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    The Importance of Precedents and Being Earnest

    Nicole Doan
    Apr 11, '15 3:05 AM EST

    I am extremely tired of people telling me that a particular architect, movement, building, or method is irrelevant to today's design world and to my own work. Throughout architecture school we have been trained to conduct research on case studies in order to extract various types of information that have the potential to affect our own designs. At the same time, I have been told on multiple occasions to dismiss people and things such as John Hejduk or even parametricism, both of whom/which are supposedly obsolete. On the other hand, some of my fellow colleagues dismiss precedents altogether. To some extent, I admire those who can design without looking at examples, but when one refuses to look at existing projects and ideas in an effort to learn, then this is plain ignorance. 

    Today Andrew Kovacs (Archive of Affinities, UCLA) visited Cal Poly Pomona to discuss his interest in architectural oddities, anomalies, accidents, misfits, mishaps, monsters, mistakes, outtakes, failures, follies, jokes, one-liners, et cetera. He started off with a slide bearing a quote from Robert Venturi: "You don't have to like something to learn from it." 

    Kovacs collects things that capture his interest, often by scanning images from different publications. In addition to archiving the images, he acts upon them in a way that results in something new, but does not hide its true form. 

    There is something admirable about the honesty, crudeness, and madness that I find rare nowadays. We are often too quick to turn our heads away once our gaze brush upon things that are irrelevant to ourselves and our immediate interests. But as Venturi said, one can learn from things that we do not necessarily like. I may not enjoy Las Vegas, or the aesthetic of strip malls, or texture mapping, for example. However, these are the things that are currently informing my work, and I have accepted them and embraced them. I don't understand why we can't all see and learn from the things that continue to influence our physical world today, regardless of how ugly or beautiful they seem.



     
    • 18 Comments

    • Erik Evens (EKE)

      Precedent = the collective intelligence of the human species.

      Apr 13, 15 6:48 am

      Precedent = the collective intelligence and stupidity of the human species.

      Apr 13, 15 8:07 am

      Similar to Venturi, FLW famously said that when you see something that visually pleases you, always ask WHY. Analyze in every instant, basically.  All of that analysis adds to experience and knowledge about the built world.

      And who the heck would tell someone to ignore Hejduk?!?

      Apr 13, 15 8:20 am
      BulgarBlogger

      See- the problem with precedents is that people (architects and designers) often borrow from those precedents instead of being original and creating precedents... Precedents are indeed good to learn from, but should not be an excuse to be lazy about solving problems in original ways...

      Apr 13, 15 1:46 pm
      b3tadine[sutures]

      Ignore Hejduk, Abraham and Woods. Epigones. 

      Apr 14, 15 11:08 am
      Thayer-D

      "To some extent, I admire those who can design without looking at examples, "

      Nobody can design without looking at examples.  That's like saying one can compose music without hearing songs.  This is a wretched old modernist trope that one needs to be 100% original to be relevant.  As for who to study, whom ever you like and feel is appropriate to the problem.  And don't feel you need to hew to only modernist precedent, unless you've already drunk the coolaid.  It will get you through school, but remember, those professors will not be your clients when you actually have to get paid. 

      Apr 15, 15 7:54 am
      jla-x

      everything comes from somewhere...

      Apr 15, 15 10:57 am
      jw468

      I think it was David Pye, in NATURE OF DESIGN, who said that nothing can be 100% original. If it were possible for something to be 100% original, it would be unintelligible.

      Apr 15, 15 1:45 pm
      BulgarBlogger

      It's not about being 100% original... it's about setting the trends vs following the trends. Be a leader- not some sheep in a herd.

      Apr 17, 15 8:44 am

      "You don't have to like something to learn from it." 

      I appreciate that quote and it has been my guide since architecture school. I am glad Andrew Kovacs is lecturing about it. There is a lot to learn and expand from a message like that.

