by Andrew Levitt. Reaktion Books, May 2018. 208 p. ill. ISBN 9781780239125 (h/c), $24.00.
Reviewed November 2018
Andrew Levitt is continuing lecturer at the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture in Ontario, Canada, having earned a degree from the Architectural Association in London, England. He also earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Listening to Design is Mr. Levitt’s second book; his first is titled The Inner Studio: A Designer’s Guide to the Resources of the Psyche (Riverside Architectural Press, 2007). Listening to Design includes seven chapters focusing on themes related to the creative process, such as “The Big Idea” and “Getting Stuck.” Each chapter is divided into three to ten sections related to its overarching theme, but the sections can be read independently as they are essentially vignettes. The font and margins vary throughout, without a clear discernable reason, interrupting the flow and creating a sense of disparate thoughts or anecdotes. The author offers a further reading list at the end, and it includes inspirational and self-help books as well as YouTube videos and a TED Talk.
In Listening to Design, Levitt applies his experience as a trained psychotherapist to the creative process, specifically with architectural design work, focusing on the “desk crit.” The desk crit is a one-on-one meeting between teacher and student at the student’s desk where the teacher reviews the student’s project, providing advice and helping the student articulate goals. Levitt views the desk crit as a conversation, and his background as a psychotherapist adds another layer—one akin to a therapy session with listening as a core principle. Levitt posits that “the act of listening is magical because it makes things happen without seeming to do anything.” This theme of listening and receiving, being receptive, and keeping the ego in check, but not completely suppressed, is emphasized throughout.
Because of the infusion of psychotherapy and the author’s personal explorations (meditation, psychics, hypnotherapy, etc.), some of which might be considered outside of the mainstream, Listening to Design reads like the self-help genre, particularly since there is a lack of scholarship. It is one professor’s philosophy on how to endure, maneuver, and harness the creative process to succeed in design, providing advice for teachers and students alike. Most insightful and instructive are Levitt’s stories about students’ struggles and how Levitt, as their teacher, assists them in managing the challenges inherent in the creative process. While Levitt offers sound advice, the self-help feel dominates and may be off-putting to some readers in the academic community, making it better suited for general readers or teachers/students open to alternative approaches.