Archive for year: 2011

Rick Hauser – The Practice of Architecture in the Heartland

Rick Hauser is a co-founder and principal of In.Site:Architecture, in Perry NY.

To debate exclusively the role of specialization versus generalization in architecture and education marginalizes other practice paradigms that do not fit so snugly into either category. The “specialist” is still a generalist navigating the project through rough seas with a crew of even more specialized consultants. Likewise the generalist at his best has a specialized knowledge of a process and approach to design.

 

OUT THERE

In academic discourse and education, what gets lost is an altogether different divide – the socio-geographic divide. That is, there are those centers of fashion that tend to generate the high profile, high-budget, high design models of practice. And there are those of us who are “out there”. The challenges and limitations of architectural practice in these forgotten outlying spheres are unique. As a result, so are the opportunities. This sub-category of “generalist” deserves a title and some column width. We will call him the frontier architect.

In these borderland territories for architectural inventiveness, the pioneer realizes that the paradigms for practice proffered in school are irrelevant. While an intense design education provides this frontier architect with a methodology for approaching a wide array of projects, he finds he must look elsewhere for guidance on how to apply these principles. He can’t use the stars to guide him, for the star architects who make up the constellation of popular architectural discourse typically operate as specialists or elite generalists.

Unlike Metropolis-based relatives who must compete with numerous neighboring architectural ateliers for recognition and reputation, the frontier architect ranges in wide open spaces that encompass 20,000 square miles or more. He roams his territories rounding up the elusive like-minded patron, while recruiting a larger number of good-hearted clients who can be encouraged to suit up for some architectural adventure.

 

CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY

The frontier architect has unique challenges within this context. As a pioneer he encounters a rough terrain that has not been tamed by others; its cultivated landscape is not immediately receptive to the seeds of architectural ingenuity. Furthermore, his language is not spoken. Academia typically has not exposed students to this model of practice. As a result many intern pioneers gradually assimilate completely into the predominantly conservative architectural culture. But while the frontier architect must acquire a new language and master a new terrain, he is learning it in order to understand its essential nature. A progressive practice can now grow – in local soil – from the ground up.

Highly constrained budgets are another universal challenge for which the frontier architect may not be prepared. With good reason, studio professors often take budget out of the design equation in order to help focus students on more “basic” issues. In practice of course, budget is always an issue. In the wilderness, it is always THE issue. The frontier architect must therefore deconstruct and rebuild his design sensibilities integrating the new variable. The constraints imposed by budget become the inspiration for creative use of mundane materials for inventiveness utilizing accepted construction practices, for prioritizing and culling programmatic requirements.

 

THE MASTER BUILDER

One challenge faced by the frontier architect to a greater degree than his urbane cousin will be a lack of interested or capable builders. The traditional model of design – bid – build puts frontier architects and skeptical contractors in opposition. Builders cast a suspicious eye on “unusual, hyper-detailed” working drawings. They decline to bid or they pad their bid. Or they bypass the bid and instead advise the owner on how to save money.

The frontier architect therefore recognizes at the outset, or soon after, that self reliance is the best way to assure that intentions are carried out. Design-build in which the architect also coordinates and participates in the construction – expands the very definition of “generalist”. In this the trend is moving in exact counterpoint to specialization. Architects in diverse territories “out there” like Brian Mackay-Lyons in Nova Scotia, Marlon Blackwell in Arkansas, Dan Rockhill in Kansas, and Rick Joy in Arizona have all recognized the necessity of taking the reins in the construction process.

While the “master builder” model may be either obsolete or unattainable, the spirit of self-reliance is strongest on the frontier. The architect has both the opportunity and the incentive to get involved in all stages from inception through construction. In fact, the frontier architect may find that true control of his own destiny can only result from being his own client, as well as his own builder.

In fact, design-build is a growing sector. Not only is the market becoming increasingly receptive and state legislation becoming increasingly accommodating, but the frontier client, basing her professional relationships on trust more than any other single factor, often prefers the simplicity of the arrangement. As a frontier architect, I neither dismiss nor embrace specialization in architecture. Architecture as a profession is sufficiently broad to absorb the “specialized project manager” as a response to certain increasingly sophisticated kinds of building projects and market trends; while the “generalist” flourishes in direct opposition yet in response to those same trends.

Architectural education must continue to turn out designers. It must continue to provide a grounded education that will be adaptable to different professional specialties and geographies. I believe architectural education is doing a lot right, but it must also convey to students the breadth of professional settings and opportunities, while offering to prepare students for different paradigms of practice.

Interview with Architect & Professor Anton Nelessen

Anton “Tony” Nelessen has more than 37 years of professional experience as an urban designer, professor, author and practitioner in the fields of visioning, physical planning and urban design. His firm is considered one of the foremost vision planning firms in the country. He holds a professional degree in architecture from the University of Minnesota and graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design with distinction. He has taught at Harvard, University of California-Davis and Image Works School of Photography. He is an Associate Professor at Rutgers University Graduate Department of Urban Planning and Policy Development. He has guest lectured at colleges and universities across the United States, and at numerous planning, Smart Growth, New Urbanism, environmental and transportation conferences. His work in urban design and transportation qualified him to testify before the US Congress on behalf of TEA-21. He is charter member of the Congress for the New Urbanism. 

 

My story is a story looked at an old man looking backwards. In now about to turn 68, and I think back now and how fast my story evolved and changed, and became what I have become now.

 

I am a small town guy. I grew up in a small town. It was one of these places that you walked every place. Yow know, I worked in the downtown area. So I grew up with a very informal and a very tight knit Dutch community group in Wisconsin. I think all that originally had some influence on some Initial thoughts about city planning, how you should function, how pedestrians should function in the context of a city, but then I searched around for a profession, and of course the key was that I was from Wisconsin and there was no architecture school in Wisconsin. So I went to a school that had a combination of initially Engineering, drafting, etc, and I kind of moved in that direction – the direction of industrial design if you will. It was the University of Wisconsin at Monamony. The school was called “Stode”. It became clear after the first year that this was not where I wanted to be. And they said “Well, what do you want to be”, and I said “well, I’m not really sure”, and so they said “why don’t you take this aptitude test”. In the test, the art and the mathematics came up high, and they said the logical combination of those two is architecture, and I went … “oh! Architecture!” You know … Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc … It had never crossed my mind, but once they said it to me, I said “wow, doesn’t that sound fascinating”. So, the question became where do you go to school of architecture, so you are from Wisconsin and you can go to IIT in Chicago, which was the Mies school, but what was the Best school? At that time, the University of Minnesota with Ralph Rapsod being the head of the school, was where more Rome Prices came out of Minnesota than any other place, where more progressive architectural awards came out of Minnesota than any other place, and I thought “Minnesota!” so I went to Minnesota. And enrolled in a 5 year program in Architecture, and fell in love with it. I mean from the second that I got there that this was it. This was what I was going to do with the rest of my life… being able to create things, buildings, spaces, places for people.

 

There was 92 of us that started, and 7 of us that finished. It was a supercompetitive, cut-throat program, and in the end I hated everybody I graduated with. That was the way the school was – The mentality that “if I don’t graduate a good architect, I will not graduate ANY architect”. Ralph, because he had Polio and only one hand, he drew with only one hand in Grease pencil, so the notion of the sketch and how you transport ideas in sketch-form, was one of the main things … How you graphically represent things in Minnesota. It was really really important.

 

So, the craft of architecture was emphasized as much as the theory

 

No doubt. In fact I would say more the craft than the theory, because the theory was in fact about the spaces that the dean and several other people were doing at the time, which was really the cutting edge of what was going on nationally. The Guthrie theater for example in Minneapolis … all were kind of part of the the time of when I was in school. And every year that I was in school, [Ralph] won the top progressive architecture award.

