20 reasons: Why theory is useful.

I have this elaborate lecture, where I introduce architectural theory to second semester students. It might sound a bit misplaced, but necessary. Theory can operate at many levels – practice, academics and research. Even within the academic spectrum there is a variation in the level of enquiry. This subject can act as a connecting tissue between Architectural Design and all the other allied subjects.  I usually overthink these ideas and cease to bring to refined conclusions, hence I am publishing a draft here :
  1. Ideas are like virus. To quote Henry Cobb from Inception “An Idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagoius. And even the smallest seed of idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you”
  2. Know the intent of the designer/program.- It’s only till late in my childhood I realized that there is ‘director’ behind filmmaking who must be both good at craft and thinking. Similarly buildings are also products of a ‘mind/s’ behind it. It is as much a intellectual process, as much it is a craft.
  3. How others have dealt with the same problem. A sort of reverse engineering the process of design to see and identify the variables which went in space making. These  variables can become new framework and reveal connections which one might have missed.
  4. Don’t see only through eyes, but also the mind.
  5. Flash of Lightning – There is this brilliant Charles Correa quote (A Place in the Shade, 240)  “A 20th century composer – I think Hindemith – was once asked the mind-boggling question: How do you compose your music? To which he gave an astonishingly evocative yet precise answer: It is looking out a window into the black night of a thunderstorm. One cannot see anything, Suddenly there is a flash of lighting, illuminating the entire landscape. In that one spilt second, one has seen everything – and nothing. What we call composition is the patient recreation of that landscape, stone by stone, tree by tree”. Theory just recognises that there is state like this, and one has to be ready.
  6. Only aesthetics ideas are not important. Architecture is synthesis of multiple layers – social, cultural and political. Aesthetics is one among them.
  7. Ideas are like ladders – Steven Holl quotes Wittgenstein in an interview (Architectural Review March 2013) “that ideas are like ladders: they get us to a platform and when we arrive there, we can kick the ladder away” So the ideas which goes in making of the building need not necessarily be part in the experience of the building. Ideas’ responsibility is only to direct design, not necessarily become the object itself. May be only art has that luxury.
  8. Interpretation is key. History is interpretation. E H Carr lucidly states in his seminal text Whats is history?  “The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind offish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation”
  9. Theory is a ‘tool’ – Yes, as plainly as it sounds. It is a tool or a catalyst. Aligning to catalyst in its pure scientific terms – that a chemical which does not alter the composition of the reactions, but only alter rate of chemical reaction.
  10. Recognition of an idea. Most of the times we have lot of ideas, but it will help us recognize the most appropriate ideas for a specific situation.
  11. Every idea has potential. There is no discrimination between ideas. The only question is of appropriation and depth of enquiry.
  12. Adopt/adapt an idea from precedents.
  13. Comparative knowledge/analysis ( but with understanding the domain)
  14. Originality – is it limiting or impending? I align to “Imitation is not the erosion of originality; it is the condition of originality” (A.O.Scott in the book Beyond Criticism)
  15. Nothing comes out of Nothing. (can’t remember the source here)
  16. The relationship between theory and practice is not casual (Kruft, A History of Architectural Theory). Just because one has good ideas, one cannot become good at practice.
  17. Thinking about thinking. Meta.
  18. Dwell between subjective and objective: Point of View to Filed of view.
  19. Built and Unbuit Projects – Theory is democratic is approach to whether a project is built or not. What matters only is the idea behind it. This position of thinking opens so many possibilities. It provides more space and time to ideas mature.
  20. Theory allows one to suspend judgment : Most fundamental and most profound to even accept that every object of enquiry has a potential, without trapping these notions in the binaries of like/dislike.