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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Problem Solvers

In the essay below, I do not mean to say that architects do not solve problems. I hope it becomes clear that I am talking about the level of problem solving involved. In my opinion, the level is adequate to serve but not to lead and this is the “problem”. Architects do not presently define leadership goals. They achieve leadership objectives. A better architectural vocabulary is needed to address shelter goals within urban form at a scale that is unquestionably in the public interest. Architects have the resources in their files to begin the research and build the knowledge, but the challenge has never been issued.
I have long felt: (1) That there is a leadership vacuum where urban sprawl and core congestion are concerned; (2) That this is a threat to survival since sprawl consumes our source of life and congestion (intensity) degrades our quality of life; (3) That inattention stems from an inadequate architectural vocabulary capable of recognizing and expressing the “problem”; (4) That an inadequate vocabulary leads to inarticulate city planning solutions; (5) That our present vocabulary cannot efficiently and comprehensively correlate two-dimensional land use separation with three-dimensional intensity; (6) That a lack of correlation leads to promiscuous annexation blindly seeking economic stability; (7) That land is our source of life, not to mention water; (8) That asphalt paving is the largest remaining oil spill on the face of the planet; (9) That municipal land use allocation must be correlated with development capacity and intensity within limited geographic areas; and (10) That development capacity can be mathematically measured, forecast, evaluated, limited, and correlated with many other city planning objectives.
We are all problem solvers. Architects do not have a monopoly. The “problem” is often a lack of anticipation. It overlooks the question and substitutes assumption.
The question is how to provide shelter for growing populations within a limited Built Domain that does not threaten its source and quality of life? The strategy will require a new leadership vocabulary. Fortunately, the many faces of architecture have a surprisingly limited mathematical anatomy, and common concerns may begin to coalesce around sustainable solutions for a symbiotic future. 


As Claudio Velez, AIA has pointed out, there are many "problems" in life. The challenge is to organize and prioritize the hierarchy. I understand that architecture is a design problem to be solved, but the word "problem" has created confusion. It is too general. Architects do not define leadership problems. They achieve leadership objectives by correlating tasks and activities to solve project design "problems". The solutions represent solitary accomplishments with unconvincing social contribution in many cases.
Architects coordinate tasks and activities to achieve an objective called a“problem”, but a building is often only part of the problem. It is a step on the road to a client goal. In fact, architects are part of the client’s problem until their work is complete. 
The architectural problem is that a building benefits an owner and occupant but can be considered an intrusion that threatens the public health, safety, and welfare. Architecture is on the wrong side of the equation and the imposition of building codes, zoning codes, and public review are evidence for my claim. 

It does not need to be this way. Medicine has a public and private face. The same is true for law, engineering, accounting, and so on. These professions have recognized that public benefit accrues from improvement in private practice and have effectively explained this to government. Their institutions include goals, strategies, and research involving public benefit. Private practice focuses on the skills and detail needed to deliver that benefit by achieving a project objective. It took a lot of military organization to succeed at Normandy, but the tasks and activities were part of a management objective. The objective was part of a planning strategy to achieve a leadership goal. Architects must join the general staff and build the knowledge required to earn the position.  

A building is an objective. Shelter for the activities of growing populations in a geographically limited Built Domain is a leadership goal intended to protect their source and quality of life. A planning strategy is needed and we are missing the architectural language required. 

If architecture seeks to improve the demand and public esteem for its knowledge, this issue offers an opportunity. We cannot survive without shelter, but we can consume our source of life with buildings. Architecture can decide to lead or follow, but most will agree that the problem must be solved and that the goal is a worthy public priority. I happen to believe that architects are ideally suited to correlate this monumental effort - if they can reorganize their priorities. If not, they will follow others who lack much of the intuitive preparation that must be translated. 

I’ve written about this on many occasions and published two editions of a book and software that offer the tools and language needed to proceed. I sound like a salesman when I mention this however, so I will keep it to a minimum. Equations were embedded in the software provided. I’m working on a second book that includes derivation of the ten equations at the heart of this effort. They represent the knowledge I have to offer. The book will attempt to explain the intent and conceptual foundation for others who may be interested in continuing the effort. An equation is a good definition but an inefficient interpreter of concept and intent.  

On this note, I’d like to close with a quote from the fourth chapter of this work in progress: 

“Land has development capacity that can be expressed in terms of its gross building area GBA potential per acre. Capacity is a function of the parking design category being considered and the values entered in its related design specification template. Capacity options are produced by changing the values entered in the template. A decision to adopt a set of specification values represents a decision to limit the GBA capacity of land and create a level of intensity.  

Buildings shelter activity and are the nucleus of cellular urban growth. We refer to these cells as lots, parcels, property, real estate, and so on. Each Shelter Division cell includes building mass, pavement, and project open space that is connected by a Movement Division, integrated by a Life Support Division, and surrounded by an Open Space Division. The Open Space Division includes agriculture, public open space, and undeveloped land. (Remember: Project and parking open space are contained within each cell.) The Built Environment is currently a threat to the Natural Domain because it is not contained within the sustainable geographic limits of a Built Domain.  

We refer to an “urban cell” as a project. A collection of cells is called a neighborhood, district, village, city, or region depending on the quantity. At any scale however, these cells are not natural and are currently sprawling across the face of the planet without restraint. 

A “shelter cell” contains design specification topics in various quantities related to the parking category involved. Parking choices and quantity relationships determine the gross building area capacity of land and the building mass that emerges from the cell. The relationship of topics and quantities within a cell is defined by development capacity equations. The challenge is to contain these cells and use development capacity equations to design shelter capacity for growing populations within them. In fact, the objective of all forecast equations is to predict either the gross building area GBA capacity of a given land area (cell), or the buildable land area BLA options (cellular options) that can satisfy a given gross building area GBA objective. All other related information such as, but not limited to, population, traffic generation, cost, revenue, expense, and return on investment is based on these gross building area and land area predictions. 

Land area combines with land use and building capacity to produce intensity. Intensity directly affects our physical, social, psychological, economic, and environmental quality of life. The land use allocation of activity and intensity cannot be considered independently. They must be correlated to survive within a limited Built Domain by wisely using the land available.” 

Copyright: Walter M. Hosack, 2013. All rights reserved

In the end, there is only one design “problem” that matters. How do we use the land and its resources so that we do not consume our source of life in the pursuit of food, water, and shelter for growing populations? I use the word “land” loosely in this context, since it includes the sea and all environmental resources we currently deplete and despoil with an outdated definition of “survival”. 


The note from Michael Malinowski, AIA regarding recent research confirms what many have suspected for a long time. Architectural priorities do not match client priorities. I would argue that the architectural priority list needs expansion as well, since it is not clear that architecture protects the public interest from client abuse. In my opinion, practice improvement (architecture) and public service (city design) are worthy objectives along the road to a professional goal of public benefit.

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