front-line ideas + regional tradition = potential for a design culture of thinking/making?

reporting on a tantalizing set of presentations saturday at the kentucky/indiana joint aia convention for 2008. the program for the morning, called broadly 'the changing nature of practice', featured both local and not-so-local exemplars of an essential rethinking of the relationships, the thinking and making, and the tools that serve contemporary practice.

the speakers were:
- chris sharples, one of the principals of shop,
- bill zahner of the a zahner company (metal fabricator for such luminaries as morphosis, h&dm, gehry, stout, and libeskind)
- kevin klinger, director of the institute for digital fabrication at ball state university
- michael speaks, dean of the university of kentucky college of design
- wil marquez of indianapolis firm a2so4, heading its digital fabrication division a2sx
- david banks, sole practitioner in ky, in practice for over 40 yrs, learned and started using revit as primary production tool at age 62.

the event took place in the old elks lodge secret meeting room at the top and buried in the center of the historic elks hotel in downtown louisville (subsequently the henry clay hotel and the ywca and recently restored as a mixed use building called the henry clay).

picture by archimusic via flickr

precursor to this presentation was an all-morning introduction on friday to the potential expansion of uses of bim in contemporary practice and a simultaneous (and holistically linked) introduction to integrated project delivery and the new aia contracts for single project entities. that conversation had been co-presented by the aia’s markku allison and phil bernstein, of autodesk and on faculty at yale.

saturday morning started with a presentation by
of some of the projects that have been landmarks in shop's evolution into a design/fabrication/construction office and their attitudes about how this positions them relative to the construction industry and the traditional profession. sharples first suggested that the current questionable time in our economy, coupled with the new potentials available via bim, and new thinking about integrated project delivery, mean that this just might be a good time for architects as a profession to rethink how we do what we do.

he tied the current condition - what we often talk about as a time of hard-to-manage complexity - back to earlier eras that, in his argument, were no less complex. likewise, these previous eras were no less based on the plastic manipulation of 3d form. giving examples of brunelleschi's management of a variety of brick shapes that had to be selected and installed as part of the puzzle that added up to the duomo, or gaudi's work, or labrouste's suspended vaults, sharples argued that it was actually the change in practice - the introduction of standardization during/after the industrial revolution - that made this earlier complex work harder to realize. it wasn't that the work was too difficult at all, but more that we had relinquished the previous ties to the makers and the ability to think more dynamically about the 'how' of the realization, instead reducing the architect's 'product' to a flat set of 2d representations that abstracted the process of making in such a way as to make it more speculative, more guess-work, and less fully comprehended by anyone involved - designer, client, or contractor.

presenting shop's early ps1 project, he described their fundamental redrafting of the rules of construction documentation and how it served them. in this case, a set of color-coded diagrams, basically slices through the structure that he compared to an mri, described the locations and quantities of all materials. he noted that the documents were a contingent set of directions, not dissimilar from how direction would have been given in the construction of work in gothic times, that the project remained open to critical examination and shifting/adjustment in the field, taking into account the knowledge, experience, and insight of those doing the making.

other projects shown:
- camera obscura - no cutting or measuring on jobsite, everything prepared in advance.
- porter house - a project for which the design of the enclosure was based on the use of a single standard size metal panels, the base from which a series of manipulations/permutations made for a variable pattern in the skin.
- 290 mulberry - development of a way of using precast concrete as a base for brick veneer, creating a (relatively?) economical way to realize highly specific brick patterns in a panelized construction. the process takes into account that the masterform is the more expensive element in the making of the precast, and the realization that the formliners could be made in a variety of formations to in a way 'customize' the masterform for a variety of pattern.

bill zahner
was up next, covering briefly how his company works to translate work provided by architects into built form. he hinted at something that would later become a theme (after speaks’ talk): the difference between those of the design elite who are changing practice, with signature work as a result, and those who are pushing formal development for its own sake, without any change in traditional practice. in many cases, zahner’s company is designing a solution in order to realize the forms they’re fed.

more on this as we got to hear
michael speaks
give a bit of a summary of some of the themes presented and a provocative introduction to the panel discussion to follow. speaks started with the first lines of a review of this year’s venice biennale, setting the stage for his comments with: this year's venice architecture biennale has been hijacked by awkward ambassadors of the parametric mafia and the elite of the avant-garde. (full review by kieran long here.)

‘parametric mafia’ became a touchstone for the rest of the discussion, of course.

not that this is what speaks was after, merely a byproduct. he posited that there is a distinction to be made between those architects who have been single-minded in pursuing their own shape/form obsessions and those who are actually developing new forms of design knowledge – and he put shop in the latter category. he challenged the audience to recognize that this was a new opportunity for architecture/design, one that we not only needed to pursue but that other disciplines are already pursuing: ‘business schools have been more interested in ‘design knowledge’ than architecture schools’. design thinking has been a growing area in education – one that non-design schools are recognizing as very important.

example 1: ideo, both as a business model in itself, and through their projects such as the method cards available for purchase and their foray into urban design issues, the pre-planning division they call ‘smart space’. [incidentally, i had the opportunity to sit at dinner friday night with sharples and klinger and some other fine folks, and sharples, too, brought up ideo, specifically the book the art of innovation. we both admired the chapter on brainstorming and then the conversation devolved into a sharing of experiences with shopping carts and ikea.]

speaks shared one of ideo’s mantras, learn look ask try, and discussed their process of prototyping ideas concurrent with their thinking, describing this prototyping as an engine of innovation. other key approaches speaks described included ideo’s approach to scenario-building, a way of pursuing ‘what might happen if…’ they share with people like paul hawken (ecology of commerce), stewart brand (clock of the long now and how buildings learn), and peter schwartz (art of the long view).

next speaks launched into what he called a ‘completely ridiculous’ categorization of the flows and movements of the history of ideas since the beginning of modernism (for which he apologized, ‘but still…’). he argued that modernization remained the same as a concept but that, over time, the drivers had changed. early modernism, in his diagram, was a time of absolute truths, as described by a myriad of manifestos. from the 60s through the 90s, though, a series of competing ideologies began to erode the idea of absolute truths. the questioning of truths drove practice rather than an increasingly elusive idea of truth itself. this was expressed in a variety of ways and via a variety of narratives.

