Architecture Word of the Day

polyisocyanurate - a thermoset plastic typically produced as a foam and used as rigid thermal insulation.

It often feels as though Architecture has its own language. Whether it be the "archi-speak" that takes place during the design phase or the technical language of a set of construction documents and specifications, it can often seem foreign and leaves me referencing the dictionary (ok, googling) quite often. In addition to the actual words, the grammar and syntax of construction documents and specifications often leaves me fighting the urge to punctuate properly. Maybe I am just more of an English-freak than I realized?

Anyway, I think I see a new blog post forming from this...

On Regrets

I am currently working on an incredibly cool new academic building at a local University. I have been fortunate to have had a great opportunity to be extremely involved in the development and execution of many of the important concepts and details of the building. I will, going forward, thankfully get to be involved in the construction administration phase and get to see, first-hand, the building that I have been consumed with for nearly two years become reality.

And yet, I have regrets.

The Design process is a funny one. I am very happy with how this building has developed since its early concepts; it has progressed and matured into a great design with some really wonderful spaces inside of it. There have been some really exciting challenges in figuring out some of the complexities of this building and, ultimately, I think that the correct decision (with regards to Design) has often been made. None of this, however, stops me from catching myself daydreaming about what this building could have been.

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I keep this sketch pinned up on the board at my desk. It is an idea in it's infancy; a thought that I had about what this particular building could have been long after we had already established what it would be. It is just a quick doodle on paper, barely telling anyone more than what a handful of lines and some cross-hatching can possibly be worth. Yet, I suppose that is where the magic of Architecture often lies. To me, those few raw lines represented much more than what they are. They presented to me a fresh, new way of dealing with a very unique site and its views. They represented a concept about public space and circulation that was not all-together entirely different than the one that we had come up with, yet they gave an opportunity to be followed-through in a much different way. They amount to the raw sort-of concept assessment that I suppose I wish that we would have spent a little more time exploring in the beginning.

I guess that these amount to what you would call regrets. Maybe regret is too harsh of a word. As I previously stated, we have carefully designed a wonderful building that will be incredibly exciting and transformational for the community which it will serve. I use regret as a way to perhaps reference lessons being learned. I see, now, greater possibilities in the raw lines on paper than I probably ever have before. With the timeline of being awarded an architectural project to it becoming a constructed reality in the world being as long as it is, maybe these "regrets" are a vital part of that learning process. They serve as inspiration and motivation to press-on and not lose any time for exploration on the next project.

So, I have regrets. I hope that I always will.

 

 

 

On Practicing and getting Dumber.

I just discovered something I wrote down in an Architectural theory book that I read while I was in school:

"Architectural theory is a dialectical relationship; it grows out of ideology and at the same time is opposed to it."

The thought is not mine, it is paraphrased from an essay by Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas in 1973. It does, however, represent the kind of things that I was thinking about in my spare time back then.

Today, I know exponentially more about the practice of Architecture than I did then. I can not, however, help but feel like I am somehow less intelligent than I was back then. It is an interesting thought, one that I find myself thinking often: By practicing, am I somehow becoming less of an "architect" than I was when my head was just full of thoughts about Architecture?

The answer, of course, is no. No, just because I occasionally stumble when trying to remember the name of a famous architect that I would have undoubtedly had roll off of my tongue in college does not mean that I am somehow less of an architect. The person writing those deep thoughts about Architectural theory years ago is the person that now may not have as deep of thoughts regarding Architectural theory but is developing substantially more refined thoughts regarding Architectural practice nearly every day. Theory vs. Practice. The age old battle.

Back then, Theory seemed like this magical place in which one could think about the most pure ideas of Architecture free from all of the nonsense that Practice led to. Practice was the thing that architects did to produce terrible work. Today, I am fortunate to be able to say that, while Practicing, Theory drives everything that we do. I suppose that the only real difference is that we do not write it down very much, but it nonetheless forms the thoughts that become the concepts that eventually have to be worked out in the details of what we do. Back in college, I could not have possibly had an idea about the unbelievable complexities associated with the practice of Architecture. The act was pure, so it really required no more than lines on paper and thoughts about them. Today, understanding all of the forces that come together to produce an act of Architecture drives an acceptance that the act is inherently not pure. The ideas that form into the concepts that eventually become the details that produce an act of Architecture live in this realm of Theory vs. Practice, and that is the way that it should be because that it the most likely way that a building can be produced.

So am I dumber[er] for now being a practicing architect? It recently took me a whole day to recall Santiago Calatrava's name. I could have googled it but I chose, instead, to pry it from the depth's of my memory. How could I forget that? Where the hell was my brain? Maybe it was just overwhelmed thinking about the 1000 thoughts that are bouncing around about the current project that I am working on; and I am ok with that. 

Construction Documents [in it to win it]

I am currently deeply involved in my first considerable foray into the land of Construction Documents. I have done smaller packages in the past that lasted several months, but the last few years I have been so involved in the front-end design side of the business that I honestly feel like I am yet again a newbie to this strange and foreign place.

For those unaware, putting together a set of Construction Documents is a highly focused, intensely intricate exercise in delaying madness. It involves advancing all aspects of a building concept to the point where an organized [hopefully] group of complete strangers with no interest in why anyone decided a building should be a certain way will be able to take the physical documents that you produce and figure out how you intended the building to be built.

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I am [mostly] joking but it truly does require tremendous effort, ingenuity and focus to follow through with and this process has really expanded my Architectural lexicon considerably since the beginning. We are currently a couple months away from our scheduled completion of the project and things are progressing pretty well, but the enormousness of the task at hand is still amazing. It has been a really exciting process to see the concepts and designs that we developed over the last year+ take shape, to see them be challenged by things I had never considered and to work on solving new, more complex problems. Sometimes, we try to consider the original concept and find a way to make the details support it; sometimes, we realize that the original concept was not really a viable one for one reason or the other and need to consider alternatives; sometimes, we can't remember what the heck the original concept was! One major lesson that I have learned throughout this process is the importance of a strong design concept that can inform all scales of the project moving forward. In the particular project that I am currently working on, we have found ourselves answering numerous questions about how to do a certain detail or what type of system should be used by referring back to the most simple, conceptual way to describe the building and by letting that concise metaphor set rules for how things are to be detailed within the building. It seems really abstract, but at the end of the day there are truly infinite ways to do things so having a simple, concise concept helps tremendously in defining what works. Being able to sum up the entire concept as easily as "Well, it is about solid-void-solid." is actually really helpful because it may describe the original planning concept of the project, which in turn becomes the massing concept, which can then define how the fenestration patterns emerge and as the process evolves eventually becomes a way to talk about the interior finish concept right down into the finer details that define how things come together in the building. The simplicity and clarity of a concept can relate and inform the project at all scales.

More to come, but for now... back to these damn CD's!