Monthly Archives: January 2018

Accident

“I do still stumble across things by accident. As I’m always telling my students: you won’t get anywhere sitting at a table thinking. You learn by doing. That’s how you move forward. And even if you do something wrong, the result may be much more interesting than what you went looking for.”

-Andreas Gursky

This little gem in a brief Gursky interview in the Guardian.

Always be open to possibility. Recognize when things are working and when they aren’t. We strive for intention, to follow our narrative, to complete our agenda. But that doesn’t always work, and we need to recognize when a project isn’t moving forward. At the same time, don’t be too quick to switch gears, especially at the final hours.

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4 Forces

There are four forces that shape a project: site, user, material, and the designer.

The site is a dictator. It exerts more force over the project than any other. The site is both the physical and conceptual. The physical is geology, geography, hydrology, climate, and all the other natural forces; it is the infrastructure, the roads, bridges, utilities, water supply, and the other man-made aspects of the site. The conceptual aspects of the site are the social, cultural, and political forces that shape the site. These are such things as property definition (boundaries), zoning, codes, neighborhood identity, history, ethnicity, class, wealth/poverty, language.

The user is represented by the program – for what is the project to be used? How are the needs of the user to be accommodated? These needs manifest in distinct spatial requirements for different kinds of uses, and all of this has to be organized in specific relationships.

Material gives the project form. Material has to deal with the site forces: gravity, earthquakes, water, temperature, fire safety, but also has to contend with the kind of meaning that we ascribe to materials. Materials are part of the vocabulary of the language of design. Marble says something different than wood; oak says something different than knotty pine.

Finally, there is the designer. The designer is the mediator of the other forces, interpreting the interplay, and ascribing values and priorities.

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Drafts

For some reason in design schools we have adopted the term “iteration” for doing multiple versions. In writing this is called a “draft.” And I cannot enough stress the need for multiple drafts, especially early on when still forming an idea. Drafts are a way of clarifying your thinking. Drafts are a way of testing your ideas, to see if they work. Even the strongest 3D thinkers among us cannot fully envision complex space and form without using tools of visualization – whether hand or digital – to test the concept. Design is not so different from the scientific method, wherein a hypothesis is tested, the results analyzed, and a conclusion is made, which might result in a revision to the hypothesis, new testing, new analysis, and new conclusions. Or the dialectical approach (which I like better because it rhymes): thesis, antithesis, synthesis (idea, test/challenge, refinement). This thinking goes for any aspect of the design process, from the big ideas, down to the details, it is a constant process of refinement.

I like this article from another discipline by Fred Bernstein, the architectural critic, who started his career writing by studying and practicing law. Law is a profession where language is the foundation, and people go to great lengths to make sure their meaning is not misunderstood, and indeed, to make sure they themselves know what they are saying. Thus it is with design. Good design is a constant act of refinement and questioning, research, testing, and many, many drafts.

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