The Indicator: Oblique Strategies for Architects

Peter Schmidt with Brian Eno. What would it be like to sit at that table in that room. Via

In 1975 Brian Eno and the artist Peter Schmidt came out with a deck of cards designed to help artists and musicians push through creative blocks by offering alternative scenarios, methods, and perspectives. They called the set Oblique Strategies.

Think of them as a way to Dada your brain from the everyday realism in front of you to something more abstract. But this then takes you back to an alternate reality you couldn’t have experienced otherwise. They are traveling without moving. They have also been compared to the ancient Chinese book of divination, the Yi-jing, or Book of Changes. They are to be used in cases of creative emergencies.

In an 1980 interview at KPFA in Berkeley, Mr. Eno had this to say about it: “The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation - particularly in studios - tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach.”

Here are a few examples from the original deck cited in The Guardian : "Discard an axiom"; "Honor thy error as a hidden intention"; "Not building a wall, but making a brick"; "What are the sections sections of?"; "Always first steps"; "Idiot glee", or indeed, "Short-circuit principle – a man eating peas in the belief that they will improve virility shovels them straight into his lap."

Many of the original Oblique Strategies seem relevant to the process of architecture. Brian Eno once wanted to pursue architecture and has maintained an interest in it throughout his music career. His library, in fact, contains monographs as well as many critical and theoretical works by the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi.

What would an Oblique Strategies deck written specifically for architects look like? Below is my attempt to come up with a few possibilities.

Brian Eno in his London studio. Via The Financial Times

Work in a different medium.
Pixelate it.
Print and draw over by hand.
White it out.
Look at or listen to something from the Baroque period.
Change your objective.
Go outside.
Be more biophilic.
Create a mess.
Work standing up.
Zoom out.
Build a little paper model.
Listen to traffic.
Meditate on it and let it go.
Blur the context.
Be more playful.
Make it different shades of white.
Save as and then do something you wouldn’t have done with the original.
Do a simple move.
Pin up and look at it from far away.
Make more connections.
Draw on post-its.
Describe your design in simple language.
Imagine a child moving through the space.
Intensify the experience of place.
Steal something beautiful.
Make a dramatic gesture very quickly.
Read/write a poem.
Dare to be less minimal.
Consult someone in your office who is not in your age group.
Script for accidents.
Repeat the last move you made.
Try mixing different programs together.
Excavate from the center.
Ask the city what it wants.
Put the landscape inside.
Focus on what’s in-between.
Walk as though in a forest.
Bend and be ever flexible.
Open it up everywhere.
Listen to the materials.
Don’t be afraid to break it apart.
Close your browser.
Exploit the imperfections.
Reposition yourself.
Build the shadows.
Make the circulation express.
Be irregular and asymmetrical.
Let it emerge from the inside.
Try to make it blend in.
Do something you would like to see.

About this author
Cite: Guy Horton. "The Indicator: Oblique Strategies for Architects" 21 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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