With September 11th, ten years later, quickly approaching, the discussion of the World Trade Center site is once again at the forefront of our collective consciousness â€“ and not just as architects, but as US citizens (note: stop saying â€œAmericans,â€ people â€“ you make us look ignorant). With that in mind, I thought Iâ€™d post today on what one architecture critic -Ada Louise Huxtable – was saying immediately after the attack (and some years later, in the case of the video). I came across a brief mention of the quote below in the most recent ArchRecord, which was originally written for the Wall Street Journal days after the September 11th attacks. It can also be found in Huxtableâ€™s book â€˜On Architectureâ€˜ (pages 378-379).
There will be, and should be, passionate disagreement about replacing them at all. Rebuilding on this site requires serious consideration. There will be, and should be, calls for a memorial park, a public open space to serve as a permanent reminder of one of the cityâ€™s, and historyâ€™s, worst catastrophes â€“ a detestable man-made, as opposed to natural, disaster â€“ and for a tribute to those who died needlessly and tragically in an act of unredeemed horror.
And yet, one can almost predict what the New York process will be. This city can show its compassion, and its resolve, as it is doing now, but it is also a city incapable of the large, appropriate gesture in the public interest if it costs too much. That, too, is something that can be debated. What are our values? How do we count the cost of those lives? Under these extraordinary circumstances, does â€œthe highest and best use of the land,â€ the gospel according to real estate, really hold? Traditionally, that has meant filling the land to the maximum permitted by law, for the greatest return, while ignoring every social or human factor.
If the usual scenario is followed, the debate will lead to a â€œsolutionâ€ in which principle is lost and an epic opportunity squandered. With the best intentions the Municipal Art Society, a conscientious watchdog of the cityâ€™s urban quality, will announce a competition to determine what should be done with the site. The results will make a nice little exhibition, and discussions and lectures will be held. All this will be ignored by the movers and shakers making big building plans under the expedient banner of physical and symbolic reconstruction. There will be a fuss in the press, with letters to the editor, pro and con. City Hall in a split political decision between greed and glory, will come out for the builders and a memorial â€“ a monument or a small park, something financially inoffensive in the larger scheme of things. This is the Compromise. Or the trade-off, to put it more bluntly. A properly pious, meaningless gesture that everyone can buy without loss of face or obvious shame.
There will be another call for a competition â€“ this time for the big building â€“ it will be specified that this is to be a â€œworld-classâ€ work of architecture. The most conservative design will be chosen by a consortium of potential investors. No one will pay much attention to the token park, which will be a blank spot on the plans, eventually done in a faux retro style for brown-bag lunchers. There will be world-class nothing.
It didnâ€™t exactly take a crystal ball or special powers to make these predictions, but I do think they warrant some thought now, as we mark 10 years having passed since the attacks. While the memorial park appears to be coming together as something more than Huxtableâ€™s â€œtoken parkâ€, it seems unfair to judge it until the site as a whole has been completed. The tower, on the other hand, is coming off as a big let-down â€“ but thatâ€™s another post.
Studio Banana TV interviews Japanese architect Toyo Ito on the occasion of his lecture at the European University of Madrid. Toyo Ito is one of the world’s most innovative and influential architects. Ito is known for creating extreme concept buildings, in which he seeks to fuse the physical and virtual worlds. Interview realised with the sponsorship of the European University of Madrid.
Toyo Ito is a Japanese architect born in 1941. He graduated from Tokyo University‘s Department of Architecture in 1965. His office Toyo Ito & Associates is a world leading exponent of architecture that addresses the contemporary notion of a ‘simulated’ ciy, and has been called “one of the world’s most innovative and influential architects.”
[Image: Kyle Belcher handing out info sheets to Solar Decathlon visitors, via]
Mid-week during this year’s Solar Decathlon AMNP had the opportunity to speak with Kyle Belcher, one of the project managers from Team California. A recent graduate of California College of the Arts, Kyle was involved in varying capacities from inception to the final construction and display of Team California’s solar home – named ‘Refract House‘ – which placed 3rd overall in the Decathlon.
