Posts tagged with "Yale School of Architecture":

BIG, James Corner, SCAPE and Bionic unveil final proposals for Bay Area resiliency challenge

The year-long Resilient By Design | Bay Area Challenge ideas competition has sought to utilize community-led ecological design to “develop innovative solutions that will strengthen [the Bay Area’s] resilience to sea level rise, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes.” Last week, the nine teams working with local communities and organizations on the competition unveiled final proposals for a collection of sites scattered around the San Francisco Bay.  The nine sites represent a collection of some of the most ecologically fragile areas in the region, places that may see dramatic change in coming decades as climate change takes hold. The initiative seeks to begin to reposition these areas—some are densely-populated while others host vital regional infrastructure—for a climate change-addled future. For the competition, design teams led by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), Tom Leader Studio (TLS) and others pursue efforts to restore regional wetlands and riparian floodplains while reorienting infrastructural investments and development to suit these new landscapes. The proposals were developed with an eye toward being implementable strategies. Next, communities and designers will work together with regional, state, and federal agencies to fully implement their plans. All nine proposals are broken down below: The Grand Bayway The Common Ground team led by TLS Landscape Architecture proposes to extend Highway 37 across San Pablo Bay by designing an elevated scenic causeway that would allow riparian landscapes to flow beneath the new multi-modal artery. The team proposes to deploy the causeway with flair by breaking out various lanes of travel into whispy overpasses that thread through the landscape including a grand, “mobility loop” encircling rich recreational areas.  The design team is made up of Exploratorium, Guy Nordenson & Assoc., Michael Maltzan Architecture, HR&A Advisors, Sitelab Urban Studio, Lotus Water, Rana Creek, Dr. John Oliver, Richard Hindle, UC Berkeley, and Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants. ouR-HOME The ouR-HOME project proposes to deploy a package of land-use reforms to incentivize small lot housing, community land trusts, social impact bonds, and new community infrastructure to prepare the community of North Richmond for climate change. The proposal calls for the construction of a new “horizontal levee” around the city that will protect it from potentially toxic runoff that could emanate from a nearby gasoline refinery during a flood. The vision also calls for planting 20,000 new trees to help “bring the marsh to Main Street,” an effort that aims to preserve and build upon existing community wealth in the majority African American and Latino enclave.  The team is led by San Francisco-based architecture firm Mithun and includes the Chinatown Community Development Center, ISEEED/Streetwyze, BioHabitats, Integral Group, HR&A Advisors, Moffat & Nichol, ALTA Planning, Urban Biofilter, and Resilient Design Institute. Estuary Commons The Estuary Commons plan creates a new network of ecologically-focused public spaces along areas surrounding the estuaries of San Leandro Bay in Alameda County. The proposal calls for investments in bicycle greenways, secondary housing units, and inclusionary zoning reforms in order to “build resiliency within the community.” The social and environmental justice-focused bid also calls for burying a stretch of Interstate-880 running through Downtown Oakland in order to remedy past planning errors.  The All Bay Collective—made up of AECOM, CMG Landscape Architecture, University of California, Berkeley- College of Environmental Design, Berkeley Center for New Media, The Terner Center, California College of the Arts, IDEO, Silvestrum, SKEO, modem, and David Baker Architects— is behind the scheme. Public Sediment for Alameda Creek The Public Sediment for Alameda Creek plan calls for reconnecting sediment flows between Alameda Creek and the bay’s wetlands in order to create a natural and ecologically-rich defense against floodwaters. The scheme revisions the currently-static flood control channels that criss-cross the southwestern edge of the Bay into redesigned estuaries, sediment traps, and berms that facilitate the build up of sediment while still allowing for public use and natural habitats.  The team is led by SCAPE Landscape Architecture and also includes Arcadis, Dredge Research Collaborative, TS Studio, UC Davis Department of Human Ecology and Design, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, and Buoyant Ecologies Lab. South Bay Sponge The South Bay Sponge proposal aims to use a mix of cut-and-fill excavations and zoning swaps to build densely on high ground along the southern edge of the Bay in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The plan would create networks of “sponge” landscapes that absorb tidal flows and run off, efforts that would involve reorganizing urban fabric in these areas into dense nodes of habitation surrounded by water-friendly landscapes.  The design team behind the proposal includes JCFO, Moffatt & Nichol, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, SF BAY National Estuarine Research Reserve, Romberg-Tiburon Center, SFSF, Andrea Baker Consulting, James Lima Planning + Development, The Bay Institute, SeArc / ECOncrete, HT Harvey and Associates, Playhou.se, and Adventure Pictures. Resilient South City The Hassell+ team proposes to create additional public green space and a continuous public access route along South San Francisco’s Colma Creek that would double as storm surge-absorbing infrastructure. The plan aims to reduce the impacts of flooding by utilizing a network of greenways and municipal parks to restore native ecologies. These areas would manage runoff from existing neighborhoods, creating new public open spaces along the way. The plan would revamp the city’s urban waterfront and make restorative alterations to Orange Memorial Park.  The project team includes Lotus Water, Civic Edge, HATCH, Brown & Caldwell, Idyllist, and Page & Turnbull. Islais Hyper Creek The BIG, ONE, and Sherwood have teamed up for the Islais Hyper Creek  Vision, a plan that aims to restore native landscapes around the creek while creating new nodes of waterborne urbanism. The team envisions transforming vast swaths along the creek into natural habitats and parks, with new clustered technology and industrial hubs scattered around the city. The proposal is dubbed as “an opportunity to bring the existing industrial ecosystem into the next economy.” The design team also includes Moffat & Nichol, Nelson Nygaard, Strategic Economics, The Dutra Group, and Stanford University. Designing our Own Solutions The Permaculture and Social Equity Team is proposing to utilize social design as a way of building a vision for Marin City, a diverse working class enclave located just north of San Francisco. The team’s social design project involved extensive community engagement and is focused on equity, placemaking, and public ownership.  The team is made up of Pandora Thomas, Antonio Roman-Alcala , the Urban Permaculture Institute, Ross Martin Design, Alexander J. Felson, and Yale School of Architecture. Elevate San Rafael The Elevate San Rafael plan put forth by the Bionic team that proposes to reorganize the small city of San Rafael, pulling in its edges from flood-prone shorelines while building up higher elevations with dense housing and public infrastructure. The proposal would repurpose underutilized lots into flood planes flanked with housing, add floating recreational islands within the bay, and build up artificial reefs along the bay floor.  The plan proposes to pair “time-tested approaches to coastal adaptation with a moral, financial, and infrastructural agenda” as a way of adequately planning for the city’s future. The team is made up of landscape architects Bionic, WXY, PennDesign, Michael Yarne, Enterprise, Moffatt & Nichol, WRA, RMA, SF State, Baycat, Studio for Urban Projects, RAD Urban, and KMA. For more information on the proposals, see the Resilient By Design Bay Area Challenge website. 

