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Architecture’s Two Cultures II May 10, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, identity, pragmatism, technology, transformation.
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2 comments

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.

Taking sides

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.

Choose one.

Choose great.

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?

High design.

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.

Wrong answer.

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.

Say what?

In the May 2011 Architect magazine is an article entitled A New Theory War?

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.

 

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A Lifeline for a Profession Adrift May 7, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, career, change, collaboration, creativity, environment, fiction, IPD, marginalization, pragmatism, productive thinking, questions, Revit, technology.
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3 comments

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.

To stand out and distinguish yourself, says consultant and author Sally Hogshead, you get only 9 seconds.

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 Creation of New Knowledge through Practice

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.

Key quotes:

“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

Beautiful.

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.

This point has been made before here and more importantly, here.

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.

Eminently Tweetable

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

@randydeutsch Hi Randy, speaking of books… ran across this one today in the library… looks right up our alley: http://amzn.to/hX0YG2

@theoryshaw P. 78 of Building Knowledge in Architecture (Design as a rational Process: The Triangle Broken) could be your mission statement. Thanks!

Ryan, with fellow IPD maven Oscia Timschell, is launching a beta version of the new site in time for the AIA National Convention. Check it out and follow Ryan on Twitter @theoryshaw

FYI This blog was posted for readers at my other blog by a different name.

Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third) May 1, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, books, collaboration, essence, function, pragmatism, questions, sustainability, transformation, transition.
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9 comments

Architecture today exhibits a clear dividing line between the haves and have-nots.

Between us and them.

It’s not a matter of who’s on top and who’s on bottom – one being high and the other low – for they are both high-minded.

High-minded, that is, about different things.

The Two Cultures was an influential lecture, given just over 50 years ago this week, by scientist and novelist C. P. Snow about how the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and humanities — was holding us back from solving the world’s major problems.

Architecture’s two cultures, similarly, can be best described as “high design” and “high delivery”.

In other words, architects devoted to architecture as art, and architects devoted to serving clients.

This model owes something to Weld Coxe, founder of the service professions management firm The Coxe Group, who passed away last month.

You can find a clear description of their model, published 25 years ago, here.

For simplicity’s sake, I am clumping together service and delivery, for they have one big thing in common: a client.

For some this might be likened to clumping together Vitruvius’ commodity and firmness and pitting them against delight.

Whereas, for high art (paper architecture, etc.), while patrons are welcome, they aren’t necessary.

Versus

It’s almost impossible to describe the two cultures without making a value judgment.

Innovators vs. Perpetuators of the status quo.

Ideas vs. Things.

Form vs. Function.

Thinking differently vs. The standard of care.

Sophisticated urban architects vs. Prosaic suburban architects.

AIA members vs. SARA members (or any other so-called alternative-AIA organizations.)

Local office continuing education events sponsored by USG Corp. vs. Outlier office sponsored industry events by Big Ass Fans.

The Architect’s Newspaper vs. Architect magazine.

Dwell and Domus vs. House Beautiful and Fine Homebuilding.

You get the idea.

In fact, it was a magazine that got this whole discussion rolling.

At the AIA Committee on Design Knowledge Community, an architect started a KnowledgeNet discussion thread last month concerning the Record Houses 2011 magazine issue.

The argument boils down to one word: elitism.

Record Houses, the argument goes, is elitist.

Exclusive, exclusionary and undemocratic.

Various voices chimed-in, leaving messages that, generally, complained the houses awarded year after year exhibit poor construction decision-making.

Or are uncomfortable to live in.

Or aren’t code-worthy.

Or don’t use construction best practices.

Or are unsustainable.

Or they leak.

In other words, their comments seem to say, “they may be art but I wouldn’t want to live in one.”

Several mentioned that these high-design homes perpetuate the image of the architect as designing for themselves, for each other or to receive awards and recognition.

Anything, really, but for what the world needs from a home today: shelter, safety, solace.

That Record Homes, if viewed in a doctor’s office by a non-architect, may leave the wrong conclusion of what we truly stand for as a profession, of where our true interests lie, and of what we value and believe.

In defense of the Record Houses issue, one architect admitted liking one of the houses:

“Do I design this way? I don’t have the client, the budget or, let’s face it, the talent.”

Another added:

“There are some beautifully resolved and detailed houses in the article, why the hate? I will argue for the issues of safety in public buildings but to use that as a metric for the merits of design for a home is misplaced…”

One counterpoint sums up the opposing side’s argument:

“Great architecture should be based on more than art alone. Otherwise it is sculpture.”

Architecture’s Third Culture

Just as CP Snow’s Two Cultures were welcomed by a Third Culture 20 years ago, so are ours today.

Snow’s Third Culture was a group envisioned as “curious non-scientists who could bridge the gap between scientists and humanists.”

In 1991, literary agent John Brockman wrote an essay entitled “The Third Culture.”

Architecture’s Third Culture could also be best described as a bridge.

One that can bridge a gaping hole between design and construction.

Architecture’s Third Culture would bridge the gap by removing the “vs.” between the two sides.

Replacing “vs.” with an “and.”

Today, for the world we face, we need to do both.

We need to be both.

Both/and. Not either/or.

For a world in need we, as architects, need to be more.

Because the world needs more.

And we have what it takes – as individuals, teams, firms and profession – to rise to the occasion.

We cannot afford any longer to stand apart.

To emphasize one side over the other.

Or ignore one side altogether.

Yes, the world needs beauty as much as it needs our services.

We need, today more than ever, to integrate our predilections and capabilities and stand together as one profession, however diverse we may be as individuals.

And we can start by dropping the divisiveness.

Replacing “vs.” with a simple “and.”

Architecture’s Next Destination (AND)

Call it the Yes AND movement.

We commit, here on out, in our work and in our lives, to address both ideas and things.

Both form and function.

Technology and process.

Academics and practitioners.

Design and construction.

Both thinking differently and exceeding the standard of care.

Beauty and sustainability.

BIM and integrated design.

To creating sophisticated, urban places and the revitalization of the suburbs.

To belong to – and volunteer at – any organization of our choosing.

Despite our schooling and training, which may have emphasized one over the other.

What we ought to have been doing all along.

Improv Wisdom

It’s like the old improv “Yes And” game.

The game represents a vital rule of improvisational theater:

Never deny your fellow actor.

Take what you’re given, whatever line you’re fed, and say “yes and…”

Be willing and able to accept the ideas the other person conveys.

Then, it’s your turn to add to the scene.

This improv principle is known as “Yes And.” Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of the scene, Character #1 will begin by establishing setting and plot.

Character #1: What a terrible time to be an architect!

Following the “Yes And” method, Character #2 will accept the premise and add onto the situation.

Character #2: Yep and the boss said we don’t get no salary until this model is coordinated.

Character #1: Yes and ain’t he the meanest cuss we’ve ever worked for?

Character #2: Yep and it’s made me think about leaving behind this cowboy life and headin’ off for bluer horizons. (Learn more about the method here.)

Seated with the project team, someone tosses out an idea that troubles you.

Never deny your teammate. You respond by saying, “Yes and…”

Don’t like what the client has given you in the way of a program, schedule or budget?

Never deny your client. “Yes and…”

Don’t like what the economy has given you?

Never deny your circumstances. “Yes and…”

Or the site. Or the budget. Or the schedule.

Yes And: Not either/Or.

Yes And: A Collaborative Attitude.

Yes And: Architecture’s Third Culture

Yes And: Architect’s New Direction

Yes And: Architecture’s Next Destination

This is the message we want to be making to others.

Do you agree?

Watch for Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third) Part 2