Daily Prompt: Art Appreciation

Do you need to agree with an artist’s lifestyle or politics to appreciate their art? To spend money on it?

In college I had a professor who told us constantly that we were not allowed to “hate” architecture. We could discuss any design faults, including and not limited to color, views, form, construction details, lack of construction details, human scale, etc. We were even encouraged to find these things to discuss and even took a couple of walks around Savannah during class to view and discuss some of the larger buildings.

Drayton Tower, Savannah, GA

Drayton Tower, Savannah, GA

One in particular was Drayton Tower. It’s awful. I never liked that building. Still don’t. It’s a typical mid-century modern tower with some retail on the ground floor, a few offices, I think, and apartments the rest of the way up. It’s a rectangular tower that faces the cardinal directions with one long facade facing due south. It’s all glass. O_o

To describe this as a fundamental design flaw would just be a waste of time. Over the years they tried to combat the fact that they essentially built a huge glass oven by installing tinting on the windows. It’s green. And has faded to different colors over the years and been replaced, etc. So you get a patchwork effect. Then the tinting didn’t really work as well as hoped so they installed large blinds and then beefed up the hvac system…typical stuff. It’s still Savannah….in summer….in a big glass oven.

BUT all of that to say, it’s significance as a piece of architecture for the city is incredibly important. It was the first multi-story building of modern design in a very historic city. It was also the first high rise to be built in the city with central heat and air thank God. And, for better or worse, it has become a part of the urban fabric of the city. It’s iconic for all its failures and successes and should be appreciated for both.

Architecture, like Art, is so often in the eye of the beholder. Some architecture, like art, speaks to us in a profound and visceral way while others we pass by every day without a second thought. Architecture, like Art, is not necessarily good or bad. It’s personal. It’s up to you the beholder, the user, the client, to determine how architecture makes you feel and respond accordingly. Just don’t say you hate it. That’s a useless emotional response that has no hope of creating a conversation.

Earth Day, Architecture and being “Green”

Yesterday was Earth Day. The one day a year when people all gather round, plant trees, pick up trash that they themselves threw on the ground just the day before and generally get all “green” and junk. Even my son, who is 4, announced to me, when I asked what he did at school, that he saved the world from the litter bugs. I love my boy. He has such a simple and profound way of stating things.

But what I wonder is why is this not a part of our daily routine? I myself try and take a biblical perspective on “saving” the earth. We were put here on earth as stewards, as caretakers. God said for us to “go into the earth and subdue it”. We are meant to be lord and master over all. With this comes great responsibility, with which we have failed miserably in my opinion.

I recently read a tag line for another blog that “sustainability” as a term is dead and now considered redundant in architecture. Meaning that “of course” we’re designing to a higher “green” standard…..But the reality, I think, does not match the sentiment. In generations past there was no choice but to be “green” and “sustainable”. Buildings HAD to last more than a lifetime. Building HAD to be constructed of local materials. Buildings HAD to respond effectively to their surroundings and climate. Buildings HAD to work WITH nature, not against it.

Today, our buildings are disposable. Today, our buildings are lucky to last 50 years. Today our buildings still consume more fossil fuel energy in construction and operation than most any other source. This is a gross failure on our part. If you’re not, at minimum, designing each and every one of your projects in response to site specific conditions, you’ve failed. You’ve failed your client, your project and your community.

Even a strip mall can respond to site specific conditions to take advantage of daylighting, cross breezes, rainwater collection for toilet flushing, etc. These are inexpensive, or even free, ways to allow a building to work with it’s site rather than against it. On top of this we need to add better quality materials and more thoughtful construction detailing. The point is not to make sure water and air stay out, but rather to deal with the certainty that when air and water get in, how do we deal with it.

Buildings used to breathe. Let them breathe again.

Daily Prompt: Decisions Decisions

How are you more likely to make an important decision — by reasoning through it, or by going with your gut?

Architecture, like life, is made up of a series of decisions. Some good, some successful. And some….not so much. The process by which these decisions are reached is significant and varies for each designer and each architect. I myself use a combination of the two: reason and gut.

When designing a building for a site, or when renovating an existing structure, the first thing you want to do is get familiar with it. This usually requires a site visit. You need to see, smell, touch and feel the space or property you’ll be designing. You want to know where the sun is, where neighboring buildings are, how tall are they, is there a highway nearby, etc. All of these things will impact your design.

Next you want to look at the building plan or site plan and, depending on what the program calls for, you begin to take all of that information you’ve gathered and begin to make decisions. Some of them will be gut – they’ll just make sense. Others will need to be thought out and reasoned – this usually feels like a game of Tetris. Especially with existing buildings.

the design process....

the design process….

