Five Tips for Young Architects

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By Design Indaba / Published by Dwell
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Why Thorsten Deckler, co-founder of 26’10 South Architects, says sharpening your creative skills starts with looking outside the industry.

For Thorsten Deckler of Johannesburg-based 26’10 South Architects, design can be found in the most seemingly mundane places. The trick is to stop and pay attention.

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Much of 26’10 South’s work results from engaging with the community on projects such as in situ upgrades to low-cost housing. Deckler advises emerging professionals to seek out inspiration from their surroundings.

"The people I respect and admire are not really trendsetters," he says, "Their work sets them apart from trends by addressing more primary or universal aspects of architecture like scale, light, materials, proportions, habitation, and occupying the landscape."

He offers this advice for young architects:

1. Look outside the industry

Deckler is inspired by the creativity that arises out of scarce resources, a common situation in South Africa. He points out one in particular: "The unusual structures made from old exhaust pipes that identify informal repair services next to the road are an excellent example of everyday design practice that can inspire creativity."

To develop this keen awareness, a designer requires a thoughtful eye and a willingness to welcome insight from outside of the industry.

"There are many ordinary citizens who, often under difficult circumstances, make sophisticated design decisions that are often not recognized by trained designers."

2. Learn to embrace complexity

Although individual parts add up to the whole, the whole is not simple. "A problem cannot be reduced to one reading or solved by one idea alone," Deckler says. "If you don’t understand this concept, watch all the episodes of The Wire series."

3. Draw, draw, and draw some more

"The inaccuracy of a hand drawing often helps you to ‘lie a little’ to pursue ideas, rather than technical solutions." Deckler explains that in drawing there is a more direct connection between your hand and brain, which allows you to develop concepts and react to them quickly.

4. Know how things work

"If you do not know how things work, make a point of finding out," says Deckler, adding, "There is no excuse not to do this."

5. Integrity is key

"Don’t try to be nice or to be liked by your contemporaries—be tough but fair and act with integrity," advises Deckler.