Surviving the Design Studio: This is the end; the last things before the design crit.

Last week I had the opportunity to see some student crits in my Archi-schools undergraduate program. I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing projects from undergrad students and in my dotage there seems to be nothing more appealing than the prospect of prancing around a crit with the tantalising possibility of letting loose with a few well-chosen design criticism barbs. Thankfully, for all concerned including myself, the projects I saw were pretty good all things considered. It was indeed a pity because I still yearn to employ the darker arts of studio criticism and you can read about a few of them here. But it did remind me that in the last weeks of a studio—or even a design competition–there are lots of things architecture students should be doing.

1. Don’t turn back on your concept. Avoid concept-diarrhea

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Developing a concept beyond the pragmatic is an excellent idea. One of the problems many students have in studio is that by the time they do the research, understand the site, procrastinate, do a few half-hearted sketches, have a look at what Remksy, Herzog and de Neuron, MVRDV or Bjarke spark-a-larkles are doing on Insta, then do some more reading, fool around on the internet, procrastinate some more and its like 3 weeks to go and then the panic sets in. Perhaps it might have been better to do some design sketches in week one?

If at that point you don’t have a concept get one. If you do have a concept, don’t lose faith with it. Don’t replace it with another different concept. Concept replacement is usually seen as being desperate, and a reasonable jury will always sniff out projects based on the last-minute rush to finish. You have to run with it and make it connect to all the different aspects of your building that you need to design.

If you have burnt up all your time, the first thing you need to do is remember the concept and try to fashion and explain it in a way that is not merely about a knee-jerk functional reaction to the clients, the brief the studio outline or the site.

At the end of the day critics, everyone will want to see how you have used your concept or conceptual apparatus to fashion your design. Maybe, summarise your concept in one diagram or image and put this on your final print out.

2. Work on your plan. Avoid DLD (dimension-loss-disease)

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As everyone knows I hate plans, and they sued to bore me senseless when I fancied myself as an archi-school student designer. I was more interested in the developing dynamic volumes and three-dimensional architectural language.

And FFS get your scales and your spatial dimensions correct. There is nothing worse than looking at a plan that is full of empty space or the kitchen benches or door openings that are too big or too small. Another aspect of DLD is that some areas are either much bigger or much smaller than what they are supposed to be.

Print, yes actually print out your plans, and get a friend to check them. I am sorry to tell some people this, but plans are about measurement. One old trick is to actually design into your plans cool bathrooms, laundries, kitchens or storage areas. Yes, get those toilets right. If you can do that the whole plan will have more detail and look more convincing to a jury. Get some level of detail into your plan even if it is only visual.

3. Work on and present your sections. Avoid alt-right-angle-sectioning.

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I cannot stress this enough. Yes, I am a section guy. I love those Siza sections which communicate so much about volumes, light, spatial sequences, and the relationship between spaces. After all, a section is in some ways a plan that has been turned on its side. Good sections are of lines that are articulated, a section is a line that has a profile: steps, nibs, thickenings and thinnings, bumps, protrusions and the whole affair is a contoured and shaped image.

There is not building on the planet that has a right-angle where the exterior walls meet the roof. Just spitting out from a digital model, plans, sections and renders without thinking what they are like in reality is not architecture.

4. How is it to walk around your building and what will you see? Avoid unreal-viewpointing.

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Avoid the impossible angles, screwy scaled views, hot air balloon basket views that no user of your design will actually see. Avoid viewpoint unreality.

The worse thing you can do is front up to the crit and have no idea yourself what your building might be like to walk around. Looking at things in the computer is not the same thing. So, you need to walk through it in your mind and not in your computer. What will you see and what will you encounter? If you can produce and present a series of vignettes and views of what it might be like for someone, perhaps as an actual user of your building,

5. Show the context. Avoid render-plopping

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Please, I beg you, I ask you with all my heart, to show the context. Nothing shows archi-school and computer ignorance more than just plopping on a sheet—and I mean plopping in a scatological sense— render as if it is completely isolated from any surrounding urban, material or physical context.

