Welcome to Zoom-world Part 2: Running a Zoom Design Studio

Welcome to Zoom-world

So now I have spent the whole week in Zoom-world. I have had so many Zoom back to back meetings and classes it’s been overwhelming. I have seen so many white plaster walls and Ikea supply chained backgrounds. No wonder I dislike all that flat-packing CNC lean construction theory which is aligned with the horrors of Ikea products. Anyway, who wants to shop at Ikea now, and who would want to get their frozen tasteless Lingonberries packs home delivered.

Some people have even been sharing pics of their ugly fish-bowled and caged pets, comfy ugg-boots and fleecy bathrobes. FFS, even Tik Tok has Gucci and Prada and Wolford hashtags. Could you ever trust a middle manager architect who thinks it’s funny to flash their acrylic Ugg-boots in your Zoom screen gaze via their laptop or phone camera.

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My Around the house Ugg boots 

As architects in Zoom-world should aspire to higher aesthetic ideals. As architects, we really should not succumb to displaying the gross creature comforts of our domestic lives to others in Zoom. At the very least, we need to maintain our unique fashion sensibility. We cannot let technology destroy the old traditional ways of the architecture cult. We must all still wear black, cool streetwear and luxury brands.

What kind of background scene should I have? What shade of black should I wear? Where should I position my laptop? What books that demonstrate my in-the-know and amazingly erudite knowledge and erudition should I prop my laptop up with.

I vaguely remember I had Zoom drinks last Friday and it was great. I got smashed on three Vermouths. Vermouth being my current drink of choice.

I have been able to do quite a few things I wouldn’t usually be able to do. Weekly meetings with the tutors. Zoom Q&A sessions with the students and also popped into a studio or two. It’s so much more efficient to set up a Zoom meeting than meet in person. It was all great.

I love Zoom-world after a week of it. Nonetheless, I think a few more things need to be said about running the post-graduate Zoom-world architecture design studio.

1. Zoom-world space

Excellent design tutors will understand the Zoom studio operates in a different scale to the physical studio. We are not looking form a different distance when we are looking at the zoom screen. I think this affords several opportunities for better interactive feedback and criticism. A pdf file on a screen is different from a pdf seen projected from 3 meters away. Zoom-world potentially allows for greater scrutiny of conceptual frameworks, diagrams, sketches and aesthetic details. It’s much harder to hide things thing’s or present a superficial view in zoom-world.

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My kind of studio leaders 

2. Be interactive

Zoom-world studios are best interactive any efforts to sue the zoom polls or chat functions or break out rooms are really going to add to the interactive student experience. Arguably, this will help you will engage the “silent” students, who typically say nothing in the physical studio and coax them out of their shells. But you will need to build in breaks and pauses for students to also the questions. You will also need to decide how you handle private messages during the zoom studio meeting studio participants.

If you can record the studio that’s great. This will help you go back and reflect on the ideas and the work presented. Any excellent design tutor will be thinking about each student and where they are at between zoom sessions.

3. Screen view power

But the normal spatiality of the design studio has now been supplanted. In the physical studio, there is usually a spatial hierarchy where critics and students and observers sit in the same space. This has now been transformed to the screen view, which has different view lines and visual trajectories between participants and within individual screens.

While you may be the studio leader, your “authority” and power, if we can call it that, is now translated through the scale of and the gaze of the screens. It is all about communication, and I suspect that hand gestures might work well within this new screen space.

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Zoom background tryout

4. Short rather than long and boring 

Pecha Kucha’s and short videos from the students should be encouraged. You really want to avoid long monologues. Zoom-world studios will work better in shorter segments. This doesn’t mean, as the design tutor, you are prevented from thinking about things reflectively because of shortened time frames.

I am thinking it means your teaching will be more effective if you think about your student’s work and its development as design over a series of shorter time frames. I am not sure about spending 15 to 30 minutes on a student’s work once a week is going to work in the zoom-world studio. Structuring your program a series of many smaller design tasks might be one way to go.

5. Prepping

I would also encourage your students to prepare and submit their work before the studio session. That way, you can look at it quickly beforehand. Asynchronous learning is vital in a design studio. But as a design tutor, you will need to provide materials that engage the student in this process, and you will need to check-in and make sure the students are involved with the material. Building a shared repository of resources is a good idea. As well as creating a forum for sharing online design practices.

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My laptop book supports 

6. Studio tools 

Utilising the page seriality of pdfs may also be a useful and straightforward way to help students to develop good habits of design iteration. The comment function in Adobe is probably something I would use. I am told that Adobe captivate is good.

Short youtube clips will work well to illustrate things if you share your screen.

7. Watch that gaze 

Some people in the Zoom-studio will select a different view on their laptop. As a studio leader, you probably need to be wary of where your own screen view or gaze falls. This consideration is essential, especially if zoom is recording the session of your own laptop screen. (although I need to check and see how it does this).

9. Camera etiquette 

I think as a Design Studio leader I would insist that everyone be on camera and not hide their camera (unless they have really crap bandwidth). Probably okay to have people turn their audio off but maybe you want to encourage engagement with the central focus of the studio at any given time.

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Zoom background and costume test. 

10. Zoom studio as performance space

I can’t stress this enough; the studio needs to be interactive. If you have fallen into the traps of spending your previous studios doing “research” for weeks, focusing on over every tiny abstract gesture, and berating students over issues of functional pragmatism, then a boring studio is going to be even more annoying in Zoom-world.

Finally 

My intro banter above points to the fact that the Zoom studio is just as much a performance space as a traditional design studio, and this engenders a different kind of spatial performance. You can’t wear your fleecy beige bathrobe or Acrylic South Park tie to the studio. Hence, you need to think about the production values of the zoom studio: backgrounds lighting, camera positioning and sound. Do you have stylish headphones, do you even use them?

