A World of Difference

September 11, 2001 will forever be ingrained in the minds of all Americans and many others around the world.  It was on this day that America lost its sense of safety and became more vulnerable than it ever had before.  Almost 15 years later, the memories still seem recent and the pain has yet to substantially subside but the proud people of the United States have progressed and life has continued.  Shortly after Ground Zero had been cleared, the abysmal scars sent residual shockwaves through those that watched the towers crumble on that somber day.  It was determined that in good American fashion, life needed to proceed and the scars that we wore would have to be dressed to heal and grow once again.  Shortly thereafter the masterplan for the site of the horrific tragedy was set and the buildings began to sprout up shrouding the two deep cuts that remained in place as a reminder to never forget what happened and the pain that accompanied.  

Fast forward to June 9, 2015 in the New York studio of Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels where the celebration need not be stifled anymore.  BIG’s overhaul of Pritzker winner Norman Foster’s 2 WTC design beamed from the computer screens as the project team tiredly congratulated one another.  The final piece of Ground Zero’s masterplan was finally led out of the gates for one last time with promise for a seal to finally be put on that bleak day.  All was finally right as the Murdoch’s described their level of comfort with Ingels and his true visionary sense of design - something they felt Foster severely lacked.  America will finally be able to put 9/11/2001 behind them and hopefully allow the rest of the wounds to close up and heal over.  It was truly a symbolic unveiling that got much more than the architecture community buzzing.  2 WTC is the final piece that will allow the country to end its grieving process and like the architect’s vision - progress past the worst attack on the mainland in its young history.

2 WTC 

Bjarke’s video that accompanied the unveiling of this top secret design demonstrated his “whiz kid” demeanor while showcasing his cutting edge new design that guaranteed to be a vertical urban neighborhood, likening the cantilevered design to his now native Tribeca.  This type of spiel has been heard time and time again as Ingels has continued his search for perfect harmony through hedonistic sustainability - a way of leveraging human activities and natural landscapes to create a euphoric and Utopian ideal.  Many architects have searched for clients that will allow them to bring science fiction to reality, only Ingels has been lucky enough to encounter several in his young career.  Ingels’ idealistic visions for his buildings are something many architects share, an identity that all will be alright in an increasingly Dystopian society that continues to fold over on itself.  Looking through Ingels’ portfolio of completed work, the biggest discrepencies are noted between his surrealistic visualizations and the actual built constructs.  Realities of the world are skewed in these beautiful artistic compositions that paint pictures of urban greenspaces and greenroofs amongst backdrops of gleaming city towers and chance encounters of strangers in common areas.  What has actually been materialized in some projects such as the '8Tallet' and 'The Mountain' in Copenhagen is a disconnect from reality.  Greenroofs which are actually brown and public spaces that are sparsely used as well as poorly detailed pieces of architecture.

8 Tallet in Copenhagen - BIG

The Mountain in Copenhagen - BIG

BIG's focus continues to be on the bigger brushstrokes which leaves the smaller details unresolved and generic - a favoritism toward a grandeur in geometry offsets attention to humanistic experiences. In his W57 project (now under construction), the overall composition has emerged as a series of flat and vertically constricted floor plates that are only enhanced by an applique facade that does little more than decorate the structure. The renderings produced for this project disregarded context and human scale favoring views from afar and computer-applied lens flares.  Ingels’ creates wonderful idealistic buildings that seem to never materialize in this less than ideal world.

A large part of 2 WTC are the green terraces that are formed by the shifting geometries occurring anywhere from the ground level to the 80th floor.  The promising vertical parks are shown as public gathering spaces with many trees and plenty of grass.  Interior spaces flow from inside out and provide for stunning views both down and out at the iconic city’s skyline.  What may result of these precariously perched vertical parks is a wall much too high to see over and greenspaces that require intensive irrigation just to keep them alive.  Wind speeds at these levels may be unbearable on most days leaving these outdoor spaces seldom used if even built at all.  Many of DBOX’s preliminary (beautifully) rendered views of the new tower show promise when there is still much more to figure before these spaces may even work. 

Formally, the tower is foreign in a sea of rectilinear towering rectangles with little or no deviation from a base geometry at the ground level.  This anomaly, however is not a negative.  While the stacking boxes is reminiscent of many early Koolhaas ideologies of building a literal diagram, it may just work.  Cantilevering the masses and decreasing their size through vertical ascent is a logical way to think and allows for the creation of the barely functioning exterior greenspaces 1,000 feet in the sky. What makes this project so inspiring is the fact that it could end up becoming something much different than other entities which call the NYC skyline home.  Cities are eclectic beings which expand, contract and re-identify themselves as time progresses.  Yet many of the great American urban centers seem to hold on to an iconic image painted in many people’s heads decades ago.  Ingels’ proposal breathes some fresh air into America’s identifying city while still following the rules just enough to exist beyond virtual reality.

A Memorial?

Contextually the BIG tower does little to engage its neighbors.  While to its credit it is different, the tower disregards its surroundings in favor of its own aloof agenda.  2 WTC doesn’t quite feel like a memorial rather a series of off-kilter lego bricks that will eventually form space and climb into the mighty New York sky.  What references does this building make to the hallowed ground it stands upon?  As a matter of fact, what references do any of the four towers make to the grounds they stand upon? The lack of cohesiveness of the site is inadequate of any true remembrance to those who died on 9/11.  Instead each creates a singular agenda based upon each designer’s ideologies surrounding death and patriotism - ideologies that seem awfully similar to the other towers nearby built solely for a specific corporation. Ingels’ tower can be seen as the only attempt at scrounging around for some progression for the country symbolically through a piece of architecture.  

SOM designed WTC 1

Richard Rogers and Partners' 3 WTC

Fumihiko Maki's 4 WTC

Tower 1, 3 and 4 each reminisce upon a modern minimalism with such blunt contextualism that the differentiation and significance of their existence gets lost in the rest of the concrete and glass jungle.  A visitor to the city who desires to spend time at the hallowed ground would be hard-pressed to actually find the ground since its identity is shared with all of the others around it. The least that could have been done is to solicit a design which calls attention to itself, memorial design is one of the few areas where flagrant use of architectural metaphor and symbolism can be used.  Whether a product of client/political barriers or insufficient project funding, the identification of the towers on this site do little to call attention and remembrance to the events that played out there.  Each tower that is currently standing references its typology to each other and then the rest of the New York (or any other urban center) skyline - where is the significance and meaning behind the disastrous event that occurred? While each new structure is beautiful and technologically advanced in its own way, the overall significance as a memorial will never be truly recognized as each simply is a building, a normal piece of architecture that just wants to fit in with the rest of the city.  

Foreign Artists

Among one of the most under-recognized issues surround the entire WTC complex is that only one of the design firms selected was of American origin.  Richard Rogers, Fumihiko Maki and BIG/Foster+Partners are all foreign designers which may or may not have satellite offices in the United States. The tragedies that took place on 9/11 directly affected each and every American, yet only one firm was able to partake in manifesting their emotions.  This means one of two things - either the American architecture scene lacks the true ability to express a progressive architectural and national agenda or the true significance behind this project was only to draw upon starchitects like name brands.  It may be hard to believe that no other American firms were capable of creating something similar - if not better - than what currently stands on Ground Zero.  The message sent by Silverstein Properties among the other important figures is that this tragedy had less to do with nationalism and creating a cohesion of American bonds and more to do with an exhibition of flagrant architecture that could never truly understand the pain that still exists and the scars that will never fully heal.  

2 WTC has been met with mixed emotions.  Some critics have already expressed concern in the loss of an ‘iconic’ Norman Foster building while others are excited to see if Bjarke Ingels can finally realize his visions in the real world.  Perhaps the Danish architect achieved the most progression and identity of all the other submissions. His utopian idea directly contrasts with the dystopian occurrences of 9/11 which will provide a somber reminder of the past (look down) and hopeful view forward (look up).  2 WTC may be another of Ingels’ creations that never actually exists in reality as it did in the renderings, but it at least has attempted to exhibit true progression and difference in identity.  Only time will tell if politics will disallow such an audacious - by American standards - structure to be built in our most prized city.  Certainly, many Americans who cherish the identity of the country hope it is reinforced with a foreigner’s dream, a true defining factor of the melting pot America has become.   


Concepts of Change

A short commentary on change and architecture

Change is perhaps the only constant we as humans can expect. In architecture and many other forms of design, change is an accepted reality that will force designers to increase flexibility and understand the dynamics that are in play for components of the objects which we create.  As the chief technical operators, designers are behind the dark curtain shielding the public from the fragile thought-processes that drive many of the things that are made and the reasons for making them.  While architects and designers embrace change, the general public has a much different perception of change and whether it is a necessity – especially when it comes to something as large as a new building.  What may be found after closer examination is that most of the clients designers are employed by are stolidly against change – at least change that may be significant in nature.  Change is not necessarily seen as progression as much of the population tends to lean toward the notion of ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it?’.  While designers are seen as the visionaries in society today, very little of them get to execute their true ideologies and dreams due to a lack of acceptance that the world we are living in is constantly changing and that everything we use, consume or make must rapidly adapt to our capricious society.

Change for many is a hard reality to accept.  Consistency, pattern and rhythm are important aspects of many animals and species – not only humans.  Change is an invasive constant that insists upon insertion at what seems to be the most inopportune times.  A constant that many are toiling with recently is the rapid onset of ‘global warming’ (more recently and accurately coined Climate Change).  This cyclic occurrence which has been scientifically shown happening more than once over the course of the existence of the planet earth has been expedited by human activities – namely vehicular activity and building operations – yet it is near impossible to get the entire population to firmly come to terms with the instability that exists within our own world.  The automobile industry has under strict stipulation from President Barack Obama reduced emissions and increased MPGs while effectively increasing vehicular efficiency in both design and energy consumption.  Meanwhile, the building industry has addressed the problem through feeble attempts, most notably USGBC’s LEED program that is seen more as a political device than a ‘green’ program by architects.  Our ideological shift to sustainable buildings has certainly begun to be reflected in some structures while we continue to build formally unnecessary structures and imbibe upon our “endless” supply of atmosphere-polluting materials. 

Truthfully the transition to sustainable building hasn’t been quite as cohesive as it needs to be and our earth continues to exhibit the harm humans impose upon it.  While the facts and natural disasters don’t quite sway the skeptics – the need to change is opposed by more than political affiliations and a lack of scientific understanding.  To many, a building is seen as an absolute entity; a rectangular enclosure with some glass, some brick and concrete and steel.  Anything besides that is foreign and instantly becomes a blemish in the consistency that has existed for hundreds of years – a consistency our conservative society continues to support while resisting drastic change.  A great example is the Tall Wood project ongoing in Canada where architect Michael Green is seeking to replace a portion of steel construction with lumber.  Backing numerous reports, TED talks and even actual built case studies – he continues to meet hostility primarily because wood has always been used for one to four-story construction – how can it be employed in anything else?  Even industry cohorts have swayed their acceptance of this project simply because of their inability to consider change and the importance it has on the lens we use to view the world.

Architects utilize their concept of change to address many things from programmatic restrictions to climatic impacts on a new structure.  An interesting yet underutilized concept that still deals directly with change is the one of how a building will actually evolve over time.  The way in which it weathers, expands and contracts, operates and aesthetically ages all are important things to consider. When working with any size project how many firms anticipate the appearances or operations fifty years from now?  Are architects thinking of the built environment incorrectly and focusing only on the immediate impacts of a building pushing aside the obvious age-factor an edifice imposes? If we design and construct buildings to address more of these issues that fall under the categories of change, will our sustainability inadvertently increase?  Currently, the biggest issue about buildings may not even be about materiality, lifespan or effective programming – it may be the outdated thought-processes the purveyors of the profession employ.  Instead of instantly assigning a building to be a 50-75-100-year structure – let’s remember that these structures should be first thought of as timeless.  Change will inherently impact our manifestations but doesn’t have to eradicate them.  Architecturally thinking of structures that readily adapt will increase sustainable aspects of our structures and allow our environmental scars to gradually fade more over time.  Buildings that last longer take greater advantage of materials’ embodied energy and can decrease the amount of raw material that must be extracted to replace such structures. 

Change is constant.  The only variable we can constantly include in our understanding of the world as we know it is change.  Building to accommodate such shifts in theory, climate or use allows both environments we inhabit to efficiently evolve over time.  At this time, society continues to struggle with the idea that things will not always remain the same.  Stability is something humans tend to take advantage of and far too often designers forget is only temporary.  Designing buildings or products alike, artists should always consider what their immediate and eventual impacts will be.  Something designed for now very well may be obsolete tomorrow – or it could last for much longer pending the choices made.  The unknowing nature of our creations is dynamic yet inspiring to create something that is flexible yet resilient.  When unleashing a creation upon the earth, designers must remember there will always be an additional variable involved that can never be accurately calculated.  The best way to plan for change is to understand the ways in which we think, do and make must never be fixed but instead malleable.  When time comes to change, our products mustn’t be unprepared or else the cyclical entrapments will steadily consume our creations dooming them to a fixed end-point forcing a massive restart in our efforts.  


Architecture isn't about buildings.  Capital (A)rchitecture isn't about the masonry, heavy timber, board-formed concrete spaces that envelope and dazzle us.  Architecture is about experience.  Experiences that are visceral and moving, providing a platform for an emotional response by those lucky enough to inhabit or interact with the space.  What architecture really boils down to is the facilitation of encounters, interactions, emotions and a multitude of other things that combine to create an endeavor that befuddles even the most stubborn of users. Architecture is not buildings, it is the fostering of experiences that occur within its spaces.

It can be rather hard to convey that such concrete realities are not so much about the sum of the parts as they are the voids - the difference of all of the physical representations of Architecture.  Whatever may happen within the confines of any given space is what is truly important - functionality and processional experiences.  The designer must thoroughly think through how a user will feel when maneuvering through spaces, how they will interact with different elements along a given route.  It is the careful coordination of the occurrences that take place throughout a 'journey' through a building and their relations to both the rational and intangible that create a successful piece of Architecture.  While geometric forays and aesthetic improvements may be what visually stimulates us, the depth of a building comes only with the richness of the void.  The moments that occur through the narrative that is Architecture.  


Spatial design becomes the most powerful is when it celebrates certain moments through a procession.  Whether these moments be tiny and sporadic or ubiquitous or functional, they create certain points through a building that highlight experiential encounters. A space that creates an escape from the banalities of everyday life can uplift and create positive emotions in those that engage it, whereas generic and poorly planned confines can encourage negativity and scant response pushing us to look back down at our smartphone screens ignoring our bland contexts.  The tiniest details of design for a space can have the most profound effects on those using it, humans can be awestruck by the grandeur but are appreciative and alert to the tinier components that create the voids we inhabit. Perhaps the most intrinsic part of designing for moments is to wholeheartedly understand the users that will exist within - their desires, their needs and their simple aesthetic appeals (catch them with the visual, hold them with the emotion). Moments in design are only as powerful as their perception, and to capture the attention of inhabitants within a space, the architect must fully understand what moves them. What is the best common denominator to speak to a specific 'audience'? Moments usually aren't as grandeur in scale and exhibition, rather microorganisms within the larger confines of an entire body.  Effective planning and understanding the users' movement is paramount.