The role of projection in architectural drawings is explored at Austrian Cultural Forum

Don’t call it a comeback. It appears that drawing is now everywhere. Drawings’ Conclusions just closed at Anyspace, New York; Drawing Codes: Experimental Protocols of Architectural Representation is in the Taubman Gallery at the University of Michigan; The Drawing Show opened recently at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery; Drawbot is at the AA[n+1] Gallery in Paris; and there is the current exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum titled The Projective Drawing.1  It might seem obvious that to exhibit architecture is to exhibit drawings, but for the past twenty years, it has been infrequent to focus an exhibition of contemporary architectural work around the question of drawing. The quick reaction would be to attribute this to the pinging pain of nostalgia in the midst of our image-saturated world. But this would be a mistake, for at their best, these shows revolve around not a return, but a provocation concerning how to define drawing and image in contemporary aesthetic discourse. The curator of The Projective Drawing exhibition, Brett Littman, has explicitly tied the show to a collection of essays written by Robin Evans and published posthumously in 1995 as The Projective Cast. An exhibition squarely in the realm of art that is developed from a piece of architectural theory is quite rare, which is what immediately excited me about the prospects of this show. The drawings exhibited here often reference architecture, and several pieces use techniques more commonly associated with architectural drawing, (the axonometric being the prime example), but these pieces are clearly art, not architectural drawings. Specifically, the difference is that none of the drawings in this exhibition work through projection as practiced by architects and explicated in the texts of Robin Evans. This may initially sound like a critique of the premise of the exhibition, but I assure you it is not, for the problem of projection in relation to drawing is what is at stake. In the essays compiled for Evans’s The Projective Cast and in the influential earlier essay “Translations from Drawing to Building” (1986), Evans observes that a significant amount of architectural representation does not consist of iconic plane geometry or the pictorial under-drawing used to structure composition in painting. Instead, it is focused around translations of formal and spatial notations toward construction. Projective geometry is engaged in order to control these transformations. The shadows cast by projection are controlled distortions, traces registering movements of graphic information, and residues that elude symbolic interpretations associated with the pictorial. For many architects, orthographic projections (which are very different than orthographic drawings), perspectives, or obliques are what differentiate architectural from other types of drawing practices. These are the techniques that discipline an architect toward thinking three-dimensionally through two-dimensions. In other words, projection is the background operating system of architectural drawing. Over the last 25 years, the digital model has replaced the architectural drawing. If drawings are produced from a digital model, they are no longer the graphic traces of constructed projections, they are images, rendered to follow the visual conventions of drawing.2 Although this output may be an image, projective geometry is fundamental for digital modeling software. This is evident not just through the real-time updating of views, or the unfolding/sectioning of surfaces, but also, projection is at the root of calculating texture maps and indices of light reflection; commonly called “rendering.” Evans was prescient about this aspect of projection, for it is much more concerned with the optic than the haptic. Interestingly, architecture has typically considered projection as having more to do with drawing than rendering. The history of drawing is so entwined with projection that the graphic lines constructing projections were literally called “pencils” in early descriptive geometry textbooks. Furthermore, many architects view digital software with suspicion, precisely because of its affiliation with images as opposed to drawings. Evans may not have written much about digital representation per se, but in many ways his arguments accurately articulate the background of contemporary digital modeling software. As it stands, architects today are continuously engaged with the transformations of projective geometry through digital modeling, even if these projections no longer leave a visual residue, and most often operate hidden within the commands of the software. And it is here that we have the problem. If the visible trace of projection was crucial for defining an architectural drawing, and if digital software removes these traces in the production of images, we are left with a curious predicament. When looking at digitally produced drawings, either we are not looking at architectural drawings or, we are not looking at drawings at all. One of these is a disciplinary problem, the other aesthetic. The digital is not a new paradigm in itself. But, it does require revaluations regarding the conventions of different mediums, and it is in these transformations that we may formulate new sets of concerns. The Projective Drawing exhibition offers some fascinating insights on this issue for architectural representation. The drawings in this show mix mediums