Online educators often talk about so-called “blended learning” and then wax lyrical about the necessary IT infrastructures and tools to support that learning doesn’t necessarily mean the studio outcomes will be okay. All very well, but don’t be deceived by those wishing to make the architectural learning into a commodified product. Doing a design studio in Zoom-world is not akin to doing a BIM model. Excellent design teachers will have an in-depth understanding of both design and the available range of teaching technologies and tools. Not just one of these things or the other.

So yes, I am thinking shit studios in graduate architecture schools will be more shit in Zoom and dickhead tutors will still be more dickheaddy in Zoom.

Oh and, as you self-isolate, don’t let your standards of architectural fashion and decorum drop.

Making the jump to Zoom hyperspace Part 1: Running a Zoom design studio

Architecture as a Global System

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But to begin with, my book launch has been cancelled due to Covid-19, so here is a blog instead. Thank you all for your heartfelt good wishes. No point having a book launch if you can’t have a banger of an after-party

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It was going to be an awesome architecture book launch, with all of my low-friends scavenger friends mixing with the grandees; I think we will reconvene in November to celebrate the publication of the book’s first anniversary. You can order the book with a discount with via this NBI_EM_Raisbeck_Architecture_as_a_global_system_DNB230120.

A few people have read the book and tell me its an enjoyable read. I guess if it was a canonical ‘theory” book, you would have to suffer as you read it. I still have some colleagues who think I have written a practice management book. Now that I am isolated in my Covid-19 hermitage, from next week I will be running a book-reading discussion about the book on Zoom for those interested. It will be fun.

How the fuck do you run a studio on ZOOM?

So lots of people have been asking, and I guess it is a thing all over the world in the architecture schools: How the fuck do you run a studio on ZOOM?

Firstly, for many design studio teachers, it’s going to be a work in progress. In the global system of architecture, architects who have focused on being design teachers, rather than being pompous wannabe alpha-privileged warlord architects have been undervalued.

Elite architecture schools don’t invite great design teachers to give glittering public lectures. But hey, it is now time for the great design teachers to kick ass.

As any good architectural design teacher will know: being a great designer or getting excellent marks in the final year or getting lots of A-list publicity for your designs doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach design.

Can you imagine sitting in a design studio with some of those male Pritzker types, or even sitting in a ZOOM design studio in a soup of a Murcutt monologue? Apologies, for all you Glen and Bjarke and Remmie lovers, but many architects now live in ambiguous and challenging times, so maybe for our own professional survival it’s time to call out the BS. One way to start is to value unsung great design teachers more than what we previously have. Imagine listening to the rational and poetic spinnage for 6 hours on zoom.

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Zoom as a Disruptive Medium  

Conversely, if you are already a great studio teacher, jumping into a new medium isn’t necessarily going to mean you are going to be great in the Zoom room. I suspect. Zoom is unforgiving for some teaching techniques and tactics. For example, I think I need to stop shouting on Zoom. That is probably the first thing to bear in mind.

Face to Face studio teaching is now, at least for the interim, dead. Not recognising that in the process of digital and disruptive transformation, you cannot simply cut and paste your Face to Face methods across to the Zoom studio makes you the same as the elite Warlords who have done so much to destroy our discipline.

OK, here are some ideas, and it’s still all work in progress, to help you make the shift to Zoom Hyperspace.

1. IT Infrastructure Health Check

All of you IT excusers who mutter the mantra “I am not so good with IT” All I can say is time to clean up your desktop and start figuring out how to use standard IT applications. This is no time to make excuses.

But you need to have good internet access and good bandwidth, or you will be done for. You need a laptop (preferably) or a functional PC workstation that actually works. So you need to do a quick health check on your primary device. Do you have enough storage, etc.?

Do you have RAM (look it up if you don’t know what this is) on your laptop to use visualisation software? How will you transfer large files?

Likewise, is your phone up to date etc. Have you got your passwords and authentification under control? Do you back up? Do you have your security and virus protection act together? Do you have two-step authentification on your phone?

Are you using or running I-cloud?

Does your workplace or uni have a VPN or an Intranet, do you even know what a VPN is?

All of the above questions may seem simple, but you can’t spend your life mucking around cluelessly with poor computing technique in your Zoom studio.

2. IT applications

You need to make sure you are running the latest version of various apps. Outlook and Zoom, for example. Are your Adobe and AutoDesk apps up to date.

You need to know how to use and switch between the basics: DropBox; Google Drive etc. Again, how will transfer large files. Can you get to and see these things via your phone as well?

3. Communication Apps.

Now, this is the real key, you need to be able to communicate with your students by several channels. A lot of them will already be online using these apps.

Therefore, as well as Zoom studio meetings, you probably need a few other channels of communication with your students. I would set up some sort of group and will this be via text apps like WhatsApp or Signal (ER’s app of choice). There are others. You could use Slack or Yammer.

Check out what your workplace or University prefers to use.

Do you have an Insta page for the studio and a Facebook group page as well? Can students post comments to these? Does your University or workplace have policies around good digital citizenship and culture? How will you manage comments and messages?

Does your University use Canvas or Blackboard as a teaching platform? Are there discussion boards or grouping functions you can employ. Can you use, and do you know how to use the video app Kaltura? Or any video app In my subjects at MSD, we use Kaltura, I can record a video on my laptop and get it out to the students via a Canvas announcement within about 35 minutes.

Maybe you will just use email or text as your secondary communication channel or text.

