Architects: More Than Designer Eyeglasses and Black Sweaters

"My favorite thing about National Architecture Week is that it forces our collective profession to think critically about how we engage with the rest of the world... Unless you’re a designer, you’ve probably never been fully aware of the influence good design has on your life. Spaces influence a lot about how we feel and operate."

My favorite thing about National Architecture Week is that it forces our collective profession to think critically about how we engage with the rest of the world. After all, if you get your own designated national week, you better bring something special to the (drafting) table!
To offer some background, the story of how I became an Architect started in 2009 near the end of high school. I had a dual passion for writing and architecture, pointing me towards Ball State University where there are great journalism and architecture programs. While I eventually leaned away from journalism and chose to pursue architecture, I did transplant some very applicable journalism techniques, like asking great questions. Asking great questions and subsequently using active listening skills makes an architect grow tenfold. It transforms us from a profession that offers reactive services to one that offers proactive solutions.
During college, I took numerous elective courses that focused on the cultural, socioeconomic, and almost-anthropological approach to architectural design. Today, these classes are encompassed in a Graduate Certificate in Social and Environmental Justice. I think these classes were just as helpful at increasing my effectiveness as a designer as the core classes that taught me traditional design-thinking techniques that are more inward-reflective. My professors taught me empathy, and how the investigative nature of the design process can provide a better built solution to serve a wider group of end-users beyond an original program scope. As designers, we need to be critical about our intent and ask, “How will my project impact the larger fabric of the community in which it belongs?”

I flexed this “critical thinking muscle” during my thesis project in graduate school when I chose to explore the concept of Nature Play and how Architects can be part of this topic. In a nutshell, Nature Play is unstructured, reoccurring childhood playtime that takes place solely outside, unplugged and free from synthetic conventional structures (think playscapes made from high-density polyethylene). The thought is that by returning children to nature, they develop the emotional aptitude to discover new textures (who doesn’t love to play in sand and mud?), learn first-hand about the cyclical patterns in nature, and explore the tactility of materials that sustain our natural environment.

The absence of Nature Play in our sociocultural fabric today is already showing unfortunate consequences, including childhood depression and attention disorders. There are many books that discuss the concerns of “nature deficit disorder,” and Nature Play is a healing solution that clearly begs for our involvement as designers. This concept’s success is highly dependent on the intentional design of our communities and everyday environments. Exposure and integration of nature into our environments effectively improves the physical and emotional health of children and adults alike.

With my Master’s degree in hand, I joined Design Collaborative after being drawn to the firm’s mission: We Improve People’s Worlds. Architects are evolving and have the potential, now more than ever, to help solve people-centric problems. Around me every day, architects are asking the right questions, listening to what our community values most, and providing design solutions.
Unless you’re a designer, you’ve probably never been fully aware of the influence good design has on your life. Spaces influence a lot about how we feel and operate. If we design a building well, it should provide spaces that inspire great things to happen for the end-users. It could allow groups of people to start a dialogue with one another, inventors to have elbow room to tinker in makerspaces, preachers to reach their congregations, nurses to heal patients, homeowners to recover their lives faster from natural disasters with resilient design, a student to feel safe walking alone to their car at night thanks to defensible space design, or a child to experience the freedom of Nature Play.
As architects, these subconscious behaviors and emotions should be just as important to us as the brick and mortar of our projects. Great design should be somewhat invisible and conjure up emotions, specifically the emotions that make us human and progress us forward in whatever context we choose for our communities.

Megan Yoder
Associate, Graduate Architect