ArchitectureMNP: To start things off – could you give us an idea of how the design process worked, and how it differed from a ‘typical’ architecture program / design studio?
Kyle Belcher: With an architecture curriculum, you usually take one project per studio and so we had to be a little bit flexible as you wanted students with a background in the project to continue – but we couldn’t just take all their architecture studio projects away from them just so that they could work on the project. So what ended up happening was that we had a schematic design studio, where 16 students each had an 800 SF solar powered house to design. At mid-terms of that semester an independent panel of architects and engineers critiqued these students, and choose 4 schemes to move forward. Those 16 students then broke up into 4 groups of 4, and at the end of the semester one project was chosen as the direction to go in. I was in that studio and my scheme was one of the 4, but it wasn’t chosen – and I thought that was going to be the end of my Decathlon.
There was then a summer studio elective that took that initial concept and produced a basic drawing set for the department of energy. A couple of days into that studio I actually got a call from the faculty member in charge at that point on the architecture side, and was asked to be his research assistant to help finish that process. So I came in to help lead the student effort on producing those drawings. At the end of that process, we had completed a basic set of about 25 pages – and I was then asked to continue on as on of the project managers. For the rest of the summer we had 4 architecture students that received a stipend to continue working on the Decathlon.
At that point we were working more closely with the engineers [from Santa Clara University], starting to develop the project from the engineering side, talking about what systems we wanted to use. Another architecture studio of 16 new student then helped develop those drawings further, and continued on to construction drawings. Of the 4 students from the end of the summer only 1 was actually in this new studio. The rest stayed on as advisors, taking an elective to help out with logistics – but we weren’t involved in the drawings everyday. That was a little tricky, because in most architecture studios everyone is doing their own proposal, and you don’t really need to work with your peers to share a single vision. In an office, there’s a clear hierarchy of who’s the principal in charge, and where everyone fits on the pay scale. We had to navigate these two things as students.
AMNP: So would you say this was more democratic than an office environment?
KB: Absolutely. Also, unlike an office, there’s not a clear 9-5 schedule everyday where everyone’s in the office for large chunks of time to work on a project. At that point we had to meet more often with the engineers, and their schedules were completely different than the architecture students’ schedules in terms of availability. So a lot of those design meetings had to get pushed off to Saturdays and Sundays, as well as late night phone calls and emails.
At that point there wasn’t simply one architecture student that was handling the details – it wasn’t quite design by committee, but it was 3 or 4 people that were of an equal level talking about design decisions. So it was hard, and it was a learning process – especially working with the engineers that don’t have prior work experience, just like the architecture student. Having to navigate that learning curve both within our own discipline and through dealing with other fields was a major obstacle to overcome.
In the following Spring there was one final studio, with some overlap of students, working on the full set of construction drawings. That ended in May, and then the managers who were graduating ran shop and finished the construction drawings and then led construction. Most construction didn’t start until after May.
AMNP: Could you talk a little about the decision to segment the house and create that courtyard?
KB: When we started the process we looked at precedents of other Decathlons – looking at what had been successful for other teams, and at what may not have worked. We noticed that a lot of the houses are simple ‘bar’ buildings, which have a lot of efficiencies for cross-ventilation, etc – but they were these ‘bar’ building with pitched roofs for solar panels, and that was kind of it. So our rallying cry over the past year has been ‘breaking out of the box’, and seeing how we can not just have 1 or 2 modules, but actually use 3 separate modules to create that courtyard – and because we were limited in square footage, we wanted to make use of exterior space to make the home feel much larger.
AMNP: So then you jumped right into construction at the beginning of the summer?
KB: Finishing up the school year we were a little behind in construction because, like any drawing set, things don’t get done until there are deadlines. The deadline of the end of school, and knowing we were losing a lot of our work force in the class forced us to kick it in gear with the construction drawings – some construction couldn’t be started until those drawings were finished, obviously – so there was one big push the last 3 weeks of May, which were the 3 weeks after graduation, to finish the construction drawings and deliver them to the Department of Energy by June 3rd.
As of the first week of May we only had our steel moment frames up and intact. The construction site being on Santa Clara’s campus, and Santa Clara being in school until the first or second week of June, it proved difficult for both finishing construction drawings and doing full 9-5 construction in Santa Clara.
