The Architect (2012) January 8, 2012Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, BIM, change, employment, marginalization, technology, the economy, transformation, transition.
Tags: academy awards, BIM, CAD, George Valentin, Hollywood, oscar contender, Peppy Miller, silent films, The Artist, the oscars
Last night I had the opportunity to see Oscar contender, “The Architect,” a film whose story begins in the late-CAD era.
“The Architect,” whether you consider it a screwball comedy, a sentimental melodrama or a spoof, is a 2D black-and-white film that has received a great deal of praise from critics.
The story is a simple and familiar one
The story focuses on a declining male starchitect and a rising starletchitect, as CAD grows out of fashion and is replaced by BIM.
A valentine to early computer-aided design and drafting, “The Architect,” stars leading man Jean Dujardin as a CAD-using starchitect named George Valentin.
At the top of his profession, Valentin meets eager would-be starletchitect Peppy Miller.
She dreams of success in architecture, invests time in learning BIM, and as her demand rises in the industry, Valentin’s shine is eradicated.
Architect Valentin faces untold obstacles: the fickleness of the public’s changing taste, the adoption of disruptive new technologies, waning powers that come with age, competition from fellow industry professionals and unemployment, among others.
Faced with the economic insecurity of the Great Recession and technological change that threatens to make him obsolete, George is being crushed in a vise grip all too familiar to mid-career architects.
Refusing to adapt to the onset of BIM, he puts all his money into one last CAD production.
George has owners in the palm of his hand, at least until BIM arrives
It turns out George isn’t well-suited for BIM, not least because of his mindset and attitude, dependence on 2D CAD and archaic drafting style.
But BIM is perfectly suited to a vivacious ingénue named Peppy Miller, who crosses paths with George, first as a fangirl, then as an intern in the office of his firm.
In 2009, just after Wall Street crashes, George’s studio stops making CAD documents.
The studio head announces the end of production of 2D CAD documents, but Valentin insists that BIM is just a fad.
It’s fitting that the next time he meets Peppy, on Rapidograph Studio’s main stairway, she’s on her way up and he’s on his way down.
When the studio head lays-off all his 2D CAD starchitects, George decides to open his own office where he could work in CAD.
His project is submitted on the same day as Miller’s new BIM project, and Valentin is ruined.
His wife kicks him out and he moves into an apartment with his valet, while Miller goes on to become a major 3D starletchitect.
“If that’s the future, you can have it!”
However reassuring excursions into bygone golden ages may be – whether drafting in pencil or CAD – they carry with them the potential for revisionism, soft-focus complacency and the refusal to embrace uncomfortable but necessary change.
This is why some critics are grumbling about “The Architect,” which has won a cache of critics’ awards and looks to be a contender for the Best Picture Oscar.
Whereas naysaying design professionals can appreciate the fond look back at the medium they adore with equal devotion, they inevitably see “The Architect” as an all too-comfortable 2D nostalgia trip that represents stasis rather than genuine innovation, provocation or artistic risk that working in 3D enables.
Those skeptics may be missing a modest but meaningful truth buried under “The Architect’s” surface and story, which is that George’s plight could easily be transposed into any modern-day profession or industry.
In one of “The Architect’s” most poignant scenes, George plays a character sinking in a cement pour, an aptly desperate metaphor at a time when so many architects feel they are in over their heads.
It’s a film that taps into our anxieties as we encounter seismic economic and technological transformations.
Having just witnessed his first BIM model, George says at one point:
“If that’s the future, you can have it!”
He could be speaking for an entire generation of architects who feel as if they’re in mortal danger of being left behind, forced into early retirement they can’t afford — literally or psychologically – or leaving the profession altogether.
At the risk of revealing a spoiler, it turns out all is not lost for George.
Disappointingly, it involves a work-around – when everyone recognizes the only way out is the way through.
“The Architect” may be drenched in the romance and visual values of CAD’s bygone era, but it’s a motion picture uncannily of its time.
(Apologies to critics of “The Artist,” which – like this post – is a shameless pastiche.)
The Heights Report November 16, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in books, infrastructure, technology.
Tags: BIM and Integrated Design, David Macaulay, Kate Ascher, The Way Things Work, The Works: Anatomy of a City
Here are 17 very good reasons to read Kate Ascher’s new book, The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper.
1. You might recall Ascher is the author of The Works: Anatomy of a City, the book that made city infrastructure alluring, visually appealing and fascinating.
2. You can find the book, The Heights, 39% off here
3. As with her previous book, The Works, the chapters are divided into sections but are presented in a building “directory.” Here, the sections are represented by elevator buttons, in reverse order, with the later chapters at the top and the intro at the bottom of the page; the section titles (“dreaming it,” “building it”) are helpful and especially, clever.
