something gets lost in a collaborative design process.


Is this where the "disconnect" happens?  A lot of the contemporary work out there (the kind that gets designed in large collaborative offices and the offices of some starchitects) seems to lack a human quality.  I think this thing that is missing is hard to define, but it seems to be the result of removing the "artists hand" or "tone" or "voice" the things that give a sense of "authorship."  Is the creative process diluting the artistry of projects?  That clear vision that makes something great seems to be muddy due to the fact that there are too many hands in the kitchen.  Is there a better way to go forward considering the increased complexity of projects?  Is art too personal to ever be achieved by a group?

I know when I was in school being against collaborative design was like being against kittens....I just cant buy into that idea that collaborative group design is better. 

Nov 18, 13 11:55 am

look at the work of morphosis, there are about 100 people just cranking out awesome work, that would otherwise be impossible if mayne where just sitting in an office alone.

The notion of a sole genius is some howard roark shit.  

I think the key is in the management of the team, it would be interesting to see who contributes what and how and when and to what extent.

Nov 18, 13 1:12 pm

I think too much emphasis is put into collaborative design process especially in school. I also agree if too many ppl participate the work somehow gets watered down.

However it is good to have many opinions and critics of work being during the design process but just because everyone is critical does not justify that they all should design.

Nov 18, 13 1:34 pm

I think too much emphasis is put into collaborative design process especially in school. I also agree if too many ppl participate the work somehow gets watered down.

How can you say too much emphasis is placed on collaborative design? In the real world, everything is collaborative, architects work between the engineers, design consultants, and contractors on everything. Adding the expertise of other individuals does not water down the work, it strengthens it and allows it to accomplish more than the original intent.

Nov 18, 13 2:31 pm

Sorry maybe I did not make myself clear. Having expert opinions from qualified experts is great. Having anybody off the street also participate in the design gets tricky

Nov 18, 13 2:41 pm

I don't think collaboration is the culprit.  I think a lot of it is a lack of attention to detail.  

Some starchitects can't be bothered with the details.  They make the big bucks for grand gestures  - details are for the fetishists.  I think this is how their projects can look bold and awesome, but also cold and inhuman.

This isn't always the case.  For example, the late American Folk Art Museum was simply gorgeous and everywhere you looked seemed handmade.  It's really too sad to think of it not being there anymore...  Some other folks are good at this too, Zumthor, perhaps Diller, Scofidio and Renfro as well.

Many buildings nowadays are simply collages of off-the-shelf components.  Hardly exciting or handmade.  You get exactly what you pay for - no delight.  Less gesamtkunstwerk than Erector Set from Sweets. In many older buildings those components were actually handmade and the slight imperfections had much to do with conveying the human qualities I enjoy in buildings.  Alas, this is getting rarer and rarer.    

Nov 18, 13 3:22 pm

Collaborative design, if done properly can yield great results. What happens at many corporate offices is that it becomes a political game, where everyone wants to pitch in to validate their existence, and it becomes a mighty mess. The only way to avoid it is to make the bus run so fast, that not everyone can get on it.

Nov 18, 13 8:03 pm

I believe collaborative design is exciting in the sense that you can never achieve the same product with any other team. It creates individuality as opposed to, for example designing alone. I was too, against it during my college days as I'd rather do it myself if I can't see the same quality from my teammate's work. However, working as a professional changed my perspective on these collaborative design efforts.

In my opinion, what can "water-down" the design is when you have a group that doesn't mix well. Whenever there are egoistical members or righteous ones tagging along, it just doesn't work!

Nov 19, 13 7:59 am

the notion of a sole genius is some Howard Roark shit.

No it's just reality.  The notion that everyone is equal is some millennial generation shit.  This generation grew up hearing this bull shit all their lives.  Everyone is not equal. 

Nov 20, 13 2:32 am

People who are really gifted in one area are extremely inept in others. It's all a matter of balance. The most talented architect I know charges 3% for full dedicated custom residential service, uses a refrigerator for a wardrobe and is basically impossible to work or communicate with.

Nov 20, 13 9:24 am

"Voice" is an apt analogy here, because design really is akin to a kind of artistic performance (and I say this as someone who's on record of the opinion that architecture itself is not art per se).

A strong soloist performance is clear and can have an easily definable and recognizable personality and tone. I think this is a big part of what people respond to in boutique "starchitect" work. But solo work is high variable and most of it is not that good. It's also limited in the level of scope, richness, and complexity it can achieve. Many soloists try to account for these limitations by bringing in backup players to round out and expand what they themselves cannot provide alone. This also has mixed success, since most of the people who can perform at a high enough level to do a great job backing up a world-class soloist have ambitions to be soloists themselves. This can make it difficult to keep a good backup team together.

The biggest challenge in these collaborations is getting everyone to play together reasonably well, and then once they are playing together to keep them together. This is much more difficult in a design team than in a musical performance, because with music you can get immediate feedback as to whether it sounds any good or not. Design is a much more subtle and complex undertaking.

Contrast the soloist performance with an ensemble choir or concert orchestra. In a choir performance, no one voice stands out from the others (indeed, choir training explicitly discourages individual showboating in performances). But with practice performing together in harmony and with strong leadership (typically from a director who does no actual performing personally), the result is a vocal performance with astonishing power, scope, complexity, richness, and beauty - something no soloist, even with a backup band, can hope to match.