AMNP: How long did it take to finish construction at Santa Clara – and how much of the construction was completed before the house was shipped to DC?
KB: We only had 6 days to put the house together on the National Mall. Because of that limitation we had to get as far in construction as possible in Santa Clara, except for those things that were site-critical. I say that because we faced some unique challenges with some of the code requirements. We needed the house to be ADA accessible, so we needed ADA ramps – but we didn’t have a true survey of our site, to know what the slope was going to be across the site. We knew where the ramps were going to be, but because of the slopes of the ramps we didn’t know what the finished height of the deck was going to be … [we had to] make sure we were under a 30″ threshold [so that the deck itself wouldn’t need guardrails] and could still fit our ramps within the envelope dictated by the Department of Energy. We were pretty nervous. We had all of the ramps built in Santa Clara – we just didn’t know if it was all going to work out until we got to DC. Also the exterior lighting and signage were handled when we got to Washington – but everything else was done in Santa Clara.
::Video Sundays, or VS, is a weekly feature here on AMNP. For more architecture-related videos, click on any Sunday in the sidebar calendar, or on the �videos� category in the �archjutsu�section. And don�t hesitate to submit suggestions for video features to architecture[at]myninjaplease[dot]com::
[image: photos taken by one of the Mars rovers]
I recently finished reading Red Mars, the first in a series of novels by Kim Stanley Robinson on the human colonization of Mars. Subsequently, I read an interview with Robinson over at BLDGBLOG – where, in true BLDGBLOG fashion, they discuss comparative planetology. This excerpt, in particular, stood out to me:
But if you think of yourself as terraforming Earth, and if you think about sustainability, then you can start thinking about permaculture and what permaculture really means. Its not just sustainable agriculture, but a name for a certain type of history. Because the word sustainability is now code for: lets make capitalism work over the long haul, without ever getting rid of the hierarchy between rich and poor and without establishing social justice.
Sustainable development, as well: thats a term thats been contaminated. It doesnt even mean sustainable anymore. It means: let us continue to do what were doing, but somehow get away with it. By some magic waving of the hands, or some techno silver bullet, suddenly we can make it all right to continue in all our current habits. And yet its not just that our habits are destructive, theyre not even satisfying to the people who get to play in them. So theres a stupidity involved, at the cultural level.
~ Kim Stanley Robinson
Samuel Mockbee sits down with Charlie Rose sometime in 200 [I believe]. If you’d like to skip ahead to Mockbee’s segment, it starts around the 40 minute mark.
::Video Sundays, or VS, is a weekly feature here on AMNP. For more architecture-related videos, click on any Sunday in the sidebar calendar â€“ or on the â€˜videosâ€™ category in the â€˜archjutsuâ€™ section. And donâ€™t hesitate to submit suggestions for video features to architecture[at]myninjaplease[dot]com::
Those of you who’ve been reading the site for a while now know that we’re fans of Boston-based HÃ¶weler + Yoon Architecture – both because we like supporting the work of Beantown designers [sorry, we’re biased, people], and because their work is pretty feckin’ sick.
::Video Sundays, or VS, is a weekly feature here on AMNP. For more architecture-related videos, click on any Sunday in the sidebar calendar – or on the â€˜videosâ€™ category in the â€˜archjutsuâ€™ section. Additional videos that have been featured on any of the MNP sites can be found here on our YouTube page. And donâ€™t hesitate to submit suggestions for video features to architecture[at]myninjaplease[dot]com::
[Image: Third Ward’s Project Row Houses]
Art is life; Life is art…People are looking at themselves, really.
Now, as someone who has jumped on the Project Row Houses [PRH]/ Third Ward TX bandwagon only some time ago, I have to say that I didn’t know much about what was trying to be accomplished and what has become/ progressed from their initial beginnings in the early 90’s. This is what i did know.
