Broadening Our Scope

One of my favorite things to ask architects is who inspires their work. I’m always hoping collaboration with other creative professionals will lead me down a rabbit hole of undiscovered talent or otherworldly perspectives. What I’m faced with couldn’t be further from the truth: most architects provide textbook answers which are as perfunctory as they are boring. How can we bring creativity and new ideas into the fold if we’re all responding on autopilot?

I recently embarked on a project to work with local architects. Among other things, I learned that many of them coveted “The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live” by Sarah Susanka which was instrumental in my decision to study architecture. I thought it strange that such a dated publication still found its way into nearly everyone’s individual collection all these years later.

Conceptually, the idea of honoring small spaces with integrity may be timeless. I still question whether it’s best to fill our visual encyclopedias of reference with 90s colour palettes, dimmed lighting and kitchen islands as far as the eye can see.

The thing that I find even more distressing is how homogenous our professionals seem to be. I had the pleasure of meeting a number of architects by way of English teaching whose design inspirations are just as tedious. The reality, apparently, is that we’re all the same. Architects pride themselves on individuality yet a Japanese architect I met heralds Le Corbusier as much as any of my former professors. How can that possibly be? His work is influential beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, what I mean to say is that we’re mindlessly giving all our power and attention to a select few.

All of this makes me wonder what the field would be like if we considered the possibility of outside influence. I’m not suggesting we break the dam and allow an influx of the weird and wild without reason. (On second thought, I’d actually embrace it wholeheartedly.) However, if architects ten years my senior are still combing the design pages of yesteryear, how are we supposed to adapt our spaces to today’s demands?

One of my theories is that for better or worse, architects often design for people of their generation. That is to say that Gen-Xers are still catering to the needs, wants and salaries of their contemporaries. Translation? The entire tiny house movement won’t be represented by people whose jobs were stable enough to avoid that blip. My guess is that as a result, that generation of architects is largely unaware of the housing and design challenges facing those next in line.

The generational divide could also mean further segregation among architects, albeit accidental. Younger architects might not work with older architects unless they’re part of a larger firm. That may seem innocuous at first glance, but let’s zoom out for a minute. Since when does living in a bubble make us dexterous designers? If this publication is all about raising the voices of younger designers, shouldn’t we also honor the impact of intergenerational collaboration?

Let’s return our attention to the issue of limiting our architectural influences. The core problem remains a lack of exposure. It seems obvious that we don’t need to box ourselves in. How is it, then, that diversity within our design ideology is so badly lacking among people leading successful careers in our industry? It’s the reason many of us were drawn to the field to begin with, so forfeiting our love of all things creative makes no sense whatsoever.

My suggestion for architects or architecture students of all ages is to consciously and deliberately learn about the people, techniques and innovations in our field. For that matter, that might as well include any field which inspires our own internal magnetism. Continuing education is a formal requirement in many sectors and that certainly has its place. Thankfully, taking a proactive approach to our own learning makes the process more enjoyable. It’s also a skill we’ll need to hone over time as agents of change for our clients.

The way we choose to go about it should be a highly individualistic endeavor. It could mean attending a lecture from a visiting Professor or learning how to integrate a plaster of paris bas-relief in an existing space. The main objective is not to pass up a golden opportunity to embrace the nuance and divinity that architecture embodies. Let’s all spend a few minutes browsing the work of phenomenal architects near and far. Our goals may evolve over time so these role models don’t need to be set in stone. Please don’t let the arduous nature of this profession overshadow the spark that led you to it in the first place.


Martha Oschwald is a copywriter specializing in all things design-related. With a background in translation and architecture, she combines quality prose with creative content at