Tag Archives: architectural design

Mickey Mao’s Playhouse (or why weird architecture isn’t that new, and why we need this weird crap)

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Can weird architecture contribute to society? It depends on your definition of weird, and if that definition of weird includes any reference to starships, phallic symbols, and teapots.

I came across this article (http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/20/travel/gallery/china-weird-buildings-2015/index.html) regarding some recent unique architecture being built in China. Is it weird? Yeah, you could say that. Is that bad? Kinda, kinda not.

“Weird” architecture has always been around. The first time a nomadic civilization came across a permanent settlement one of those nomads declared, “Holy crap that’s weird.” (Imagine a Sumerian accent.) And when people first saw the completion of the Pyramids of Giza and The Sphinx someone uttered, “Holy crap that’s weird.” (Let’s go with a Hittite accent.) And when the Europeans in the Middle Ages were constructing buildings within the ruins of ancient Roman stadiums you know someone thought, “These ancient structures provideth us with stable and firm foundations to buildeth our homes.” (Okay, maybe not the best example of my point, but only because saying “Holy crap that’s weird” in Europe during the Middle Ages usually meant being excommunicated by The Church.)

So where was I… yes, there has always been weird architecture. More recent historical weirdness includes Antoni Gaudi, Buckminster Fuller, and Robert Venturi. And maybe their weirdness came across as kitsch or gimcrack (my word of the day), but within the DNA of this weirdness came a new perspective in design, architecture, structure, and perception. Yes, Gaudi is weird, but it gave us Santiago Calatrava. Bucky was way the hell out there, but it gave us Renzo Piano. And Bob, yeah, he had these weird ideas of ducks and decorated sheds, which basically has led to all of the images in the above link to Chinese architecture.

Weird architecture is not only good, it’s necessary. It’s the architectural proving ground to all future ideologies that will define how we live, how we worship, how we do business, and how we ultimately shape who we are now and in the future.

Live long and prosper.

The built environment and its occupants (or why Gymkata is the greatest gymnast-themed movie dealing with the American ‘Star Wars’ program)

I’m a guy, so I like stupid stuff. A 1989 Ford Escort painted neon green with a five foot tall spoiler and an exhaust system louder than most NASA rockets at takeoff? Like it. A video of an elderly man nearly snapping his spinal cord after falling off an obstacle during his run at American Ninja Warrior? Definitely smitten. An American gymnast being chased by cannibalistic villagers in the fictional country of Parmistan and confronting these “foodies” in Pommel Horse Square? You had me at cannibalistic.

I could write about how architecture is shaped by its occupants, and how this relationship ultimately shapes societies, but that would take time away from you watching the above video and I know you only had a few minutes before you needed to walk away from the computer to 1) go to bed, 2) get back to work, or 3) head off to gymnastic practice.

Seriously though, what are the odds that Johnathan Cabot, the champion gymnast working for the United States government, would face his pursuers here? How many villages in the world have a pommel horse in the middle of a square, and under what search term on Kayak.com can I find them?

Again, you had me at cannibalistic.

What is architectural design?

As an architect I am in constant flux of what it is I do. I don’t construct buildings or fund projects — I design. But what the hell does that mean?

The architectural profession has done a horrible job of conveying A) what it is that architects do, and B) why we’re even necessary to society. We can postulate the essence of architecture, and we can criticize architecture on both a theoretical and substantive level, but can we even define what architectural design means?

At least at this point in my life, and this place in time and space, I define architectural design as problem solving by adding value. To try to break it down to its most simplistic state, we design to solve a problem. But design goes beyond just solving problems. I solve problems in my black-belt Sudoku puzzle book (truth be told, I’m more like an orange belt), but that’s not design. Where’s the value to society? Who really benefits by me sitting in the bathroom filling out squares with a number between one and nine?

There’s always been that faint distinction between art and architecture (at least by my turtleneck-wearing brethren), but the true difference is that art doesn’t solve a problem. Sure, it inspires the uninspired, and it ruminates the people who can’t tie their own shoes, but it doesn’t solve a problem. Likewise, architecture that doesn’t solve a problem, such as not fulfilling the intended program of the building, becomes art. If people can’t use the building, then what problem was solved? (Yes, you’ve kept the elements out, and bears are deterred from attacking the inhabitants, but if the program is not fulfilled then the building’s not very useful.)

I don’t want to come across as someone who thinks architecture should fulfill its utilitarian purpose and be good. I think every piece of architecture not only can inspire but should inspire. To make bad architecture into great architecture takes a little more effort (although it typically takes a whole lot more talent).

That is what good architects do, and that is what I do — solve problems and add value.

Is Architecture More Than Merely a Service Industry?

I recently came across a blog (schneiderism) where a post discussed the idea of architecture being a service industry.  Technically architecture is a service industry, at least in that it does not primarily provide a tangible product.  But it seems that within the definition of service industry you have what I’ll term the “math” service professions and the “art” service professions.

The “math” service professions can be judged with a prescribed method for determining if the service was done correctly.  What I mean by this is that a checklist can be made of what needs to be accomplished, and when the checklist is complete the work is done.  When an electrician does the wiring for a new light fixture the success of that service can be deemed complete when the light fixture operates correctly and when the building hasn’t burned down to the ground.  The same goes for an accountant, a painter, or even a car mechanic.

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Does Sustainability Have an Inherent Style?

When you think of sustainable architecture one of the first images that may come to your mind are the houses and other buildings from the 1960’s and 70’s that appear more to be diagrammatic designs than inspiring architecture, with their clerestory windows facing south and the giant trombe wall.  Or even the Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome house was to be be more efficient with energy consumption and use of construction materials.  The geodesic dome house also incorporated the ability to be constructed off-site which would decrease the time to construct it and better utilize materials and labor.

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