4. The pages have lots of white space – not cramped with info the way some reference books are (that understandably remain on the shelf.) Here the white space allows you to make connections, between the words and images, and between the images. It also frees your mind up, allowing it to dream up ideas of your own.
5. At first blush, the graphics in particular may remind you of those reference books in the 00’s section of the Dewey decimal system in the library. Ignore this association: it is false. The book opens with an acknowledgment of the current economy, placing the subject firmly in the present without dating it. And that perhaps is the strength not only of the text, but the nearly-realistic images: they serve to make the contents of the book feel both timely and timeless. Hard to do – this book pulls it off.
6. The range of skyscrapers that are studied and analyzed is mindboggling. Sure, there are the usual subjects – but the most contemporary examples of this building type are also represented.
7. People who follow my blogs know that I love to ask questions. This book is chockfull of them. And best of all, Ascher does a remarkable job of responding to them:
- How are these services-considered essential, but largely taken for granted- possible in such a complex structure?
- What does it really take to sustain human life at such enormous heights?
- How do skyscrapers sway in the wind, and why exactly is that a good idea?
- How can a modern elevator be as fast as an airplane? Are skyscrapers in Asia safer than those in the United States, and if so, why?
- Have new safeguards been designed to protect skyscrapers from terrorism?
- What happens when the power goes out in a building so tall?
- Why are all modern skyscrapers seemingly made of glass, and how can that be safe?
- How do skyscrapers age, and how can they be maintained over decades of habitation?
8. According to an interview, Ascher says that The Works: Anatomy of a City was inspired by David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work. You can see how the Heights might have been inspired by another David Macaulay masterpiece, the 1987 book, Unbuilding.
9. Compare The Heights with another work on a similar subject: Skyscraper: The Making of a Building by Karl Sabbagh which worked primarily because it told the story of a single skyscraper, at a particular time and place, and was the subject of a PBS series. The Height’s strength is that it provides both a more general overview while at the same time delving more deeply into specific topics related to the building type.
10. I was a skyscraper designer for many years and taught the subject in an architecture masters university program. The bottom line: Ascher knows her stuff.
11. Readers of my other blog BIM and Integrated Design – and book by the same name – know that I can go on and on about all things integrated, especially integrated building systems. Heck I even taught and integrated building science and design studio for many years to masters students. I mention t his because Ascher’s book explores the integrated and interconnected systems “that make life livable in the sky.”
12. Reading the book about high-rises is a lot less risky than trying to design or build one. Especially when you can read an excerpt of the book here.
13. The author will be giving a book talk in NYC on Dec 1 and its always better to have read the book (plus you can have her sign your copy)
14. Check out this Kate Ascher Book talk featuring The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper at the Skyscraper Museum in NYC or, if in California, you can see her here a few days later (and get a sneak peek of the super-tall author)
15. The author, Kate Ascher, is an urban planning and development expert – not a structural engineer OR a journalist. Ascher has a Ph.D. in government from the London School of Economics and a B.A. in political science from Brown University. You are benefitting from a big-picture view of the skyscraper that helps the reader see how every part of the building is interrelated.
16. In The Heights Ascher talks about the many issues that engineers must take into account when delivering a tall building. Had skyscraper engineer, William J. LeMessurier, the engineer at the center of the fascinating case study (“What’s an engineer’s worst nightmare?”) The_59_Story_Crisis, had a copy of The Heights – maybe the Citicorp near-fiasco never happened?
17. Curious about what prevents you from falling to your death in an elevator? There’s a fascinating chapter on elevator safety.
Even if you suffer from vertigo or have a fear of heights, read Kate Ascher’s new book, The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper. It’s a whole lot safer than building one and a lot more informative and fun.
The Architect’s Missing Manual August 28, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, BIM, books, change, identity, IPD, marginalization, survival, technology, the economy, transition.
Tags: AIA, AIA documents, The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice
Do you remember yours?
My first was the twelfth.
That is, the twelfth edition of The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice.
That was the last edition to be offered in four separate three ring binders.
White, grey and red.
And crisp, with an off-center AIA logo super graphic emblazoned across the front.
I read the entire contents cover to cover to cover to cover.
Here, I thought, at last was the architect’s missing user’s manual.
After 4 years of undergraduate schooling and 2 years of graduate school, I still didn’t completely understand all that an architect was and could become.
And with the deep blue “backgrounders” ample history of what the architect once was.
For the first time you sensed that you belonged to a long tradition.