 

It was a peer group. You always admired the drawings of the people in the fifth year. So, there was this ever-increasing standard that you were expected to achieve if you were to graduate. In my last year, I was introduced to a guy named Richard Peterson, who was there because we were slowly graduating to doing larger and larger projects, and finally we go to work of a project of a neighborhood rather than a building … And that was it for me! I said “why just get involved with a building, when you can deal with a whole neighborhood, and that did it for me. From then on I was totally committed to large scale archtiecture of multiple buildings, which then evolved eventually as the urban site.

 

What exactly is the ultimate goal that you have when you work in a neighborhood? Is it really the form?

 

No! I think it is the emotional feeling of being in a place that a) you’re really proud of, b) that gives you a kind of interesting feeling of the things that you see on the street, the birds, the light, the trees, the flowers, the smell of the food, the cafes on the street if you will, people you run into while you are there, the sequence of spaces that you are going through. Designing a sequence of space is so much easier when you are doing it with a neighborhood in a kind of larger, urban design scale, and I think that wa to me the thing that was the most important, and for us, most of our work has involved a kind of public participation process, where we show people images of their community as it exists now, and assimilates it as how it could be, and then other places, and what we find is that vision of what places want to be, human interactive places that have a kind of integration with nature, these kind of human responses to the physical place, are manifested almost across the board, in the 150,000 to 200,000 people that we have worked with in the past years. And there seems to be a human desire one that comes out of our ancestral past – I’m not sure – but there seems to be in human beings this desire to want to be in these really human, interactive, well-proportioned, beautifully lit spaces, and it seems to go across the board. The ethnic age does not seem to make any difference, so .. .there is something inherent in the human being, that has the engrams of this physical form past that we carry with us, and so it manifests itself in different ways, but I think that essence of the neighborhood, the essence of the community, the experience through walking, that is just inherent and just comes out in the work. I look back now on some of those original sketches from Minnesota, and it’s not that much different than what it was back in 1965 when I graduated.

 

Why is it so essential for people to understand te history of theory neighborhood by simply walking through it and looking at old buildings that had been there for ages

 

I think there is a certain level of comfort that people have in these buildings being that they have been there for a while, and there is something about the scale and proportion of them that is not overwhelming. For instance, if you take what we call “Identifiable Building Module” … If people pass a street that has multiple sizes of shops 2 meters, 5 meters, 4 meters and so on and there is a variety of these spaces, they somehow feel more comfortable, than with these kinds of monolithic types of facades, or (the worst of all) blank walls, which people dislike the most. So, you ask, “Where does that come from?” and then you go back and design the neighborhood.

 

If you think that people have these engrams of their past, and then, they get exposed to things that become familiar to them in their lifetime, their real lifetime. That becomes the next cummulative set of experiences in their head – the visual and spatial experiences in their head – and all of a sudden … that’s not there! Not only is it not there, but (in the case of the WTC) it is paralleled with the catastrophe of all these people getting killed and the noise, and the fumes and all the stuff that followed it and all the media response to it, and knowing people (especially from this area) who got killed, all this has had an extraordinary cumulative effect. In fact we hear it almost every day in our national defense policies. All this stuff we have in our heads. And then there are the experiences you accumulate by experiencing places and being in places, and then there is the third push I think, which is the media, which is telling you how to think. Now, in a time of rapidly expanding media, i.e. someone showed me their iphone and said “this is my new puppy!” And I thought “what a perfect word” You’ve got your little puppy you know, and you pet it and squeeze it, “good boy, you go with me every place, he is my puppy” … and I thought that this notion of communication is now exponential … and I grew up without a telephone. We didn’t have a telephone … we didn’t have a television until I was 14. And even when we did, we only had two channels up in Wisconsin. Instead, people talked and they interacted, and they went to church, and they went on the streets, and they went to festivals, I mean people knew and got to know each other that way. The children played in the street, etc. Now, what happened in my lifetime is this exponential increase in the exposure to media telling you what to think and what you want. And still there is this fundamental notion of interacting. In fact, I watched a documentary regarding a recent economic conference that took place in Switzerland. They asked him “why do you all go there.” I mean, you have got all this power in the world, you run this major bank, you can literally call up, video tape, video-conference anybody, so why do you come to this little village in the snow? He responded that “there is nothing that could replace this human interaction, sitting there having a drink and talking about it. The eye contact!” I think it it has to do with the energy transference. I think there is something about two heads being together, that is not possible when they are separated by an electronic visual screen. So, interaction is still very important to people. So I think that is the essence that makes these neighborhoods have the characteristics you want. Perhaps so even more today, because as we go further and further away from it, people may have the desire to have that even more! And I think that is an interesting think to think about. We have so much artificial communication, which at some point makes you say “ok, I need to actually go see people”. I need to be with other people. I saw another PBS documentary that mentioned the average 13 year old uses 154 text messages a day on average … or something like that! IT was some outrageous number above 100 … a DAY!

 

I am thinking of the mating thing. I mean … sooner or later … you can text all you want, but sooner or later you want to feel what the person feels like. It’s human nature. So, to me, the question is all about manifesting that into architectural form and urban design form. To me, that is one of those fabulous challenges.

 

Is it necessary for the architect to see the ugly side of architecture and urban design as well as the good side of it? Is seeing and understanding successes as important as seeing and understanding failures?

 

The little town I grew up in had everything. A little movie theater, two little supermarkets everybody knew, two meat-markets, two hardware stores, and it was a small town of only 6000 people. It had everything you ever wanted and you could walk to work, and was surrounded by farmland, so it was pretty idealistic I must admit. Well, when the main highway came in, Route 96, which is the main street of the town, they took away the trees, widened the road, and shrank the sidewalk. When it was done, they closed it and had a big dance in the middle of the street because “boy! Wasn’t that progress, and wasn’t that fantastic”. Well, 20 years later there is NOTHING left in that town. It has all left on that highway to the periphery. Everything basically got bigger and “better” just down the street and outside the town. The fire-department needed a bigger space, so they couldn’t do it in the town, so they moved it out. The supermarkets got bigger, from a 12 thousand sq ft supermarket all of a sudden you needed 50 thousand. They moved out of town, and so on! So, eventually what happened was that everything disappeared. I think there is one bar left and that’s it. Everything else is GONE ! Now, they look at the Main street and they ask what happened. Well, you let it happen. And to make things worse, they had dutch elms and they died. These trees created a beautiful arcade. When all the trees died and all the downtown was dead, all of a sudden you ended up with a ghost-town. Sad and terrible thing!

 

This whole thing started happening in the 50’s. It started getting edgy in 1960, with stuff starting to think of moving out. By the time I was out of college in 1965, already a quarter of the stores were out, so there is a period between 1960 and 1965/66 when this happened. When it hit 1975 and early 80s, it was almost completely done, and then from the 80s to the 90s it was the death. There was nothing there any more. It totally disappeared.

 

As an architecture student, did you find any of this fascinating as it was happening initially?

 

No! I was horrified! “How did you let this happen” I would ask. I think I was angry. I even wrote letters to the editor (for which my parents were upset about) saying why don’t you at least have the good sense of replanting the trees. Do something, but don’t let the thing stand as is, and of course this is a dutch society so you don’t criticize. There are strict rules about what you do and don’t do in a Calvinistic Dutch society. But, every time I went back there I just got more and more angry. This dark side, still propels my vehemently anti-sprawl sentiment, that I’ve had in my entire life time and continue to have. I cannot stand suburban sprawl. Now, what is interesting about it is that all these Route 18s and whathaveyou, THEY are all dying as well! All the stuff that moved out there, a 50 thousand sq ft supermarket, go replaced by an 80 thousand sq ft supermarket, and the next big downtowns were replaced by the bigger malls. And all that stuff is sitting around there and I am going, “how stupid”. And the human interaction has disappeared and EVERYTHING … everything … is done by car! It is filled with parking-fields in front of the mall. And for a while they were happy about this progress. Twenty years later they are saying “What happened”. And I say “Listen folks, we could see what was happening. Why couldn’t you see what was happening”. So, as a designer, and an urban designer, and a planner, and an educator, and even the books that I’ve written … It’s all about the same thing. I cannot imagine people being happy shopping on the route 18s and the rest of that ugliness. I cannot imagine it. Especially after the filming work that we have been doing around the world in various countries. People are walking, and they are itneracting in their small shops, and it’s pedestrian and then you come here and it’s all cars, parking-lots, entrance to the big stores, 50 cashiers, nobody knows your name etc. It’s gotta hurt. It’s gotta hurt people psychologically!

