Ball State University (Gregory)

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    Gregory Dowell
    Feb 21, '09 7:49 PM EST

    I should have known that things weren’t going to go as planned for my thesis mid-review when the jury scheduled to critique my project thought they were finished for the day with the previous presenter and were readying themselves to grab some coffee.

    Let’s just say it may have been better had they gone for coffee.

    That’s not to say that my mid-review went poorly. It didn’t. But it wasn’t good either. I can handle a bad review. I’ve had a handful in my nearly six years of architecture school. To me, the worst review is one you come away feeling as though you learned very little, if anything. And that’s how my mid-review went.

    I probably came across as hostile to some of the jury. In my estimation I was simply defending my work. And its hard for me to keep from showing a wry smile or releasing a muted chuckle at some of the suggestions from so called professionals. At an institution where one should attempt to do the impossible or at least break the so-called rules, I had a jury that was so conventional and linear that my review could have easily skewed off into a rant about the purpose of a graduate degree. But it didn’t, barely.

    I don’t have a program. Imagine the jury’s shock and disbelief. “If you don’t have a program, how can you design your space?” “If you don’t have a program how can we judge the success of your intervention?” “Don’t you know form follows function?” Ok, so no juror actually said the last one, but you get the gist.

    Furthermore they weren’t sure how to evaluate my work because I
    didn’t have perfectly articulated criteria spelled out for them A through Z. I didn’t have a point to which they could make a counter-point. They were confused and didn’t know what to do. So they returned to default which for them was to say to some degree that I was “wrong” or what I set out to achieve was “unattainable”. I assure you its not.

    When thesis started at the beginning of fall semester I, along with everyone else, started at the macro level and slowly but surely whittled it down. That process of narrowing the thesis down continued when studio picked up in January and continues to this day. “Narrow the scope” the professors say. And so I have. I’ve decided my thesis is in a nutshell the “contemporary intervention in a historic building”. If I detail that further, specifically I want to look at the embedded memory and identity of the building and connect its “immediate/future” use with its historic past.

    For me that’s looking at the materiality and details. How does my new stair connect at the existing floor? How does my new mezzanine transition to the existing wall? How do I integrate a sky light into the existing roof? I have plenty of opportunities to choose from, now it’s a matter of picking the most important “touch points”. But the jury wanted a program with square footage. They wanted me to space plan. I couldn’t simply look at the detail of the intervention.

    For my building, the abandoned Richmond Gas Company building its about connecting to the Whitewater River and the railroad track (which is being converted to a trail). I simply want to provide a place for the people of Richmond to gather and use the space as they see fit. I want them to experience the building. The building is the star here, not the use. That’s the program. And of course through my design intervention I will limit or exclude how the space can be used.

    In my thesis form isn’t going to follow function, but rather, function is going to follow form. And that function is going to be left to the people of Richmond. I think its possible. Hell I know its possible. And it will happen unless the conventional, linear thinking people get their way.


    • dlb

      have a look at Sverre Fehn's Hamer Museum.

      it is not quite the same as what you seem to be proposing, but the way in which Fehn adds a narrative circulation to an archeological site - with little disruptions - seems to follow a similar logic to what you are advocating. his rather direct moments of intervention, while remaining very distinct and separate to the existing context might be a useful reference.

      good luck.

      Feb 21, 09 9:52 pm  · 
      vado retro

      if you want the people of richmond to decide i guess you better get the people of richmond involved. which means of course, changing the emphasis of your thesis to some sort of community clusterfuck, which could be good or bad. it would mean surveys and focus groups pie charts and if i know hoosiers, pies. all the bells and whistles that make contemporary marketing so great. if you don't want to design your projects meaning and want the masses of richmond to do it for you then i guess thats the way to go. you could set up a table at walmart like the girlscouts.