3. Face to Face on Zoom

In the zoom studios, our thinking is that you really need structure. Yes, structure, structure and structure. You can’t just rock up with your big ego and do a little Tik Tok dance for 6 hours.

How do you fill a three hour, four hours or 6 six-hour slots in zoom? Standard face to face crits is not really going to simply translate across to Zoom. You will need to keep things lively and avoid zoom fatigue.

We are thinking batching works, via students in groups or batches of students. You need to encourage the students to ask questions via zoom or via another app like Slido or Poll Everywhere. For example, a simple, word cloud in Poll Everywhere, can help you prompt great discussions. Both tools allow otherwise shy students to ask questions. Or do this via your chosen chat app.

You can’t expect students to come to the meeting and wait around for 3 hours in Zoom. You can’t see each student individually for twenty minutes that will take too long. But maybe you get them to pre-book in individual consultations with different crit panels and people. Given that everyone all over the world is at home working, or with no work, so it’s a great time to book wonderful guests in.

Architects are great at doing and surviving recessions.

Architects are great at doing and surviving recessions. This is the architectural downturn and recession where design knowledge will emerge in the collectively organised virtual world and not in the fucking BIM model or in the gallery.

Students need to be prepared to present on their laptops. You never want people dithering as the pin-up on walls, Same with Zoom. I reckon to give them a minute to be ready. Kick them out of the room if they dither.

As always, the tone is essential, don’t talk down to the students. Don’t subject them to pompous monologues. Don’t harangue them (my natural tendency). If there is a silence as you wait for them to respond then be confident enough to remain. Questions and interaction in this media are so important.

I think keep the studio flowing and have a few different zoom activities. Here is an example structure that you may like to think about. Adapt as you see fit.

4. Zoom Studio Structure 

1. Use the waiting room function.
2. Don’t admit students in super late (haha).
3. Intro (what are you doing, in that meeting where are you in the overall program or design process).
4. A guest lecture or two keep these to 15- twenty minutes plus questions.
5. An exercise for your groups (even if the work is individual get them into study pairs or groups).
6. Groups report back.
7. Crits in batches (3-4 groups and a break) with strict time protocols.
5 minutes of student presentation.
A few questions from you and the other students 5 minutes
Final discussion 3-5 minutes a few primary points.
8. Last Zoom meeting comments and follow up 5-10 minutes

Follow up with individual students later between classes on the other channels, post some images up to Instagram.

Reconfiguring the culture 

More in Part 2, as we all figure out how to do this. This could be a great way to rejuvenate our design culture. Oh, and if your one of those design tutors, who allows the students to put off designing for half the semester I am not sure that’s going to work in Zoom. And if all your have ever done is studios is teach your life is Makery Spacey 3-Deee Printing Lab stuff I think you will need to set all that up in your home self-isolated workshop.

This is an opportunity for a very different architectural culture to emerge.

How to be a Parametric Revolutionary and pretend you are saving the planet.  

There was a time when I was right into suing new technologies to do things. I was enamoured with various techniques of reprographics and representation. I was right into all of the architectural making machines of the late 80s. I loved the bromide machine, the dyeline (I loved the smell of the ammonia), Pantone paper, reverse bromides and of course that greatest of all devices the PHOTOCOPIER.

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Of course, I had no illusions about using these technologies to save the world. It didn’t need saving then, but it did need fucking up. At that time, in my tiny architectural brain, the principal means to achieve this was through the critical commentary enabled by collage. As a result, my modus operandi was the comic. And it was always fun to see the grand poo-poo-bah of my architecture school totally flip whenever he saw my seemingly insane comics.

Nowadays, all of the old reprographic techniques that I had some expertise in have disappeared. Even the long studio nights in dimly lit rooms where we suffered under the light of oh so long architectural slide shows have gone.

All of the above has been replaced with graphical interfaces, Kuka robots, 3D printers and non-existent supply chain drones. For some, these new technologies will save us from climate catastrophe. Why will these things save us? Because, apparently through these technologies and processes, we are going to save the world by producing less waste and emitting less carbon. Sadly, I don’t believe that.

However, if you believe in simple fixes and bad architectural science, and you want to get onto the parametric revolutionary bandwagon, then jump on board; and you might then enjoy the ride with all of its naïvety, good intentions and the curious know-all vanity that goes with those intentions. So, what follows is all you need to do to be a Parametric revolutionary.

 1. Talk about revolution 

Yep, that’s right the revolution is going to happen. It’s a technological revolution and its coming tomorrow. And all you have to do to partake in it is to learn how to code and make stuff. You don’t have to think about revolutionary politics or even think about the sophisticated software development cycles of the tech giants. Nup, all you have to say is that a ‘revolution’ is on its way. Even better put another word in front of the word revolution.

2. Talk about the planet.

Yep, talk about the planet as if it’s something you can fix and engineer with some new really cool technologies. Geo-engineering maybe? Floating cities? Beautiful little orange tables and nick-nacks made with robots and ‘new’ materials?

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3. Use some fabulous words.

Here are a few: prototypical, performative, materiality, speculative, trajectory, distributed, integrated, deployment, customised, networks, generative, elasticity, composite, non-linearity and of course the word that makes me think of an abattoir’s conveyor belt: machinic.

Wow, that word, ‘machinic’, really sums it up. Its diction is so precise when it comes out of the mouth in speech. It sounds like its got a bit of philosophy behind it ( Deleuze and Guattari) and it implies an ability to control things. To control elements in an objective, rational and seemingly engineered way, to control shit that might otherwise get out of control.

4. Chuck in some systems theory. 

Yes, mention the word systems a lot as it will give the impression that a wholistic, organic and multi-layered approach is being pursued. Add the word systems after other words. For example, ‘Foam systems’ is one thing I read recently. But hey, what was actually meant by this was making stuff with polyethylene styrofoam.

