Flint Flat Lot: What won and what got built.

Gregory - I don't want to imply that the photos making the rounds on blogs are Photoshopped or "lies", but I have been reading comments from locals indicating that the above photo, showing a wrinkled, tin-foil like skin, is true to reality.

For example, here are a couple comments from locals in response to Gizmodo's news of the finished project, with the same renderings as designboom and countless other blogs...

Sep 16, 13 4:56 pm
Honestly this project fails due to cruddy massing and the completely unbelievable nature of the floating house. I mean, the fact that they put in those lame-o columns is a farce. The wrinkled Mylar is just icing on the cake. Actually, lifting an actual house would have been cool.
Sep 16, 13 5:13 pm

I don't see any columns, I think those are lamp poles.

Checking out the construction photos on the other link Paul posted is pretty interesting, the way they ended up making the house 'float' works pretty well - like they built the floor at the midpoint of the walls instead of the base.

So they had a $25,000 budget, and raised another $15,000 online ... I'll bet they spent a lot more than that, even if you don't count compensation for time. Too bad it didn't work out.

Sep 16, 13 5:37 pm

The reflective thing might have worked if they'd done it as a framework with reflective mylar shrink wrap stretched over it tight. But honestly, perfectly flat, continuous reflective surfaces are very difficult and expensive to do. Just ask the guys who designed and built the Hubble Space Telescope.

Also, the massing and proportion of that thing sux.

Sep 16, 13 5:57 pm
Do these same conspiracies happen with larger competitions? Or are they just better run? I can imagine the anxiety everyone would have trying to make a building match a rendering to save face.

Why does the success of a project even depend on if it looks the way it's "supposed" to? Happy accidents?

I haven't seen any locals talk about how people are using it, or if it even gets used. You know, it's performance so to speak.
Sep 16, 13 6:24 pm
I guess you can't promise one thing and deliver another when money of any amount is on the line.
Sep 16, 13 6:26 pm
@fred you might be right-no columns. Maybe I dreamt it-3" black pipe cols at each corner
Sep 16, 13 6:31 pm

paul - i'm only looking at this whole conversation in the margins, so i certainly can't pass judgment either. what intrigues me though is that neither set of photos is 'lying' - they're simply from different phases in it's life. 


for example, just looking back through our own blogs, this is the image of the jinhua architecture park restaurant on the architect's site:

and here it is a mere 2 years later (courtesy of evan's wonderful article):


qualitatively, is there much difference? i think what we're all so surprised by is the absolute speed by which the flint project seems to have...'changed'. that's a valid criticism. but the fact that it's a temporary piece (which is my understanding - please correct me if i've misread that aspect because it's critical) and it's not 'holding up'... meh, not so much. 

now, if they did actually photoshop the pictures to align it more with the renderings than reality... 

Sep 16, 13 8:05 pm

Gregory - I don't think aging is an issue with the Flint project. From what I understand, all of the photos presented in this thread represent the newly completed/unveiled project. It seems the discrepancy is between the actual appearance of the project and the appearance in the images released to the "press".

Sep 16, 13 8:11 pm

if you take a look at the first image on db, you can see the clouds in the right hand corner appear to be manipulated, why, i don't know. i was taking a closer look at those "boxes" underneath, and man, they look like folded sheets of vellum to me. 20k for that? really?

Sep 16, 13 9:26 pm

I think it is about time we begin to discuss, critically, that the current trend of rendering is doing disservice to both architects and the public.

Sep 17, 13 6:26 pm
Rendering itself, or current trends in rendering?
Sep 17, 13 6:32 pm

"start"? really? it's been obvious for 15 years now, that photorealistic renderings are problematic; they over promise, when the reality is 1. the budget fails to deliver and 2. nothing constructed by the hand of man, today, will ever match the virtual image. it never can and never will. stop the photorealism, and be clear about the message, and this kind of thing won't ever happen.

Sep 17, 13 7:01 pm
So NPR renderings and hand drawings inherently curb people's expectations and/or enthusiasm? Or they leave more to the imagination and allow people to fill in the details, giving no benchmark against which to compare reality.

Would love to know if this conversation happened in the Renaissance or Gilded Age or in between.