but now, in the continuing flow of modernization, a different kind of attitude has begun to reign, and truths – or answers, even – are not necessarily the most important goals but, instead, the goal has become the generation of design intelligence that can be used and continues to evolve: thinking/doing, where thinking becomes a form of action, where knowledge is created but isn’t fixed. knowledge created can be used, but also repurposed.

next on the reading/reference list, example 2: jeff hawkins’ on intelligence, a consideration of pattern recognition as intelligence. according to speaks, hawkins argues that patterns are observed, analyzed, and matched up with what can be recognized in the world. at the points where that match-up cannot happen, however, is an opportunity for the creation of knowledge. we can create new knowledge at inconsistent conditions – places where patterns are observed but fail to meet up with a recognized phenomena in the world, leading first to desire and, ultimately, to an opportunity for design thinking.

design thinking creates knowledge that is not just received knowledge but knowledge that is something both produced and continues to be used.

speaks proposes that, following this track, what architects/designers might want to be looking for is not a new ideology but instead a new kind of practice. he alluded to his own article in architectural record, ‘after theory’ of june 2005 as an initial shot-across-the-bow, what george baird described as a proposal for an efficaciously integrated architecture that would take its cues from contemporary business management practices. (harvard business review, ‘criticality and its discontents, late 2005)

speaks noted that he had stirred up a lot of disagreement with his commentary, and certainly baird was among the critics: it is clear that a new projective architecture will not be able to be developed in the absence of a supporting body of projective theory. without it, i predict that this new architecture will devolve to the “merely” pragmatic, and to the “merely” decorative, with astonishing speed.

but speaks finds further evidence that practitioners are following this new ‘merely’ pragmatic path – and with intriguing results. he referenced ben van berkels’ introductory essay in the 2006 monograph design models - a scathing description of spaghetti and blobs as a devolution from meaningful/substantial form-making.

example of design thinking 3: two references this time, a book by michael schrage, serious play and a concept for which he cited steven levy, described as ’a spreadsheet way of knowledge. as a design culture example of how this ‘spreadsheet’ way works and how design through trying might look, speaks lead us to koolhaas’ book content, specifically the article ‘astorology’, by fenna haakma wagenaar, from pp204-207, a narrative describing the relationship between oma and herzog and demeuron in their joint venture, the astor place hotel. speaks pulled out a passage illustrating the difference in the oma process and the h+dm way.

in rotterdam ideas are never judged before they are materialized. the intellectual level of our labor is extremely low. we generate models without censure. rem accepts no assumptions. he only wants evidence and lots of it. most models look clumsy and rough. we cannot spend a day building an exquisite model in the wood shop if we have to make 10 more for the next meeting.

jacques needs instant perfection. he has a vision and he doesn’t take shit. even in the very first stage of the design, concepts come with built-in details and reality checks. models must have a tangible surface. jacques touches and examines the models as if shopping for shirts: ‘what do you think: does this one look good on me?'

the oma way, in speaks’ view, is obviously the one that would lead to a greater number of choices, of process explorations, and – finally – greater potential for development of design knowledge, whether tied to the current project or not. oma has made this part of their method for exploring solutions and has already shown evidence that the learning from one project feeds into the solutions of later ones. this way of developing design knowledge, to take it further, has become metastatic: oma ex-es carry and distribute the oma way throughout other practices, continuing and expanding upon it. it can inform architecture, it can inform urban design and bigger picture thinkings (see mvrdv’s [url= the regionmaker), or it can inform smaller scale design thinking like that of furniture or product development. (check out marquez’s work later in the presentation.)

at this point the individual presentations gave way to the panel discussion. the more local architects – marquez, klinger, and banks – joined the others on the dais with speaks moderating.

kevin klinger(kk) started off with an overview of digital design and production as part of the curriculum at ball state university. he argued, consistent with speaks’ overview, that it was an important aspect of education and practice in the midwest to not only keep innovation as a theme but also to recognize that the midwest, as the heart of both nineteenth- and twentieth-century manufacturing and also of regional craft, has a tradition of making. he recommended a book that his own students had been assigned, relevant to an understanding of working in the context of the midwest: richard longworth’s caught in the middle.

kk went on to describe how his program, the institute for digital fabrication, has fostered relationships with manufacturers and materials suppliers, allowing his students to learn how to work within the limitations of the materials and its preparation for use and, in some cases, providing added value to manufacturer’s product lines through innovations they can offer. interactions to date have included work with hardwoods, with indiana limestone, and with plastics sources. (per kk, similar designer/manufacturer relationships can be explored at andrew kudless' material systems.)

wil marquez (wm) proposed that the boundaries between practice and academics should be broken down as a way to nurture such exploration, students and practitioners partnering to conduct research useful to both. he proposed that this could be modeled as something ‘like a teaching hospital’, recognizing that while there are significant benefits to research and knowledge development, there are also costs – and the fruits of the research often have a delayed payback.

michael speaks(ms) notes that interaction with manufacturers and contractors, and the sharing of information across disciplines is not a new approach – that, in fact, shop set out to reclaim this territory from the beginning of their organization – and that is was a reclamation because, as sharples had described in the morning presentation, the link between design and making had historically been closer.

chris sharples (cs) follows up, describing that architecture has prided itself on being the last true generalist profession, but that we haven’t been acting that way for 30-40 years. we have given up responsibility and we have limited the amount of information we’re willing to share because of fear of liability. shop has tried to redress that separation and the shutdown of open lines of not only communication but team thinking that could/should occur between owners, architects, and contractors, working hard to make their process more transparent.

key in this, cs offers, is the recognition that there will be greater potential for risk, risk that will have to be managed. but he also holds that we’re bearing a significant amount of risk in the process anyway – and in a way that also introduces the likelihood of animosity. shop embraces that risk, shares all of their information and assures that they are transparent about their thinking and process and end up actually sharing the risk.

wm: the architect as protagonist is going away. his team, for example, went to hardiplank to see whether they could pursue a certain use of the hardiplank material. they learned that there were limitations to the product that wouldn’t allow their solution to work but that hardiplank was open to giving them some material to test. through rigorous testing and seeing what was possible with the material, wm’s team got their answers but also shared their findings with hardiplank, changing the manufacturer’s understanding of the product’s potential and, ultimately, adding value.