6. Show the design process. Avoid process-voidance

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Bring along all your sketches, preliminary models, have them ready to show the critics. Stick them into some kind of consistent format. I mean how long does to take to do this?

Physical models are excellent. Even if you are running out of time, it’s still good to do a small, simple scaled physical model even if it is tiny. It’s probably worth at least 5 more marks if not more.

7. Get your project timing right. Avoid timing-desperation.

Of course, all the above things might seem like they are going to slow you down or take up too much time. Better to just stay in the model and keep on doing stuff as that will be quicker. But in fact attending to the above issues either partially and or fully will, in the long run, make for a better design and a set of images at the jury end of the process; it will communicate more about your design to a jury.

If you get too desperate about timing, you will screw everything up and end up at a broken printer. Timing is everything, and you need to plan ahead as to how long things will take to do.

I suppose the above is a kind of plea for the importance of design thinking and its associated crafts. Working on a computer model and then just spitting it out into a presentation—extruded plans, oversaturated renders, no sections, Insta-people collaged into all the views, a completely missing context, isn’t really architecture. It is just crap.

Previous blogs along these lines include the following:

Surviving the Design Studio: How to start making architecture with an actual drawing.

Surviving the Design Studio: How to avoid plan reading blindness

Surviving the Design Studio: 7 things to do to hit the ground running.

Surviving the Design Studio: 6 hacks to develop your crap design quickly.

Surviving the Design Studio: Symptoms and cures of design jury anxiety.

Surviving the Design Studio: Getting through the last days before the submission deadline.

 

 

 

Surviving the Design Studio: 10 ways to fix the plans before the final deadline. 

Ok so it’s the end of semester or the project and you have spent your life deep in the Rhino, or the other R model, and it’s time to do your layout. But hey you forget about the plan. The what? Oh yeah, the PLAN !!!

The problem is the plan is the first thing any critic or competition judge will look at. Sure they might glance at the crappy 3D render you have done; so hastily crafted the night before. But it’s the plan they will use as the co-ordinating point of reference for the rest of the drawings. Its probably the thing they will look the most at. In fact an excellent plan will mean that the design jurors or critic (or perhaps even a client) will more easily forgive how bad the rest of the project might be.

The demise of the plan

In this digital word it is easy to forget about the plan. You may have sketched something early on; quickly outlined it in the computer and then constructed a model from that plan. By the end of the project you have actually forgotten about the plan.

We no longer read plans because we are too busy watching the future stuff. This is because everything nowadays is three dimensional or even four dimensional. It’s all about AI, CNC fabrication, robotics, autonomous agents and swarmies (I think I mean swarms). Patterns, processes and parametrics reign supreme. Plans are pretty dull compared to the latest YouTube clip or article on Architizer or Dezeen.

In the age of big data, global analytics, digital diagramming and planetary urbanisation the plan has lost its power to seduce our eyes. The network diagram and digital clip is king (and queen too). Born in the computer the global diagrams of networks, animations of swarms and simulations of a flooding cities are more compelling to watch than those old planny plan things. There are some excellent exponents of these new must-be-watched diagrams: Michael Batty at UCL, Neil Brenner’s mix of geography and global flows at the Urban Theory Lab, Eyal Weizman’s forensic architecture. In the work of these contemporary image proponents its like the ideograms and diagrams of the Smithsons’ have been sped and given life through the joys of accelerated computerisation.

In the past, like today’s digital clips, the plan was a seductive artifice in its own right. It could simultaneously be read as a conceptual diagram, a spatial condition and the history of  place. Plans are stratigraphic in their ability to embody layers of meaning and different narratives; no matter how abstract those narratives might be. But, in the current real world, I fear that plans don’t mean that much anymore. For the merchants of neoliberal architecture slapping up the apartment towers its all about the skin bae. These days the plan no longer seems like it means anything at all.