continuously. At the same time, this is not a post-medium mush where drawing is fused with painting, graphic design, architecture, etc. The questions this work raises have more to do with the tensions between abstraction and realism, and the manners through which drawing can question the ways in which we image the world. In a series entitled transmissions: a more radical elsewhere (2005-2012), William Cordova creates mixed media collages of drawings that build worlds suggesting telecommunication transmissions to places “out-of-field”—potentially even out-of-time. Brigitte Mahlknecht has produced a series of drawings of unfolding axonometric boxes titled Fast Architektur (2017), that use wavering stumbling lines ghostly layered to suggest the impossibility of ever folding these objects back up. The large oblique drawing titled Flatlands (corner) (2016) and created by Seher Shah is clearly indebted to the precision of architectural line drawings and the techniques of axonometry. But in this case, the line work shifts over edges that should define corners calling attention to the flickering instability of optical depth. In a series of small-framed untitled pieces, Leopold Strobl draws on top of color manipulated newsprint clips. Into these landscapes and cities he intervenes with dark blank masses. These hover between object-like figures and void-like removals, establishing a tension with the realism of the mechanically reproduced images in the background. In the most provocative instances, the viewer finds their attention drifting into these backgrounds, wondering what world(s) could contain these things. The works in The Projective Drawing are projective as speculations, not as medium-dependent techniques. Architects have placed too much emphasis on drawing versus imaging as a disciplinary conflict. What matters are paradigms, the concepts made intelligible beside (para) aesthetic provocations. The Projective Drawing exhibition is in many ways an exploration of exactly this; the mediums appropriated within the aesthetics of the works provoke allusions that extend outward. These are relations between aesthetics and politics, between what can be seen and said, and what actions we project into the world. I would much rather have architects arguing about these issues than if their images looked more like drawings or photos.
  1. Drawings’ Conclusions at Anyspace curated by Jeffrey Kipnis and Andrew Zago brought to New York by Cynthia Davidson; The Drawing Show at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery, originally at A+D Museum Los Angeles curated by Dora Epstein Jones, Drawing Codes curated by Adam Marcus and Andrew Kudless on view at the Taubman Gallery at the University of Michigan, originally at the CCA in San Franciso, Drawbot 2 is on display at the AA[n+1] gallery Paris, France curated by Emmanuelle Chiappone-Piriou and Leslie Ware, and The Projective Drawing at the Austrian Cultural Forum curated by Brett Littman.
  2. A fascinating discussion of this condition was recently put forward by John May in the article “Everything is Already an Image” published in Log 40 (MIT Press, 2017)

The Drawing Show

The practice of architectural drawing has changed dramatically over the past twenty-five years. The traditional pro forma of the sketch (or parti) that would eventually lead to a plan, section, and elevation has given way to exploratory forms of representation. Similar to many postmodern visual arts, architectural drawing has sought to challenge or engage existing paradigms. It often obfuscates or blurs the norms of didactic drawings through inversions, transgressions, and multiplicities of scale, thickness, clarity, measure, shading, and composition. Unlike studio art, however, architectural drawing is defined through its conventions. It conforms to certain rules of presentation—in particular, the use of the line as delineation (a boundary); the preference for flatness, even when drawing in advanced computer-aided programs; the labeling of elements; and the use of representational syntax such as directional arrows, alpha-numerical call-outs, and highly developed decorative and or applied textures. The drawings in the show are not very alike, similar only in that they are situated between the conventions of architectural drawing and the terms of engagement in the arts. While many students of architecture are familiar with this kind of creative exploration, it is less common within an architect’s practice. The works shown here are all from architects who employ exploratory drawing as part of their practice, identifying and furthering their work through these media. This exhibition is only a small sampling of the many works that fall into this relatively new category of exploratory drawing, and because few of these drawings result in “buildings,” these works are often not seen. The concern over the perceived divide between drawings produced by hand and those rendered by computer can be effectively subsumed by the much larger problem of representation in drawing. While the newer tools have been instructive (for example, in turning the line into more of a spline), the computer ultimately does not kill the ambitions of the continuing drawing project. Instead both traditional and digital methods contribute to larger issues: plan-ness instead of plans, sectioning as a dynamic activity, thickening the dimensions of the plane, modeling as a form of drawing, and lightness and shadowing as techniques to produce new fictions rather than techniques of truth-telling. —Dora Epstein Jones