Any moment during the course of a procession through a series of spaces could be disregarded at that time only to be recalled later.  Visceral and deep emotions can take much longer to emerge due to their complexities.  Most of the time, the designs that are appreciated at a given moment in time through are perceived through a  fragmented memory that triggers some type of response, these types of spaces tend to be relatable and somewhat typical calling upon typological-based memories. When spaces are powerful and create equally powerful experiences, the localized celebration in the user isn't realized until after the actual occurrence.  Think to most of your most beloved memories, how many of those did you stop at that given point in time and say 'I will remember this forever' or 'this is the best moment of my life'?  These visceral moments that occur within architecture are much of the same; it may take some time to sink in, but when it does the memory and the emotions will forever be burned into the inhabitant's memory.    


A building can be understood as a manifestation of another tangible; a book.  A series of rooms (pages) that all tell a part of the whole.  These individual components alone may be fairly insubstantial, however when experienced as a whole (through memory), the entirety begins to make sense and show fluidity. Marco Frascari believed in this premise taking detail components and utilizing their effects in both macro and micro encounters to create an experience or an emotional response.  Much is the way a building becomes a narrative of sorts, allowing users to page through its spaces telling a story that you won't quite understand until you've gone all the way through. The vehicle for telling stories - a book - is much like the vehicle for experiencing space - Architecture.

Buildings are never experienced through plan, section or elevation.  This is the way in which architects configure and organize their thoughts into rational (sic) experiences for the masses to experience.  Rather than these two-dimensional representations, they are felt through movement, encountered through tactile engagements with concrete elements and their created voids.  Thinking of a building as a story or series of stories helps clarify the way our users will feel in the space once it becomes a reality.  The same way a book is a physical object where the created experiences are based on perception (void), a building is the vehicle to tell a narrative that will be perceived.  The true bulk of what's important in both a book and a building can never be seen - the experience.  The most meaningful elements of both are intangible, a juxtaposition to each of their strongly tangible existences.        

It's hard to substantiate statements that remove architecture from being a reality. Experiences that occur within the spaces created by an architect really define a building more than anything.  Whether the criteria for said spaces boils down to functionality, experience or both - it is at the humanistic and emotional level that we see architecture have its greatest impact.  The most important element in a building are the people who use it, without their activation of the spaces we create there is no true beauty in a building.  A stagnant building quickly loses whatever geometric charm is may have - people are what really make spaces beautiful just as people make a story come alive in their own heads.  Designers will never be able to fully anticipate the ways their spaces will influence everybody, however much like an artist or author they can utilize different tools and techniques to infer their language and significance.  What makes a book, a building or a piece of art really amazing is the ways in which those respected audiences perceive these works and create their own narrative likely to be different than everybody else's visions.     

Celebrating even the tiniest of moments in the otherwise banal spaces can still provide an experience that removes an inhabitant even for just a moment.  So instead of just thinking through the concrete realities with an architect, ensure that the spaces being manifested also feel right.  The moments become a narrative that intertwines users through a building creating emotional repertoire and enhanced perception.  This perception may interpret the physical existences in a space, but what is really felt is the result of these practicalities' presence, the presence of nothing and everything.   Architecture has and always will be more about what really is not physically present; Architecture really is the design of voids. 

Now, would you like to buy a bottle of air?

Architecture of Responsibility

Wasteful Architecture: A Clarification

Wasteful Architecture received quite a large amount of critical response - much of which mirrored the basic questions being asked in that specific piece.  Just a few of those:

  • Wastefulness of aesthetic or wastefulness in general?
  • Architectural efficiency of materials or sustainable efficiency?
  • Structural rationalism or minimalism?

Applauding the thoughtful repertoire of the general audience, there seemed to be a general consensus regarding the entire argument of the negativity of waste that architecture produces, but at the end of the day it kept coming back to two simple questions.  What is wastefulness in architecture?  How can it be solved?  Specific to Wasteful Architecture, wastefulness was defined as excessive celebration of style or brand for the sake of self promotion and hollow expressionism.  Zaha and Gehry were mentioned at length - a duo to be expected when speaking of architectural expression and iconic styles. The last piece even went as far as pointing the finger at both architects to a response that should be expected by an enamored architectural community.  To digress, this blame for the issue of wasteful architecture should not be placed on the shoulders of two artists who have discovered profound success in a world muddled with codes and laws. The issue that exists here is much larger and deeper than two vanguards who have pushed progression in architecture beyond plausibility.  Rather, wasteful and irrational design as a trend can only be placed on the architecture community as a whole.  

Wasteful Architecture morphed itself into an essay regarding the responsibility and ethical approach architects have when it comes to waste (as defined above).  While the idea was only subconscious at the time of writing, it has become clear through numerous remarks and conversations - there are going to be architects who take responsibility for the environment, society and practice, and there will be others who emphasize only themselves.  Is it okay to be selfish and design to a specific stylistic approach?  Once again, how can architecture be both expressionistic while being responsible?  The real question that was raised and under the surface of the last post was really one of liability of design.  There is a thin line that defines responsible practice and aberrant implementation of self-imposed designs.  This debate has shifted to how to effectively juggle progressive ideals that may consume many resources versus conservative responses that boast sustainability. What is an architect's true duty to the world?


Sustainability has come to the forefront of importance, largely at first in the architecture industry but recently growing ever more important in society.  Wasteful Architecture sought to identify a more efficient architecture that utilized less materials and strove to be more honest with its expressions (inherently).  While it may seem that all buildings would adopt a married stylistic approach of Modernistic Sustainability (21st century's attempt), this more stringent way of building would reduce the consumption of materials and fabricate structures from only what is needed.  It is left up to the designer to work with a kit of parts and make them unique; note this kit would contain millions of different pieces.  Zaha and Gehry may be guilty of over-zealously utilizing materials in (possibly) inefficient manners but to their advantage, steel falls between 25-90% recycled material. Does that mean it is open to be overused at the designer's discretion?  Not necessarily, but as many peers pointed out, there is much worse happening in the world right now.  

An example of this at a much larger scale than the Disney Concert Hall are the Olympic games which come and go every two years. Both the Summer and Winter games have grown to epic proportions which requires epicly proportioned stadiums, facilities and even entirely new cities.  New cities are being constructed for a series of games that last a little over a month! Not only is land disrupted for the purpose of constructing new developments but raw materials must be tapped for the billions of tons of materials going into these buildings.  At the end of the day, many of these Olympic villages have been found to be abandoned and unused after their lifetime is complete, thus the materials and efforts put into them have gone to complete waste.  Atop this, developments such as the UAE's project Dubai have become an architectural playground boasting overly poignant buildings while trying to condition the spaces behind thousands of feet of glass in the middle of the desert.  When will the grotesque facts of global warming sway developers and architects alike to invigorate their designs to incorporate systems that make sense and materials that add up to net zero?  Our responsibilities go well past avoiding development on greenfields, we should be concerned about the materials (what are they, how were they extracted or obtained, and why do they make sense), siting (why site a building a certain way and in a certain location, how can it take maximum advantage of its natural context), and operability (what are the systems, why do they make sense, how will the be the most efficient use of energy) of the buildings we construct. Building's account for 40% of energy  consumption and a large portion of materials extracted from the earth - what can be done to cut back and improve performance besides tacking on a bike rack for a few extra LEED points?             


Without a doubt, our biggest clients are not our clients at all.  The permanent scars we impose affect a large amount of people - whether it's a positive or negative experience lies in the hands of the collective decisions made by first the architect and then the owner.  Skipping the obvious responsibilities that belie architects to society such as health, safety and well-being - the experiential elements of each project we construct have impacts that go well beyond the surface of human interaction.  

Contextual interaction with both other structures and those humans using the building have impacts that can be profound yet daunting.  Since Zaha has been on the forefront of the discussion thus far, let's bring her proposed design for the Tokyo Olympic Stadium into the conversation.  Slammed by many and loved by her infatuated followers, the stadium will overtake a community and massively outweigh itself against its context.  While part of this blame is to fall on the planning committee for siting the stadium in a contrasting area of the city, the architect's job as a designer and problem solver is to figure out how to make everything work in harmony, even when everything seems weighed against their future project.  Stadiums are very large, but is there a way it can be more efficient?  Not only structurally, but perhaps in how it presents itself to its surroundings, here there is a blatant disregard for that immediate community for the enjoyment of "society" for a few short weeks.  Disregarding her overuse of materials for her own branding and style, Zaha has failed to provide to perform all of her duties as an architect for society.  

Hadid's design for the Tokyo Olympic Stadium 'plopped' in the middle of everything

This is perhaps where the line becomes the thinnest.  As many readers have mentioned, cultural and landmark buildings/objects are usually some of the most expressionistic pieces. These objects are said to represent a certain portion of a given society, but how well are they doing if those directly in contact with it on a daily basis despise its existence?  At the same time, buildings such as the Sydney Opera House have become iconic expressionistic (decorative) pieces of architecture that cities have come to identify with.  Massive public input is an absolute necessity that is born when a proposal is initiated for anything that is for the public.  An architect's responsibilities for society stretch far beyond those the AIA preaches - they lie in the regard of how the objects we materialize affect even the smallest activities on a daily basis.


An architect's responsibilities to professional practice are far too many to recount in a short essay.  Rather, let's focus on a couple of the most important obligations that befall an architect today.  

Progressive ideals and virtuous work ethic.

There are several other things that fall beneath an architect's wings when it comes to the profession, but two of the most intrinsic duties are to be progressive and to be virtuous (to everything).  A progressive mind in a field that often defines trends and movements is a valuable thing.  As many architects can see the profession becomes stagnant after lulls in the economy or lack of new projects due to over-concentration, but what's most important in these times is to redefine the wheel.  Our jobs as problem solvers, creative thinkers and trendsetters is to find new things that inspire those around us.  Inspiration directly leads to new opportunities to employ our minds - something that is always welcome in any studio around the world.  Taking this progressive mindset and being virtuous in all aspects of its creation and implementation is what sets an architect aside from many other designers.  The two other responsibilities listed above (nature and society) don't always broadly apply to industrial designers or graphic designers such as they do to architects.  We have a standard to uphold and maintain, the ideas can continuously flow out of our minds like a Hadid building flows from the ground, but we must know how to properly plan, design and build these ideas else we've not completed our equation.  An incomplete equation represents a lackluster and mistrusted practice with little external value.  

At the end of the day, it really wasn't about wastefulness to begin with.  It was about the obligations architects have.  As a practicing member of one of the most esteemed professional communities in the world, an architect should find no issues falling into each category above.  This argument was never quite about how steel can be misused to make 'set-design architecture', rather the impacts those decisions can have on the profession and society and nature as a whole.  Architecture is the most impactful art form, it can not be allowed to escape the grasp of the responsible architect for it can wreak havoc on an already faltering social, economic and natural ecosystem.  How can you be wasteless?  How can you ensure all that you (help) create is what it must be, nothing more and nothing less?  

Wasteful Architecture

Expression and architecture go hand-in-hand.  Being one of the most powerful and experiential art forms, architecture inherently has a sense to impose its (dis)positions upon society even if they are unwarranted.  As technological advances continue to push the envelope to new extremes, formal expression has found its way back into prominence among the brightest of architecture's stars.  Within itself, expressionistic structure is not a bad thing, especially when it progresses society's abilities, views and beliefs.  What has become evident of these new advances in building technologies is the massive amount of waste that is generated from creating such luxurious forms and geometries. In an era where sustainability is jammed down the intellectual throat of any designer maneuvering through universities everywhere, it seems counter-intuitive to encourage wasteful contortions that ultimately do no more than create VE'd monstrosities. While the smell of fresh sustainability is in the air, the discernible deceit of progression threatens to berate any 'green' progress we have made as a profession.  How can architecture be both expressive and sustainable?


Materiality when constructing anything is imperative.  It is what informs the designer how things can be joined together, how something can look and especially how it can perform. Materials are the simplest building blocks that are assembled feverishly while concurrently thinking about multiple aspects.  In architecture, materiality plays a huge role in appearance to the layperson and in performance to those involved in the AEC industries.  Materials express their inherent functions through implementation in an assembly.  Yet today, a metal-clad facade does little more than cover up the inefficiencies architects knowingly designed to preserve the bottom line.  

In a time where natural and raw resources are growing scarce by the second, our broad intention should be to conserve and increase efficiency.  These efficiencies  shouldn't come only from the ASHRAE 90.1, rather through a holistic approach to designing. Materials, performance and aesthetics can all jive together if carefully coordinated and understood.  Instead of decorating the buildings that are growing taller by the day, architects and designers should seek to find solutions that reserve as many resources in favor of a simpler assembly.  This simplicity of making doesn't need to become a bland and detached manifestation either - optimizing materials for their best performances and using the correct ones in the correct scenarios benefits the design, bottom line and most importantly the environment.

Some of the biggest names in architecture today are heavily experimenting with new forms, new materials and new ways of assembling structures.  This beautiful and profound series of experiments lends itself to buildings never thought possible or a cantilever that was once never fathomed by even the most crazed engineer.  But at what cost?  Bjarke Ingels' West 57th Street project just topped off in New York City but its built presence (in its current state) leaves much to be desired and a lot to be - hidden?          

Front view of BIG's new W57 Project

W57 is essentially - like many other buildings - a series of 'pancakes' that seek to maximize floor area and rentable space.  Ingels' expression comes in the way of the contortion-like movement the plates make as they formulate a central courtyard in the middle of New York City.  What really has created the main aesthetic draw are the panels that will clad this building at an angle.  The massive amount of steel that is needed to simply support the envelope is far from efficient - it's a decorative element that hides the most fascinating part of the building.  

BIG's project is a far cry from the wastefulness that architecture is capable of.  As a matter of fact, his approach to sustainable architecture is growing closer to his theories as his buildings grow farther away from his expressionistic style (aesthetic) that has made him world renowned.   Two of the biggest offenders of wasteful architecture are no strangers to criticisms for harsh and overbearing structures - Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid.    

The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center's exterior space frame is completely separate from the rest of the building.  It's inefficiencies lie in its lack of integration with the rest of the building becoming little more than an expensive 'dress' for the building.

The Guangzhu Opera House isn't Hadid's biggest offender since the structural shell is nearing integration with the rest of the building.  However the pieces that all must come together to form this building are a far cry from sustainable.

Perhaps one of the more warranted uses of excessive material is the London Aquatics Center.  Although the nest of steel was eventually covered, sporting venues are notorious for their overuse of natural materials by their inherent nature.