the director of the ball state design school stood to ask whether this dynamic suggested to any of the panel that there was a relationship between design innovation and invention – that there might be patentable results out of these interactions. ‘how does this become a part of ‘design knowledge’ from which we can benefit?’ bill zahner (bz) offers that his company already takes opportunities to patent solutions they come up with in the realization of architects’ work, as they see things that might be useful in future efforts.

cs: the reuse of knowledge is an important aspect to the process. if solutions developed for one project remain one-offs the investment will not be worth it. that doesn’t mean the exact thing gets reused but that the process adds techniques to your set of abilities. it becomes part of the accumulated knowledge, the institutional knowledge, of the firm and part of its value.

wm: in a bad economy, there is the opportunity to develop some of this reusable knowledge in places that might not be apparent at first. if work is slim, you might try to do other things. his group took on a commission for the design of handbags. during the development they explored use of fiberglass elements (failed) and aligned/shared knowledge with manufacturers of car components. through the process they not only answered the immediate design question (the handbag), but he feels that the organization is now smarter about how to adapt to a given problem, they’ve learned how to drift, change, and they’ve gained new resources for future projects through their new relationships.

this is a necessarily abbreviated synopsis of the discussion, which lasted a couple of hours. like the presentation the day before, the interests swirled around two linked potentialities: the full leveraging of bim, not just as a replacement for autocad but as a trigger for a different way of working, and the implementation of different practice and contractual models in order to blur the lines between design as a documentation process and making as a separate entity.

both prospects make the representative population of the local aia chapter nervous because both suggest a relinquishing of the control of areas they know and understand, the embrace of things about which there would be a lot of learning necessary, and the need to trust in both their clients and their contractors in ways that have not been encouraged in the past.

i won’t offer further commentary at this time, merely wanting to record a spirited day of talking about these potential changes and open a conversation through which i might arrive at an idea about what i'd like to encourage within my own office. for certain there is a generational aspect to all of this: where i might be more amenable to revolutionary change, others in my firm are going to be tied to what they know – especially in turbulent times with an unstable/unreliable flow of work.

if you got this far, thoughts?

Oct 12, 08 10:51 pm

Thanks for the great and in depth review. It seems as if quite a number of great topics were discussed.
It does seem that more and more the idea of BIM (especially when linked to digital fabrication) as a game changer for shaping the methods but more importantly the role of the architect in the design process is being discussed. Of course it has been for a while at the higher/academic level of architecture but this conference makes clear that the conversation has treached the regional/local level of practicing "everyday" architecture...

A thought or two,
With regards to wil marquez's proposal "that the boundaries between practice and academics should be broken down as a way to nurture such exploration...liek at a teaching hospital"

It seems this already happens in many university programs when visiting professors from large practices teach studios that are essentially idea and form generators for either specific/current or general/typolotgical future projects of their firms...Was the suggestion to make this practice more formalized in some level? Perhaps for a larger period fo time like a residency program for architecture students?

It also seems as if there are two possibly contrasting ideas developed within the discussion. On one hand the talk of creating new forms of design knowledge (thinking/doing) over necessarily new form, seems to suggest a shared open-source (esque) approach to design, knowledge and flows of ideas etc.

On the other hand there is talk of patents and the obvious need to protect ones intellectual property and to in the end make money.
Was there any suggestions as to how these two seemingly divergent ideas might be dealt with?
Or perhaps you have your own thoughts?

Oct 13, 08 8:46 am  · 
chatter of clouds

a bunch of whitish architects in a pinkish room preempting the future? icecream

perhaps there should be a central universal Bank of architectural elements/moves, like iTunes. you pay 99cents every time you recognizably (we go back to iconography btw) use an element, or mimic one step from the daedalusian dance, the geranos, of an architectural process. part of that 99cents goes to the originator and the rest goes for Bank maintenance purposes. since it might be near impossible to globally sue non-members' building activities, we can deem this, and publicized this, as being Not-Architecture. the Bank guarantees a certificate of Architecture granted to each building created by its memebers as long as it all architectural novelties are formally registered and all mimicry paid for.

Oct 13, 08 9:26 am  · 

nam, the question of open-source vs intellectual property didn't come up and, to be honest, any suggestion of open-source generation of ideas probably wouldn't have played well in this room of practitioners from small-ish firms.

wil marquez's story about adding value for the hardiplank vendor and kevin klinger's about teaching indiana limestone about use of digital files (they now REQUIRE digital files, he said) come closest. most of the people in this room were likely more interested in hearing suggestions about where they could squeeze more revenue out of an already squeezed fee structure, not share their work.

maybe i'm wrong. i'm hoping to talk to some of the people i know attended to get their read on things. the few conversations i did have were more about business owners trying to get their heads around how sharing risk in a integrated project delivery model might work. it's such a foreign idea to most practitioners that there could be a non-litigation agreement and that we could be completely open with both clients and constructors - that working together could possibly be as transparent as was suggested multiple times.

noc, this isn't a case of a bunch of (white or otherwise) people figuring out how to change anything. it was an audience of architects listening to ideas, open to ideas. no snap judgments or immediate sarcastic remarks or criticisms.

imagine listening and allowing yourself to be excited about a potential future for the profession...

Oct 13, 08 9:41 am  · 

steven, thanks very much for posting this!! great read!

Oct 13, 08 10:10 am  · 

glad it's somewhat readable, aml. the speaks talk was obviously the centerpiece and i'm pretty sure it's not new information but that he's been giving some variation of this talk for the last couple of years.

the difference here is that it was for an audience of regular everyday practitioners and that he was really heard and that people engaged in the conversation with some pretty great questions.

i'll have to find some of his follow-up writings. 'after theory' i knew already and i remember a later one in a+u but don't think i actually ever got it and read it. and then apparently there is a whole body of criticism in response to his, um, diagnosis?

shop has been developing a different kind of practice along the lines of what speaks was suggesting for years, was basically founded on it. i wonder how much experience there is out there in which a traditional office has EVOLVED into a different kind of model vs starting out that way?