 

But how can you prevent that from happening? It is not really the peoples’ decision. It is the decision of investors who decide to open a mall.

 

No, I believe it’s a little bit of both. One is that we are kind of deprogrammed from the original experience. Let’s think about who bought the streetcar systems. All these towns had these glorious streetcar systems. Who bought them up? Firestone Tires, Standard Oil, and General Motors. They bought them up and ripped them out… for the car. And I guess they lost a lawsuit about them, but they didn’t care. Motorama in 1939 showed us the image of what America was supposed to become. This place of super-highways … and we became that vision. It was clear. We were told through that last depression that this new vision of auto-oriented suburban development was going to be the wave of the future. This was how we were going to build the new America, and we did. But … you can have the war, but how do you prepare the exit strategy – How do you repair what you just destroyed.

 

Do you have any proposals for how to change this path?

 

CONTINUED IN PART II

Green Ethos – the Essence of Sustainable Architecture

Lately everyone seems to be talking about the significance of sustainable living, the necessity for reducing our average carbon footprint, the importance of recycling, reusing, retrofitting, weatherizing, greening, and purchasing products made of recycled materials… (Notice they did not say do not buy as much, just buy different, but still a lot). Still, many people are very confused. The first question that comes to mind is: “Why is this my business?” After receiving their answer (that humankind is steadily moving towards extinction) their question tends to be: “Why me, I’m too small?” After they realize that they are one of the billions of humans polluting, littering etc., they realize that their contribution is significant enough. Then, the defense mechanism of “I’m gonna be dead by the time this happens” kicks in. However, if it does not, if they consider themselves not disconnected from humanity, then the natural reaction of many is to be concerned and seek ways to help improve the situation.

A few years ago this happened to architects. Not the professional architects of course, but students at various architecture schools. I was one of them. We heard about sustainable architecture, its purpose and its potential, and we were encouraged to jump in and start a new architecture movement for a sustainable future.

As I looked through all the guidelines of what was described as sustainable architecture, I noticed that much of the attention was on using a bunch of methods and materials during the design and construction of the building. What I did not see was guidelines that described how the architecture of our homes and our cities today could keep people from driving everywhere, having four cars per family, using endless plastic bags, replacing trees with pavement, leaving their lights and computers on all night, or buying a million different chemical substances that inevitably end up in our water. Nothing really made sense to me, and it felt like everyone was starting at the wrong place. But what was the right place?

At that point I decided to leave architecture school for a while. I left and returned home to Greece. I had missed my parents, but inside me there was the desire to isolate and reflect on this question, so I took off and went to Mount Athos along with my father. We stayed at a monastery where we always stay, and spent our time fishing and hiking. Between these endeavors, I would sit at the balcony of the dormitory and look at the courtyard of the monastery. I remember realizing that the monks seem to constantly be working. I had been among them before of course, but I had never taken an interest in observing their lifestyle. I also noticed that most of the monks were out working in the fields, and few were in workshops painting pictures (that would later be available for sale), or repairing the many structures of the monastery. I was amazed. This was a society of active, calorie-burning individuals, who produced their own food, walked to work instead of driving as they worked only a few feet away from where they lived, knew enough about pretty much everything at least at a basic level, which allowed them to repair the building, and expressed themselves creatively through artistic and spiritual tasks. Let’s sum up: a) Proximity of live/work/interract places, b) agricultural microeconomy, c) Physically active life, d) spiritual and creative outlets. To these, let me add “sharing” pretty much everything, from machines, to food, to each other’s skills. They also ate together while listening to scriptures.

I must admit, I am not a religious man. I have heard it several times from my grandmothers about my attitude towards religion. I must say, however, that there was something spiritual and beautiful about this small religious community, and when I say “spiritual” I mean so in it’s purest form, the most basic levels of living, where the life of the individual becomes impossible to distinguish from the collective life of the community.

The notion of sharing, living and working locally, helping each other, using and re-reusing equipment and materials, living off the earth and simply burning more calories than we intake, became clear in my mind as the basic guidelines for successful sustainable living. I realized that the secret as far as sustainable architecture is concerned does not lie in the scale of the unit as much, but in the scale of the community. Somehow it seemed impossible all of a sudden to achieve sustainable living in American suburbia. No matter how much we push ourselves to be optimistic about it, suburbs and sustainability do not go together. In essence, the suburbs in the U.S. are based on the opposite principles of what I described above. They are based on a culture of disconnection, of isolation from the street and the neighbors (and sometimes our own family members), fragmentation of life, lack of proximity, lack of integration of functions (what Jacobs described as eyes on the street – storekeepers keeping an eye on children playing on the streets – is missing), and most importantly, lack of sharing and Absolute reliance on the car, which means a) pollution (Hybrids included), b) sitting down for an extra two hours each day.

Considering how vast the “problem” (and to me it IS a problem) of the suburbs is, it is hard to ever imagine us in the Megalopolis transforming life for the better… Unless there is a return to the cities, and unless the suburbs slowly transform into actual communities like the one I described above, and unless the people realize that the essence and the only solution to returning to sustainability is in the building of communities, not the building of barriers, which so much of suburban sprawl is about. After we reach these realizations, and after we figure out how to deal with the suburbs, we can Start playing with composting toilets, recycled drywall and all the other techniques and materials that sustainable architecture proposes. Until then, we will still be sitting on a ticking bomb.

I keep photographs of the monastery and often look at them. Some call these monks anachronistic. I call their community “sustainable”, and call on us to use it as a model for the design of our own communities.

Portfolio Design and Development

 

Here you will find a blog with articles related to putting together an effective portfolio, information on approaches, techniques, what to include, what not, and others. We also prepared a set of tools to help you in your pursuit. These include workshops, editing services, online tools, etc. Check it out and send us your feedback.

>>>>>> go to PORTFOLIO BLOG & TOOLBOX to find out more >>>>>

 

 

The following are some samples of work of people who have used the tools: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Frontier Architect

Rick Hauser is a co-founder and principal of In.Site:Architecture, in Perry NY.

To debate exclusively the role of specialization versus generalization in architecture and education marginalizes other practice paradigms that do not fit so snugly into either category. The “specialist” is still a generalist navigating the project through rough seas with a crew of even more specialized consultants. Likewise the generalist at his best has a specialized knowledge of a process and approach to design.

 

OUT THERE

In academic discourse and education, what gets lost is an altogether different divide – the socio-geographic divide. That is, there are those centers of fashion that tend to generate the high profile, high-budget, high design models of practice. And there are those of us who are “out there”. The challenges and limitations of architectural practice in these forgotten outlying spheres are unique. As a result, so are the opportunities. This sub-category of “generalist” deserves a title and some column width. We will call him the frontier architect.

In these borderland territories for architectural inventiveness, the pioneer realizes that the paradigms for practice proffered in school are irrelevant. While an intense design education provides this frontier architect with a methodology for approaching a wide array of projects, he finds he must look elsewhere for guidance on how to apply these principles. He can’t use the stars to guide him, for the star architects who make up the constellation of popular architectural discourse typically operate as specialists or elite generalists.

Unlike Metropolis-based relatives who must compete with numerous neighboring architectural ateliers for recognition and reputation, the frontier architect ranges in wide open spaces that encompass 20,000 square miles or more. He roams his territories rounding up the elusive like-minded patron, while recruiting a larger number of good-hearted clients who can be encouraged to suit up for some architectural adventure.