But all the systems theory in the world doesn’t help us untangle the complexities of our current modes of carbon production and rampant carbon emissions. Just saying the word systems doesn’t account for a complex understanding of ecological science or a dismantling of anthropocentrism.

In the 1920s, even Bertalannfy, the founder of General Systems Theory, was to contrast the mechanistic, or machinic, approach to biological disciplines and he consequently advocated:

 ‘an organismic conception in biology which emphasises consideration for the organism as a whole or system, and sees the main objective of biological sciences in the discovery of the principles of organisation at its various levels.’

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5. Sustainable

How many times have we heard that word? Don’t you love it? As a word, sustainable has certainly been misused.

But for the Parametric Revolutionaries, it can be used to make it all seem ok. It doesn’t matter that all of this technology and verbiage is half-arsed because it is ‘sustainable’

6. Argue for the holiness of BIM.

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Invoke the sacred name of BIM. But ignore its dreary and banal impact on our suburbs and cities.

Our suburbs are becoming multi-residential BIM libraries. We all know the look. It’s a charcoal grey orthogonally articulated off-site concrete panel kind of architecture. Streets jammed with buildings with lots of frames and framing, volumetric blocks, rectangular slit windows, little black steel window reveals and striated timber slats on steel frames that you know are going to fall apart in a year and glazed balconies you could vape on.

7. Stop talking about architects as architects. 

So old hat to even call ourselves architects. Lest call architects: building engineers, design technologists or better still superusers.

8. Be Male 

Yes, much harder to be a Parametric Revolutionary if your female or non-binary. The parametric revolution is a predominantly male discourse and hey where would we be without all those Zuckerberg dudes in the Silicon Valley incubators.

As I write in my forthcoming book, in the back office of every Warlord or star architect, there is the ‘BIM guy.’ Who is more often than not rubbing shoulders and linked to the other guys making the new generation of AI armaments.

Parametricism is like Pornography 

The entire Parametric discourse the obsession with revolutionary fever, the big dick geo-solutions, the spitting diction of parametric words, the fleshy appeals to organic systems, the feigned softness of sustainability, the eroticism of BIM, the fetishised names and power of remotely operated drones all evoke the technologies, genres, scenes, scripts, words and objectification that we might find in pornography.

There are too many parallels. But that’s ok because all of the new materials and technologies are just around the corner and it’s all going to be ok. When the planet warms by two or maybe three or even four degrees, the Parametric Revolutionaries can hose it down with parametric spunk and that will save us from extinction.

So who needs architectural theory? It’s mostly rubbish isn’t it?

A colleague from an Architecture School in another University said to me that the current crop of students had no interest in learning history or theory. Maybe the new generations of architecture students don’t like to read. Perhaps these students have no desire for books and archival research. Maybe the centre of the student’s limited architectural universe is that of Dezeen, ArchDaily and all those brutalist schemes on Instagram.

As one Sydney colleague reported to me:

Start of design for some new low-rise apartments in North Sydney. The instruction from the directors was for 4 recent grads to come to the next meeting with any first thoughts, generative form-making or at least some intentions. Of the four on arrived with a sketch (educated in another country), the other three raided Insta/Pinterest for their latest favourites, tabled images only and talked about marketing aspirations for the building.

It can be argued that the relationship between theory and architecture has been broken. Theory is not about critique or the construction of new ideas that support, explain and confirm our architectural endeavours. It’s about consumption.

Philip Johnson

For example, I tried to rev some of my students up the other day with a shortish discussion about the Architect Philip Johnson, his problematic fascism and the camp subversion of the hetero-normative and corporate American dream. But they just looked at me like I was some kind of eccentric and irrelevant idiot.

I guess those students would rather watch Madmen. I think, I wasn’t talking about those zinc-clad googly gables you see on Grand Designs. Or Bajrke’s latest scheme to save the whole world, and New York City, from global warming.

I thought WTF maybe all they want to learn are the software programs rather than history and theory. I guess if you don’t learn history and theory in your Architecture school, you are easily seduced by techno-utilitarianism. As well as falling prey to the combination of architectural and urban fantasies mixed in with the propaganda of software vendors.

Without theory, you will be oblivious to architecture’s relation to politics.

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Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

Yes, design methods and digital practices are political. The ‘Paraguru’s’ as a friend of mine calls them, have by and large forgotten this. If they ever remembered it in the first place. The paradox is if architecture is merely a useful vocation, then why aren’t architects better at managing their businesses.

Without theory, architecture is just spin.

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Without some theoretical underpinning or narrative, architectural work will easily get lost in the overriding swamp of consumption. It may look good on Insta, a few arches a bit of funky brickwork a few parametric gestures, but without a theoretical position it’s just an empty shell. There is an image-politic even on Instagram and without theory how would you usefully interpret this constant flow of content. Or is it just base judgements of taste, profiling and bias? How would you try and figure out anything without some contestable and argued theory?

Without theory, there is no danger. 

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So why is history and theory so difficult for students or architects to swallow? Might it mean you have to read some stuff? Such things seem too far removed from the cult of design. Could also mean you have to use your brain to try and figure out how to judge precedents and identify various controversies in history. I guess it’s easy to go with the flow of architectural pragmatic architectural production.

Theory, of course, has its dangers. For the practising architect fully embedded in circuits of capital, they don’t really like being told their work is lacking in some way. In Australia many years ago we had a magazine called Transition it was a site where theoretical debates in architecture could play out. It was and still is a site of conflict, in the end, it was killed off by an unfortunate combination of misogyny, cronyism and an ego-centricity that did not need any theory—particularly not feminist theory.

