How Architects Talk to One Another

Since I spend a majority of my time trying exceedingly hard to not sound like an architect, it’s always a bit of a jolt to my system when I jump back into an environment when it’s actually important to sound like one. This is the situation I found myself on Monday as I was a juror for the end of the semester project for sophomore architecture students at Texas A&M University.

Bob Borson at TAMU Semester End Jury (photo by Andrew Hawkins)

Don’t I look thrilled to be there?!? I actually did enjoy myself and I am hopeful that none of these budding architectural superstars left thinking that I had shredded their projects (and their self-confidence) too badly. I really enjoy sitting in on design crits with students and think I’m pretty constructive as I typically try to find something positive that they should take pride in, identify something that could use further attention and development, and one item where I think they might have missed the mark.

As I sat through 16 presentations – a total of 5 hours – I keep thinking over and over to myself “Architects have a specific way that they talk to one another” and for me, that specifically means sketching.


Architects have our own vocabulary, one full of jargon and lingo that I typically try and avoid, but we all understand what it means when you bring a pen and some paper together and start talking … something that I do literally all the time in my office.

Bob Borson Instagram - How Architects Communicate - Sketch 01

The entire pattern of my professional career has put me in small offices where there was a sink or swim mentality. Nobody was there to show you how things were done – you figured it out for yourself. I don’t say this out of pride, (like that one architecture student with the Starbuck’s breath who is always quick to point how many all-nighters they’ve pulled) but rather a deep sort of void that exists where I missed out having some venerable old architect available to me to guide me through how things were supposed to be done. Maybe that’s why I try so hard to avoid telling people what to do? Some people (probably everyone in my office if they actually read this) are rolling their eyes thinking I specialize in telling people what to do – but I don’t see it that way.

“Ask me what time it is and I will tell you how to build a clock”
pretty sure I said this – Bob Borson

I like talking through the options and helping people create the narrative so that they can work through the item at hand. I might have something in mind regarding the direction I believe you are supposed to go, but rather than draw something up and say, “Do this”, I like to work through it.

Bob Borson Instagram - How Architects Communicate - Sketch 02

Every single one of the sketches I have included in today’s post is representative of this process. All were created by me, but none were created for me. There was someone else sitting on the other side of these sketches and we were discussing how something could/should be done and what that might mean in a larger context.

None of these sketches is precious since I create them by the truckloads. 99% of them end up in the trash can within a few days and if it weren’t for my Instagram account, I wouldn’t have any lasting records of these sketches.

Bob Borson Instagram - How Architects Communicate - Sketch 03

One of the things that I find amusing is the connection that these sorts of images make with other architects. They are, by far, the single most item that elicits the greatest positive reaction. Of course, I suppose that could say something in the negative about all the other items I post.

The last image is not particularly interesting as an image, but it’s a video (hover your mouse over the image and then click the arrow to get the 30-second video to run.) This is a video I shot that showed a 15-minute conversation I had with Landon here in my office as we were working to design the exterior elevations of a new commercial project we’ve been developing. I had a rough idea of what I wanted the building mass to be and I knew that the forms would take on certain characteristics … I just needed to convey what I was thinking to Landon, who would be taking these concepts and entering them into the system. My goal is to express intent without literally telling him what to do as I feel this sort of back-and-forth collaboration will yeild a superior end product.

Considering that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive (I still get people who comment “Where’s your vapor barrier?”) I think I will continue to share these sorts of sketches in the future, and if possible, try to explain what is actually happening in the sketch.


Source: Life of an Architect