Hadid's works are magnificent sculptural dichotomies that have grown more daring as technology has progressed.  While these expressions are beautifully-manipulated structural masterpieces, the efficiency of realizing many of her ideas come at the cost of extreme amounts of steel, concrete and glass.  At times, her structures' use of material could easily forge two or three other buildings in its place.  Has this become the ill-begotten reality of the profession?  Does progressive design burn through materials and resources more quickly than conventional building?  Not necessarily.  Innovative uses of the proper structural systems that can efficiently enclose or facilitate the enclosure of a building could easily decrease material use.  An interesting way of combating this would be to physically alter the formulation of materials to work the way the design team intends - a true interdisciplinary experience.  While this may be at a higher cost and longer lead time, it can actually completely alter the way things are constructed while increasing performative efficiency.  Most of the formal expressions that are relevant or popular today are nothing more than a jungle of conventional 'bones' assembled by an algorithm and dressed in the prettiest of robes - a self indulgent architecture created by the self interested architect.       

Frank Gehry outdoes Zaha for wastefulness in many buildings, but especially for the Disney Concert Hall where this steel will never be seen.

Gehry's Disney Music Hall is synonymous with his style.  A series of planar shells seem to effortlessly create a space beyond - there's just a lot more to this building than a pretty face. What's directly behind the facade is a mess of steel as seen above.  There is nothing quite innovative about it besides perhaps the brilliance of the structural engineer's that didn't strangle Frank in his own offices.  It's a beautiful building at it's skin (interior and exterior) but that beauty isn't much farther than skin deep.  This problem could easily fall into the laps of the engineering team working with Gehry, but his lack of attempt to find a more efficient structural system says much more than a engineer's faltered attempts. 

Is architecture today returning to an applique of decorum simply to express emotion?  Is the Disney Concert Hall a reincarnation of the Baroque churches that still stand today adorned in architectural jewelry?  It would seem that many of these architects - Zaha, Gehry, Libeskind -  present a certain dishonesty with their work, almost as if they're forcing a building to be something it simply does not want to be.  By basic nature, materials and their properties should be well-represented and truthfully displayed.  Why do Gehry's buildings have a beautiful maze of steel that is only hidden by simplistic metal panels?  What if those mazes were to be exposed - too much going on?  But it's okay to cover this mess with panels, sweeping it under the metaphoric architectural rug in favor of grand gestures?  The trend-setting architects of today must think of the word integration as they push their structures to new forefronts - a way to preserve what we already have so little of; raw materials. Architecture is about performance as much as an automobile and at this rate, Gehry is building 1989 Impalas while Hadid vengefully attempts to bulk up the early VW Beetles.  They may be attractive on the outside but their performances sing a different tune.  The bottom line is these expressions are lying to us.  They are beautiful and inspiring the same way reality television stars are - nothing more exists beyond the pretty garb.  Ethical stewards should be alarmed at the amount of waste that is permitted to be expelled in favor of creating something that looks cool.   The time has come to stop hiding everything and being more honest with ourselves and the rest of the world - why can't a structural material be the finish material as well?

This may seem familiar to anybody who remembers architectural movements over the course of history.  Ringing along the lines of Modernism, this isn't a call for the lack of expression or an architect's innate dissing of decorum.  Rather, this is a call to restore sustainable and efficient practices in architecture both through performance and fabrication.  Excessive use of any element in architecture turns to gluttony and begs designers to closely examine their hypocritical views on the world.  It's really hard not to gawk at these awe-inspiring structures the role models of architecture have made for us.  There is no doubt that their abilities have influenced generations to break the rules and push society a bit further each time, the only downfall is many of these built environments are wasteful and unnecessary.  What it essentially comes down to is the flaunting of the designer's beliefs at the expense of the planet.  So while there absolutely should be precedent-setting, expressive and daring work going on, it shouldn't stop half way through the process.  Expressive forms are only one part of a complex equation that seeks to use the most efficient methods and means; the examples above stopped short.  So can architecture be both expressive and sustainable?  Yes, but today's client's may not be willing to invest extra capital in the same progression we avidly aspire to achieve day in and day out.   

"Be truthful, nature only sides with truth" - Adolf Loos

VIA | FastCo Design



Source: http://www.wallgraf.com/hd-wallpapers/abst...


In the matter of three weeks, the field of (capital -A)rchitecture has been brought to the forefront of media outlets in two different world-renowned, American periodicals.  Both Forbes and The New York Times have sparked a debate deep inside the profession that has heads ringing and pedagogical debates spurring.  Academia from all over the world are chiming in on the quality and state of architecture, including some well-regarded 'starchitects' who claim that normal, everyday architects like you and I create 'pure shit'.  And therein, lies perhaps the largest problem of them all; the groups involved in this discourse are so far removed from the underlying issues that their coined opinions are nothing more than lackadaisical words strewn together to piss off the next turtleneck-adorned vanguard. Architecture is failing*.  It's failing from the hackneyed use of pastiche style that has plagued our streetscapes over the past thirty years for the betterment of a singular's opprobrium. Instead of turning to another intellectually-based foray (barring evidence-based design, which is a much different beast in itself), the designers of today have followed apathetic movements such as 'tack-on' sustainability and a conglomeration of 'style's that couldn't pass for much more than a confused attempt at assembling building parts.  'Starchitects' of today could care less about the constituents they serve, instead seeking to boast overzealous and over-budget forms in the faces of the other 99% of the population.  Architecture is dying because we're letting it, we've lost touch with the intellectual, humanistic and responsive side of what we do in favor of self promotion and ideological follies unbeknownst clients we serve.  It's time to stop dabbling in this directionless muck the post-post-modernists have left us with - it's time to regain an identity (stylistic approach) in architecture.  It's time to find a true direction once again.  

How will the architecture books refer to architecture produced from the late 1970s through the early 21st century?  In the midst of the times, it's hard to envision what the 'History of Architecture' books will look like in 2200.  A hodgepodge of mix'n'match styles that beget replacement in 15 years, a style-less endeavor which has no ambitions to do much more than flip a dollar and move on.  Each of the three op-eds that have been published in the last month could almost certainly agree to that point, but where they begin to differ is their responses to the elitism that is almost welcomed in the field.  Or perhaps the contemplation of what 'good' architecture really is.  Aaron Betsky argues that those of us that do not make up the 1% of the population shouldn't have any say in what is built or designed (Betsky himself, I'd bet is part of the 99%) - instead we should leave it to the all-mighty architect.  Of course, this was in response to the Bingler+Pedersen article in the Times the previous week which stated architects should listen more to the public. This was all capped off by our friend Justin Shubow who generously summarized the two positions only to add in that Gehry is right and architecture is dead.

Dead!  It is no more, run ye to the Gods, we've lost our ability to create!

A simple message to all three of these well-educated and equally well-spoken architectural 'camps' is this: do something about it. Architecture's ability to respond to the ill-begotten response of the public and profession in the past was to write then make.  So far, there has been some writing and absolutely nothing done besides passive-aggressive intellectual bullying.  We've lost touch of the treatises once penned by the deified architects of the past, today writing stops with the thought.  Where is the action?


According to Gehry, 98% of architecture created today is 'pure shit'.  He claims "There's no sense of design, no respect for humanity or anything else".  Unbeknownst to most architects and laypeople alike, the leaky masterpiece that is Bilbao Guggenheim has the utmost respect for its context and its people.  It's not like it oppresses its neighbor buildings or incites intimidation to those passing by with its sheer scale.  Incorrect, there's a mis-communication between Frank's work and his ideologies - his buildings almost always are disrespectful of humanity including context and general public acceptance.  Most of his buildings are crudely out of place and technically deficient leaving museums with beautiful galleries unable to be used because of the leaks in the roof or classrooms abandoned because of falling structure. You best believe that Gehry has much to say in theoretical land, but when it comes to a building actually standing up, count him out.  Bravo, Mr. Gehry, your words and your work are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum.  What makes all of this laughable at the end of the day is the 180-degree swing his humanitarianism work takes in New Orleans, something Mr. Betsky was a huge proponent of while sitting dry in the Netherlands hosting a hip competition for brutally invasive French Quarter masterplans. While Gehry is one of the few activists in writing and architectural actions, his words do not meet his work and leave much to be desired for a contemporary direction in a society seeking feedback. 

Gehry Partners' design for a Make It Right home in New Orleans

Avant Garde

UN Studio's proposal for a 'mediatheque' in New Orleans

As previously stated, Aaron Betsky was a huge proponent of Brad Pitt's 'Make it Right' campaign which fostered replacement homes for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Betsky's approach to the inadequate evidence-based designs in New Orleans are a result of his own belief that architecture is to be seen as an experiment on society.  No matter what their hardships, they (the general population) are subject to our follies and mishaps as a way to progress architecture.  While Bingler's 88-year old mother is an ill-advised layperson, she should suffer through our art such as the 'ugly' house experienced in her neighborhood so we can learn.  I'm sure Aaron understands when his roof leaks it is only due to his guinea pig status.  Betsky's approach to architecture basically exerts Gehry's claim that only 2% of what's designed is worth any merit, the other 98% don't deserve architecture or a say about it for that matter.  The 2% which can afford it have no right to complain, either.  If the functions of their investments don't mirror their original goals they must recall they are simply lab rats in this vast wasteland of architectural mishaps.  If that's the case then architecture really is becoming a "gated community" which even the designers who create can't afford to move in - not like they're missing much with all the leaky roofs and collapsing walls.  

This problem of the avant garde architect however is nothing new.  All the way back to the days of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, architecture and architects have been reserved for the richest and most privileged of folk.  The public's perception of architects as egocentric, arrogant and out-of-touch professionals probably isn't too removed from reality but only because that's been the only way. Architects were literally deified during the Pyramid era, and highly regarded when they re-emerged as the Catholic church's right hand visionary.  While Bingler's mother does bring an interesting topic to the forefront, she hasn't been trained as an architect nor does she quite understand its principles; how could she ever feel the right to comment and critique such a structure?  See what just happened there with the last sentence? You sat and agreed, nodding your large head, didn't you?  Don't feel ashamed, because that statement is for the most part true, but it doesn't remove the reality that his mother is a person who should be regarded and whose opinions are just as important as any trained designer's.  We don't have to do everything a client or the public asks as Bingler + Pedersen are beginning to assert, but we also shouldn't ridicule.  Frank Gehry does whatever he wants, some other firms are unable to make their own decisions.  However, at the end of the day Architecture is all about finding a fair balance between using criticism and using personal judgement - something today's 'Renaissance' man is certainly lacking. 

Failing Practice

But we're failing as a profession, so we won't ever know our true outcome since the end is near, or so Mr. Shubow would have you think.  Architecture isn't dying, nor is it 'failing'*. Philosophically-speaking, there may be issues but those problems manifest opportunities to retain our worth and fix what has been wronged.  Nothing is 'failing', as a matter of fact, over 14,000 AEC jobs were added in October 2014 alone with a billings index sitting at 50.9 points in November. In all reality, architecture is thriving for the time being (especially in the context of the past five years).  Justin Shubow's claim that architecture is imploding seems a bit dramatic to the fact that there are misguided practitioners today.  To an outsider, it may certainly seem bleak, but to all of us who are seeing gainful employment and fruitful projects, there is a reason to remain optimistic barring ideological struggles in the field.  Architecture is a bit directionless for the time being, but it's the next generation's job to turn it around.

In prior generations, architects utilized theoretical discourse as a way to drive progress under a singular ambition, even if practice wasn't strong, writing helped affirm values while digging designers out of ruts.  This inherently created styles and 'schools' [Bauhaus] of thought which broke off and became their own entities should their ideologies suffer a change of heart. Through this, a clear sense of cohesiveness was established which drove built projects to pursue similar interests - even if there were disagreements among one school of thought to the other, their responses were each following a relative common path. Architecture was still making buildings and technical assemblages of different components, however it sought to ensure meaning in its existence.  As Betsky mentions in his op-ed, architecture like this once 'resonated' with people and created spaces that are 'worth experiencing', what can we say of those kinds of displays today?  While the stylistic approach may be likened to the failing two party political system in the United States, it still drove coherence to an overarching goal of advancement.  Gehry's architecture may not necessarily work, however it does drive progress - to Bingler+Pedersen's point, at what cost?  How can we still celebrate progressive and audacious architecture while maintaining our responsibility to the public?  Shubow exerts the point that all of the population must live with what architects create, how can we maintain a service to both the client and the general constituents of the immediate areas our work impacts? There are plenty more discoveries to be made, but unlike what Betsky suggests, the public cannot remain our guinea pigs if we want to continue to practice our efforts.  To that end, the pursuit continues to find an individual - or group of individuals - who can lead the way to a brighter future for architecture.  Both through practice and perception, how can we assure we don't fail, we don't become too closed off and that everything we built ends up being nothing more than a mere stain on the bottom of Frank Gehry's shoe?    

When it's all said and done, the solution to increase our acceptance among the general public while increasing our ability to practice in a seemingly conservative society (art and architecturally-speaking) has yet to be seen.  Writing and synthesizing said words with tangible design will bear progression; the current essays do little more than exhibit grown men afraid to speak truths to one another's faces.  It demonstrates the general profession's lack of interest in progressing discourse and intellect in favor of increasing profit and decreasing ingenuity all while insulting one another over who has the shinier degree from the more expensive school. While we should listen to the general public, we should also recall our trained sense of making and our responsibility to serve all people.  We must demonstrate that we are good listeners, that we are responsive and that are aren't (always) as egotistic as most think; we are the problem solvers and critical thinkers of our time.  Will we use it to abolish negativity or create more via insulting each other's mothers?  

*Fundamentally, architecture is growing.  The ideal that it is 'imploding' on itself comes from a non-practitioner who isn't even trained as an architect.  See AIA's Architect magazine for full evidence of the apparent growth.     

VIA | Justin Shubow 

VIA | Aaron Betsky

VIA | Bingler + Pedersen

Source: http://unmultitasking.blogspot.com/2011/11...


This year has seen dramatic changes happen within the field of architecture.  Ranging from alterations to the licensure processes to AIA organizational and legislative structure, the profession seems to be moving defiantly forward for the first time in quite a while.  In a time where the numbers - both in terms of people and money - are dropping and hope can be scant, change was absolutely necessary.  To cap an amazing year of forward progress, last week saw the release of the much-anticipated #ilookup campaign which seeks to garner larger public awareness of architects and Architecture. Short and sweet, the video was an ode to the profession and its often under-told stories of the other 98% who work in the midst of the shadows of 'starchitects'.  It told the story we want the public to hear; we do care about our clients, we are forward thinkers and our trends typically transcend larger movements in society. Architects are much more than building designers, architects - in terms of how the AIA has portrayed them through their new campaign - are society's greatest thinkers, dreamers and doers.  

