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"

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