Gurus, Swamis, and Other Architectural Guides

I often say architecture cannot be learned solely from a book. In my research on how architects learn a couple years ago based largely on Lawson & Dorst, I identified four ways that architects learn: symbolic, episodic, contextual, and collaborative. We have the capability to abstract shapes for something else. We learn in small chunks that build upon prior knowledge. We learn from our environment and the context in which our work exists. But most of all, we learn through collaboration with others. This includes formal and informal learning. Many times through the guidance of a mentor.

While I was completing my professional degree in architecture, I studied for a semester at an architecture school in Ahmedabad, India. I learned a lot from the culture, the outlook, and the architecture. I also observed a reverence for learning and for mentoring while there. As I reflect on mentoring for this blog I think it’s important to recognize that there are many forms of mentoring. I choose to look at them as gurus, swamis, and other architectural guides you will meet along the way.

A guru is someone who is wise. They teach. They explore. We all need gurus in our lives for they provide perspective and collaboration. They don’t claim to know everything. On the contrary, they are very clear that they are still growing in their own understanding. They help us along our own journey. You will meet gurus and treat them with respect. They have much to give. They may not be your guru forever but often they come in and out of your career at the right times.

A swami is someone who knows who they are and where they want to go. Their agency is in their own hands. Some say a swami is an owner of themselves. They do not follow; they lead through their own values. Anyone can become a swami. Watch and learn from the swamis, but be careful not to follow them blindly. You may be a swami yourself—use your influence for good.

The other architectural guides will be your friends; your tribe that you meet along a career in architecture. Part gurus and developing swamis, this is who keeps you grounded, who pushes you, and helps justify the inner dialogue in your head that sometimes gets said out loud. Having guides are essential to your happiness and success as an architect. Remember we learn collaboratively. Celebrate your community of peers and listen—for there is always much to learn.

This post is part of Bob Borson’s #ArchiTalks series—a monthly challenge encouraging architects to write about a single topic. This month’s topic is “Mentoring.” Please see links below to check out the views of others:

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Emily is an Architect, Mother of 2, and Somerville, MA resident.

One thought on “Gurus, Swamis, and Other Architectural Guides

  1. It’s an interesting notion. I’d always thought I found questions through collaboration and answers via research as experimentation. But maybe my mind works a little differently.

    Nice post. Well done.

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