Quite simply, the video which serves as the primary communication from the website thus far, is a beckoning to the public to put themselves in the shoes of an architect.  How little or much attention do they pay to their context on a daily basis?  How much do they incite change or dream of breaking all of the limitations set before them?  How often do they think about buildings?  At the time of writing this post, over 9,000 views have been clocked on the YouTube version alone (above) not counting the number of page views the actual website has gotten.  Much of the video highlights architects in their inglorious settings.  Reviewing drawings, constructing computer renditions of their dreams and thinking too much about questions many others don't care much to ponder. It sheds a real light on the day of an architect and the (many) trials one must go through to simply reach a single triumph.  

Architecture is a well-respected profession outside of the confines of the studios which produce the built environment. Generally, however, most people are unaware of what an architect is fully capable of doing.  The professional organization which supports our craft does its best to raise awareness through its websites and community outreach.  However until this point, nothing quite seemed to be working.  Public's opinion of architecture and architects often lay at either end of a spectrum.  An op-ed in the New York Times this week pointed out a man (an architect) and his 88-year old mother who saw a new house (designed by an architect) in her quaint, older neighborhood.  The mother trashed the new edifice calling it an abomination to its context while the author actually believed the structure to have merit.  It showed the dramatic difference of opinion architects typically  have about a 'successful' building compared to that of the public.  And that is where we see a ferocious double-headed monster.

Fighting for a Voice 

The new #ilookup campaign attacks the first head of our multi-craniumed public beast - public perception and understanding of the profession.  The AIA wants to grab more people's train of thought and just for a second show them what it really means to 'architect'.  With high quality videos and increased public showmanship, there's no doubt that #ilookup will amass civic response and input, especially with the tech-savvy and candid constituents it represents.  The second head of the beast, however is one that is much harder to harness and control; the public's perception of what 'good' architecture is.

Most architects will probably struggle to understand or describe what the true definition of 'good' architecture is themselves. Honestly, the answer differs depending on personal preference and ideological background.  Good architecture is subjective within our culture, however it seems to  lie more consistently when it comes to public opinion.  In the case of the man's mother who disliked the boxy, metal-clad house - she is part of the voice that we ignore everyday.  So while we gain the respect for all that we do, we are also written off as narcissistic, haughty, non-listeners because of our desire to stray away from the norm and reach for outer limits, disregarding public opinion and desire.  These outer limits happen to lie outside of the reach of the vast majority of the public we lay claims to work with.  For most of us, we're okay with that critical perception.  But what happens when that perception cripples the jobs we rely on to make our living?  How can we effectively balance fulfillment with progressive and audacious structures yet still assuage the public's worries that we're creating too much crap and not enough buildings?

It's a tough stance at this point in time for most architects.  Highly respected but also somewhat despised by the public for thinking too outside society's box.  Our clients (most of us) represent the top 1 or 2% of financial standing, we cater to a much more extravagant taste disregarding the fact that all we create will affect every single person that ever comes into contact.  A balanced approach must be found to alleviate the stresses that have led the public to thinking they cannot afford an architect, but they can speak highly of them from afar.  Now that the general population has a beautiful campaign that boasts the skills and desires of architects, a second one may benefit to discuss what 'good' architecture is.  This campaign won't be from architects to the public, though, instead it will be a cohesive message from the public to the architects.  If we want to continue to have the ability to create and foster progressive thoughts, there must be extensive efforts put in to listen more to those who give us the work.  We must learn to listen just as they have learned to respect us.  Not all buildings will be the next Bilbao, but the family down the street just saved up enough to use the services of a professional to make their home work for them.  Even if it won't end up on ArchDaily, that doesn't degrade the problem-solving or product that comes from the fruits of the labor endured.   

Let's give everybody a chance to engage an architect and see the worth we truly have. 

VIA | #ilookup

VIA| How to Rebuild Architecture

ALMONO: W2E Proposal Announcement

Transformative Development

Physical model of DEFdesign's proposal for a Waste to Energy Plant on the ALMONO site

All images created by and are property of DEFdesign© 

Along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood neighborhood, a new 178-acre urban development project has already begun construction on infrastructure and supportive structures.  ALMONO, named for the three rivers cutting through the city of Pittsburgh - Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio - seeks to reinvigorate a site that previously housed the world-renowned steel industry that gave Pittsburgh its livelihood.   On this site, developers have planned a wide variety of program including a large portion of mixed multi-use, some residential and light industrial parcels all of which are aimed at bringing in local universities, high tech industries and white-collar professionals.   


Waste to Energy - A Pragmatic Approach

A light industrial district sits sandwiched between mixed-use and residential parcels

This site is projected to bring a lot of opportunity back to Hazelwood, a community which has fallen on tough times since the mills closed 30 years ago.  Financial stimulation is expected to propel Hazelwood and even upper Greenfield into a new era of growth, social engagement and progression away from the violence, crime and impoverishment that has become synonymous with this area.  While the new development is exciting and slated to bring billions to the city in new tax base and construction costs, it brings up a big issue of resources. 

According to typical density data based on Pittsburgh and its Metropolitan, approximately 12,000 new people will inhabit this site at any given time (based loosely off the total area of the site).  These numbers include transients, visitors, full time residents and employees.  This new community will produce on the upward of 25 tons of solid waste per day as well as require an additional 3.7 million Btu's/year (power).  As a result, a large increase occurs of waste going into local landfills and heightened strain put on the grids.  More people and infrastructure are phenomenal steps at increasing the progression of Pittsburgh as a whole, however these increases pose major problems to resource management and access to the communities, the city and even the tri-state area. 

Problem: Resource Management

Waste to Energy plants are nothing new.  As a matter of fact, they are surging in popularity in Europe as countries seek to reduce their landfill imprint and increase their usable free space for either development or green coverage. Utilizing the large amounts of solid (municipal, non-human) waste the new community will produce, energy can be generated in the form of heat and electricity.  Thus, one man's garbage becomes every man's power, creating a closed loop system that can even be expanded out into some of the surrounding existing communities. This kind of power is clean, natural and cheap - all things that could benefit the city as it continues to grow.  The solution is simple, instead of propelling more trash into our already incapacitated landfills, turn it into something that will be of high demand once all of the parcels are open and operating. 

Problem: Resource Access

While there are large problems (albeit, ones that can be solved) around power generation and waste disposal, a much more relatable issue has existed in Hazelwood for over a decade now. Classified by the US Department of Agriculture as a food desert, there are only three sites that provide food to constituents within a three-mile radius.  Two are merely convenient stores while the other (farthest) is a low-income grocer with limited accessibility via mass transportation as well as a low supply of quality fresh fruits and vegetables.  This remains a large problem in a surging city proving Hazelwood has never quite emerged from the shadowy depths of the steel mill era.  Creating a common place that can produce and provide food while facilitating social engagement not only betters the lives of those living in the communities but creates a strong and common bond among all; both internally and externally. 

Hazelwood's Food Desert    

Within a (roughly) 3-mile radius of the site there are only three food access locations 

With the site's ability to generate both its own energy and food, it takes a couple steps closer to being self-sustaining community.  Resource management in a world where precious goods are becoming harder to come by (especially fresh fruits and vegetables in urban areas) is imperative to bettering the quality of life of those in and around a community.  Providing a site which has the ability to recycle waste and convert it to energy and food will help ease many tangible burdens while beginning to reverse resource issues.  Doing so while advocating social engagement fosters relationships between existing and new residents decreasing pernicious encounters.  This becomes exceedingly important as both must find a way to cohabitate, no matter social class, race or religion.  Food and recreation has always been a positive force in bringing people together through intimate interactions, this site is no different.   

Creating Progressive Space

The site which has been chosen to host the W2E plant and community garden space has an existing steel mill structure.  Being a large industrial shell, this edifice readily lends itself to the pragmatic solution of power generation.  

The nearly 250,000 square feet of existing footprint is unnecessary for the extent of power generation on this site and for the number of people it must serve.  Effectively increasing the efficiency of the site, up to half of the building's footprint can be removed and re-purposed for recreation or natural processes.

With 178-acres of new proposed development on the site, open space will be hard to come by.  Pittsburgh's dedication to increasing the green coverage throughout the city and Metropolitan area begs the ALMONO development to investigate ways to incorporate as much green coverage on the 178 acres as possible.  While this specific site offers 12 acres of space, only about 60% can be open green way, and possibly less pending zoning regulations. What is the best option to maximize open green, vegetated space yet still allow the site to be the generator it needs to be?  The landscape must fold over the structure to maximize vegetation and green coverage.   

Cogen = Landscape = Food 

Cogeneration and landscape form a cyclical relationship yielding access to fresh food

Essentially, the landscape folds create a mask for the industrial use of the site.  While the program that exists under the blanket of green may not be interesting, it is imperative to create a healthy and sustainable environment.  Just as the folding blanket of green is important to foster social engagement and contribute to the green coverage of Pittsburgh, what is underneath carries the same kind of weight.  The W2E plant is simply what it is, however the folding landscape and central greenhouse provide vehicles for recreation, food production and social engagement.  Effectively using the site and increasing the overall green coverage establishes a sustainable project with usable outdoor space that is always invaluable in a city.  

While there are three distinct programs on this site, the folding landscape is what ties everything back together allowing the pragmatic to exist while forging a new and daring community gathering space.  Increased open space is provided by the extreme efficiency the W2E plant offers, working harmoniously all three programmatic elements contribute to a net food approach which provides both tangible and intangible elements. 

Physical model of the Northeast entrance to the site

DEFdesign is currently in progress with the finalization of other documentation for the ALMONO W2E plant.  Check back for future updates and project completion. 


Public Space: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is emerging as one of the hottest urban areas in the world.  It's been no small feat either, from steel mills to internationally-ranked universities to a dynamic and innovative mayor, the period of rapid change has just begun.  As the tides turn and things progress into a positive and promising future, what is the state of the environment of which we live?  As previously stated, the built environment in Pittsburgh is lacking audacity and accolades of true integrity, this actively reflects on every other aspect of designed environment that exists in the city.  Whether this be a park or a public green avenue, there are several plans in place to make Pittsburgh a very well-rounded neo-urban city, however the truth will never show through unless these plans are implemented, maintained and used to their full potential. What is the future of public space in Pittsburgh and why is it so important?

Public Space: Defined

Public space - as with most other typologies in architecture/urban design - is a very loose term. Ranging from a designed parcel of land to actual buildings, public space can best be defined as an area or place that is evenly distributed to x number of people for y program(s). This place is created with the intent to better the quality of life of everybody no matter social, ethnic or racial background.  This is the type of space that forges equality while maintaining integrity of place, it is important that every city, neighborhood and community embraces public space as a way to congeal its constituents and create a more cohesive identity.  

Lack of Public Space

There are many (many,  many, many) parks in Pittsburgh.  There are more trails and even an elevated park right in the middle of downtown, the amount of green space we have to enjoy at any given time is significant to the quality of our life.  That being said, it still feels as if the city is lacking in the overall amount of space and place they designate as public and free-for-all. Part of this is due to the underused waterfronts, not counting those areas developed for commercial use.  Another big part is because there hasn't been a large emphasis put on taxpayer-influenced space which could be due to the fact the city was nearly bankrupt and has only recently emerged from that abyss.  Whatever the cause may be, as development continues to stir and new projects are implemented in and around the city, the number of publicly accessibly spaces needs to increase as well.  

Pittsburgh is not a very dense city.  Looking at a map of the downtown area, there are vacant lots, open storefronts and even some abandoned buildings.  As you move up the hill into the Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and East Liberty areas, there are low density developments leaving a large amount of open land that could easily be converted to publicly shared space.  Nestled into these neighborhoods could be a plethora of different temporary (or permanent) structures, parks or even urban gardens shared by the general population of that area.  The possibilities are endless.  Activating spaces that are currently underused - or not even used at all - breathes a new life into deflated neighborhoods and draws in the crowds.  Public space allows the rich to bump shoulders with the poor all the while providing a vehicle for progression in a city keen to being an underdog.   


Pop-up Parks

Philadelphia recently started a program called "Pop Up Gardens" sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society among numerous city businesses.  These spaces take over vacant lots and convert them into temporary escapes, each themed differently and each with a different drawing factor.  What really gets people to these spaces is their locally-provided food and drink as well as a family-friendly atmosphere where young, hip parents meet to have a mint julep and touch base with old friends while their kids play under a transplanted palm tree. It's not hard to go about transforming spaces and capital is easily achieved when the businesses that invest place their products for sale in the parks.

These spaces tend to be vastly popular and draw very large numbers, especially those visiting the city for a few days.  What's even better is that the solution can be temporary or permanent, the sponsors can chose to bring back the space or not after each summer ends. It's not hard to translate this to Pittsburgh, a city that is arguably one of the most diverse food cultures in the tri-state area with a beer and distillery-saturated market that would drown even some towns in Colorado.  While Pittsburgh and Philly often don't see eye-to-eye, this is something Pittsburgh could greatly benefit from, literally taking the idea right out of Philadelphia and pasting it to some of Pittsburgh's urban lots.  Even some of the underused green spaces that exist right in the heart of the city could use temporary 'pop-up' configurations to get more people engaged in the spaces being offered.  Often humans don't appreciate what is there until it's either gone or they are forced into realizing what exists.  
There are plenty of opportunities that already exist in the city, but many don't quite get the attention they should due to the fact that nothing draws people in (and away from their technological vices).  So while we do differ in several aspects from Philadelphia, imitation is a form of flattery, and for this instance we will flatter our eastern neighbors with utilizing their pop-up parks as a basis for designing our future public spaces.

Philadelphia took this idea one step further by placing these pop-ups along their waterfronts. Spruce Street Harbor park was packed nearly every night (weekend or not) this summer and stayed open an additional month due to sheer demand.  Philadelphia's waterfronts aren't anywhere as dynamic or captivating as Pittsburgh's, transplanting the idea of a temporary park along the 412's banks could enliven and activate a part of the city that has been left untouched for far too long more than Philadelphia planners could have ever dreamt for their visions. 

A view towards Philadelphia from a dock in Spruce Street Harbor Park

Originally just a green space on the banks of the Delaware River, Spruce Street Harbor Park became another PHS pop up garden complete with an LED forest

It goes without saying that Pittsburgh's waterfronts are inordinately underused.  With Sasaki's proposal for a Green Avenue along the Allegheny, more public green space and places would begin to be freed up along the river's edge.  While Philadelphia's examples may be temporary solutions to vacant properties, they are activating space and even profitable.  Our solutions may seek to have more of a long-term impact, but even so could incorporate the infrastructure to be cyclical in programmatic rotation.  How are public spaces engaged differently throughout the seasons - winter obviously sees stark decreases in usage - and how can altering a program seasonally maintain the amount of people coming out to interact?  In this, we see a way to build upon the prototype our turnpike neighbors have built and transform it into a usable space year round, even when it's blustery, snowing and grey outside.   