 

CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY

The frontier architect has unique challenges within this context. As a pioneer he encounters a rough terrain that has not been tamed by others; its cultivated landscape is not immediately receptive to the seeds of architectural ingenuity. Furthermore, his language is not spoken. Academia typically has not exposed students to this model of practice. As a result many intern pioneers gradually assimilate completely into the predominantly conservative architectural culture. But while the frontier architect must acquire a new language and master a new terrain, he is learning it in order to understand its essential nature. A progressive practice can now grow – in local soil – from the ground up.

Highly constrained budgets are another universal challenge for which the frontier architect may not be prepared. With good reason, studio professors often take budget out of the design equation in order to help focus students on more “basic” issues. In practice of course, budget is always an issue. In the wilderness, it is always THE issue. The frontier architect must therefore deconstruct and rebuild his design sensibilities integrating the new variable. The constraints imposed by budget become the inspiration for creative use of mundane materials for inventiveness utilizing accepted construction practices, for prioritizing and culling programmatic requirements.

 

THE MASTER BUILDER

One challenge faced by the frontier architect to a greater degree than his urbane cousin will be a lack of interested or capable builders. The traditional model of design – bid – build puts frontier architects and skeptical contractors in opposition. Builders cast a suspicious eye on “unusual, hyper-detailed” working drawings. They decline to bid or they pad their bid. Or they bypass the bid and instead advise the owner on how to save money.

The frontier architect therefore recognizes at the outset, or soon after, that self reliance is the best way to assure that intentions are carried out. Design-build in which the architect also coordinates and participates in the construction – expands the very definition of “generalist”. In this the trend is moving in exact counterpoint to specialization. Architects in diverse territories “out there” like Brian Mackay-Lyons in Nova Scotia, Marlon Blackwell in Arkansas, Dan Rockhill in Kansas, and Rick Joy in Arizona have all recognized the necessity of taking the reins in the construction process.

While the “master builder” model may be either obsolete or unattainable, the spirit of self-reliance is strongest on the frontier. The architect has both the opportunity and the incentive to get involved in all stages from inception through construction. In fact, the frontier architect may find that true control of his own destiny can only result from being his own client, as well as his own builder.

In fact, design-build is a growing sector. Not only is the market becoming increasingly receptive and state legislation becoming increasingly accommodating, but the frontier client, basing her professional relationships on trust more than any other single factor, often prefers the simplicity of the arrangement. As a frontier architect, I neither dismiss nor embrace specialization in architecture. Architecture as a profession is sufficiently broad to absorb the “specialized project manager” as a response to certain increasingly sophisticated kinds of building projects and market trends; while the “generalist” flourishes in direct opposition yet in response to those same trends.

Architectural education must continue to turn out designers. It must continue to provide a grounded education that will be adaptable to different professional specialties and geographies. I believe architectural education is doing a lot right, but it must also convey to students the breadth of professional settings and opportunities, while offering to prepare students for different paradigms of practice.

Editor’s Notes – Confessions of an Exhibit Designer

Back in 2007, I asked Lee H. Skolnick, founder and principal of LHSA+DP for an interview. It was not an interview for DV, but for a job at his office. He gave it to me. As his employee I got to know his work and meet the man. It was not until two months after I started there that I found out I was working for one of the most sought after exhibit designers in New York and perhaps the United states. He is definitely a professional I respect, so I thought I would share something he shared with all of us in the office: an interview he gave back in 2006 about architecture, exhibit design, and the practice of design in general.

 

An Entrepreneur is someone who attempts to profit by risking initiative, also an inventor. One who recognizes opportunities and organizes resources to take advantage of the opportunity. Should I repeat that?

No! (Laughs)… you have a question?

Your firm did something innovative. You are an architect but you do not just build buildings. You don’t just design exhibits either. You seem to design experiences. Talk about what your firm does. What do they sell?

The world makes categories. You are an Architect, you are an Exhibit Designer, you are a Graphic Designer, and then even further subdivides it by saying you are an architect and you do such and such type of project. I never entered into doing this with the sense that these divisions were important or even necessarily valid. They are valid in the marketplace because the industries have grown up around specialties, but theoretically and philosophically there are very few differences between these categories. What we do is only secoFdarily responsive to the market, but primarily grows out of what each and every design is. On a practical level and from an entrepreneurial standpoint, yes, we need to look for potential projects and for opportunities and see how to capitalize on them, but that really is secondary to what drives me and my notion on the firm. My notion of the firm is that – you know the way you put it is certainly partially valid – we design experiences. Essentially, that we look at the world through the medium of our projects and think about ways to interpret information in specific circumstances. It could be someone’s home, it could be an exhibit, or an education program, but our language is design. If you think of an exhibit as a fundamental task, we are interpreting or telling stories about conditions of life or content and we are doing it through projects and the language of design – that is what we do.

It seems that you have picked a career that is steeped in competition from contractors and other designers. You now employ interior designers, graphic designers, architects, exhibit designers, and educators/ researchers. You do everything. How does the architect fight competition and maintain the right to dictate the entire design?

First of all it is very difficult. It is an uphill battle because there are very entrenched interests that protect domains. Firms put a lot of money, time and effort into strengthening their position and getting a return on their marketing investment to be seen as specialists. Whenever anyone is building a school, a particular firm feels that because of its specialty, it will definitely be asked to submit a proposal; we have done lots of schools, we know more than other architects about designing schools. Those architects get the schools. So, that’s the uphill battle – trying to get into one of those domains.

There is another area, more like the level we would like to be competing in, but we are really not: that of “star’ architects: Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid. There are many. Their work often cuts acrss the lines of building types, but they are recognized somehow as leaders in the field, artistically, and so they have carved out that niche for themselves. We are not in either. We might like to be considered in the 2nd one, but the fact is that the kind of work we do doesn’t have a signature style. We have a signature approach, and a signature approach is much more difficult to market than a signature style because a lot of people want to know what they are getting before you do the work. When I first started out, I had a friend who was an architectural photographer, Stan Reis, and he saw some of our initial work – particularly work of mine that was more cutting edge, avant garde, and he said this is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to keep doing works that are very extreme and, number two, doing work that is recognizable as your style. And I said I am not interested in either one of those things. I am interested in looking at each project from the beginning and maybe the solution will be extreme, but if it is, it is not for its own sake, it is because the project suggests it. And in terms of having a style that repeats itself, that would be like the kiss of death, creatively.

Aileron is a center for entrepreneurial education in Dayton, Ohio. In the process of designing the facility you identified 13 characteristics of the entrepreneur and tried to embody them into the spirit of the building. Have some of these entrepreneurial characteristics been pertinent to your firm over its history?

Actually, possibly all of them. I’d have to think. Certainly the idea of the “journey”, the idea of thinking “out of the box”, “focus”; really many. I am trying to think if there are any that are not relevant to us.

“Out-of-the-box”; what is an example of that?

Well, thinking out of the box is something that refers to the nature of our firm. What I have described to you as our approach to practice I think is quite different from any other firm. In our actual processof working on projects we are always looking for not the immediately suggestible solution, but something which through our exploration for content, and then forming a narrative, I think our process is unconventional. It is both who we are and what we do that are out of the box. Again, it may be that is required or what is most advantageous if the situation calls for an unconventional aspect to it. But again, I think we are going to get there no matter what the solution is through out of the boc thinking. It is not about being extreme every time but about being meaningful.

You are working on a condominium development on Wooster street in Soho. Here is a project where the end result is they want to be able to sell it for the most money possible. That is a design challenge in itself, because you have to think about the results and you want it to be that, whatever that balances it. How do you approach that?