One that you were proud to be a part of.
Here, at last, contained in four binders was “the answer.”
There it was, in red ink on the first binder:
“Volume 1: The Tools. The Architect. The Firm.”
It would never again be so simple.
Nor so innocent.
Volume 2 was even simpler.
All it said was: “Volume 2: The Project.”
Could it be laid out any more straightforward?
The last two binders contained facsimiles of the AIA documents.
Here was the be-all-and-end-all D200.
“The checklist” that promised to give you a step-by-step explanation of every move you would make, from initial handshake to final handoff.
That was 1994.
In 2001, the thirteenth edition of the AHPP was issued.
And it was a new world. For the US, and for architects.
The contents were reduced to a single bound book.
With the AIA Documents sequestered to a CD-ROM.
And for the first time, the edition was printed on the binding – henceforth resulting in readers referring to the AHPP by edition.
[The twelfth was known by the three-ring binders.]
If the twelfth edition was for me “Paradise Found,” the thirteenth was “Innocence Lost.”
The table of contents said it all:
“Part 1: CLIENT.”
“Part 2: BUSINESS.”
The first 9 chapters were devoted to markets, marketing, financial operations and HR.
All good. All much-needed.
But the AHPP no longer told us who we were – or who we could become.
Not in our own right, anyway. But instead, we only existed so long as we had clients.
No client, no architect. And while practically we understood this to be true from a business perspective, the architect was clearly no longer front and center.
The off-center logo of the twelfth edition now had been shifted almost completely off the cover, so to speak.
The architect – in the first 250 pages – was almost nowhere to be found.
The center – had there ever truly been one – did not hold.
Each architect had to discover and define who she was for herself.
The fourteenth edition, printed in 2008, returned the architect to their rightful position in the AHPP.
“PART 1: THE PROFESSION.”
“PART 2: THE FIRM.”
And so on. But by the time this last edition was delivered, the world’s economy was in disarray with architect , profession and industry scrambling for survival.
The fourteenth edition, thick as a tombstone, was a memorial to what the architect had been.
What would become of the architect was anyone’s guess.
And while we suspect who the architect is – and will become – will have something to do with BIM, IPD, sustainability and digital fabrication, many architects would sooner be defined by their unique attributes, by their education or experience than by technological or global trends that reside outside themselves.
With the world in flux, the industry and profession in transition, and who or what the architect is or needs to be anyone’s guess,
I do not envy the task the esteemed architects and educators who are undertaking the next – the fifteenth edition – of the AHPP.
There has never been a more important undertaking for our profession than the definition of who the architect is and needs to be in the immediate future.
Here is how you can help bring about the new edition of the AHPP.
What can you do to help?
Help shape its intent and content by taking a short survey.
The deadline is coming up quick (Wednesday, August 31) so take a couple minutes right now to answer a couple questions here.
What is your first memory of the AHPP? Has it been of use to you at any time in your career? If so, how? Please let me know by leaving a comment.
The End of the Architecture Firm? August 27, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, IPD, software architects, survival, technology.
Tags: BIM, building information modeling, information technology consulting, integrated project delivery, IPD
Because that is what my other blog is for.
But this, I felt, is just too important not to mention.
Next week my BIM book finally ships.
What’s important is that In the book is a series of in-depth interviews with some serious VIPs in our industry discussing BIM and the collaborative work processes enabled by the technology.
One of my interviews is with Kristine K. Fallon FAIA of Kristine Fallon Associates, providing information technology consulting and services related to design and construction.
In the interview, I asked her three questions about her current concerns:
- One about her business.
- One about the construction industry.
- And one about the architecture profession.
Her responses to the first two questions were insightful and intelligent.
Her response to the question concerning the architecture profession blew me away.
Completely took me by surprise.
And stopped me cold.
Let’s start with question one:
What would you say is the #1 concern for you and your business right now?
Kristine K. Fallon (KF): To be on the leading edge of the technology curve. We work very hard to be ahead of the rest of the industry. There’s no real roadmap for doing that. I worry about whether we’re identifying good technology directions and quickly galloping up the learning curve and getting good at these technologies before they’re in big demand. I actually have an incredibly vast, international network of contacts. A lot of the leading edge stuff isn’t particularly published – it’s in people’s heads or buried somewhere. Not stuff you can Google. So you have to go to the people. That’s why I am so active in so many organizations. That and staying in touch with people – it’s something I got used to doing very early in my career.
What would you say is the #1 concern for the construction industry as whole?
KF: I see the potential for the agglomeration – for the contractors getting absorbed into a couple big firms. That said – for all my championing of change – I enjoy the industry as it is. I love the fact that you work with different people, personalities and teams. I find that really invigorating.
