today is monday
8 Post Rational Reasons I Moved to London
The Chemical Project
Shots of Black
Paying Attention
Film (soon)

At what point should an Architect feel oblidged to place the needs of the community over that of their paying client?

I think as architects we are pulled by various reasons or influences for design: urban, environmental, economic, personal, client, etc... I think it is a give and take of these influences, and that to design purely in one in mind would be unwise. For example to build only economically would be a box with no windows, to build only environmentally would be a self shading sphere. So we are composers of these parts, and in fact often must set up a hierarchy of influence. To me, I think the urban comes first, as I think our responsibility for a building to its surroundings and larger context has the biggest impact.. however, this is with the users requirements in careful consideration. Ultimately it is our role to educate the client into realizing that a response to the urban is essential, part of their and our responsibility, and thus the needs of the community are put on the table from the outset.

As a profession, we answer to a greater good, rather than the individual. As you have stated, it is our responsibility to educate the client and to steer them to the moral right. I appreciate the concept of the heirarchy of influence and I believe this becomes the architects signature as it substantially governs their aesthetic style. Much like a marine biologist will stand for all things aquatic, and a doctor will advocate medicine, I think the profession of Architecture is divided into freedom fighters for each moral sector (Urban, social, environmental, economic, aesthetic, technological, etc.). Ironically, the exchange of monies for services is in practice really only a token for the experience and labour invested in the project. The specific area of interest will drive most successful Architects. Ultimately, we are all bound by a moral code which seeks a betterment of the entire collective, over the happiness of a few.

How does an Architect balance the uses of manual vs digital representation?

I think the most common error in this long debate is a consequence of positioning each tool into one of the two categories then pinning the two categorizes against eachother. The scope of manual and digital representation can reach from sculpture, freehand, technical, photo manipulation and beyond and each representation technique must be considered to be a separate tool. A physical model is as similar to a CAD drawing as it is to a painting. I believe the computer offers up a whole new host of tools just like the camera did and the printing press before that. Ultimately though, it becomes a matter of audience and presentation medium. Firstly, the idea of representation is conveyance and for different users, this will require different tools. For example, I can sketch a plan in the mud on the side of the road, and you will understand. Conversly, we can print presentation drawings in a magazine and still some of the reader base will not be able to visualize. Secondly, being aware of the eventual presentation of the material should inform the initial tool. For something on a book cover, the image has to be striking. A photo of a physical model will likely not be as effective in selling the book, as a 3d rendering. Likewise, laying printouts of a 3d model on the table at a client meeting will pale in comparasion to a physical model. I feel the answer lies in knowing your intensions and pairing tools together to most effectively communicate.

I believe in what you state that the digital is another representation tool like many others that can be used to the detriment and benefit of its intention. As well though a larger topic of digital as a design tool is related. We are informed and influenced by the medium we use during the design process. We also consciously choose the medium which best benefits the predicted design path. Yet, we also find particular circumstances when we are forced to use a medium based on circumstance... like the drawing in the mud, or the sketch with a fat sharpie. The resulting drawing in those cases carries a certain abstraction and lack of detail that could be represented, unless the scale of the drawing became humungous. As we know the resulting drawing is itself a design and can inform the design of what it represents. When we were in school the emergence of sketchup as a popular free tool began to influence the design of buildings in which it was used. Its intuitive ability to "push and pull" actually informed a series of designs that were literally akin to this aspect of the medium. Just like charcoal might inform the material and formal qualities of zumthor's thermal baths. Further than this, what seems more interesting, is that the computer has particular characteristics that a physical medium may not. Its ease to crunch numbers and equations lends it an ability to generate complex forms relatively quickly. In a designers hands an emerging architecture can be conceived which would take far too long using another medium. Parametrics is used for this. It brings about interesting questions of why something is being made the way it is. We push materials to do what they can do based on their characteristics... this is a parallel idea. Do we curve the brick wall because brick can be easily stacked to create a curve, or do we use brick because we desire a curved wall? Do we laser cut a 30' image into corten steel because we want the image, or is it because the 3D cutting machines make that easy so we do. Do we design a house with simple straight walls because it is easy to draw in your apartment with a piece of paper, rular and pencil, because its easy to build, or because we like the spaces that it creates. Ultimately it is all three. So it is the desire of a space, and the tools which can easily manifest that space. But the designer must choose how to start..... with the tool: the latest 3d modeling software, moldable plastic, charcoal.... or the idea: dynamic angular spaces, flowing curvaceous spaces, or rough vertical walled spaces.

What is the next Architectural frontier of reasonable significance?

