Many different things can have an impact on our lives, shape the way we are or how we work. Recently I’ve been thinking to my self “Why do I like design?”
There are many factors in my life that have that have helped me be a better designer. People, experiences, environments and challenges. I’ve had tremendous studio professors in college, excellent colleagues and clients to work with. Our wonderful region we work and live in inspires with it’s diverse and historic building types from Provincetown to Pittsfield. For this first foray into my past I won’t trek you through my life’s ups and downs, instead let’s have fun and highlight an otherwise minor or obscure influence in my life that I believe ultimately attracted me to the art of design.
I love games. In fact, many games are played much like an Architect would work. They involve solving and working through puzzles in a two-dimensional world. Some are quite literally played through the plan view of a landscape, or the cross section of a building. Growing up, I played a lot of games, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, PC, and others. These games program the mind to think and move through three-dimensional spaces illustrated in two dimensions. I believe they influenced my ability to work and design as an Architect. One game from my childhood that particularly comes to mind when I reflect on the combination of thinking in a two-dimensional space and the economics and strategies of working in that space was Klotski, included in the Windows Entertainment Pack.
We all know Tetris, it’s the “big-kahuna” of block puzzle games. There is some strategy in Tetris, but the emphasis is generally on survival. Klotsk, on the other hand, is a block puzzle game that rewards you for thinking multiple steps ahead to find the most economically efficient solution to the puzzle. You slide different shaped blocks horizontally or vertically until you free the special red block from the space. The fewer moves you make to win, the more you are rewarded.
The most obvious parallel between playing the game and with Architecture would be the manipulation of space. One could easily imagine this as an exercise in spatial reasoning, balancing, and planning. Each block represents a room, object, or building, and its positioning influences the shapes around it, creating adjacencies or denying connections.
But, there is more to Architectural design than manipulating space and objects. It’s the intersection of space, needs, functionality, regulations, and mechanics. You need to manage the hierarchy of all challenges and goals in a project and coordinate the solutions to be effective and efficient. When a project begins, you look at the issues as a whole, much like the blocks in a puzzle. Pushing and pulling on one problem, as it changes the outcome of another. You think holistically, and as you solve one problem, the equation of another will change. Architectural design is finding the solution in the most elegant, economical way possible. In other words, getting the red block out of the puzzle in as few steps as possible.
“What marks the mind of the strategist is an intellectual elasticity or flexibility that enables him to come up with realistic responses to changing conditions…In strategic thinking, one first seeks a clear understanding of the particular character of each element of a situation and then makes the fullest possible use of human brainpower to restructure the elements in the most advantageous way.” (Keniche Ohmae, The Mind of the Strategist)
Screenshot of Klotski from the Windows Entertainment Pack, Windows 3.1