The parameters of a project for any architect, you know are manifold. Now there are technical issues, there are site issues, the program, the functional aspects of it. In the case of different types of clients there are other criteria. For a museum, in addition to the programmatic tangibles there are issues of education, enlightenment, cultural continuum. For the developer, the issue is how do you define your market clearly enough, and appeal to it so the project is attractive to the greatest number of people you seek; in this case very wealthy people, because the spaces are expensive. So, who are those people, What are their lifestyles like? What do they know or not know? What are they seeing in popular culture design or in the design world that would make this place feel not only an embodiment of who they are, but who they actually want to be and associate with. So, we are doing all that, but we are still taking it a step further to bring it into our line of thinking. I came up with a concept about Soho having a history of artists living there; that essentially the artist had been kicked out and the people who are going there are going there because of this sort of memory of this place being a hot bed of creativity, but in fact the people going there are the people who collect the art, who go to the museums, who go to the galleries and patronize the boutiques. So, I am trying to have the design and identity of the project all embody that, and interestingly for the first time we are establishing the design identity as well as the graphics of the project. That is pretty unusual. The marketing company, which is very successful, very well known, and know what they are doing, felt very comfortable in not hiring someone else to do that and let the architect do it. And I think it is the perfect example of us taking our approach and actually changing the process somewhat on order to create something that is very integrated. The identity and design, the marketing materials, the graphics, the website all conform to a concept, which is exactly our design approach.

The Architecture institution and exhibit design sectors seem, if you’ll excuse me, to marry the interest and training of you and your wife and co-principal Jo Ann Secor. How do you develop a market niche?

When I went to school I started to realize that what could differentiate great architecture from good architecture would be content. It would be having not an architectonic concept of space as central, but a subject matter, content/theme that all of the decisions relevant to space, design, layout, material, and detail can be measured against or inspired by. Something that has more meaning than just aesthetics or structure. Very fortuitously, as soon as I got out of school, one of the first projects that I got was to do an interactive exhibit for kids, for which Ann was the Project Manager. I had this incredible learning curve during that project and totally by chance, by fate maybe, I was asked to design something which was based on content and history and interpreting it to kids in an environmental way and an interactive way. Before I knew it, I was doing a lot of exhibit design and I was learning how to translate content into design, which had a tremendous effect on my architecture. When I was at Cooper Union, I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near the best student, I felt like I was near the bottom. People were just sitting at their desks designing these incredible, beautiful things and I was like, “how do they even know what to draw? How is it all just about structure and this is cool looking? It has no meaning, it is totally backwards. Not only that, I can’t do it; that’s not what I am good at. So, I found that once I knew what I was trying to do or convey – using the language of architecture to do that – I could be as good as them, or better than them, or at least different and do it in a way that I felt satisfied with. That is the genesis of how this firm adopted and developed the attitude that it has today.

How does the firm move forward from where it is now? In your all-staff meeting you talked about how you might extend your design skills to other fields – media, furniture, etc. How do you approach that jump?

It is perfectly in concert with the basic idea that design manifests itself in many media, but the initial approach and inspiration for the design is the same. So, then you could say that on one hand philosophically, and on the other hand entrepreneurially, or from a business standpoint, why would we not look to these other mediums/ Our graphic design department evolved out of our exhibit work. Initially we found out-of-house graphic firms and we were not happy with that. They did not have the same approach and so it was like pulling teeth sometimes to get it the way we wanted it, and so we started doing it in-house. We actually had a couple of tries at this that did not work out, we stopped and then we tried again and recently we have seen a tremendous benefit in having graphics in-house as being part of our approach. I wouldn’t be against doing media at some point. That is another interpretive medium. You know, it takes a tremendous investment and getting the right people. Right now, we say there are great people out there who do media. We can pick and choose the best or most appropriate for each project. In the best of all possible worlds, why wouldn’t we be doing that as well? Perhaps we are just not there yet.

After school you went to work for yourself very quickly. What did you see yourself doing when you left school?

I had no idea. I had worked while I was in school for some architects, and I have taken a year between Hamilton ad Cooper and worked for an architect. It was enough to convince myself that this was what I wanted to do. I was never happy with the work they were doing. I was impressed that they were doing it, but it was uninspiring. You know, I come from an entrepreneurial background. My father was literally an up-by-the-bootstraps business person, and I am sure subliminally I saw his life and lifestyle, dedication and independence. And naturally I thought that was what I wanted to be too. And I don’t think I thought about it consciously. But the thought of working for someone, following their ideas and their rules, you know it’s always sort of a pain in the ass. You know, like any teenage radical, I don’t want to do this just because you say that what I gotta do. So I think it was just natural for me to as early as possible get my own work where I could decide what I do, what I don’t do, how I do it etc. The irony of t is that I’ve worked in the field where you are absolutely answerable to the clients, where in fact I don’t have a boss, I have 50 bosses. But it’s different because I can at any time say ‘screw this, I don’t need this, I still have my firm’; it’s not like I’d lose my job.

It must have been difficult selling your design qualifications when you did not have a lot of work in your portfolio. Were museums a way of compensating for that.

Certainly. I realized early on through this serendipitous opportunity of designing exhibits that there were things that most architects never get to design. Most architects don’t get to do museums, and if they do, it is late in their careers. I had this wild idea, that getting into museum work really through the side door, as an architect, that I might get the opportunity to be considered for actual museum architecture at a much earlier stage in my career and that’s exactly what happened.

Why Architecture? It is not as salary friendly as some industries. There has to be a labor of love involved. What do you still love about it/

I always tell people who are interested in architecture not to pursue it unless they have no choice. Unless they believe this is THE THING they want to do. I don’t want to do anything else. I am committed to it. I almost do not care what rewards might come because they may not come, and if they come, they may be at a very different level than other careers thatrequire the same amount of intelligence and capabilities. If you want to make money, and you are smart enough to be an architect and succeed at all the different disciplines that you need, then there’s something else out there that can make you more money. If you are in it because you are just passionate about it and are willing to make sacrifices in order to follow your passion, then by all means do it. I would not discourage it. I mean I love it, but if you don’t love it, you are just asking for trouble. The reason I went into architecture was because when I went to a liberal arts college, I found every class more interesting than the last. I got very confused; I thought I wanted to be an anthropologist or a musician, or a writer or any number of things. But with Architecture I realized I would have to continue learning, for a lifetime, and it could embody everything.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer, who has just set out on his/her own?

Travel. Definitely travel. Buildings and spaces and people; the experience is always different in person, and can’t be recreated in any other way. And construction – work construction – too many architecture don’t know how to actually build things when they first start out.

 

Interview with Fernando Domeyko

Fernanco Domeyko is an architect and has also taught architecture around the world, at several universities including MIT, where he served as a professor for several years.

AJ: There is this general mentality in academia that the architect must be a renaissance man and have a generalist education. Why is that? Why is it necessary for the architect to have this broad education?

F. Domeyko: The Renaissance man was a generalist man, a broad man as a human being. The Renaissance men are examples of completeness of men as humans. They touch on poetry, on the sense of infinity and on techniques. They are complete men both from the physical and intellectual perspective. That was the idea of old times men. I think that education is exactly that. Education is a process of thinking, a way to understand and be responsible to society. It is a way to be responsible to other human beings who inhabit our planet which is constantly changing, because of technology, disasters, and tragedies. That is why architects in this super-dynamic constant movement have to be prepared to think always in an innovative way. I believe that a school has to communicate the sense of excellence, the sense of ethics and the sense of aesthetics. These three things have to be part of our education which would then allow us to integrate technologies and other things which are associated with resolving problems.

AJ: You are saying that technique that the architect uses is not necessarily a technique that the architect completely understands? Is it a technique that he uses while trying to achieve something that he has thought of as a generalist?

F. Domeyko: I think we use techniques for many different reasons, certainly not for a linear thinking. To solve problem X I will use technique Y, is a mechanistic approach. Our mind is very free. It can’t be forced to think linearly. We operate in an environment, and for that the school has to be a good place to receive information, learn about new issues and discoveries, explore your interests and prepare your mind to be open. Every time that we face new techniques we have to be able to operate and open our minds to that. That should be a part of our educational and technical preparation.

AJ:Today schools advertise their specialized programs. Do you think that we are currently witnessing a fragmentation of the profession of architecture? The option to get a generalized education is there but students themselves choose not to, because of the needs of the market that requires specialized education?