How mass timber can help architects rethink “basic services”

This is the fifth column of “Practice Values,” a bi-monthly series by architect and technologist Phil Bernstein. The column focuses on the evolving role of the architect at the intersection of design and construction, including subjects such as alternative delivery systems and value generation. Bernstein was formerly vice president at Autodesk and now teaches at the Yale School of Architecture. The topic this week in my practice class is “Scope of Services,” where we examine the architect’s relationship to the client’s work, to wit: What, exactly, does she have to do to deliver the project? The idea of “Basic Services” is central to explaining traditional practice, in that it’s the way we routinize our efforts through standard stages of effort (schematic design, design development, and so forth), structure decision-making, and, almost as important, create a basis for protecting our limited fees and invoicing the client. The idea of basic services or even “phases of design” has been under pressure for some time, mostly under the delaminating influence of technology. Long gone are the hand-drawn, single-line diagrams that once comprised the end product of schematics, just as transferring design intent to a builder may include BIM data or digital geometry in addition to traditional two-dimensional construction documents. The fluidity of digital data, and the purported insight that accompanies it, has blurred and expanded the system boundaries of services themselves. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the latest thinking about the use of mass timber as a fundamental building material for cities, work pioneered by my faculty colleague Alan Organschi of Gray Organschi Architecture. Alan argues persuasively that there is an opportunity to rethink the systems of carbon, energy, material production, design, and construction by the thoughtful and systematic use of engineered lumber—a renewable resource—in urban construction, where the forest is not just another source of raw material but also a place to store carbon. His thinking is not unlike Kiel Moe’s at Harvard, who posits that buildings aren’t independent objects that merely coexist with the systems that produce and sustain them, but rather are integral parts of those systems. Architects should ignore the resulting system boundaries created by constructs like, for example, the idea that our work be something called “Basic Services.” Both Organschi and Moe believe that architects must change the scale of their influence beyond the materialization of form by understanding, incorporating, and (dare I say it) controlling the flows of capital, energy, materials, and production. We need to replace our understanding of the supply chain with an overt ability to create and optimize it. This idea is immediately appealing, harkening back to the original assertions of modernism and its putative benefits for production and society, but equally daunting and intractable. This is precisely why Organschi’s claims about mass timber are so important: They represent a clear “through-line” from the means of making to the creation of form that is at the heart of the architect’s design proposition. Architects have always been part of a systems-design problem, and today’s digital tools that allow the representation, analysis, and optimization of systems fit perfectly into these new responsibilities. The digitization of design has blurred the traditional boundaries of our “systems of service,” but there are new opportunities emerging as design is informed by new technologies like systems engineering, big data analysis, and optimization, machine learning, and integrated network design. These tools will wend their way into innovative practices like Organschi’s, necessary to increase the architect’s understanding of and span of control over the supply chain. Organschi’s work thus challenges the entire idea of “Basic Services” as it currently drives practice—calling into question the roles of technology, research, professional certification, even the compensation to the architect for taking on such responsibilities. A “net zero” building means nothing if the systems that delivered it generates huge amounts of unaccounted carbon. We’ll need to reconsider and remediate all the systems boundaries of design—our internal protocols and processes and our relationship to the supply chain—to have true influence on the implications of our buildings. The efforts around mass timber described in this issue are some of the best thinking on this front so far.

Catching up with Bob Stern on life after Yale

In an exit interview with the Yale University School of Architecture student newspaper Paprika!, former dean Robert A.M. Stern said, “Once I became the dean, I stopped going on any kind of a regular basis to live theater in New York, which I used to be quite an habitué of… I was usually so exhausted that at the end of the day I would go and sit in my one hundred dollar seat and have the most expensive snooze ever known to man… I’m looking forward to catching a few plays after June 30.” AN Senior Editor Matt Shaw caught up with Mr. Stern to talk about his life after deanship, his new office, and what else he has been up to in his newfound free time. Matt Shaw: This is my first visit to the new office. It has a similar feeling to the old one. Robert A.M. Stern: Well I don’t like too much change. The new office here on One Park Avenue is a reflection of the previous office on West 34th Street, which was a reflection of its predecessor on West 61st. Also, after being in an office for roughly 20 years, people forgot to throw things away, so the cleansing experience of coming over here—archiving things and so forth—has been great. But we kept the library. I remember that drawing. When we moved here, we just moved the drawing. The clients in Aspen have been friends of mine for a long time, and so I keep it there. I have a sentimental side, which people don’t actually know. They think I’m a man of steel and I’m really Clark Kent at heart. Well, congratulations on the move. So, what are you up to now that you are finished being dean at Yale? You must have lots of free time. Well, that’s not true. To begin with, I’m on sabbatical. I am preparing a new seminar that I will give this coming academic year. For a long time at Yale, I’ve given one seminar called “Parallel Moderns,” which says that what is commonly called “modern architecture”—in cocktail party chatter—is really only the International Style of the modern movement. However, there were many different kinds of modern architecture that ran parallel in the 20th century. I’m also working with Jake Tilove and David Fishman on my New York 2020 book, which I swore I would never do, but here I am. I was hoping to talk about what you do outside the office. What do you enjoy doing in the city? Do have more time to see shows at the theater now that you aren’t back and forth from New Haven? I had a kind of orgy of shows. The last one I saw was the one with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, War Paint. I saw Dear Evan Hansen—I actually saw that before it opened. I knew it was going to be amazing and it was amazing. I saw Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, and the Kevin Kline thing, Present Laughter. I love musicals, as you can tell. There is a series at the City Center where they revive old shows. I saw The Golden Apple and it went in one ear and out the other. What are some of your favorite restaurants? Oh, you sound like a client who’s come in from Oshkosh. I used to love going to the Four Seasons and now… I don’t know, it’s not the same. They kind of sexed it up in a way. We’ll see what happens when it reopens in the fall. But, for me, the Four Seasons was very special. I had many lunches with Philip Johnson in the Grill Room and I kept going there afterward, once or twice a year. I still think it’s a beautiful experience to be there. What about public spaces? Where do you like to take a walk? Obviously from my books, I’m a complete enthusiast for New York. There’s no greater enclosed space in New York—or maybe the world—than the great hall of Grand Central. Central Park is another of the great rooms—and it is a room. There’s a difference between Central Park and Prospect Park. Prospect Park is not a room. You go in there and you get lost, whereas Central Park is a completely defined rectangle with walls of buildings on all four sides, so it’s a great room and I love that. I find Times Square amazing. They’re all kind of clichés because they’re so great. Everybody will say, ‘Oh, doesn’t he know some surprising place?’ No.

