Friday, October 28, 2011

Citizen Participation is Like Urban Renewal

This is a response to a reader who uses the tern “urban design for all” to mean citizen, or public, participation. 
 

            Public participation, or “urban design for all”, has turned city planners into facilitators /administrators and architects into supplicants. Urban renewal failed because solutions were dictated based on opinion without knowledge. Citizen participation has failed for the same reason; but failure is disguised by popular participation that dilutes blame; considers experience knowledge; and mistakes issues for problems. 

            A problem must be defined before a solution can be found. A public grievance is a symptom, but is rarely the problem. The responsibility of leadership is to ask questions and conduct research to define problems; but admitting a problem can be political poison, so it is tempted to dance with the issues and ignore the problem. 

            Issues distract us from problems. This is typical because problems are abstract and issues are real, but medicine has already taught us that reacting to symptoms does not produce a cure. The urban public does not define problems. It lives with symptoms and will never produce cures, but it may ratify one when explanations justify change. If I use the phrase, “medicine for all”, the contrast with “urban design for all” may help to explain where we are and where medicine has been. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Protecting the Planet with Architecture

PLEASE NOTE THAT MY PRIMARY SITE IS NOW LOCATED AT “THE BUILT DOMAIN.NET”. A link is provided in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

This is a response to the italicized comments from Mr. Patrick Quinn, FAIA repeated below.


          Mr. Quinn, let me first say that I am always impressed by the background and experience you bring to these discussions. Every letter has been a contribution to my knowledge base. 

          There are many flies in the ointment, Mr. Quinn; and they will only be removed when they are recognized as symptoms of an issue that threatens us all. It didn’t take long to notice the Black Plague, but it took centuries to find a cure that included behavior modification through politics and law. Our current environmental issues remind me of the plague; but I’m not sure we have recognized the threat, nor have centuries to adjust. The sprawl of architecture reflects the problem. When the environmental record is written, the urban form, pattern and intensity of shelter will symbolize the success achieved. The fine art of exceptional architecture will bookmark the effort. 

          Your mention of GE is a perfect example of anticipation, but it will be an isolated phenomenon unless connected to a Built Domain designed to shelter growing populations within limits. The goal is to protect our source of life, the Natural Domain; while building the shelter, movement, open space and life support systems we need to function within the remaining Built Domain. The GE effort is part of this greater goal, and I can’t say enough about their vision, but in their world vision must be profitable. It’s an unstable benchmark when survival is the issue.  

It’s not too hard to imagine the consequences of unrestrained growth over the face of a planet with limited resources. It has been difficult, however, to create an architectural language that can address the problem of shelter within limits in strategic, quantifiable leadership terms. These are the terms needed to persuade as well as define, and they are the only terms that can be adopted by law to improve the architecture of city design under the concept of equal treatment. 

          The variable is intensity when shelter is considered. Many options have negative consequences that remain to be defined. My book explains the full spectrum of options in a language that has research, collaboration, debate, decision and leadership potential. The attached software uses this language to forecast hundreds of options in the time it would take to sketch one. Decisions will be taken by the politics and law of cultures, but a new language of intensity can replace planning and zoning surprises with reasonable expectations. 

          I would like to summarize by saying to architects: If it’s impossible, it may be worth doing. This has been our slogan since we first used our imagination to build the history of architecture? It began with impossible weights, distances, areas and spans. Brunelleschi’s dome at Santa Maria del Fiore is a classic symbol of overcoming the impossible, but certainly not the first example. We have now gone beyond astronomy and engineering to face impossible cities guided by two-dimensional plans and concepts of infinite growth on a finite planet. It’s a worthy challenge for the noble profession. 

Architecture has learned the necessity of collaboration and leadership on complex projects, but projects represent the tactical achievement of a given objective. Cities require a flexible, three-dimensional strategy for an infinite campaign of adjustment. Architecture will have much to offer when it can challenge the impossible with knowledge expressed in the quantitative language of intensity. It can then defend opinion and duplicate success with a language equal to its potential. 
 