First of all, go and buy the film. Throw in on the film with a friend or group of friends and hold a movie night. Whatever you do, just try and catch it. Third Ward TX is flat out a good film. The humor is light, often subdued by the seriousness of the situation, but ever apparent as the life force of the film grows throughout. Local third ward artists like Bert Long [quoted at top] and Jesse Lott [who have lived in the community their whole lives] grin and smile warmly as they invite the viewer into the area, its back stories, gains and downfalls, all while providing their own incites and perspectives on what PRH had truly done to save the community. For those of you who are still in school…maybe struggling with ideas for your thesis proposals, why not tackle the subject of community developments in low income areas? It’s a terrific model for what smart planning and what a little vision can do for any place in a similar condition. The uniqueness of the situation as compared to similar places in the United States is that the members of the community actively saved themselves in the long run.
I hesitantly used the word dilapidated to describe my first impressions of the homes of third ward [prior to PRH]. What I didn’t know until seeing the film is that my same POV of the homes could be used to describe the ever slighting community at the time as well. Drugs, prostitution and negativity were taking the pride of third ward’s citizens and it wasn’t until a group of artists [led by Rick Lowe] came in, bought the 20+ shotgun homes and began rebuilding them to provided the first stages of change, that ultimately helped restore the faith in the community and then the community itself.
[Image: Jesse Lott & Rick Lowe]
However, it took more than just painting a portrait or taking a picture of a neglected area to bring about necessary change [even though that is where it evolved from]. As described in the film, the people could see the problems in third ward [they were living amongst it]. What they needed was someone or a group of someones to come in and physically start the evolutionary process. It was surprising that within a place where that sense of community is so highly held, that it took the initiative of someone outside the community [ingrained with the same beliefs as its residents] to start the ball rolling. In Third Ward, Rick felt the same feeling of community he was used to seeing growing up in the south with his own family of 12, and the community in turn saw another active family member who everyone connected to on some level.
[Image: Director, ‘Third Ward TX’, Andy Garrison]
For myself and others who felt out of the loop and want more information on Houston’s third ward, there are those who have more knowledge of what PRH has represented to that community – like Mr. Andrew Garrison, director/ photographer of Third Ward TX:
…[migrating] between documentary and narrative filmmaking…[Garrison’s] films have been featured on PBS and in festivals worldwide, including the New York Film Festival, Sundance, Berlin, South by SouthWest, Rotterdam, Goteburg, Sydney and Atlanta. Garrison worked at Appalshop, the multi-disciplinary arts and education center in Kentucky for more than a dozen years, making his own films and shooting for other filmmakers. He also actively promotes media education and youth production. Garrisonâ€™s films have won several awards and earned him fellowships from the NEA, the AFI, and the Guggenheim Foundation…
Third Ward TX – a documentary that projects the hopes, flaws, learnings, teachings, and ultimate rebirth of a primarily black community in Houston – tells the story of how rebuilding shotgun houses in the third ward helped a community reclaim its sense of pride in itself again. I was contacted by Andy after my purchase of the film, thanking me for my interest and if i had any comments to fell free to leave them. I later asked him if AMNP could do a quick interview with him on TWTx – which he kindly agreed to [even though, my ninjas and ninjettes, the man was teaching study abroad in Prague and is now in Sardinia. Andy’s very much the man for finding any time in his busy schedule to hit me back]. So here is an interview with Third Ward TX director/ photographer Andrew Garrison:
ArchitectureMNP : Who is Andy Garrison? How long have you been creating documentaries & films?
Andrew Garrison : I started making documentary films with a group of friends right out of college that included two-time Academy Award nominees Jim Klein and Julia Reichert. We supported ourselves with various odd jobs and contributed resources to make films, videos, radio, photography, local and national audio-slide shows and other documentary media in Dayton, OH, calling ourselves the Dayton Community Media Workshop. This eventually lead me to work with the documentary film group, Appalshop, in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I have always been interested in documentary and particularly in how art and media can help build community. I also like making fiction films. I often freelance as a D.P. or as a sound recordist for other documentary makers. I started teaching film and media production at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997.
AMNP : How did you become involved in filming the Third Ward/ Project RowHouses documentary?