These renderings seem like they bring the design to the masses. I don't see too many laypeople oggling over etched Mckim, Mead, and White elevations.

Were people pissed off at Piranesi all the time?
Sep 17, 13 8:00 pm
Also the role of a competition, it's purpose, and the way designers approach them and clients utilize them may have something to do with the prevalence of the type of renderings some are taking negative exception to.
Sep 17, 13 8:05 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

It's ugly either way.

Sep 17, 13 8:09 pm

++ b3ta

Actually, on second thought, +++ b3ta. 

Sep 17, 13 8:18 pm

Renderings have always been about romance, from the impressionistic beauty of Harvey Ellis to the stunning shadows of Hugh Ferriss, so it seems miss-placed to blame renderings on this predicament.  It might be more useful to look at the hyper-conceptualization of architecture where the primacy of architecture's physical form seems to have been replaced with the written word. 

As for "laypeople oggling over etched Mckim, Mead, and White elevations."  I don't know how familiar you are with design magazines with their endless framed hand renderings artfully hung in lush interiors, but they do seem to have a market.  Blame our innate understanding that a well honed craft like hand renderings will never be replaced by the most realistic photoshop program as a place of affection.  

Sep 17, 13 10:55 pm
Center for Ants

Look at how often a PS1 installation fails to meet expectations. Ultimately there are a lot of issues at play here. One is a failure on the part of the jury to be seduced by a sexy rendering. We see this time and time again. Two is the lack of experience (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt) of the designer and understanding of the materials being used at play. Anticipating how materials behave after installation is a crucial aspect of executing design. Three is the global sense of expectation of what is shown in representation and then in reality. 

Look at how Hadid's Guangzhou Opera House turned out... In any case, I've always believed that the most expert of architects are those that can combine the ability to convince a client and execute to those expectations. Look at say the SANAA's work seems to meet expectations while their representation is actually quite modest and understated. While guilty of some pretty egregious renderings, BIG's dialog seems to revolve around a central diagram so it completely frames the expectations/goals of a project. (Whether the work is actually good or not is another question).

In the world we have dozens of examples of conceptually elegant designs marred by poor construction/poor design detailing. Which is why some architects tend to stay in the realm of paper architecture. Conversely, it's easy to bash those who default to standard detailing and construction techniques, but who's at fault if a building performs well and holds up to the test of time? Only few architects can rise up to the challenge to design things that are both wonderful in concept and in their execution. It's unfortunate that it didn't turn out quite the way we hoped in Flint, but I don't think it should stop anyone from trying. 

Sep 17, 13 11:19 pm
Well put. The goal should be a both/and condition, as opposed to an either/or/but.

The issue is exploiting the propensity to judge a book by its cover.

Anyway, I guess I've beat that horse dead.
Sep 18, 13 12:04 am
Erik Evens (EKE)

If a project cannot be properly executed in a way that supports the vision and will last into an indeterminate future, then the project is flawed in concept.  I think that for something to be called architecture, execution and realization needs to be a key part of the concept.  Otherwise it's sculpture, or ephemera.  This is a key dilemma for modern movements in architecture, since so many examples look so terrible after a few years.

Sep 18, 13 9:53 am

Blame our innate understanding that a well honed craft like hand renderings will never be replaced by the most realistic photoshop program as a place of affection.

It's far deeper than that. The ability to create hand renderings is evidence of traditional artistic training which includes the study of form via light, proportion, physical modeling, etc. The ability to create a photorealistic digital model is simply a matter of data input.

Sep 18, 13 10:09 am

The goal of a competition is to create a challenge. I am sure the jury picked this scheme because it is really hard to do with a 25,000 budget and it would be interesting to see how the designers would pull it out. It seems like the builders rushed the process through and should have thought more about the execution before revealing it to the public.

The scheme could have been simpler. There are 4 different projects in one. Creating a mirrorlike structure+a floating house+a pseudo parametric ceiling with LEDs+the cooling rain(did they build it?), etc.  

I agree to a certain extent with the discussion of image vs reality but the argument for going back to doing hand renderings seems nostalgic. You can also lie with hand renderings, you can fake the light to go in a certain direction, etc and I don't buy that making good photorealistic renderings is simply data input, to do them well it requires both technical skill and a good eye.

