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Wednesday, October 30, 2013


This essay began with the following inquiry: “…I am a newly appointed AIA Repositioning Ambassador…I am curious to hear your thoughts, and any insights you may have to share.” 

Repositioning implies that a solution has been found. I'm not sure we understand the problem.  

A practitioner, including partners, must earn a living. I’m not surprised that they resist change when the benefits are not immediately apparent. 

The problem from my point of view is the relationship between profession and practitioner. The distinction between professional research and practical benefit became clear to me after reading James Herriot’s book, All Creatures Great and Small, years ago. He pointed out that his practice ability was limited by the tools and knowledge provided by veterinary education and science. His job was to apply the tools and knowledge. He wasn’t expected to create them. This wasn’t his area of interest and proficiency. He provided “intelligence” from practice. (I use the term based on its military definition.) Science converted intelligence into goals and strategy focused on the problems defined to give him the new tools he needed. 

The knowledge required to practice architecture is so vast that it cannot be mastered with the current format, and it often takes a lifetime to achieve the humility needed to reach this level of awareness. The term “repositioning” implies to me that the army will move to a new location. I don’t think this is the problem. The army must be reorganized. 

James Herriot lived during the introduction of veterinary science that began to translate experience into knowledge. This led to practical new tools for the practitioner. Strangely enough, I’m currently reading The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel with Bret Witter. It describes a similar transition in the artistic community. In the beginning it was a collegial collection of power and privilege that discounted art conservation. George Stout joined a small art conservation department at the Fogg Art Museum in 1928 (p.25) and proceeded to turn the topic into a scientific research effort. The result was knowledge with practical applications in the campaign to save looted art during WWII. It is another example of the continuing human effort to translate talent and experience into knowledge. 

I don’t think architecture can “reposition” without “reorganizing” to introduce a centralized scientific effort. I have been out of touch for too long, so I’ll simply ask if the National Institute of Building Sciences NIBS is performing a scientific function that is useful to practitioners. If it isn’t, I believe architecture must reorganize to include a centralized effort for mutual benefit. Increased credibility will be based on convincing scientific research. This will lead to a new position for architecture within the nation and on the planet, since we cannot survive without shelter and will not survive without symbiotic solutions. 

So what shall we study? We often jump to conclusions without adequate homework. Programming wasn’t even taught when I was a student. Neither was logic and research even though it is at the heart of every design solution. I don’t mean to enter the world of curriculum, however, since what we teach is a function of what we know; and what we need to know is the question in my opinion. 

I’ll mention three examples to illustrate my train of thought. First, the building code is essentially a spreadsheet document based on IF / THEN statements. At one time I converted a number of BOCA chapters to this format with templates posing questions. The answers produced a complete review and conclusion that was possible in a fraction of the time. BOCA was not interested in the concept and program however, since they are in the business of explaining complex documents and publishing books. It is an architect’s interest to simplify the code review process, however; and I believe this could be a productive area of research. 

Second, I always felt that home buyers had no idea what they were buying and were unaware of the value of specifications and bidding. These were benefits they could understand, but were part of a traditional design process that was too time-consuming and expensive for most. With the advent of computers I became aware that single-family programming could be a template. Cost could be a function of the square foot summary. The square foot summary could be adjusted by changing values entered in the template. Adjustments could be used to meet a cost target before the production of expensive drawings. Specifications and short form contracts could be included for editing to protect the quality expectations of the owner. My objective was to shorten the time required for complete design services based on the delivery of benefit that could be understood by the consumer. I never completed the concept, however; because I questioned its value. 

Third, the issue of development capacity and intensity has my current attention since the intensity created directly affects our quality and source of life. Development capacity has a mathematical foundation and I’m currently preparing the equations involved for presentation. 

I’ve written about the Built Domain on a number of occasions. It must coexist with a Natural Domain that is its source of life without compromising our quality of life in the process with excessive intensity. This is the issue of symbiotic shelter that I’ve raised. I intend to give you the equations needed to address the issue at the grass roots level of practice. This is where it happens, but it can’t happen without the organization needed to do the homework. Repositioning, credibility, and public reliance on the knowledge created will follow.

PS: I should have mentioned The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. It is a terrific description of the improvement in medicine that took place in the 20th century when professional research provided new knowledge and tools to its practitioners. This began only 100 years ago.


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