      Feb 22, 09 12:05 pm  · 
      liberty bell

      It sounds like what you're doing is a catalogue of details showing possible ways to connect to a generic historic building - a library of options when one wants to do steel stair to exg. masonry wall, or masonry stair to exg. masonry, or concrete stair to exg. masonry, etc., and for your thesis, you are using one building as an example. Is that what you're doing?

      I critiqued a group of your peers Friday and was very impressed with their work. Most of them had managed to really propose a "theis": define a research topic then produce a design project - loosely defined, in most cases - that would illustrate their research, perhaps even illustrate their mistaken assumptions, to which possibility they were all open.

      i can say, as a juror, it is much harder to critique a research topic than a building (proposed-object-in-the-world), and by the end of the day I was completely wiped out - so you may have just been on the unfortunate receiving end of a bad critiquing circumstance. If this is truly what happened, then go seek out some opinions from professors you respect, so you can feel like this mid-point has helped you move forward.

      Feb 22, 09 2:04 pm  · 
      liberty bell

      Sorry, "thesis". Dropped an s somehow.

      Feb 22, 09 2:04 pm  · 


      I am actually very involved with the people of Richmond (and this was made abundantly clear during the presentation). Bike Richmond, an organization on promoting cycling in Richmond, as well as, a group of war veterans want space to house and display their "stuff".

      I was also provided a survey conducted a few years ago that asked the people what uses they'd like to see in the building if it was adapted. So what I have designed to this point is based on that. I'm actually trying to set up a public meeting in Richmond in early March to discuss what I am proposing.

      But again, I don't think I need to propose a program in order to achieve a successful thesis. I want to focus on the intervention of the new with the old. The scope has been narrowed as it has to be for thesis.

      Feb 22, 09 2:07 pm  · 


      I think you may be right about being "on the unfortunate receiving end of a bad critiquing circumstance." And I even predicted such before the day started when I realized I was the last person to present. It also happened during the first review, a week into the semester.

      I'm glad you enjoyed critiquing a group of projects on Friday. Thanks for the suggestions. Hopefully I can be back here in a few days with a positive update.

      Feb 22, 09 2:24 pm  · 

      just speculating here since i don't know you, wasn't there, and don't know what you proposed. but, having been a critic faced with figuring out what a project is about in 5 minutes or less and then responding intelligently, i would have found what you're proposing very difficult to critique.

      i would have asked you 'why?' over and over again. how do you make decisions about details - their appropriateness, what they're for, why they are like they are - without being able to answer 'why should it be this way?'. program doesn't mean square footage or building type always, but it must answer the questions 'why?', even if program is defined very broadly. i expect your critics were baffled by how you were making decisions with no programmatic foundation on which to base them.

      a lot of people can make cool details. why this instead of that?

      Feb 23, 09 8:47 am  · 

      The broad ranging program that I did make known during the presentation, though I didn't use the word program, was exhibition space.

      Steve, I think you and Liberty (and my advisor said this today when I met with him to clear up what actually went down a the critique) are correct that its easier to critique a building or proposed-object-in-the-world than something with much more theory behind it.

      But I still don't understand why at this level of education things have to be so linear and conventional. Maybe they can be and are for some people, but I don't think thats how it should be. I don't think decisions are strictly based on a "programmatic foundation". The genesis of my thesis was studying the rejuvenation of historic buildings through embedded memory and identity. Can't my decisions be based on that? That's how my presentation was structured. Then it was hijacked by the critics because they wanted me to have a program.

      Feb 23, 09 11:56 am  · 
      vado retro

      what is so important about the memory of this building? does it belong to the collective memory of a people, a region, a community? or is it just an old brick building that may have some details that you don't see on buildings anymore but in fact aren't really that uncommon if you look around. Memory can be as much of a program as anything. but why rejuvenate it? what's the point. its more meaningful to let it decay naturally over time. what's the identity of a gas works if it becomes a senior center? or an exhibition space for war relics? you're not being conventional ie thinking linearly and making a straight readapted building, but you're not being poetic either.

      Feb 23, 09 12:24 pm  · 

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