Oct 13, 08 12:31 pm  · 

steven, yes, but i'm actually more interested in the actual practitioners than in speaks's talk. but if you're intrigued, yes, there is a whole theoretical discussion and the george baird article is the best way to start. but i think that what is happening here is that speaks is looking for support coming from practice. i get the impression that speaks is shifting his position just a tiny bit because it was initially more difficult (perhaps intentionally so in order to provoque). unfortunately i haven't found links to his initial design intelligence essay or to the excellent somol and whiting essay on the doppler effect.

the 2 camps are usually called 'the post-critical' [speaks, plus the somol and whiting essays in perspecta and log, but they don't say exactly the same thing as speaks] vs. utopian realism (reinhold martin in hdm and log). martin's essays are often misinterpreted as both sides of the argument, depending on who's reading them. but i think what you describe in this conference has actually little to do with this debate, and is more a way out or a solution to it [i'm not sure i'm making sense either]...

Oct 13, 08 3:38 pm  · 
aml for your question, what did david banks have to say? he would be an example of an evolving practice? you mention him at the start but i couldn't find his participation in the dialogue [i don't know anything about him, but am curious also to the challenges of evolving into a new model that he would face].

Oct 13, 08 3:41 pm  · 

thanks aml. [adding things to reading list for next time i roadtrip to university.]

i've followed this discussion with much less investment in the past, i.e., i've read some of the articles but they haven't actively affected my way of thinking about things. somehow being immersed in this conversation this weekend has made me want to revisit.

as i noted above, most of us were simply 'audience', with the exception of banks. and i didn't take many notes on his comments because his situation wasn't much unlike that of my office: he's using revit as an extension of autocad, making good use of the parametric aspects of it for coordination and production of instant 3d views but little in the way of 'project delivery' extending into the design phases.

most of us are still so stymied by the historic liability-insurance-carrier in getting into 'means and methods' and helping contractors with take-offs by giving them the information they need that we're not able to see the benefits of the excel spreadsheet information management that sharples exports from his revit models to aid in production flow. we're certainly not as engaged in figuring out the making with those doing it. as much as we talk teamwork, we're not supported in true partnering by the terms of our contracts. this disjunction was discussed both friday and saturday and remained a divide that many don't know how they might cross.

from your comment, though, aml, there is something else bugging me about the conversation, about the idea that somehow the exigencies of practice might become drivers for design culture. it's that somehow some abstracted IDEA of practice might become more the focus of academic attention than anything resembling actual practice.

one too many josh prince-ramus interviews perhaps, but there does seem to be a lot of talk about the pragmatic, the (hyper-)rational, involvement with construction, and production methods that is actually just a way of pretending true engagement with the dirtier aspects of what the majority of practitioners do. prince-ramus commented about louisville's museum plaza in one interview that he was focusing on thinking about actual construction and that it was somehow not something that architects usually bothered with. my reaction was Q: 'WHAT architects don't?' and then i realized, A: signature architects who have been insulated from the rest of the profession.

the idea that speaks and baird's articles have set off a flurry of articles in academic journals that the profession doesn't read both increases my suspicion about a pseudo-'market/industry' direction of academic writing but also makes me want to read what's being written - to see what relation it might have to actual practice down here.

not that any of these comments reflect on practitioners like sharples. shop has certainly set up a way of working that is both real, admirable, and a challenge to standard practice. something to learn from, for sure.

Oct 13, 08 9:29 pm  · 

I feel very stupid, that's who (Michael Speaks) we had drinks with in Louisville. Great review SW

Oct 13, 08 10:53 pm  · 
liberty bell

It's funny for me to read that architects aren't allowed to do takeoffs or advise on means and methods. I calculate materials every day (sometimes order them), I show the carpenters exactly how to put the trim together, and sometimes I even do painting and upholstery myself. AND I carry no liability insurance to prevent me from doing it (insert evil laugh)!

The projects I deliver with my contractors - I call them "mine" because we work together often but we are separately contracted with the client - are truly integrated delivery. Obviously it's a different animal from building a 40-story tower. And it's not on the level of "business thinking", it has more in common with bartering, in fact. But I tend to look at things from my own level of practice, which is very small, and assume some of the questions in the room were from similar practitioners.

I ask this somewhat facetiously, but: I wonder when the result of this shift in our profession will be seen - in a meaningful way, not only in decorative components like laser-etched tiles - at the national NKBA show? I'm certain it's going to happen, but I still can't see, until the building-bots do the labor, how it will happen.

Speaking of bartering, I'm interested in the personal relationships that still seem critical. It seems several of the participants spoke of personal interaction between designers and manufacturers, allowing a level of trust and cooperation to build. Will Bruder spoke years ago of being able to realize forms through a deep understanding of the manufacturing process of the components of the building, which was able to happen because he just hung out in the plant watching how the process worked. A regionalism based on this close relationship to making seems , especially for the Midwest, to be a way of finding a voice.

Great write-up, Steven, thanks for taking the time to do it.

Oct 13, 08 10:55 pm  · 

steven, that's precisely it- the reaction against speaks was driven by his hiper pragmatism, bordering on celebrating architecture as a business enterprise and capitalism as the answer to everything- now i'm completely exaggerating his argument, but there it is. whiting and somol made a much more compelling, subtle argument, but from my pov the damage was done and elicited responses such as martin's.

btw, whiting and martin have small architectural practices, and teach [princeton and columbia]. i think both would accept that teaching comes first for them.

it is a thin line in these arguments, but i agree that shop handles it pretty well, and is a good role model. the problem of evolving from a more traditional practice is beyond me, but i think it is key. what i like about these developments is that they return a lot of decision making to the architect...although liberty bell makes a good point [as always!], in that there was no need to let that power go in the first place.

Oct 14, 08 12:36 am  · 
vado retro

did anyone mention the business model known as disruptive innovation???

--According to Clayton Christenson, Harvard Business Professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, a disruptive innovation is a technology, process, or business model that brings to a market a much more affordable product or service that is much simpler to use. It enables more consumers in that market to afford and/or have the skill to use the product or service. The change caused by such an innovation is so big that it eventually replaces, or disrupts, the established approach to providing that product or service.

in my very uninformed view of the evolution of technology in architecture the changes will come from the bottom up. the layman armed with innovative and free technologies such as sketchup will continue to pressure the educated design elite with their own designs, dream homes and gasp ideas about what buildings should look like. in the near future almost all clients will come to the first meetings armed with not only opinions but with drawings!!! the architect in the future may be very much like the tattoo artist who is given a design brought in by the client and asked to ink it on their ass. they will only be needed because the client cannot reach their own ass. oh and if you can fabricate their designs with some extremely expensive technology. great!