But isn’t that the point? The point of architectural theory is to offer a perspective that enables architectural design knowledge to be assessed in order to create new design knowledge.

Without theory history is just description. 

Yep, we can catalogue, describe and profile the canon of modernist, post-modern and parametric architecture in all sorts of different ways. But without some critical theory, all these efforts become simply evaluative description at best. One brand of pedantic scholarship that seems to thrive these days always seeks to recast historical narratives without questioning the prevailing paradigms of history or the social conditions of architectural production. In these monolithic accounts of architectural history there will always be an invisible ‘other’ an invisible entity; the intern, the invisible female partner, the BIM slaves in the back room of the practice or the actual workers and users of the building. Power asymmetries are rarely discussed in these accounts. We never hear about the webs of finance that corrupted and gave rise to the building’s genesis. These normative, and on appearance oh so seemingly reasonable narratives, of the architectural canon, are crazy because of what they exclude.

So What?

 Of course, I hate that kind of theory that is seemingly apolitical and moored in the fashions of continental philosophy. Try listening to a philosopher talk about architecture and then try listening to an architect mix it up with a bit of philosophy. Try listening to one of those long dry dialogically argued talks by so-called architectural theoreticians.

FFS the house is burning down, and for architects, we are mired in a quagmire of abstract theory that has no idea about practice, the production of space and the real lives of people. Let alone, any engagement with the extinction politics of the climate crisis beyond good intentions.

Theory is essential to practitioners and practice. And I don’t mean the utterances of the shamanistic shamans that inhabit the elite schools. Without architectural theory, we will never be able to explain and argue the collective worth of our discipline to others.

 

 

The Final Act of the Lacrosse Building Opera

Lacrosse the Opera

When something catastrophic goes wrong, there are usually smaller incremental events leading up to the devastating event. However, the aggregation of small events may point to systemic problems.

The current Australian architectural landscape continues to be turmoil. One component of this turmoil is the result of the VCAT determination regarding the Lacrosse building. Even the state Premier Daniel Andrews has been talking about it.

For smaller practitioners, as a result of the flammable cladding issue, PI premiums may rise 20-30%. Many of these small practitioners would only dream of the $3.9 Million in fees, as stated in the VCAT report, that the architects signed up for in June 2007 on Lacrosse. For larger practices who are carrying more risk, it could be even more.

It’s incredible that when Jean-Francois went to have a smoke on a balcony, that he would set in train a series of events, that would have long-lasting ramifications for Australian architects.

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VCAT, Predator and Bucky’s Tensegrity. 

As the VCAT report notes, this was around 7 and half years after the first design meeting concerning the Lacrosse project was held on May 2007. As the VCAT ruling states the architect:

“described the design intent at around this time as comprising two towers with a futuristic visual appeal incorporating design features such as tensegrity screens. The intention was that the buildings have “a focus on technology” and to be perceived as being buildings for the future.

In the architects Lacrosse media kit, (if still available online) the architects describe the influences that shaped the scheme:

“influences as diverse as Predator, ancient urban design, origami and the natural world could come together to create this response, but like all of our projects, the answer lies with process rather than design.

 

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 Lot’s of great concepts in the above quote and to think all these things are integrated with the process. The practice responsible for the scheme emerged from a particular scene and context centred on RMIT Architecture school in the early 2000s. What else could there except concepts and process. You undoubtedly didn’t need theory. This was a social milieux that in architectural terms combined a fashionable social elitism with sound-byte concepts and digital techniques.

Getting it on with the Developers. 

The architects of Lacrosse were selected to exhibit their work at Venice in the 2008 Abundant Exhibition. Around this time there were quite a few articles by notable architectural critics, in the Australian Architectural press about the Lacrosse architects. Only a very few critics, in these predominantly puff pieces, made an effort to assess this work in relation to critical theory or any sense of ambivalence. Most critics seemed to praise the architect’s engagement with developers and celebrated the architectural language of the architect’s facades in several projects. After all, it was all about the facade.

If architects couldn’t do much else, because of developer constraints, at least they could do the facades. Right? This was conceptual architecture with a capital C. Architecture formed in the furnace of a seemingly talented, fashionable and pedigreed circle. The facade concepts of this architecture would shine through the developer and contractor dross. Architects were now going to serve up a shit load of funky facade architecture to the developers. Architects were going to force-feed the developers with architectural ideas and concepts and black polo-necked glamour. In one interview in Architecture Australia, the architects of Lacrosse stated that:

 “our architecture is read in the round. The effect of the building as one moves through it, as one walks around it, is composited and layered. It is not a hero shot, it is cinematic architecture.” 

A Visit to Lacrosse

Yet, when we cross the railyards over Latrobe street Melbourne and look at the Lacrosse building, it seems more like it has been designed as four elevations. Plus, I am clueless as I don’t really get the whole predator thing. There is a bit of shape to the plan, particularly at the south end with an extruded curve a pattern of randomly placed windows that suggested some kind of architectural artifice. The gap between the East and West slabs doesn’t look like a ravine, or an ancient urban design (inspired by that Northern Summer trip to Petra?). These slabs look more like an effort to cram two slab blocks together and get as many units in. Of course, the architect has typically no choice but to maximise the number of units.

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This two slab plan has been extruded and placed onto a black podium. And maybe that is the “Predator” bit. As a compositional or tectonic unit, the podium has been butchered by various pragmatic additions. It’s hard to know which of these bits are either intentional or unintentional or added later.

The idea of triangular tensegrity is I think far removed from Buckminster Fuller’s original tensegrity concept. The tensegrity screen, if we can call it that, is little more than a hollow decoration, an additive melange of aluminium and mesh that veils what is underneath a pretty ordinary building. I am not sure what Buckminster Fuller would think of this.

