advice to students (and architects)

17 February 2014

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Recently I’ve culled through several emails that I’ve sent to my first-year students this semester. I noticed a pattern of statements that may sound like archi-babble to some, but were intended to encourage them in their development of a rich architectural process. We all remember that design in school is a different pace and intensity at times from architectural practice. However, I hope my (edited) statements are refreshing to practitioners who get bogged down with the real. It is easy to lose our edge as designers. Nobody wants to produce stale work.

These are all (real) independent statements from my multiple emails – edited and rearranged for this post. All images are from work of the first-year students at Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.  Most images are from the first assignment and don’t necessarily correlate with the text. 

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Process
You might have had ideas, metaphors, thoughts, or inspirations to get you to where you are at now. But they might have only been part of the journey and now you have something new, something you’ve synthesized on your own. Don’t be afraid to let go of certain aspects being glad they led you somewhere, but now you’ve developed richer, additional ideas.

If you are working from an external reference (personal, metaphoric, etc.), is this idea limiting your design or does it allow it to grow, develop and include more ideas? Perhaps it was just a springboard to get you to where you are today and you need new information. That’s OK.

In my discussion about differentiating the form from the idea, don’t think you can’t change your ideas because the form is taking you elsewhere. I simply didn’t want you to create forms merely to sculpt without considering broader ideas or the mere function required. Do it in an inspiring, poetic way. Say something or ask a question with your solution.

An original idea can be a launching point that gets developed or set aside over time if necessary.

Please read through the assignment again. Research other stick architectures (especially) for inspiration. Don’t just sit there staring; try multiple things to find a root of an idea or multiple ideas. Be brave but don’t forget our spatial and composition skills from last semester.

Make a series of architectural diagrams that convey your ideas in your sketchbooks. These can and should be plans, elevations, axonometric views, sections, etc. They’re not picturesque images, they are ideas.

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Human aspects
Architecture is for humans and you are working to affect their moods, demonstrate an understanding of their environment and improve their tasks, functions, and activities. ‘Affect‘ was a big part of this so it should be evident in the work. Be honest and truthful to yourself that what you say it is about is clear to the rest of us.

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Geometry
This process is more than just affect or psychological or experiential aspects. Architecture is about being generative and geometric. Any geometry is acceptable if it is the result of a performance study and not mere novelty and self-expression alone. This should be a result or an evolution of the rigorous and iterative investigation.

Continue to explore the geometries, patterns, and rhythms that make up your design.  Move from being approximate and gestural to being specific, measured and geometric. Go beyond intuitive sculpting. The digital work will require specificity. Bring a plan, section or some other drawing (digital or hand drawn) that illustrates this geometry.

Is there a geometric component to your design? Is there a building block which is repeated and varied to form the whole design? Can you alter these patterns or primary elements to improve the performance?

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Making
This piece should have architectural qualities. It has scale and is made with wood that has grain, direction and a unique feeling to it. Is your work structural? Can it stand on its own with just gravity? What are the edge conditions – ground, apertures, and openings?

Use architectural vocabulary – think about what vocabulary might be relevant to your intent. Develop your own list (i.e. intersection, overlap, threshold, etc.).

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Presentation
The drawing format is up to you, but a hybrid of digital and analog is a nice balance to show the dual method of study. Consider including a single perspective view from the height of a person. It should communicate the ‘affect‘, experience, or mood of the person who is viewing or interacting with your project. You are not designing a product; you are designing an experience and space. Edit these carefully and design a layout that clearly shows process, idea and result. Make sure the images are large enough to see easily and perhaps consider removing ones that don’t help.

The booklet is a final version of the one you’ve created to date, as well as additional pages which display your final project and how you got there. Format it in a logical fashion that someone who has never seen your work can follow. Check your spelling and be sure to format consistently. The design of the layouts should be of the same mind and spirit as your design.

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Be inspired…

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2 Responses to “advice to students (and architects)”

  1. william Says:

    Lee,

    Yes!
    Well done!
    One “Archi-Babel” quality measure I recall at B.ARCH school was: Does it “Spell” what it is?”
    Other “A-B” were:
    1.) “Flexibility” by the beloved Walter (I think he may have intended “adaptability” as a quality)
    2.) “Less is More” by the rigid Mies.
    Yet he said to me in a 1954 crit”: “Yah, it is a most interesting concept”.(The design was not planar nor rigidly vertical)
    NB: I did not attend either HSD or IIT.

    Bill


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