I think the next architectural frontier is actually a return to the idea of specificity. Technology, and communication have created a whirlwind of communal knowledge and influence in architecture and design. The globalization of ideas. We have leaped forward in the last 100 years with incredible results. Yet, we have taken a huge step backwards at the same time, losing any sense of place. I would like to think that as the mini-frontiers of sustainability, and intelligent "smart" buildings indicates, that we will begin to become more specific again and buildings will be in tune with their place.

I cannot help but agree. While I would not have identified specificity as the next frontier, I do foresee this an an inevitable outcome. This is not only due to the increasing complexity of Architecture, but also the present requirement to streamline and economize within our profession. This may be welcomed as a return to times where we have held greater control over a project. Architects have somewhat lost their hold on the building industry since the specification of engineers and the subdivision of specialities and expertise. While it may seem that further division of our skill set will lessen our control, it will infact give us a smaller area to govern, with increased understanding and increased comprehension. A very close reference would be the specialization of different diciplines within Engineering. Interestingly, this means that many Engineers with different focuses may work together a project.

The critical development will be where specificty is drawn, be it building type, project stage, building componant or style.

How healthy is architectural education?

How healthy is red wine? A wino and an aristocrat both indulge, but primarily, it's a difference of quality, environment, company and quantity. Frequent over indulgence in any capacity or situation is damaging to both the body and the mind. The labeled addiction of which is referred to as alcholism. A glass of red wine every evening with dinner is not only acceptable, but a sign of civility. A bottle or two every fortnight (among others with the same intentions) is also considered acceptable. A holiday every six months on which one may drink more than intended, more often than intended, is ranked as bourgeoisie.

Assuming quality, environment, company and quantity are acceptable, formal Architectural education provides a foundation for learning and an appetite to do so. It is important only in that it teaches one to think and that the actual content of the courses, is rarely of importance. An exceptional mind or one inspired by an exceptional mentor could bypass the entire process were it not for the certification received at the completion. Therefore, Architectural Education, an Architect does not make. Independent education is the foundation for anything above mediocrity and essential for Architectural greatness. I am learning now that this must be taken to be part of a fuller life and that experiences outside the profession are equally as important as your standard learnings (or more important, if intelligently applied).

Actual techniques learned in boot camp will not physically prepare you to shoot a man. A soldier does not have be trained in the physical action, but must infact be conditioned to react appropriately.

I think the architectural education is composed of three main factors; 1. an opportunity to think and focus in a new way, on a new subject, 2. to be guided and instructed on what has been done and how that has been achieved, and 3. to learn and practice the process of using tools. Every school of architecture tends to satisfy these points at some level, usually stressing on them to different degrees. This is actually beneficial in my mind, as it leads to a more diverse group of architects in the end. Some schools are more design oriented, others with a better understanding of history, technical prowess, or use of tools, such as software, drawing, or making. In Canada a regulatory body, the CACB, attempts to make sure each school is hitting on several points. Recently, I have experienced the views of a couple of people who are technologists, now going to architecture school. They comment that they aren't learning anything, as many of their teachers seem not to know how a building's materials go together. This of course, is a naive view in my mind, as there is a time and place to that understanding of building science, but the much more important lesson is developing an architectural theory based on design....a well detailed building is only good if it supports great spaces inside and out, and the approach to the urban strategy. Ultimately, great architecture does it all. So the teacher that has a deep understanding of theory is extremely valuable, even if they can't detail a roof. This is the difficulty with the education of an architect. As one great teacher said, "there is so much to learn, and so little to teach." The architect is a generalist in the making of a building. They know a bit about everything... every trade, and every discipline. They also know the most about how this all comes together. They are a specialist in the culmination of specialists, in terms of design. The general contractor is our counterpart, the specialist in the culmination of specialists in terms of building. And it takes 30 years before an architect is really a master, based on the vast amount that there is to learn. Knowing this, the education can only set the basis, a foundation to springboard this continued education. From a teaching perspective this would mean that to be taught by a master architect, every teacher would have to be 50 years old and have practiced their whole life. That is one kind of teacher. THe other kind, is to say, well lets split the generalist idea into specialties, and then have someone teach a particular aspect based on their focused learning of that part. Hence, the teacher who has a phD in architectural History, but has never worked on a real project in their lives. Now that person is a master in a particular aspect of teaching, and could be 30 years old. Or there could be a building envelope specialist in the same way. This makes a lot of sense, but there is a slight danger in it as well. For instance, you get a history teacher teaching design, and they know what has been done before in the world, but they aren't well rehearsed in the process of design, and the steps or ways of working through a project. Just as someone who practices design every day may not be the best candidate to teach history. Yet, the history teachers knowledge or criticism could be extremely valuable to the student's design. It is this point that I think needs attention in the way architectural education is to progress. The main design teachers should be those that practice design every day. They are really the masters of understanding the process. They should be chosen for their own excellence in design with their own work. They are the generalists and should be overseeing the project. The history teachers, representation teachers and building science teachers should be treated as sub-consultants involved in the project. They should also meet with the students, on a more punctuated timeframe to flesh out and add their expertise and criticism to the project. At some points all disciplines involved in the project should be together, not only so that vital discussions occur and everyone is on board, but also so that each teacher continues their own education into the respective fields that the other masters can teach them. So that the building science teacher is learning from the history teacher, is learning from the design teacher, and ultimately the student is learning from them all. An integrated teaching experience. Some schools are starting to take this approach, but ultimately it takes much more coordination of time and integration of the courses. It is the director who needs to sit back and project manage that. It is this philosophy that needs to be adopted from the top. The education needs to be designed like a project.