Ok, so much for the ranting and raving about the lost world of plans.

More importantly, when the critics come in, all jackboot like, and start criticising the plans you know they have it in for you. A good critic can demolish your entire scheme just by looking at, and asking questions, about the plan. Here are some tips to get that plan in shape ready for the submission and the critical onslaught.

1.The plan demonstrates the size of things 

The plan and measuring the size of things is extremely critical in housing schemes. A few years back I ran a studio in to we tried to teach the students all the things they didn’t know about plans and unit planning. Basic stuff like how big is a bathroom, or a bedroom and what’s the best way to design a kitchen. How big is a bed or a table?  How do you do a carpark what do you need for turning circles?  You know when a critic is really out to get you is when they start asking you questions like these. So be prepared this is the sort of stuff you need to know. The plan is the best way to control and convince others that you have handle on the dimensions. If you don’t already you need to get one of these books.  

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2. Conventions 

Don’t forget the drawing conventions. Scale and North points; North up the page. This goes without saying.  The same goes for other things like windows, doors and stairs. Draw them correctly. If you don’t put these on your plans, or get them right, you end up looking moronic. Get the measurements right.

3. Spelling

Spell the room names properly. This goes for just about everything on your drawings. Use a dictionary if you have to. Choose a lettering font that isn’t going to be confused for your actual building or prevent it form being understood. Try and avoid using the standard fonts straight out of the software program.

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4. Draw it like a section 

Draw it like a section. Yes, for those of you who don’t know, a plan is really a section. But it is a section where you are looking down about a meter above the ground plane. Hence it is good to draw it as if it sis a section. Line weights, whilst seemingly subtle are critical in conveying planimetric depth.

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5.Show the levels 

Use the plan to design your levels and level changes. Stairs and steps should be drawn in a way that is well crafted and shows that you know that a plan is not simply a flat plane.

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6. Don’t fill your plans with crap 

Don’t fill it full of standard library furniture. It always looks like shit and makes you look like an indolent and lazy idiot.

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7. Plan composition 

After the horrors of the image above it is good to remember that the plan is a composition in its own right. Recognise and emphasise the patterns, shapes and figures in it. It doesn’t matter if these elements are abstract or figurative. Counterpoint and contrast these. Exploit these to generate further design elements, details and iterations of the plan. A plan is in fact a series of plans within a plan.

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8. Inside and Outside 

Pay attention to the plans interfaces both within itself, between rooms or spaces, and where it’s edges meet the outside world or other conditions.What lies just outside of the plans walls. What is its context? How do you get to your plan? What is its realtionship to its surrounding urban context? Or it it just another one of those plans sitting in a kind of blank ether.

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9. Draw in the detail 

Draw in structure and floor patterns and as many detailed elements as possible. As explained above that is the same as filling it in with stock library elements or banal patterns.Floor patterns well done and with the correct line weight are always good.

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10. The plan is a spatial field 

Never forget this: the plan as a diagram, that describes and implies a three dimensional spatial field in which points, lanes, planes and dare I say to volumes are located.

A well drawn, represented, or crafted plan, can hide a multitude of sins if the rest of the project is a pig-dog.Of course sometimes its too late. No matter what you do the plan is still a pig-dog. Remember Raisbeck’s number 1 rule. If it looks good it is good. In other words if looks good to you it will probably look good to the critics or jurors as well.

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Finally, the plan is never really finished 

For the Italian Architect Carlo Scarpa the plan, such as his plan for Castelvecchio in Verona, was in a way never really finished. The most powerful plans, the ones that will burn a hole in your brain, are those that are iconic and compelling images in their own right. They may look finished but in fact they are not and they are usually the result of numerous iterations. It is best to remember a plan is never complete and even when the project is finally constructed it is still good to remember that the plan, even across the digital archive, has a life of its own.