Pittsburgh for once has plenty to learn from Philadelphia.  Their ingenious usage of unused spaces within the city has financially put their urban oasis in the reach of many citizens both young and old.  While Pittsburgh may be searching for more permanent solutions, particularly along its beautiful riverbanks, it doesn't hurt to look into temporary spaces such as those across the state.  In a world where most of us have our noses to our smartphones/tablets/laptops 75% of the day, it would certainly be useful if we could reintroduce the notion of actually getting together with others in person.  The best way to reinvigorate humans with human contact is to provide a vehicle for interaction, one where an individual doesn't have to feel pressured to purchase something or as if they do not belong. Are the city's solutions permanent or temporary?  Is there a fair mixture?  The answers will develop over time as different schemes are introduced and tested.  For now, a plan to incorporate 1 part public space for every 10 private into the city's masterplan would certainly incite a more human-centered urban fabric where personal interaction is key and all are welcome.   

Re_envision: Pittsburgh

Coming out of Design Pittsburgh 2014, there are constant reminders about the city, the people and what makes this place so great.  In itself, Pittsburgh is a diverse and eclectic city whose architecture (mostly) lends itself to its earlier heydays when money wasn't an object and the skies were painted black by the bellowing coke plant smoke.  Today, our skies are blue and our green is some of the greenest in the country - for an urbanscape, that is - but our architecture still reminds us of our darker days both through design and technology.  As a city boasting itself as a technological hub for the world, we certainly do not have the architecture to back it.  The only places a traveler would be likely to find (somewhat) breathtaking architecture is on the college campuses in Oakland, some scattered residences in Point Breeze or Shadyside, and a few slightly bolder structures downtown. Besides that, the city boasts itself on celebrated works from the early 20th century that have little relevance in today's standard for good architecture, these buildings simply stand as reminders of the great things that once built them.  This isn't to say the current portfolio of structures are irrelevant as buildings and pieces of architectural masterpieces, however they are outdated and preserved in a way that appeases only half of the architectural palette.  The other half has been laid to the wayside in lieu of cheap, boxy and prosaic works that do little to spur our imagination let alone architectural bragging rights.  

Why is Good Architecture Important to a City?

  OMA 's design for MahaNakhon - Thailand

OMA's design for MahaNakhon - Thailand

The term 'good architecture' is relative to not only people but also location, financial standing, and social makeup.  Good architecture for the sake of this discussion points back to an avant-garde, an architecture that is methodically thought out and implemented.  It is an architecture that challenges traditional convention and spurs conversation.  Ultimately, it is geographically anchored in social, climatic and economic conditions while still understanding a need to be more than just a simple solution to such a complex inquiry.  Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the architecture that has been produced in the past 15 years has been on the border of undistinguished with a few dashes of adequate.  With exception of very few slightly audacious projects, the city has yet to see a true display of projects that substantiate a place that has swung from the darkest of days to some of brightest - in the world. 

Good architecture is quite important to a place.  Not only will it define through visuals, it creates the built topography which represents each of us when we proudly say "I'm from Pittsburgh".  Cities that have fallen behind with their architecture see less tourism, less population growth and less pride demonstrated from those actually living there.  Architecture is a defining factor for a city and its people, without a true exhibition of bold built environments, cities become drab and trite and often fall behind in many other areas, not only their ability to pull tourism in.  It all starts with architecture - the entity which facilitates every single human action - audacious architecture is imperative. 

Architecture and Tourism

Architecture boosts tourism.  Whether its regional colleges or just architectural/cultural junkies, the built environment in a city can spur spikes in tourism.  New buildings (especially those either designed by a highly-held firm or those which are trend-setters) have a tendency to spark interest in a place.  New buildings inherently revitalize their context, often encapsulating surrounding properties in the 'fix-it-up' mood where investments are made to their spaces.  Cities with a wide variety of architectural anomalies tend to see huge bursts of tourists who want to experience the tallest skyscraper or see the newest museum housing a controversial collection of art.  Atop that, these tourists then go on to explore the rest of the city, eat in the city and lodge in the city which generates additional revenue. 

Improved Quality of Life

Buildings which are designed and overseen by an architect (team) tend to be a much higher quality.  Materiality and spatially, these edifices help provide a more positive environment for those living and working in them.  Quick responses to a developer for a small revenue are a lot of buildings popping up around Pittsburgh as we speak.  Barring two newer developments in the downtown area, the display of architecture over the last ten-fifteen years has been destitute with responses that can just as easily be created by a non-trained professional. Perhaps that is why there still are empty spaces in the city and still many individuals who do not see living downtown as an option.  The architecture around us in the city center and the outer-lying areas is desolate and antiquated, modernizing a lot of these spaces or building anew would revitalize people's hope in their city.  New York's W57 development is a strong statement of new urban dwelling with plenty of greenspace and beautiful views out. Pittsburgh has many opportunities to make this progressive approach towards city dwelling, especially as urban density continues to grow denser. 

 Courtesy of  BIG Architects

Courtesy of BIG Architects

Builds a Progressive Identity

Architecture defines a place.  With a natural green and hilly beauty already surrounding the city, Pittsburgh's benefit from a progressive and more impulsive architecture would help build upon our already soaring reputation.  When new structures are erected and they don't even differentiate from all of the others on the block that have been built over the last 50 years, it demonstrates a place that is afraid of change.  Being quite the opposite, Pittsburgh should embrace more daring designs by local firms that are willing to follow their true artistic passions.  If these local architects aren't willing to follow through with more daring designs, then therein may lie the problem with our bleak buildings.  Through a more progressive architecture, we can further our technological and social advancements.  Inspiring spaces incite inspiring productions whether in a laboratory or a hospital. 

Reflective of Beliefs and Values of the People

Perhaps the most important reality of producing and promoting good architecture is that it is synonymous with the beliefs and values of the constituents living in a place.  When unchanged and bleak architecture continue to shine through, our external appearance is that of a struggling city still trying to find an identity.  Pittsburgh is actually quite the opposite, it is a booming city with a defiant personality towards progression and change.  While there are still plenty of older generations here, they have bolstered and remained helping maintain the economy and growth of one of the fastest growing cities in the country.  Currently our architectural identity manifests the city's identity as an industrial town with a few glimmers of hope.  How can the next building project begin to redefine our built (and human) identity?   

What is the Answer?

Roger Duffy (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP) spoke of the balance of design and extremely small budgets for the projects he jurored in this year's DP2014.  While he was correct that the budgetary restrictions in Pittsburgh are laughable in comparison to larger cities such as New York, Los Angeles or London, the quality of design shouldn't be hindered by monetary confines.  The work that was on the walls that night could have been better, whether or not there was enough money to cover the full intent, design is about problem solving and solutions aren't always going to be as clearly mapped and easily resolved as they appear. Clearly, there were several projects that did push the boundaries from some of the more notable firms around the city, but overall there was an exasperated sigh in much of what as presented.  As a progressing city on the verge of its largest growth since its inception, the architecture and design of the built environment should be more representative of this excitement and grandeur occurring. Instead, it seemed as if some of the projects exalted a breath of stale air only to receive exiguous compensation with little or no stunning triumphs.

While there certainly was a lackluster exhibition by a large majority of the projects, there must be some pressure taken off of these firms and more put on the true culprit behind what actually gets built.  

The Client.  

If this city wants to continue to strive towards progressive measures to stand out with the rest of those around the world, it must seek clients who have the same vision and ambition. Clients ultimately will drive the project, but those who are willing to put more value into their product will see a larger return on investment as well as receive accolades for being supportive of progression.  It's not easy to convince building owners to continually increase their allowance to architectural projects, but allow them to see that their efforts will help make the place they call home a much better city.  Are there additional developers from outside of the city (i.e. some of those looking into the Produce Terminal) that could be brought in to fund some more dynamic projects? How can the attitude of those who are providing the work from within be changed to garner a deeper appreciation for design and innovation?  It's time to push bolder ideas and seek more progressive architecture.  Stale design eventually illustrates stagnant places, to remain competitive in all that the city does it must remember what literally shapes it. Great design doesn't start with the designer, it starts with the individual funding their efforts and their mentality towards progression and innovation.    

Strip District: Pittsburgh's Biggest Planning Debate

For far too long, it has seemed that Pittsburgh has stayed out of the architectural and artist communities, leaving larger more progressive cities such as New York or Los Angeles to meddle in finer culture.  With the sudden resurgence of the city and its transformation to one of the most advanced technological hubs along with some of the absolute best healthcare in the world, the need for great art, architecture and cultural advancement in general is at the forefront of the young population's desires.  As a beaming blue collar city since the term's establishment, folks were down to earth and simple, wanting only to help progress the labor force and leave a true impact on how things were made.  And they did, but as the mills have faltered away and universities and technologically-advanced start-ups have replaced them, new infrastructure and aesthetics need to be considered.  One great example of the signs of such progress lay with the PNC tower under construction in downtown Pittsburgh slated to open in late 2015. Elsewhere, however, the debate on how to move an aging city with an increasingly younger population forward has brought on some boiling points and demonstrated the true stratification that lies with the variety of people living in this beautiful city today.

Strip District Produce Markets

Probably one of the biggest ongoing debates to date has been the Pittsburgh Produce Markets that run along Smallman Street in the Strip District.  At one point in time this long building acted as a railroad terminal and produce market serving Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities with fresh fruit and vegetables.  It was a bustling place that saw frequent traffic both by foot and rail.  Today, however, it stands as a solemn reminder of the industrial past as it slowly fades to dust similar to the way the mills evaporated into the once smokey atmosphere.  It is a constant reminiscing point of a Pittsburgh that once was and isn't anymore, and it will remain that way until something is done to help push the building out of the 20th century and into current times.  Whatever that solution may be, it must address Pittsburgh's growing desire to be new, hip and insanely green while at the same time be cognizant of our rich and telling history.

A smokey Produce Market, circa 1950s

The markets (still in high operation) in the early 1970s

Should It Stay, or Should It Go?

The debate about the status of the Produce Market building that occupies roughly 1500' has gone on for years now.  During the decline of its usage and through its current state today, many Pittsburgh residents see the building as a necessity to tell the story of the past.  It was a landmark in the city and many residents fondly remember paying a visit to pick up some produce for dinner. More importantly, it was an anchor to what eventually grew up to be the Strip District one street over on Penn Avenue.  This building was and still is a huge part of the city's development, except today it's literally just a big part of the city - in terms of the land it monopolizes, slowly draining the resources around it away.  Going unused, this facility has no give-back to the city in either finances or drawing factors.  Instead, it provides very little in the way of giving except occasional reminiscence of what it once was and the memories that are ingrained in its thick masonry walls.  

To clear up its status of the structure being demolished, Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto found this building's way onto the National Record of Historical Places, so it's here to stay.  The most important question planners, developers and architects must answer is should it be remedied or should it be maintained in its current state of infrequent and spontaneous use.  This building either needs to be reactivated, or it needs to be reactivated - there is absolutely no reason nor does it make any sense for it to remain barely used and untouched. Especially as it begins to fall in on itself and continues to leech off of a city barely out of the abyss of economic depression and bankruptcy.  

The Plan

For the longest time, Pittsburgh-based Buncher Co. had exclusive development rights on the building per the URA's direction and some other various outlets.  Everything employed kept both the URA - who had early plans to demolish the building - and Buncher from doing much of anything.  While the building is held with high regard, both parties argued that if there is no redevelopment interests in its spaces, what good does it do in such a prominent and profitable location?  As Buncher put together several plans for the Market, each one hit a wall, especially the iteration which sought to tear down over one third of the building to create a green alley to the river.  Everything continued to be struck down and in the beginning of September 2014, Buncher lost their bid but received over half a million dollars in back pay for work done and expenses incurred.  Instead the mayor and the URA are now looking to combine two proposals of developers and architects, one from Pittsburgh and another from Chicago.  At the end of the day, it almost feels as if the process is back to square one.  

McCaffery Interests (Chicago) and Rubino Partners (Pittsburgh) have tentatively been awarded the bid to combine their two proposals to create a solution for the Produce Markets.  Rubino, who has been working with local architect Rob Pfaffmann has a plan that tends to respect the built confines of the area a bit more than many other proposals.  McCaffery's plans are a bit more ambitious, but still play to the tone of the Strip District dwellers.  That being said, many area residents have been quoted in their anguish about new vending spaces coming available when the Penn Avenue corridor already provides these services, many business owners have signed petitions seeking to find even more alternative options.  While the idea of essentially creating an extension of the Strip District is enticing, the Produce Markets have attempted to create such an experience for years to no avail (indoor produce markets, especially in the colder months).  How does Pfaffmann and more specifically Rubino plan to draw local, non-corporate retail to the area with increasing rent rates and densities?    

Each proposal would combine to cost roughly $67 million and provide 110 live-work units, 25,000 square feet of office space, 75,000 square feet of new retail, 33,000 square feet of public markets, 14,000 square feet of exterior vending space as well as and additional 21,000 square feet of public common areas.  These two solutions have been seen as the best way to maintain the building and character of the neighborhood while propelling the general area into the 21st century.  Up to date, the biggest problem for either proposal seems to be financially supporting it and collaboration on the implementation of each plan with several different parties, stakeholders and government officials involved.

Moving Forward - The Produce Markets  

As the debate continues to progress and local residents and government officials put more effort into ensuring the plan works for them, there will surely be more snags in the line.  While it's a wonderful idea to preserve the historically-rich building, if nothing can be solved with it standing, then there is no reason for it to continue to exist.  Ask yourself, what's the point of adoringly looking at this edifice when something  useful could be occurring here? Buildings are meant to serve a function, and absentmindedly staring isn't one.  Once a building fails to serve a function of any kind, whether it be a reused one or its original use, it should not be held onto like some ancient priceless relic.  This building is historically significant but remember it's not like Monticello or the Frick estates, it was an industrial space that helped build a neighborhood that still operates, it's not a fundamental Pittsburgh landmark like the USX tower. Buildings have a shelf life too, like many of our favorite foods and beverages, once it reaches a certain point it may be out of its prime and unusable (this of course can be different for much more historically significant structures).  If there is no settlement and this once again falls through, the markets should be removed and the plans for the Green Boulevard (Sasaki: see below) to progress.  There is no point to keep something around simply because it stirs memories, if it cannot prove to be useful today, then what good is it doing a city that soon - if not now - will need all of the space it can get?

The Sasaki Proposal - Allegheny River Green Boulevard

A glimpse into a residential corridor along the riverfront with new waterfront attractions and high amounts of greenery

Acting as a catalyst, the Allegheny River green boulevard project has closely followed in the footsteps of the Produce Market.  In fact, Buncher Co. wanted to rip down a third of the building to make way for the green boulevard after initial plans were released in their report. While it isn't directly connected back to the building itself, it can have the same - probably greater - impact that the Markets are expected to have.  This green avenue would be the first of its kind in Pittsburgh and one of the real pioneers in the country, it could serve both daily commutes and bicycling tourism which has soared here with the completion of the GAP trail system.  Seen as a way to extend the riverfront presence back into the Strip District and create more recreational space along the waterfront, this ambitious plan calls for new housing, bicycle trails (have been implemented), new public transportation infrastructure based off of existing rail lines, retail space and a natural buffer between development and the river to continue growing the restoration efforts that have been crucial to the rivers becoming clean.  

