Designing Happiness


Today I’m going to try to convince you to become an Architect. Sleepless nights and long hours, stressful reviews and countless models and drawings – just kidding. I am, however, going to attempt to explain a way of thinking about your life “architecturally.” This idea is one I became aware of in my first year as an architecture student, and as I grew both within architecture and as a person I have come to believe in it and utilize it more and more. I’ve said on numerous occasions that the most valuable thing I’ve learned from architecture school thus far is not one particular skill, but rather a way of thinking. A way of problem solving, a way of asking questions, and a multitude of ways to represent the process by which I go about trying to resolve and answer those questions. My hope with this article is to give you a method to better understand the process by which you arrive at your happiness and begin to follow your passion.

Knowing very well that my audience is not entirely architecture students (most are probably in the studio working) I will try to simplify some of these concepts as much as I can. The first step to any architectural project is understanding the context and developing a concept. An in depth analysis of the flows and forces that surround your site, and shape the fabric and neighborhood within which you intend to design. This is done at a variety of scales. For example, an analysis of one neighborhood of Manhattan without understanding its relationship to the entire city of New York, might be lacking in historical understanding. At the same time, understanding the material of the street on which you plan to put your entrance can be equally as important. In life, we tend to get caught up in thoughts and moments devoid of context. We forget to scale back, and understand the entire picture. When we do that, we create holes in our thought processes. We lose sight of what one particular instance means in relation to our entire life, and this often times brings on anxiety and feelings of self doubt ultimately making our concept seem flawed or unjustified. When you better understand your context and reflect on it, you find that the concept is more substantiated and has much more validity to it. This is how you must feel about your dreams and passions. You must know your context, if anything, to know that you don’t belong in it. To follow your concept, your passion, you must be fully confident and involved in it, and that can only happen when you love what it is you’re chasing.

After understanding the context we begin to design for the interface between our concept, and that context. Understanding where certain infrastructure (transit lines, public parks, residential zones etc.) are, allows us to begin to shape how our project looks. This is where we, as designers, start to have some fun. We try out different shapes, sizes, forms, materials, colors, patterns and other numerous variations to try to finally reach a design that is functional, but that also meets our own vision as designers. Something that works, but that also looks beautiful. I like to compare this part of the design process to the way in which we approach the concepts of success and failure in our lives. The notion that success is attainable without a consistent and repetitive form of trial and error, failure and growth, mindset does not exist. No design is ever flawless from the get go. It takes several attempts and lots of effort to get things right. Every wrong decision should not be seen as a failure, but simply a process by which we rule out the things that don’t work. Attack your life in this way. Don’t be afraid to try things, especially in relation to following your passions and dreams in life. They don’t always work on the first try, and truthfully they shouldn’t, because if they did, odds are you may have overlooked something in the larger context.

Once we know how we want the project to look, we begin the time consuming process of drawing it. This, is where the fruits of our labor really come out – most of the time. We use a variety of drawing types to understand the project. Usually we begin with diagrams. Bubbles and other abstract shapes that help us organize our buildings and understand how they work. We draw floor plans to understand layouts of interior elements, exterior conditions, entrance points and core locations (stairs elevators etc.) We draw sections to understand spatial conditions, floor heights and sizes, the relationships between floors and overlaps. Perspective drawings are used to understand and represent the experience of existing within the project itself through the eyes of a human. The list goes on and on, but my point is that there is never one option. There is always a series of possibilities and each one tells a different story. I’m not asking you to draw floor plans of your dreams, but think about how all the elements of your life interface with one another. Diagram the things in your life that bring you joy vs. the things that drain your energy. You can begin to organize your thoughts and interpretation of how your life looks by doing so. You will learn that you can’t always reach a goal by only trying to do it one way. You have to attack different problems with different strategies – that is what allows you to get a firmer grip on your goal, and ultimately build up your success story.

Lastly, the notion of time and process. Architecture takes time. Ask any architecture student how long it takes them to do their work and the answer will astonish you. Even as an industry it takes time. Projects can range from 6 months to 10 years or more depending on their scale. The stories of our lives are no different. We must learn to be patient, and learn to dissect everything that comes our way, as we never know where we may need that experience down the line. Find the confidence to learn from your present, while understanding it as a step along the timeline of your life. A moment within the film reel of your story that adds meaning to the overall plot. What you will notice is that throughout that process, things may change. Your context might change, your goal might change, your passion even might change. Give yourself time to understand these things, so that when you reach your goal, it is one you’ve reached thoroughly.

Now that you’re all basically Architects, I challenge you to design for yourself the life that you want. Try different possibilities, challenge your limits, and don’t be afraid to become the version of yourself that you want to become. Learn to understand scale in relation to your experiences and your challenges. Learn to gain new perspectives on things by reaching out to others that may not think the same way you do. Learn your context so that you can apply your happiness in the most effective way possible. Every architect fights for their design by consistently trying to find the best solution to a problem while staying true to who they are. If you view your life this way, and attack the process of following your passion in a similar manner, you’ll soon be making beautiful drawings of the things you always wanted to achieve.

Vision, Context, Scale, Perspective, Time. Live by those words, and execute.

Go design your happiness.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jocelyn says:

    Beautifully written! A great metaphor & certainly a real life application on how to construct your reality, love it.


  2. Ms. B. says:

    I like the way you mirror image working on the Self to the study of architecture. I’m still in the studio and plan to be here a while.


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