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Basic design: part 1 - exploration

Posted on: May 6, 2013

"What is design?"

That's the first question we are asked when we get into architecture. No one really expects us to answer this question. It's what I would call a 'big question.' Not quite up there with the purpose of life and such, but near it. That question itself is like an ongoing search. A search for answers. A search for purpose. All of us have heard this word, 'design,' somewhere or the other, so we start off by guessing what it means. But one soon realizes that there's more to it. And as such, the answer starts to evolve as we embark on this journey called architecture. Everyone has their own definitions and circumstances for the answer they arrive at and I don't really want to talk about the answer itself, but rather the journey. It's very much like moving to a new place for the first time. You've heard about it sometime from someone. But once you actually reach there, once you actually see it for the first time with your eyes, once you actually feel it with your senses, you start to understand it better. Then you take up residence in that town and you get familiar with your neighborhood. You get to know the local vendors and the general stores because that's where you need to get your daily necessities from. You start to greet your neighbors and indulge in small talk. Time goes by and you find the season changing. And you experience it, in that town, for the first time. This is how you start off. This is how we all started off.

We had two subjects that dealt with design independently. But it was everywhere. And once we realized this, there was no way to ignore it. It was like taking off a blindfold. Once it was off, no matter how hard you tried putting it back on, you had already seen it.

In this post, I wanted to talk a little about our first major design subject, called Basic Design. As it turned out, it wasn't at all as basic as the name suggested. There were some extremely complex themes and ideas that were talked about. Not that most of us could understand them right away. But in time, we got used to the big words like axial symmetry, abstraction, fractals, organic patterns and my favorite, the 'basic concept' (funnily enough, the basic concept is something that people need to work up from but more often than not, everyone finished their projects and then extrapolated a concept from it). Basic design was our first foray into actually creating something (or designing it). The exercises were aimed at developing our abilities to visualize and understand two-dimensional as well as three-dimensional objects and the compositions between them.

The exercises that we had were very interesting and always kept us on our toes. Most of them were group projects and hence were also evaluated based on teamwork along with the design and completion. For our first project, we were divided into groups of four and given a classic pair like, a sandal and a banana peel or a neck and a tie. We were to analyze this relationship and depict it in a way that changed the classic definition (or the way we look at it) of the pair itself. The exercise was divided into three phases. The first one was when we would sketch out ideas or write them down and discuss them with our group in charge. Then we would move onto creating a story board and a comic strip of the story we had created around those two characters. And the last phase was the presentation. The method was left to us. It could be a movie, a puppet show, a book, anything. The aim of this exercise was to change our rigid mindsets about the relationship of things in our surroundings. And it just got the ball rolling.

The next exercise was an individual one. We were all given several words and were told to choose one from it. On a completely unrelated note, we were told to make a block out of thermocol. After the word selection, we were told to write what came to mind. It wasn't a very difficult phase, but it got the word embedded into our heads. The next part of the exercise was to cut the block into pieces such that they could all be recombined to make the block again and it would hold itself together. Much like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Now the fun part started. In the following phase we were asked to disassemble the block and reassemble it in a way that described the word that we had chosen! We realized later that we were tinkering with what they called 'abstraction.' And when done like this, it didn't really feel that difficult to understand. This project went on for quite some time and by the end every one of us had managed to convert our blocks into the word that we had chosen.

Basic design wasn't exactly easy, but it wasn't out of this world either. Like I said, it was our first foray into creating something and these exercises were not aimed at teaching us about design itself, but rather to give us a few pointers as to how to start asking the right questions to understand more about design. To continue with the metaphor, we were the newcomers. We had never been to this town. And the people there just showed us around. They had been there longer and had explored this city a bit more than us. They had gotten used to the weather and the change in seasons. They knew where to get good food and supplies and they just pointed us in those directions. However, it was completely up to us how much we wanted to explore…

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