What would you say is the #1 concern for the architecture profession?
KF: There’s a good chance that the architecture firm will go away. At this point, in England, I hear that the architects mostly work for the contractors. At that point – why have a firm? What is the role of the architecture firm? There’s certain training, skills, capabilities and qualities that architects do bring that engineers and contractors don’t bring. There’s a role for those skills and capabilities. As for being able to rely on the architect’s model for construction documents – if architects drag their feet for much longer about that, people will find a way to do without architecture firms. Because it’s just such a stupid waste of time. People will perceive firms as adding absolutely no value. You want an architect on your team somewhere to come up with creative ideas and solve problems. But why would you need an architecture firm?
[The full interview - it's a great interview - can be found in Chapter 3 of my new book, BIM and Integrated Design.]
Now it is your turn:
Do you agree that there’s a good chance that the architecture firm will go away?
What is the purpose of having an architecture firm today, as opposed to independent architects?
Do you believe that architecture firms continue to provide value? If so, what kind?
And how is this value different from the value an independent architect brings to a team or project?
Please let me know by leaving a comment.
The Architect’s Journey August 13, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, change, marginalization, questions, survival, technology, the economy.
Tags: AIA, architect's journey, carl jung, frank gehry, hero with a thousand faces, hero's journey, joseph campbell, sydney pollack
A few years back, right before the economic downturn, the AIA came out with a promotional piece entitled The Architect’s Journey.
The pamphlet was subtitled “Exploring a Future in Architecture,” with the focus on becoming an architect.
Then came the upheaval.
Whereby merely remaining an architect today is a hero’s journey.
Not ‘hero’ as ‘architect-as-hero’ in how director Sydney Pollack presented Gehry in Sketches of Frank Gehry.
But rather hero-as-in-heroic.
To be an architect today requires bravery, courage, ambition – qualities rarely discussed in these do-all-you-can-to-stay-on-the-boat days.
Architect’s careers once followed archetypes common to what Carl Jung (CJ) or Joseph Campbell (JC) might have called “the hero’s journey.”
Mythic structures that all architecture careers follow.
Something along these lines
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.30)
Mythic, that is, but not formulaic.
Recognizing that each individual has their own story of how they arrived at where they are
- The Call to Adventure
- The Road of Trials
- Meeting with the Mentor
And so on.
And yet, with
- the convoluted process of earning one’s architectural stripes, stamp and seal
- the downturn in the economy and the subsequent loss of colleagues and mentors
- the inevitable flattening or organizational hierarchies
- the loss of loyalty on both ends
- the advent of new technologies in the workplace
- work processes redefined
- design itself becoming more collaborative
- risks, responsibilities and rewards shared
Can it still be said that an architect’s career path has a recognizable structure?
In terms of storyline, can it still be said that one’s career has a dramatic arc?
Or – in lieu of former goals to attain one’s license, start a firm, win recognition from one‘s peers – is one’s career closer to an undulating succession of successes – and travails?
Becoming an architect is one thing.
Remaining one is something else.
There are many impediments one faces everyday
- Unwitting clients
- Unappreciative public
- Demanding employers
- Insensitive plan reviewers
- New technologies and work processes to master
So many hurdles, in fact, that to remain an architect today you have to be driven from within.
And possess a fire in the mind.
Only, for perhaps the first time in our storied history as a profession, one has to wonder: is that enough?
Some other questions to consider:
- How important are myths to the architect today?
- Do you believe that a career in architecture can still have an underlying mythic structure?
- Is it still possible to create careers with mythical power?
- With eyes glued to monitors and seats to bouncy balls, could it still be said that architecture – as a calling – can be something more than the daily struggle to honor the bottom line?
Architect 2Tweets – The Week in Tweets May 28, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, books, career, collaboration, creativity, employment, identity, management, sustainability, technology, the economy, transformation, transition.
Tags: architect Barbie, architects, architecture, CONSTRUCT, construction, retweets, tweets, twitter
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Take a look. Click on the links to find articles, websites and other resources.