What place does artificial colour have in Architecture?

I would argue that artificial colours do not exist. In some part of nature you will find every colour, and if not through flora, fauna, or mineral, than it can be located, extracted and analyzed in light. When a colour is not caused by the composition of the material itself, and thus the designer is choosing an applied colour in fabricating a material, or coating, I think it is appropriate for it to be any colour in the world. However, I do have some colour theory myself which is not set in stone, but rather a guide for my thinking. Firstly, if a material has a beautiful (yes, subjective) colour such as padouk wood I see a purity in retaining it, rather that staining it another colour. However, while I state that, I also practice and believe in manipulating the colour of something as long as it does not fake another material. I am currently using a black maganese ironspot brick which is obviously a long shot from the natural clay colour from which it is made. Yet it is still a brick and reads as a brick. But if the black brick was then finished and formed to look like a slate wall, I would find that inappropriate. Another example is I believe in painting exterior materials to add protection to them or just for the sake of changing the colour, such as painting aluminum white or hot pink. However, I would have a problem painting the aluminum cladding a pale green to mimic oxidized copper. Any colour is good by me, as long as it is honest in its use.

One cannot deny that in a world where the limits are our imaginations, not our capabilities, colour is no longer as simple as black and white; or red yellow and blue. If anything, we are very conservative with our selections, because colour theory is a very difficult business. The most important thing to remember, is that there is no ugly colour, only ugly colour combinations. A creamy brown can be just as reminiscent of the excrement of a toy dog as it could evoke the emotions of an early morning italian cappuccino.

We have discussed this previously and with pure elements or materials, there should be a truth of representation. A brick is a brick, whether it wants to be an arch or not, it should not look like concrete, or timber. Our opportunities are larger than this now. Where new materials are being invented consistantly, I believe it is a time of expression. We live in a time where advertising is more exciting than the architecture. Brightly coloured billboards and television screens fishing for your business are stealing our attention from the purest of arts. The only art form derived from necessity.

As Architects strive to carve our place in the future, it is important to remember that we are artists and this we will hold in the face of developers, planners and engineers. Colour is but one tool and he who is afraid of their tools will create nothing.

Why do architect's make such little money compared to other professions?

Fear. Fear and disunion. We are no longer united as we once were. We are divided and competitive. Competition can fuel creativity. Competition can fuel fear.

Architects need to start valuing their time more. A lawyer will bill you for a phone call, an architect will not. The fees that we charge for our service need to increase, yet architects are often guilty of undercutting one another, driving the lowest price lower and lower. Some would argue that people are not willing to pay more to architects, and that there are not enough people requiring architects to increase fees. I would argue the opposite. If fees were higher, then the work would be valued more, and people would expect to pay more. We may think a lawyer or doctor is expensive, but we still get the service because we value it. The worst thing you can do as an architect is charge next to nothing. Suddenly, the client will say "oh ya thats a really nice job you did there, but can you try again?" As for being an employee for an architectural firm, I believe transparency is necessary to increase salary. I find that we do not know how much each other are making, and don't know what to ask. Employers don't even know how much other employers are paying. The association should be pushing to publish average salaries based on position.

Partnership or Sole Proprietor?

Partnership. Its important to have someone to share the highs and low of practice. As well it gives the freedom for the practice to maintain a high level of work while a partner may be out of the game temporarily. I also think that having two key players creates more well rounded work, where the strengths of many can fill in the weaknesses of one. Of course, it is finding the appropriate partner that is key.

Currently pondering...