Note from Mr. Patrick Quinn, FAIA

Re: “City Design, Urban Design and Architecture” blog on “Cities and Design” 

The distance between Jan Gehl's LIFE BETWEEN BUILDINGS and Baruch Givoni's CLIMATE CONSIDERATIONS IN BUILDINGS AND URBAN DESIGN is a great as that between Freya Stark's JOURNEY TO THE HADRAMUTH and Steven Erlich's report on his design research in South Yemen. Yet each of these volumes deals with fundamental principles underlying potential for the systematization of Urban Design. Each could lead to rules, strategies and regulations in their respective cultural contexts although they have implications for universal application. 

Walter Hosack's approach indicates the need to be able to sell strategies that will convince the political and communal city shapers that we professionals have a comprehensive and viable solution to the complexities of dealing with contemporary shifting sands of growth and change.
 
I cannot sufficiently stress that cultures modify approaches, and while global visions seem to dominate our visions, I cannot help thinking back to E.F. Schumacher's return to acting locally after he had thought globally for years.
 
There is a great big fly in Walter's ointment. Those who have most influence over our environmental decisions and whom Walter would persuade to adopt sound strategies resist all regulation with every fiber of their corporate and political beings. Strategy needs order. Order needs rules. Rules restrict economic "competitiveness" ( money making). All one needs to do is to cite current business efforts to minimize EPA fracking regulations even before they are formulated.
 
There are good signs, however. GE has begun to see potential profit in colossal wind farms and solar arrays. Other international conglomerates are preoccupied with similar alternatives, but they are mainly non-American groups.
 
Over here we still seem to want to live on in the spirit of the dog-eat-dog days of frontier colonialism.
 
Walter's scope and ambition are admirable and even achievable,...if adequately diverse teams can be assembled across disciplinary and political boundaries....at the macro level.
 
It may be easier, however, to begin at the local cultural level. That is why I mention Jan Gehl's LIFE BETWEEN BUILDINGS. I think also of the architect/landscape architect/regional planner, James A. Fehily, FRIAI, who once said about the ambitions of world changers" " They are all great men ( sic) and here am I trying to put two by fours together".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

City Design, Urban Design and Architecture

PLEASE NOTE THAT MY PRIMARY SITE IS NOW LOCATED AT “THE BUILT DOMAIN.NET”. A link is provided in the upper right hand corner of the screen.


It is my hope that architecture and urban design will become part of a city design strategy for stability, and that it will be based on the land use allocation of activity and intensity options within a limited Built Domain. Stability is a complex state but a worthy goal. Within cities, it involves shelter, movement, open space and life support systems. These systems attempt to protect our physical, social, psychological and economic health, safety and welfare. Normally, this sentence is disconnected for simplicity, but I’m trying to indicate that we are really attempting to protect: (1) our physical, social, psychological and economic health; (2) our physical, social, psychological and economic safety; and (3) our physical, social, psychological and economic welfare. It is a complex sentence that reflects a complex problem we are only beginning to appreciate, and shelter is an essential ingredient. In effect, the sentence is a question that asks, “Can we protect our physical, social, psychological and economic health, safety and welfare?” There is no answer at the present time, so I’ll call it a “symbiotic goal”. It implies a search for stability that has only been achieved in the uncompromising and flexible world of the Natural Domain. Fortunately, information technology now exists to link the data required for context knowledge and strategic evaluation of the question. Only then will informed city design decisions and compositions emerge to lead urban design and architecture toward a goal that will involve generations.


This should remind us of the Gothic Period. Generations will again be required, but not to build cathedrals. We are now asked to build cities that reflect reverence for a gift we cannot comprehend. The gift is a finite planet we do not own, and whose limits we only came to appreciate on July 20, 1969 at 20:17:38 UTC – the date and time the Symbiotic Period began.


Land use plans have achieved separation with sprawl while failing to produce stability because integrated context knowledge has been impossible to assemble in a reasonable amount of time. Information technology can only assemble relevant data, including context measurement, however. Research evaluation must tell us what activity and intensity combinations mean, and design must evaluate options in relation to the context knowledge acquired. These explanations may give design decisions the credibility they need to proceed toward our symbiotic goal.   