I've seen both approaches in architectural design. As with music, soloist acts are easier to set up and maintain, so you tend to see a lot more of them. Choirs are difficult to create and require serious dedication from everyone involved to keep going. In the design equivalent, you need everyone to be committed to working together and sharing the same vision. That's hard, and fails much more often than it succeeds. But when you can pull off a "choir" in design collaboration, the results can't be matched.

Almost all firms start off as solo acts, with a sprinkling of duos, trios, and even the occasional quartet. As they succeed and grow, they all have to find a way to transition to becoming a choir or orchestra rather than just another band. It's a matter of scale. A jazz quartet can't play a full symphony with any sort of quality or comprehensiveness. So as the firm or the work grows in size and complexity, it must transition to performance mode better adapted to the work. Success at that varies considerably. A few have mastered it. Many have failed.

Nov 20, 13 12:55 pm

jla, it's been my experience that lot of people, perhaps moreso with millennials, were always told they're different and special.

if you believe everyone is not equal, where do you think you fit in?  do you think you're better than most people, thus 'not equal' would work to your benefit, or do you believe you are less capable than most people, thus 'everyone is equal' would work more towards your benefit?

Nov 20, 13 1:03 pm

Nobody is equal, and thank the universe for that. If it weren't the case, the world would be excruciatingly boring. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Some quote a bit more or less than others. It's not about qui bono or who:whom. It's just how it is.

Nov 20, 13 1:15 pm

gw, good points.  

Curt, I'm not talking about myself.  I am just making an observation about contemporary architecture in general.  It seems like that clear "voice" is missing in much of the contemporary work.  Many projects look like they are  the result of or voice of a sort of group think.   I agree that design from a utilitarian standpoint is often better when many experts are working together but as far as that personal artistic vision like we see in the work of FLW, kahn, zumthor, etc, it seems to be lost in the collaborative process.  As far as some starchitects go it seems more like a brand than a personal vision.  I mean sure it starts out that way, but over time it turns into a brand.  

Nov 20, 13 1:26 pm

i guess i just figured the idea of people being equal or not seems to have a bias.  if we're talking about making grilled cheese sandwiches, the person who isn't so good at it might want to assume everyone is equal, but the person who is quite accomplished at making grilled cheese sandwiches would want to be recognized as an individual apart.

to a specific example, like making a grilled cheese sandwiche, perhaps there can be a large gap between the masters and those who just suck at it.

as you get a broader perspective, rather than task specific, i think equality starts to emerge a bit.  if you zoom out far enough, we're all part of the same decaying lump of organic matter.

if you want to make a complicated building lots of moving parts, such as grilled cheese sandwiches, code reviews, structural design, flashing details, and everything else, it might be best to collaborate with people that are best at their various specific tasks.  let the grilled cheese guy makes his grilled cheese.  let the code guy review the code.  the individuality of the grilled cheese might get lost once the other people, who are also quite good at what they do, are involved in the process.  if they communicate and coordinate though, the building will be better because it's the best of all it's parts, rather than being a good grilled cheese sandwich over a bunch of mediocre supporting elements.

the grilled cheese sandwich makers that think they're great at making grilled cheese sandwiches often don't seem to understand they're only one small part of a more important whole.  the humble grilled cheese sandwich maker that recognizes they're contribution, but also the contributions of others, might be more inclined to see themselves as more equal, though different, than the other members of the team.

Nov 20, 13 2:03 pm

to a specific example, like making a grilled cheese sandwiche, perhaps there can be a large gap between the masters and those who just suck at it.

as you get a broader perspective, rather than task specific, i think equality starts to emerge a bit.  if you zoom out far enough, we're all part of the same decaying lump of organic matter.

Interesting point!  Yeah, I was just thinking about that suri thread, and that maybe this is what people perceive as the missing "thing" in much contemporary architecture.  Scarpa's Brion Vega Cemetary for instance could never be the result of a collaborative design.  It is too personal and too clear in its detailing and expression...A group, no matter how good they all are as individuals, could never create something like that...Its still "modern", but the clear hand of the author gives it a more human quality. After all, we are not bees.  We are social creatures, but I think we like to see individualism in our art. 

Nov 20, 13 2:15 pm

if you had the same team together a long enough time, they would develop a fairly identifiable aesthetic, as they learn to work together better, anticipating what the others contribution would be and such.  i would think that sort of 'individualism' could come from a team, if that team synced together well enough.  that's just a theory though.

i wonder if that's how some of the old sculptural architecture worked.  there would have been a project manager type position, which is i assume is what the architect did.  if you look at the notre dame catherdal for example, there are a lot of pointy bits and rosettes and such, in addition of the statues of people and gargoyles and what have you.  so there would have been someone likely trained in sculpture, since that would be the trade associated with cutting block to the right size.  he would have a team of other sculptors, who would have teams of apprentices, who they taught how to make pointy things and rosettes.  there would have been far too much work for that to all be one person right?  so they had a bunch of people that were given the broad idea of 'window there' or 'pointy thing there,' and they each embellished it according to their training. 

there would have had to have been someone saying something to the effect of 'i need 30 birdhouse looking things to sit on the flying buttresses.'  but with that much ornament, it would have taken forever to detail.  so that task was delegated to someone else.  think it's possible notre dame was designed by committee, just with a group of people who wanted the job done right instead of a group of ego-driven people that wanted to scream and fight for attention?

Nov 20, 13 2:45 pm

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