A crucial 'green' buffer would exist between development and the river to maintain the integrity the waters have brought back to the city

'Green' infrastructure including bicycle paths to and from the city as well as a high concentration of new vegetation have been proposed to overtake what currently is an industrial wasteland

While this report was only commissioned as a way to envision what the next generation of Pittsburgh could look like, it certainly caught the attention of many local architects and designers.  Sasaki has continued to work with the plan and with funding from local, state, and federal grants work is looking more promising to begin in Lawrenceville and move toward the downtown area in years to come.  This would revitalize not only a significant portion of riverfront property which currently lies in an overgrown disarray, but it would provide a sustainable corridor to and from a popular neighborhood and the city.  It seems that many local residents prefer this plan since it will take less business away from them and instead bring larger volumes of people to this part of town via increased living density and more readily available public transit and a green bicycle avenue. The Produce Markets are just a small part of the larger problem that spans from the downtown area all the way to Highland Park, but illustrate the effects many conservative and non-progressive stakeholders can have on such an ambitious plan.  

Sasaki's plan for the Green Boulevard to run from the city to the neighborhood of Highland Park

Unfortunately only time will tell how the plans for the Strip District/Allegheny River corridor continue to move forward, however the Green Boulevard does seem to have some serious backing locally and nationally.  Both the Produce Terminal and the Green Boulevard can be seen as crucial pieces in creating a more diverse city as well as drawing more potential urbanites to an already popular area.  As it stands now, the last leg of Penn Avenue is the most developed and advanced part of the Strip District and lower Lawrenceville.  To eradicate the past and progress toward a brighter future, there is nothing better to do than wipe away the industrial (non-built) wastelands that are doing much of nothing along the river and transform this land into readily accessible, public domain with some new housing and recreational activities.  Until then, we'll continue to stare at the eye-sores of what once was wishing for what could be. 

VIA | ArchDaily

VIA | Next Pittsburgh 

VIA | Biz Journals 

VIA | Sasaki

Architectural Permanence

It seems that society as a whole has been seeking to build permanence since the dawn of architecture and the idea of creating space and shelter.  Permanence, defined as "the state or quality of lasting or remaining unchanged indefinitely", has evaded many of our most famous works, over time the elements combined with the destructive character of the human race has led to the premature deterioration of shelter.  Permanence, however, is such a bold term to define what we build and have built over time because after a while, social and technical implications eventually lead to an inevitable destruction.  We are a society - a world - that is based on evolution and alterations through time.  Very few things that started as one entity remain the same through its useful lifetime, we adapt, alter and deconstruct everything.  Quite simply, we are a society unprepared for permanence, and that's okay, but our designers must stop alluding to the fact that a building can and will last for an eternity.  Instead, let's focus on building efficiently, knowingly preparing for the day our marks on this earth will be removed and replaced.

Social Confines of Permanence


We are ever-evolving.  Within evolution is the necessity for change, to alter and move past things that may not have work while adapting others to maintain their current effectiveness.  Permanence may never work because humans are so dynamic.  Whether it be a natural disaster or simply a change in how a businesses are operated, humans will eventually find a better more efficient way to do something.  Because just about everything society does needs shelter or a space to occur, the evolution of even the simplest parts of life will eventually change the way our built environment is made, operates, etc.  Nothing will remain the same forever which immediately eradicates the word 'permanence'.  Instead, our structures, as much as our lives, will change over time to make way for any changes necessary.  Evolution of ideas, technologies and human behavioral patterns immediately changes the idea of a permanent architecture.  

Changing Needs

Similar to evolution, our needs as humans have become more specifically driven as buildings have evolved even in the last 100 years.  What humans need their spaces to do changes as quickly as technology, especially with the ever-increasing use of technology in our buildings. Because of this, nothing can ever be permanent, which begs the question of 'timeless design' since its own obsolescence is planned from the day of its inception.  Hospitals and industrial buildings are a prime example of this, especially as our means of treating humans and manufacturing goods rapidly evolves needing newer technology and perhaps less room to operate.  

Development of Cities + Neighborhoods

As basic animal instincts dictate, humans move.  Whether that move be dramatic or simple, our trends in movement have a huge impact in how our built environment has remained ever-changing and non-permanent.  Housing, for example is a perfect case of how permanence will not be efficient.  Communities spurt up and diminish away while others flourish for decades or centuries.  Atop that, the movement of the typical human (family) to and from different abodes has grown in the past 50 years, especially as our global connection continues to increase.  We are bred on movement, migration patterns demonstrate how staying in one place has never been ample for humans.  Building a home or building that lasts forever creates a conundrum for those who want to move on yet do not want to waste.  What if buildings were able to be disassembled and reassembled or even re-purposed?  Those components actually could become permanent within themselves, living fuller more useful lives creating something different than before.    

Assemblage Confines of Permanence 

Multiple Parts vs. Single Part

Getting into a more 'nitty and gritty' approach to architecture, building assemblies, particularly the envelope, has changed so dramatically over the past century.  Think of the exterior walls of an old rubble fieldstone farm house, one single material that made up (technically) a multiple layer wall - yet it was a singular piece of construction.  Fast forward to the technological advances of today and we have envelopes that have anywhere from 6 to 60 different components.  These numerous and diverse materials all coming together only begs for failure. There is a reason why a lot of the ancient structures we idolize today still stand; they were manifested simply and solidly.  The multiple part assemblies of today may be more efficient and sleek, however their ability to stand the tests of time is limited by their interactions among one another and the effective lifespan of each individual material.  

Materiality: Synthetics vs. Natural

Perhaps the most important part of durability is the materiality that an assembly has.  Today, our buildings, houses, shelters, etc. are constructed from a multitude of different synthetics. While there still remain some natural components (i.e. wood, stone, clay), they are often met with a conglomeration of man-made items.  These synthetics may not break down quickly in a landfill, but their structural and performative qualities are much shorter than their survival rate on earth.  Part of this lies in their applications and interactions with contextual elements (people, sun, etc) while another lies in the interactions of the materials themselves.  Many materials are now showing signs of corroding or deteriorating one another, the greatest example lies within galvanic corrosion which occurs between two dissimilar metals.  This is much less likely to occur between two natural materials, although lumber and stone contact can be traced to providing issues in early architecture.

The ways in which we have evolved as a society and as a profession (architects and designers) has led way to less permanence and more performative temporariness.  This is fine, but it seems that many building owners refuse to believe their investments actually have a useful shelf-life and after that may not be economically viable anymore.  Beginning to think of a building with a 25-50-75 or even -100 year lifespan in which it actually 'dies' at the end of its designated life can help fuel faster growth, more progressive technologies and ease the burden of materials used to create a false sense of permanence.  Instead of mimicking permanence, let's either create for it, or instead think of our shelters as actually being temporary.  That temporariness isn't a bad thing and by no means degrades integrity of design or structure, rather it begs us not to overuse our built environment and know when it's time to replace.       

Patents // Design

A patent, by definition is:

a government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.

A design by definition is:

purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.

Recent events over the past five years have brought the idea of taking ownership of different designs into perspective.  Can you actually own and place a copyright/patent on a design style or certain aesthetic?  Are all designs open to being patented by their creators and upheld by the laws of copyrights in court?  Should designers from this point on copyright and/or patent anything from a simple phone case all the way to a new skyscraper to protect themselves from someone attempting to steal their manifested identity?  These questions have actually been in the minds of a lot of people - particularly designers - for a long time, but recently have come to the forefront with Apple's patents surrounding its famed BCJ-designed stores.

Apple's Identity  

Most people will not deny the fact that Apple's branding and design are some of the strongest and prettiest around.  The company as a whole has created an identity that many associate themselves with not only as a way of working but as a general lifestyle.  With products ranging from cellphones to televisions, their vision for their appearance has always been clear, clean and sleek.  When BCJ won their initial round of stores, Apple had a clear design intent in mind and through countless hours of Steve Jobs' design workshops with the architects, the store was born.  In November of 2011, Apple was awarded a patent for the design of its store in the Upper West Side in NYC.  This meant that they owned the identity, aesthetic and design of this store. Architecture, seen as an ever-evolving precedent in itself suddenly saw a break in the action. Not only could no other designer create another store like this, but if it even remotely looked like the glass facade and roof that Apple said was only their's, the mammoth's lawyers would be in court the next morning.  How can a company claim a style or aesthetic as their own?  

Apple's store on the NYC's Upper West Side won its patent for design in November of 2011

Stepping away from the discussion of architecture, the battle between Apple and Samsung for the design of the 'S'-series of Samsung phones against the iPhone sparked a huge debate when Apple won a lawsuit that stated Samsung 'stole' a design for their phones.  The gargantuan multi-billion dollar lawsuit upheld that Apple owned a style and aesthetic?  The basis of the lawsuit spawned from similar-appearing UI's ended up resulting in both company's being caught red-handed in copyright-infringements.  The style of phone - a smartphone - has now been almost wholeheartedly claimed as Apple's.  Any other device must completely reinvent the wheel just to avoid going to court with a $2 billion price tag.  This is like Peter Eisenman claiming ownership of Deconstructivism and then suing every architect, artist and writer who did something in similar fashion, following a stylistic movement.  Where does the right of an owner start and stop in regards to a design, its appearance, functionality and creation?  The terms seem so loose that many of these cases that are now popping up could easily go one way or another, depending on how much your legal team is worth.  

Two of the phones in question during the trials between Apple and Samsung

Copyright vs. Patent

A real quick break before diving farther into this conversation:

  • A patent is a legally-granted right to be the sole owner of a process or design for a certain period of time.  This not only included 'expression' but also the processes of creation. After the period of time ends - if it isn't renewed - others are permitted to take part in creating their own versions.  
  • A copyright, on the other hand, is the sole ownership of a creative expression where nobody else is granted permissions to recreate or identically-interpret without the owner's consent. It doesn't focus so much on the creation of an entity but rather the presence.  A copyright doesn't end until 50 years after the death of its creator unless otherwise noted. 

Patenting Style

A style is simply defined as "a manner of doing something".  This is primarily linked to (in design terms - even more specifically in architectural terms) the aesthetics of an object; the way it appears and is 'branded' to the rest of the world.  To patent a style is like one company patenting Modernism, a movement which several million designers and other creative-types responded to.  It was a particular vernacular of a certain time period where ownership lay only with an individual entity and not an entire style.  Patenting a style is a disgusting use of monopolistic design prowess and legalities to "brand" oneself.  Any true designer would be open to interpretations of their creations, only those that are glutinously obsessive about themselves or afraid of being ousted support the sole ownership of an appearance, aesthetic or "style".  Starchitects such as Gehry, Hadid and Lebeskind have a very specific style, what if they were to patent their appearances.  A client would have one and only one person to to turn to if they needed a large curved museum or a building that resembled a crumpled up piece of paper. As a design community, there needs to be limits on what creators really own.  Sure, they can procure a patent for a specific detail, but patenting a design type proves no point other than a claim to something that never was fully the designer's to begin with.    

Patenting Process/Assembly

What is an understandable and realistic patent is the ability to place  one's seal on the processes of creation or assembly of something.  Let's say Company A makes a wall with new 4" studs that is completely unique in its assembly and performance, it may be permitted to place a patent on the design because it is completely new not only in (perhaps) its appearance, but more importantly its creation (process) and performance.  This, of course, will end in 'x' number of years allowing others to partake in creating their own versions (unless it is renewed...).  Car companies exemplify exactly what a patent in the design world should be like.  Many competing car brands have eerily similar appearances - or styles.  What sets the cars apart is their performance standards and the operations.  So while these competing car brands - many Hyundais have hinted at a Mercedes - may have similar styles, they end up being vastly different under the hood, where what really matters happens.  Patenting a process and/or assembly still runs along the lines of being monopolistic and overly self-indulgent, however it borders on intellectual property rights when it is a system of workings and not a style or appearance.  The amount of thought that is poured into a new system trumps that of an aesthetic, it takes much more uniqueness of thought to create a new process, implement and fall under performance statistics than it does to simply create under a style and appearance. Pastiche designs, as we all know from the numerous art and architectural movements over time, are a way of building upon what we already have.  Isn't imitation the greatest form of flattery?

At the end of the day, designers must remember that there is nothing without precedent. Creations never are born out of thin air, it takes iteration upon iteration to create a stratified style.  What's interesting about the Apple debate is their newly patented glass stair actually isn't their's.  BCJ implemented this stair in conjunction with Corning in an earlier project, the Rakow Library.  Steve Jobs enjoyed the style and decided to utilize it in his stores, later filing for patents to claim the glass stair for Apple's own when it wasn't even their's let alone Steve's own creation. As aforementioned, design is based off precedent.  Designers build upon what has already been done, interpreting outdated or invalid methods for better uses.  Reinventing the wheel every time would not only set society back but would also create an environment where ownership was so specific that monopolies would run rampant in literally every facet of life. Patenting isn't a bad thing when it comes to a new detail, structure or process of creation.  When a patent can become dangerous to design and ingenuity is when it seeks to protect the style or appearance of an entity.  Design isn't necessarily open source, but the ability to reinterpret and recreate is what keeps progression alive.            


VIA | Archdaily

VIA | Archdaily 


Quite possibly one of the most powerful design tools architects and interior designers have is nostalgia.  Utilizing nostalgia as a tool to design is tough to achieve when creating space for a multitude of people in a commercial space, however can be more easily reckoned with through smaller spaces.  Are there common denominators to what people see as nostalgic?  How does one accomplish the sense of nostalgia?  The feeling of longing for the past or remembrance of an event or place?  While this is absolutely different per project and client, the sense of nostalgia and designing with it can be achieved in a few simple ways, as long as the designer understands their client and most importantly, the context of which their nostalgia spawns from.  

Designing with Nostalgia

Nostalgia(n) is defined as: 

a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Possibly the most important word in the definition is 'sentimental', holding something very close to oneself or one's experiences.  To design with nostalgia in mind or directly employing it as a methodology can get tough primarily because sentiment and experiences are all localized.  A few common denominators of the methodology can assist in creating it with a larger number of constituents in a space.


The olfactory experiences are quite possibly some of the most powerful senses designers can employ.  While these vary between project types and clients, they can trigger intense memories and sentimental thoughts.  These scents can be anything from food to the smell of wood burning, commonalities that people share and can trigger different senses of emotion depending on the most powerful associative memory they may have.  For example, the smell of burning wood probably triggers one of two (primarily) memories in most people: winter time or summer nights.  These memories triggered by smell can be then seen as additional invisible design objects - or materials - in a space that contribute to its overall sense of place and experiential qualities.  Smells in a space can originate from the materials themselves or the use of techniques to filter contextual scents into spaces. 


