Showing posts from category: architecture
My work doesn’t get built.
There, I said it. Nothing I’ve designed as Cobrooke in the last five years has gotten built.
Zero, zip, nada.
Not the concierge ALF in Tampa, the new campus plan for a developmentally disabled service provider, a new technology center or the performing arts center addition or the school for victims of human trafficking in Africa. By my count that makes me 0 for 5, batting a perfect zero. Recently, we were executive architects for a fairly large church addition that did get built but that doesn’t count. It’s like being a car passenger, along for the ride with your feet hanging out the window enjoying the view.
And yet here I am, still standing in the batter’s box, bat in hand waiting to take a swing. Hey, I’m an architect, it’s what we do.
We dream, we hope (these days pray, a lot) that the next one is the big one. Until that happens we forage, like survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, for nuts, berries and insects to keep ourselves alive and hopeful.
Today it’s a new competition that occupies my time and keeps me from wondering if today’s the day that a proposal submitted two months ago for a small project with a whopping three grand fee gets green lighted, or the even smaller proposal for half that amount goes through. Hey, it’s all nuts and berries remember?
Until then I work on my competition winning acceptance speech and hang my hat on the adage that “architecture is an old man’s profession”.
Problem is, depending on who you ask, I am already an old man.
Robert Vecchione is an architect/designer and principal of the multidisciplinary firm Cobrooke Ideas-Architecture-Design (www.cobrooke.com).
I know you like good architecture. Come like my company page, Consulting For Architects, Inc.!
My head spins these days as I read the pablum being spewed forth about technological or practice methodologies revolutionizing the practice of architecture. BIM, REVIT, IPD, open-sourcing, architect as chief-collaborator, blah, blah, blah.
None of that stuff matters unless we have work. And these days there just isn’t enough to go around. Or maybe there is and we just aren’t getting our share. Lord knows we’ve done a good job of bastardizing this profession over the last 30 years, giving away much of the mantel we once claimed as ours. So maybe we need to put the horse back in front of the cart and figure out how to GET more work before we figure out how to DO it.
Nah, that makes too much sense.
Robert Vecchione is an architect/designer and principal of the multidisciplinary firm Cobrooke Ideas-Architecture-Design (www.cobrooke.com).
As you are climbing uphill; what seems like a continuous climb throughout the many hills of Parc Guell, you bravely steel a glance or two downwards and think that this is it. This must be one of the more beautiful experiences of your life. Gingerly you take each step with your camera in hand, careful not to drop the camera or anything else as you find yourself looking at, well, everything. It’s an overwhelming experience, and in a good way. Earlier in the year, my dad passed away, thereby making this my first vacation in a decade where I did not suffer from any family distractions. No worries, but did I ever miss him! I still do. But it was one less thing to ponder as I was transversing uneven stone steps with nary a handrail in sight. But I was just starting to speak of the beauty about this park, a must-see for anyone who travels to Barcelona, when I hit a few detours. Count Guell was a prominent businessman in Barcelona at the early part of the last century. He engaged a prominent architect, Antoni Gaudi, to design a garden city with sixty houses on a hill called Montana Pelada. The venture was not successful and only two houses were built. But an unsuccessful venture led way to one of the more beautiful parks you will ever see. At the entrance, you will find the main staircase with a dragon fountain made of broken bits of glazed ceramic tile, a signature style for Gaudi. This leads to the Salon of a Hundred Columns which really number eighty-four, but who cares? The ceiling of the salon has more tiled mosaics. In fact, they’re everywhere in sight. The on-site museum contains splendid furniture that Gaudi designed. And so it goes; you’ve walked for three hours, and have a big smile on your face. You can’t wait to tell the story to all you know.