Oct 14, 08 12:41 am  · 
vado retro

oh and thanks steven!

Oct 14, 08 12:42 am  · 

"the layman armed with innovative and free technologies such as sketchup will continue to pressure the educated design elite with their own designs, dream homes and gasp ideas about what buildings should look like. in the near future almost all clients will come to the first meetings armed with not only opinions but with drawings!!!"

I hope so , becaurse then all they need is a magic stick , some idea that the 3D drawings can go stait into production with a gurantie, that the program calculated the dimensions for each part, from what information is collected in terms of weight and volume. They maybe even get a calculated guess about cost. It's not so difficult it's only a paragime shift.

Oct 14, 08 6:50 am  · 

vado, i think that phil bernstein may have brought up christenson the day before, in the context of the discussion of the single project entity (spe) - basically an llc partnership into which owner, client, architect sign on to 'work for the project'.

in his scenario, if the compensation structure is set up such that it rewards innovation during the whole course of the project, the project gets better, the players make more, and, potentially, the client benefits through time, schedule, or quality. bernstein's argument would be that the environment has to be right for innovation to be allowed and that the typical design/bid/build doesn't reward anyone for continuing to think about the project.


it's been sitting on my nightstand for over a month now but i finally cracked perspecta 40 last night ('monster'), and was surprised to find many of sharples' topics were covered in it, pp194-197. none of the case studies describing the development of individual designs or their realization but at least their business approach to involvement and risk.


lb and i talked about this for a while yesterday and she indicated that she somehow felt behind the curve in her small residential practice. i don't know, lb, if your post above was before or after that conversation but i think the opposite is true. the disconnect between design and making hasn't been complete for the full profession and those like you who are much more intimate with the whole project, even to the scale of small trim details, are still embedded in the project delivery stream - still in the 'master builder' role, as sharples describes it.

it's those of us who have become subject to the process in which:
-100pgs of 2d drawings are supposed to suffice to describe a whole project in a way that a contractor can understand our intentions, while
- we also can't tell them how to do it (liability ins.),
- how many doors there are -'count 'em yourself' (liability + bidding fairness), and have to
- expect them to quantify the materials and the work so exactly that they can guarantee a bid and be lower than all their competitors and then
- hold them to a bid that may be based on wrong assumptions/guesses.

it's an untenable situation where no mistakes are allowed, it's impossible to give all of the direction necessary, and the risk is competitive/blame-inducing instead of shared.

Oct 14, 08 7:33 am  · 
liberty bell

vado you make a good point about the bottom-up pressure in the industry (not talking about the tattoo...), and definitely SketchUp gives people that tool AND a sense of ability.

On the other hand, the bottom-up pressure I'm interested in is on the builder side: if a contractor-guy can go to Lowe's and buy 100 2x4s, a spool of electrical wire and a sink, how will BIM technology change *his* ease of delivering a project? I think Kevin's example of Indiana limestone being formed by CNC technology is close to this, because it's such a traditional and obvious example of a handcraft that is being made easier by technology, but that piece of limestone is still installed in the building by hand and by the know-how of the craftsman/builder who has made a career of wrangling limestone.

Steven paraphrasing Bernstein said: if the compensation structure is set up such that it rewards innovation during the whole course of the project, the project gets better, the players make more, and, potentially, the client benefits through time, schedule, or quality. I think every "team" approach idealizes this outcome, (personally I've only worked in firms where this scenario was the ideal - including larger firms working on several-million dollar projects), but the notion of a building "team" can also be hollow marketing language, if the unspoken goal of each player is actually to maximize their profits.

In my contractor at Lowe's scenario above, his ease of delivery is impacting the Owner's level of quality, because Lowe's can only stock inexpensive items. Again, (I think I'm talking in circles) this is where a personal relationship comes in. The default mode is going to be the quickest, easiest, most knowable approach, even if it's completely untenable for everyone but the insurance industry, as Steven says above. I may be wrong, but I think SHoP earns the trust of their clients and their contractors to the point that everyone is willing to strive for a higher level of quality through an unknown or partially-known process.

This is a bit messy, gotta run. Anyone else out there care to weigh in, please?! I'm enjoying this conversation but want to stop talking myself..

Oct 14, 08 9:04 am  · 
liberty bell

Related article/book review at Soloso: Are architects Red or Blue?

Oct 14, 08 9:40 pm  · 

noc....I think you must be an advocate for: "Re-engineered Architecture" It is a process where every tom and jerry takes a shot at the design, because they know better. Then the engineers are given the data input and spit out a pre-frabricated solution based upon a system of design based upon components know as a,"kit of Parts." In return we get bland ass buildings that have nothing to do with anything except the financial bottom line. I believe this is where our profession is headed in the down turn economy. So anyone who
can stand up to it an produce living projects is my hero. I only wish the AIA didn't want to drain my pockets.

Oct 14, 08 9:49 pm  · 
chatter of clouds

well, no one is ever happy with where they are at. there are always crises ... of nature, of substance, of content, of authorship, of style., of time...

the itch for the future (for progress, for budging any other name) is in itself a symptom of addiction. but though the future seems to point forward in many minds, it seems to be more like a crab, taking its own na-na-na-na-naaaaaaaa-naaaaaaaaa course.

its quite funny how we moved from a period where drawings could hold their moment of ambiguity, their reservation over the future (the threat of the present), to one where they wish, in their intended clarity, to precipitate the future in a better manner than the future could bring itself about. bim is not only about a comprehensive 3 dimensional modeling of the project, but rather a 4 dimensional modeling.

yet again, the abstract animal pees on another one of its fast-forward conquests.

Oct 15, 08 2:53 am  · 
chatter of clouds

noctilucent "well, no one is ever happy with where they are at."

well, actually thats not really true; i so lie. my cousin is very happy in his isha foundation commune in south india.

