SCI-Arc (Marlin Watson)



Jun '05 - May '06

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    By Marlin
    Aug 2, '05 3:23 PM EST

    “For most of us, design is invisible. Until it fails.” - Bruce Mau, Massive Change

    Double and I often meet to watch bad movies-very bad movies. Straight to video mostly, any box office turd. Better stated, I will have witnessed some travesty to filmmaking and force Double to watch it. And I harass him point by point, all the way through, to mentally note all things bad. Then we watch the trailer.

    George Lucas explains the droids from Episode One to Steven Spielberg: “They're supposed to be flimsy. The Jedi cut them down like nothing.” The design flaws of the droids foreshadows the clone army.

    Some lines from old and obscure British movies I always liked, but whose origins I've long since forgotten: “No one likes a clever dick,” and the very clever dick sounding, “I'm gonna kick seven shades of shit outta you.”

    Dubble is a burgeoning director, which means he'd love to direct, and in the meantime he's fighting the bill-paying professional merits of his best talent, photography direction. We always want more, and I want a dairy farm. Dubble admires great filmmakers. Dubble studies great films.

    The ubiquitous married friends: Del's a set designer, Ella's a high school teacher. Part of marriage seems to be the decoration decisions in the domestic space. As a set designer, Del's taste and level of attention to detail supersedes Ella's. This is Ella's personal admission. They both, however, loved the idea of river rock countertops: exposed river eroded stones and a recessed grout seam, a finish used for flooring more so than as a countertop. This would really look great in a movie, unflush, crivece filled countertops in the Kitchen.

    “But what about the turd of Hollywood?” This is ultimately what I'm asking of Double. What about the bad films? The career-ending films? In each bad movie, it's clear at least one person on set cared about something: It's finished, isn't it? Behind the lens of every bad film is a director who believed he was making something good, and put some amount of energy into making it “great.” But somewhere along the road, be it budget constraints, bad actors, bad script, bad coverage, or even straight-up bad direction, something went awry and out the other end came twelve reels of crap. Ninety seven minutes of a passive audience's life down the drain.

    The fate of the empire hinged on a design flaw. J.M. Tyree, for McSweeney's Quarterly, cites the implausibility of the trash compactor in the first Death Star design as the reason the rebel band manages to escape the clutches of the storm trooper search party. Tyree's reasons include: “Why are there [the vents Princess Leia blasts to get to the trash compactor] available at all? Would not vents leading to any garbage disposal allow spores, rot, to seep up into the rest of the Death Star? Why does the trash compactor compact so slowly once the resistance of a thin metal rod is introduced? If the Empire insists on ejecting trash into space, why bother compacting it?” The Star Wars universe operates within destiny and preordained fate. Thus, the downfall of the Empire begins with the fateful inclusion of a design flaw in the plans of the Death Star. The Empire's destiny is flawed design.

    Brother Brandon's having the first Watson girl. Working off the unwritten truth that the Watsons have a default Y chromosome, Brandon and I discussed a child prodigy mural. When we found out it was a girl, I declined the offer to decorate. I knew deep down his wife, Sister Christy, had waited her entire life to decorate her first daughter's bedroom.

    Sometimes, couples become married to decorating ideas and there's nothing we can do to stop them. These decisions are important to the fabric of marriage, and, above a child, important to the idea that a married couple can create something between the two of them, something that is uniquely theirs.

    For Ella, cooking on the uneven rock countertops is impossible, and has become a frustrating task. The mere activity of cooking seems unnerving, because the entire countertop is useless and has to be augmented with wooden cutting blocks. Whenever guests enter the kitchen, she and he never fail to point out how proud they are of the river rock countertops they installed and they designed and he thought up.

    “Whenever you have big money and big bureaucratic interests, you're going to have people lying. What happens is they have to present arguments to justify things that are not necessarily justifiable in the terms they claim they are.” - Theodore Postol, professor of defense and arms control studies at MIT.

    Former SCIArc professor Norman Millar relayed an anecdote about the hammer during second year studio: eons of evolution and mastery of physics have gone into the hammer. No one cares about the designer until they curse the designer. This only occurs when the thumb has been accidentally bludgeoned by the butt end of design evolution.

