A little bit of history first. I did not attend an undergraduate architecture program. I made my decision to go to architecture school during my junior year, after I had already committed to an art history major (although I ended up concentrating in architectural history in that department.) I spent a good deal of my education writing papers, culminating in a 125 page thesis on Harvey Wiley Corbett, a little known architect working in New York in the early part of the twentieth century. My writing was about conveying information and ideas in a clear, concise manner.
My experience in graduate school was very different. We spent our time drawing rather than writing, something true of most architects in school. Our professional language can reflect that imbalance. Architectural vocabulary is at best technical, and at worst, obtuse and blatantly incorrect. I spent many a design review wondering why it was that architects only had “primary intentions,” or “tertiary intentions.” I once worked as a graduate assistant where I graded a paper without punctuation and written entirely in capital letters.
Professional architectural practice is no less rife with jargon that can present communication problems between architects and their clients. We throw around terms that can be unwieldy and technical, and that not only makes us appear a little ridiculous, but it also undermines our good intentions of working together with clients to achieve design solutions. My goal over the next several notebook posts is to help demystify some of that terminology. My writing may not be as clear and concise as it once was, for which I blame my children, but at the very least, I can endeavor to help demystify a little of that language so that your discussions with your architect are more fruitful.