Building Design

Renaissance Man

18 Sep, 2012 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

User Profile: Architect Doug Patt pursues many interests — and can’t keep what he learns to himself.


Doug Patt is an independent, licensed residential architect whose talents range from hand drawing to digital design. He's also a classically trained painter, speaker, and inventor who has developed products including an architectural birdfeeder and a machine that makes plastic fabric. Passionately dedicated to teaching, Patt also finds time to share his knowledge via his new book, How to Architect, and through a YouTube channel and web site by the same name.

Doug Patt

How do you prioritize your many pursuits?

Lately, most of my time is spent doing architectural work, making instructional videos, and writing. My primary method of making money is currently architecture, so that's the priority. I like to work hour by hour; when I get bored, I move on to something else, then get back to my priorities once I'm reenergized. It sounds insane, but it's efficient.

How did you become interested in architecture?

I didn't want to go to college; I wanted to be an actor. When I told my parents, however, they advised against the frivolity. My dad suggested architecture, since I loved building with Legos and drew all the time.

There is nothing else as all-encompassing as architecture: It comprises aspects of philosophy, psychology, sociology, physics, mathematics, language, sales, art, material science, invention, and of course design. My favorite part of the job is working with the clients and general contractors in the field. One thing I don't like, however, is the constant pressure to feed the beast. For a self-employed architect, staying busy can be quite a challenge — particularly in a bad economy.

What drew you to teaching and publishing?

From the first day of architecture school, I knew I wanted to teach; it's who I am. When I create YouTube content or teach studio courses, I get to do what I love: research, learn, listen, help, talk, create, and — hopefully — impart wisdom.

I wrote How to Architect after a discussion with the senior editor at MIT Press, who was interested in a back-to-basics book about architecture. I had already written more than 100 scripts for my YouTube videos, so I began by compiling and editing those.

With assistance, it eventually looked like a book. How to Architect is a guide for people considering the profession, and an affirmation for those who have forgotten why they pursued architecture to begin with. It also gives the reader insight about how architects think. Like my videos, the content demystifies the profession.

Which CAD tools do you use?

I'm 43, so at the time I left school CAD was still a joke — it was clunky and laborious. I got my first job, and ensuing jobs, because I could draw and make physical models.

In 1996, I was working in an office that had a slowdown. They used the downtime to train me on AutoCAD. My next office used [Graphisoft] ArchiCAD, and I've been using that for the past 13 years.

How is CAD technology changing the AEC field?

While the benefits of CAD massively outweigh the old paradigm, I think there are drawbacks. From my perspective, CAD/BIM [building information modeling] gives architects the tools to produce illustrative work quickly. This is advantageous to all parties involved in the design and construction process. However, many times the two-dimensional drawings fall short aesthetically. Some of the most notable facets of well-done hand drawings are their organization, stylistic qualities, and line weights. Students get out of school today with very little understanding of how to make two-dimensional drawings beautiful.

I also think 3D imaging is stifling our students, who get caught up in the visual appeal of designs without learning the underlying principles of design and construction. At the end of the day, however, 3D design visualization is a huge advantage for architects that use it to sell services and ideas.

What do you expect to see in the future?

I predict a relatively bright future for architects and CAD. I'm a high-end residential architect, and as far as I can see, there will always be wealth to spend, a desire for unique design, and a creative mind on call to provide it. There may be fewer architects in our future, but the good ones will always be busy.

What do you do when you're not working?

When I'm not doing any of the above, I'm on my mountain bike or spending time with my wife, kids, and crazy dogs!

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