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 

Surviving the Design Studio: Things to do at Architecture School to make sure you get a job when you finish

Lately, I have had the pleasure of hanging out with actual architects in a number of different forums. Inevitably the conversation comes around to the state of architectural education and architectural graduates. This situation may be more the case now because the employment market in my small city is currently buoyant.

To my surprise, a few common themes seemed to emerge in the conversations about graduates. The first is the sense among most architectural employers that recent graduates are less engaged with architectural culture and that there is an expectation amongst them that they will land a job in an office as a “young” and “emerging” designer leading a project team. Amazingly, for whatever reason, young architects think that they will design. Interesting to think some recent graduates think they will be leading project teams. Especially, given the widespread and prevailing dislike of group work by students. But hey, maybe that’s only in the practice class.

Others are under the illusion that they will be working the fablab machines and robots when they make the transition to practice.

I haven’t looked lately, but I am not sure how many offices have robots or are part of prefabricated supply chains. But shit hey; there is nothing wrong with learning how to code for that brave new future that the technology nutters are telling us will happen. With any luck, we might even get a few future Architects who will understand how to interrogate AI algorithms. But as argued below it is all about balance; and if architects can’t learn to manage new technologies, as compared to merely executing the technologies, then we architects will end up being next too useless.

I think making the transition from postgraduate architecture school to a working life in architecture is a pretty hard thing to do. Its not a great sapce to be in even when the employment market is bouyant. So, if you are a graduate student, here a few things you can do now to make the transition easier.

The first rule is balance

Don’t sacrifice all of your subjects for the design trophy. Keep things in balance. Being fixated on design marks actually means nothing once you graduate. Your final year marks are only one thing that architectural employers will take into consideration. What is more important is where you are positioned in your career two years out after graduation. Are you a BIM monkey drone at that point or are you beginning to assume responsibility and leadership in various practices? Do you have a strategy for your career?

You need to focus on the other things if you are to survive in a competitive marketplace: Architectural Practice (of course), History and Theory and Construction (and that doesn’t mean hanging out with the 3D printers). If you don’t know any of those things or pay little attention to them, you may not necessarily learn them in practice. Moreover, it will take an employer longer to teach you those things. As one practitioner said to me “the recent graduates are loss makers” because even though they are enthusiastic about design, they are too slow doing the other things” You need to balance your time and efforts across everything. Don’t get sucked into the design vortex.

Get with the culture

If you are going to think that you are some kind of star designer, then become one properly. Pick the hardest studios to do, expand your design skill base each time you do a studio at architecture school. Become involved in the local culture of your architecture school. Join SONA. Hang out at architectural events and be engaged. Go to the nearest peer awards presentations. Be interested in the latest architectural and urban controversies. Sitting at home on your computer with the Rhino or Revit family catastrophe is one of the most boring things you can do. You might even get off your computer and organise a studio space with your fellow travellers.

By getting involved with architectural culture, you will help to change it.

Build a profile 

Every architectural employer will look at your social media feeds to see how you fit into the culture of their practice. If your Instagram account is full of images with you taking selfies in bathrooms, skulling alcohol out of the red plastic cups, dancing at the toga parties, or latching onto a bong-pipe or vomiting in stretch limos while wearing the hire tuxedo then maybe it is not such a good look. Keep your professional profile separate from your personal one.

You need to build a “professional” profile. There best way to do this is through social media. Choose which avenues will best help you to do this. This engagement can be great as it is your opportunity to show what you are interested in on Instagram or Pinterest or Linked-In.

Get work experience while studying

Yes, sacrifice that precious studio design time and get a job in an architects office while you are studying. And that doesn’t mean getting a job that is some low-rent unpaid exploitative internship. DON’T EVER WORK FOR NOTHING. Most architectural employers enjoy having students around. Usually, they will actually think your quite smart and will be interested in your views on architecture. But that doesn’t mean you will be designing the latest Opera House.  You will learn more about design in an architects office than you might in a graduate school architectural studio. Of course, it depends on the office and the studio. This is why the balance between the two is so important.

 Be enthusiastic about doing stuff

Oh, and be sober at the job interview: Someone I know who was struggling to find a job in the early 90s recession swallowed a whole lot of homemade hallucinogenic cookies. About ten minutes later the phone rang, and the architectural firm asked if he wanted to come in for a job interview later that afternoon. He said sure. The time was just about when the cookies started to take hold. The rest is history, needless to say, he did not get the job.