Oct 15, 08 3:16 am  · 
*your name

i agree. the future is the speculative escapade. the real creativity and discovery is dealt in the present.
anything too wrapped up with future generally has hang ups with the present time (the 'threat' mentioned above)
some are addicted to escape.
best futurists are the ones usually talk about the present in length.

Oct 15, 08 3:29 am  · 

"best futurists are the ones usually talk about the present in length."

But they are exactly not futurists but some who either can't get a bright idea themself, and therefore don't has a drive in a vision or they pretend to has the ability to think outside the box even everyone can see they are talking from within the box..

Oct 15, 08 9:02 am  · 
*your name

Thanks, that really helped me to see the box way.

Oct 15, 08 5:35 pm  · 

There is still a difference ,real Architects make boxes to put people in, they don't put people in boxes.

Oct 15, 08 5:45 pm  · 
chatter of clouds

Yes -- the most fantastic thing about 3dh is that it replace a number of other materials, that in theori only one material now configure what before asked dusin of various bits and pieces. But also that it do the trick with the computer in a way no one would emagine. a paragime shift so architect programs will deal less with logistic and more with creating.
But I tried to tell this for more than ten years -- that for architecture to solve today's problems only a new aproach towerds the computer will do that. Only by jettison the old methods and give innovation a chance a real chance --- not as audience here are used to, only to make a fool out of the guy "who think he has a great idea" . 3dh is here to stay no matter what dirty tricks to make a fool out of a nice guy who just shared a great idea.

Oct 16, 08 5:49 am  · 

having read the speaks, baird, martin ('critical of what?', hdr), and now mark jarzombek's (perspecta 40) pieces about the 'post-theory' discussion, it strikes me that they're all talking about different meanings and purposes for 'theory' altogether. it seems like maybe it's easier to argue a position if you get to also define what an opposite position is. not that i could argue any of this better, i have to admit. each of these pieces makes sense in the context of its own internally-defined terms but.....

i just feel like now, having read all of these, i know less what the discussion is about than i knew having heard just speaks' talk.

Oct 25, 08 9:14 am  · 
Architecture in Critical Condition: Witch Doctor In?

To ERr with SuperGlue™
Bilocation Syndrome
Going into Eclectic Shock/Therapy
Surgical Double Theater
Waiting Room: Anxious, Reading, Liszt
Operation a Success; Patient Dead
Malpractice Case: Houses
Eternal Wrest

"Eternal Wrest" is mostly about "reenactment with a twist".

Emmanuel Petit's "Incubation and Decay: Arato Isozaki's Architectural Poetics--Metabolism's Dialogical "Other"" also in Monster.

Subject: quick response, good trip
Date: 1999.12.09

I know of the Metabolists, but not their writing/ideas per say. More recently I’ve read what Isozaki says in retrospect regarding the Metabolist movement, and there he actually raises the issue of destruction not having been part of the original Metabolist credo, although, as he now sees it, destruction should have been a part of it. What I most like about metabolism as a process is that there has to be both creation and destruction in order for the process to work (otherwise none of us could even literally live). Moreover, I see humanity today demonstrating a high (and rising) degree of metabolic imagination.
QBVS3, p. 210.

To: archinect/forum
Subject: metabolism
Date: 2003.09.26

On the occasion of the World Design Conference held in Tokyo in 1960, a group of young 30-something Japanese architects proposed “metabolism” as a new ‘ism’ for architecture and urban planning. Their idea was quite simple: architecture and the city should constitute an open living organism that grows through metabolism, instead of an enclosed, static machine.
--Arika Asada and Arata Isozaki, “From Molar Metabolism to Molecular Metabolism” in Anyhow (1998).

What the Metabolists failed to realize is that metabolism (as a physiological operation) is a creative/destructive duality, hence, metabolism does not define a continuous organic growth, as much as growth integral with equal measures of destruction.
Schumpeter called capitalism “creative destruction,” which, if correct, essentially labels capitalism as being metabolic. There is no question that we live in very metabolic times. Unfortunately, most (product) designers today (seem to) remain oblivious to the fact that what is great design today will soon enough be tomorrow’s trash.
QBVS3, p. 382-3.

Oct 25, 08 11:20 am  · 
chatter of clouds

ok, i just read some speaks and reread the baird and the martin in 40 minutes and my eyes hurt.

martin does not contradict baird; he responds to baird's call for, well what amounts to being, a political critique of the post-critical. both martin and baird implicitly criticize the notion that eisenman is a critical architect; martin underlines eisenman's political indifference and baird notes eisenman's reductionism of architecture into form as that being the prototypical architectural concern.

now, baird offers the figure of tafuri in his instances of non-affiliation with eisenman, who now comes across as being only formally/aesthetically difficult and not operatively, humanely, politically- critical in the tradition of the frankfurt school apropos rampant late capitalism.

speaks has a similar stance to that of baird towards eisenmanin stating that his architecture, eiseman's, fetishizes its own "interiority"- this being the concern of form exclusively with its history. however, , where baird's and martin's indicated concerns are an architecture is both operative and politically critical (martin does relapse, in my opinion, into self-ambiguating discourse) , michael speaks speaks of an architecture that is aligned, and reacts, to the motion of capital via the semblance of corporations and companies with the underlying metaphor of biological organisms.

the distinction, is therefore, summarily political. a leftist sensibility (martin and baird) and a capitalist one (speaks).

in my opinion, michael speaks utilizes metaphysical naturalism (where the laws of nature are the laws of all truth) as a metaphor for the laws of capital. i find this position insidiously suspicious; by proposing the marriage of capitalism-as-culture to nature, the intention is to give the semblance of inevitability to the right of capitalism to establish itself as a natural law. what speaks never speaks of is anything that is not denominated by capital and his silence on that matter, and his fetishizing of (at least in the article">]article[/url] i read) to iconically capitalist bodies i.e. corporations .... this is exactly where his politics become clear and contrast with baird's and martin's.

so, after reinhold martin's question "critical of what?", i would say the substantial difference between them is in how they answer the fundamentally hegelian question: "projective towards where?"

michael speaks: a capitalist practice of architecture
george baird: a theoretically supported therefore critical, therefore critical of capitalism, projective architecture
martin utopian realism - critical but also dynamic (in my opinion, similar to baird's

Oct 25, 08 12:15 pm  · 

Regarding Jarzombek's "Un-Messy Realism", what's important comes at the end:

"We have to realize that our discipline is undergoing an inner transformation of historical impost and that sooner or later it will yield an educational system far different from the one we grew up with in the last twenty years. But whether this is for better or worse is difficult to ascertain since there is also a collusion of silence in academe about where the ghost ship is heading."

