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Friday, August 31, 2012

Searching for Answers

Is the work of architectural research, education and internship increasing the demand for architectural advice? 

From my anecdotal experience, architectural education seems to be training generals instead of lieutenants and the result has been a graduation of privates with widely divergent knowledge and focus. There is even a segment of opinion that believes the privates are unprepared and should be returned to boot camp. It’s difficult to increase demand for architecture when there are so many educational interpretations of the goal.

I have an admittedly old-fashioned belief that a student must develop logic based on knowledge and technical ability to justify ideas; and must add experience before he or she can offer imagination with the credibility of a general. Portions of this equation appear to be confused with vocational education in the architectural community and left to an internship program, but the program is an unstable platform on a turbulent economic sea.

Creative logic is based on information. Information prompts leaders to ask the right questions, organize the search, and motivate the effort to find answers. Formal architectural education seems to be focusing on creativity with the logic of fine art, which is why I wrote the first paragraph. Leadership decisions involve the art of choice, but the best choices are based on the logic of information, knowledge and evaluation.

An internship program depends on economic stability, the dissemination of closely held knowledge, and the training of future competitors. This means that knowledge can be shared with reluctance, improved with difficulty, and rarely accumulated across practices in a competitive environment. The results have led to an uncertain future for many. This is occurring at a time when “design matters” because the ultimate goal is to survive in an uncertain world by protecting our source and quality of life.

Ignoring the goal will permit a parasite to dominate with sprawl based on a Ponzi concept of growth that always leads to extinction. You may recoil from the analogy, but give it some thought. We have been given the power to dominate and the responsibility to coexist. It is a struggle among instincts with intelligence linked to emotion by a thread of wisdom.

The next level of adaptation will require symbiotic awareness. If you agree, it is an opportunity for architecture to contribute. Shelter is an essential part of the solution and sprawl is a threat to survival; but we must structure architectural education to address the challenge. This includes a grasp of intensity implications. It also means that our priorities must adjust to include protection of the planet. Architecture can contribute by studying how to design symbiotic shelter and space within sustainable geographic limits. I have always qualified this goal, however, with a warning against excessive intensity that can threaten the health, safety, and welfare of populations.

At the present time this is a goal without a definition of sprawl and excessive intensity. Sprawl will be defined as development that exceeds the geographic limits of a built domain. Each built domain will be established to protect our source of life from encroachment. Shelter intensity will be defined as a range of gross building area and open space options for the same project land area. The ends of the intensity spectrum will represent extremes, but the spectrum itself has eluded precise mathematical definition. This definition has been needed to make consistent progress toward a goal that can prevent sprawl without sacrificing our “welfare”, or quality of life. The imprecise definitions presently in use have led to random zoning results and legal precedent based on crude statistics that produce inconsistent results.

Shelter activity, intensity and sprawl consume resources, pollute the environment, and threaten survival; but this is a claim that is only based on growing intuitive awareness at this point in time. We are again attempting to stand up in the grasslands to identify threat and risk. When architecture can help us stand, the demand for advice will multiply; the connection to public benefit will be apparent; and the appearance of solutions will begin to symbolize a new period of symbiotic awareness.


Medicine and law occupy positions of authority because their institutions serve the public interest while their practices serve the private sector. Architecture has no comparable relationship to the public interest. It is isolated from city planning and both suffer from the separation.

The public suffers from land use plans that poorly correlate land use allocation, shelter intensity, and building condition to protect their quality and source of life. This promotes sprawl when the community is not surrounded by others; and decline within fixed boundaries. In other words, the combination of activity allocation, intensity, and building condition affects our physical, social, psychological, environmental, and economic quality of life, but improvement will require new professional relationships and computer applications.

The land development process is based on a concept of growth that is out of control, in my opinion; because freedom to own and convert the natural environment ignores the responsibility to build symbiotic shelter and space within sustainable geographic limits to protect our source of life.

The relationship of shelter to space and condition produces intensity. The relationship of intensity to activity determines its contribution to our quality of life. Finally, the measurement, forecasting, and evaluation of intensity is broad enough to link all related city design disciplines such as, but not limited to: architecture, city planning, geography, engineering, landscape architecture, real estate investment, environmental science, sociology, psychology, and urban economics. In other words, a consistent measurement system can be used to link the conclusions of related disciplines.