In the job interview, don’t shove every design thang, every design sketch, every design robotic fab-labster-lobster thing down the throat of the interviewers. It is a mistake to think this approach will make you seem different. It’s not about you. I once got a job by saying that horse racing was in my blood and I liked nothing more than documenting the joinery and urinals in jockey’s rooms. I got another job as a site architect on a correctional centre PPP by saying I was great at anti-vandalism detailing. That was because I convinced them I could think like a sub-criminal teenage vandal.

Be different 

Better to tell the potential employers how much you enjoy doing bathroom and tiling details than saying you are some awesome emerging mini-star designer. Become an expert on the mundane things by being curious about those seemingly ordinary things now. Chances are saying that will spin out the employers out so much, at the interview, you will get the job on that basis alone. To the architectural employers, you will seem different and a cut above everyone else. Once you get that post-graduation job, because of your tile detailing or contract admin knowledge skill set, and do anything attitude, you will eventually have to do just about anything once employed in practice.

You might even get the chance to design a few real bathrooms because you will be the person who has to design and document them. There are some great bathrooms in my city designed by the students and the recent grads. And after all, isn’t designing great bathrooms and toilets what design is all about?

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

BAN Pinterest

If you think an architectural design is about merely downloading stuff on Pinterest, think again.

 Many architects have now lost the ability to draw. Hey, for some the computer is so much better. But is the machine the same kind of speculative instrument that drawing, or model making, is? I don’t think it is and my concern is that we have substituted Pinterest, and image collecting memes in general, as a way to draw.

Designing has always been about speculation, and I think it is reasonable to collect, download and collage material together and then employ techniques of estrangement and distortion. Why would you do that when everything now ready-made and easily customizable with a bit of site and user functionality and value management thrown in. Why would architectural design be anything else? Plus, those other techniques, the ones of distortion and estrangement, would mean you might actually need some kind of theoretical model or position to work from rather than slopping around in the lather of consumerist capitalism. But I guess Theming everything is oh so easy these days. Contextual theming is the worse and goes like this: “my project design is in an area with lots of (fill in the most predominant and visible thing in the local context) widgets, So I am going to make my building look like a bit like and widget.
Lousy copying in architecture seems to be rife these days. Hey, who needs to draw in the early stages of a project when you hit me up with some of that old vs. new architecture, or give me a slug of arches, or worse still, a shot of archetypal gable profiled zinc. As a friend of mine remarked: Danish or Japanese projects published in Archdaily in the morning quickly end up on Melbourne drawing boards in the afternoon. Nothing like consuming the 24-hour global design cycle.

A slight digression

Worse still are the digital poetics advanced by the digital tribes is, regardless of aesthetic appearance, which embodies an overriding sentiment of the architect’s office as a kind of frontier. A frontier where men are real men (just like in the Searchers) and where design workflows can be optimized and rationalized. Nowhere, is this ripsnorting wham-bam, boys with toys technological frontier, and associated frontierism, more evident in the discourse that surrounds the implementation of Building Information Modelling in architecture. BIM has been a central focus for the digital tribes and at the center of this crap poetics of efficiency, is an entity called the BIM model. The BIM model, the holiest of holies, the modern equivalent to the arc of the covenant, is a static centralized and hierarchical conceptual entity. (sometimes I wonder how much research money was spent ton the development of the IFCs).

Arguably, this statism combined constrains architects from design speculation through drawing. Their rhetorics of the frontier around all this stuff makes architects think they are speculating about something when they are doing no such thing. While researching this blog post I found this on the BuildingSmart website, (hey, whats in it for me) and it’s worth quoting in full:

Who benefits from standardized BIM-processes?”

  1. Owners, architects, engineers, facility managers, because they do not need to re-invent the wheel in each project, and because everyone would know the standard procedures. It will be much easier to partner-up in new projects and to build consortia. A lot of money and effort will be saved.
  2. Software vendors, because the market will become much bigger. As procedures become widely accepted state-of-the-art, vendors will increase investment in software development.
  3. Educators, because education is based on state-of-the-art, only on this basis a mass-education can be established and it is worth the effort to develop educational books/media (anything else is just short-term training). If you demand today from universities to educate their students in BIM, most of them are helpless, because they don’t know what to teach. Certificates of education need a standardized basis. State-of-the-art is also a necessary basis for accreditation of studies.
  4. Building owners, because they will ask for state-of-the-art BIM competence confirmed by certificates.
  5. Contractors, manufacturers, authorities, maintainers and operators, because their work processes will be streamlined and efficient.
  6. Everyone in society, because they use the built environment for living, working and life.