The term “urban design” is a rather ambiguous term. I can still remember my first interview after graduation when an architect asked me, “…what does that mean?” and “…how do you make a living with it?” I think of urban design as an effort to weave shelter, movement, open space, and life support systems into fabric that improves our quality of life within a limited area of a city. I think of city design as urban design for an entire jurisdiction with less emphasis on appearance and more emphasis on composition. It involves an architectural massing plan that emerges from land use allocation and intensity designations. These are arranged for symbiotic stability within a limited Built Domain. It is supported by an information system capable of monitoring success and modifying failure by forecasting options. Decisions will be based on research and knowledge that justifies adjustment.


City design is rarely successful based on popular opinion. The attempt is similar to a military campaign run by civilians using emotion and opinion as a substitute for the intelligence, tools, strategy and tactics that are the heart of any strategic effort.


Tactical efforts without policy, strategy and information produce random collisions across the planet. This is where we are with a host of environmental groups, and this includes architects pursuing energy efficiency. They will all remember this time as their “finest hour” in a confrontation with impossible odds and inadequate information. Once again man must use instinct to respond to threat while mobilizing a more adequate and successful reply based on collaboration and intelligence.


My essay, “The Public Benefit of Architecture”, attempts to illustrate the pitfalls of public opinion and the potential credibility of design advice when it is connected to development capacity forecasts and economic productivity. Advice will only trump opinion when it can prove consistently greater benefit.


The public will continue to believe it can make city planning, city design, urban design and architectural decisions based on popular opinion until we can prove the superiority of professional advice. This will require more knowledge and evidence to defend our logic, imagination and opinions. It sounds like medicine not that long ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pitch and Catch

The following is a response to an article by Wm. Farris entitled, ‘The Pitch” that is included in italics below.
 


The suggestion that good designers can’t speak and hide in corners will simply discourage a response to your question. The question was a good one, and I liked much of your essay; but professional improvement will depend on cooperation, not intimidation. It will also require a focus on design that is not always fine art.
 
My entire effort stems from a belief that design applies logic and knowledge to a question that may only be partially defined, and leads to appearance when confusion is organized and imagination is added. Fine art is an exceptional result, but may not be an adequate answer. The entire process will only gain public credibility when it is based on more than opinion and individual success. The profession needs a language and tools that convince the public success is a professional accomplishment and not a personal achievement by talent that cannot be duplicated.

My essays and blog have been an attempt to introduce the concept of development intensity evaluation and prediction to design professions such as city planning, economic development, architecture, landscape architecture, and civil engineering. I hope it will help us learn to live within limits, since they will be naturally imposed if not defined. I’ve often referred to it as context measurement, development capacity evaluation and city design for economic stability. The entire set of concepts and tools are contained in my book and software. The effort represents my attempt to offer the vocabulary and language we need to begin answering your questions with additional logic and knowledge. 

The Pitch by Wm. Farris 

If I were to enter a room full of spec writers, I would probably find a lot of comfort. Talking to a spec writer is always a great conversation with both a goal and a point, often with a sense of humor to boot. Being a spec writer is all about being specific. There is no sort of or kind of. It either is or it isn't, or we just don't know yet. It's either good or it's not good enough. Spec writers are real people who should be congressmen. We would probably get a lot done if they were. Instead, we have lawyers for congressmen (sort of kind of people).
 
If I were to enter a room full of artists, I might ask them about their art. But I will likely regret I ever did. The answers can often disappoint or confuse. An art professor warned me a long time ago to take what an artist has to say about their own work with a grain of salt. Boy was he not kidding. Just look, but don't ask. You have been warned.
 
If I were to enter a room full of design architects, I would probably leave very quickly. These are not the kind you want to see gathered in herds. They don't gather well. You will find them oddly dispersed, standing in corners, and at least one will be hiding behind a potted plant somewhere. It's something akin to an unstable molecule. They are like deer that might dart into the woods at any second should something rattle them. And try getting these guys to agree on something, anything. Keep it simple.
 
