26 February 2014
After attending (or watching) a series of presentations (continuing education classes) or some other type of lecture where someone was speaking with a PowerPoint presentation, I’ve developed a couple of
strong opinions thoughts about how one should present in these situations. We have such limited time to do anything outside of work or family time that when we attend a conference, class or even a weekly meeting within one’s own office, don’t waste others’ time and don’t waste your own.
Know your audience
Find out ahead of time the audience to whom you are speaking. In my case it is usually architects, with occasional contractors, and a few engineers. It is important to know who the majority of the audience is so you can tailor the presentation to them. In other words, don’t present general information that most or all architects already know. It’s insulting. If you have special knowledge or special information for which this audience can benefit, let’s hear it. Otherwise, I don’t want to hear someone spouting off everything they know about a subject and we all hate a sales pitch. Edit your material.
Know your timeframe
Let’s face it, none of us are that interesting that someone else wants to listen to us for very long. The fact you’re still reading this humbles me because that’s just the truth of the matter. When given a time frame, find a way to figure out how to end on time, or better yet, early.
In my studio, I coach my students on giving presentations. We give them a time frame to present and make them practice. It’s a bit like storytelling to make it interesting. We ought to do the same for a formal presentation. Figure out how many seconds per slide or whatever you need and then trim it down.
When you go over, what you are basically saying is “I’m selfish and what I have to say is far more important than anything else. My time is more important than yours and the presenters that are going to follow me are just going to have to wait or their time will be reduced.” Is that harsh? Is that true?
This goes for a board meeting or an informal meeting in an office. Have an agenda, stick to the agenda and don’t let the side chatter or after meeting social talk extend the meeting. Adjourn the meeting promptly, take no more comments and let everybody go back to wherever they need or want to be. If you want to keep talking, take it elsewhere. I am going home.
Know what is useful
The reason we are attending this meeting is you must have some knowledge or information that I don’t know. We live in a world that is full of information and Google is at my fingertips. If you are going to be presenting information to me, tell me something that I can’t find out quickly from researching the web. More importantly, I need to know how to use the data or how to interpret the data. How do I make decisions? All of the other technical information can be discovered on our own time. If I have to listen to you, I want to know why this information is important and how or why one can make decisions about this material. Then tell me where I can find additional information when necessary.
Above all of that, feel free tell a joke, share a poem or something else briefly in there along the way to keep it light. Tell everyone else to turn off their phone, show respect and have a wonderful meeting.
photos are from fredjk’s stock photo gallery on Stock.Xchng (used under the Standard Restrictions)
17 February 2014
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.).
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.
10 February 2014
Please pardon the break from my esoteric soap box to address something important that comes up often in my practice. I have slipped in a few sarcastic statements if you’d like to count them – consider it a game.
Frequently I have property owners (or soon to be property owners) contact me interested in developing property or renovating an existing building where the early discussion revolves around what will the code permit. It is common for them to mention a discussion they had with local municipal officials where something goes wrong (often horribly – no offense intended to government officials). They state something that demonstrates a misunderstanding of the difference between a local zoning ordinance and a building code. I tried to say that politely.
When I get involved and start to do research, I find that people often misunderstand the difference and it is not uncommon that decisions are made based on misinformation prior to my involvement. I surmise this is probably a bit of fault from both the property owner and local officials not speaking the same language (that’s figuratively…I think). However, both types of regulations are in place to protect the public’s safety and the overall quality and value of the community. They seek the greater good over the individual and are based on years of research and data from situations where people made…let’s just say…poor choices.
A property survey with improvements illustrated for zoning review
Now this may not be as exciting as one of my normal rants, but it is one that is very important for people to understand. Now here is the simplest way I can share the difference in a non-technical, non-legal way.
