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Monday, June 6, 2011


I wrote this for the AIAKnowledgeNet, but thought it might have broader interest to the individuals from 40 countries who are now reading this blog. 


Design matters, but can the value be monetized to serve an entire profession? Practitioners matter. Knowledge, education and talent matter, but architecture is a collection of city states competing for survival. Fewer survivors mean better odds; but a lone wolf will not thrive without the pack. Many things matter in life, but not all monetize their value. I hate speaking in these terms; but it is the language of the free market. It has not adequately defined responsibility, depends on a low bid to define value and promotes excessive competition on playing fields ruled by political referees. 

In Pogo’s words, for those old enough to remember, the problem is us. State seal laws have done little to monetize value because they do not address competition. Expanding these laws to include single and two-family housing units may expand the potential market but do little to monetize value, given our current business model and competitive instincts. 
Medicine promoted insurance to monetize value. The law controls justice and other professions search for similar advantage. It appears to me, therefore, that architecture matters, not to mention design; but that the real question is how to monetize its value without violating the law. (As an aside, I don’t believe that the slogan, “design matters”, works to achieve this goal. If anything, it promotes unlicensed designers. I prefer “architecture matters”, since design is often equated in the public mind with felt tips and crayons, but this is another issue.) 
Medicine controls public health. Law controls public safety. That leaves welfare, which is our physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life. If the objective is to win a public commitment to architecture, then what does architecture have to offer our quality of life? It can only recommend. It cannot oppose owner decisions that affect the public interest without the risk of losing a valuable client. This is why building and zoning codes were imposed. They are still met with disdain by some because of their imperfections, but I don’t think that architects are perceived as contributing to their improvement.  
The bottom line is that architecture and city planning are not in control of a process that is consuming the face of the planet with sprawl in a search for quality. The antidote to sprawl is intensity, but it has been a mysterious word without adequate definition that is associated with stress. Intensity options within geographic limits however, are the only way to contain sprawl and shelter growing populations while protecting an irreplaceable natural partner. Architects will provide an invaluable service when they can translate design decisions into intensity options that make better use of the development capacity of land while reducing stress. The goal is to improve the physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life within sustainable geographic limits. An architect who can lead this effort with the knowledge required will have no problem monetizing his or her value when the right business model for the profession supports the effort.  

At the present time architects borrow engineering knowledge. Design knowledge is considered a fine art. Intensity translation, however, can provide the vocabulary and language needed to give design the voice required within public forums, since it must convincingly argue that it can lead shelter and urban form along the path to a sustainable future with dignity. At this point, the relationship between public benefit and special interest will be clear, but architects must argue for the authority required to lead the effort. Until then, design recommendations will remain a captive of special interest, city design will appear unrealistic, public value will not be monetized and public benefit will be derived from the minimum standards of third party legislation. 
The relationship of pavement to intensity within the Shelter Division of the built environment 
The intensity of shelter is based on the relationship of building mass and pavement to project open space. (Architecture is shelter and the foundation for this division of the built environment.) I have never considered parking lots, for instance, to be open space even though they allow light, air and ventilation to reach street level. Building cover and pavement cover are forms of impervious cover that are offset by open space. These relationships define balance and the weave of urban fabric. Building mass adds volume to yield urban form. We live within the intensity created. 
There are four divisions of the built environment: shelter, movement, open space and life support. (The Open Space Division includes public open space and agriculture. Project open space is part of the Shelter Division. The built environment exists within a Built Domain that has yet to be defined, but is being carefully assessed by a Natural Domain that does not compromise with ignorance.) Pavement is contained within each division of the built environment, but I am only referring to intensity within the Shelter Division, and pavement cannot be ignored as a fundamental element of the intensity we experience, in my opinion. 
Measuring excellence 

The combination of shelter, pavement and open space can be used as an architectural index to catalog research results and build knowledge with a precise measurement system. (I won’t get into design specification values, but if you read one of the two blog essays noted below you’ll see what I mean. 
A universal table of intensity is presented in my blog articles, “The Nature of Intensity” and “The Leadership Potential of Intensity Measurement”. All architectural projects will fall somewhere in this table. Context research is required to identify measurement implications and build knowledge. This table is based on intensity being equal to total development area (gross building area + all pavement area) divided by the project open space provided, or: 

INT = TDA / S 

The universal table shows the complete range of potential intensity choices, but not all choices are desirable. Context research is required to build knowledge that will add definition to these measurements. This knowledge can be used to forecast intensity options that can shelter growing populations within geographic limits. This level of architectural knowledge can contribute to a fundamental public issue facing future generations. It is not meant to replace traditional architectural design, but to add substance and public relevance to its arguments.

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