If you are not a Tweeter, by browsing the list of micro-posts you will get a good idea of how I use it. And if you like what you see, follow me on Twitter @randydeutsch
Online Attendee Registration Opens Early June for @CONSTRUCTshow Free Exhibit Hall Admission & Discounted Education Packages thru Aug 11
The Architect of Flowers http://amzn.to/jrXJCh ‘Dreamlike and ethereal’ stories
Insurer: Payment delays, fragile construction industry conditions mean more building subcontractors go out of business http://bit.ly/lPLWWQ
The first warning sign that a project is in trouble. Sometimes it even begins before the project does http://bit.ly/aRY7fp
Model of San Francisco, made with 100,000 Toothpicks, began in 1976 – 3000 hours later http://bit.ly/juD4iK
Renter Nation: Since housing meltdown, nearly 3 million households have become renters. 3 million more expected by 2015 http://bit.ly/kUt51j
“There’s nothing off-putting about sustainability. Find someone who is in favor of purposely ruining the future” http://bit.ly/lV2GcG
THE construction industry, regarded as a barometer for economic activity, is now a volatile, unpredictable barometer http://bit.ly/jCwYcp
Why crumbling of America’s transportation infrastructure is a good thing, according to developers http://bit.ly/f6l6Cp
In a modern day Dark Ages with the potential for another great Renaissance? The 21st Century Renaissance http://bit.ly/a2wPeb
Polymath, Renaissance person, Multidisciplinarian (!) – Why we all must become one http://zd.net/kRoKem
To compete in a knowledge-based economy business leaders need to reinvent themselves as innovators in services http://bit.ly/ixxU24
Connections, James Burke’s iconic BBC series on the history of innovation, free to watch online http://j.mp/fcppDy
Architecture’s Two Cultures II May 10, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, identity, pragmatism, technology, transformation.
Tags: anthony vidler, ARCHITECT magazine, architecture school, education, integrated design, practice, professional practice, theory, two cultures
Not everybody agreed in my recent post that architecture’s two cultures are “high design” and “high delivery.”
But there was a consensus that there is indeed a rift in the profession.
A split that starts with the way we are trained.
I taught architecture from 2001-2007 in the graduate program at The School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Chicago.
An ARE refresher course, a Professional Practice course and the Integrated Building Science/Design Studio with Dan Wheeler FAIA.
For all the prep work it entailed, and the marathon 4-hour classes, I especially loved teaching this last course.
More importantly, I believed we had discovered the Holy Grail that would successfully bridge education and practice.
I was wrong.
In 2006-2007 Sarah Whiting served as visiting critic and at the school year’s end, she presented her observations of the school to the faculty.
Which boiled down to this: it was neither fish nor fowl.
Neither known for design nor technology, the school, in her eyes, fell something short of either.
There are a number of ways the faculty could have reacted to this information.
East coast elite academic theorist frowns-upon industrious Midwest architecture program,
Was how they chose to take it.
Her comments played to the low self-regarding intellectual underachiever in every Midwesterner.
The faculty took it hard and were faced with a choice:
Don’t even try to be all things.
Pick one and run with it.
Director Robert Somol soon after came on board and brought with him a culture change.
Integrated Building Science/Design Studio was a tough course and made demands on the students. No doubt.
Stretching their design and technology chops at one and the same time, the pressure took a toll on its students.
That said, their design projects were both innovative and real, the outcomes admirable.
But with their new director the direction was clear:
You can’t be both great and real.
Because real’s not our brand
Cool won out over cool + buildable in school.
Just as cool wins out over cool + billable in the profession.
I personally am looking forward to when the pendulum swings back toward reality, as it inevitably does every 10 years or so.
When style goes out of fashion.
I plan on heading-up the integrated design program when it does.
You’re invited to stop by to sit in on the design reviews.
We’ll be inspiring future architects who are needed by the world, not just by other architects.
The school got rid of these courses because they didn’t fit the brand.
And what is the brand?
Architect, what is your brand?
World, what is our brand?
What we talk about when we talk about integrated design
One year, after an end of year graduate design jury, I was asked by my fellow instructors to select from the 60 student’s 30 projects what I believed to be the strongest design.
My first mistake was going first.
Given the combined, integrated building science/design studio make-up of the course, I selected a project that I felt was the best from both perspectives:
Strong design/strong buildability.
The project was good, even excellent, on a number of levels; and it had integrity.
It was a project that, if built, would have improved the world in some small way.
That could not be said of every project.
The 3 other instructors, in cahoots, selected a pure Miesian jewelbox – a project that, to anyone outside that room, would be hard-pressed to distinguish from a dozen others.
But the consensus was telling:
What we talk about when we talk about integrated design is style.
The fact that the title ends with a question mark will prove telling.
“If academic debates over style have quieted,” the subheading reads, “a divide persists between the proponents of practice-based and theoretical instruction. Two prominent educators argue the respective merits of these approaches.”
Or do they?
Ted Landsmark, President of Boston Architectural College (BAC,) wrote about practice in Learning Through Experience.