Some of these parts of the tensegrity screen simply collide landing at the endpoints of balconies and vertical panels. There is no elegance in the construction detailing. Being ignorant of such matter, I have no idea how the screen works in terms of sun-shading or heat loading. There is no sense in any way that the triangular screens may have interacted or given some sense of meagre humanity to the inhabitants of this building. When Jean-Francois went out for a fag if he was looking at the tensegrity screen, he probably didn’t have an architectural epiphany.

I love architectural irony because, in situations like this, it can help save the architect and turn a bad situation into a better one. But, there is no sense of irony in the use of the materials in this developer-driven context. There is no joyous sense of craft when one material meets another. There is not even the most limited sense of material play with different light, shade, texture, construction jointing or colour. I don’t want to start sounding like some kind of Carlo Scarpa inspired sap here. There is no struggle with how these materials might be bought together and might work in any kind of light. This is a kit of product-parts-approach strung together in the hope the marketers will get the job done and sell the product.

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Given the location of the building as it faces back to the grid of the city, the opportunity to mirror and comment on that grid is lost, this façade just looks at us blankly as we walk over the Latrobe street bridge. It’s like the building is saying there is nothing to see here, so just move along.

When I look at Lacrosse now, I wonder what went wrong with all the glistening hope and ambition of the fashionable scene and milieux that gave birth to it. The idea that architects could have concepts, mix it up with developers, and do something. Perhaps, the fire exemplifies the broader failure of a particular kind of architectural culture. This is the failure of a system to engage with the necessity of creating an authentic public language of architecture.

Where did it all go so wrong?

I never want to sound overly strident in my observations, but how did, we as architects, sacrifice our sense of materials? When did we debate all of this loss, this loss of control over construction technique? When did we debate or theorise this not seeing, this blindness in the gap between the money, developers and the aesthetics of architecture?

What we see here is the result of a socio-cultural system that produces, not merely a specific building failure. But also a systems crash of architectural production in relation to architectural theory, aesthetic knowledge, patronage, publication and provincial celebrity. We can hardly blame the architects of this building for all of that.

When will architects stop seeing the vacuity of conceptual spin, stop seeing the ways to use materials is more than just product deployment and smeared on curtain wall systems. Hey, hit me up with some more super tall CTBUH Carbon monuments.

If I had the opportunity to write the Lacrosse opera, I would call it The Jean-Francois balcony smoking scene, would be the final act of an opera centred on architectural vanity and hubris. We are all responsible for that and perhaps we should not be too harsh in our blame.

JAcques

Surviving the Design Studio: When you choose the wrong design studio and you realise you are just not that into your design tutors, and they aren’t into you.

The title of this blog was my life in every design studio. Anyway, I thought it was time to write something a little more positive and less cynical than in recent weeks. It’s been Design Week in Melbourne this week, and there have been lots of great events, and I would encourage all of you to go along to some of these before it finishes. I will be at this one on Sunday, and it should be an excellent opportunity to have a collaborative discussion about how architects can improve their working conditions and begin to think about labour practices in the profession.

But hey, let’s take it easy this week and talk a bit about design studios and design studio  teaching. Specifically, what should you do if you get that sinking feeling you are in the wrong design studio.

The Wrong Archi-School?

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Image: Simona Castricum 

So, you think you are in the wrong studio. And firstly, and you need to check this, you may actually be at the wrong graduate school of architecture, and if that is the case, it could be worth looking at the latest QS ranking list and seeing where your school falls. Some schools are better than others, and yes arguably the rating methodology is flawed. To say the least.

The ethos and the culture of your current school may not suit you. Especially, if you are different in some way and this clashes with the two extremes of Archi-school’s. These extremes are those with a prevailing cult mentality or those with a lacklustre culture of design mediocrity. I know of one new school of architecture where everyone has been narrowly recruited in the image of the head of school (cult). I think it is relatively predictable that without diversity in the academic cohort the school is doomed from the start (IMHO).

Another friend of mine is teaching at another Archi-school where the students seem to be so lacking in motivation; they are always late for class, and they never turn up on time for studio (lacklustre). Something is seriously wrong with that.

Ok, so let’s assume you are in the right architecture school for you but for whatever reason a few weeks into the semester you realise you are in the WRONG studio.

The Wrong Studio?

This may sound strange, but the best thing you can do when you are in this situation is to stay in the studio. I will try and explain why I think this is the case in more detail below. Firstly, there may be different reasons for thinking that you are in the wrong studio, and some of these reasons require more substantive actions than others.

Dud studio project

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Firstly, despite the lustre and appearance of the studio at the beginning or at the studio presentation, you might realise that it’s a not very interesting project. The site is banal, the brief is simplistic or the tutors love to dampen everything down with prosaic pragmatism.

If the project seems more comfortable than what you have done before, then that is obviously an excellent opportunity to think of ways to make it more complicated and to engage with your tutors at a deeper level. Try and understand the project and understand where your tutor wants to take it. Most tutors will have expectations about what they want from the studio. They don’t expect every student project to be super great, in the sense of looking fabulous at the end of the studio. Most tutors know that there will be people with a range of skills in their studios. But if you can understand what your tutors are passionate about and what ideas they might particularly want to develop in the studio then you can certainly use these to develop your project further. In tandem with your tutors you can help your them explore, to the max, the best ideas for the project even if the studio project seems dull.

Studio project beyond your skill set

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Of course, if you think the project is too hard for you and that’s the reason why you are in the wrong studio. A legitimate reason for this will be if your skills are not up to scratch or they are undeveloped (The bad reason is that you are just lazy). An excellent way to deal with this is to be very analytical about what skills you have and what skills you need going forward (some ideas on how to do this here).