When I try to get designers to talk about design, it can be like pulling teeth. They might know how to design a building, but learning to verbalize their visual skills is not something most of them are heavily invested in. Of course, there will be a few who talk too much. Those are the ones who can't design very well. They compensate for their weaknesses by running at the mouth on behalf of their more talented peers. The conversation often has no goal and certainly no point that I am aware of.

I try to convince them that learning to theorize about their work will make them better designers. Trust me, it will. The herd looks away. The potted plant wiggles. It becomes even more obvious when you have to sell your skills to a client. Have you thought about how to sell what you do in this tough economy? When the chips are down, the stakes are high, and the competition is stiff, can you communicate a vision? Can you verbalize your craft? Can you prepare that pitch?
 
OK Mr. Designer, I want you to go back to your desk. You have 30 minutes. Come back here with six talking points of real substance to convince me I should hire you for this project. But let me first give you some talking points that are off the table. You cannot talk about meeting the budget because our project manager already has that one. You cannot talk about meeting the construction schedule because we gave that one to the project architect. You can't talk about programming or function because our programmer has that covered. You cannot say any version of a statement that sounds like we will give you what you want, because every single competitor is going to say that, and you said that in the last 50 interviews you did. That is not original, it's not substantive, and you, of all people on the team, need to sound original. You are the designer. I want you to talk about design. I need substance. Convince me that you know what you are doing.

What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?


Friday, October 14, 2011

Design for Survival with Collaboration


Architecture combines a problem-solving thought process with a background of knowledge, the advice of collaborating technical disciplines and the influence of art. The result is defined in a set of contract documents that relate the information and knowledge assembled in a unique combination of drawings and specifications. These documents represent a tactical strategy executed by field commanders with a mind of their own. Architecture remains a tactical effort without a leadership strategy, however, because context knowledge is missing and environmental preservation remains a political tennis match.


Architects create tactical strategies for shelter construction. It is a collaborative effort that produces battles with nature across a planet that no longer appears to be an infinite source of shelter and survival. The age of preservation is upon us, but architects are limited by the knowledge they can borrow; and by owner decisions that are only limited by government regulation.


Architectural appearance has always symbolized the collaborative effort, decisions and cultural influences of the time; but image is the primary message conveyed over centuries, and architecture is now considered by many to be a fine art. As a result, education borrows technical knowledge from engineering and teaches problem-solving by emphasizing the instincts of creativity, but lacks the tools needed to evaluate hundreds of options in the time it takes to sketch one.


Environmental awareness gives new meaning to the collaboration required from art and science; and architects have been inadvertently prepared for the challenge with a design education that combines practical knowledge with creative problem-solving and collaborative awareness. Architecture is an expression of the collaboration and evaluation connected with design logic, and in exceptional circumstances its appearance ascends to the level of fine art.


Architects are beginning to recognize: (1) that design logic can connect land to shelter with development capacity evaluation and context decisions in the public and private interest; (2) that design evaluation is empowered with context knowledge; and (3) that design can contribute to land conservation and environmental preservation when it understands the context implications of shelter intensity options.


It helps to keep the goal in mind when pondering this issue. The goal is a limited Built Domain: (1) that protects its source of survival, the Natural Domain, and (2) that provides growing populations with shelter, movement, open space and life support solutions without compromising their physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life.


Context knowledge is a key. Development capacity forecasting is a tool for the prediction of shelter options within limits. Context knowledge is needed to evaluate the options predicted. Architecture can make a contribution to a leadership strategy for survival with this tool, but it requires collaboration with those beyond engineering to accumulate the context knowledge required for evaluation. This further complicates the architecture of city design, which is where confusion becomes visible and results become threatening.


The unrecognized premise of architecture, engineering, planning, and real estate law has been sprawl; but environmental science is implying that sprawl must be contained before it consumes our finite source of survival. If the implication is accepted, the challenge has multiplied before the design problem has been defined. This problem can be expressed with two questions: (1) What are the realistic limits for our Built Domain if the Natural Domain’s ability to support life is to be protected, and (2) What is the development capacity of land within the Built Domain to provide shelter, movement, open space and life support systems that protect our physical, social, psychological and economic health, safety and welfare?


