A Glance at Creativity in Architecture

Inevitable predicaments created by lack of understanding of human beings and their needs have complicated our life. Architecture more than any other phenomenon, deals with cognition of mankind and his dominant value system. Assuming a choice, humans can avoid listening to disturbing music, seeing unpleasant paintings or films and reading poor novels. But they can not easily change or desert their living environment. As a result, architecture can not be ignored or discarded simply. This is one of inevitable predicaments which have affected the totality of human’s life. Every experienced architect is aware that a large architectural work can address thousands of people in the urban area. This research is an effort to indicate perceptual, selective and decision-making mechanisms which can affect creative process in formation of an architectural project.


Genrich Altshuller, the founder of Triz (creative engineering) believes that some architecture theorists are stuck in their theories and get excited by hearing the phrase “we are free to experience”. Experience is usually defined through data processing which has a direct relation to “attention”. A more precise attention to an object leads to process of more data. As experience accumulates, one can process more complex cognitive stimuli. People are instigated by diversity and newness of objects which they encounter. Sometimes it is not a bad idea to question and revise the axioms and look for the real meaning of approaches and phenomena. In this way one can avoid platitudes, get rid of faults and move towards inventions and discoveries. (Zaha Hadid: Care to investigate)

But how far can an architect go in imposing his personal opinions in the name of obtaining experience? Are these ideas based on principal beliefs or merely rooted in self-centeredness and egoism? Architecture is not only about the formation of objects; but it mainly deals with the effects caused by formation of that object. The similarity between architecture and the other arts is to create a worldview. In order to create a worldview, one should be influential; so as to be influential, one should come up with motivation, and to do that, one should put diversity and novelty forward. An architect should not misjudge his lack of knowledge as a chance to gain experience. As Oscar Wilde mentions, “experience is the name we give to our mistakes”.

Considering the high expenses, influence on thousands of people and environmental impacts during the average length of human life, it seems that other aspects should be studied in addition to accumulation of experience.

Lack of knowledge does not detach us from our responsibilities. Man has made countless mistakes in the path of progress and civilization. In many cases, he has accepted his mistakes and made an attempt to compensate for them. Most of these attempts were taken seriously once the governments perceived the heavy economic burdens imposed on them. For instance, the revision of lifestyle, nutrition and health has been adverted since 30 years ago as result of expensive medical insurance costs. Man has not taken any promising measures based on the recognition of his real needs in architecture which is one of his most significant issues.

Hopefully, the importance of architecture and an appropriate working and living environment is fully realized, which can increase human’s efficiency and enhances his mental and physical health.

The relationship between perception and creativity

What distinguishes an architect from other people is the capability to have different viewpoints and to perceive various possibilities for offering creative solutions in order to meet human’s real needs. Today’s architecture is about creating an invisible space which has the most influence.

(Power of being invisible)

Quest for novelty, diversity and sophistication, sense-motivating elements, logic-challenging issues, belief and value-modifying factors and better perception instigate an architect to embark on creative activities.

According to Triz (creative engineering) and contrary to trial and error approach the following steps are suggested for creative problem-solving:

1.Problem definition

2.Definition and formation of a system

3.Hierarchical order of problems

4.Multi-faceted viewpoints

5.The embodiment of the ideal situation

6.Step by step reverse checking

In most original problems, presenting a solution create more new problems. But, is it impossible to predict and control the results to some extent? As an example, if we want to increase the resistance of a wire, we increase its diameter. However, we should be aware that this process also makes the wire heavier.

The perception process

We all know the alphabet starts from A an ends in Z. But how many people can name the letters in a reverse order, from Z to A? Almost no one can, unless it is practiced so much. Of course this is not an impossible task; although we should bear in mind that for remembering B, We should have already called A. And to remember C, it is essential to go through B, and so on. In our minds B is remembered after C and not vice versa. In a larger scale, the same categorization exists in our thinking process and worldview. In order to understand a phenomenon, we need to perceive cognitive mental symbols and backgrounds. Paving the ground in order to perceive an artwork is of great importance. In the art history, we come across artists who had been ostracized by their contemporary culture, but over time, their art works were accepted and even were exalted as unique masterpieces. The cause can be traced back to absence of cognitive factors in a particular period. For instance, Sheikh Lotfollah mosque which lacks minarets and courtyard today is among the world’s architectural masterpieces; or the Eiffel Tower which faced heavy criticism while being constructed also enjoys compliment. There are many similar examples.

Because of its different nature from the other arts, architecture is not only restricted to sensory instigation or challenging rationality. Perhaps, if architecture remains limited to these factors, it will be reduced to a monument. I personally believe that a massive construction, even if it is so beautiful, but unable to interact with the environment can not to be called a work of architecture. “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson, Christo’s works and Gaudi’s church in Barcelona are examples of this category of construction.    

However, man needs a medium in order to perceive. Today, the claims of abstract painting have been rejected. According to are search conducted by Prof. Ramachandran, It is proven that even the most abstract forms interact with some kind of instinct in our minds. The answer is not in the work itself but in the structure of man’s mind. The abstract work is just an exaggerated medium which links to the most primary internal desires for satisfaction.

Architecture: creation or perception?

Architectural projects are not about structural inventions – one can claim to have created a new structure if no similar sample exists in nature – invention is a vision, emerged from the structure.

Considering creative problem-solving approach, we move towards meeting the demands in a creative process. This movement can intensify our needs; therefore, problem-perception, understanding human needs, the perception of one’s capabilities, understanding and perceiving the process of perception are all among the prerequisites to creativity. As a consequence, creativity can be regarded as appropriate perception of the problem.

Man is tangled in the hierarchies as if he is unable to communicate directly. Errors occur exactly when principles and the meanings are replaced by mediums and means. Throughout history, mediums, cognitive symbols and means have been created. Gradually, they have occupied man’s mind in a way that the real goal has left forgotten. Some of mankind’s behaviors have not changed in thousands-year history and all efforts for a so-called creative modification of them have been in vain. What have changed are man’s worldview and his capability to perceive and analyze surrounding phenomena.

Without entering the debates on technology and its effects, I would rather touch upon man’s tool fetishism. This phenomenon resembles a situation in which some people are in a boat crossing a river; they begin to decorate and praise the boat instead of pedaling, and even if they reach the bank, they never let the boat go as sign of appreciation and attachment, so they carry the boat on their shoulders through mountains and jungles.

Today, mere adoration of modern forms and formalism has tangled architects in a trap; what is supposed to boost human’s improvement has turned into an unsolvable problem.

Ignorance and lack of efficiency in dealing with essential knowledge on one hand and employers’ pressure to secure quick access to profitability on the other hand have led architect astray and have created inevitable predicaments for the others.