    Certainly there was big money and big bureaucratic interests and thus lying involved in contracting out the Death Star. Who amongst the conspirators to form the Empire knew of the implausibility of the trash compactor, or more simply that its ineffectiveness and ultimate obsolescence was all a part of their collective destinies? Who amongst them lied to the Emperor about the feasibility of the garbage disposal system and the million droid army? Was it Count Dooku? Was it Jar Jar? General Grievous? Maybe that smooth talking lawyer from LA Law?

    Sister Christy, Brother Brandon's pregnant wife, picked the worst of the worst in décor, which of course means it's the best of the best, even if it's gaudy wainscoting, pinks and teals. Even more wonderful, is when thier daughter, Casseia, begins to tear it all down and cover every surface with half naked rockstars. That event makes the bedroom her own, and would not have otherwise taken place if any of us decided that what's paramount is maintaining the vanilla modernism of the house.

    Maybe HUD could use eighties pastel shades: sky blue at the bottom, to peach at the top. This would aid the general public's vigilance of the world-dividing housing market bubble. The color coded warning system did its job to calm the frenzied fears of American society to the incoming flood of zealots, so, too, can peaches.

    The married couple had a housewarming party a few months ago. Wine glasses slipped and fell off this uneven countertop, causing minor yelling matches between the couple off in the corner. The wine took forever to clean out of the creviced grout with a scrub brush.

    The body is at its most vulnerable in the bathroom and the kitchen. The body is naked in the bathroom and exposed to rough edges. The sanitary space, it makes sense that the bathroom should be easy to clean and as seamless as possible. The same would be true for the kitchen: sharp blades, open flames, salmonella. The food preparation space, in the kitchen, the body is vulnerable and exposed to infection. In addition to function, the kitchen should be as easy to clean as the bathroom.

    The only place for a shade of privacy among six boys during childhood was the bedroom hallway closet. As a result, I suppose, I tend to poke around ancillary spaces in buildings. Stairwells, closets, electrical, HVAC penthouse. It's a useful way to acclimate myself to the undeniable and see the people that spend all day in these rooms.

    When the living space doesn't seem right, measure it. If the library's awful for reading, draw the section. When the bedroom feels claustrophobic, note the cardinal directions. The cupholder, when in use, blocks the car radio. All the things that can go wrong, spatially more so than technically, a designer may not have seen it coming. And presto, birthed into the world a big fat turd.

    As tough as it is to master anything, it seems equally as tough to grasp the downright awful in my own work until its complete inception. In study, me and the peeps pore over the greats for good reason. To be critical of someone else's failures is one thing. But an eye for my own crap has been a tough perception to master. Mistakes are easy to stir up in the wake of pursuing a great studio project. But how can I possibly know they are there until it's done?

    Jared Diamond, in Collapse, compares LA and LA's Architects- the macrocosm of his office at UCLA-to the builders and culture of Easter Island. In the distant future perhaps, the architecture community in Los Angeles will expend its resources, and go berzerk on itself with weaponry cum masonry and rocks.

    Understanding good design is an easy task relative to the chore of deconstructing the inner mechanics of an absolute human atrocity. Spend thousands, go to Europe, sketch Boromini and Piano. Back home, critically study that bedroom addition Erica's father built and is really proud of, but the solar gain and square floor plan make it unbearable for enjoying a cup of black tea. That modern-looking house with the rust stains from the flashing? Herald it like a piazza! Bad is Good, or, like the street tuffs say, “Bad is bad!”

    The fate of the Empire hinged on a design flaw. Ken Silverstein, in 2000's Private Warriors, in writing on the global private arms trade, alludes to the financial success of the Star Wars defense program. Silverstein cites the New York Times article written nine years after the first successful mock missile shootdown, which confirms that the tests were faked. One of the conspirators reports to the Times, “We would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in Congress if we didn't perform successfully.” A Lockheed engineer goes on further to say in an interview with Silverstein, “The company made promises we, the engineers, knew to be ridiculous. They simply out-lied the competition, and when they got the contract they turned it over to the engineers who knew it couldn't be done.”

    Jay Vanos loves nothing more than to augment lectures with slides of bungled building details. Terminator director James Cameron told a group of high school students, “It's not how good you are, it's how good you are under the circumstances.” Once I heard that, the entire game of design changed. Ray Kappe offered the addendum: “How far you can go, that depends on you. How far you can take it, that depends on your salesmanship.” I won't get that many chances to build, and thus not that many chances to screw up. I'm building my mental quiver of bad design. Double's got a mental picture of a million bad edits. Besides, a bad building, or a bad film is tactile blasphemy. That budget could've bought the vagabonds at Highland and Franklin a lot of Knob Creek bourbon, son.

