Monday, July 18, 2011

Rules of Improvisation for architectural design

Improvisation is a creative interpretation of a given situation that tells a new story.  It sounds like architectural design.  The rules of interaction that make improvisation work seem to be useful to the creative design process.
(These rules came from the improv encyclopedia:

1. Don't Deny.  Always say yes
Accept the situation that is given.  Embrace it, interpret it, move it forward.

In acting, scenes die when an actor refuses or ignores a situation proposed by his or her partner.  Example:  Player A: I'm at a zoo looking for my lost ferret.  Player B: This isn't a zoo, it's an airplane and I'm a pilot.

In architecture a design dies when the architect denies the situation of site and inhabitation.  Situation: The site faces south on a busy street with traffic.  Architect: I'm going to design a sculptural form for quiet contemplation.

2.  Don't ask open-ended questions
Make proposals, interpret, ask 'What if..."

In acting, asking questions like "Who are you?" add nothing to the scene and put the burden on your partner to answer.  It's a form of wimping out. 

In architecture, entering a discussion empty-handed with open-ended questions like "What do you want?" puts the burden on the client to design the building.   It's wimping out.  Always have something to show, something to offer, a conversation starter, even if you have very little information and are asking for more.

3. You don't have to be funny - or original.
Think hard and be honest.

In acting, the harder you try to be funny, the less funny the scene is. 
However if you interpret a scene thoughtfully to find the true ironies within it, the funny will come out all by itself.

In architecture, the harder you try to be original, the more trite your design.  However, if you interpret the situation thoughtfully to find its true potential, the originality will come out all by itself.

4. Make your partner look good
The better you support your partner, the better the scene and the better you look.

In acting, creative dialogue is the goal.  The more you support your partner's creativity, the more you will have to draw on.  Usually, this means picking the good bits out of your partner's contributions and building on them, even as you leave the less good bits behind.  A good partner will do the same for you.

In architecture, when everyone else looks good, you win.   If your design makes the client's decisions smart and the contractor's work skillful and the inhabitant's actions gracious, then you succeed.  Usually this means intense dialogue that builds on each other's strengths.

5.  Tell a story
Improvisation works magic when the actors can make sense of a random set of circumstances and tell an interesting story (a shoe salesman and a lawyer driving a cab in the forest).

In acting, each partner proposes a narrative that the other accepts and builds on, so that a story emerges, which neither partner conceived beforehand.

In architecture, the situation of site, program, environment, and budget present a complex set of circumstances.  The architect leads the design process by proposing, modifying, redesigning, clarifying and rethinking in discussions between all partners until a project emerges that makes sense of the circumstances.  If the partnership works well, the project sings.