      Apr 17, 15 11:58 am

      BulgarBlogger, there is nothing wrong with borrowing information such as techniques from precedents. However, if you meant copying other people's work, then yes, I completely agree with you. It is vital to be able solve issues on one's own using one's own thoughts and process. 

      Apr 18, 15 6:56 pm
      Erik Evens (EKE)

      "Precedent = the collective intelligence and stupidity of the human species."

      The trick is not to copy the stupid stuff.

      Apr 18, 15 10:39 pm
      Erik Evens (EKE)

      "You can never copy anything in life.  Each time you go to the river, you never collect the same water"

      Demitri Porphyrios

      Apr 18, 15 10:42 pm
      BulgarBlogger

      ^Nichole- 

      Pinterest is an excellent example of what I am talking about.... current architectural design practice, unless you are working for some boutique architectural firm that shares my view of what the real and proper architectural process must be, or you are working for some starchitect that has a clear philosophy, thrives on a culture of the "copy". 

      I can't tell you how many architects/designers use pinterest and call it a source of "inspiration." Ultimately what happens is that their work looks remarkably similar to what they pinned; if not, it is a collage of many different things they pinned. 

      There used to be a catalogue of different design techniques called Architectural Time Savers... here's a link to the latest edition on Amazon:

      http://www.amazon.com/Time-Saver-Standards-Architectural-Design/dp/0071432051

      I think there is a very fine line between using a technique and "Copying" someone's design. If I were to copy different paragraphs from authors and coherently arrange them into an academic paper as my own work, would that be plagiarism? I contend it would... Why should the architectural design process be subject to a different set of rules?

      Lastly- I was walking on Broadway today (great weather in NY btw...) and came about this quote from Herman Melville that I completely agree with: "It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."

      Apr 18, 15 10:42 pm
      Erik Evens (EKE)

      I just got back from Paris.  Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  And probably 80% of the city fabric there are extremely similar 5-6 story mixed use buildings, all variations on the same prototype, built between 1790-1920.  All using similar president.  Wide variation within an extremely narrow range. 

      Would Paris be a better place if every architect avoided using elements which had been used by others before?  

      The difference between literary plagiarism and architecture is exactly that.  Buildings are part of a larger whole, the city, the shared environment, which is more important that the individual building.  I live in a city, Los Angeles, where huge swaths of the city have been built out using the ideal of extreme individualism uber alles.  For the most part, it's resulted in awful ugliness.  There are exceptional individualistic buildings, but they are just that, exceptional.  They don't make a city.

      Apr 18, 15 10:57 pm
      BulgarBlogger

      ok- that's not what I am talking about. I am not talking about trying to fit a building within a context... buildings should absolutely fit into their context (my personal opinion; we've seen the tabula rasa concept before).

      What I am saying is that once architects/designers have identified the context, the details, the finishes, the mood, etcetera shouldn't be defined by something they see in a magazine or website... it should be defined by a process that is RESPONSIVE in an original way. 

      Sure- whatever the response is may not be original, but as I stated before- the way you went about getting to the same conclusion should be. And I also don't mean architecturally "paraphrasing" something... The sad truth is that we live in a time where architecture is a comodity and clients see something somewhere else and tell the architect- "this is what I want." And unless the architect has the proper know-how, he/she bows down to his client and produces the same shit. In an effort to anticipate this, architects/designers have started their design process by borrowing ideas from precedents and telling their clients their ideas are feasible because they have been done (to some capacity) before. This doesn't cater to any sense progress in this profession. Those who take this approach have completely given up on any hope to be original in any capacity.

      Apr 18, 15 11:15 pm
      Olaf Design Ninja_

      I am precedent.

      Apr 19, 15 10:02 pm
      Thayer-D

      ...and off the rails it goes...

      Apr 20, 15 10:13 am

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Initially, I was going to name this blog "Architecture Will Kill You", but I thought better of it. Welcome to my five-year journey in undergraduate architecture school.

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