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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Creative Responsibility

This is a response to the note below.

Thanks for your messages. I admire the work you are trying to do, but you have to admit that you have an uphill battle in trying to convince a large number of architects to see things your way. The title of your blog seems to characterize well most of its content. As I understand it, you are mostly concerned about larger level issues that correspond roughly to the aspects of city design that are controlled by zoning regulations (an oversimplification of your ideas, I know). I don't see how the entry you direct me too adresses this issue of individual choice and the importance of emotional response until the last sentence which introduces this idea of dignity. Am I missing something? (emphasis added)

In any case, the word "dignity" is slightly suspicious to me. Like the word "authentic" it can be used to justify the judgement and control of the lives of others. (emphasis added)
Michael R. Ytterberg PhD., AIA, LEED AP
University of Pennsylvania
RE: Design Research

I’m afraid you’re right, Professor Ytterberg. I did stress research in my essay, “Architectural Research and Survival with Dignity” and gave scant attention to your other topic underlined above. I’ll try to correct that here. I also readily admit that my perspective represents an uphill battle with architects.  I don’t expect to win it in my lifetime; but I do believe that the study of intensity is a path to a brighter architectural future through improved public contribution, benefit and value.  

When opinion leads to choice based on emotion the result is random success. This is acceptable in fine art; but reckless in architecture and city design because the physical, social, psychological and economic implications of these decisions remain unknown. Emotion has its place, but not in the foundation of a decision-making process that defines intensity for generations. These decisions affect our quality of life within a Built Domain that must be limited to protect its source of life; and they cannot be left to opinion without knowledge. I’m simply offering an option to participate for a relatively untapped architectural resource, because it represents potential knowledge if it decides to expand its focus from personal talent to public participation based on the study of shelter intensity implications. 

          Freedom of choice is governed by the rule of law and the debate over balance between freedom and regulation will be eternal. In a sense, creativity determines the amount of law required and architecture is not immune. The argument over architectural choice became heated in the 19th  and 20th centuries when competition in the name of freedom produced tenements in the name of democracy. It’s happening again before our eyes in a different profession as financial competition in the name of freedom encourages choice that puts the future of nations, and the planet, at risk. 

          A principal proponent of individual freedom and choice has been the American farmer. Lower density permits greater freedom that he believed could apply to all, but the introduction of industrial pig and chicken farms is forcing him to reconsider as thousands of gallons of effluent force him to seek protection. The Industrial Age has surrounded the farm and freedom to choose is now bringing an emotional response from all sectors.  

          Jefferson understood that the enemy is human nature, and his solution was the farm. Invention and population have changed the equation, but not the structure of government; and compromise has become stalemate in the face of complexity that has only grown with success. 

          I can hear you asking what does this have to do with architecture. My answer is that regulation is needed to guide individual choice based on an improved understanding of intensity options. Architecture cannot be permitted to sprawl with abandon. Carefully chosen intensity patterns are needed to offer lifestyle options within a limited Built Domain.  

Dignity will be defined by the intensity options chosen within a city design for urban form that protects The Natural Domain. If we leave the definition to Mother Nature, dignity will be the least of her concerns.  

Architecture has a chance to introduce dignity if it begins to study the intensity it creates. The devil is always in the definition, however, and judgment will always be challenged in a democracy founded on mistrust and a separation of power. In the end, policy matters. Everything else is a detail where the devil lives. We have not made the decision to comprehensively study intensity in any profession. It is, however, a fundamental issue facing growing populations in need of shelter on an unstable planet with limited resources.  

Undertaking the study of built domain limits is a policy decision. Undertaking the study of intensity options is a policy decision. The city design of land use and intensity is strategic planning. The design of buildings is a tactical effort to achieve the objectives identified.  

I don’t expect policy and strategy to be resolved in my lifetime, but I do believe that shelter intensity options within built domain limits are part of the equation for a sustainable future. There is no question in my mind that those who participate will contribute to public benefit and professional value.  

