Can You Speak Talkitecture?

Photograph via Flickr by Daniel

Full disclosure: I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t have a degree in architecture, and I’ve never studied design. I can’t draw, paint, or build anything. Except maybe books and stories, if you consider a novel to be something “constructed” (a lot of people do). I have an MFA in creative writing and learned how to talk about art intelligently though, so I probably didn’t struggle too much during my transition into speaking Talkitecture — the official language for non-architects to sound smart when discussing architecture. Speaking Talkitecture is a fun way to engage with other artistic and urban minded people, so if you are interested in further developing your fluency, here are a few pointers:

Already consider yourself an authority on the subject

You’ve heard the expression “fake it until you make it” before, right? Well, that’s what success in talkitecture (and life) is all about. No one knows what they’re doing at first, so you fake it until you do. It’s all about confidence. To quote George Costanza, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Because the fact is no one really knows anything anyway (except architects, who build the stuff), so why not just be confident in your ideas? You’re a part of this city, this street, this world. You’re entitled to feel feelings and have ideas on things. Do you like this building? Do you feel that it works amidst the other buildings? I say, go with your gut, then fill in some fancy words around it to back that gut up.

Use Buzzwords

Here’s a list of buzzwords you can throw out there to solidify your architectural authority.

Daniel Libeskind and the “New York Five”

Le Corbusier

Deconstructivism

Functionalism and New Formalism

Fragmentation

Scale

Zaha Hadid

Ok, so these are some terms. Now, where do you learn what they all mean? Wikipedia, of course.

Consider Wikipedia your university PhD in Talkitecture

First of all, you don’t need to know everything all at once. You only need to know enough to enter the conversation you’re currently in. Let’s say you’re going to a Deconstructivist exhibit at San Francisco’s MoMA. All you have to do is look up Deconstructivism on Wikipedia and read what it is, what it stemmed from, and who the key players and/or structures are. You probably won’t even have to read the entire page.

Don’t reference artistic movements you have yet to look up on Wikipedia

Let’s say the conversation jumps from formalism and aesthetics, to Marx, the Protestant Reformation, and then the Baroque period and the aristocracy, don’t feel the need to contribute. Intelligent people love being listened to. Just take this time to sit back and hear what the person has to say. Nod and say, “Right . . . exactly . . .” Trust me. They’ll just be happy you haven’t run away yet. It’s better to remain quiet than to say something untrue.

Don’t be specific about materials

Let’s face it. You don’t know the difference between a brick and concrete, and you know have no idea what Terracotta is. But that’s ok. You don’t have to. You’re not an architect. You’re a keen and thoughtful observer of the world around you and that counts for something. Don’t worry about not knowing materials. People probably won’t quiz you. And if they say something like, “As you know the floor was made of stone . . .” Don’t correct them. Just say, “Of course . . .” And move on.

If all else fails, use the expression, “I’m actually not familiar with that . . .”

Look, unless it’s something like Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry, or another Frank, it’s fine to not know it. Intelligent people love to teach other intelligent people things, especially in a museum or art gallery where they can be heard doing it.