AG : My good friend Nancy Bless, whom I had known in the Ohio, now lives in Austin. She had written several articles for international art magazines about Project Row Houses. She felt a film needed to be made and she told me about it. Much as I trust her, I am always skeptical when someone says “You should make a film about ‘X.'” But I visited with Nancy one weekend and shot several hours of DV tape. I was knocked out by the work Project Row Houses was doing and the people I met. Nancy agreed to co-produce the film, and we started. Shortly after I invited another good friend, Noland Walker, with whom I had crewed on other projects. Noland and I had been talking about working together for years and this was a good opportunity.
AMNP : Do you remember being emotionally moved at all to act upon helping to show the state of the Third Ward through film?
AG : I have seen a lot of community organizing and a lot of art used toward social change goals. Usually the art is poor or not really connected to the community in which it is being made, or there is some fracture between the art and the other goals. Project Row Houses was the most moving, true, and exciting vision of art functioning as art AND as an engine for change that I have ever seen, with concrete outcomes and an amazing aesthetic.
AMNP : Did you develop closeness to the residents of Third Ward as shooting developed, or do you [while filming documentaries] have to keep your own emotions distant?
AG : With several people in the film in particular I felt very close. And it was reciprocated. But then there is also this other thing that happens where you get to know a film character so well in the editing room and you think you are close to them, but really you have been looking at the same material for weeks or months or years and only think you know them. And they have not been looking at you. That also happened.
AMNP : I [like most architects] am a visual person. So I enjoyed the terrific match of commentary overdubbed with film/photography. It makes it easy for viewers to understand what it’s like being in the third ward and downtown Houston without physically being there. Not having prior knowledge of your other work, did the architecture of third ward & Houston guide your filming & photographing?
[Image: John Bigger’s ‘Four Seasons’]
AG : The little house, and the aesthetic of the row houses was always very very present–guiding our thinking and visual understanding. We interviewed historians, architects, and arts studies people about that style of house and its place in the U.S., the South, and Texas. [the late] John Biggers was definitely a guiding light for us.
[Image: John Biggers]
The opening was always a problem to be solved for us. Editor Sandra Guardado and I, and my co-producers Nancy and Noland went round and round on this. How can we succinctly set up the place, the history, the relationship to downtown Houston and not lose everybody before the story starts? I was also trying not to use narration. We had decided from the beginning that we could always use narration if we needed to, so I always felt like we had a fall-back position. But that opening really evolved between a trailer I had cut early on, and a ton of work by Sandra. What you see took a lot of different tries. I have at least six other openings in my files.
The opening is a kind of foundation for the rest of the movie, but you don’t want it to be all exposition. It has to lead you in and give you enough to understand what is unfolding in front of you, but also tell you this is going to be good, a movie. We settled on a film structure that unfolded much the same way we felt we discovered aspects of Project Row Houses.
[Image: Entry to Houston’s Third Ward]
AMNP : In chapters 10 & 11, there is this sort of irony that is created between Veralisa Hunter and Larry Davis. The first values the row house community and how the community is ‘not locked or has a boxed’ atmosphere. And though she describes the difficulties of not having much [monetarily] she still has beauty around her [and recognizes how fortunate she is to be able to wake up everyday and see that beauty]. Larry’s segment comes in and explains his views on loft-style housing [and later around the 40 to 41 minute mark we get a chance to see big metal boxes that seem a bit out of place for a residential area with brick and vinyl siding homes] and they’re targeting of single mothers to live there. Then I was like ‘whoa, wait a minute,’ and caught myself laughing at the irony â€“ while constructing more ‘affordable’ housing units for women, Urban Lofts would also be extracting a very similar demographic group from houses they are already comfortable in. Was that juxtaposition thought out during filming or in editing? Or was it a happy mistake that came about through your process of interviewing different individuals on the same or similar subjects?
AG : It was very much a conscious choice. Larry Davis’ lofts are actually very interesting homes and buildings. And in reclaimed land without an existing neighborhood around them, they make sense. Particularly for people who are not looking for a neighborhood but only for the convenience of being central and having access to the city. The design of the lofts tends to isolate the residents. They drive in through a gate directly into their garage, enter the living area upstairs from the garage, and then look out from a picture window at the scene below them. They have no reason to interact with their next door neighbors or anyone outside of their space, unlike the little row houses with porches front and back and street level activities.