F. Domeyko: I think that the role of the school is not to advertise new techniques but rather incorporate them with the contemporary thinking. I believe that it is not possible to separate history from ethics, from scientific discoveries, and from philosophical achievements. It is true that techniques open new ways to think, such as this latest parametric way of thinking. Even though today software programs can do open parametric possibilities, that way to think is nothing new since it was investigated by others a long time ago. So, it’s not possible to separate techniques from the way of thinking. They go in parallel but in different speeds. Thinking is in general by far more advanced than available techniques. The problems we constantly discover are by far more dynamic and strong than the extremely primitive techniques we have.
I think the good schools don’t advertise about techniques that much but they advertise about problems and attitudes towards life. If schools produce people who are purely technical and don’t think at all, they are producing technicians and that is the least we want. Schools have to produce professionals, artists or intellectuals. Schools should prepare students intellectually to deal with the physical environment.

AJ: Isn’t a form of dangerous specialization when a student comes into the school lacking basic techniques of the profession that have been there forever and he/she ends up substituting them with new specialized techniques which eventually end up defining student’s thought? In other words, if I can’t draw and I can use a software which contrary to the human mind has some limitations, wouldn’t my thought process be limited by it and wouldn’t that limit myself to a very specialized end product?

F. Domeyko: Yes, what you are saying is absolutely true. Machines in general are serving only certain aspects of the scientific investigation and particularly in architecture they are serving only certain aspects of our process of design while others are not touched. For example, our attitude toward nature, toward human life, toward our own existence as human beings is an important part of the design process which is not taken into account from the machines.
Since this super-rationalistic time doesn’t provide us with answers to the big questions, people start to hesitate about the rationalistic thinking and about process. This certainly does not mean that we deny process, but that other issues such as intuition and the fact of discovery became very important.

People who use software believe that they can generate through it a certain process and they can find and discovery things that they never expected. But the same happens if you start to understand things that you never understood before. Just making things, for example, is another way to produce discoveries. By making certain things you find other things that you never thought that you would find.

In any case, when you enter the discovery process you have to act with intuition and without intention; you have to try to liberate your mind from the intention. I don’t deny the possibility of the software to get there but whatever is the way you took it is an act of consciousness that you understand anything different and new. The mechanism in itself doesn’t resolve the problem, but it eventually can open certain aspects that we never thought of before.

AJ:Do you think that what drives students to be more specialists is the professional market, since with a specialized degree you have more chances of getting a better job?

F. Domeyko: I know exactly what you are talking about and I think this is completely personal. I believe it is a mistake to think that way. People who believe in that are preparing for the next three years and then after three years they will be replaced by a new generation. I think you should always be critical and distant to techniques or just love them as they are. Do not try to surpass the machine. You cannot ask a software to do more than what it can produce.

AJ: How important do you think experience is for an architect? Does that limit the horizon of young professionals who just stepped out of school?

F. Domeyko: I think that experience does not exist in itself but what exists is the capacity of reaction. The capacity to react in a relative right way to new problems is something very important. There is no achievement in the architectural profession as in any profession. We constantly prove things. I think life is everyday completely new and challenging. We can’t argue that a certain architect is better from somebody else because he/she has experience. What counts is the capacity of reaction to a specific problem. In this case, a young and inexperienced architect might have a better reaction than an experienced architect.

AJ:What you are saying is extremely important, but do you think that the professional market has realized that?

F. Domeyko: I think yes. Architecture is very complicated because you cannot take the risk of millions of dollars with somebody who hasn’t built anything, even if he/she is someone with a good idea. But little by little if that person is able to think correctly and react correctly he/she will achieve something.

AJ: This brings us to another question in terms of legalizing specialization. The market prefers specialized architects, i.e., SOM that might have a department that specifically works on hospitals or labs. If some powerful firms like that end up controlling the AIA wouldn’t there be some sort of federal legislation that would require that person who wants to build a hospital should go to a certified firm? Which means that the younger generalist would not even have the opportunity to react?

F. Domeyko: That is purely a political, bureaucratic and economical problem. It has nothing to do with education or the way to think. Of course, when those big firms achieve certain stability they want to preserve their privileges. The architectural thinking or the architectural attitude is to read and renovate society and not invent it. In that sense, if, for example, SOM has a vision for society today and another architect does not, they are the winner. In recent years I am doing installations with students around the campus. Believe that in fact you can do architecture in the most modest way. You don’t need to make a hospital to make architecture. The majority of hospitals don’t contain any architectural quality. They are completely empty monsters, constructions and not buildings.

I think that today a new way of working is emerging because of the extent of the work, its complexity, because of the possibilities and of the techniques that we have. We can now achieve better results in a much more complementary way. I see collaborations happening between big professional offices, which didn’t exist before.

People say that research has been done on software or in building technology but never in architecture. This is not true. We have been doing research in architecture that we don’t classify as such. I feel that we have to orient school towards interdisciplinary research. Schools are where this can really happen. In their environment there is a very actual and interesting debate between the idea of software as a tool of the architectural thought process and the logic of understanding through senses derived from the bringing concepts to the direct confrontation of the architecture facts, tectonics and phenomenology.

Something else very important is that schools doesn’t finish when you graduate. After graduation you continue to be part of the school which has to extend to your professional life.

AJ: It feels that the architect is not anymore what Frank Lloyd Wright was, a utopian thinker, but the architect nowadays is more of a coordinator.

F. Domeyko: I believe that vision always comes from one person. He/she is the one who will take the pencil and do the job. It is not a common agreement because vision is not a common agreement. In the architectural office people do not vote. Architects just make arguments and find reasons, forms and designs which convince.

AJ: Do you feel that in the corporate architecture the role of someone as the project manager is the replacement of the generalist architect or a necessity for the firm to work?

F. Domeyko: I think that in good firms project managers achieve their positions because they are able to think correctly and make the right decisions.
My advice to students would be to have more faith. Believe me, this is a beautiful profession and it’s always possible to do something successful. You are always in confrontation of problems and must have the desire to discover, think, and challenge new things. There are people who believe that machines will resolve everything, even make the human brain survive. For thirty years, I have been hearing the same discourse: In the future this and that will happen…I don’t believe in looking at the future because it is definitely going to be different that what we predict. So I would put everything in the present. I don’t care if in the future some software will be able to produce my project instead of me. I think what matters will always be humans, ourselves, not the machines, not the techniques!

Interview with Robert A. M. Stern

Robert A.M. Stern is the Principal of Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Dean of Yale School of Architecture.

AJ: We would like, if it’s possible, to base your responses to both your experiences as the dean of Yale and your professional practice.
Graduate schools nowadays usually advertise their specialized programs in attempt to attract students and funds. What they usually end up doing, is to propose very specialized programs which inevitably create specialized technocrats. Plus, the general idea in architecture schools is that the architect must be a “renaissance man” with a generalist education, but in graduate schools what we see is strictly specialized education, programs like visualization, fabrication, BT, etc. Our question has to do with March programs which attract students that sometimes lack basic skills and directly go into very specialized programs. We would like to know your take on that, if you are for or against it, whether you think specialization is a trend and why.

R. Stern: I can’t answer all of the questions. You are asking me this as the dean of the architecture school, so I have to answer it as the dean of the architecture school. First of all, at Yale we don’t have that situation. We have three programs. We have what we call the Marchl, it’s for someone who has some or even no real background in architecture, comes out of typically American undergraduate colleges, with a BA degree majoring in everything from architecture to physics or history, and that program is three years long. Then we have a post-professional program, which has students who already have a bachelor of architecture degree. Historically, those students have come from American universities and abroad but more from America. Today that becomes less and less the case. Partially because many American schools do not offer the bachelor of architecture any more and they have gone to what is called the four plus two year plan. Obviously they want to keep their best students to go from the 4 year college where they get a BA or a BS to the graduate 2 year to get the March. Last, we have an advanced program called the MED, stands for master of environmental design which maybe a misleading title, but it’s for people who can have architecture degrees or not even, who want to pursue some kind of independent research for 2 years. In any case, the real answer to your question is that we don’t have specialized programs, we only are a school of architecture. It once, until 1968, had a planning department, it doesn’t have that now, it has no landscape architecture program, no urban design program and we believe in training people in the skills of architecture when they come in, and mostly to have a think about architecture, to see architecture as a means of thinking. Of course, we like to think we are training these leaders for the profession, who will be able to be a “renaissance man”, a term which is slightly out of fashion, so I would call them leaders who are generalists. In a table of specialists often the architect is the generalist. Of course, there are people developing specialties.