Sorry, I know I am digressing a bit. That “living working and life”  bit gets me choked up everytime. Sure, you can play with and do things with the plug-ins nowadays. But is that really the same as drawing? Drawing is a non-standard thing, and the con, of the infamous Non-Standard architecture exhibition in the early 2000s Paris, was to delude architects into thinking that we were all heading into a non-standard world of super digital design.

I wonder if all the above horrors of contemporary design, including digital design, are because we have lost the ability to conduct in-depth research through drawing and sketching

So just like last’s week’s post. Here are few clues to help you get your design drawing skills up and running.

Pinterest DETOX

1.Buy a pen and pencil and get some white paper.

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2. Start to do something without overthinking

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3. Think about a building or space or place you might like to design.

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4. Have a first go at drawing it. Do a section. You can even annotate if you like. You can even employ humour.

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5. It may start as a diagram and then evolve.

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6. It doesn’t even have to be neat or even legible to others

IMG_50638. Without wanting to sound like one of those awful American Architecture school composition manuals: As you draw think about how the drawing might develop: Which aspects of it could change or remain fixed? What are its limits? Which segments of it do you want to design more than others? Think about its attributes. Most simply, should it be bigger or smaller?

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9. Try and draw it in different ways and from different perspectives.

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10. Draw quickly then draw slowly and even just scribble a bit if you like.

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11. Iterate a few more designs or sketches.

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12. Start again and repeat. Try doing all the above in a computer and see how long it takes and don’t forget only the most narcissistic architects will draw these types of sketches on yellow trace. ( if I had signed my drawings with Siza or Hejduk’s signature the might be saleable and people would drool over them).

So, if you cant do this, or couldn’t be bothered, and its more comfortable to pretend to be a BIM superhero, and you still think Pinterest is the only way to go, then don’t bother calling yourself an Architect. But if you try drawing not only will you be a better architect but the profession itself might just be that little bit more resilient, when the value managers come knocking on your door. Especially when you are sitting around a table, and they are trying to delete every bit of pathetic design you have Pinterest plastered into the project.

The feature image is a Raisbeck drawing collage from the early 90s. Its little wonder I was never invited to be a guest critic or “Assistant Professor” at Harvard, Columbia or the AA.  

Surviving the Design Studio: How to avoid plan reading blindness

Sometimes I get to tutor, as in actually teach in front of students face to face, and a lot of the time it is fun. Another night in a practice tutorial I held up the three plans and a section of Corbusier’s La Tourette to the students and asked them if they could look at these plans imagine what the building was like in 3 dimensions. Some responded with an educated guess, but most just looked at me blankly. I then held up a trade breakdown of figures for a different project and asked them to imagine what these figures might also suggest about the three dimensionalities of the project.Hence, the seemingly perverse exercise of comparing some photocopied plans of La Tourette with a list of Trade Breakdown figures I suppose I was trying to indicate how “reading” plans are the same as reading a list of figures. More blanko looks.

Plans and Trade Breakdowns

But I then led them through the figures with a close textual reading as historians also do. I told them how you could “read” the trade break-down figures to understand what these say about the buildings final form and the opportunities buried in the figures for getting some design into the project. One student had the insight to ask me, “how might an architect stack up or shape the figures to achieve some design objectives”? Which in the real world, if you are not a so-called architect obsessed with project productivity and optimization, means having further opportunities to design as the delivery process unfolds.

Afterward, I thought about this encounter with the students and begun to worry if they had now lost the ability to read drawings or anything else for that matter. Although, that is a little harsh, and far be it for me to appear to be or seem harsh in my judgments (you only have to look at my last two blogs to see what a paragon of fair-minded generosity I am).

Plan reading blindness

Anyway, I then began to wonder if that is the case, if the students now ensconced in the joys of computers and Instagram had now lost the ability to read plans. And dare I say it, these plans are, what some of us might call “traditional plans” and sections. But reading and interpreting plans and sections and other documents is a critical skill that all architects should possess. If my hypothesis is correct, that architects are no longer teaching, or taught, how to read plans (and I hope it isn’t), it might nonetheless explain why the industry thinks that the skill base of graduates is declining. Is it any wonder if graduates are not learning actually to read, interpret, ponder or wonder about plan drawings.