The "collusion of silence", like a law of silence (utilized by various emperors) is an effecttive form of control.

More likely it is an outer transformation that is bringing about the inner transformation.

A "collusion of silence" can also breed ignorance via ignoring.

"Official art culture is much more effective in its control of history than Republican strategists, for it knows that the best way to treat contradictory material is not to rail against it, but simply to pretend it didn’t happen."
--Mike Kelley, 1992

Be watchful of the inner and the outer to see the full picture.

Oct 25, 08 12:26 pm  · 

you're right, AiCC, that jarzombek's wrap-up was his primary message, but it struck me as an overly alarmist baby-with-the-bath-water warning. as if 'theory' for him encompasses all of architectural discourse - which i don't think is true for the other folks engaged in this conversation. he seems to suggest that if theory is no longer the thing driving architecture culture that it won't have an engine with which to move forward.

speaks' argument seemed to be more that, besides what he calls 'theory' (more ideology/philosophy as a defined body of discourse), there are other drivers. and that design knowledge, i.e. development of new ways of doing and new ways of thinking about things, is among them.

Oct 25, 08 9:38 pm  · 

+ links

an anti-pragmatic manifesto by mark jarzombek

mark jarzombek's website has a lot of his essays.

nontilucent, i understand you are not siding baird with martin but only arguing they share a few points, but i would leave more space between them. i think baird does a very sharp appraisal of the situation and martin tries to build on that but takes it in another direction.

missing from these comments, sarah whiting's and r.e. somol's doppler essay. the very very short gist of it actually comes through a somol lecture at the gsd before publication of that article:

peter eisenman is to robert de niro in cape fear as rem koolhaas is to gregory peck. eisenman makes everything difficult, revels in it. method acting, like de niro. koolhaas makes everything easy, as gregory peck -hardly acts. [there is a lot more to this but i haven't read this in a while- not doing it justice]. they are arguing for a gregory peck performance in architecture, which is a similar argument to speaks [and what baird will write about] but also different.

my take on whiting and somol is that, in contrast to speaks, they are not dismissing theory- they are actually not dismissing the critical, but certainly eisenman's breed of critical.

of course all these arguments are slippery since every person uses different definitions of what 'theory', 'critical' and even 'architecture' is.

a few months [or weeks?] ago someone in archinect posted a discussion with a link to some conference in europe that had a lot of the people involved in the discussion in one room. there was an interesting synopsis of the debate, but i can't remember the discussion or the link.

Oct 26, 08 1:45 am  · 
chatter of clouds


the possibility is in siding martin with baird, rather than the other way around (chronologically speaking). there are no accounts of contradiction in comparing both articles; even the remedial measures proposed by both are aligned in the statement of a dialectic resolution between what is emblematic about the critical agenda - i.e. a critical consideration apropos the complete surrender to reification- and the post-critical axiom of a dynamic engagement with its surroundings, physical and otherwise. This is also what I read in Jarzombeki’s proposition of the third-practice in his “Critical or Post-critical?”.

the space between baird and martin is merely a matter of idiosyncrasy and does not, in itself, constitute a divergence.

if its a simplistic game of odd-man/odd-paradigm out, of all the four, and merely judging from the four articles i read, i'd say that would be michael speaks. all the three envisage a sort of remedial discursive bridge that is virtually still non-existent , whereas this guy obviously bats full-time for the post-critical team. he even expels, through the article, lynn en esprit from the team. In contrast , reinhold martin sees lynn's membership as symptomatic of a more ominous function, that of architectural imagery (and therefore form), as a political banner and architectural discourse as a mirror image of military discourse. What reinhold martin’s article does implicitly introduce is the role of political symbolism in the post-critical team.

Oct 26, 08 4:24 am  · 

i do agree martin starts with baird, but i still think he then takes his proposal in another direction. but i am not only taking into account his first essay [critical of what in hdm] -which i find is so opaque that i've seen it interpreted in many opposing ways- but his following essays in log 7 and log 11 [not online], + his studio syllabus descriptions online.

i enjoyed this observation you made:
"now, baird offers the figure of tafuri in his instances of non-affiliation with eisenman, who now comes across as being only formally/aesthetically difficult and not operatively, humanely, politically- critical in the tradition of the frankfurt school apropos rampant late capitalism."

there is a point baird makes that approximates tafuri's argument to speaks, somol and whiting. i think this is a relevant clue to the distance to martin and at the same time to some overlap all of these arguments have.

also, i think michael speaks discourse is evolving as he compares it with the development of practices such as shop. i am interested in this because it shows a link between theory and practice that is needed and useful, and can help approximate discourses that have been far apart for too long.

[this is an interesting discussion but i feel we've somehow highjacked the thread a bit- i'll check back here later]

Oct 26, 08 2:02 pm  · 
vado retro

maybe it didn't look like acting because he'd seen the film before???

Oct 26, 08 2:30 pm  · 

i don't think it's high-jacked the thread at all: in my initial post i was trying to get to the bottom of what speaks was proposing and linked baird with that intention. i do think that, unfortunately, my fear that the discussion had be absorbed into the academic-speak blackhole was well-founded.

aml, your original interest in the fact that speaks was talking to the profession is probably the most intriguing aspect of this dialogue. at least it's becoming so for me. i wonder how each of these others would present to the profession, i.e., outside the context of the academic journal. speaks had room of over 200 practicing architects enthralled, as did sharples and bernstein (the day before).

could jarzombek, baird, or martin present to the same crowd? or is it more useful to their arguments to maintain a distance from the business/practice of architecture?

Oct 26, 08 2:42 pm  · 
vado retro

another thought which may have been addressed somewhere. okay we have a country overflowing with the "creative class" we have college architecture grads who are fluent in the kinds of computer programs and applications that the majority of firms do not use. now on the other hand we have the construction material industry which is looking to introduce new products and delivery methods into the marketplace (ie architects spec'ing their products) perhaps many of these young designers will end up in a field where they may be able to use their skills more than in the conventional architecture firm where they will be harnassed to autocad copying and pasting generic details or drawing sketchup models of their bosses' attempt at grammatical historicism.