Intimacy with materials is an odd concept at a workplace or some larger commercial spaces, however at home, the idea of material intimacy is strikingly apparent.  A lot of people associate the idea of wood and its affiliated textures with warmth and comfort.  The texture of a Berber carpet bring memories of childhood and carelessness - crawling on the floor -  back to the forefront.  Whereas plastics, concrete and metals bring the idea of sterility and coldness to most laymen.  The power these materials and their textures have is at times overpowering and can easily be used to accomplish a sense of place, especially when the scale of the material is considered against the scale of the space and the contact points the people within may have with it.    

Geometrical Organization/Typology

A typology in architecture probably has one of the strongest abilities to trigger an emotional response and sentimental repertoire.  As Venturi spoke of the typologies of barns around America and the associations people made with them, the same can be made with the typical geometry of a house.  A child's drawing illustrates - literally - the idea of what we think of a home as a society.  This typology and even internal spatial organization can create sentimental thoughts and experiences that could be negative or positive, depending on the upbringing of the experiencee.  


The absolute most important component in using nostalgia as a design tool is context.  Context can at times be out of a designer's control and at others, they are at the helm of its creation. Contextual elements identify a place and the feeling of that place, all of these intangible elements combine together to form sentiment or anti-sentiment.  The essence of place is crucial to any project that is seeking the removal of a globalized effort to create a cohesive place. Instead, the nostalgia of place and sentiment of experiencing that place can only be created in that original context, or one that meets all of the same criteria.  It is in the essence of place and the experiences of place that we find the most comfort or dejection, this component sits atop the hierarchy of nostalgic design. 

Nostalgia and the sentimental feelings that are brought along with it are some of the most powerful emotions a piece of architecture or space can manifest.  Materiality and context are key in creating the desired experiences.  Without a firm grip on either, it can quickly turn to be a banal space.  Spatial experiences are quickly being swallowed in a sea of globalized architecture and spatial design.  Nostalgia in most people is triggered by a specific place or series of experiences that can only be achieved by keying upon those past emotions in a place that is familiar to those memories.  The sense of place can be created, but only delicately.  Each place feels different, and the only way to utilize the correct essence of place is to site a project in that exact place.  Nostalgia is powerful, but it is also an insanely hard sense to design with or for. Harnessing the power it can bring to any given project correctly can create an overwhelming emotion over even the biggest skeptic.  Can nostalgia be tapped and utilized effectively before the day where all of our nostalgia is universal; the idea of glass skyscrapers and plane white boxy homes?  


The Weary Starchitect

The debate over 'starchitects' has reached a new height as of this week when Beverly Willis wrote about the term in the New York Times.  It's not often you see much of architecture/architects in the newspapers, especially in regards to the status of those few that have given a face to the profession.  Launching an attack of sorts, Willis wrote about the status of 'starchitects' and their demise to the practice of architecture, a piece that was both well overdue and beautifully crafted.  

A starchitect - for those few readers that aren't affiliated with the architecture profession - is exactly what it sounds like.  It is an architect who has reached star-like levels (rockstar if you're Bjarke Ingels) through their firm's work and implementation.  Usually these characters are at the top of the food chain with fees ranging from 20-50% (note that most firms are in the range of 5-15%) and a brand that is idolized by students coming up through design schools everywhere.  A starchitect is basically the rock&roll star of the profession, exemplifying what "architecture" is to the rest of the world acting as a representative for all of us non-avant-garde practitioners.  Here's the real problem with these individuals, they represent a false likelihood of practice and a far-removed ideology of what the actual practice of Architecture is.  A starchitect isn't a star, an architect and their respective firm are the real star(s).

Architecture is a Team Sport

In a field littered with collaboration and teamwork, it's almost asinine to think one person could take credit for doing an entire job.  Buildings are extremely complex, they are likened to the human body in all of their operations and inner-functions.  It takes a huge team of skilled practitioners years to design, coordinate and implement a new building, yet architects such as Frank Ghery, Zaha Hadid and Bjarke Ingels claim full responsibility through their namesake and brand.  I'm wondering when the last time BIG's founder actually approved an envelope assembly or construction standard.  Truth be told, the only way that architecture can be successful and done correctly is to rely on other team members.  Interdisciplinary projects are gaining speed as technology rapidly evolves and the built environment becomes saturated with buildings that are far more complex than just a skin with some floors.  The best way to win at architecture is to be a part of a team, other than that good luck building an entire project by yourself.

The starchitect has propelled an expectation from many that there is hope in becoming a self-practitioner around the world designing hundreds of thousands of square feet per year.  Many see it as a possibility to do the job by themselves or with a small group, but the simple belief in that defines ignorance and naivete in a designer that is unfit for actually becoming an Architect.  What makes an excellent architect is one that is able to identify with a collective group of individuals.  Whether that's a few or a few hundred, there is no single designer that can ever take credit for most of these larger-scale commercially-developed projects.  The starchitect has skewed the expectation of individuals creating a sense of a return to the early 20th century when the old white male (foreign) architect was the only one recognized for a building.  

The Expensive Architect

Another huge problem with starchitects is their ability to get away with charging fees that far exceed the product they are providing.  Much like department store mark ups on designer fashion, starchitects can charge insane amounts without faltering because they are selling their name.  The owner is only paying as much as they are to receive larger amounts of funding/donations because when a proposal says the right name, you can bet it'll collect the right amount of money.  This group of avant-garde designers is creating a false sense that architecture is not for all, only the ones that can afford good design.  They are also putting a price tag that is exorbitant on the service they are providing, one that they usually only do half the work for (most design firms will sub out CD sets to other firms to take liability off of their design staff and carry less licensed professionals).

From Render to Reality

Starchitect buildings usually contribute to the belief that their work will remain supreme and of the highest quality.  Dating back to Frank Lloyd Wright and all the way up to Ghery, we have seen the buildings they produce fall flat functionally and 'mechanically'.  Leaks, poor spatial planning and inept craftsmanship through implementation of near-impossible construction methods that never had the right construction administrative staff present.  These buildings are falsities created on paper and never fully implemented since construction and fabrication may never have been the team's main goals (isn't that the point of building a building?)  A great example is the construction photos that are emerging from BIG's W57 project.  Beautifully depicted through visuals and words, the building appears heavy and clunky as it grows out of the ground.  Not only this project for Bjarke, but previous projects such as 'The Mountain' and '8Tallet' have not delivered on green spaces - which have browned due to insufficient sunlight and care - and poor detailing, especially on interior spaces where human contact is the greatest. It's a sad reality of our world, but no matter who you are, money and budgets drive projects.  VE processes are known to be an architect's worst nightmare so the lavishly expensive products starchitects bear usually aren't even built as specified because so much had to be stripped away just to get the edifice out of the ground.

While many of these aforementioned designers have (and will remain) role models to the way I think and conceptualize architecture, I have come to realize the harm they do upon our profession.  This is a collaborative and team-drive profession that no one single person can take the credit for.  Remember the next time you see a Hadid building go out for bid, she may never have even seen the latter parts of documentation.  It's the team behind the starchitect that really should be realized for (attempting to) bringing these buildings up from a sketch to reality.  If they actually function or not, well, you get what you pay for woeful client.

VIA| New York Times


To Be A Millennial

I am a Millennial.  A part of the generation that seems to receive unwarranted and harsh criticism for following our dreams and attempting to make the world a better place through our passions. Born into a society that still harbors manual labor and working into a grave (Generation X and Baby Boomers) we have seen the technological boom where brainpower will outdo brawn any day.  Our parents provide the disparaging glances as we move from job to job, not understanding that finding a perfect fit and a perfect job is possible and dammit, we will do that. I am a Millennial, and I'm proud to say that because we are the most educated generation ever and possibly the one that will make the biggest splash in changing our world - socially, economically and environmentally.  We aren't a weak generation, rather we are one that will push your disproving looks back in your face and move on to bigger and better things.  We are what you wanted to be.

A Millennial in Architecture  

There's a whole big debate about my generation and its place in society, but I won't get too carried away in that for now.  Instead, I want to focus in on the fact that I am a Millennial in architecture, a field littered with old white guys over the age of 65, still working and still thinking that intern architects should be paid little or no money until they've paid their dues.  Recently, architecture has seen a sheer drop of practicing professionals and an even larger fall of those who are pursuing licensure.  The Great Recession put a catastrophic dent in the numbers and as the economy recovers, we - the Millennials - are finding opportunities in every place.  We won't work for free, instead we will demand higher wages than any other intern ever because we know our own value and will not be undersold.  We are a generation of dreamers and entrepreneurs and we're not going to wait around for the world to possibly treat us well, no, instead we will make the world treat us well.  Here's what makes us so different and so much better than all those other generations before us - through an architectural lens, of course. 

We won't be walked over

Those old white guys that still preside over most AIA chapters and studios everywhere hold the belief that the younger generations know nothing (see #6 below).  While we understand we must work our way to the top and learn the ropes, do our time and experience the entry-level woes, we won't be your CAD monkeys.  We won't sit around and do pointless work for little pay for 90 hours per week.  We seek to create value in what we create, if there isn't much value in the work we're doing why would we be doing it?  While many of our parents and grandparents were told how the world worked and did their tasks as drones, we now know there is a better way out and won't be told to do meaningless trench work that may or may not move us to a better place.  We aren't intimidated by those who are older than us, we respect each person equally and do not let age or experience deter us from feeling important in a room full of people.  

We won't be undersold

Money isn't everything, but with an overburdening debt to income ratio in most recent graduates, we need to make more than just $12/hour.  While it's a tough time to ask for more money for entry-level jobs, it has to start somewhere.  We will not take a job for less than we are worth because we then decrease the value of our knowledge.  We paid a lot of our own money for our degrees and the knowledge that came with them, so why would we expect such little income in return?  In the post-Great Recession world, we have to identify ourselves as having a higher worth than previously understood.  We are hard workers and intelligent young professionals, underselling ourselves would not only be an insult to what we've accomplished thus far but also would hurt the next generations (with even more debt) ability to make what they are worth.  Architecture has long been known as a field that "you just don't go into for the money", yet the projects we work on carry more worth than most other professions.  We deserve to be paid for the time we invest into our work because we take it so seriously.  We want to ensure that all understand the true value we can and do bring to the world, financial means always help. 

We won't be stuck to one job

We start a new job and it isn't what it promised to be.  Maybe we're doing mostly pointless work, maybe the hours are too long for too little pay, or maybe it just isn't the right fit for our goals and dreams.  Whatever the case may be, we don't really feel the need to overly attach ourselves to a company.  Since pensions and other long-term incentives don't really exist anymore, the only thing keeping us at a job is whether we like it or not.  With a resurging economy, we can now be even pickier with where we land, and don't expect us to just stick around because a job pays well.  If it doesn't align with our goals and beliefs we will abandon it for the next best thing.  In such a competitive field such as architecture, there is always a better job, or maybe our own company would be the answer.  Whatever the case may be, the fact that there is always something more to work toward only constitutes our abilities and desires to jump around.   

We are dreamers, believers and implementers 

Many of the older generations critique us because we're "unrealistic" dreamers.  We should, in their opinion, stay the course of a job, task, etc. and do what you have to do to get by. Who follows dreams, movie stars and rock'n'roll singers?  Actually, the Millennials do and we do a very good job of it.  We will let our passions drive us to do things that will change the world. We will dream, believe in that dream then actually do it.  While older generations may  have talked about their dreams or thought how nice it'd be to follow through, we actually take action and make them happen.  If it fails, we make adjustments and keep moving forward. 

We are hard working individuals

Contrary to popular belief, we are hard workers.  No we aren't forging metals in a mill or digging ditches, but we're working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet while we find our dreams.  If those jobs are architectural or not, doesn't matter, we need to do what we have to, right? We will work long hours if the work is worth it and we will do whatever it takes to make it all happen.  We may get the reputation of 'lazy' because we don't take on tasks we don't see value in, because why is that worth it? 

We are the most educated generation yet

The student loan crisis speaks volumes of this truth.  But in case you don't believe me, here's a Forbes article that chronicles the fact that our generation is more educated than any other.  We understand how the world works, we know it's unfair and we do know how hard it is to make it. That won't ever deter us, though because we have a confidence in our skills and we enjoy the challenges.  Our educations have been pushed steadily on us by our parents, something we value more than most other things today.   

We can't fathom waiting 

...when we could make it happen ourselves.  We won't let the world pass us by.  We'll put our necks out and take risks.  If that means leaving a comfortable job that wasn't all our dreams had envisioned for instability in living our desires, we will.  We want to climb the ladder that we are working so hard to scale, but in turn we want to be given more responsibilities, more power and more say.  If we see our careers are in peril because we aren't moving up the proverbial ladder as fast as we think, we'll move on, no waiting necessary.

Millennials are a tough bunch.  On top of being steadfast and persistent, we are probably also one of the most disliked groups because of our abilities to adapt and liberal thinking.  We are doing things differently than our parents and grandparents because the previous course wasn't working.  It's time now to focus on progression and our generation as well as those to follow hope to build upon what we've forged thus far.  While I can certainly understand why my questioning of authority, persistence and belief in self-worth could anger other generations, that's no reason to discredit all that we do.  Have some faith in us because soon enough, we won't be competing for your jobs, you'll be competing for our talent.  

VIA| Arcitizer

The Liberation of Licensure

The last time I checked it was May and now it seems that it's almost the 4th of July.  Fast-approaching deadlines and the amazing weather have moved me away from the computer screen to more pressing matters, and to me that's really all that matters during these great months.  During the weeks of my absence, I've thought a lot about my career and the fact that I should now really begin to focus on finding some real direction.  Until now, I've been pursuing knowledge (a treasure that has no monetary amount) and finding the right fit in a firm.  It's hard to begin to narrow down a certain trajectory, but with a field so vast one must think less broad and more specific as the career goes on.  The one thing I know is true and has been since I started my education to become an architect, I will get licensed.  After that goal, I'm not sure where I'll go or what I'll focus on doing, but that I will worry about at a later time.


The process of getting licensed to be an architect is arduous, to say the least.  The most current system requires three years of experience AND seven exams (which I've heard are pretty tough). Atop that, it gets expensive to maintain records, pay for exams (if you fail one, don't expect your employer to cover it) and at the end of the tunnel pay for the insurance and professional associations affiliated with the practice.  Doing all of this with the limited amount of spare time and money we have can be quite intimidating and possibly why the number of younger designers pursuing licensure has declined pretty dramatically in the last decade.  But after all of the dust settles from the ARE storm, I think you could say it's all worth it because of one thing; freedom.

There are two types of freedom I believe you could associate with the process of getting and achieving licensure.  First is the financial/economic freedom and second is the career freedom.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages and like all other things in life carries risks that could make or break even the best designer/architect out there.  The simple fact when looking at it all is that with the really expensive architecture degree you hold there (I think mine was in the neighborhood of $250,000?), don't you want to have something to show for that?  Not getting licensed isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not really delineating you from the rest of society.  Sitting through all of that studying and all of those tough exams is what really begins to set you apart, then allows you to follow your true dreams within the field of architecture.  

