‘ma house’ occupies an incredibly narrow plot of land in a densely populated residential region of okazaki, japan. reinterpreting traditional notions of scale and program, the dwelling, created by katsutoshi sasaki + associates, utilizes the full length of its 21 meter site to establish a functional and effective family home. internally, all volumes are a maximum of 3 meters in width, with the height of each space dependent on its function and the number of occupants it may have at any one time.
I can not say that I am a fan of Kanye West or his music because to call what he does music would be to degrade what real musicians and artists do. This is a personal taste, an opinion, you may disagree, but I don’t really care. And to add insult to injury, Mr. West recently gave a little impromptu speech to the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Now, it’s bad enough that Kanye West recently announced his foray into the design industries with his new company DONDA…..my ears bleed just thinking about that word…but this little speech is even more offensive because he ACTUALLY MAKES A POINT. Ugh. *face-palm
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Kanye West has made a valid point in regards to architecture, design and the profession. If you can get past his complete rape of the english language, you’ll find he makes two statements that, if applied, could save our profession.
“everything needs to be actually architected.”
Again, this makes my ears bleed. But I think what he is trying to say here is important for the profession – everything should be designed, considered, thought out, conceptualized, reasoned, crafted, and, if necessary, discarded. Too often architects, myself included, leave things up to the consultant, contractor or simply for during construction. We rush through the design and detailing toward a set that is “good enough” for permit. Each piece of a building is important, from the size and shape of window openings to their relative 3D position within the wall assembly to the type of brick mortar joints used and how they affect light and shadow on a building to the terminations and intersections of various finish materials. And all of these elements should be thought about as they relate to and inform upon the experience of our clients and the building inhabitants.
“the conversation always turns to realization, self-realization, and actually seeing your creativity happen in front of you…”
Oh the pain…..the PAIN. But, again he’s making a point – architects should create all the time. No matter if it’s sketching, drafting, folding paper or making spit balls. Use your hands and create SOMETHING. As architects we deal with every piece of a building and site: exterior walls, windows, landscaping, hardscaping, parking, roads, curbs, gutters, drywall, paint, lighting, hvac duct work, trim, furniture….the list goes on. In order to best understand something we have to pick it up, turn it, play with it, break it, taste it (yes I have actually licked a brick before…don’t judge me). We need to experience all of the pieces and parts of a building in order to best understand how use them in building.
If architects would do more of these two things, DESIGN and CREATE , than perhaps more people would again begin to value our profession.
As the holiday season moves into full swing and the nightmare of our consumer-centric society comes crashing down around our ears, days like today remind me that there are more important things to be thankful for than turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie; there are more important things to be excited about than a new iPhone or set of tools.
On a day like today, Veterans Day, we can pause our lives for a moment and remember that our freedom is not free and all the things that we enjoy and give thanks for in this country came at a cost. So, today especially, or any day, please truly thank our men and women in the Armed Forces. Our freedom is not free and even if you disagree with the politics remember that your right to disagree was paid for by those men and women.
To all the service men and women out there, thank you, from me and my family. Because of you I live free.
In our last two posts we looked at drawings as a thinking device and that they tend to develop from very loose and abstract images to defined, scalar representations of the building or space. Today we will look at examples of what most people identify with, the definitive drawing. We will jump ahead in the design process to images that are more complete and beyond most of the conceptual or exploratory phase.
My last post on specifications was more of a rant than really being informative, so I decided to provide a little more substance this go around and talk about, compare and contrast the Performance Based specification and the Proprietary specification. But first lets talk about what a specification is (generally) and how they are organized.
A specification, according to its definition, is “an act of describing or identifying something precisely or of stating a precise requirement“. In Architect-speek a specification, or spec, is a document that outlines the technical requirements of a particular product, material, design or service relating to a particular building project. Most architects will get their specifications from one of two places: the product manufacturer or MasterSpec. MasterSpec is a company that provides industry standard specifications in either long form or short form for each division. Each division is a grouping of like elements such as existing conditions, concrete, metals, thermal/moisture protection, openings, electrical, etc. Within each division are sections for the various building materials, products, services, etc. And within each section, the document is divided into 3 parts: General, Products and Execution, known as the 3-Part Spec. Got it? Clear as mud right?
Now that we all understand the basics of what a specification is, lets look at the two most common types - Proprietary and Performance based. These should be fairly obvious just by the definition of the word, but lets look at each one first anyway.
A Proprietary Specification is one in which a product by a specific manufacturer is listed as the only approved product to be used. Most spec writers will also add the performance specifications of the particular manufacturer as a way to make sure that only that product will be used in case the contractor tries to submit an alternate product that is not quite up to snuff. I tend to prefer this type of specification for most of my private projects since I do spend time with the client reviewing various products like lighting, finishes, flooring, etc to achieve a particular aesthetic and having to spend additional time later on during construction to review what a contractor may think is an “equal” product simply is not worth the time and effort, nor is it in the client’s best interest, in my opinion.
A Performance Specification, similarly, is exactly as it’s worded – a spec that outlines a particular set of minimum standards for quality that have to be met in order to be considered. This is the most common type of specification used on public projects where an open bidding process has to be in place. It’s intended to ensure an open playing field for contractors to competitively bid the job by pricing materials that they feel are of equal or greater quality to the minimum level of performance outlined and may be cheaper than others allowing them to have an overall lower total construction cost than another contractor.
