Feb '10 - Sep '10
The School of Architecture at the University of Florida has begun the search for two new faculty members. Out of over 100 applicants, the choices have been narrowed down to eight individuals. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, each will visit the school, tour the studios and seminars, participate in critiques, be interviewed by both students and faculty, and deliver a presentation about the work in which they have been engaged and deliver their personal design philosophy.
The third of these presentations was delivered by John Neary. He graduated from Vassar College with a Bachelor of Arts in 1981, and received his M. Arch. from Rice University in 1986. His professional experiences spans over 20 years. He has worked for Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, SOM New York, Hillier, Arup and Perkins Eastman Architects. He is a registered architect in New York and Connecticut, is NCARB and LEED AP certified, and is a member of the AIA. Neary’s teaching experience was as an Assistant Professor at Washington State University for two years. Here, he taught a 3rd year design studio and served as the 3rd year studio coordinator, as well as established the syllabus for a required graduate class on Ethics and Practice and organized a design-build studio for a U.S. Forest Service shelter prototype. His current research interests include Aesthetics and Technology of Exposed Structure, and Enclosure Systems and Structural Cladding.
In his lecture, John Neary presented a large body of work that extended from the more recent Air Force Memorial in Arlington, back to the Louvre Pyramid he worked on fresh out of school. He has worked almost exclusively on large-scale projects, and intermittently on significant works. Over this time spent as an architectural practitioner, Neary has acquired an expertise in the art of construction, and though his knowledge permeates the entire industry, his specific base lies at the perimeter of the work. In this way, he has been involved as a cladding consultant on many more projects and his effort can be seen on the Northern edge of the Boston Federal Courthouse.
Within the realm of this skill set, Neary had identified the curtain wall as a metaphor and manifestation of an observable disjoint within the industry of building; to make a building stand and to make a building beautiful have seemingly become two separate endeavors. His interests lie in bridging this gap between aesthetics and technology, which may prove to be critical as the latter may begin to take precedent over the former. In this way, Neary has begun pursuing an idea of generating an etiquette by which a dialogue can be installed to bind the two objectives. His interest in Heinrich Wölfflin may suggest a search for a standard constructive language that can be adopted by both the architect and the builder to communicate and share their intentions. More importantly, at the university level, Neary is interested in preparing students to work with both objectives in mind. At Washington State University, his design studio provided the opportunity for his students to focus their energy on the design of building details and to engage in the necessary process of creating working documents.
John Neary’s extensive professional experience would make him an asset in the academic setting, and it is in this way that Neary’s function could dually complement the ethereal preoccupations of an architectural education. Too often do we, who are insulated by an institution, confine our thoughts and activities to intellectual pursuits, and fail to exercise our talents on the more pragmatic factors in any given project. We flagrantly avoid limitations like building codes, budgets and even gravity in an effort to not deviate from the concept driving a project. As a result, we produce work that is attempting to operate along deep or broad conceptual logics, but rarely do we tackle the constraints one could expect to see in the realities of the industry.
The first precept Vitruvius outlined explains the importance of both skill and scholarship in the education of an architect. He wrote that if one were to practice with out theory, they may “never [be] able to reach a position of authority to correspond to their pains”. On the other hand, theory with out practice would be like only “hunting the shadow”. The architectural education at many university seems preoccupied with the latter, and in a unique position to do so; each year, neophytes flood the schools with talents ready to be developed and a conception of the would that renders the horizon infinite. Their idealism paired with little understanding of their limits is perhaps the university’s greatest resource in moving the theoretical forward. But there always comes a point when architecture must work. It is then that the education must be complimented with a thorough understanding of architecture as a craft that has a strict set of limits; an understanding that usually only begins, just as seems to be the case with Neary’s expertise, only once the student finally leaves the school of thought and enters the world of work. Perhaps this can be corrected and the energy of the youth, given some experience with working out real problems, can yield results that are both novel and realistic.
John Neary could serve in this function effectively. Lacking much teaching experience could not be seen to hinder his ability to convey the significance and evaluation of pragmatic concepts and strategies in which he has become familiar with through out the course of his career. Neary would help produce students who are prepared to work.