Supporter's Column: Tadeas Riha

How is the list used as an architectural tool?

Helpfully loosely collected things


By Tadeas Riha, 6a Architects


1)     A tool I like:

 The architectural worker is bound to produce finite products and forms which are often fiercely resistant to change, which are also, however, of course forever changing.

Images, drawings, presentations, BIM and physical models, reports and texts are all narrative tools that move forward through time with robust momentum.

Yet there is a tool of the architect which:



-        seamlessly moves between the pragmatic and the imaginative.


-        arrives at considerable complexities deploying but two simple principles: inclusion/exclusion and sequence.


-        architectural workers somewhat joylessly use every day, often forced on them by other collaborators, consultants, or clients. 


-        can be flexible, open, inclusive, interchangeable, accessible, excluding, simple, systematic, informal, formal, complex, shapeless, plastic, coherent, random, elaborate, suggestive, visual, textual, expandable, reducible, punchy, elusive, and direct.


2)     Let’s talk about the list:


-        2.1 Lists are visual.  

We adjust them to appear longer, or cut them short, we add items that dilute or sharpen meaning.

We change colour.

-        2.2 By remaining open, the list invites the imagination of its reader to engage, adjust, rearrange, add, or remove.

-        2.3 The forces of attraction which hold lists together are just as flexible as the list items subject to these forces. The list survives in a dynamic balance.

-        2.4 Lists are tactical. Through their multiplicity, it is almost impossible to entirely reject them. They demand compromise.


3)     History of lists in 4 points:


-        3.1 In 4000 BC Mesopotamia, clay envelopes with possession-signifying tokens were marked on the outside with schematic lists of contents.

According to some theories, this is the origin of writing.

-        3.2 Medieval lists were markings on the sides of pages in Christian codices, helping readers to navigate through the vast expensive books. The English ‘list’ originates from the Italian ‘lista’ meaning roll of names, band, strip, border, fringe.

-        3.3 A smartphone is a list box.

-        3.4 Artificial intelligence research uses ‘List Processor’, or LISP, as a programming language.


4)     Some lists:


-        4.1 Pragmatic architectural lists: Cost plans, RFIs, VE items, Provisional Items, Risk Registers, Invoices, Minutes, Planning Conditions, Scheduled Monuments, Variations, Instructions, Defects.

-        4.2 Contents of Tom Sawyer’s pockets: ‘a lump of chalk, an India rubber ball, three fish-hooks, and one of that kind of marbles known as a ‘sure ’nough crystal’.

-        4.3 Imaginative architectural lists: Design Principles, Design Options, Material Palette, Prospective Users, Modes or Operation, Program Brief, Entrance Sequence, Design Elements, Sustainability Pillars.

 (see point 1.1 above for seamless moving between pragmatic and imaginative)

-        4.4 Other lists I considered including here but decided not to: Bridget Jones’s Diary new year’s resolutions (too long), Borges Certain Chinese Encyclopaedia (too known) Georges Perec Species of Spaces (too architectural), anything from Camus (too personal).

-        4.5 Other lists you considered, when reading this:





5)     Outline of an anecdote from architectural practice I work in:


-        5.1 The Great things lie ahead 2020 / Holborn House is a community centre with a public artwork designed by 6a architects and the artist Caragh Thuring.

-        5.2 The artwork presents itself as a list of interventions: ceramic façade print, bespoke woven acoustic panels, patterns of ceramic tiles, colourful metalwork, colour of structures, inscriptions in pavement etc.  

-        5.3 Under the community project intense cost pressure, at times the artwork survived only as a ghost, transformed to a set of ‘provisional items’ with the list remaining as the only format able to capture its multiplicity.

-        5.4 The artwork items came back to the project not all at once but one by one, as cost and funding allowed, in another list form: variations.

-        5.5 A year after the building was finished, this almost unchanged former variations list lives on as an itinerary for guests visiting the building.


6)     Summary of points 1 to 5:


-        6.1 This text is a collection of notes that I collected to write this text. The openness of its structure saved time and produced a result that hopes to engage the reader’s own list imagination. When editing, I added or removed individual items quickly and without affecting the shifting (but stable) body of the whole.

-        6.2 I had fun doing this.

-        6.3 In literature, lists are deployed as playful, imaginative, and evocative tools at times bordering lyrical expression.

-        6.4 In architecture, the list may appear as a dull instrument, a necessary evil distracting from more important (because more architectural) work.

Sometimes it is just that.

Other times the instrument is underutilised, its dullness, or sharpness, adjustable, it’s potential, not exploited.

-        6.5 As a tool both time efficient and playfully imaginative, the list can operate as a subtle expanding force, pushing against the limited confines of the contemporary architectural worker’s agency or finding more space within.



This article was written by Tadeas Riha, of 6a