April 15, 2014

Collaboration & Communication


Last weekend, I just finished the first level of improv classes! (and yes, I have signed up for the next level). I am confronted in class on how to become better in collaborating and communicating with others. The past few weeks have focused on the importance of listening, accepting others ideas, and adding to another person’s idea when we play on stage – we do not refuse or reject what they say in the moment but we agree and add on. Reciprocally, we equally establish and drive the scene, even giving up our own ideas to create something unique.


In Architecture School you can tell which design teams truly collaborated and those that did not. It really shows in the quality of the work and the presentation. The competition in architecture school can get nasty with tension and power struggle in group work.  I have seen students complaining about their partner slacking and students not trusting their partner’s abilities. Teammates would stubbornly fight to have the design their way. This is not teamwork. (I was guilty of this as well).

Ironically, outside of design school, the opposite happens and it is about teamwork and not about "I". Everyone in a design team collaborates and brings ideas to get somewhere. The stakes are high in designing projects for clients in the real world – as job and money is on the line. At the end of the day, it comes down to ensuring that a client’s needs our met and the firm fulfilled our job to the best design outcome within their constraints. We recognize and work with each other’s ideas and refine and progress the successful ones.

“Bring a brick, not a cathedral” - Mark Sutton

Looking back I wish I collaborated better in architecture school (I had some bad group projects along with some good – i was not an angel). I was listening to a podcast on improvisation comedy that struck a chord in me. And it’s because the speaker eloquently explained the above quote with such passion and confidence.  Not only that, I like my Gothic cathedrals - Flying Buttresses and Pointed Arches and stained glass and tracery make Gothic discourse badass!

There’s a strong emphasis on this quote in improv  to “bring a brick, not a cathedral” in a scene.  When we interact with fellow players on stage in improvising, we do not drop a cathedral on them, we alternatively build the scene brick by brick and we set each other up for success. For me, it also means that we do not let our partner do ALL the work while we slack – we have a responsibility to add on more information to get to the finish line of the scene.


I think this could be a better way of collaborating in design studio by adding on to what your partner brings up and vice versa. The notion that a design is generated from not the battle of ideas but coming together not fully knowing what a design will become but knowing you will be merging and engaging in each other’s design process to generate a unique design idea  from that collaboration (with some moments of reflection and edit, of course).

The next time you collaborate with a group mate in studio, both must accept and work from the perspective that the design idea must come collectively and not from arguing and imposing your own idea. You need to build up the design brick by brick alternatively like passing a football. They brought some bricks, you brought yours and collectively you begin to lay the foundation walls up together to a kickass project.

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