I think physical models can tell way more and its very hard to lie. You can clearly tell if you have ommited certain parts of project. Yet you can't bring a model to a competition... 

Sep 18, 13 11:34 am

small competitions like these have a fundamental responsibility to demonstrate a complete understanding of budgetary constraints, and the construction process, or else suffer from the likelihood of having to go to kickstarter for additional funding. what i can't understand, or actually i can, but my question points more to the problem than an actual question, is this; how can a jury, and AIA award this project to an "unproven" out of country design team, when a more local, proven team, with Wes Janz at the lead had a better chance at conceiving a more realizable solution?

there was a failure all around, and this is typical when it comes to addressing problems in Flint, need i remind you of Roger & Me?

Sep 18, 13 11:59 am

The central problem is not one of presentation, but one of content. Architects have become extremely object-focused and anti-human-scale in their training and approach. A pretty picture can be used to sell shite, and often is. It's much easier to make a pretty picture of shite now than it was in the hand-rendering era, but that's not the essential issue. The shite peddlers have always been around, and they always will be.

The Flint project is problematic not because it fails to live up to the marketing fluff that sold it to us in the first place, but because the original idea was a turd.

Sep 18, 13 12:13 pm

gwharton, cutt'n to the chase. 

@jaffe2 - "The ability to create hand renderings is evidence of traditional artistic training which includes the study of form via light, proportion, physical modeling, etc. The ability to create a photorealistic digital model is simply a matter of data input." - exactly my point.  Becasue I so often get thrown into the classicist camp, I didn't want to be as explicit as you, but your right.  I still think there's no need to attach a stylistic affiliation with hand rendering as "traditional artistic training" might imply, but I think more and more science is showing how the mind and creativity flourish, and fortunatly it still seems to be tied with our physical understanding of the world.  The study of light, proportion, and physical modeling as you put it.  Once a certain mastery is attained, by all means go digital and parametric for all I care, but at least there might be a stronger connection  between conception and execution once you've been grounded in an analytical understanding of the physical world though physical excersizes.  Both, not either/or.

Sep 18, 13 1:36 pm
won and done williams

All you young whippersnappers and yer fancy drawing machines. When I was a young architect, we designed buildings with burnt charcoal on rocks, and we liked it. Then, we built that sucker with those same damn rocks, stacking rock on top of rock, AND WE LIKED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sep 18, 13 5:28 pm

gwarton, criticizing the design is a waste of time, and says nothing about the execution. what we have here, is a failure of execution, not idea. ideas are debated forever. execution cannot be debated. now, i do concur, this idea sucks. i looked at the proposal again, and i'm left wondering; how much of this "idea" was actually realized, from limited perspective, it would seem that this is all surface and zero depth.

Sep 18, 13 5:31 pm
We can assume the Flint project got built at least in part by its presentation. If it was really all about idea, then we can give the jury the benefit of the doubt that they'd pick at least a good one (if "good" can even be determined).

So with whom does the problem lie:

-the team that won, acting logically in the system (good images gives you a shot)

-those with better ideas who didnt present the type of graphics known to win competitions and allow for "good" ideas to be built

-the jury for assuming an idea that looks bad on paper might be even worse in reality, or the corollary, that an idea that looks good can be executed well and function accordingly

Is there even enough time in the jury process to vet all projects on their conceptual merits? Are the jurors setup from the start?
Sep 18, 13 6:06 pm

We live in a world where style is more important than substance, where appearances are more important than realty. What we see demonstrated in Flint is this disconnect, where the translation of the abstract into reality is an abject failure on multiple levels simultaneously. 

Sep 18, 13 8:15 pm
Yeah but miles- everyone can agree that this design has neither style nor substance & crap appearance in theory and reality.
Sep 18, 13 9:53 pm

Everyone except the architectural curator at MOMA ...

Sep 18, 13 10:29 pm

We took a series of photos of the "floating house" with our staff Sony NEX camera at the end of the day on Tues. Sep. 22. No corrections were made for brightness, hue, saturation, nor any tilt-shift adjustments to correct for lens curvature and its effect on the angles of the buildings.

Read our view of the project here.