How can architects adapt to the coming age of AI?

This is the fourth column of “Practice Values,” a bi-monthly series by architect and technologist Phil Bernstein. The column focuses on the evolving role of the architect at the intersection of design and construction, including subjects such as alternative delivery systems and value generation. Bernstein was formerly vice president at Autodesk and now teaches at the Yale School of Architecture. In my last column I explored the potential impacts of next-generation technology—particularly machine intelligence (also known as artificial intelligence or AI) and crowd-sourced knowledge—on the hegemony of professionalism for architects. This question was recently explored further by Daniel Susskind, one of the authors of an Oxford study published in a RIBA journal article entitled “The Way We’ll Work Tomorrow”—which suggested that modern knowledge work, like much of that performed by architects today, should be considered not so much as “by job” as “by task,” and that many of those tasks are likely to be automated in the future. Professions exist to systematize expertise and, by extension, control access to it. Computation democratizes access to that expertise by digitizing and distributing it, but does this lead to an inevitable decline for the need for professionals themselves? Like manufacturing workers in the 20th century, knowledge workers are likely to be “de-skilled” in the 21st, as routine, transactional, and analytical tasks are performed by machine-learning algorithms referencing big data sources, and the need for human abilities for those same chores is eliminated. Just as CAD rendered my once-fearsome hand-drafting skills mostly irrelevant, expert systems may do the same with today’s expertise in, say, cost estimating or construction documentation. Even though architectural design writ large is a profoundly creative act, the more prosaic components—preparing schedules, measuring and calculating, even evaluating performance characteristics like safety or zoning conformance—comprise a sizable portion of the architect’s fee. Production tasks connected to technical documentation alone (think CD phase work) can be as much as 40 percent of compensation on a project. Once this stuff gets automated, will there be much less work, and will we need far fewer architects? Perhaps—unless we find alternate strategies for demonstrating the value of our efforts. Oxford’s Susskind suggests that while the “job of an architect” may be profoundly transformed with technology, the profession should reconsider some of our critical tasks in response. If design processes will inevitably be augmented by computation, we might control our destiny by taking on the problem of creating the resulting computational platforms: engineering knowledge systems and structures, developing workflow protocols for analysis and evaluation, and designing new systems from which design itself can spring. In some sense, this is meta-design—not unlike the work we’ve seen since the advent of BIM that required technology-implementation plans, data standards, and integrated multidisciplinary information flows. Cutting-edge design firms rely heavily on scripts and so-called “generative design” techniques, and what Susskind recommends here is a logical extension of that strategy that augments (rather than replaces) the capabilities of designers. Of course, the same technologies that might appear to be threats to our autonomy as architects could, jujitsu-style, be turned into opportunities. Susskind suggests that automation offers the immediate benefit of making routine activities more efficient; perhaps repurposing those newly found hours means more time to improve design. He further recommends that our knowledge and influence could be magnified via consortia of digitally connected professionals, what he calls “communities of expertise” where the sum is far greater than the individual parts. Author and Harvard architecture professor Peter Rowe once described the design process as dependent upon heuristic reasoning, since all design challenges are complex and somewhat open-ended with ambiguous definitions and indeterminate endpoints, borrowing from sociologist Horst Rittel who characterized these as “wicked problems.” Computers themselves aren’t, at least today, particularly good at heuristics or solving wicked problems, but they are increasingly capable of attacking the “tame” ones, especially those that require the management of complex, interconnected quantitative variables like sustainable performance, construction logistics, and cost estimations. And since clients have a strong interest in seeing those things done well, why not lean into the chance to complement heuristics with some help with the tame, and leverage the resulting value as a result? That architects are so well-suited to the challenges of the wicked problem bodes well for us in the so-called "Second Machine Age," when machines don’t just do things we program them to do, but can learn how to do new things themselves. The essential value of architects as professionals who can understand and evaluate a problem and synthesize unique and insightful solutions will likely remain unchallenged by our computer counterparts in the near future, an argument supported by a 2013 study of job computerization (again, at Oxford) that suggested that “occupations that involve complex perception and manipulation tasks, creative intelligence tasks, and social intelligence tasks are unlikely to be substituted by computer capital over the next decade or two.” Rather than rely upon this vaguely comforting conclusion, our profession must embrace and attack the wicked problem of the future of architecture and computational design and control the future of our profession accordingly. We’ll face far more opportunities than threats from computation if we can.

