Doug Patt, AIA, is an architect in Pennsylvania who has taught at Penn State University and Northampton Community College. He’s also one of the most visible architects on the Internet. For years he’s operated a website and a YouTube channel, both called How to Architect, which led to a book of the same name published by the MIT Press. In his spare time, he has developed specialty products like the Architect’s Birdfeeder. Oh, and he’s a classically trained painter to boot.
If you make it through architecture school, you’ll have a skill that you can use for the rest of your life—problem-solving. Add to that, if you go into practice you’ll learn not only design, engineering, and physics, but business, people skills, and management. I use most of those skills as an entrepreneur, a product developer, an inventor, an author, a painter. You can take those skills and do just about anything.
I’m a curious kind of guy, and I’m interested in a lot of different areas. I love to draw, and I love to make things. The best part of what I do now is I still get to create. Video production, in particular, is quite craft-oriented. You write the script, do the voice-over, make the graphics, do all of the production. A lot of craft goes into that, and it all springs from my training as a young architect.
Questions I hear all the time when someone happens upon my YouTube channel are, “Where does design come from? How do I design a building? How do I design anything?” And I tell them that, as a young man, I don’t think anyone taught me a tangible process. I teach an online course a few times a year called “The Architect’s Academy,” and I tell my students, “Everyone that designs something asks three questions: Who? What? Where?” The who is the client; the what is the typology; the where is the site. That’s where you start.
Not everyone is born creative, but people can become creative. And a lot of that has to do with asking the right questions. I think our minds are like a filter, filled with education and experience, the sum of which is knowledge. And when we pour inspiration through that filter, the end result will come out differently. Every architect is as unique as a snowflake; it’s a little corny but true. If you put 10 architects in a room—and keep them from looking at each other’s work—you’ll get 10 different designs. They say a “good” architect is 40 or 50 years old, and that makes perfect sense. As I grew and understood more of architecture, my influences grew as well. And the more influences, the better the work will ultimately be.—As told to Steve Cimino