Anthony Vidler, Dean, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union wrote a piece on theory entitled Thinking About Architecture.
It becomes almost immediately apparent that something went awry in the execution of this article.
The fact that the two are arguing for the opposing side may have something to do with it.
Or the fact that these educators are supposed to be debating how much importance theory should have in a curriculum,
Except nobody appears to have bothered to tell them that that was the assignment.
Read the article.
Whether a typographer’s mess-up or editor’s oversight, the practice piece is more theoretical than the thinking piece.
And vice versa.
In the practice piece, Landsmark – who is supposed to be speaking about practice-based instruction – provides us with a veritable shopping list of the latest buzz words and smorgasbord of cited sources and unnecessarily complicated explications.
There’s mention of “design thinking,” “theoretical constructs,” “students…working in empirical contexts” to “reverse the degradation of our ecosphere.”
The word “architect” or “architecture” doesn’t occur until the 4th paragraph.
Where is “building science,” “building technology,” “professional practice,” “collaboration,” “integrated practice,” “integrated teams”?
The piling-on of terms doesn’t answer the question:
Does practice-based learning have a prayer against design theory?
In comparison, Vidler’s piece is vastly more practical and practice-minded, well-reasoned and balanced.
And his was the theory piece.
“There seems to be little argument that practical wisdom holds a necessary place in the curriculum,” opens the second paragraph, putting an end to any doubts.
And any reason to continue reading.
With this article there was an enormous opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses, benefits and challenges, of the two cultures.
And how together they might lead to the architect’s renewed leadership position in the industry.
And that opportunity was squandered.
We’re left hanging with the question, unanswered.
And – as with the integrated studio tossed aside in favor of the brand – a sense of loss for what could have been.
If only we had chosen what is real with what we know to be great.
A Lifeline for a Profession Adrift May 7, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, career, change, collaboration, creativity, environment, fiction, IPD, marginalization, pragmatism, productive thinking, questions, Revit, technology.
Tags: BIM, building information modeling, case studies, cradle to cradle, design-build, integrated design, integrated practice, integrated project delivery, IPD, lean construction, sally hogshead, virtual construction
Using books as floatation devices is nothing new.
Cradle to Cradle, subtitled Remaking the Way We Make Things, is printed on waterproof paper for this reason.
Poetry anthologies served this purpose after 9/11 as did commonplace books carried by soldiers.
In fact, the book I’m about to introduce you to explains the original use of the word “communication” to mean bringing something to the “common place, to the community, to make it part of the larger social group.”
That is what I hope to accomplish with this review.
Building Knowledge in Architecture is a new book and lifesaver by architect, educator, researcher, scholar and poet, Richard Foqué.
On the academic side, Foqué is a professor and dean emeritus at the Henry van de Velde Higher Institute of Architecture at the University College Antwerp.
On the practice side, Foqué is the founder and honorary principal of FDA Architects (now OSAR), one of the largest architectural firms in Flanders.
Richard Foqué’s work is characterized by the integration of architecture, art, design and science and reflected in the book “Bringing the World into Culture”, dedicated to Foqué and in which 21 eminent scholars, architects and designers bring a tribute to his work. An interdisciplinary thinker, Foqué lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.
But don’t read Building Knowledge in Architecture because of his credentials.
Read this book because Richard Foqué is the first poet to write beautifully and meaningfully about the architect, design, creativity,
And as importantly, digital design tools such as BIM and collaborative work processes such as integrated design, design-build, lean construction and design thinking, subjects at the focus of these discussions.
You had me at Introduction
A book, like any of us, competes in a marketplace for attention.
Building Knowledge in Architecture, until today, appears to have been satisfied waiting patiently to be discovered on library shelves.
Book, wait no more.
Because that’s how long our attention spans today have been shortened to.
Reader, here I’ll introduce you to what will surely become a fine traveling companion and fellow conversationalist in the weeks ahead.
But I’ll need 9 minutes to do so – not 9 seconds. So please bear with me.
Man Measuring the Clouds
A passing glance at a sculpture, Man Measuring the Clouds, inspired Foqué to reflect on architecture and what it means to be an architect today.
“The architect works in the field of tension between imagination and reality. The architect’s task is to convert the dreams and often unreachable wishes of the client into a buildable concept, which should be functional, technically resolved, and in compliance with all building and safety codes, but at the same time must inspire a sense of well-being and have the necessary aesthetic qualities to contribute to and enrich its context.”
Foqué then asks:
“Is the architect the person who is measuring the clouds all the time? Is architectural design, per se, an impossible task to perform? In other words, what is the essence of being an architect? What are the skills, competencies, and knowledge an architect needs to perform as a true professional?”