Remembering Fred Koetter, 1938–2017

Fred Koetter died August 21 in Boston, Massachusetts, after a long period of illness. Fred’s influence was widespread as the co-author of Collage City with Colin Rowe, as an award-winning architect and urbanist, as an educator for over six decades at Cornell and Harvard, and as the dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University from 1994 to 1998, where he spent over 20 years as a member of the faculty until his retirement in 2013. Fred’s intellectual trajectory moved from a rigorous formal approach cultivated as a graduate student at Cornell to the professional demands of turning those formal tropes into real places—sites for institutions, sensitive background buildings, and urban districts. His encyclopedic knowledge rivaled that of his mentor Rowe. Unlike Rowe’s elliptical peregrinations, Fred’s comments were more terse but equally complex and layered. His projective vision and dry sense of humor made his insights uniquely surprising and always to the point. His most common critique, “Isn’t that just great,” could mean several different things depending on vocal inflection. He could equally wield a single word or add a building to a site so deftly that you would realize only much later that the comment or the architecture had completely changed the situation in which it was cast. As he said to me during a pilgrimage to see Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in Arezzo, Italy: “Look at that guy…no expression as he pierces that other guy with a spear. You really need to know what you’re doing to pull that off.” Fred had the ability to see large forces at work and to distill them into precise, concentrated, and memorable architectural solutions. Born and raised in Montana, Fred’s vision of the city remained an apparition of promise—a dynamic ensemble of peoples, histories, and unpredictable forces, which never failed to fascinate. The office and the studio culture he nourished were similarly dynamic—rambling improvisations, Popperian dialogues, that commenced between the two of us but were gradually ceded to the students as they groped their way through complex urban problems, found their own voices, reaching a broad audience of critics, professionals, and civic leaders. As Fred memorably put it to a class late one night in the streets of Helsinki: in architecture, “you have to walk your pet goldfish even when you are underwater.” When I started teaching with him 20 years ago, his work with his partner Susie Kim was expanding into larger urban projects. The globalization of the world’s economy presaged architecture’s constructive possibilities and its destabilizing effects on historic cities, ecosystems, and cultures. The more conventional notion of “place” ceased to suffice, as he and Susie chased camels across the deserts outside Cairo, saw their City Hall outside Tianjin, China, sold off to a multinational corporation at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and were asked to fully realize cities and complexes six months from the start of a handshake contract. Koetter Kim & Associates were early pioneers in the ecological development of large sites, and remained curious about the marriage between local cultures and global aspirational changes. Sometimes on his weekly circumnavigation of the globe, after stopping by his offices in London and Boston, Fred would appear at the Yale studios looking worn. But one glimpse at the work on an eager student’s desk, and he would pump full of life, sustained by the promise of young talent, a good conversation, and the prospect of drinks and debate at the nearby Irish bar where the best ideas would be fully fleshed out. Fred and Susie demonstrated sophistication and generosity in their inclusiveness and invention. They created the operatic atmosphere of the cities they designed in their home in Brookline. As a frequent guest, I came to expect a parade of writers, architects, artists, doctors, family members, and other strays walking into the living room, or engaging me in an impromptu conversation on the way to the shower. Fred’s mind was like a city, and he encouraged and orchestrated chaos, of which he was the eye of the storm of opinions and talent. In the classroom, Fred always advocated for the most challenging student concepts, often leaving me to figure out how these could possibly be resolved. His former partner told me that Fred would come chuckling into the office the following day. Fred was a trickster. He was deliberately trying to see if I could figure out the solution more than advocating that particular path himself. He always pushed his students and colleagues toward these greater challenges, encouraging us to step beyond our imaginations’ limits. Fred gently challenged colleagues and students to think things anew. One particular criticism he made in a final review comes to mind. While the circus of critics had spent the day acrobatically twisting and turning their rhetoric, Fred made one and only one final comment on the student’s proposal for a train station complex. He related how the designs of the 19th-century English train stations, nodes in a global system that connected numerous peoples and cultures from eastern China to London, “were not designed to show where you were, but where you were going.”