Oct 26, 08 4:00 pm  · 

that actually WAS discussed at the presentation: it was joked that bill zahner, the guy from the metal fabrication company was going to be harvesting the young guns straight out of grad school who were actually going to figure out how to fabricate the forms they get from the star architects. from the look of it, there's already some truth to it.

Oct 26, 08 9:30 pm  · 
chatter of clouds

why "high-jack"?

the claim that there is something called "academic-speak" as opposed to "practical-speak" is, in my opinion, inane. it only undermines the very effort of those same persons to come to terms with the coexistence of academia and practice. they want a full scope of vision and yet they willingly blind one of their eyes.

an academic idea or argument, like any idea or argument, is either well thought out or not; if you can't understand the wording, that is not necessarily an indication of the fallibility of the idea itself. there is always the possibility of one's own fallibility in reading and interpreting. one only need ask oneself, can there be any larger and more effectual discursive "blackhole" than theology?

can those wardens of insiduous adagio didacticiscm resist their own limitations? no.

in another, but similar, vein, i was reading some edward said comments on the french cultural theory school and their american disciples, and i find his comments quite relevant here. he has the sobriety to appreciate the denominator of their concern as well as quietly observing the conservative specificity of their sight.

Oct 27, 08 7:38 am  · 

'academic-speak' is just my short-hand way of saying 'this kind of writing will (perhaps intentionally?) discourage a wider audience'.

the coexistence of academia and practice might just depend on people who self-identify with one being willing to open the terms of discussion to the other. i.e., discourse is only effective if the opening shots actually engage both parties. speaks actually did engage in this kind of presentation - and it was effective. reading some of the others, i simply wondered how they would approach a similar audience.

i'll venture that, besides what i've termed 'academic speak', another way to shut down discourse is to make differences of opinion or context the basis of pejorative mischaracterizations of others' intentions.

Oct 27, 08 8:54 am  · 
chatter of clouds

hyproctical venturing; i'm not the one black-holing people's different laungages and contributions.

stephen warden: i do think that, unfortunately, my fear that the discussion had be absorbed into the academic-speak blackhole was well-founded.

Oct 27, 08 9:11 am  · 

steven-to your questions above- i think it's very positive that michael speaks is talking to practitioners. i think it's helping him refine and better his position [which has everything to do with practice, so it makes sense]. not the same with the baird, martin and jarzombek, but they are each arguing different things.

now, actually i think baird and jarzombek would have no problem speaking with a roomfull of practitioners. this just from having heard one speak and from getting acquainted with the latter. they are really nice guys [actually very down to earth].

on the theory-practice connection-divide: well, it exists. ignoring it won't make it go away. i think very strongly that we need to close it a bit. so the theory efforts will be clunky and ackward sometimes, but it is good that they're being made. and when the conversation gets going [as in the speaks-shop case and here in this discussion] i think it works, no?

i think it would be great if architecture graduates start working in fabrication, but greater still is they start 'contaminating' fabrication with architectural ideas, so that fabrication and architecture become mixed and the lines become a bit blurry. does that make sense?

Oct 27, 08 9:16 am  · 

[psst. i actually took so long writing that post that 2 posts sneaked in before me]

Oct 27, 08 9:18 am  · 

i'm not deleting your posts, noc, and don't have the ability to do so, so i'm not sure i understand the 'warden' accusation. i'm venturing opinions, you're venturing opinions. i get the feeling that you'd rather i stifled mine so that your logorrhea can continue uninterrupted.

Oct 27, 08 9:20 am  · 
liberty bell

Any unwillingness to differentiate between academic-speak and practical-speak is self-serving. The practitioners "on the ground" to borrow a war-coverage-speak phrase can sure as hell tell the difference.

Not that architecture should be dumbed down - there is much to be learned where "theory" (which is open to very personal interpretation, as Steven noted above) intersects, or has the possibility to intersect, with practice, which is what this whole discussion is about, no?

Will be interesting to see how this upcoming economic cycle affects theory, as well as practice, though I wonder if we won't be able to see the results until a decade or two later? Architecture is so slow. vado is right, the design work happening in industrial/construction processes is going to move forward much faster (and with very little concern for "theory").

Oct 27, 08 9:35 am  · 
vado retro

one has to speak to one's audience. which in my case means talking to myself.

Oct 27, 08 9:40 am  · 
chatter of clouds

stephen warden: i get the feeling that you'd rather i stifled mine so that your logorrhea can continue uninterrupted.

not at all. i don't care what you do with your life or posts as long as you don't approach me with your little corrective black-holing stick.

a self-appointed warden, as someone who wants to round up the flock and correct them, prim safekeeper of discourse, little stick in the hand.

i do however appreciate your coming out as a jello-facist by generally applying your outright edict of 'logorrhea' to everything i said.

Oct 27, 08 9:44 am  · 
chatter of clouds

liberty bell: Any unwillingness to differentiate between academic-speak and practical-speak is self-serving.

i don't see how this absence of a will is self serving. in fact, i don't see why you do, and therefore you think you should, see differentiation as the issue. its as if you see each language having its own integral immutable essence. It is exactly this stubborn will to define what defines (language) that will, in turn, lead to the same absurdity of someone wanting to have the full scope of vision while blinding themselves in one eye. In fact, understand everything…understand as much as you can, have the generosity to understand as many languages as you can and they’ll give you back generously … and if you can’t, don’t stone the human mouth for being what it is; the mouth that curses and prays is the same mouth.

Oct 27, 08 10:00 am  · 
chatter of clouds

and i must admit, i find the language of cabinetry very boring and , when it serves me, i don't care to understand it.

thats my own limitation; i won't find fault in libery bell for talking the language. if i do, it would just show what a black-holing priest worm i house in my flesh. we all die alone eventually; at least we can mind our own business and the right to our own "logorrhea".

Oct 27, 08 10:10 am  · 

aside: first hand experience, you can count on it

Oct 27, 08 10:41 am  · 

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