See the other finalists, semi-finalists, and jury selections here:

To read all about the competition process, background, and guidelines, go to this page:

Oct 9, 13 1:54 pm
There's a difference between hatred and critique. A gradient exists.
Oct 9, 13 3:43 pm
It is great that even though completed off schedule, the timing allows for an experience different than what was anticipated.
Oct 9, 13 3:46 pm

Here is a similar case from Mexico. The contest called to design a Pavillion on the garden of the Archivo de Diseño (Design Archive), which is adjacent to Barragan's house and studio.

The top image shows the render "Pedro y Juana" (the design studio) submitted, which won fisrt place. The bottom image shows the reality. Gone is the underground lounge, and in it's place we find a bunch of piled double planters. 

The image was taken from my Instagram account.

Oct 10, 13 6:08 pm

szacks, other than self-promotion, what is your point?

Oct 11, 13 10:29 am
Idk if that's a literal statement or not but there are several photographs of the construction floating around.
Oct 11, 13 11:20 am
Just a slight misunderstanding, but thank you for enlightening me on the critical point.
Oct 11, 13 1:27 pm


the actually post by szacks, is literally the narrative accompanying the photos on the FB page. second, it's also a link to his Op-Ed on mlive. so, other than the link, the non-comment, comment, what is the point, other than self promotion of the photos and the Op-Ed?

beautifully rendered image, begets competition win, and 25k for fabrication, begets horribly realized "object", begets photos - some photoshopped some not, begets criticism about constructed object not rising to the level of beautifully rendered image.

most uninitiated people expect the image = reality and while we're aware of that trap, i, like many others expect that when AIA local is involved, with an out of town firm, that a focus on budget and constructability should be as important as a rendered image and good idea. so you are correct, most will only judge this from photos, and not from experience, but i also thought this was temporary, and if it's not, based on the construction, it will almost certainly be, temporary.

Oct 11, 13 4:07 pm

my "self-promotion" Quondam, stays here, and perhaps that is a distinction without a difference for yourself, especially given the amount of "self-promotion" Quondam does, but at least my bloviating doesn't drive traffic to another site, to read another view. it'd be one thing if someone here posted a link, but this guy just jumps into the fray, with nothing to add, but his links. if i say something, i'll say it. as an aside, the second link in the post goes right to his op-ed. my simple point is this, we all know what we think, we've seen the photo manipulation, we've seen the sexy renderings, and we've seen the finished product, now, we're fortunate to read, on another site, a review of the project. so what? 

Oct 11, 13 9:11 pm

I'll say this for b3ta - He practices real architecture and doesn't post a daily thread of self-aggrandizing egotistical bs that is universally ignored.

Oct 11, 13 9:25 pm


Oct 12, 13 1:23 am

^ Having your near-daily topics visible on the forum page is not evidence that they are read. 0 comments is a pretty good indicator of community interest. And even the ones that are commented appear to be commented exclusively by you.

If I had to describe such behavior I'd say it is persistent chronic public masturbation. Pull the post history (no pun intended) and see for yourself.

Oct 12, 13 11:46 am

settle down kids.  quondam's posts aren't nearly as annoying as kos scarpa kos's.  i would encourage him to keep doing what he's doing and for those that don't care for what he's doing, ignore it rather than complain about it.

Oct 12, 13 11:52 am

actually, i tried buying one of Q's books, but the order was cancelled by amazon. i think i'd dig what Q wrote, but Q seems to not like me posting here, seems to have a bug up his about me, and some posts from 10 or so years ago. any who, Q might be a fucking genius, I enjoy his questioning of eisenman and other architects, his knowledge of Piranesi rivals most, but he has his own truth and thinks that any thought that counters his is wrong. even if he's all that, he still is a prick at times.

Oct 12, 13 1:10 pm
I always wanted to spot deer with a splatball gun. I thought poka dotted deer would be awesome
Oct 13, 13 1:00 pm

Yet another take on this saga.
Oct 14, 13 5:52 pm

Ugh. I hate to pile on, but frankly I just think this is a terrible design.  They *should* have known that the physical object would never look as ephemeral as the rendering, and they sure as hell should have known what the proposed material (mirror) would cost *before* they proposed it in the first place.  For heaven's sake, that's a basic mistake.

Also, it's just clunky.  A simple Monopoly-style four-walled house would have looked better, IMO.

Oct 14, 13 9:16 pm

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