So when Mr. Davis talks about appealing to single women, he means single working women who can feel safe by driving into their property and having walls and locks between them and the street. Feeling safe is extremely important of course, but one design is based on a community of people interacting–safety created by the existence of the community– and the other design is about the feeling of safety through isolation. His prices are not what the single mothers going to college, living at PRH were looking for or could afford, even though they are a reasonable rate, based solely on the market.
We did not interview a lot of developers. In fact, when we started the film it was not about housing and development. But that is what was happening in front of us as we shot.
AMNP : My final question is an easier one. What’s next up for you, Andy?
AG : I have a feature fiction film that takes place on the Texas-Mexico border a screenwriter friend is writing now and I am trying to raise money to edit a film about a musician in the mountains of Virginia that I shot about 20 years ago.
[Image: Lowe fronts new two-story row houses]
Okay, so as Andy has told me in emails we exchanged previous to the interview, PRH has undergone substantial growth since its early beginnings [despite the push of developments] and the community is bigger than ever before [he was back in Houston visiting in May, and a whole new row of new two-story row houses [seen above] had been completed and were already occupied, on PRH”s original campus block]. That friends, is what community action can translate into as long as there is enough support in it.
A very special Architecture.MNP thanks to Andy Garrison taking some time out of his teaching schedule abroad to talk with us [watch out for two new works – one feature a fiction film in writing stages at the moment; the other a documentary on a musician from Virginia]. All the best to him in the future. And watch out for another post on Andy’s work with Nancy Bless – a one-day conference in Austin, Texas in September on Art and community development and design
Previous post: Third Ward, TX [part 1]
::Article by Dubs::
[Image: Andrew Maynard Architects’ CV08]
Andrew Maynard has what some may consider to be a peculiar vision for the future of the Australian suburb – lush forest wilderness, or otherwise natural untouched land devoid of cookie-cutter human settlements. And it would all be thanks [if he had his way, perhaps?] to something resembling the image above.
That’s right, my ninjas – Maynard has developed a proposal for giant suburb-devouring robots, that will both consume the existing suburbs as they pass AND do a little terraforming while there at it. Who could ask for more? Well, maybe just this:
We are thinking about getting a few more students at AMA so that they can build a prototype in the store room. Then we will accidentally [on purpose] spill various liquids on it until it comes to life and starts killing people indiscriminately and tries to take over the world. We can only hope. [Andrew Maynard]
[Image: the CV08’s trail of newly terraformed land]
Invited to speak at the RAIA‘s upcoming Critical Visions ’08 conference in Sydney [April 10-12], Maynard will be presenting a polemic on Australia’s suburbs and their overall impact on society + the planet. A slideshow on AMA’s website describes Maynard’s prediction for the suburb’s future: as oil prices continue rising, the suburbs will become more and more unaffordable – the dependence on the automobile and lack of public transit, coupled with the lack of money for gasoline [and/or lack of gasoline itself] will cause the collapse of the suburb’s infrastructure.
Where will suburbanites live when there is no other means of circulation to their homes? What will we do with our abandoned and decaying suburbs? And most importantly, what will we do with the 50% of Australians that are over-weight due to car dependence and a sedentary lifestyle?
Well, my ninjas – Andrew Maynard Architects believe they have the answer: the CV08.
[Image: CV08 section diagram]
The CV08 is like a late night infomercial on steroids: it slices, it dices, it consumes entire towns – and it even cleans up after itself. The satirical hexapod will descend upon the suburbs, gathering the abandoned homes and cars through it’s front legs [dubbed ‘demo legs’, seen below] – crushing everything in its path and packaging it neatly for recycling. The CV08 then releases new flora+fauna through the middle legs [which are kept, obviously, in carbonite freeze until deployment] – immediately populating the newly reclaimed land.
Lastly, the rear legs of the CV08 will serve as a means of power-collection: they pull chubby Australian suburbanite stragglers up into a liposuction chamber, which draws out all of their excess fat [which then powers the CV08]. The now trim Aussies are then shot out of the backside [read: ass] of the robot, parachuting down to safety – along with a brand new bicycle constructed from recycled suburbs.
