Monday, March 30, 2015

Collaboration and Craft

Architecture is a profession, one that is first a service-based business; however, in my mind, the greatest architecture involves craft.  Our buildings would be nothing but ideas and pictures unless they got built.  Architects cannot always draw or document the conditions of a building unless they understand how the building goes together, and the pieces get assembled; architects don’t always know what they need to document in order to allow another person to fill in their part of the work without interacting with the people doing the work.  And architecture cannot be built without the input of a client, a patron, a user (even in spec projects, SOMEONE has to pretend that they are the client).  This collaboration, this knowledge, these skills – that is the craft of architecture.

So one of the things that I love best about working as an architect is that every project involves teamwork.  To me, Architecture is a collaborative process, and that is the only path to a successful project.  I love the interaction between team members, I love the learning opportunities.  What is amazing to me is that every project can be different – from the same drawings, two different carpenters can interpret a detail, or the way to assemble something.  It makes me aware that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  We still rely on the skills, expertise, and craft of those who make our designs into realized buildings and projects.

We as architects sometimes add our own labor to a project, especially if the process is design-build.  Often, however, our craft can be found in the way we design spaces to flow, the way the building will shape someone’s life as they inhabit the space.  Sometimes, our craft can be revealed in the materials we choose (or recommend), or if we have a particular affinity for detail.  We might imagine how something will feel in hand, or the emotion that a space or design element can evoke. Other times, the architect’s craft can be revealed in the drawings we provide.  These may be sketches to a client, sketches to a contractor or craftsperson, or even the construction drawings.  The way we think about projects are often revealed through these drawings, and sometimes the drawings are influenced by the people with whom we work and collaborate.

I’d like to highlight one craftsman in particular – Kent Bloomer.  I first met Kent as a freshman in college, as I had expressed an interest in majoring in architecture.  I took classes from Kent over the next four years.  I stayed in touch, and have had the privilege of working with him on 2 completed projects and a competition.  These interactions with Kent and his team at The Bloomer Studio have been some of my favorite experiences as an architect. On one project, the Jones School of Management at Rice University, designed under Robert A.M. Stern Architects, had several place holders in our design. Kent and his team fashioned column capitals, decorative heads, bronze doors, and even a bull & bear to create a narrative for the building.  It was an amazing experience to see each piece be designed, shaped, and modeled at different scales.  Some pieces affected the design, and I would tweak drawings to accommodate the changes; other times, the design would affect what could be done by The Bloomer Studio.  The end result was fun, sometimes whimsical, and powerful.  The students and faculty related to the ornament, and I feel that the ornament highlighted parts of the architecture.

Please check out Kent Bloomer’s website here:
and on Facebook at:

The other project I collaborated on with Kent is the Truman School, in the New Haven Public School system. 

I love including place specific art and details whenever possible.  These root the building in place, and relate it to its surroundings, or help tell the building’s story. They encourage using local craftspeople who know the project area, its history, its materials, its story. 

Just by happenstance, this month’s #ArchiTalks series is on the theme of being ‘Crafty’.  Due to the focus I put on specific ‘craft’ mentions, I would like to direct the readers to the following blog entries especially, but all are worth reading.

From Studio MM, 'Why I love my craft"

From lee Calisti architecture + design, "Panel Craft"

From Matthew Stanfield, FiELD9 architecture, "On the Craft of Drafting"

Monday, March 23, 2015

What does an architect do?

What does an architect do?

Wow.  There is no simple answer to that question.  Architects are all people – what we do, and how we do it differs from person to person, firm to firm, sometimes even client to client.  Not everyone who studies architecture goes into a career in architecture, and everyone who begins a career in architecture doesn’t necessarily end there (or even become a licensed architect).  Over time, I hope to share stories and examples of people who are architects, designers, planners, writers, politicians, even football players; people who started out as architecture students and followed their path – wherever that may be.

Now, I want to share a little about me, and what I do.  I have discovered, to my great surprise, that I am an optimist – I see to believe that things will work out, that I will get the next project, that people will act a certain way; I now realize that I just have had poor coping skills when things didn’t go as I had hoped or expected.  The good news is, I have had decades of practice to work on those coping skills.

So, what do I (personally) do as an architect?  Well, I teach (currently at a community college), I practice architecture, I manage an office; I read, I write, I take photographs, I draw by hand; I love researching and seeking out new information, I love passing that on to people and applying that knowledge.  I love to connect to people – both in person and virtually. I wander around and look, and imagine what COULD be.  As an experiment, I started to list what an architect might do DURING the design process.

For example, we might:
  •  Listen to clients, documenting needs and wants;
  •  Gather project information;
  • Verify compliance with codes, zoning, planning;
  • Research materials, finishes, or other information;
  • Communicate back to the client;
  • Design spaces for living / working / playing;
  • Edit / massage / change those based on client feedback or limitations of the site, the materials, or other factors;
  • Teach the client along the way about the process and the finishes and selections;
  • Create construction documents and details from which to build;
  • Work with contractors to get pricing;
  • Work with clients, vendors, and contractors to make selections for items and systems;
  • Coordinate all the various information from trades and vendors to the client;
  • Translate or interpret that information for the clients;
  • Act as a representative FOR the client, and ensure that the contractors and vendors are providing services and materials that are best for the CLIENT, not best for them;
  • Often learning FROM the contractors and vendors along the way;
  • Keep records of what occurs during design and construction;
  • Assist in purchasing or recommending purchases of appliances, paint, door hardware, cabinet hardware, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, lights, furniture (and making sure that those pieces work well together);
  • We advise, and try to act in the client’s best interest.

In the end, there are many metaphors that people might use – we are like a chef, or like a master builder, we are like a house whisperer, we are like a master craftsperson, we are like an editor, or a conductor, or an owner’s representative. 

At the end of the day, though, we are The Architect.  And we are here to help create spaces in which you can live your life, and connect emotionally with the place we have helped you realize.

On any given project, we may do all of the above services, or only some.  Yes, we have a vested interest in making sure that it comes out correctly for our own marketing and satisfaction, but at its heart, architecture is a service profession.  We are here to make sure the CLIENT likes the project, and is happy, and hopefully is fulfilled in the spaces we have helped create.

What do YOU do as an architect?