Architect Say What?

The design process of an architect relies heavily upon continuous editing. Architectural projects start out with numerous ideas that require distilling to reveal their essence- just like mad libs but different. If one is a proficient editor, the built architecture is easily understood, appropriate, and has little to no slapped on lipstick. I recently imposed my own editing exercise on the obvious choice, writing. I created new prose by randomly picking one sentence from each page of my circa ’94 graduate school thesis. The resultant verbiage is readily performed as a spoken word at any local hipster joint… it would conclude with me yelling “BOOM,” dropping the microphone to the floor, mouthing “one love” while pointing towards Fallingwater and walking off stage. Dim the lights as I pull up the stool and don a large comfy sweater…

Contemporary does not imply a negation of the past; it simply means to live in our time, which inherently includes previous times and is a continuum. Interdisciplinary, insofar as recent architectural culture has successfully drawn from and been engaged in a fertile dialogue with other disciplines, from philosophy and art to literary theory. Life is not fully comprehended until one succumbs to it. One cannot, and should not, hide from the inevitable future by seeking refuge in the past. To pre-conceive is to limit.

User Participation: [In]Humane
Man, and for that matter the city, is rarely what he seems and never what you expect. Contemporary architecture can be based on traditional methods of building and on human sensibilities, rather than on importations of historicism or overtly conceptual language. Prejudice fed on ignorance would be best starved to death. People cannot be overlooked merely because they do not have the means or resources. Over the years, architecture has been rooted to stylistic classification and analysis, whereas the underlying philosophical belief of architecture is typically overlooked- humanism focusing on man in relationship to his environment. The entire notion of evaluating is indeed a skewed one; for in the end who is the evaluator and why?

Program: Means to an End
Absence of program results in art, while architecture can be art, the reciprocal is not plausible. Typological models may be used as precedents in the cases where programmatic relationships have been established. Shrouding realities typically do not alleviate the circumstance, on the contrary, it usually further highlights them. In the treatment rooms patients give up worldly coping skills and turn with meditative awareness to their own internal physical process. As one descends there is a growing sense of self-reflection and detachment form the everyday plane of reality. Does the form of the building reveal the functions it houses, or does it disguise the functions behind a ‘false’ facade? While an architecture that is ‘foreign’ to the community results in an easily adaptable building type. The intent is for an architecture that can occupy the mind and move the spirit as well as to serve as a foil to the patient’s current situation by removing them from self-occupation. Provisions should be made for controlled public use. These rooms allow for, but do not force, interaction between residents of the facility that live in different clusters. Mindful consideration of this relationship is recognized in the separation and design of these particular pieces of the program. These architectural pieces can serve as a foil to self-occupation while simultaneously challenging the mind. Total 3,000 s.f. Guest Rooms (2). +/-20% Circulation/Mechanical. Janitorial Services.

The City: Raw Decadence
Rather than attempt to heal the city, designers should suture it, allowing the city’s ‘scars’ of success and failure to show. Rather than produce a bad project in an attempt to ‘save a city’; why not produce one good project that contributes to the collage that is the city? Society can surely exist in a stasis environment, but a thriving society has no chance. The city should not be viewed as is preserving virginity; that was lost long ago. The design process begins with analyzing the program and establishing the program’s inherent rigor. However, the notion of antiquated values and the belief that everything that is disquieting can be beautified, must be forgotten.

The Site: [In]Dependent
Each site has an inherent spirit of place, or genius loci, associated with it. Even if the building’s design attempts to be sympathetic of the site, it nonetheless violates it. The overall rationale is to be flexible enough to suit the inconsistent conditions of many urban sites. The topography of the site and its immediate surroundings is basically flat. The building is in a state of dilapidation, but it was once an important landmark in the community. The Lincoln Theater is the only one among three theaters along U Street between 12th and 15th Street that still stands today. Although the area is not deserted, there is an overwhelming feeling of abandonment all around. Public parks and green spaces are virtually non-existent. Brick is the primary building material in the community. Descending from the hill to the site, the true nature of the city is made evident, stark urban blight. The Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is set at 6.0. Since then U Street communities have languished in a state of disarray and neglect. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, it may never come- act today!

Buildings: [Dis]Similar
It is not often that something is attempted that has never been done before, to pioneer. Much is to be learned from the facility, most importantly from its mistakes.

Design Considerations: Exposed Containment
Severely affecting the design of the building is the dichotomy of exposure and necessity for containment. Each creates psychological effects which in turn can influence the perception and behavior of the participant in the space. Our lives are not whole or unchanging, why should our buildings be? That is the hard part… and there is no alternative.

Design Approach: Recollective Invention
Although they differ in organization, massing, and site strategy, certain relationships must be maintained due to explicit user and program requirements. The proposal affords a safe secure haven within the turmoil of the city. The U Street elevation is layered such that it can be ‘read’ as either shrouding or revealing itself; the V Street elevation is transparent and looks upon a garden. Service is from V Street. The building itself becomes a ‘virus.’

Design Conclusions: The End of the Beginning
One stray piece of chipboard, an erroneous line, an issue not explored, etc. all were subject to psychological warfare between student and critic; sadly no one ever informed the student to come to the battle armed. The professors seem to have forgotten one major aspect; they work for the students, not the reciprocal. I cannot condemn the entire faculty, for there are some who are able to leave their egos and personal insecurities at home. The second committee meeting resulted in the so called ‘getting railed;’ it was the kiss of death when the committee members opening statement was “We appreciate all of the work on the wall.” One of the most beneficial courses on actual construction, ARCH 375, was replaced with a class that stresses lighting and HVAC systems, what is the point of being able to detail these systems if you cannot actually produce a building that can stand up? Before the critics we stand, as if in a police line-up; we collect ourselves like accomplices to a crime, a crime yet to be committed.


Huh? Wait, on second thought, I’m not sure that worked. The result has been distilled to obscurity- basically how architects tend to write. Maybe architecture should retain a little ‘filler’ and ‘stuff’ to support the overall idea. Go ahead; put some stuff back in your design, it’ll be okay.


Design On,

** Feel free to contact me if you’d like me to deliver this speech at your graduation ceremony.

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