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How to Use Authenticity to Innovate Architectural Design

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

‍Image Credit: © turgaygundogdu | Fotolia


There is a push and pull between innovation and authenticity. On the one hand, authenticity of an architectural design requires truthfulness to a site’s surrounding context, people, and culture. On the other hand, a well-executed design also requires a type of evolution, where the architecture expresses its own self, while also lifting its surroundings. Thus, architecture must balance between complementing its surrounding environment, and being true to itself.

I like to think of designing for authenticity as finding the core or root problem for a given project by also finding the “uniqueness” specific to its context. This frames the design problem in a certain way. But designing for authenticity does not end there: One must solve for this design problem with a specific solution, a solution that is tailored to context of place, its people, and culture. Thus, designing for authenticity can be expressed as follows:


Of course, it is of prime importance that an architecture is authentic to its own design language while also being able to relate to its surroundings. And yes, this seems contradictory. But in fact, it is not.


Architectural designers can use authenticity to innovate their design solutions. You see, it is in the “tailoring” of the specific solution to the specific design problem, that innovation is born. For example, an older neighborhood may be the context for a new office building project. The specific design problem is the need for an office building that does not disrupt the way of life for the people and culture of the surrounding neighborhood. However, the “tailoring” of the specific solution (the new office building design) can give rise to innovation: new community amenities housed within the office building or its complex. As you can see, there is a way for innovation to create a new dialogue with its context to offer not only respect, but also support.

As you design, be sure to create authentic architectural environments that are true to their surrounding context, people, and culture. But also know that this does not mean that you need to always create replicas. In other words, you can build upon the past while still relating to it and supporting it. Again, find the “uniqueness” of place, people, and culture --- and innovate to relate, support, and uplift.

Authenticity is not the enemy of innovation, but may very well be its driver.


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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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