AJ: How would you define the real generalist?

R. Stern: A generalist is someone who can through the processes of his thought, through the collection of his knowledge easily make connections between seemingly diverse things and bring people together and ideas together, to create a synthesis. A building really needs to be synthesis. A building needs to represent many diverse strands of attentions from the technical ones that are built in it, to the technical ones that are run in it, and the programs that are performed in it, and the different problems of paying for it, financing it, etc. That’s what it’s all about.
Of course, we are generalists but people specialize in my professional office. One of my partners, Alex Nimus, who has a BA degree from MIT 25 years ago and a master’s degree from Columbia when I used to teach, decided to make a specialty of libraries. He is interested in technology and he got interested in the problem between the new electronics and the libraries as traditional building types so he as made his specialty of libraries but he did not go to school, to Columbia or MIT, to specialize in library architecture which would be preposterous.
Pinup: Do you think that the generalist exists? Even if the generalist exists, it is really the generalist that drives this profession? Is really the generalist in this large pool of specialists able to first of all find a job, find a good place in the architecture industry and then push himself in higher levels of leadership?

R. Stern: You are asking me an awful lot of questions. People who have a talent or skill very often find their way into places or positions of responsibility in any field. First of all, I don’t like the work architecture as an industry, it’s a profession. If a student in an architecture school is allowed to pursue for two or three years of his/her time some narrow focus, urban housing or something like that, I would say that that student is being misled. Architecture school is so short, it used to be longer, even when I was in school it was four years, after four years of college. So, I think you need to be challenged from different sides. I can only speak of how we do it in Yale because we have a core curriculum, of course, we learn basics, we try to introduce the idea of habitation as a concept in one term, small public buildings as a responsibility and a challenge for architects, and a way to get their hands on certain complex relationships. We have a term called urbanism where we have students do what you might call urban design (but we don’t like that term because it’s a misused term), and then we have advanced studios where they are these famous professors who come in and you can take a class with Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Jaquelin Robertson, and Demetri Porphyrios. That’s how we do it.
You are asking a person who is a generalist likely to succeed in the profession. Well, I would say the first thing is that, in school you learn how to think about architecture, you learn certain working methodologies, you learn how to draw, and you learn how to run a computer these days, and you learn the craft and some of the art of architecture. But I do not believe that schools should substitute for professional education. So the first and most important thing a student has to do when he/she leaves school is get the right job. Students don’t always get the right job. They don’t always listen to old guys like me, and I didn’t always listen to old guys when I was a student either.
AJ: What is the right job?

R. Stern: The right job is to probably to go to a bigger office and not necessarily to the office that is doing the work you think you are going to be doing twenty years later, but doing the kind of quality and exposing you to the diversity and practices, the things that happen in architectural project. The problem is that many students, often the most talented, want to work for some small young architect who is five years older than they are who don’t have any idea what their doing more than the student themselves.

AJ: But some of them might be widely published.

R. Stern: Oh yes, today especially, you can be published for just going to the men’s room or the ladies room, it’s ridiculous. In any case, to come to your skills and your destiny as an architect over more years than are represented of just being in school you need to know how to manufacture your opportunities and to move in. But one of the most important things is to pick the right architecture school. You also have to pick the first job you have because it can determine the entire character and the course of your career.

AJ: Do you believe that students decide to become specialists because of the competitive market and because they try to get a better job?

R. Stern: No. I don’t know what the market is but we have 150 people working so I guess I am part of the market. When we hire someone who comes out of an architecture school, whatever school, they are people who can think, who have tried different things, who are fresh, free and smarter and more talented than I am. Yes, we hire specialists too. I need a structural engineer, we hire the best structural engineer, we need an environmental consultant, we hire the best environmental consultant. You name it: Lighting designers, landscape designers, whatever. The last thing I want is specialists. Of course, when we hire someone who just got out of school we realize that the first three years those people are going to in our office having their second three years of architecture school. That is fine. But I would like people to come out of architecture school knowing, for example, that things have measure, which is a big problem now. Most students have no idea how big anything is. If you ask them how big it is they don’t know because they see it on a computer screen, it has no scale. So that’s a battle I fight as a dean and a school and I fight as the leader of a large architectural practice.

AJ: So, an academic education provides you with architectural thinking whereas an education you get from an office familiarizes you with the problems and issues in the profession.

R. Stern: Yes, but if you are in a good office you would be taught things also like how to handle a difficult client. There is no right or wrong, it’s about human dynamics. The architect who sits there and says no it has to be this way and pound the table and has a terrible temper usually doesn’t get anything accomplished. He is just a jerk. You need to see that as a young architect. You learn those things from older architects and from being in a good office where you should be invited to the meetings and sit maybe in the back row and see how it happens. It’s not just happening at the desk. Very often the decisions, incredibly important, are made between an architect and his consultants and sometimes the consultants and the client altogether on a table. We walk in with a sketch or a proposal and it comes out looking totally different. It doesn’t mean anybody is compromised. Everybody has learned.

AJ: That is very interesting because it completely goes against what some of us read about architects today who are persistent and are considered very heroic.

R. Stern: Frank Gehry that I know pretty well builds the zaniest buildings of ever, but he is a very practical guy, he doesn’t pound his hands on the table. He brings people along. If you look at a competition that Frank Gehry enters or any good architect, Rem Koolhaas doesn’t make any difference, the technical problem that the clients asked is perfectly solved. So these are little things that I can say a thousand times in architecture school, Frank Gehry has said it a thousand times at Yale, and students don’t somehow want to hear it, but when they would come in an office that’s another part of their education. Schools are very important to give you a chance to limber up, to get your creative juices running, to measure up against other people of your age, to develop relationships with other students who will become your professional rivals and colleagues throughout your life. And that’s why it’s very important to go to a very good school. Because if you are surrounded by the best and brightest, those are the people you are going to put up against as you are competing.

AJ: Another question we had in terms of legalizing: what we call specialization has to do more with licensing some firms to work in specific types of projects. Meaning that, Robert Stern is licensed, for example, to build labs whereas Diller and Scofidio are not.

R. Stern: Licensed? No, there is no such thing. As an architect you are licensed to practice architecture of any kind.

AJ: I know, I am not saying there would be such a thing in the present, I am asking about the future.

R. Stern: Oh, that would be the worst thing imaginable! Zaha or Bob Stern should be allowed to design all kinds of buildings. I work very hard to go after projects just because I haven’t done projects like them before. But, we have done few laboratory buildings and we work with people who design the labs; we are not sitting there pretending to be experts on lab planning. There are people, some times architects, and some times from other disciplines, who do devote themselves to specialization.

AJ: So you approve of that in this particular situation? You approve of the existence of the specialist?

R. Stern: Of course, I approve of specialized experts but I don’t approve of them studying lab planning in architecture school. This is something you come to. If you came here and worked for five years or ten years on houses, for example, you might say you are starting to become a specialist in residential architecture. We do a lot of campus buildings and campus plans, so we could say we are becoming specialists on that. Some people really enjoy a special kind of work, and I would propose to continue to do it. I am a more restless type, the leaders are often more restless. A guy like Bill Peterson of Kohn Peterson Fox does all these office buildings. All he wants to be asked to do is embassies, university buildings or houses. I have done some houses and quite a few midsize projects so I’m thrilled very now and then I get a chance to do a skyscraper. I fight against being pigeonholed in specialization, bit if I am going to do a skyscraper, we are working with teams of people, engineers and others, who know much more about skyscrapers. However, it’s not rocket science, you can get it, you can pick it up pretty fast. But there are millions, parts of it that are very specialized. For example, curtain wall design. There are people who spend their lives, engineers some time architects, studying how walls perform, new materials and so forth. All of this is great but in an architecture school you need to have an idea that all of this exists in the world or architecture. You need to be acculturated to the fact that it’s the architect who is the leader of a complicated team (the architect might have been in the 18th century a person who does everything), and you may be as a leader a person with the artistic spark that sets the whole thing to function.