My search for answers has led me to define intensity and forecast the options available with models and equations based on design specification values, but I have not measured and evaluated its existing presence. I’ll leave this to future generations if there is a policy decision to continue as populations grow.


Policy must build a foundation of commitment, research, knowledge, and education. This has led me to consider the foundation of architecture. To begin, I’ve separated education into five categories: Liberal, Technical, Management, Leadership, and Lifetime. Liberal begins with day care and kindergarten. I’ll let you debate the duration for each. I’ll also let you debate the curriculum. My point is that none should be ignored when considering the education of an architect. To exclude some because they are “vocational” ignores the scope of the profession. The term “vocation” also reveals that we have been searching for a common definition of architecture since Vitruvius. It’s like calling surgery vocational, which it was considered at one point in our struggle to adapt and survive.

I get the impression that architectural education has emphasized creativity associated with leadership while shifting technical and management education to an unstable internship program; and that internship may not be available after graduation from pre-architecture. If true, this leads intuitive intelligence into a sea of memorized knowledge with few employment opportunities and little ability to defend its opinions. This is an inevitable recipe for disillusion, disappointment, and decline.

I have suggested a three stage education for architecture in the past. I don’t consider it an answer. It is just one concept on the road to a solution. It borrows its structure from medicine and leads to a doctoral degree before internship in practice or research. It focuses on the evaluation and correlation of options and attributes rather than engineering calculations for an impossibly large collection of building systems. It also considers student employment opportunities at each stage of completion a high priority. Like medicine, however, it depends on reliable teaching institutions for internship; and extensive research to build the correlation references required.

I mentioned that architecture has to be worth the effort and that demand will be limited as long as architecture fails to address the public dimension of its private decisions. Practice in its present context has been a battlefield operation whose success has been limited by its focus on a single objective. Breaking free will require an institutional emphasis on strategic planning for public benefit that I’ve called city design.

Public Benefit

City design is a recognition: that architecture is shelter; that shelter is an essential component of survival; that survival will depend on symbiotic shelter and space within sustainable geographic limits; that growing populations will increase the need to understand shelter intensity options; that excessive shelter intensity within geographic limits can prolong survival without protecting our quality of life; that sprawl beyond geographic limits is a threat to our source of life; that limiting sprawl and intensity is essential to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare; that “welfare” includes our physical, social, psychological, and economic quality of life; that land use allocation, architecture, and city design are inseparable elements of shelter and survival within sustainable geographic limits; and that intensity measurement, forecasting and evaluation can support the city design effort with persuasive quantitative arguments capable of repeating success without aesthetic plagiarism.

We have been wandering since the Renaissance spinning off technical specialties and pursuing fine art, but art does not need to explain its decisions while architecture is expected to defend its proposals with logic. Their priorities diverge at this point of responsibility. The confusion over priorities may have begun with the patronage of fine art and architecture, but it does not apply to the scope of current architectural responsibility, in my opinion. Patronage implies that special interest has priority while I’ve argued that a greater public interest is affected by architectural decisions. Architecture will be chained to the priorities of patronage, however, until it recognizes that a growing population will be increasingly concerned with shelter and survival on an unstable planet.

It’s hard to imagine that the public benefit of architecture will be ignored when its institutions contribute knowledge to the goal of symbiotic shelter systems within sustainable geographic limits -- without excessive intensity.

Architecture correlates information and knowledge with logic and visualizes results with intuition and experience. We call it creativity and talent, but it’s much more. Intensity has had to be visualized. There has been no measurement and forecasting system that would permit us to explore the implications of shelter within sustainable geographic limits. This has changed and my hope is that it will bring recognition that land use allocation, architectural intensity, city planning, and city design are inseparable elements of symbiotic shelter, space, and survival within sustainable geographic limits.