The answer to Question (2) requires context measurement and collaborative evaluation to build knowledge; and it requires development capacity forecasting to predict options and consider implications based on the knowledge acquired. I’ve mentioned in my previous essays that this is the subject of my book and attached software for the Shelter Division of the Built Environment. Question (1) represents a design problem that must be written by others with the credibility to convince the population of a planet.


Collaboration, information and knowledge are pre-requisites for the creative design solutions needed to address the two questions posed. Architecture has a very long history of participating in similar efforts of smaller scope, but it cannot overcome a negative political climate without adequate representation. It is truly a challenge of gigantic proportions for future generations of networked specialists in need of leadership to design for survival.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

TALENT and LEADERSHIP

Talent is a special natural ability or aptitude in any field of endeavor. It is not a library of knowledge. It can help build the library when it can define the questions to be answered. When these questions escape definition, the creative search is familiar to all who seek answers. 

Leadership 

Leadership begins with a question that emerges from instinct, inspiration, insight, education, experience or talent. The question can be elusive when momentum resists adaptation and instinct escapes definition.  

One of the questions before architecture is:  Can it help build a sustainable future, and if so, to what extent? We don’t have an answer because this question has not emerged from instinct to become an issue for national debate. Energy efficiency is simply a tree in a forest of concern. It is, however, a noble effort to contribute within the limited power of current practice. “Sprawl” is shorthand for the greater threat sensed by many who are beginning to raise their heads and look over the land. We’re nibbling at the green edges, but have yet to make a commitment of adequate scope.  

I’ve already covered this ground with my essays on city design and civil architecture, but a core piece of the puzzle in architecture is the concept of talent. Talent is not just a result in architecture. It is a process defined by the questions asked, the decisions taken, the knowledge accumulated and the leadership provided. Fine art is an exceptional expression of the process. The focus on fine art has been too narrow and the issues are too great. Architecture is a profession with the instinct and intelligence to adapt. In fact, this is the mute testimony it conveys for entire cultures of the past. In my opinion, it already senses the need to adapt again, and fine art will symbolize the mobilization achieved.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Architectural Education: Part 2

Minimum architectural qualifications have increased during my lifetime but employment has declined and compensation has never equaled the investment in time, education, credentials and risk needed to emerge from draftsman status. Continuing education has now added to a burden that requires increasing levels of commitment to sacrifice while others profit from the effort. This is not a healthy recipe for a profession that depends on a team of highly trained practitioners to avoid errors and omissions.

The problem begins with an unstable economic world and architectural graduates filled with opinion that has limited employment value and flexibility. They are draftsmen until they are partners, and even then the public has difficulty making a distinction. After graduation, they face years of apprenticeship, registration, and continuing education – if they can find a job to produce a limited return on investment. This is all for the sake of excellent service to others until the next economic collapse. The word is out, and some may applaud the decline in numbers, but it will be a short term gain at the expense of the nation.

I’d like to set the stage with a brief recap of architectural history from a different perspective. It takes place during my lifetime and is written from an educational and economic point of view. For a long time, minimum qualifications for license examination stipulated a high school education and eight years of experience. Before my time, Frank Lloyd Wright gave an interminable taped lecture to the AIA questioning the value of formal education and licensure. During this time, a five year “professional” degree graduated draftsmen from universities. Three years of apprenticeship were required to qualify for licensure. Graduate programs added years to the eight year minimum. License exam study added another year. An internship program was adopted in an attempt to ensure that graduate draftsmen were not pigeon-holed with a pencil and deprived of comprehensive office experience. The eventually-licensed architects didn’t turn into butterflies. They remained under-compensated along with everyone else. They were also at risk in an unstable economic world where capital investment was the first budget item eliminated and the last restored. The economic risk fluctuated dramatically from 1973 – 1983. The economy then stabilized until 1987. It recovered again until the dot com bust of 1999-2000. It recovered again after Enron, but the recovery was eventually based on a concept of universal home ownership that could only exist in the mind of a politician.