Most firms will use a combination of the two in which a minimum level of performance is listed along with two to three acceptable manufacturers of a product, material or service. And for 90% of our specifications, especially on public projects, this is the method we use as it gives the contractor some flexibility in the manufacturers that they can choose from in order to be competitive with their price, while allowing us more control over the ultimate quality of the finished project. And in a perfect world, contractors would always price and submit only the manufacturers listed in the specifications…..but that almost never happens.
As I mentioned in my previous post architects need to be more diligent and determined to hold contractors to the specifications, not only ensuring that they actually READ them, but also holding them to the minimum standards that we spend a great deal of time and talent compiling for them to bid from. If we don’t then we’re not properly serving our client’s best interest and in the end both the client and the project will suffer for it. Because no matter how well detailed and pretty your drawings are, the specs are what make or break the finished product.
One of the most common interactions I have with people that I meet for the first time goes something like this:
Me: “Hey, how’s it going? I’m Jeremiah.”
Stranger: “Hey. It’s going good, thank you. I’m John/Jane Smith.”
Me: “It’s great to meet you.” – followed by general chit chat, the weather, state of the union, will the Cubs win this year (not really).
John/Jane: “So, what kind of work do you do?”
Me: “I’m an Architect.” (going into the long winded discussion of licensed versus unlicensed is too tiresome for general conversation and most people don’t get it anyway, so I don’t bother anymore)
At this point I always feel as if I’m in a support group meeting. “Hello, my name is Jeremiah and I’m an Architect.” From the crowd a monotone: “Hi, Jeremiah.” But what does that mean, the term and title Architect? To most people the image that comes to mind is a guy in a suite with a roll of drawings under one arm and a hard hat in the other. Or even an older gray haired guy dressed all in black, with black glasses brooding moodily in a corner of some social function, martini in one hand and sharpy in the other. Or perhaps Gary Cooper playing the part of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (best architecture movie of all time – just sayin). But these are just images, stereotypes and archetypes that come to mind thanks to movies and media.
But what does it mean to be an Architect?
Architecture is an unforgiving and unrelenting profession. It is not for the faint of heart, or the squeamish, or the undedicated. You must have a thick skin, and an even more robust constitution in order to stay the course of architecture. You have to be equal parts engineer, artist, statistician, anthropologist, psychologist, lawyer, bouncer and referee. It also helps to have a healthy mastery of vulgarity and innuendo for trips to the construction site. Added to all of this you have to cultivate the ability to put yourself in your client’s shoes – you have to be able to create real solutions for their building program as if they themselves came up with those solutions.
Architects do not just draw pretty pictures, or just add unnecessary cost to a construction project, or just design kitschy coffee makers and toasters for Target. Architects do all of those things (not really), but more than that we create space and to a larger extent we create the experience of space in homes, offices, shopping malls, government buildings, communities and entire cities. Since the time of Imhotep in ancient Egypt until the present day and for the rest of time, Architects have helped, do help, and will help to create the society we live, work and play in every single day. Architects are not a necessary evil, we’re just necessary.
Architecture produces a lot of paper. And I mean, a lot. And if you’re working on a LEED project?….Forget about it. You’re going to kill at least a few thousand trees just documenting your points for certification. And all of it, every scrap, is important. There are proposals, contracts, sketches, drawings, specifications, addenda, ASIs, Change Orders, RFIs, RFQs, RFPs, submittals, transmittals, memos and even emails. All of this paper is part of what eventually will dictate what your building looks like. But the two most important, other than the contract, are the drawings and specifications.
There are two things that the architect and contractor are concerned about when properly detailing and then pricing and eventually building a particular project: Quantity and Quality.
The drawings represent the Quantity, or the pictorial representation of the building. The site plan, floor plans, elevations, building sections, details, etc. The drawings give the contractor a visual representation of how the building should go together and how much of each part he’ll need in order to get the job done. Now, to some degree, the drawings also represent a level of quality that the contractor is to adhere to. This is mostly evident in the building sections, wall sections, details and framing plans where the architect will depict particular ways of assembly for various pieces and parts of the project. Some of these will be visible while others won’t. But they are all important.
But when it comes to the true Quality of the project, the specifications are where it’s at. And, to me, the specifications can make or break a project. And specifications, like the contract and drawings, becomes a part of the Contract Documents, which are the legally binding agreements between Owner, Architect and eventually the Contractor. These specifications outline the products to be used, the acceptable manufacturers and/or level of performance to be met, warranty information, procedures for testing and evaluation, mock-up requirements, sizes and installation requirements. So, not only do they need to look good, they need to read good as well. And, yes, I’m aware of the horrible grammar in that last sentence.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to specifications and how they are crafted – book format and sheet format. This means that the specifications are either in the format of a book type document (8.5 x 11) or sheet format in which case they are a part of the drawing set. I’m not partial to either. Each is acceptable depending on the type of project you’re working on. Though, in my office almost every specification, even small residential projects, will have a book specification that accompanies the drawings. It’s not necessarily right or wrong it’s just our preferred way of doing things.
Whatever format your specifications are in they need to be clear, inclusive of the materials and finishes necessary for your project, and they need to be carefully proof-read by more than one set of eyes familiar with the project. Lastly, since the specifications outline the quality expected on your project, they need to be READ BY THE CONTRACTOR. This seems to be a more and more difficult request lately. Unfortunate, but true.