A good design tutor will help you develop your skills and confidence. They will give you the space to do this. Having done your own skills analysis you will then need to figure out which skills you want to work on. Don’t be a dumbass and say: I just want to learn Revit or Rhino. You need to think about the range of skills you need. A good idea is to let your tutor know what it is you think you want to learn. Don’t make your tutors second guess what that is. Too often tutors don’t ask or just try and figure it as the studio proceeds. It’s not until the end of the semester that they actually work out what it is you needed to learn. Another related issue to this is your learning style, and it’s always good to figure this out and let your tutor know how you like to learn.

You realise that your tutor or tutors are a little bit crazy

Yep, this can happen, and it’s more likely to occur in schools where there is a cult mentality or a lack of oversight when tutors are chosen. Ok, don’t panic. Try and look on the humorous side of the situation. Take it easy, as the bad thing about this is that you probably are going to get contradictory messages from the tutors. And they will probably be inconsistent in either the value they put on your work, the advice they give you and even worse the respect they have for you. If you get caught up in the craziness you will end up being on an emotional roller coaster.

I think the best you can do in this situation is to gather around you a group of support critics and friends who can provide you with consistent design advice as you negotiate your way through this. If you can do that and you can gather enough support around yourself, then you should be all right. But it’s a bit like doing two studios at once, as you will need to meet with your friends each week and tell them what your crazy tutors have told you and try and work out your own design priorities. Two studios are better than one and if you survive you will be better off. Best not to worry too much about your marks in that situation.

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No studio friends?

You might find your friends aren’t in the studio. Really? My advice is to find some new friends and quick. Having no friends in the studio is an opportunity to make new friends and especially if the studio involves group work. Too often architecture students are crap at group work, and too often design tutors, even those tutors who insist on group work don’t give students any hints or ideas about how to do the group work.

There are a few fundamental rules of group work that everyone should know. Like assigning roles at the start and understanding everyone’s different working styles and maybe even working out common methods of contact. I guess I worry that architects and Archi students are hopeless at organising teams and teamwork.

The research syndrome.

Most studio participants don’t mind this. Hey, procrastination can’t be all bad. You can put off the hard stuff (actually designing) and talk and drink filtered coffee almost all semester. But it is essential not to go down this path at Archi-School. This used to drive me crazy, and it has a couple of different variants. Basically, it’s when the studio spends like 80% of the time talking and researching and talking and researching and talking and researching and never any ACTUAL designing. If you get stuck in this kind of studio vortex, don’t be sucked in. The sooner you start developing and generating your own design propositions the better. The idea that you have to wait for all available information and ruminate over it before you design the best way to never learn anything about design.

You realise you just not that into your design tutors, and they aren’t into you

Look you don’t have to be. And sometimes it’s hard when your tutors are vainglorious, discriminatory or they excessively foster others through obvious and not so obvious favouritism. But hey that’s architecture, and it’s something we all need to negotiate. But these things are also what we all really need to call out: the self-serving ambition, petty rivalries, profiling, bias and cronyism that is endemic in architecture schools and studios. If you feel bullied or discriminated against get help to call it out.

But again, getting yourself through this morass means you need lots of support, especially if you’re the only intersectional person in the studio and you feel like you have to hide in a corner when everyone else in there seems like they are in some kind of club or a clique. But shit who wants to be in that club anyway.

Make your own club as this is always better.

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In the global architectural system, architecture as a domain of knowledge practice is continuously being eroded, and so many architects have blindly accepted the celebritization (is that a word?) of our discourse. The elite clubs, the secret meetings, and unspoken smarmy clubby masculinities and handshakes. The few stars and the many. Why do we swallow it so readily? Why do our architecture schools mirror that stuff?

For me, celebratory and absurdist vitriol is one way to dismantle all of that. Someone asked me after I told them I was in the process of writing a book if it would be as vitriolic as the blog? I thought that was hilarious (I am just waiting for someone in my small village to say I am flaming down in a bitter and twisted way). However, for regular readers I am sure you will appreciate that the vitriolic tone has been pretty consistent over time. I like to describe this tone and voice as one of celebratory vitriol. After all what else can you do?

Finding your place 

If you get really desperate, you can find your voice in the studio via design tactics of irony, collage, mimicry and absurdity. Take a look at PJ’s work. Is it critique or homage to corporate capitalism. As soon you stop thinking that your mediocre tutors, in their many little mini-celebrity club guises, no longer have power over your design you will actually begin to design. For some of us we are never going to be in the club, we are never going to win the awards or the Archi-School prizes, or hang out with the celebrity architects. We will never have that Archi-pedigree. The architectural celebrities aren’t as fun as the real celebrities and they will only wipe their feet on you anyway, and the pedigreed types will never change the profession. After all, why would they?

Don’t Panic

Above all, and firstly, when you don’t like the design studio, you are in don’t panic. In architecture we don’t always like our clients or the projects we get dealt with and learning how to deal with these things as result of these factors is something we can learn when we hate our design studio.

But more importantly, the best tutors are the ones that will respect you regardless of how you look or your background. The best tutors are the ones who will not have favourites, and they will help you find your voice. These are the design tutors who have respect not only for you but for the future of architecture as well.

Updated March 21 

Pritzker Prize meets Instagram: Architects and their social media train wreck

Isozaki got the 2019 Pritzker, and I came across a picture on Twitter of him and Rem having a kind of dinner according to the Twitter caption they were talking about Metabolism. One  article I found in the non-architectural press was the one which described Isozaki as the “The man who fused east and west.” This kind of hyperbole aside, I wanted to vomit, and I couldn’t work out why.  But maybe its because I think the entire Pritzker prize thing is a flawed conception because it by and large supports the star architect regime. A regime of royalty ruling over the architectural masses. A regime whose tentacles reach across the globe into every aspect of architectural life: education, design and the way practices are managed.