    River rock counter tops. I can't imagine anything more lush for germ spores and filth than recessed grout lines between uneven river rock stones on a food prep countertop. Perhaps this is why it's used as exterior patio flooring only. The joy from the completion of these countertops Del and Ella expressed outweighed my burning desire to inform them of the inevitable: wine glasses will break, cooking will be a nightmare, and germs will build up in crevices that will never be cleaned. Avoidable minor fights will happen.

    A marine bought a Mercedes in Iraq and had it shipped home to his wife. Apparently he recently confirmed it did indeed belong to Sadaam Hussein. Design features include side-firing flame throwers for crowd control.

    The body may be its safest when the body is at its most vulnerable. Mutually assured destruction is based on the principle that there is no defense from an all out nuclear attack. Supposing there is a defense, like an airborne shield, nuclear war is inevitable. Thus, the best defense from nuclear attack is the threatening potential for a defensive shield, not necessarily a defensive shield that actually works. In the process of failed intercept test after failed intercept test, a billion dollar cash cow has been conjured up for the defense industry. When Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, along with defense contractor after defense contractor, caught wind of this bluff component to the nuclear shield strategy, they were more sold on the project more than ever. “Sign me up, yo! Git me a dolla!” Thus, maybe the fate of an Empire hinges on a design flaw.

    I'm waiting around Dr. Birnbaum's office. I poke my head into a handicap bathroom with an examination table. I notice on the wall a poster with a series of pantone bars ranging from deep umber to light green. Suddenly, knowledge got me open. The poster is cool; I'm above taking a picture. Rather immaculate infographics: Russian Constructivist layout, Helvetica font. Rendered in pantone seven proverbial shades of shit.


    • Arch_student_UTSA

      Funny stuff. I hope you don't mind some comments. I feel like I'm entitled after reading that whole post, not that I didn't enjoy it.
      Have you and Double seen Robot Jox? Truly, a film so bad it's funny.
      You've seen Galaxy Quest: Tim Allen, Tony Shalloub, Sigourney Weaver. Remember the inexplicable swinging armature they have to navigate to disable the auto-destruct? Perfect example of "dramatic" design. Galaxy Quest satirizes many Hollywood sci-fi phenomenon/formulae -- many points well made. Also GQ is typical Hollywood satire. Another Scary Movie, Airplane, Smoking Gun, Not Another Teen Movie etc
      Indeed, the Empire dumps garbage into space -- the trash compactor only exsists to enable drama/character bonding and add to R2D2s heroic backstory. I always thought Leia blasted open a door to the trash shoot, not a vent, because like you said, why does the trash need a vent? Admittedly the "door" seemed to have slots. But who knows, they don't live in our galaxy afterall (probably the way Lucas justified a lot of stupid design decisions).
      It's also obvious the "flawed" secondary exhaust vent leading to the reactor of the Death Star is there to allow our heroes to be heroes. A stereotypical Hollywood hero is a gifted underdog with a posse of misfits that overcome the odds. Somebody warned Tarkin that the Rebels could "discover" a weakness and exploit it. That's forshadowing!
      Your friends' countertops could have been covered in acrylic, allowing the user to see the river rocks and still be able to use the countertop. Then, perhaps along the edges, or at other designed points the rocks could become exposed to human touch. River rock countertop = interesting, but needed more study of "why" and questions such as what about the river rocks did the clients enjoy. How can the concept be made practical.

      Aug 10, 05 7:45 pm  · 

      to resolve the issue by covering it with acrylic means simply, "start over with a better-thought solution." The problem is, he, as a set designer, grew attatched to the finish for its aesthetic value only, and overlooked issues that should otherwise be second nature for any functional object designer. He blew it, and convinced his wife of its merit. He overlooked the simple truth: design matters.
      I genuinely appreciate the discursive response. My writing tends to be close-ended. Thank you


      Aug 22, 05 3:29 am  · 

      I'm glad you said that. I didn't want to be insulting by saying it first. Thanks for the reply. Cheers.

      Aug 22, 05 3:41 am  · 

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