Think of all the time + money this will save people on painting their McMansions, mowing the lawn, and going to the gym.
[Image: CV08 section detail – the ‘demo leg’]
A slideshow, from the AMA website.
A brief video showcasing the project.
A PDF of the presentation boards.
[Image: CV08 section detail – the ‘flora leg’]
After learning about the project and the Critical Visions ’08 conference I had the opportunity to ask Andrew Maynard a couple questions regarding the CV08 polemic and the increasingly popular AMA.
ArchitectureMNP : So for starters – why?
Andrew Maynard : I have always been anti-car [anti-car ownership to be exact] and I am a public transport advocate. So CV08 is just another step on my continuing polemical journey to illustrate just how nasty cars are for us.
AMNP : Was the suburb-eating robot already in the works / a thought in the back of your mind somewhere – or is it entirely a response to Critical Visions ’08 [as the name implies]?
AM : The majority of my ideas have been tucked away for awhile and I simply try to find the appropriate time to let them out. I am a borrower and hoarder of ideas. We have lists and lists of ideas in the office, just waiting for the opportunity to be given life. Though I am an old school fan of regionalism, Frampton and his contemporaries I tend to find that I am not very good at purely responding to site and the brief. If I wait for the good idea to pop out then it will simply never appear. Instead I try to be pragmatic with my response to site and brief and then simply refer to one or 2 of my hoarded ideas to bring in the colour and joy. To answer your question, I had on my ideas list “design a robot” for no other reason than I am a geek and I like Asimov. The conference simply gave me an excuse to dedicate some time to it. We couldn’t think of a good name for the robot. We started discussing R2-D2 and C3-P0 and we decided that the conference name, CV08, was perfect.
AMNP : Did the entire firm work on the project? I imagine that the initial discussions + meetings were hilarious.
AM : I’m not great at teamwork, which does trouble me, but I do try. In our office I tend to disappear with a new project and try to get the parameters clear in my head. At numerous times between my first survey of the issues and the final design I will quickly grab everyone and ask for input. The more absurd and subversive the better. I like getting as much feedback from my crew as possible, but as the boss, I am in the lucky position of ignoring what I don’t want to hear and taking on what excites me. My inability [unwillingness?] to work in rich team environments is not a great working model. But it works for us. In reality though, my way of working will most likely mean that we remain a small firm [boutique]. Put me in a room with equal weighted stake holders and I tend to be a sook or throw tantrums. Hopefully I’ll grow out of this.
But yes, once I had identified the key concepts that I wished to pursue, the initial discussion for CV08 was a lot of fun and everyone was involved. We were all throwing ideas around and everyone was drawings robots. The sketch that we settled on was actually drawn by Matt, who is an insanely talented designer/architect. As with every project that we do, I worked it up in detail on the computer while everyone else got on with projects that would pay the bills.
AMNP : How many of you [who worked on the project] are from / grew up in the ‘burbs yourselves? Was there a little bit of leftover teen angst that you guys got to express through the project?
AM : We are all from the “burbs”, except for Jun who is from Singapore. There is a lot of teen angst here. I remember many, many hours of being trapped in the back of a car. However hopefully our polemics are based in a strong political and social ideology rather than pure angst.
[Image: CV08 section detail – the backside/’lipo leg’]
AMNP : Lastly, as a sidenote: you can tell by your graphics that AMA uses SketchUp, achieving a simple yet interesting + fun rendering style. Could you take a second to explain your views on current software usage / rendering styles in architecture?
AM : I don’t really have a strong opinion on this one. Everyone in the office has at one time or another been involved in a sub-culture such as skating, surfing, indie-bands and such and we try to reference this rather than borrowing from the typical architectural discourse both literal and graphical. In the end I want our work to look like its come straight out of a comic book, somewhere between Jim Lee, Frank Miller and Future systems. Before we got into SketchUp, which is a very recent addition to our office, I would spend a lot of time and energy making our graphics look somewhat like a comic. SketchUp just made the process quicker.
