Sunday, January 12, 2014

F is for F

One of the requirements for the 5 year B.Arch at Arkansas, when we were there at least, was to spend a semester outside of Fayetteville in approved "urban" study. We went to Rome - the Husband (then Fiance) as a student, me tagging along and taking care of things while studying the city with sketchbook and camera. 

The Program Director there had a habit quickly picked up and mimicked by the Toon Brothers over our late night card games. "When I was at Harvard," they would say with a mock-Italian accent, "Modernism .... F."  Apparently he said it quite a lot, and it began to apply to other things in life. It became a joke among us used in the same way the entire Internet uses Fail now. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Euphemism

Often when colleagues gather together, brainstorming on some project or another, someone will ask, Do you know Mr. E? He might be able to help.

Everyone in the room suddenly looks stricken. Someone says, Oh, he's a Really Gifted Designer.  And heads nod all around, but noone adds anything.

Down South, where I'm from, if someone says of a woman, Oh, she has a really pretty face. 90% of the time it's a dead giveaway that she's fat. Not just chubby, either. Clinically obese.

Really Gifted Designer, with no following phrase, tells us with similar relative certainty that the person in question creates wonderful spaces, but behaves like Howard Roark. We give the stroke as a way of putting the best face on it. We're left with the question lingering in the back of our minds, if artistic gifts must always combine with that abrasive personality.

Friday, September 3, 2010

D is for Drafting

I remember when I first started architecture school, Granny told me, oh yeah, your uncle did that for a while. 

So I asked Talon, and he said, Oh, I took a few drafting classes at community college, you know. 

Even then I understood the difference between the education of an architect and that of a draftsman.  I sighed, but didn't try to explain. 

Most of the time these days I think of drafting as something one does with papers: Rough Draft, Revised Draft, Final Version. My son will spend hours staring at a blank sheet of paper.  What's the matter? I ask. Why isn't there anything there. 

I don't have it right yet, so I can't write it down.  

It's just a rough draft. It's doesn't have to be perfect. 

He sighs, gives me that You just don't get it ... look. 

And I usually just leave him alone at this point, because I remember sitting for hours in the studio, staring at the board, waiting for the project to spring fully formed from my head, my Athena of ink and paper. 

So, Drafting. In the office, when we get to the drafting, we usually feel like the project is nearly done.  It's time to put together the details.  But the definition of the word is something very different: it focuses on the preliminary, on the sketchy--on the Process rather than the product.  Indeed, Michael Graves in his still relevant 1977 essay, The Necessity for Drawing: Tangible Speculation , (full text published in Michael Graves: Images of a Grand Tour, 2005) notes: 
In exploring a thought through drawing, the aspect that is so intriguing to our minds, I suspect, is what might be regarded as the speculative act.  Because the drawing as an artifact is generally thought of as somewhat more tentative than other representational devices, it is perhaps more fragmentary or open notation. 
He continues to discuss how making those first abstract sketches tests  preconceived notions of the design solution, and how that speculative, tentative action guides the design process. In that sense, drafting is not, as the Old Guy in the previous post suggested, the most banal part of our profession, but the very core of it. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

C is for Computers

I'm a member of the first generation of architects to use computers as a native.

I started teaching myself CAD in second year, as a way to compensate for the fact that I am not a born artist.  Because I'm not a born artist. I didn't draw a line in my life before I took Architectural Communications Spring 1989.

The problem with being on that cusp was that our professors, uniformly, didn't understand it.  They said things like, the computer designs this way, as if the computer were the mind at work, not the student.

They didn't understand the most fundamental things. When Andrea dragged her studio critic into the computer room to see the 3D model of  her Capstone project, he asked if it could refresh the image from the ground up instead of drawing the objects in the order they were inserted. Sure, she said. If I take a couple of days, delete everything and recreate the model that way.

And indeed, when I got my first professional job, most architecture firms billed CAD work as an additional service. I chose to go to work in a firm where there was a computer at every desk, and a designer handling every digitizer.  The owner of that firm understood not only that the most efficient way to operate a project was to have people who could think doing the CAD work, but that using computers as a production tool increased profits by decreasing the time involved in the inevitable revisions.

But even now, the older generation dismisses the computer as a tool.  These young people, they say, shaking their heads, they can't draw a stick. The post by poopi66 in this discussion board thread is not atypical:
Are architects being consumed by the drafting industry?  An architect forms a vision.......not on a screen but within his/her SEEs an image (imagines) and it is real to him/her.  An architect then translates that thought to paper in order to describe this creation and let it be built.

Like so many architects over the age of 50, Mr. P fails to distinguish between the design process and the tool used to render the design product. While I agree that design sketching is still an essential skill, it's not necessary for every architect to be able to produce perfectly beautiful photorealistic renderings. It never has been, even though that's what we were given to beleive in school and what the Old Guys say. The fact of the matter is that CAD facilitates the creation and construction of adventurous design, as discussed in this 2004 interview with Frank Gehry.  Technology opens opportunities for single practitioners to open their own firms and be productive and competitive with minimal overhead, and for women to continue to practice after starting their families by being able to pick up some of the normally required 60-hour workweek at home.

Is it a good thing that if my mom, my sister and I are sitting in a cafe working together you can't tell which one's the novelist, which one's the CPA, which one's the Architect?  I don't know. What I do know: embracing and growing with technology will only help architects to work more closely with the other members of the team that creates our designs: the engineers, contractors, craftsmen.  It will only help us to reclaim the roles we've abandoned over the years because of liability fears, to once again become recognized as Master Builders.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

B is for Barcelona Pavilion

My first semester at the University of Arkansas, I was still an English major.  An English/Creative Writing major, to be specific, so I was taking the first course in my major sequence and a bunch of Gen Eds, and spending a lot of time goofing off on campus waiting for the Boyfriend-who-would-become-the Husband to get out of studio.

More often than not, I'd find him in the Fine Arts Library encircled by a stack of books and magazines. One afternoon I found this issue of PA on top of the stack. Always a fan of modern design, I was captivated by the elegance of the columns, the grace of the colors, the integration of the views and the viewed object.

That one moment catapulted me into architecture school. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

A is for Archibet

Archibet = Architecture Alphabet

I'm an architect. I practice, I tweet, I blog. I've been writing an alphabet blog for a couple of years now, and lately I've been stuck on the letter A. Last week the answer appeared:

A is for Architecture.

I could do a whole series, following the alphabet through my favorite buildings and general musings about the art, the science, the joy, the heartbreak, of my chosen profession.

It occurred to me that it really should be a whole new blog.

So here we are. I'll start for real soon.