Zoning = Land
Code = Building
Most municipalities in this country have adopted some type of zoning ordinance or land planning regulation to govern how development and improvements can be made within the borders of their municipality. These are usually adopted by cities, boroughs and townships. They often have a similar overall structure to them and a basic list of items that they address. The primary thing to understand about a zoning ordinance is it is concerned with how the property or the land is used and how that affects the surrounding community. It is less interested in the building other than limits on the use, size, height and position on the land itself – as that relates to the classification of the property. Whether the building is made of brick, wood or marshmallow is of no concern to a zoning ordinance (ok, there might be some exceptions out there…and I don’t build real buildings out of marshmallows…anymore).
In every zoning ordinance one will find that the municipality is separated into zoning districts. These are normally divided into basic categories such as residential, commercial and industrial zones. Within each of these districts are sub-levels with guidelines for density, height and other measures of quantity. It does this by placing limits on where one can build on the land, how much and how high.
Lastly it will address how the automobile interacts with the property, such as access and parking. There will be some type of formula that will stipulate how many parking spaces are required as a function of the use or size of the building. Dealing with storm water is also included in municipal planning guidelines.
Beyond that there are often other regulations and methods of addressing when things don’t fit within the guidelines. In other words, there is some type of variance or appeal process that is in place to deal with unusual conditions and odd requests. Perhaps we’ll explore the variance process at a later time. Regardless of what the specifics are, for every type of development, improvement or other changes to a building or property, one should always start with the zoning regulations even if the building occupies the entire four corners of the property.
building and code diagram – both issues come together
It may be a cousin or sibling to the zoning ordinance but the building code (often called “code” in lazy slang and vernacular speech) is concerned explicitly with the physical building itself. It has much to say about the physical features of the building, primarily to address issues of life safety and handicap accessibility. You might find interpreting the prophets of Old Testament an easier chore, but without these voluminous tomes, people would just make…more poor choices. Believe me, I’ve seen it.
Most of the United States is governed by some type of building code. Furthermore, most of the United States is governed by the International Building Code and all its related cousins that are developed by the International Code Council in Chicago, Illinois. If that isn’t the code being used, I’d bet the one in place is very similar.
Building codes are divided into many chapters addressing the many minimal quality or safety levels for every part of a building. I won’t even begin to explain all of these except to reiterate that the code represents the lowest level of acceptable safety.
However, one initial classification to determine is the occupancy or the use of the building. In other words, what is the function of the building? Is it a residence or a museum? Is it an office or a factory? These categories are related to the risk factor of the building as well as the number of people (occupant load) for that use. The more people in the building, the more features are required to ensure safety, especially for an emergency situation. This designation is critical because people often wish to change the occupancy when they purchase a building and that brings in Ms. Pandora and her box. This is just the beginning of describing the building code, but as you can see, it relates to the physical building itself.
Hire a professional
Everyone has a different opinion on regulations. I’ve heard you sighing and watched you roll your eyes as you’ve read this.
Most people I encounter aren’t thrilled with regulations and I’ve had a few people become borderline hostile towards them. This is primarily because these regulations have a direct correlation with money. That doesn’t mean codes and ordinances are unfair, it just means people need to prepare their budgets wisely and calibrate themselves to the true costs of construction with respect to the regulatory environment — early in the process. It’s also wise to meet with the local officials early in the process and partner together rather that become adversarial.
How does one do this?
If you are a property owner beginning to come to terms of these issues, the first thing I would suggest is talk to an architect who can guide you through the process and document where and why conclusions are made. We always start with zoning since there is no point dealing with building issues when the land regulations precede building details. From there we can review your plans against the regulations and see where items need to be addressed. Our firm has done and always recommends some type of feasibility study or due diligence study before any design and preferably before one buys the property.
If you are not ready to commit to that yet but choose to talk to the local officials, take good notes and don’t let yourself settle for the “he said all I have to do is…” situation. Every requirement can be connected to some section of a zoning ordinance or building code (chapter and verse). Don’t simply rely on what someone told you.
Once last thing…remember…
Zoning = land
Code = building
21 January 2014
16 January 2014
Yes, I’ve been reading again; quite a bit I might add.