Aware of the access to practical knowledge readily available to other fields such as medicine, business and law, things can be otherwise for the architectural profession, the author sets out in search of a robust knowledge base architects can access:
“In my own practice, I have endeavored to use my professional experience and accumulated know-how in an innovative way for every new commission. But I have always been left with a feeling of discontent: Could I have done better? Did I use all the creative potential and knowledge at my disposal, and did I not overlook essential elements?”
Foqué concludes that the architectural profession no longer has a shared knowledge base. Building Knowledge in Architecture asks all of the important questions:
“Why did we abandon or sacrifice (this) knowledge base? Why is the architectural profession drifting? Why are we sometimes reinventing the obvious? Why do we struggle to cope with contemporary technological evolution, and why is it so difficult to integrate in a satisfactory way new findings and insights into our design solutions? Why are we losing ground, and why are essential responsibilities of our professional practice being assumed by others?”
One page into the book, you realize you have underlined every line. It is one of those books.
The book is organized in two parts.
In Part 1, Building Knowledge in Architecture serves as a practical overview of contemporary architectural design methods, and proposes design – apart from science and art – as a third way to investigate the real world.
“Perceiving themselves as practitioners of a ‘creative’ profession, architects hover between science and art.” p. 25
This is one of the very few books that discuss new digital design tools such as building information modeling (BIM) from academic, theoretical and practical standpoints (discussed for the first time on p. 93.)
But also integrated project delivery (IPD) or at least a facsimile of the same.
In the section called The Exteriorization of the Design Process, Foqué indicates that recent evolution of communication information technology processes forces designers
“…to interact increasingly with his environment. He has no escape, so to speak, but must engage in a permanent dialogue with his surrounding world.” p. 82
Foqué points out that the concept of transdisciplinarity – and the way specialized knowledge can be integrated – harkens back to the work of developmental child psychologist, Jean Piaget, in the 1970’s.
Where, according to the author, specialized knowledge needs to be incorporated into a comprehensive body of integrated knowledge, “within a global system of values and well-considered choices.”
Per Piaget, those who have taken part on integrated design teams will recognize the suggestion that multidisciplinary collaboration is, at root, child’s play.
“Learning should be revalorized in the sense that the creators of knowledge should also be held accountable for the application of that knowledge.” P. 24
“It is recognized that at the modern university, there exists a hierarchy of knowledge, which starts with the basic and fundamental science at the top, applied science in the middle, and technical skills at the bottom.” P. 26
Explaining why digital design tools, while used extensively, are infrequently taught at the university.
“…grounded in the field of tension between ‘technical’ performance and ‘artistic’ creation. It is exactly in that field of tension that every professional discipline grounds its own knowledge base.” P. 26
Foqué defines a critical component of the architect’s arsenal, intuition, as “a not-yet-conceptualized and not-yet-systematized form of knowledge.” P. 27
Before I go on to quote every line in the book, I want to point out an additional pleasure in reading a book written with a poet’s sensibility.
In describing the synergistic integration of art, science and technology, Foqué uses the seemingly simple example of learning to ride a bike.
“If you describe every part of a bike in extreme detail and add these descriptions together, you will by no means have produced an appropriate description of a bike.”
He concludes this explanation:
“In other words, it is not by knowing the why that you master the how. You need to add the artistic dimension, the art of bike-riding.”
As only a poet – who is also an architect, educator, scholar – could have written.
Foqué explains the now familiar story of how architects abandoned responsibility, and in doing so, relinquished authority, over the past 40 years.
He asks: How can we reverse this decline?
Part 2 of the book presents his case, so to speak.
Reinventing the Obvious
In Part 2, Building Knowledge in Architecture makes the case for case studies in architecture.
The case goes something like this:
Because case studies are used as teaching tools at law, medicine, and in MBA programs, architectural training should also include more reading and creating of case studies.
Here’s the problem with this argument:
It doesn’t need to be made.
In the introduction, the author asks: Why are we sometimes reinventing the obvious?
And then proceeds to fall into this same trap.
Architecture curriculums already make use of case studies. I know, for example, when I taught an integrated design/technology studio, we made great use of them.
They are not only, as the author argues, a practical tool for documenting complicated building projects, finding solutions to technical problems and expanding a firm’s expertise.
They are also excellent opportunities for having architecture students work in teams and learn how to collaborate on a project team while still in school.
The complexity of building projects almost guarantees that the teams will be multidisciplinary.
An example is Aaron Greven’s course in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in the Integrated Building Delivery program, a class that focuses on integrated practices and the technology that facilitates collaboration across a broad range of building project participants, for the Masters in Integrated Building Delivery program, a post-professional program that is in its pilot phase.