AJ: Do you think that schools should train project managers?

R. Stern: Not in the three or four years have in an architecture school. But you can become introduced to the problems and possibilities of project management if you have seminars where you have to get up and give a talk and you have to answer the questions of your fellow students and the professor and you have to interact. At Yale, all the students in first year compete to build an affordable 1,500SF house. Every student designs his own house over a weekend for the site, then students are put into teams and the teams get bigger and they ultimately compete. Every one of the four teams competes and the final competition has already made a set of drawings. Then they go out to the field. They are hammering and they are working on the other side of the table. So they look at architecture from the production side. Some students have shown management skills and some students have shown draft skills; it comes out in the process. But we don’t have a course for that. We are far from that.

AJ: It is almost like providing the students with some basic skills, survival skills in the profession? I am kidding.

R. Stern: This project so called Yale-building project started in 1967 by the architect Charles Moore. Students wanted to add a more special engagement, so he cooked up the idea that students would build an affordable community. Initially, they were community centers and later they were camps for boy scouts and finally homes in New Haven. For 14 or so years students have built in New Haven, so there are 14 houses in the small city of New Haven each designed one a year and build which are occupied by first time owners, people who have never been able to buy a house. It’s a very interesting experience. That make for leaders, because somebody had to lead these teams and everything has to work, has to be organized; but we don’t have a course on it.

AJ: What do you think about this trendy adoration of form nowadays? Form deriving from the computer…..

R. Stern: Well, architects are always looking for the new Jesus. They also want to find some new way that will somehow release their creativity. So whether it’s history or the technology of the electronics, or the technology of long span structures, or prefabrication, or whatever, people are always looking for new gods. And I think that’s true of us all as we go through life that we still need also to pay attention to the old god in general as opposed to the new gods, to the basic values of fine construction and have that to be the genesis of architecture. Of course, the new forms that are emerging in the computer are interesting; much more interesting to me is the new fabrication techniques and the new relationship between designer and fabricator that the computer will make possible. At Yale we have new digital equipment to further explore computer as simply an extension of the traditional tools of building.

AJ: That is not how specific designers use those tools. They use them as the means to synthesize.

R. Stern: There are some designers who view it that way and some who don’t. Greg Lynn teaches at Yale and he manipulates the forms through the computer. He also likes to go down to the shop and see all the stuff we make down there and likes to play with that too. There are always new ways to explore architecture and new ways to evolve form. Some of them really do create new situations and some of them are just new shapes.

AJ: Why would someone whose architecture derives from historical architecture, someone like Bob Stern, accept the recruiting of Greg Lynn to the faculty?

R. Stern: Because, first of all, I don’t believe that an architecture school is an academy or an office. I would hire Greg Lynn but he would have to do my work here in the office, but in Yale I hire him to be Greg Lynn. That is the reason why I think Yale has a successful way of approaching the basic issues you ask, because we don’t have specialization. The great experience of a student is to take Leon Krier one term and Greg Lynn the next term. Students also stand in the studios and see projects from each of them being debated and then we put on a jury Greg Lynn and Leon Krier. Instead of having just Leon Krier talking all people who believe the way Leon does and Greg Lynn talking all people who believe the way Greg does this is much more interesting, to have the dynamic; because the world is not simple. This is not the medieval world in France where nobody knew anything else beyond 50 miles more or less, this is the modern world. The modern world is full of contradictions, and contradictions are fine because you learn from them.

SOWING THE SEEDS FOR DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION

Rick received his Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia in 1995, and worked for several architectural offices in Charlottesville, VA, before locating in western NY near his wife’s dairy farm. There he worked independently and as project architect with a Rochester, NY office prior to starting I.S:A in early 2001. He has taught at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is the founder and manager of Perry New York LLC. 

For more information about Rick Hauser and InSite:Architecture please visit: insitearch.com 

For more articles from Rick Hauser’s click here to visit his syndicated column ‘Architecture Matters’

 

Any farmer or gardener will tell you, the success of the crop depends upon good planning, creating the proper environmental conditions, and preparing the ground. These same rules of thumb apply to the realm of downtown revitalization. If you are considering how to plant the seeds of a Main Street renaissance  in your community (and you don’t mind overextended agriculture metaphors), you would do well to heed the following fundamental insights:

1. It’s no use cultivating the ground if the environmental conditions are not met. The seeds won’t germinate. It’s that simple. And while in the field or garden you need the proper Temperature, Moisture and Soil conditions, I’ll suggest three environmental factors needed to get anywhere in the Revitalization process: Unity. Empowerment. Self-reliance.

 

  • Unity because Main Street is a point around which the whole comm-unity can rally. Downtown is not the sum total of a town’s success. But it is a visible barometer of economic health, a symbol of your city or village’s momentum, a recruitment and retention tool, and a new business incubator. Not everyone intuitively sees this. So your first job is to build unity around these ideas.  Your Council members, your Town Board, your Planning Board must be involved. Your business owners and building owners – from downtown and beyond – must be involved.  Your employees and employers, Village or City residents, Town and seasonal residents must be involved.  Otherwise you have at best a limited constituency and limited effectiveness; at worst you have factionalization, marginalization and failure. You must cultivate Unity.
  • Empowerment because the basis for success in our small communities is an example of that simple phenomenon: A citizen – with an idea and a willingness to work on it – shares it with a receptive group, where he can get the tools, guidelines, contacts and assistance he requires. There are plenty of ideas with no one willing to act. And there may be people willing to act but with no constructive way of doing so, or no sense of where to start. Any revitalization group is – first and foremost – an empowerment coalition. You must cultivate a spirit of Empowerment.
  • And, Self-Reliance, because every initiative underway must have this common theme – the belief that we can do it. That we do have the resources to accomplish many great things and to revitalize our Main Street district. That we have all the raw ingredients – the infrastructure, the history, the setting, the community spirit, the motivated citizens, the business commitment, the government support, and when the idea is right, the money to invest. It has certainly been my experience over the past fifteen years that community confidence is amplified when we claim ownership of our downtown. You must cultivate Self-Reliance.

2. You don’t plant the seeds until you’ve cultivated the ground. The first impulse of the revitalization-minded is often to gather together a large group of citizens and stakeholders and share a vision for the future. This is precisely wrong for the same reason you don’t poke seeds into crusty, rocky, weedy unprepared earth. Before going “public” comes the long, quiet process of cultivating those same citizens and stakeholders one at a time. Listen a lot, talk a little. Draw people into the process early. Adopt or adapt ideas and promise opportunities for involvement and change. By the time you call the public meeting to plant the seeds of revitalization proposals, you’ll have 40-70 owners, citizens and officials for whom revitalization istheir idea. The initiatives you enumerate will become their initiatives and any organization you propose will be their organization.

 

3. You won’t bear fruit until you’ve nurtured the seedlings. Even with nurturing, some will thrive based on local factors, and others will need to be “thinned out”. With revitalization, I’ve found that it is healthier to plant many seeds and cultivate many partners in the community. You then watch closely and invest your energies working with those partners who are truly committed and capable.

4. Address the weeds early on. Like weeds in a recently cultivated field, cynics in the community emerge quickly, before new ideas are fully able to fend for themselves. If not planned for they will choke out the revitalization effort. So, choose initiatives that will be tough enough to survive. Don’t allow a mood of cynicism to gain a foothold in your revitalization efforts. By identifying valid criticism quietly, during the planning stages, you can understand underlying motivations and address them.

But in the final analysis the only way to deal with persistent doubt is by Doing. Success neutralizes lingering cynicism. And an early, patient effort at preparing the ground and sowing the seeds for downtown revitalization gives you the best odds of success.