You mentioned that, “…the word “dignity” is slightly suspicious to me…it can be used to justify the judgment and control of the lives of others.”  I agree that any word or phrase can be used to control of the lives of others because of our creative ability to manipulate. The word “freedom” itself can be used to oppress or liberate. “All men are created equal” disguised intent to control the lives of others. The “free market” disguises a competitive intent to dominate. Any word or phrase can be used to conceal intent. “Dignity” is just another word. Motive is your concern. From this perspective, “creativity” is the word to fear.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Architect's Bank

            Architects have been suffering from market share, compensation and economic cycles for a long time, and one of the contributing factors has been bank financing policy. The architect’s fee is small in comparison to project value, but stands out because banks don’t consider it a construction cost that can be collateralized by real property. Whenever something stands out it becomes a target. The simplest answer is to reduce its exposure. In this case if you can’t fight the banks, become a bank. The problem is that many projects are never built. In these cases, the design fee becomes a loan that is collateralized by the borrower’s assets and credit rating. Collection is a banking problem that is older than the idea.

The architectural profession represents a sizable depository base if it can be organized. The banking goal would be to offer below-market interest rates to construction borrowers of the highest credit quality when represented by an architect whose fee is included in the loan.

            If a new bank is not feasible, an alliance with an existing bank is an option when the deposits of an entire profession are offered in return for an agreement to include design fees in construction loans sponsored by an architect. This is the kind of business proposition banks understand.

            I’ve mentioned architect and not AIA member for a reason. Everyone has climbed a mountain to reach a license. The entire database represents the list of potential depositors. Any segregation simply perpetuates distinctions that are a professional liability. The AIAKnowledgeNet is a significant attempt to improve this model, but old habits die hard; and AIA members can elect exclusive conversations among themselves. This is not healthy and continues to divide a small profession that must combine to multiply its strength.

            There are too many divisions of interest within architecture. A bank represents a centralizing influence for a relatively small group of professionals that need a common bond. The bond right now is inadequate market share and compensation in return for the investment made and the economic cycles endured. The bank is a concept to enter the mainstream of construction activity while stabilizing cash flow and introducing return to investors. AIA membership in return for deposits is another idea. It is a concept that may not survive that devil in the detail, but a concept caught by the AIAKnowledgeNet is an idea that won’t swim away - but may be eaten.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Symbiotic City

***Please see my latest book, The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership, on in both e-book and paperback versions.***        


The elements of a city fall into four divisions: Shelter, Movement, Open Space and Life Support. Shelter is served by the other three, and the construction of shelter currently follows a speculative strategy of sprawl. This is because the perception of land as an infinite commodity continues to discourage the formation of city design strategy for a symbiotic future.  

          Symbiotic buildings are tactical achievements. They will continue to sprawl until a city design plan for open space and intensity defines shelter options for growing populations within a limited Built Domain. The goal is to protect its source of life – the Natural Domain. If architecture continues to focus on buildings without a symbiotic city design strategy, it will quickly fail as speculative sprawl consumes its source of survival. In my opinion, this is simply common sense based on instinct and intuition; and this is the gift of adaptation we have all been given. It is there to use before it is imposed, but it means we must respect all of the gifts we have been given.

          The relationship between buildings, pavement and open space within the Built Domain sets the stage for our quality of life. I’ve called these relationships “intensity”. At the project level I’ve explained the forecast models and design specification variables that can be used to predict intensity options for evaluation in previous essays; more extensively in my blog; and comprehensively within my book and software. I’ve also explained context evaluation that compares predictions to accumulated context research. The process is similar to blood pressure evaluation, since blood pressure measurements and predictions depend on research to place them in context.  

Architects who focus on shelter construction to serve special interests will remain at the tactical level of effort serving speculation and investment. Architects who look beyond to study the relationship of architecture to city design intensity within a limited Built Domain will have stepped to the strategic level of architectural effort. I’ve called this the architecture of city design (or the city design of urban form) based on context measurement, evaluation and prediction. The name is irrelevant as long as the emphasis is on intensity options and their physical, social, psychological and economic implications. The result will be architecture that shelters the activities of growing populations within the symbiotic limits of a sustainable Built Domain. The fine art of exceptional buildings can then be debated within a more stable built environment to bookmark our progress.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Combined Response to Several Organic Comments


In principle I couldn't agree with you more, but to escape long standing habits of linear thinking in our culture we would need lots of true examples of organic thinking, and develop an awareness, motivation and technique. The surprise answer I come to is that architects are already quite good at it, but have not quite understood how their approach to design could be widely apply. (emphasis added)


1) Where are lots of true examples of organic thinking?