While the example does not prove the rule, I have previously reviewed these case study presentations here.
And more recently, they have been reviewed here.
The book does an excellent job explaining case study research as a means to establish a knowledge base and, as importantly, develops a practical method to do so.
“Architecture is no longer considered a true discipline, based on a comprehensive knowledge base, as it was for more than 2000 years. It is clear that this situation is no longer tenable, if architecture wants to survive in the Information Age, and in a quickly changing globalized world. A key question regarding the discipline of architecture today is how we can build a store of knowledge again.” P.174
But for me, proving the case for use of case studies in architectural education is not the reason to read this book.
Perhaps it is not case studies that are needed but a knowledge management and information system that can readily access the design professional’s accumulated knowledge.
There are people out there who do just this.
But this book does provide the rationale as well as a unique approach to constructing case studies, grounded in the arguments and methodology presented in the first part of the book.
And more importantly, this book explains how we can build knowledge in our profession and industry through the use of case studies.
The strengths of the book overwhelm its few weaknesses.
Weaknesses first. For all of the wonderful discussion about design and creativity throughout the first part of the book, there is nary a general mention of or reference to either in the index. It is almost as though the index was created for academics who might scrutinize sources for perfunctorily academic reasons but alas, not for the general reader’s ease of use.
Likewise, many of the otherwise wonderfully rich sources cited, are from the 1970’s or earlier. The book would have benefitted the reader (but no doubt not fellow academics) by referencing more contemporary examples of the same ideas or even the cited author’s more recent work.
On the strength side, the book’s diagrams are truly spectacular and help to illustrate many of the book’s finer concepts.
Another remarkable and no doubt unintended strength of the book is it is eminently tweetable.
A book of well-composed sentences, Building Knowledge in Architecture is remarkably aphoristic, and there are literally hundreds of quotable 140 character lines that are just crying out to be tweeted on Twitter:
“Intuitive thinking and rational thinking are not opponents; they are the twin poles between which the artist structures reality.” http://amzn.to/lyhDEl
Foqué explains that in earlier craft societies, severe penalties were imposed on those members who reveal knowledge in public. P. 93
Today, we are rewarded for the same by being retweeted.
See below for how critical Twitter is to this discussion.
Read or drown
It doesn’t matter if you don’t learn anything new by reading this book (you will.)
Because, after reading it, you will be able to say that you know what you know for the first time.
And that is some accomplishment. For any book.
It is absolutely critical that you read this book. Why?
Here are 3 reasons:
For all of the reasons I have stated up above.
For the reason that it tells us where we have been, where we are today and where we are headed.
And for this reason:
When drowning and you are thrown a life preserver you don’t say, “no thanks, I’ve seen one of these before,” and toss your line to safety aside.
A strength of this author, as mentioned, is that he has one foot in academia and the other in practice, a perspective evident in nearly every sentence:
“Professional disciplines…reduce the gap between real world problems and academic research, research increasingly captured by its own agenda.” P. 25
A book such as this can go a long way starting to fill the gap between education and practice.
That the author is a published poet can be seen in the book’s nearly perfect prose – so clear that you will not need to go back and read any sentence twice.
But you will do so anyway.
Because the sentences are so well-written they’ll strike a chord in you.
And you will find yourself rereading them for the sheer wonder and pleasure.
So don’t read Building Knowledge in Architecture because it develops a general design theory, a theoretical framework and practical instrumentation to establish a knowledge base for the discipline of architecture.
Read it if you want to improve your understanding of the impact and motives on decision making so that your designs are more responsive to real needs.
Read Building Knowledge in Architecture because you are an architect, an educator or student.
Read it because books like this are why we still have books.
Read Building Knowledge in Architecture because we as a profession are adrift and this book has been thrown to us as a lifeline.
Read it because at a time when the publishing and construction industry are experiencing upheavals, it is heartening to discover a book that is as well-written and well-illustrated as it is well-constructed and physically beautiful.
The book feels good in the hand, like a book by Peter Zumthor.
When you hold it for the first time you will feel
as though you have done so before,
as though the book is being returned to you
after a long absence.
To you alone.
That is because this book has been written for you.
The book, Building Knowledge in Architecture, was recommended to me by Ryan Schultz, founder of http://www.openingdesign.com/ via Twitter
@theoryshaw P. 78 of Building Knowledge in Architecture (Design as a rational Process: The Triangle Broken) could be your mission statement. Thanks!
FYI This blog was posted for readers at my other blog by a different name.