University of Florida (Jacob)



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    We have two shoes here. Would anyone like to see if it fits? - Part 3 of 8: John Neary

    By jpeel
    Apr 5, '10 12:53 PM EST

    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.


    • jpeel

      I am sure I have many spelling errors in my posts and I usually would try to ignore them. But there is one here that would need to be pointed out in order to save the sentence.

      sixth paragraph: correction between asterisks

      "... conception of the *world* that renders the horizon infinite."

      Apr 5, 10 3:28 pm

      whilst I don't agree with the notion that schools shouldn't insulate students from the real world of codes, gravity, etc. your writing style is inviting me to read the previous 2 selections. I'll save my more pertinent questions after the 8th instalment.

      Apr 5, 10 7:03 pm

      Thank you very much for the kind words. It is encouraging. I always welcome comments and questions. Recently, I have been wondering if any of these posts were being read. I had begun to think that the length of them had proven to be prohibitive.

      While I agree with what I wrote, I also disagree with it as well*. Much of this essay, though dutiful to Neary and the value he could add to UF: SoA, was written as a commentary on a comparison of experiences I have had in both the academic and professional realms. Personally, I didn’t care for the professional world too much, but this may be owing to a lot of other factors that came along with my specific situation. It was very boring; simple work well within the bounds of the discipline. I lost my interest and passion. This wouldn’t do. “Passion can create drama out of inert stone” as Le Corbusier put it, and it wasn’t until I returned to school that I felt much passion about the work again. Now that I am back in school, I really can’t be much happier. I don’t want to ever leave the academic world and I am hoping to posture myself to make that happen. What it is exactly that I am after is that aforementioned insulation that allows a mind to wander [with rigor]. This is valuable to me and is valuable to soft minds entering into the study of architecture. However, I was never more keenly aware of my deficits until I was working professionally. This was mostly owing to having little understanding of the requirements involved in building details design, structural constraints, building codes, navigating relationships with clients, contractor and engineers, and all the other concerns that must be vested in order for the work to work.

      *I agree with you 80%. But 20% of me wouldn’t think it a bad thing to install a venue to expose students to the more pragmatic aspects of architecture. I say this while 100% of me hopes to avoid those pragmatic aspects like it were the plague. I like wandering [purposefully, mind you] too much…

      Apr 5, 10 8:29 pm

      Jacob, they're definitely being read. I'm reading with particular interest since I'm an alumni and I also apparently almost made the list of interviewees. I'm looking forward to the rest of your reviews and the final outcome as well.

      Apr 5, 10 10:25 pm

      yes i am enjoying them immensely as well.

      Apr 5, 10 11:03 pm

      Thank you so much.

      The next couple presentations are going to happen in a fairly rapid succession, and I am hoping to keep up.

      New post coming latter today.

      Apr 7, 10 12:54 pm

      "Buildings are made." -Peter Bohlin

      I had John as a design professor in 2003-2004. The studio wasn't suffused with practical matters only. Design was the objective of the studio, but the same way a good vocabulary and grammar are important to good writing in addition to composition and creativity, so too does an understanding of how buildings are made extend one's design ability. You spoke to this in your post. In the studio, "practical matters" were addressed by exploring tectonics and designing with material characteristics in mind. This was done in addition to looking at volumes and volumes of good design. Just to say, a studio or program with Neary does not mean an uncreative curmudgeon who will say, "you could never do that 'in the real world.'" What you would receive instead is a salvo of projects to look at or texts to refer to for guidance; because as a widely experienced professional and a individual who concerns himself very actively and thoroughly within the field of architecture, his knowledge and awareness of projects of all types and periods and architects of all persuasion and proclivity is just expansive, and he seems to have mental access to all of it-- theoretical and practical matters alike.

      John is a good teacher and a good architect.

      Apr 7, 10 11:01 pm

      Thank you, ssh. I didn't realize I had written this report to make John Neary sound that way.

      I focused on his practical and professional angle simply because that is how he presented himself in his lecture and it is that experience that makes him different from many of our instructors. I didn't mean to imply that he would be a curmudgeon.

      Apr 8, 10 10:32 am

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