It's not easy. Its quite frustrating actually. There's a lot to do with personality types. Some people just don't want to listen, are stubborn fucks, or communicate in totally different ways. But you can try to explain with examples, comparisons, histories, personal feelins (
). Obviously avoid jargon, speak in simple sentences, don't try to cover too much too quickly...
Originally Posted by Happy
I'm starting to believe that a big part of the negative image my profession (Architecture) has attained is due to architects' unwillingness to communicate effectively (due to ego, perhaps?).
Me and an associate wrote a small essay about just that last year. "The crisis of architecture: a problem of communications". Hell, most of our association was based on the concept of bringing understanding to the masses (we failed).
Many of the issues are an outgrowth of our present decadent, post-modern, post-critical era where commercialism has absorbed all and intellectuality is, like commercial architecture, all façade and no substance. I don't remember it all from the top of my head but some points:
a) Post-modernity, instead of recovering meaning, gave it its coup de grâce. Public buildings and public spaces are vacuous, polished commercialized projects, and private buildings glorify the personal ego or the banal genericness of globalized corporatism. Buildings rarely signify anything to the average person, alienation maybe. The scale and speed of industrial civilization makes it impossible for any coherence and depth in design. (Koolhaas apparently thinks we've become utterly powerless and therefore a heroic nihilism is the proper attitude).
b) We don't collaborate as an industry because competition is fierce and too much rides on "uniqueness" and "superstars". We've never been as international, yet intellectual movements are dead even at the local scale. Architecture was always political, but now there's no mission, therefore nothing to say together (well, sustainability, but that's largely marketing).
c) Developers, marketing and real estate speculation has taken over communication in our absence and distorted the public understanding of Architecture. Fashions and trends emphasize the superfluous. Things are made primarily to be sold, only secondarily to be used, and rarely to be enjoyed.
d) We are not taught to communicate with laypeople, but rather learn sophistry for pseudo-intellectual critiques and flashy magazines, because of b) and c).
e) We are not taught to work or think cross-disciplinarily, but rather encased in excessive specializations. This goes as much for others as for us.
f) It's an uphill battle. People are ignorant of history and art and science, often architects themselves are—giving my history class was truly painful. How can people understand modernism if they don't know/understand the history of socialism? How can they understand neoclassicism without understanding the enlightenment? How the fuck can they ever understand today? Clearly they can't.
Generally speaking, the main step I take is trying to explain how the manipulation of space to create useful place is the essence of architecture, and that construction is merely the means to achieve it.
Then I try to explain it as being fundamentally an act of problem solving, and differing from engineering in that the problems are often numerous and fuzzy, and therefore the solutions a complex balance of contradictory needs. Explains both historical styles and typologies as consequences of environmental, material, economic and technological conditions rather than the whims of egos and fashions.
That there are four great pillars to its aesthetic appreciation, all a specific area of problem-solving: tectonics (addressing the problem of the forces of nature, construction), atmosphere (addressing the human physiology/psychology), symbolism (addressing the conscious mind/soul) and raw functionality.
That is not unlike the classic Vitruvian triad, but I think "beauty" is too much of an ambiguous concept best subdivided into clearer domains. Hell, Christopher Alexander (an unsung genius) spends several hundred pages trying to define "the quality without a name" in The Timeless Way of Building.
It's usually the aspects corresponding to "beauty" which people find most hard to communicate/understand, because they're the fuzziest. Why do I like/dislike certain colors, patterns, lights, volumes, places? Well, let's dive deep into color theory, gestalt, ergonomics, proxemics, optics, acoustics, biology, geometry, psychology... good luck keeping that explanation short! It's much easier to just put on a mystical air and say some BS and have people just nod awkwardly than actually get across a good explanation. And just like with religion, some people just want to be fed feel-good nonsense by a sweet talking priest.
For ideas of how to explain general basic concepts I recommend you read some good introductory texts like:
Bruno Zevi – Architecture as Space: How to Look at Architecture
Simon Unwin – Understanding Architecture
What specific things do you have most trouble explaining?