Exhibition on modern architecture in British Mandate Palestine opens at Yale

The Yale School of Architecture Gallery will host Social Construction: Modern Architecture in British Mandate Palestine, a traveling exhibition previously displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The exhibition, curated by Oren Sagiv, Ada Karmi-Melamede, and Dan Price, examines a period of modern architecture that emerged during the British Mandate period in Palestine (1917-1948). This particular interpretation of the International Style established a cohesive vernacular that not only altered the architectural and urban context but also revealed the social values that helped to adapt modernism to the region. Focused on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, the exhibition consists primarily of archival photographs and interpretive ink drawings on mylar that were collected by Karmi-Melamede and Price and were originally featured in their book, Architecture in Palestine during the British Mandate, 1917–1948. The focus of the exhibition is on the transformative process of developing of a new state by blending the urban tissue of a foreign style with the particularities of local conditions. The show will be on view today, August 31, through November 18, 2017.

Phil Bernstein on students using digital tools to maximize renderings and sustainability

This is the second column of “Practice Values,” a bi-monthly series by architect and technologist Phil Bernstein. The column focuses on the evolving role of the architect at the intersection of design and construction, including subjects such as alternative delivery systems and value generation. Bernstein was formerly vice president at Autodesk and now teaches at the Yale School of Architecture.

I recently sat on a midterm design jury for the Yale studio taught by the dynamic duo of Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten and Andy Bow of Foster + Partners. It’s a rare treat for those of us who teach in the “suburbs” of the curriculum (in my case, professional practice) to visit the hip “downtown nightclub” scene of the design studios. The jury comprised far more talented designers than me, so I kept my focus and comments on issues of process and outcomes.

The brief was both thrilling and daunting: Design a museum and restaurant complex, including production facilities, for a sake company in historic Kyoto, Japan, on one of two challenging sites facing a shallow river; acknowledge the intricate urban context; solve for the production complexities of the ancient art of sake manufacturing; create a strong work of architecture. And, by the way, make your solution environmentally responsible through clear sustainable design strategies. The morning sake tasting we held before the jury began steeled both the jurors and the students for the intense day ahead.

As I watched our students present their projects, I was amazed at their energy, determination, and facility with almost every challenge of the brief. It was midterm, so many issues were not unexpectedly left unresolved, but few were ignored. Andy and Patrick had guided these 10 folks to unique, provocative, and dare I say even poetic solutions. It was hard for this architect, trained in these same jury pits in the pre-digital age, to believe the sheer skill with which these schemes were iterated, analyzed, evaluated, and presented. There was no question that the students’ development as designers was accelerated by an ability to deploy digital tools—visualization, cogent drawing and diagramming, CNC-model fabrication—in the service of their craft augmented with an array of beautiful hand sketches. All these skills were clearly mutually amplifying. I don’t think any of my final presentations in school were nearly as resolved, nor presented so beautifully.

The jury and students met after the review to discuss more general observations, when I explained that the biggest surprise of the day for me, to wit, was the generally tangential treatment that sustainability received in the solutions. There were the typical gestures to ventilation, the movement of the sun, or attempts to co-locate hot and cold functions in the sake factory, but overall the sustainability challenge received much the same treatment that might have been given if the brief had had a building code requirement—it was considered somehow adjacent to the central problems of the Design with a big “D.” I was reminded of a statement made by one of my professors, Vincent Scully, when I asked him about the importance of “solar architecture,” a design approach popular in the 1970s: “Oh, that’s just plumbing.”

Somehow the digital facility applied to solving the context, planning, massing, and compositional challenges of the brief was nowhere apparent in answering questions of sustainability. A wide array of computational analytical tools is easily available to today’s students, ranging from various Rhino-based Grasshopper scripts, through Energy Plus, to Impact Infrastructure’s AutoCASE. It may be that Patrick and Andy will press this particular part of the pedagogical agenda later in the term. If so, our students would benefit from the advice of juror Michelle Addington, Hines Professor of Sustainable Architectural Design at Yale University School of Architecture, who suggested that the tyranny of the sustainable checklist (such as LEED or BREAM) should lead to choosing a single important green strategy, and making sure that it’s accomplished well. The tools are certainly there to do so.

This seems a reasonable teaching strategy if combined with another requirement: demonstrable outcomes of that given green approach. Today’s digital design tools provide vivid answers to design questions of composition, drawing clarity, senses of three-dimensional space. Analytical algorithms that evaluate the quantitative results of a scheme are the “renderings” of sustainability, with hard and fast results. While those results may be only approximations as a design evolves, they are also a measure of sustainable success or failure. And learning to deliver those results in concert with a skillful design prepares these same students to make the demonstrable value arguments that future practice will demand. This will be a central theme of some of my subsequent columns.

