Paths to creativity

Listening to Design by Andrew Levitt (Reaktion Books; Hb £15.00), reviewed by Dr Lucia Giombini.

Birth is not a one-off occurrence. Life often requires us to be repeatedly reborn, particularly if we have strong creative impulses. Artistic creation is itself existential; an idea can pass through phases of gestation, nourishment and finally, birth. But an idea can also be abandoned, killed off.

In his new book, Listening to Design, Andrew Levitt examines the profound psychological journey that often accompanies the design process. As an architect, teacher and psychotherapist, Levitt’s interests lie at the intersection between successful design and emotional development, a link perhaps not immediately obvious, but one that he convincingly argues is of critical importance.

His key insight is that to be a successful architect and effective teacher of design, it was – and is  – necessary to delve into the self. This realisation led him to psychology and to look into its relationship with architectural practice. He consequently applied what he learned from the experience in an educational context; in his current position as a design tutor in a school of architecture, Levitt encourages his students to listen to and explore their internal needs and desires. Of course, the ultimate aim of this process is practical: the creation of original and exciting designs that can be translated into viable projects.

Levitt argues that emotional maturity is conducive to creativity. He observes that students’ ideas are often ‘annihilated’ through excessive deference to the expectations of teachers, or the structures of specific schools of design and architecture. Levitt’s objective in his classes is consequently to open up alternative, original routes for his students to take to achieving successful designs.  

He articulates these ideas with clarity and a deftness of touch, using anecdotes and firsthand experience to enliven and enrich his central theses. Levitt’s belief that architectural theory and psychotherapy can work harmoniously together is both compelling and convincing. It is easy to visualise the author talking to his students with passion and empathy.  

I was, however, left feeling slightly dissatisfied by Levitt’s book. Whilst Listening to Design is brilliant at detailing the first steps in the creative process – listening to our inner world – it is not as strong at exploring the importance of building the personality. Surely the personality is itself the most extraordinary work of art that we are capable of creating.

That caveat aside, Levitt’s book is recommended to anyone with an interest in the connections between creativity in design and psychology. 

- Reviewed by Dr Lucia Giombini, Chartered Psychologist, King’s College; The Child and Family Practice; Elysium Healthcare, London (UK)

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