Architects seem to thrive in the world of choices.
Others find it paralyzing or at least frustrating the more choices there are.
I generally reduce options to two or three that I find most successful before presenting to clients (or before selecting my dinner at a restaurant), but do they know I’ve worked through dozens or more on my own? I’m not intimidated by the process.
I’ve written in the past how the design process rallies around choices and architects thrive at the notion of choice. A design could be anything, it can be everything. On some occasions it shouldn’t be at all. What is best? Are we even aiming for best? What does that even mean? Yet, when we make our first mark, when we begin to organize, when we begin to plan or interact or inject ourselves into the design, choices are made. Options are instantly reduced. In the academic world that seems to be disappointing at best, but it gives a room full of black adorned architects fodder for lofty conversation.
We make choices; we make choices for other people, we select, we guide, we give information so that others can make the final choice. Nevertheless on some level, we really made the choice.
There is responsibility and accountability. I feel that, everyday.
With choices something is favored over something else. Something is eliminated because something else gets to stay. Someone goes home, someone stays. We live here, but we’ll never live there. We can’t work at every firm. This is reality of choices.
Architects love choice. Sometimes architects hate choice.
I’m late to the party on this month’s Architalks and you’re expecting me to tell a story of some discovery or resolution of a problem. I’d love to say that happens often, but most solutions in my practice come because I work rigorously searching and sketching with considerable thought. Epiphanies come during off hours. Continue reading “modern eureka”→
Pardon the lapse in time from my last post – I been trying to be productive. As a sole practitioner, I’ve been finding little time for anything but work lately, which I suppose is a blessing in disguise. For those that choose to peer into this window of being an architect (more specifically a small firm or a solo practitioner architect), something came to mind that might explain the purpose behind the irrational method in which we work.
As a kid growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s surrounded by Italian blue-collar workers (other than my British mother), I learned a strong work ethic and the value of a dollar from those before me. We learned as children, during our chores, to complete tasks quickly – before we moved on to the next task. In other words, the best way to get the task done is get on it, focus, do it without distraction or disruption and do one thing at a time. This was before social media.
The nature of architecture doesn’t mix well with this. We work in a manner that appears to be unproductive; however, to be good architects, we are typically required to approach a problem by starting multiple tasks, getting several of them going to understand, yet none of these tasks may get completed until deeper into the process. We are not linear thinkers; we are not linear workers, but the nature of making architecture needs a cyclical or “on and off” type of process to address the widest range of issues inherent in designing a building or space. The method of designing cannot escape the pattern of starting with more questions than answers, yet it is our initial procedure to discover these questions before it can even begin to address any of them.
Early in the design phase, we are interrogating, we are considering alternatives, and we are meeting with our clients to tease out the solutions. In that back-and-forth process, we discover what is relevant, what is irrelevant, and more things unfold that could not be considered or seen at the beginning of the process. It’s a type of clown car imagery of questions and deliberations flowing out endlessly. It’s a wonder we can predict our time to establish a fee or stay in business.
Here’s an illustration. I personally work with mostly existing buildings where the first thing we do is show up (in old clothes), measure and establish existing conditions drawings of the building. Thus, we spend much time poking around, seeing what we can learn about the nature of the building and attempting to reestablish the history of it and changes that may have been made along the way. This alone affects decisions about renovations as opportunities for the owner to develop their intended program must be filtered through the sieve of these restrictions factored with building codes, budgets, gravity and conclusions about what will remain and what will be demolished. We cannot measure progress without mapping out these variables graphically as well as study multiple options. This is before we finally design something.
If one could map the design process out, I imagine it would be series of spirals and loops that turn back on themselves, yet still advance forward. Therefore, progress is being made, yet not in a direct linear fashion. During the construction document phase, we still circle back as we look at the project in more detail, create drawings at a larger scale that begin to reveal conditions that could not be seen, or were not important in earlier phases. Rinse, lather and repeat.
What reminded me of this seemingly insane methodology was working with my engineering consultants. As engineers. (I presume I am unfairly generalizing), they tend to be wired as linear thinkers and prefer not to work in our start-stop process, but favor starting with the answers in front of them, work to the end, and move on. Remember my childhood pattern? This certainly makes more sense from a productivity standpoint as well as from a financial business standpoint. Contractors would also prefer to start a project, finish it, and move on. Who wouldn’t? I don’t see how an architect, especially one that cares more than most people about their work, could work in that manner. Even if there could be more time spent up front seeking to find answers to questions, most cannot be discovered until certain a portion of work is done, interaction with others continues and then it cycles through again.
I haven’t even touched on working on multiple projects simultaneously. Wait, that’s another variable.
Maybe I’m missing something, or I’ve been doing it wrong for all these years, but that’s just how architects work in my experience. That is also how architects think.
If you find yourself working with an architect for any reason whether you are the client or perhaps you’re one of the consultants, or you’re involved in some fashion. Be patient and understand we’re just wired differently than you and the very nature of architecture typically requires that we work unproductively, seemingly. It makes better architecture; it makes the best architect.
I may be the oldest of my group of fellow bloggers (or awfully close), as it is hard to believe I took the Architectural Registration Exam over twenty-two years ago, but the details of that week are still fresh in my mind. Continue reading “what A.R.E. you willing to do “→
If you’ve followed my past series on small projects, of which the last one appeared in late 2016, it seems evident that we wrap it up with a post on a crucial service provided by architects, construction administration, or CA in our slang or vernacular. Continue reading “small projects: construction administration”→
As architects, it is common to attend conferences, summits, or other out-of-town events intended to augment our careers, increase our knowledge and allow for opportunities to expand one’s network. Continue reading “descending the summit”→
Today one might be expecting an architect to post a series of obnoxious photos – an easy target so to speak. Not today, as I’ve thought more about this topic to distill the issue in my mind about what it is that causes us to react with such acrimony over poor design and construction in this country. Let’s rise above that and dig deeper into what is ugly. Continue reading “ugly is ugly”→