A new initiative targets fair labor practices for architects

The Architecture Lobby, Yale School of Architecture’s Equity in Design, and Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Women in Design have collectively launched a new accreditation program to promote fair labor conditions in architecture firms called JustDesign.Us. The consortium cites the “rise of massive student debt, stagnating wages, and an overabundance of skilled applicants coming out of professional schools” as the impetus for such a service. Operating from an eponymous website, the project seeks to provide a platform for architects and designers to vet the labor practices of potential employers serving as a new industry tool for more transparent employment. 
“The project aims to provide potential employees with a robust tool for gaining a sense of which firms will treat them fairly, with respect, and support their development as architects, while giving certified JustDesign firms an edge in attracting the best possible designers.”
Planning to release its inaugural list in December of this year, the organization will deploy its operation in two phases; first, solicit nominations online from employees themselves, then certify that the nominated firms comply with “best labor practices.” The initial employee nominations will survey issues such as "labor conditions pertaining to flexibility, agency, fair pay, salary transparency, employee diversity, and family-friendly policies." While the website and its associated documents are light on the specific methodologies to be employed in phase two of the process, or indeed who will be evaluating the firms, the ambition of this program is to cultivate a field that is symbiotically beneficial to workers and employers alike. JustDesign.Us is endorsed by a handful of groups, mostly academic in nature, however has not yet recruited professional organizations such as The American Institute of Architects and The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. The nomination process is not meant to be punitive and will only review positive employee questionnaires, celebrating firms that excel in fair treatment of their employees not shaming companies that underperform in this regard. Nominations for the first round of review are due by July 15.

Final part of Greg Lynn’s exhibition on early digital design goes on view at Yale School of Architecture

Archaeology of the Digital: Complexity and Convention, at the Yale School of Architecture, is presented by the Canadian Centre for Architecture as part of a research project that began in 2013. Curated by Greg Lynn, a professor at UCLA, the exhibition hosts five themes: high fidelity 3-D, structure and cladding, data, photorealism, and topography and topology. It draws from materials that have been built, dissected, and then reassembled in the 1990s and 2000s by international firms such as Van Berkel & Bos Architectuurbureau, OCEAN North, and Office dA. The exhibition will focus on how digital methods were integrated into architectural practice and will address the challenges of preserving digital architectural archives and making them accessible. Complexity and Convention is the final phase of a three-part exhibition.

Archaeology of the Digital: Complexity and Convention Yale School of Architecture 180 York Street, New Haven, Connecticut Through May 7, 2017

Phil Bernstein pens inaugural column on technology, value, and architects’ evolving role

This is the inaugural column “Practice Values,” a new bi-monthly series by architect and technologist Phil Bernstein. The column will focus on the evolving role of the architect at the intersection of design and construction, including subjects such as alternative delivery systems and value generation. Bernstein was formerly vice president at Autodesk and now teaches at the Yale School of Architecture.

False Binaries

This semester, I’m teaching a course called “Exploring New Value Propositions for Practice” that’s based on the premise that the changing role of architects in the building industry requires us to think critically about our value as designers in that system. After studying the structure and dynamics of practice business models, the supply chain, and other examples of innovative design enterprises, they’ll be asked to create a business plan for a “next generation” architectural practice. I’m agnostic as to what this practice does per se, as long as it operates somewhere in the constellation of things that architects can do, but there is one constraint—your proposed firm can’t be paid fixed or hourly rate fees. It has to create value (and profit) through some other strategy.

I want our students to think critically about this question of value propositions: Where do architects contribute to the making of buildings and how is the resulting value realized, and to whose benefit? Technology has begun to change those value equations. Increasing reliance on design information created as a result of the architect’s process—the “big data” of design representations, geometry that drives computer-controlled fabrication equipment, “smart building” telemetry—is but one opportunity to argue that architects are the lynchpin of the building delivery system. But we must both design the methods and protocols that demonstrate our value, and as an important result, reap the financial benefits accordingly. This, it seems to me, is a much more direct route to assuring the relevance of architects to architecture, various television marketing campaigns insisting that clients “look up” to really appreciate their architects notwithstanding.

In discussing these ideas with my architectural colleagues I’m often faced with skepticism that puts this perspective in opposition with two perceived realities of practice. First is the assertion that architecture is in essence an artistic, expressive endeavor that will be sullied by considerations of money, business, or even the implications of digital instrumentation on the design process itself. I agree with the first part of this conclusion, but—as you can imagine—I take exception to the second. That design is the core value of the profession isn’t arguable, but also isn’t the point: The more interesting question is how we best empower clients to understand that value, architects to enable it, and other members of the delivery systems of building to rally behind it. And since architects operate in a supply chain (of building purveyors and consumers) that is a complex web of exchanges of money, information, and risk (and therefore value), how does design make us more valued participants?

I recently spoke on a panel with two other architects to a large group of architecture students. When asked what I thought was a critical issue that would face them in their careers, I answered along the lines of the argument above. In response, a panelist declared to the students that architects don’t enter the profession because they’re interested in money, but rather because of their passion for design—and that he never made much money practicing but was far happier in his career than his very well-paid lawyer sister. The message here was clear: An interest in the business of architecture, or, worse, the resulting financial opportunities, is beneath our dignity as passionate designers.

Both of these assertions are false binaries at best, and potentially harmful conclusions to the profession at worst. Every architect wants clients, collaborators, even builders to realize the value of our design work. That’s wishful thinking, however, until we can position ourselves in the systems of delivery—the financial and technical protocols by which the architect’s ideas are built—and make that case. In subsequent columns I’ll explore how we might do so, and design a profession that might better satisfy our passions and, as a result, our pocketbooks.