As creators, we all go through stages of creativity. Some phases are more severe than others, but getting emotionally involved is, in most cases, unavoidable. In many cases, the emotional intensity of design can be so intense, it begins to resemble another well-known emotional process—one that generally includes the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Design may not literally be as difficult as losing a loved one, but it's little coincidence that in the architecture profession, one's best concepts are often referred to as their "babies," and any design process will involve a fair amount of letting them go.
To paraphrase the existing psychological literature, "as long as there is creativity, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is creativity." So join us as we explain the architect's path through the five stages of
griefcreativity experienced in any design process.
The feeling: You get the brief, and immediately you have 25 ideas rushing through your brain. This is the ultimate project. You have it all planned out: the 17 sketch models you’re going to make, the beautiful Pinterest-worthy drawings, the 1:1 mock-ups to show off your skills with a bandsaw. It’s all been planned out before you leave the room. You are going to kill this.
The explanation: This is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the sleepless nights ahead. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
The feeling: As soon as you do leave the room, the thoughts firing through your brain become overwhelming and any sketch that leaves your fingertips is just wrong. A potato dome for the neighborhood flower shop? A series of knitted windows for the state prison? These ideas sounded so good just a few minutes ago… A vacuum packed book pavilion! Too bad, that’s already been done.
The explanation: As the masking effects of our over-confidence begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as frustration. This may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Understand the options available to you. Take your time.
3. “I can do this”
The feeling: After falling off the rails for a couple of days you manage to pull yourself together. You may not be able to accomplish everything you were hoping to, but those ideas were going above and beyond anyway. You can still pull through with a great project. There’s more than enough time left.
The explanation: The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect you from the painful reality: you have nothing, and the design review is in two days.
The feeling: When reality begins to sink in and you come to terms with the fact that your dreams will not be materialized, the anger and frustration turns from your work towards yourself. It’s not your idea that’s worthless, you are worthless; as an architect, as a creator, as a human being. This project fell through and so will all of the coming projects for the rest of your professional life. No one will want you to work with or for them. You might as well quit now and become an accountant.
The explanation: This is a reaction to practical implications relating to our disappointing results. Sadness and regret predominate this type of self-hatred. We worry about our future. We worry that, in our frustration, we have missed an opportunity to spend more time working on our project that depends on us to succeed.
The feeling: After some tears and a 8 cups of coffee following 36 straight hours sitting at your desk to complete 9 of the 17 sketch models, you can only muster a dim light at the end of the tunnel. There is still hope that your professor or client will see some value in the work you have produced. Something that you can work with once you wake up from your 48 hours of sleep this weekend.
The explanation: The fortunate few may actually experience a feeling of pride and satisfaction in this stage of creativity. For most, however, this is not a period of happiness. It is the calm before the storm; next Monday the cycle begins anew.
"Explanation" sections adapted for comic effect from Julie Axelrod's "The 5 Stages of Grief & Loss" published on PsychCentral.