Architect Gintaras Balčytis, the winner of National Culture and Art Prize: Technologies are just a tool

Important | 2021-02-24

Last week, the National Culture and Art Prizes were awarded to the dignitaries of Lithuanian culture and art. Among the winners is architect Gintaras Balčytis, Associate Professor at Kaunas University of Technology Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture. Balčytis was awarded for the architecture, which is open for the city and people.

“Receiving this exceptional award is a great honour, and a responsibility as now I became an ambassador of Lithuanian architecture”, said Gintaras Balčytis upon collection of the award. He is convinced that architecture is a textbook of state culture and art, which reveals the values of past, present and future societies.

In the interview given earlier this year, KTU teacher, the architect of Kaunas Bus Station and many other prominent buildings, was sharing his insights on what it takes to become and to be a good architect.

What inspires you to create architectural projects?

For an architect, like for every other artist, different ways and situations can inspire to create. Sometimes you can understand what experiences inspired the emergence of one object, and at other times you are not sure where the ideas came from.

The environment heavily influences architecture, and if the environment is ignored, hardly anything good can be created. It is not necessary for a building to adapt to the environment, it may contradict the environment, but if the architect does not have a philosophical basis for the decisions he or she made, again – the success of the project is unlikely. Architecture, in my opinion, is a multifaceted and very deep process and to master it, one needs to understand a lot of areas, to have a broad worldview.

What are the greatest challenges and difficulties you have faced in your career?

Every day the challenges are different, but the main one always remains the same – how to find the best solution in a certain place, at a certain time and be able to convince the customer to believe your ideas.

The architect’s decision as to what the building should look like is determined by a great many factors. Not only the opinion of the architect is important, but also the situation, the wishes of the client, the funds allocated, and the place in which the building will emerge. The daily work of an architect consists of reconciling problems and various interests. As a result, the balance of interests is the main challenge – how to create a building of excellent architecture, considering the interests of other people and the environment to the maximum.

What skills does a modern architect need that may not have been needed before?

The skills required of a modern architect are the same as those required in the past. Design technology has changed, construction technology has changed, but the process itself has remained the same.

The most important thing for an architect is to understand the task, which is what he or she wants to design. There are customers today just as there were customers a hundred years ago. Just like a hundred years ago, when we build in a certain place, we have to consider the territorial peculiarities and the buildings that are nearby. Artistic expressions and possibilities in architecture are changing, but good proportions of the building, the quality of the space created, the functionality of the building have always been and will remain the aspects for which good architecture is valued.

How does technology affect the work of an architect?

Technology is just a tool; all ideas appear in the architect’s mind. Computers have not changed the aesthetic, artistic perception. Maybe someday computers – artificial intelligence – will be able to design without human intervention, but today, although the pencil has been replaced by computers, humans are still the main creators.

Since I teach at the university, I see that nowadays the students cannot draw by hand, they cannot express their ideas clearly and quickly on paper. They also don’t know how to draw a perspective but can do it with a computer.

I consider drawing a very important skill. Architects first draw sketches for themselves of what that project will look like. When drawing, you come up with different options. Drawing gives a lot of experience and if you can draw, you can very quickly understand whether there is a good plan, whether there will be a suitable space, perspective. Sure, drawing is not that easy, but I think it’s necessary.

Is the problem with the lack of drawing skills a new one?

No, it’s not. When I was a student, not all of us knew how to draw, but since the technology was just emerging at the time, there was no other way. You had to put the thoughts on paper by hand. A computer is a good tool, not very difficult to operate, and probably that’s why there is no such a great need to draw by hand nowadays. However, when a customer comes in, and you need to explain something, even when the construction is already going on, you can draw a sketch in a few seconds and explain it simply. This always makes a huge impression on the customers.

What personality traits does an architect need?

An architect like everyone else needs to love his profession very much. On the one hand, you need to be very stubborn and defend your idea, but on the other hand, you need to listen to the opinions of others. If you cannot accept a different opinion, you’re unlikely to succeed. If you do not listen to the environment, in a broad sense, if you do not listen to the customers, to your colleagues, it’s difficult to expect a good result. Of course, sometimes it happens so that when designing a building we are one hundred per cent convinced that this is the only way it can be. There are such buildings that are very good and whose architects say they did not listen to anyone’s opinion. Unfortunately, the opposite is usually the case, especially at a younger age when there is not much experience and ability. In many professions, skills are learned while working.

What advice would you give to young architects?

The main advice is to spare no time because if you want to be an architect, it must become your way of life. In architecture, it’s not like you come to the office, sit at a desk at 9 a.m., and at 6 a.m. you can go out, lock the door, and not think about work anymore. Architects never work like this. They keep thinking – when they go to the city, they assess the surrounding buildings and argue with themselves: why this building is poor and the other is not bad at all. Being an architect means being creative and in a discussion about architecture all the time. One of the most important tips for a novice architect is not to be afraid of work and to devote time to creativity.

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Interested in studying architecture? Check out integrated and master’s studies at KTU Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture. Admissions to Autumn 2021/2022 are now open. KTU offers 18 bachelor’s and 24 master’s study programmes. Choose your studies and apply today.

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