclined to exercise, so as to initiate revelations that challenge our initial biases. We are creatures of habit.
As shapers of our built environment we bear great responsibility; and obligation that should not be defined simply by what we believe, or feel, or are habitually inclined to render. To describe one’s perspective based on how one ‘feels’, or what one ‘likes’ or ‘loves’, or what one ’senses’ immediately makes the effort self-referential. This may begin to forge an adversarial context and is simply not professional. Design is a shared responsibility. While I don’t prescribe to the notion of ‘design-by-committee’, it is incumbent on us to exercise a method of collaboration that builds a project narrative. Such collaboration serves as a mechanism to inform, and challenge our instinctive tendencies, intuitive processes, and human preferences. As shepherds of the project, we bear the responsibility of translating all contributions made into an inspiring solution that is also defensible, rooted in meaningful, objective thought-investment and shed of personal whims.
Experiencing and designing our built environment, while interrelated, are two different actions. Being mindful of this makes us better architects.
So how does one deconstruct intuition? A few thoughts:
- From the onset, commit to exploring multiple strategies to reveal things, and endeavor to reveal many things
- Assume you are not right the first time, you are likely not; repeat 10 times
- Research and precedent; we are not solving unique conditions that history hasn’t addressed before
- Draw something else for the various circumstances, to assist in clarifying what is important versus what is not
- Press your collaborators to educate you on what you don’t know, since your intuition may be ill-founded
Perhaps it is more agreeable that the process of deconstructing intuition is about tuning it to a higher level of performance for the future, allowing it to be more relevant in one’s design process. It is important to acknowledge that intuition is a type of intelligence, which inherently allows for its analysis, scrutiny, and articulation. It takes great rigor to build effective, relevant and meaningful intuition.
Experiencing and designing our built environment, while interrelated, are two different actions. Being mindful of this makes us better architects. As an artistic species, we tend to give ourselves license to pursue, advance, and articulate our work from an emotive, sensual, spiritual and bodily position, many times reacting to conditions with an intuitive stance and acting on instinctive impulse. While visual and experimental artists exploring and self-funding within their own world are afforded this opportunity, I suggest that as public architects we must push ourselves further to challenge our predilections. We must challenge what we initially believe, how we engage a problem and what we collect from others, so we may define more meaningful, substantive and relevant drivers and narratives that can be embraced by our clients and communities.