True examples of organic thinking abound. They attempt to reconcile multiple issues by coordinating multiple technical specialties to achieve a common goal. Organic thinking includes architecture, but architectural decisions are applied at the tactical level of development to achieve a special interest objective. Tactics win battles, not wars. Architectural tactics are not part of a strategic plan to reach an acknowledged public goal. They produce shelter, however, which is an essential component of any solution that attempts to establish a sustainable relationship between the Built and Natural Domains. The goal is a symbiotic future. Architecture can make a significant contribution when it decides to focus on the organic goals required to contribute. Talent won’t get us there until it becomes the knowledge required to repeat success.

I’ve just mentioned that architectural design is an essential element of any strategic plan for symbiotic survival, but it needs a benchmark language equal to the measurement, evaluation, debate, decision and direction required. This is why I’ve written Land Development Calculations, and attached forecasting software entitled, “Development Capacity Evaluation”. They do not replace architectural creativity. They give it a foundation for debate, accumulation of knowledge, strategic planning, goal definition and repetition of success that does not compromise our quality of life on the road to a symbiotic future. This language of Intensity can contribute to a sustainable future when it’s measurements are evaluated in the same way that blood pressure was converted from an idea to knowledge with research. The concept of blood pressure, however, did not compromise the creativity of Jonas Salk et al. It was simply part of the foundation that improved the profession’s credibility.

2) How can awareness, motivation and technique be developed?

This is a task for a group with a common goal. Motivation is stimulated by commitment and the group expands with opportunity. Technique develops around the language and strategic tools created to achieve a goal. This sounds ambiguous, so let me try to be more specific.

a) Awareness

Symbiotic awareness has already entered our subconscious through instinct and intuition. I’ve already mentioned that architects think in organic terms, but they have been primarily occupied with tactical achievement. Strategic success will begin with a language that is equal to the goal. The goal is strategic decisions that shelter the activities of growing populations within a symbiotic Built Domain. This is an expansion of tactical architecture and a step toward its strategic potential. My objective is to make you aware of the language and tools available. The public will only become aware of benefit if the profession decides to use them in pursuit of an expanded goal. 

b) Motivation

Motivation will remain in the hearts of idealists until language enables them to convince others of the message and effort required. This will require individual and organizational adaptation, but architects have the talent to translate organic thinking into symbiotic knowledge with the right language. There are no examples of symbiotic success, which is why adaptation, commitment and determination are required.

c) Technique

Technique evolves with language, tools, knowledge and research focused on a goal. Architects are conversant, but not fluent, in many technical languages; but deadlines often serve as a common benchmark vocabulary. Symbiotic policies will require strategic plans expressed in an advanced language. This is why I have suggested the language of Intensity and the tools of “Development Capacity Evaluation”.

3) How can the architectural approach to design be widely applied?

I just mentioned that I created the language of Intensity with this in mind, since it is the same question that started me on this journey. It will be up to you to decide if the language is an adequate addition to a design approach that must be widely applied before it can produce solutions to the problem of shelter for growing population activities within symbiotic limits that protect our quality of life. Study will require the determination to explore a new idea beyond the comfort zone of current commitment, and all designers in any endeavor know how difficult it is to expand from the refinement of an old idea with limited potential.


Creating a work of architecture requires a process, requires tools, requires training, requires learned and inherent skills. If I understand Mr. Hosack's term, then the process is and must be Organic. And always has been. Architects have never been Linear Thinkers. So what is the problem? Why do we create so much crap? Why are we not respected and valued by the "middle class" but revered by the "cultural elite"


I mentioned that architecture already involves organic thinking, but that it is applied at the tactical level to achieve a special interest objective. Tactics win battles, not wars. These tactics are not part of a strategic architectural plan to contribute to a goal that is an acknowledged public interest, such as design knowledge and decisions that focus on a sustainable relationship between the Built and Natural Domains.

The design process results in tactical achievement that can’t be repeated without equal talent. It does not focus on strategic knowledge that can be taught, accumulated, improved, inherited and applied by an entire profession in the public interest. Architecture presently serves a special interest that is rarely concerned with public benefit when it compromises profit or the non-profit bottom line. Architecture benefits the middle class in an abstract sense as shelter, but it is taken for granted. Appearance is appreciated or debated but is not a priority to a group that struggles to improve its daily life. The cultural elite may offer reverence (it’s debatable) but expect it to be a negotiated cost. This improves their bottom line with reverence a small price to pay.