Hashtag tyranny 

I started to think about all those Instagram hashtags that architects are now enamoured with. I checked, and the hashtag #pritzker on Instagram has had 23,582 posts. Many of  post-2000 Pritzker architects are all now on Twitter and Instagram. Of course, there are a few exceptions as not all of the Pritzker prize winners have readily embraced these new media channels build their brands. Both Doshi (2018) and RCR architects (2017) have a relatively low key presence on these platforms. Doshi only has one Instagram post which states: “Lifestyle celebrates when lifestyle and ecosystem fuse.” I mean what else can you say?

Pritzker winners and social media 

Jean Nouvel (2008) has 12.1K followers on Twitter and 194k on Instagram as well as that #Jean Nouvel hashtag has almost 80,000 posts. On Intstagram, Shigeru Ban (2016) has 13.3k followers. Herzog De Meuron (2001) has 1681 followers on Twitter but 380K followers on Instagram. Even if you’re trying to split from the band and go out your own you can have your own account Thom Mayne (2005) of Morphosis has #thommayne with 5923 posts. But #Morphosis has 18,860 posts, but this includes posts for a brand of hair products. Even if you’re dead you can still get a hashtag, for example, Jorn Utzon (2003) who died in 2008 has  #jornutzon with 8,308 posts. Other long-dead architects have lots of hashtag followers, for instance, @corbusier has 1067 followers, on Twitter but #corbusier has 41,072 Insta posts. LC® Le Corbusier has 722 followers and Corbu at @corbucorbu a Psych band from NYC have 25.8K followers on Insta. I might listen on to them on Spotify.

Zaha Hadid 

But if you are a female architect social media popularity of any scale–even on a global scale–may not mean much. Another Pritzker winner, now deceased, is Zaha Hadid (2004) and Zaha Hadid Architects now has 508K followers on Twitter, and 687K followers on Instagram and #zahahdid has just under 370,000 posts as of March 2018. Indeed, Hadid is arguably the most significant Instagrammer of the Pritzker prize winners.  Yet, as Katie Lloyd Thomas pointed out in Architectural Research Quarterly, Zaha Hadid’s death in 2016 gave rise to many of the old tropes of architectural misogyny, in the reporting of both her death and life. You can read what Katie writes below:

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Craig’s List

And if you an architect who wants to sell something, and an acolyte who wants to buy something, then Instagram is just the place. You can buy the Glenn Murcutt Folio (2002) a “Limited Collectors Edition boxed folio of Glenn Murcutt’s design process and methods” has 2840 followers on Instagram and the followers and the #glennmurcuttmasterclass has 411 posts and the  #glennmurcutt has 2,421 posts. It really doesn’t get more exciting than that, and maybe we will soon see architects selling stuff on Craig’s List.

YouTube 

Then there is also YouTube. Broadcast in 2016 The Greg Lynn Show on YouTube, indicates the ways where the emergence of new distribution channels in social media collide, and I mean really collide, with the canon of high architectural culture. In 2016 Lynn was the curator of an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal entitled Archaeology of the Digital: Complexity and Convention. The curatorial purpose of the exhibition was to examine how architects from the 1980s onwards sought to incorporate digital tools into architecture. So hey why not do a YouTube thang and develop what Lynn called an “an archaeological reading of how digital tools were incorporated into architecture.”

Arguably, if we are to be churlish, the purpose of this endeavour was to highlight Greg Lynn’s own position in the canon. Nothing like killing a few birds with one stone.

Using a late night talk show format Lynn employed YouTube to interview the architects of various projects these included amongst others “stand-up comedian and special effects guru Neil Denari,” and Patrik Schumacher, who is promoting his new book, “Para-Patrik Schumacher, which is about being Patrik Schumacher.” As reported the Youtube format lent itself to numerous sound bites as reported including Francis Roche exclaiming “I am not a digital masturbator,” and then saying “I wish I were a masturbator.” Alejandro Zaera-Polo being described as “just a peasant from Spain,” and Wolf -Pritz also interested in ensuring his place in the canon architecture. By you know just being Wolfy. The show ran for 11 episodes⁠1 with each episode being around 10 to 11 minutes in duration.

But maybe Greggie really needs to get back onto Instagram as he only has 20 posts 1,745 followers. Although from the look of this post from a crit in Vienna he is trying. If architects are going to brand themselves then sometimes its good to have a refresh. Gregg Lynn FORM is getting a bit tired.

Cardi B and Alexandria 

But in the scheme of things, despite all this hyperbole, architects are really not doing that well on social media. For example, Cardi B 41.4m followers for only 635 posts followers and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 386 posts 2.7m followers. Diet Prada has 1.2 million followers and Saint Hoax with 972K followers on Insta.

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Cardi schooling Trump (sound on 🔊)

A post shared by Saint Hoax (@sainthoax) on

This really makes me think that the best Instagrammers in popular culture are those able to dis-assemble, play with and regurgitate the norms of that culture and its image-politics. I don’t see a lot of that on social media when it comes to architects and the so-called architectural canon. It looks like for architects the same old tropes and prejudices are being reproduced on social media. Quaint hero photos of Isozaki and Rem at dinner—post-coital Pritzker style–on Insta don’t really do it for me. But I guess if you don’t like what you see on Insta you can always watch Greg Lynn and his old 90s mates on YouTube.

No wonder I wanted to vomit.