What an architecture course is not

Same with digital graphics and the other evils of computing. I wonder if the problem is that interpreting or reading a drawing requires an attention span that goes beyond the ten milliseconds it takes to like an Instagram or Zuckerberg post. Then there is the obsession with just making stuff.  Many schools are nowadays obsessed with making stuff. I suppose the highest planet of all this maker-spacey making seems to have been the AA’s DRL lab. That’s all fine and good but making stuff is not the same as learning to interpret drawings. Nor is the obsession with a computer or some other kind of digital graphics. You can’t build an architecture course around digital technologies and prefabricated construction and workshops. This isn’t actually an architecture course!

These algorithmic things are ancillary to architectural design and they always have been. I know you might think I sound like an old curmudgeon and that’s also part of the problem as well. The traditional-new polarity is a misnomer. All because a technique is new, or has a legacy, doesn’t necessarily mean it is either excellent or needs abandoning. Architects and educators have a responsibility to consider how new techniques should constitute and shape architecture. The problem with that proposition is that might mean thinking and arguing about architecture in a theoretical sense. What broad techniques, instruments or ways of thinking should we be encouraging in architectural education and through our industry bodies?

After a while, architects may not even know what a plan is. So here is an exercise that everyone might do to remedy the situation.

A remedy for plan blindness

So, If you an architecture student this is what you need to do. Its kind of like a mindfulness exercise for architects.

1. Find some plans and sections print them out.

2. Look at the plans for about an hour.

3. Lie down and think in your mind what these plans imply about the buildings three-dimensional form and materiality.

4. In your mind walk through the building.

5. Go to sleep.

6. Wake up the next day

7. Go and visit the building and see if it is the same as what you thought.

8. Write a few notes about the experience.

9. Repeat for a different set of plans.

Avoid the urge to skim around the internet or look at your phone while doing the above. It is entirely possible that all of that attention seeking digi distractions are making you a dumb and dumber designer. The problem is you may not even realize you cant read plans.

TESTOSTERONE FUELLED TECHNO-OPTIMISM: 2018 Global Architectural Research Survey Part 2.

This blog follows on from the previous blog discussing the responses to my rapid survey of research attitudes and structures in architectural practices. I have sprinkled a few thought provoking quotes from survey respondents throughout.

As a new practice with limited mentor-type assistance research consumes a massive amount of time which results in inefficiency and financial stress. It is nevertheless a constant element that underpins all projects through all phases. The assumption is that through research we develop our knowledge and the ability to recall and apply it in order to achieve better result and with greater efficiency.

Research Ad hocism

Around 57% of responding architects have no, or only partial, systems within their practices to capture research knowledge. Yet as noted in the previous blog on this many architects still claim that they are doing research in informal ways as they design projects.

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If all this ad hocism is the case then it is reasonable to ask: what sort of research are architects currently pursuing in their wonderfully ad hoc, informal, doing the project-at-hand and organic ways? The survey asked a two questions about this. The first question asked: Does your firm conduct research into any of the following established research areas ? The results are below:

Chart_Q12_180322

Perhaps the survey question could have been sharper. But look at the chart: Lots are doing sustainability research (surprise, surprise), lots are into Urban Design (I am old enough to remember when no-one did this) and then different variants of health, housing and education crop up. Health and ageing looks like its a bit low. Nonetheless, my innate trained at RMIT cynicism tells me its a list of the usual suspects.

What is probably more interesting, in the above somewhat prosaic list of responses, are the outliers (the other responses) and these were things like: indigenous cultural awareness, forensic architecture, animal welfare,  pre-fab, modular, briefing methodologies, co-living, design advocacy and dispute resolution.

The list certainly reflects broader economic realities. Being the areas where clients have the money and the architects are following. As they say, follow the money.  So this may simply reflect broader economic realities.  But is this really a list of research areas that are going to help architects enhance their agency in the future? If everyone is doing the same research how can an individual firm differentiate itself?

I’ve noticed many practices in the UK do formally engage in meaningful research and employ full time research staff to organise and catalogue information. Not only does it help to strengthen the practices body of work, but also their image as a practice that engages with contemporary issues, this consequently gives them a competitive edge when competing to win much sought after public projects and roles involving design advisory for government bodies

One strategy for firms is to set up structures, to research the things around what the practice is currently doing but also develop a few research projects that lie outside of the firms expertise; research that might create knowledge that will differentiate the practice.

