The Absurdity of Individualism


Luck, Fate, or Happy Accident?

Volume 6, Issue 05
November 4, 2020

This blurb wouldn’t exist without my group mates, the editors of the issue, Sarah, and Angelia.

I began my architectural education as an “individualist”. After some early praise for my studio work, I egotistically assumed that I was fated to be successful. To me, success meant individual glory, a knowledge that my design moves outwitted others in creativity (see “Design, Creativity, and Architecture’s Natalism” in Buildings Must Die for a refreshing take on creativity). This was, after all, reinforced by how our discipline recognizes “good” work. Awards, study trips, fellowships and teaching opportunities frequently celebrate the individual rather than the group (special shout out to the winner of the 2020 Kanter Tritsch Medal!1 ). Founders are celebrated by their eponymous practices and cameos on fantasy drama television series (Bjarke, what was the point?). Ideas are attributed to individuals even when not explicitly stated (Is not OMA synonymous with that architect at the GSD?).

I used to think collaboration diluted and destroyed the clarity of an idea. I (unbelievably) believed my ideas and experiences were superior, thinking that I knew more than others. These views were challenged when I arrived at YSoA (I can already feel Howard Roark shaking in disapproval). For instance, the highly competitive Building Project turned out to be one of unique collaboration. My group almost methodologically rotated tasks so that each member had the opportunity to work on every aspect of the project, as opposed to the conventional strategy of siloed responsibilities. This produced not just a proposal, but a set of collective ideas.

Since the end of summer, with various friends, we’ve worked on completing two competitions, editing a Paprika! Issue, and editing a paper towards publication at a journal — all of them unrecognizable without my teammates (yes, the irony of self-advertisement is not lost on me here). These projects taught me to step into the shoes of my classmates, not just in the empathetic sense, but with curiosity about how others worked. Collaboration became something I looked forward to. Thinking about how another person would design was not only emancipatory, it meant that I could rely on others and their experience. It provided an environment for happy accidents to occur. I think of Mari Kroin’s Paprika! essay, “Let’s f*ck up together” (emphasis by me) and imagine how the creative process would be if we were advocates for others rather than ourselves.

I believe collaborative work is more fulfilling (but only when the conditions are right?). It becomes more than what is created; it becomes a space for connecting with others. It is a fulfillment that goes beyond individual success because it contains meaning even if you lose (Is that just what losers say?). It nourishes the process with interaction, overcoming mental blocks and blinders. The editors provided a brief that sought to define “pre-success”, but that takes into account only the stereotypical paths to success. Perhaps, success lies outside of those parameters, is simply intrinsic to growth, and is already achieved through collaboration, because what is more human than working together? (That said, please don’t disqualify me from the Wendy Elizabeth Blanning Prize.2 )

  1. The Kanter Tritsch Medal is awarded to “an architect who has changed the course of design history, with a particular focus on the areas of energy conservation, environmental quality, and/or diversity.” The 2020 Winner was Peter Eisenman. ↩︎
  2. The YSoA Prize is “awarded annually to the student in the second year of the first professional degree program on financial aid who has shown the most promise of development in the profession” ↩︎

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Volume 6, Issue 05
November 4, 2020