Financial Freedom 

I paid for my degree myself.  Lots of student loans, lots of hard work and I still will owe money on my degree 10 years after graduating.  What I make now in terms of salary among others my age is probably something I should be more proud of, yet with the overburdening of debt, I can't help but to grimace at times as I begrudgingly pay another month's bills.  At the end of the day, however, I actually think this is a great thing. Not only is it propelling me (and all you other crazy kids in my position) to focus on getting to a better place in life, but it's also allowing us to really understand the economics of what we invest in and what it's really worth to  us at the end of the day.  Everything we will want to obtain or pursue will have a price tag associated with it, the true question is will it be worth it and can we afford it?

According to the 2013 AIA Mid-Atlantic Compensation Report, an Intern 3 makes on average $49,200 while an Architect 1 (newly licensed) could expect to make another $10,000+ ($59,700) on top of that.  An unlicensed staff out of the "internship" phase could expect to make roughly $5,000 less than an Architect 1. While these are mere generalizations for a larg area, they do give a fairly accurate portrayal of what to expect if you live in the mid-Atlantic region.  While money certainly isn't everything, the difference during a typical career path of an unlicensed professional and a licensed one varies anywhere from $5,000-$50,000.  The extra cash flow can help pay down loans, save for retirement/children and live a life that certainly feels more luxurious than the Ramen you ate in your intern days.  Ultimately, the pursuance of licensure grants you a freedom that you'd have to work a lot harder and longer for as an unlicensed staff member or intern.  Three years after graduation you could potentially be a licensed individual making a decent wage and having unlimited financial incentives and freedoms at your helm. Once again, money isn't everything, but having the financial freedom to either pursue your own ventures as a professional or simply live a more lavish personal lifestyle are huge factors in your happiness and well-being.

Career Freedom  

When you first start at an office, you are subject owning very little or no work.  Everything you produce has your licensed boss' signature on it (as it should be, right?).  Until your obtain  your license, you are really held under the thumb of another individual who possesses that stamp. Getting your own could mean anything from more responsibilities in an office to opening your own firm. You don't have many more places to go once you climb up five or so rungs of the unlicensed ladder.  Get licensed and suddenly the ladder grows infinitely taller and your career really will begin to take off.  As I mentioned beforehand, getting licensed just puts you at the level playing ground, what you do with your career afterward will really define who you are and the kind of designer/professional you are.  Ultimately, the only way to break away into your own element and out of the chains of another person is to get that state stamp.  After that, your boundaries grow limitless. 

Ultimately, as you can tell, I am a huge proponent of getting licensed.  I think it's almost wasteful to not if you have a B.Arch, like going through law school then never taking your boards at the end.  Be proud of the tough nature of all that we do, this isn't an easy job but it's one that many of us share an unabated affection for.  Understand that you are held - to some degree - back if you don't pursue your license and this can impact both your personal and career growth. A license means more than freedom, it means having more pride in what you do everyday, having more responsibilities to the profession and your own job and becoming a driving force in getting others to get their stamps as well.  It's not an easy process, but like my mom always says; "If it was easy, everybody would be doing it", and that's the absolute truth.  



I Am Not An Architect

While I still maintain that I am not an intern , I legally also am not an architect. Even after "practicing" the art of architecture for over six years now, I am nowhere near being an 'architect' and am confident in saying I still have a lot to learn before even thinking about testing. What's interesting, however, is the new push for (and endorsement of such methodology by NCARB) graduating from school with a license. Last week, NCARB released a firestorm when it notified the general public of it's plans to begin researching avenues to get students licensed quickly and before they even graduate-or as they graduate, if you will. With an all-clear from the overseers of licensure in the United States, the plan is to have an initial program initiated for use by a pilot school in the next five years. After that, the title of "Registered Architect" suddenly will lose a whole lot of clout and the general Architect population will lose much experience and knowledge as a whole.

The Complexity of Architecture

Architecture is hard. Being in school and excelling in the practices of 'architecture' are much different than being in an office and excelling in the practices of Architecture. School is necessary to teach the theoretical and conceptual side of design, especially after seeing such drab buildings shape the beginning part of the 21st century. School is meant to learn the fundamentals of design and practice, the stuff you won't get a chance to learn once you're out making real buildings and focusing on the fact that sky-hooks don't, as a matter of fact, exist. What school never was intended for (at least as it seems with the current NAAB-approved curricula) was learning every little bit of how architecture is practiced in reality. Although this actually may be a problem when faced with the harsh realities of practice, it's simply how the pedagogical process has been formatted. While I do agree incorporating more of the everyday-practice into education would be beneficial, earning a license after only five years of the abstract is simply absurd. In a previous post , I expressed my discourse with the current systems in place for learning architecture. Too far removed and conceptual, however still necessary in becoming a good designer and valuable practitioner. I still uphold the statements I made in that post, however the attempts to make the long process of becoming licensed happen while getting a B.Arch is almost crazy talk.

Schooling for this field may cover anywhere between 10-25% of the things you need to know to be prepared to sit for an ARE. Most schools lay somewhere in the middle of the percentage group, while select few teeter on the higher end (technical schools and some of the larger universities such as USC and Michigan have been noted for their exceptional technical courses and education). It's impossible in a five - even six - year span to learn what is necessary to effectively call oneself an Architect. What really defines a person who is prepared for examination and practitioner of being an RA is experience, something sitting in a studio working on conceptual (albeit really, really cool) projects will not necessarily get you. Incorporating experience into school to shorten the period after school before sitting for an exam makes more sense, but expecting a 5-7 year period to fully foster the brain of an RA is asinine.

School Is For School

Whether or not the system in place is correct (but definitely leaning toward the "or not"), it still serves its purpose to introduce students to the practice of architecture. Long, arduous nights in the studio mixed with juggling other classes, social life and daily hygiene are already hard enough for most B.Arch candidates. Throwing in an additional requirement to work in an office while doing everything required for school seems a bit much. It was tough enough for many, myself included, to even juggle a campus job. Work requirements and the entire design process took up a lot of time, add in an internship and suddenly the complexity grows exponentially. Envisioning a practice-based addition to the B.Arch curriculum may add too much to fit within a 5 year period, even 6 years at that (note that the initial number of years has arbitrarily set to 7, a program that reflects co-ops already in place). To effectively gain the knowledge to graduate with a B.Arch and an RA, one must have 5600 hours of experience in an office as well as minimally 5 years of education (which many are now saying isn't enough). Right there, you're looking at 10 semesters of school and roughly 2 years and 9 months of full time work experience. Let's say these time periods were all pushed together, eliminating breaks and holidays, this is roughly a 6 year and 1 month time period to complete everything. By that point in time, the student will have burned out and possibly perished from overwork.  Working summers at an internship is one thing, but over-consumption of a student's time and removal from the more exciting things in life is just torturous.  

It's great that NCARB is looking at alternative ways to get students licensed, but this really doesn't feel like the right solution.  It seems as if they're only trying to make it more marketable to younger students looking at what they want to do with their lives.  The process could use some revamping, however throwing a barely experienced kid RA into the practice of architecture doesn't seem to be the best idea in my mind.  Instead, let's look at fostering more real-world knowledge in the pedagogical processes, extend the number of years of school to six and incorporate mandatory internships into those six years.  This would shorten the time after school to licensure as well as grant students a better idea of how the world of architecture works without giving them a stamp right out of the gate at graduation.  

Final Thoughts

This whole thing has a smell to it.  A money smell, you say?  Could NCARB effectively increase its profits tenfold by creating an easier avenue for licensure?  Could they create a bigger 'need' for their services to aid in the growing number of  unemployed and out of work graduates?  While I'm not fully accusing of NCARB of doing this for money, I am a bit suspicious they'd think this was an accessible route after so much backlash in the past couple of years regarding the lack of knowledge graduates have.  What has made architects good to this point was the ability to be well-rounded.  Having a solid education (with blends of conceptual and technical) mixed with the practicalities of the profession leads to a more holistic understanding of what Architecture is.  By letting mere - this word hurts, but I think is necessary to drive home the drastic changes that have been proposed - interns stamp drawings and uphold the safety and well-being of the general public is scary.  It's watering down the talent and knowledge-base of those practitioners who have had the well-rounded experiences thus far.  Once again, the system does need many changes, I can't really say what exactly but being a recent graduate and now a practitioner in the field of Architecture, there are inefficiencies in how we are trained.  I'm calling NCARB out to think more seriously about the implications this type of system could have not only on the profession but the quality and rigor of work.  Experience breeds understanding and knowledge education could never fully bring to such a hands-on field.  So what can be implemented as an in-between for this never-ending debate?  How is it that as of now I'm only an intern but two extra years of school could make me an Architect?  This whole thing seems a bit cretinous to me. 

Please weigh in below, this is our future at risk right now.  

What In the Zaha is That?

Debates have begun to spur regarding the 2020 Olympics and the new Japanese National Stadium design that is the centerpiece to the sacred games.  A second round of petitions have been circulated after a positive response to the first wave which is attempting to either have Hadid reconfigure her designs or scrap them for another designer all together.  Bringing up a recurrent discourse on contextualism and architecture, the stadium has appalled many who call the 2020 Olympics area home.  Is this the beginning of the end for structures which blatantly ignore context both through aesthetics and scale?  

Contextualism in Architecture

For as long as many can remember, the debate of contextualism has been a large one in the field of architecture.  A huge neo-post-modernist movement called "Critical Regionalism" coined by Kenneth Frampton sparked the debate of place and how buildings defined place both internally and externally.  A place always had a certain feel to it, but with the rise of the sterile Modernist movement and the over-ornamentation of the Post-Modernism, cities began to lose their overall feel.  Critical Regionalism was the beginning of a response to architecture that defied its surroundings and created itself for self-indulgence and admiration.  A huge force in this movement was Japanese architect Tadao Ando, a man who believed architecture should borrow bits from the past, present and see itself into the future with a whimsical timelessness that rooted itself in the site and culture of its place.  Contextualism and its subsequent deliberation have held a place in the field of architecture since then.

So what is an architect's responsibility to contextualism in regards to the buildings they root into a site?  What must they consider and juggle when components such as religion, cultural practices and habits are all thrown into the mixture?  Is this even the responsibility of the "architect", a term which only is defined as a person who engages in the practice of building and making structures?  The best answer to all of these questions is an architect is responsible for every little piece of a building.  Whether it's how a building sits on its site or how it offends the public, the blame/credit for such things must fall on the person who has manifested such a mass. Recent court cases against architect Santiago Calatrava have begged the legal system to hold the architect accountable for things such as contextualism, it is their job to ensure that the building works in every single aspect.  Still, many find it hard to find a gauge of judging a building on something so subjective.

Zaha Hadid and Architecture

Remember those days in school when you and your fellow classmates would droll over those $250 Hadid books, idolizing her use of the curve and how it made such majestic spaces and experiences?  It's not hard to see that her mastery of the spatial experience is an overtaking experience in itself.  For well over 30 years, Hadid has followed the same exact project time after time again.  Is it a bank?  Expressionistic curvature.  Is it a hotel?  Expressionistic curvature.  Is it a stadium plopped down right in the center of a Japanese city?  Expressionistic, out of scale curvature. For the entirety of her solo career, Zaha has found a way to embed her brand, if you will, of architecture in every project.  No matter what the location, no matter what the program, her functions ALWAYS follow the forms.  In a world where space is so precious and density continues to grow at record pace, isn't what she is doing a bit unethical? 

Zooming in on a single project to analyze a bit more closely, the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo is a sight to see (in its renderings for now, at least).  Admittedly it's a beautiful piece of art that gets any geometrically-inclined individual's blood pumping.  It is majestic and seems to float about, heavy yet airy at the same time, the stadium promises to be a fantastic home to the games, for a month.  After that, the gigantic and scaleless monster will be a sunshade to those who prefer sunshine in the mornings.  Rising to 20-stories at some of its highest peaks, the stadium will replace the Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium, a structure which has been on that site for decades now.  Sure, the stadium was outdated and it almost definitely needed updates for the international stage, however replacing something that may have been as high as 8-10 stories with an edifice double that size is preposterous.  Scale aside, the general form borrows nothing from its surroundings.  A curve thrown into the mix of city blocks, parasitically overtaking the souls of those who still are forced to live in the area (those who haven't been force to move due to the games, that is).  How can something this offensive be allowed to happen?

The answer is simple:  Zaha Hadid.  Her name, as mentioned earlier, sends architects into a tizzy.  A force for women architects everywhere and even more for daring designer everywhere, she is certainly an architectural role model.  Wouldn't it be great to do the same project for your entire career and collect the accolades of a deified human?  Hadid certainly feels this as she continues to push another dangerous disaster to the brink of construction.  Her lack of consideration towards what is already there, the culture that exists and even the general aesthetic clashes that will occur is ethically sickening.  It is absolutely beautiful but had a smaller firm entered this competition with the same exact design, same exact renderings and same plans, they would have been laughed off the stage by a jury that included none other than Tadao Ando.  Japan is paying for Zaha Hadid, they stopped thinking about paying for a stadium months ago.

The Battle for Context 

Architecture is a living, breathing entity.  It exists as a machine that is activated everyday by not only the people around it but the ecosystems it exists in, both man-made and natural.  The second round of petition has begun by two Japanese architects - Toyo Ito and Pritzker Prize-winning Fumihiko Maki - with well over 14,000 signatures.  The hope is that Hadid's design can be trashed for something more appropriate for the site, something that will respond and manifest itself in a much more respectful manner.  As Tom Mayne once said, architecture needs to be offensive to make progress.  No truer statement can be made, but Morphosis' buildings typically do respond to context drawing upon implied lines and scales of the surrounding areas.  Hadid is not only being disrespectfully offensive, she's also breaking all the rules because she can, possibly another case of affluence.  While I do have the utmost respect for Ms. Hadid and the legacy she has built, I also believe in the integrity of the urban fabric and the ability of a city to grow when all of the right pieces come together.  The new stadium is the wrong piece for growth, not only will it be out of scale, it will suck $1.3 billion from the pockets of investors everywhere.  Couldn't that money be employed in a much better way for the still-struggling region?  It's time to start holding ourselves responsible both in regards to safety, wellness and ethical confines of the buildings we create.

Demolition of the existing stadium is slated to begin in July, already many have been displaced from their public housing plans to prepare the site for the obtuse new stadium. Will the petition work?  Probably not, as a matter of fact they may even add a few hundred feet to it to make their point.  It will probably be a beautiful piece of art, but for it to be considered architecture it should have put more emphasis on focusing on every aspect of its existence.  Zaha Hadid creates beautiful artwork, but at times it's hard to consider her an architect because of her flagrant disregard for contextualism, budgets and public input.  If we don't start to focus on our built environment creating place again, the sterile environments that have been manifested through the Modern/Post-Modern eras will thrive on, and we'll become an even more globalized placeless-place.  

VIA| Co.Design