Around 2005, if not sooner, some on Wall Street saw the default potential of this political concept. Unstable mortgages had been bundled for re-sale to average the risk; but the risk was not average. Speculators moved to capitalize on the unrecognized discrepancy at the expense of others. At least one added a mortgage “bundle” designed for maximum default and sold the entire concept short. Others rated the mortgage bundles investment grade, while others sold insurance against default without reserves to cover potential loss. It all collapsed with Lehman Brothers in 2008. They were refused a government “bail-out” for the complex pyramid of home ownership deception the government helped create. The concept had been unstable from the beginning, but few investors were aware of the products purchased by others with their savings, and fewer still understood the risk. The winners reasoned: (1) that the buyers should have known better; (2) that profiting from the ignorance and deception of others is competition; and (3) that a weakened nation is simply part of the game. Deceptive investment rating of risk was considered business activity. Deceptive underwriting was considered creative financing, and public deception to benefit special interest is still called politics and representative democracy. These are my interpretations of the “spin”.

During these economic times architecture was initiating four and six year degree programs that replaced the five year program. Doctoral programs multiplied at least in partial response to higher education requirements for teaching credentials. The NCARB and CSI became notable accomplishments and continuing education was added to justify state licensure requirements. Liability increased. Public expectations increased. Special certifications were introduced, and I’m sure you can add to the list. My intent is not to be comprehensive, but to paint a brief picture of increasing architectural complexity and responsibility in an economically unstable world that does not support architectural growth. This world holds few rewards for architects that assume incredible levels of risk – and we ask what makes architecture excellent? Part of the answer is a level of commitment to sacrifice for a dream that transcends individual accomplishment; but is in decline because the education-risk-reward ratios represent surreal expectations while pricing power is non-existent.

For those concerned about architectural design, let me first mention that it involves leadership decisions that are only implied by the appearance observed. These decisions consume land, introduce intensity and set the physical stage for social, psychological and economic activity. Intensity decisions influence our quality of life and ability to shelter the activity of growing populations within sustainable limits. Architectural project decisions combine to form neighborhoods, districts, cities and regions. They also limit our ability to pursue city design in the public interest because architectural permanence currently precedes the scope of city design.

Architecture appears without a massing plan to protect the public welfare within sustainable city limits. It simply grows with the extension of utility services and land use plans that anticipate annexation. Subsequent demolition and redevelopment is often an unrealistic option. This permanence casts a new light on the importance of architectural design decisions within symbiotic limits. These decisions consume land, the consumption is virtually irreversible and they have no current correlation with a symbiotic future. This means that more knowledge must be accumulated and distributed through education to ensure that these permanent decisions contribute to stabilizing design within and beyond the Built Domain.

Environmental design is the next frontier, and city design is the next level of architectural contribution needed to succeed in a new Symbiotic Period. Energy conservation is not enough. It is based on engineering research and architectural inclusion with no correlation to land consumption, shelter capacity, social benefit, psychological impact or economic stability.

In design, an idea is a point of departure that may not survive examination and refinement. From this perspective, I don’t use the word “should” in the following paragraph out of arrogance; but because “might” is such a weak, but more appropriate, adverb. My intent, however, is to grapple with the economic and educational problems that obstruct an architect’s ability to contribute more to public welfare and survival. We cannot lose the leadership potential of creative thought, so we must improve the credibility and value of its advice. In fact, we need more creativity within disciplines that combine art and science, but architects must learn how to tap creativity within a format that stimulates growth.

In the traditional three phase format of higher education, the first priority of education for a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture should be consistent employment through turbulent economic times. It should leave students with a design introduction and flexible technical skills that can adapt to shifting employment opportunities. I will stay away from curriculum suggestions because debate over detail will overwhelm the goal suggested. A master’s degree should leave them with advanced design skills, management skills and flexible employment opportunities. A doctoral degree should leave them with professional design skills as well as research, practice, teaching, and licensure opportunities. If this doesn’t provide a decent return on investment however, it will simply represent more commitment to sacrifice while others profit from the effort. This is becoming increasingly less acceptable to those who must struggle in an economically unstable world.

The devil is in the detail and I have avoided curriculum for that reason. A debate over detail will overwhelm the goals suggested, but the relationship of economic issues, employment opportunities, practice standards and research emphasis must be resolved by educators, institutions and government before architects can make the contributions needed to shelter growing populations within sustainable environmental limits. This is critical because solutions must not threaten a population’s quality of life with excessive intensity. Private interest is simply not equal to the effort required, but is capable of participation. If this is the goal, then we need more architects, not less; but the market is undeveloped because the need for city design is not recognized.