Architectural Design is not a straightforward or linear process. It’s usually a mess. If most clients saw everything that goes into designing a home or an office building or even a kitchen….they’d probably go mad. Architects are mad already, so it’s ok. In the end, to design a good building you have you use all of the tools available to you. Your gut and your head.

the ARE and the title

test schedule - 2 down, 5 to go

test schedule – 2 down, 5 to go

Over the last several years I’ve talked a lot about the profession of architecture and of architects as an outsider, as one who has not earned the title “Architect”. Sometimes I’ve been on the side of Architects and sometimes I’ve been on the side of the unlicensed designer. I’ve spoken often against NCARB and the ARE as an arbitrary and sometimes ridiculous set of hurdles that we are forced to navigate. But, at the end of the day, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important to me than to earn that license – to finally be an Architect.

I’m not there yet, but I will get there, and soon. As I’m testing this Thursday, April 11th, I’m sure I’ll be posting a healthy rant about my testing experience. Stay tuned. We’re two down, one scheduled and 4 more to go. Booyah!

Daily Prompt: Share the Love

Tell us about another blogger who has influenced your own online journey.

image courtesy of treehugger.com

image courtesy of treehugger.com

I’ve actually talked about this before, but recently I’ve had conversations with other architects about their “favorite” architects. I’m always a little surprised that so many architects out there in my own “bracket” (i.e. age and level of professional development), if you will, are still so drawn to the Starchitect class for their role models in the profession. I had always assumed that we’d grow out of that after college, but it seems this assumption was incorrect.

In college I was always drawn to the work of Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe, Richard Meier and even Daniel Liebeskind. What drew me to their work was the simplicity, experimentation and honesty of structure and form. Though in Liebeskind’s case it was the sheer insanity of his work that was amazing.

And even after college, at the beginning of my career I continued to try and emulate these architects in my work. I quickly learned that the flashy Starchitect class of architecture is just that – flashy. It’s pretty. It’s shiny. It gets attention. But there are more important questions to ask when deciding what is and is not good architecture. Anyone can be a good designer and get their picture taken. There’s enough software out there to turn any idea into a great image. It takes real experience and real talent to be a great architect. And the great architects that I know and love are not on the covers of magazines, they don’t give national news interviews. Hell, you may not even know who they are or where they practice.

Below is a short list of the few architects that I truly look up to. Not because their work is flashy or shiny or pretty but because it’s GOOD. Their work is thoughtful in terms of design, client needs, construction and budget. They’re not all bloggers, but most are. I hope you’ll check out their work and appreciate them as much as I do.

Bob Borson – Life of an Architect
Lee Calisti – Calisti Architecture + Design
Jason Fisher and Greg Beere – Content Design Group
Nick Renard – Cote Renard Architecture
Keith Palma – Cogitate Design
Aaron Ruby – Ruby Architects
Robert Swinburne – Swinburne Architects

sometimes I get giddy

As many of you know I recently changed cities, changed jobs and changed drafting platforms. It’s been a very stressful and challenging few months. So it’s no surprise that in all of this change the strangest things make me just….well, giddy. Like a little school girl. Giddy.

In learning Vectorworks and BIM it’s been a turbulent road. The learning curve is not constant. There are sharp rises, very low valleys and some long plateaus in between. It certainly makes each day interesting and recently (about 2 minutes ago, thus prompting this blog post) I discovered a new tool which I wasn’t sure was going to work the way I needed it to, but actually turned out to be a saving grace.

Bring on the giddy, school girl squealing and screeching.


image by: haiiro-no-tenshi.deviantart.com

The tool – 3D Extract

Oh what a wondrous invention on the programmers part. But first a little backstory is needed. For our office we purchased just the Vectorworks Architect software. We didn’t go for the extra bells and whistles with Renderworks which would have made this whole post moot, but that’s another story. Without Renderworks you can’t assign textures which makes rendering impossible and elevations…..difficult. But we make do with what we have.

So, after trudging along in 3D long enough it was time to begin setting up plan and elevation sheets for the client to really start moving forward. This is where one of those sharp rises on the learning curve come in. Plan, no problem. Elevations, no problem. Annotating notes, no problem. Assigning hatch patterns and rendering materials, big problem. At first I discovered that I was most likely going to have to hatch each 2D elevation on the sheet. This was upsetting.

But, now after about a month I’ve finally figured out the 3D extract tool, which is a savior. It allows you to select individual wall faces (or any object face for that matter) and basically create a copy at it’s present location. You can then assign a hatch, color, whatever, to that surface in 3D space. This will then translate to your 2D viewports on your sheet files, so you don’t have to hatch each and every elevation in annotation mode.


In addition to this, and I’m sure I’ll find this valuable in the future, you can also extract 3D Loci (3D points) that can be snapped to when you need to draw objects in 3D space and can’t snap. And there are some other functions that I’ll learn as I go, but these two are the most beneficial right now.

Vectorworks is really a sweet tool. It has it’s limitations like any other platform, 2D or 3D, but the amount of productivity you can squeeze into a very short period of time once you understand some basic tools is beyond amazing. How BIM hasn’t taken off decades before now I’ll never know. But it’s here, and I am grateful!