The work of architectural institutions can increase the demand for architectural advice, and release practitioners from the captivity of special interest; when their goal embraces the public interest and stimulates an examination of professional objectives and priorities. I have to admit my ignorance on this issue, however. I’m not sure there is a stated goal and list of priorities.
I have suggested a goal that implies leadership with the vocabulary of intensity and the pursuit of city design. It is not intended to replace architectural practice, but to expand its value with a language that can consistently lead private projects toward the public objectives of city planning and design. Architecture is uniquely qualified to create this language in collaboration with others, and correlation has been the hallmark of architecture for quite some time. We can put it to better use when we expand its focus to include the broad array of disciplines concerned with the public need for a symbiotic future.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shelter, Space & Intensity

I believe that shelter is an essential element of survival; that shelter intensity is the relationship of building mass and pavement to open space within a defined area; that building population intensity per square foot of gross building area is a separate issue; that shelter activity and intensity affect the public health, safety, and welfare; that shelter intensity combines with land use allocation, building activity and building population to affect our physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life; that we will not understand the implications of intensity options until we measure and evaluate existing conditions; that we cannot require open space to moderate intensity until we can accurately forecast the implications; that streets, sidewalks and parking lots allow light, air, and ventilation to enter urban form but magnify its intensity; that escape from excessive intensity has produced sprawl; that sprawl threatens the health, safety, and welfare of entire populations by consuming their source of life; that sprawl must be contained within sustainable geographic limits; that containment of sprawl within the limits of a built domain will increase intensity until population growth moderates; that intensity is imposed by three divisions of the built environment: Shelter, Movement, and Life Support while opposed by the fourth: Open Space.

There are four categories of open space. The first is a Natural Domain that must be protected from the Built Domain to preserve our source of life. The second is agriculture within the Built Domain. The third is public open space within a built environment. The fourth is project open space that offsets shelter intensity within a project area of the built environment. (A built environment must not expand beyond the limits of a Built Domain.) The allocation of space and intensity within a built environment will require the city design of urban form to balance the conflicting demands involved. This design will attempt to contribute answers to a fundamental question. Can we design symbiotic shelter solutions for growing populations within a limited Built Domain and how can it be done?

The relationship of architecture to city design is similar to the relationship between medicine and public health. One is a profession; the other an institution. Unfortunately, we have learned through centuries of plague and conflict that an individual is threatened when he or she cannot be protected by the scope of his or her institutions. We are now learning that both individuals and populations can be threatened when the health of a planet cannot be protected by the scope of our institutions.


Leadership must have a goal and there is one above all others: to survive in an uncertain world. Professions and institutions have evolved to contribute, but architectural contributions have focused on individual projects. Unfortunately, inadequate land use plans, zoning law and legal precedent have led to both excessive project intensity and sprawl. Sprawl consumes our source of life one project at a time and excessive intensity imposes stress throughout an adjacent area. The point is that a population is at risk when its planet cannot be protected from the sprawl of its shelter without excessive intensity.


The goal is to build symbiotic shelter systems within sustainable geographic limits. The objective is to protect our source of life from sprawl and our quality of life from excessive intensity. I’ve called the goal S4GL for the sake of brevity. Progress will begin with the measurement and evaluation of existing context, capacity, intensity, and appearance using the vocabulary of intensity and the tools of development capacity evaluation. At this point architecture will expand its knowledge and forecasting ability to address the issue of survival once again.

We haven’t been master builders since the Renaissance.  We gather intelligence, correlate information, and create leadership plans. Field commanders achieve the goal by completing each tactical objective. Our decisions are not our own, however. They are directed by investors, construction managers and government officials because our emphasis has been on fine art. This has compromised our leadership potential because design is not fine art. It seeks to define a problem and solution that begins with a question. The appearance of the solution may be considered fine art.

We cannot moderate sprawl and intensity when design is governed by the decisions of others with conflicting motivation. We need a goal that explains our purpose because “design matters”, but its goal must explain why.

I have suggested a goal for architecture that emphasizes public benefit. This does not exclude any of its previous objectives. It simply places them within an institutional context of concern for the public impact of its practice recommendations and decisions.

Opinion fills a knowledge vacuum. Government and law moderate debate over opinion and bail the boat while other institutions repair the damage with knowledge and persuasion. This is where medicine and public health have been. It is where architecture must go, and why it must learn to speak in a language of intensity equal to the universal goal of adaptation – to survive in an uncertain world.  


For more information regarding the language of intensity and the tools of development capacity evaluation, please see my book entitled, Land Development Calculations, e2, The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2009 and its attached forecasting software entitled, Development Capacity Evaluation, v2.