Architecture Astronauts

A blog post by David Megginson brought to my attention an article posted six years ago by Joel Spolsky about architecture astronauts. Who are they? Architecture astronauts in Joel's words are:

"Smart thinkers (that) just don't know when to stop, and they create these absurd, all-encompassing, high-level pictures of the universe that are all good and fine, but don't actually mean anything at all."

The moral behind Spolsky's story will continue to remain relevant simply because it is a lesson often forgotten in the heat of a debate or brainstorming session. David Megginson agrees with many of these observations but does point out architecture astronauts have had a positive, if not always successful effect on technology development. From the real world of architecture I am always reminded of Mies van der Roe's ability to grasp the big ideas of modernism whilst still keeping his head when it came to functionality and details (after all, 'God is in the details'). This ability gains even more credit when you compare his work to Le Corbusier, arguably one of architecture's great astronauts, who's ideas often far outstretched their functionality or success in the real world.

On a technical tangent I especially agree with one of David's last points about XML and the heady effect it has had on technology architects and evangelists in the past:

"(Architecture astronauts) believe that if a bit of standardization is good, a lot must be even better."

If anything both posts highlight the importance of stopping work, taking a step back and readdressing what it is you are actually trying to achieve and the way it is being done. Unfortunately for most of us it is all too easy to get caught up in the big idea or the nuts and bolts, in the process missing the chance to grasp what we were really on to in the first place.