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13 Architectural Design Questions Inspired by Paul Klee

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © kamikazecactus | Flickr

Early on in my architectural education, Paul Klee inspired me when he wrote that “movement underlies the growth and decay of all things.” I think this quote is so true on so many levels — at whatever level of architectural expertise.

I am paraphrasing here but, I can remember this quote coming alive for me as I understood that a point “grows” to become a line just as a column “grows” to become a wall. At its most basic level, this seems to be a simple notion, but there is much to learn by stopping for a moment to contemplate its possible meanings.

“A Line is a Point that Went for a Walk”

The latter is a frequently quoted Paul Klee quote. I like it because it challenges me to think of ways I can use it in my designs. For instance, what if the point is actually an orientation point defining the beginning of an occupant’s physical journey through a building. The line can then become the culmination of that occupant’s steps through the building. Hence, in its simplest form, that circulation route may begin to define a physical and experiential journey for the senses through an architectural space(s).

The gist of what I am saying is this: Every point you incorporate within the design of your building culminates in an overarching experiential journey — starting as a vision, then a point, then lines and so on. Ultimately, as an architect, you are building an experience. That may not be the only thing you do…but you are designing “walks”.

Simple Ideas Can Help Solve Complex Problems

Using Paul Klee’s quote as a way to make us think beyond the “line”, ask yourself these questions about your projects. Here, the “walk” refers to your occupants and how they engage in and perceive their journey through your building:

-What should that “walk” be like? What mood do you intend to stir?

-Who should go on that “walk”? How far do they “walk”? With whom?

-Is the “walk” different for different people? Ages? Genders?

-When do they go on that “walk”? Morning? February? 2 o’clock?

-How do they know where to “walk”?

-How do they know when to “walk”?

-Does their “walk” change each time they do it?

-Is there a story or narrative that makes up their “walk”?

-What happens to mark different milestones along their “walk”?

-Is there repetition during their “walk”?

-What do they do during their “walk”? See? Work? Listen? Be still?

-What happens at the end of their “walk”? Silence? Fanfare? Rest? Healing?

-What will they remember about their “walk”? Beauty? An idea? Something they’ve never seen before? A job well done?

In the end, it is nice to revisit some fundamental design ideas. Often to our surprise, they make us think about current complex design problems anew.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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