City design begins with geographic limits for a Built Domain that includes agriculture and protects the primacy of the Natural Domain. The Built Environment expands within the limits of a Built Domain. In my opinion, this is the only realistic concept on a finite planet with limited resources, and it requires extensive collaboration and political acceptance for definition. After these limits are established, city design for the Built Environment will begin with development capacity evaluation and end with shelter, movement, open space and life support systems designed to protect a growing population’s quality of life. This is not an interest of development speculation, but it is in the public interest. Architecture can work to protect this interest, and serve private interest; when it recognizes the need, creates the market and builds the knowledge and tools required.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Architectural Education: Part 1

Portions of this were originally published as “Beyond the Renaissance”. The logic involved has been revised to improve its use as a preamble to architectural education. I’ve separated the preamble to keep these essays brief. This is a topic I’ve frequently thought about but have never attempted to address. My intent is to offer format suggestions for practice, management and leadership skills with immediate employment value beyond the narrow market currently available.  


Architecture is presently trapped in an engineering current flowing from its previous success in The Renaissance. It may be trying to empower its intuitive approach to creating order, form and appearance from confusion with a new search for knowledge that can defend its recommendations and claims of public benefit. It is presently limited by the project boundaries of its client and the format of its pattern language; but some appear to recognize the sprawl this adds, and the need for a better form of expression to identify, evaluate and recommend alternatives.

The goal is a symbiotic relationship between The Built Domain and The Natural Domain that does not compromise man’s quality of life. This gives new meaning to the concept of minimum standards; and will require advanced knowledge of shelter intensity options, ratios and human impact within environmental limits. Architecture can make a contribution when it collaborates to accumulate context knowledge for the architecture of city design. This is an objective in a campaign for survival. It is not rebirth built on ancient trains of thought. It represents new birth from the more ancient instinct to survive.  In other words, the architecture of buildings will always be needed, but the future is challenged to build on the past with the collaborative architecture of city design and the power of information technology. 

Civil engineering is a branch of the engineering movement that has the capacity to serve entire cities with public benefit. Civil architecture is still associated with cultural monuments because it has not expanded its scope of concern. Public benefit has been limited as a result and broader impact is constrained by the knowledge, education and information technology available on a scale that would provide expanded benefit within a limited Built Domain. It is an interesting contrast, because civil engineering comprehensively contributes to The Life Support and Movement Divisions of The Built Environment; but architecture randomly contributes to The Shelter Division on a much smaller scale. Open Space is the remaining division, and it has been sacrificed by all concerned to create the speculation, sprawl and intensity we face today. 

Architects are trained as leaders without the scope of knowledge required to consistently defend their opinions and recommendations nor the power to enforce them. The building code has actually been helpful in this regard, but the zoning code illustrates the gap in knowledge that must be filled before city planning for land use separation and annexation becomes the architecture of city design for a symbiotic future. Land has actually been squandered by the planning process because development capacity has been inadequately forecast as part of a city design for the public welfare, or quality of life. It has simply been viewed as a building platform for speculation with open space remaining as a scrap on the table. 

Many architects will respond that there is no market for city design. Therefore, it is not part of architecture; but this opinion reveals the focus of a practitioner. He or she cannot be expected to conduct theoretical research in the hope of future employment. This job falls on the shoulders of institutions and governments who must build the knowledge, create the tools, and teach the skills required. In the case of architecture, this will require an increased emphasis on research rather than practice to improve the advice given; and a revised educational format focused on practice, management and leadership that produces equitable employment and enhanced design credibility.

Architectural design is a leadership thought process taught to students who graduate as draftsmen unqualified to lead without further training. Design decisions are only implied by appearance. These decisions reflect the cultural /political influences and knowledge of the time; but a leadership thought process taught to those without adequate preparation is a recipe for limited job opportunities and minimum compensation.  

This essay will be continued as an educational installment in the future.