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The research carried out by the practice is underutilized, and should be benefitting the practice and the industry in general.

Which leads us to the next chart, the second question about what architects do, which was intended to be a little more future orientated:

Chart_Q13_180322

Looking at this one, I am beginning to wonder, again with my cynical hat on, if anything outside of the techno-optimistic agenda might be too hard for architects. But all of the other usual and overtly macho-boyo technical suspects were there including: BIM, Parametric Modelling, Drones & 3D Printing or Scanning (stab me in the eye with a biro),  Virtual Reality, CNC Fabrication and Advanced Prefabrication. Not a word about the organisational or social sciences. The what?

I was somewhat shocked to see that a huge slab of architects listed BIM Modelling and Parametric modelling as the big ticket future research items. Maybe not so suprising. Surely, any future research in these areas is more about incremental rather than radical innovations. Perhaps architects are now lost without a kind of technical agenda for guidance.

But, as someone said to me if you are going to research this stuff don’t dabble in it. Either do it as pure research or do it as serious applied research, at the other end of the chain, which will give you some kind of competitive advantage. But don’t dabble.

Little thought is given to incentivising staff to carry out research. For more could be achieved if there were incentives for staff. Staff are assumed to be interested in research but many capable members of staff feel they are too busy to do it especially when they do not see a return.

Heres another chart looking at research governance:

Chart_Q16_180322

While there is a knowledge bank from previous successful and never built projects that can be accessed by anyone in the practice, it is a tool that it is rarely used. There is this idea among architects that there is always the need to reinvent the wheel, even when sometimes the answer is within previous research and projects undertaken by the practice.

Ladbrokes 

For my money I am betting with my Ladbrokes account on research into data analytics and social media. This is because I think architects can profitably bring their creativity, spatial thinking skills and ability to see across disciplines fields like data analytics.  Maybe those qualities are a bit old school. But, I am over the boys-with-toys technologies in architecture. And what really worries me is all that testosterone fuelled techno-optimism has eroded our ability to think clearly.

Surviving the Design Studio: 4 Ways to make sure you become a BIM monkey.

Feature Image: ‘Concrete[I]Land’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories with Ann-Arbor)

Getting older in architecture sucks. Along with all the other forms of discrimination, profiling, appalling labour practices and lack of diversity once you get to certain age you become invisible. Worse still you become really really invisible to those architects above you adept at exploiting the talent. Much easier to exploit the interns and the recent graduates than the old hands.

A friend of mine, an architect with about 25 years of experience working with the very best architects in town, as well as the worst, bemoaned the early career architectural graduates she had to work with. In a nutshell she said there was

“sometimes a staggering gulf between “confidence level and knowledge-experience-skill.”

Another friend, who came through the same cruel archi-school regime I also suffered under, wondered out loud:

“why would you go to architecture school just to learn BIM and not much else?”

Someone else I know in NYC, was aghast in a design meeting where one early career architect proclaimed:

  “I’ve done some research and Brooklyn has a lot of old buildings with arches so we should do a building with arches.”

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Someone else said to me:

Whenever I go to those large practices full of young architects on computers don’t they realise in a few years all these computers will be gone? What will they do then?

This of course is not to stereotype a whole generation of early career architects as dumbed down, dullards who think doing BIM is what architecture is and thus have no need for history and theory. Many of this generation are going to be great architects and help to transform the profession. Perhaps even save the profession from itself.

But there are nonetheless a few gentle warnings in the above litanies of architectural senility and cynicism. So, if you do want to be BIM monkey this is what you need to do:

  1. Actually think that BIM is Architecture.

Of course BIM is just a bundle of software programs and processes. I won’t bore you with the definitions. But in this is not the same as architecture. You will only be able to spend so much of your life doing the CAD or BIM monkey seated jigs. In fact jigging on the computer jigs has a limited life-span as documentation becomes increasingly more commodified.

  1. Know in your heart that Parametric Modelling makes the best architecture.

Listen to and channel Schumakkker.

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schumakkers ear

The Parametric types like to push the idea that every Parametric model is a unique and customised product or object. Our digital feeds have since the early 2000s been swamped  with completely dysfunctional and useless Parametric “art” objects; conceptual objects that claim to increase our haptic awareness. Hit me up with a another geomorphic iceberg skeletor thing. Another adornment or folly to cleanse our souls and “transport” us to a natural environment. At least Francois Roche is brave enough to explore the scatological and organic forms in a way that isn’t just pap.