For more from Andrew Maynard Architects head on over to their website – and check out these previous posts on AMNP:
::All images, quotes + info courtesy of Andrew Maynard Architects. Special AMNP thanks to our ninja from down-under Andrew Maynard for taking the time to speak with us::
ArchitectureMNP recently had the opportunity to have a brief email-interview with Blaine Brownell – architect, ninja, and author/editor of the fantastic material investigations/catalogs Transmaterial + Transmaterial 2 [read our review here].
ArchitectureMNP: What first got you interested in studying/cataloging materials?
Blaine Brownell: I had the chance to research materials for my first significant architecture project after graduate school. Despite my interest in the subject, I didnâ€™t have much prior preparation for the job, and I felt that it was difficult to find high-quality and objective information about many materials. As the design came to a close, I was also concerned about the future of the materials knowledge base our team had developed after much effort. Would it simply be shelved away with the drawings and specifications, I wondered? I decided then to start a simple database of the most interesting materials to share with colleagues, so that this wisdom could enhance other project efforts in addition to our own.
MNP: Do you view your books [and website] as tools to aid in selecting materials for projects, or more of a means to educate people about the possibilities varying materials present to designers?
BB: Both. The Transmaterial project is not only intended to assist practicing designers in selecting innovative materials, but also to inspire a broader audience with regard to the many opportunities available. I hope that clients also get excited about new materials, for example, so that the process of innovation can be more meaningful and collaborative for all involved.
MNP: Are your books collections of materials you’ve featured in you ‘Product of the Week’ newsletter, or are is all the content new?
BB: Yes and no â€“ newsletter materials do find their way into the books, but the process of creating a book is its own project, and many of the materials featured there are new.
MNP: As someone who spends a lot of time on these here internets looking for interesting projects + content, I’m incredibly impressed with how many products you’ve collected in the books – could you discuss your ‘method’ for finding content?
BB: I obtain information from just about any source â€“ books, magazines, manufacturers, websites, etc. The most important source, however, is often the Transmaterial audience. I have received some of the most intriguing product suggestions from recipients of my emails or visitors to my website. This network also shares information very rapidly, before it appears in other periodicals or books.
MNP: Did you alter these ‘methods’ in any way for Transmaterial 2?
BB: No, although I wrote Transmaterial 2 while living in Tokyo, so there are a few more Japanese materials in this volume due to my exposure to them.
MNP: How does a material ‘make the cut’?
BB: The material may not be something that is in conventional use, and it also must have the potential to transform the constructed environment (or the process of making it) in a significant way.
MNP: How do you feel about material use in today’s design fields – architecture in particular?
BB: Architecture is typically the most limited field with regard to material use, due to the inherent scale, liability, and single end-product nature of the discipline (as opposed to mass-production in industrial design). However, environmental concerns and the increasing knowledge about technological innovation in architecture are transforming the field in a fundamental way.
MNP: To follow-up on the previous question – how do you think these new + innovative materials can become more integrated into everyday design and construction? [Can they?]
BB: Architects have an unprecedented opportunity to provide significant and critical leadership in this area. I believe that innovative materials and design approaches that promise a more environmentally-healthy and creatively-imagined world will find their way into everyday design and construction, because we have little other choice.
MNP: What’s the most interesting material you’ve recently discovered? [read: what’s your favorite new material?]
BB: One of my students at the University of Michigan is developing a material with varying reflectivity, refractivity and opacity across a graduated surface. She hasnâ€™t given a name to the product yet, but the idea could revolutionize building skins in the future.
MNP: How do you envision the future of what has now become a series of Transmaterial books?
BB: The number of new material possibilities for design and construction continues to increase, and the Transmaterial books celebrate those possibilities that have the greatest potential for change. As trends such as environmental design, nanotechnology, and biomimicry continue to garner more interest, I imagine the Transmaterial project will continue providing architects and designers with valuable and relevant information.
::Special ArchitectureMNP thanks go to Blaine Brownell for taking the time to converse with us – and for his thought provoking books + weekly newsletter. Special thanks also to our ninja Russell from PAPress for putting us in touch::