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‘Robotic Processes’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories

I am not sure Parametric Design has really moved on in the last 15 years. It certainly hasn’t engaged with politics nor does it seem to have a sense of its own irony.

  1. Forget about wild and crazy design thinking.

Wild and crazy Design Thinking is central to architecture. But if you want to be a great BIM Monkey just go for that linear problem solving, get it done one quickly, jam that round problem into square hole type of thinking. Get excited about the efficiency of the CNC code. Love that little laser cut model that looks like a plywood skeleton.

If you are at architecture school just to learn BIM and hot-shot oversaturated realistic rendering then maybe you are better off somewhere else. I really don’t want you in the profession. You are only hastening the commodification of architecture as a domain of knowledge.

No wonder the 30,00 strong REVIT group on Linked-In told me to only post “relevant” pieces to their group page.

  1. Love and consume the tasteful.

Yep, just eat up the tasteful. Wear the clothes and subscribe to the mags. Follow the Insta influencers. The best way to become a BIM jockey is to keep thinking the best architects are the ones that the real estate marketers, middle brow property developers and the lifestyle magazine editors love. Who can blame architects for getting in with this crowd?

The above people are obviously the gatekeepers who see architecture as a narrow canon of taste and fashionista profiling. Best to stay on side with them. Ignore anyone different.

Abandoning theory 

Architecture has a complex social politics and history. Abandoning theory in favour of fashionable consumption is your choice. But it will just leave you ceaselessly jigging in the BIM jig money chair.

I made the worst models and did the worst drawings at architecture school. But I did learn how to think and that is what is most important. So my advice is, from an older invisible architect verging on senility, if you want to have an enduring architectural career see if you can get through the whole of architecture school without learning BIM. Otherwise, you will end up jigging with the software jigs for the rest of your life.

You be a robot architect and then the real robots will take over and you will be out of a job. If don’t learn how to think at architecture school this will be your fate.

Surviving the Design Studio: The 2018 list of what Architects should do over XMAS.

Happy New Year (well, almost anyway). 

As much as I love architecture studios it can get pretty soul destroying sometimes. Yep, being in, or running, an architect’s office can be gruelling, demanding and kind of boring as well. We all long for the Elysian fields far away from the towers.

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For small practitioners it’s all about the desperation to survive, running from one builder or client induced crisis to the next, spending your time doing taxation admin and forgetting to send out the invoices or contribute to your super.  All of which you have to do whilst juggling the kids between child care, schools and sport. Nonetheless, most practitioners spend their time thinking about how they can lead better and better serve the community and their clients.

For architectural employees the low pay, the long uncontrolled hours, the peer competition and rivalries, the bullying and pressure, not to mention the outbreaks of workplace harassment and discrimination. Amongst this studio horror most architectural employees and recent graduates spend a lot of time thinking about the relevance of the profession and their place in it.

So when the holidays come along no matter how brief they may be its good to do a few things that will rejuvenate. Doing these things will actually help you answer the big questions of how to lead better and how to make your own place in the profession.

The following hints are designed to rejuvenate your creative and design orientated problem solving skills. These tips will help you rejuvenate and also help you to get a real life outside of architecture.

1.Watch an actual film or two

Thor Ragnarok 

Mountains May Depart 

Roma 

2. Make a film 

Yep, go on a road trip and make a film. Do your own drawings and cartoons and turn them into a film. You can even make something with a few powerpoints. Be polemical.

3. Ride a bike around your city. 

Last September I rode all around London and it was great.

4. Listen to really weird Music 

The more twentieth or twenty-first century the better. Go for a bit of Stockhausen or Henri Denerin. In my town I go to the Salon at the Melbourne Recital Hall it is a great place to hang out and listen to music.

5. Get your social media act together

Kardashian style bathroom selfies aren’t really going to make your career. Think of Insta as a way to select curate and distribute ambiguous images. Check out my instagram account @archienemy.

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6. Explore and get obsessed with the latest fashion or fad until you get sick of it. 

Craft beer has been my great discovery this year. Now I am sick of it. I really don’t think I will change careers to become a craft brewer.

7. Make your own public art in your neighbourhood then snapchat the results. 

If you need more ideas check out my 2016 and 2017 posts on this subject. Have a great break.  Over the next month I will be posting the most popular: Surviving the Design Studios from 2016 and 2017. Thank you again for your support and a special thanks to all of all you who have alerted me to the numerous typos here at Surviving the Design Studio!