You’ve planned a week in Barcelona because you are wise and know that you will not be bored for a second. You will want to come back. As you continue drinking in the various Gaudi shrines throughout this beautiful city, you get to understand a bit more about the architect with each building. Casa Batllo is truly amazing and I would suggest to go early in the day to avoid crowds. The details on the doorknobs and locks; the center court and other means of ventilation were ahead of their time. The rooftop dragon is not to be believed. Next up is Casa Mila, his iconic monument to the Modernist movement. It does not seem very livable, but once again, it’s all in the details. The Sagrada Familia is no problem for anyone familiar with waiting on lines at Disney. Wear comfortable shoes! If you are able to go to the top of the towers, then you are lucky for you will view this beautiful city in the most unique way and it is breathtaking.
Okay, I lied. It’s not all about Gaudi. It’s also about the food. As I’m re-reading my diary, the secondary descriptions that do constant battle with architecture are of the fantastic food. As I read about the various meals of fish, meats and risotto, my mouth waters and I desire to savor them all over again. Since we are incapable of dining at 10:00 PM, we chose instead to have our main meals of the day at lunch and have a more casual al fresco experience in the evening.
I lied some more. It’s all about the walk. Ever since I was twenty and I traveled to San Francisco with friends, I have always made note of how compatible I am with the place I am visiting. San Francisco was fine but I quickly realized I couldn’t live with Californians. In Barcelona, at some point we stopped and thought, “could I live here?” Yes was the answer. It is walkable; it is friendly; it is safe and clean; it is modern; it is old. Barcelona is ideal. The week was brimming over with a travelogue of lists consisting of everywhere we ambled and places we didn’t quite get to at this time. Maybe, next time? Because there was so much good stuff that really good architects had the sense to design and get built all in walking distance of each other. More Gaudi, so much to see in the Gothic Quarter as you walk past what is left of a Roman aqueduct, the Picasso Museum and the Palau de la Musica Catalana (a music hall with a gorgeous stained glass ceiling). And then there’s Gehry’s Fish. Barcelona’s golden fish sculpture sits in Port Olimpic at the base of one of the tallest buildings in the city. Frank Gehry was commissioned to build the piece for the 1992 Summer Olympics and brought the city to the attention of the world! Wow!
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architects, architecture, Barcelona, Disney, Frank Gehry, Gaudi, Gehry, Palau de la Musica Catalana, Parc Guell, Picasso Museum, Spain
A fictional tale about an architect and his career
The end came for William some 1,800 miles and 26 years from where it all began. It’s an all too familiar scene. The partners gather, you’re “invited” to join them in the conference room. Eschewing eye contact, you’re told what a great employee you are, how valuable your contributions have been but, alas, they have to let you go. Can we please have your keys?
Changing the world
I think all of us believe, as architectural undergrads, that we will be the next Frank Lloyd Wright, Corbusier, or, heaven forbid, Daniel Liebskind. The heroic image of the architect (Howard Roark?) resonates loudly as we work night and day developing architectural concepts that not only are going to one day save the world but more importantly land us a job at one of the “starchitect” firms who’s work pollutes the architectural press. From there it’s on to private practice, publication, national acclaim and turning down commissions that are not worthy of our talents. You want me to do what! Don’t you know who I am? Reality? There’s no time for that! Like an architectural ponzi scheme the monster must be fed, illusions must be maintained and the next generation of architects must be trained on the ashes of those that have come before.
The first taste of the real world for William, the newly minted apprentice, comes during the job search. That is when the disconnect to the real world makes its first appearance. What the architectural press does not report (or want anyone to know) is that the “starchitect” firms are built on what is essentially slave labor. “We do not pay as much as other firms and we do ask that you work day and night but when you leave here you will have the name or our great firm on your resume!” Think of what that will do for you career! Or you can work for a second-tier firm, one that actually has work built, where you may actually learn how buildings go together who will pay you a living wage but whose name you dare not mention at architectural seminars or cocktail parties. Aah, a crossroads. Didn’t Williams’ architectural education prepare him for this?
After many sleepless nights and endless coffee house discussions with friends about pursuing your craft versus earning a living William makes his decision. He splits the difference. He takes a position with a respected second-tier firm. They do good work, their drawings all look nice, they will pay him a decent salary and he could tell his friends who he work for.. I’ll cut my teeth here says Williams, than jump to the A list with my next move!
The caste system
Excitement builds, William is on his way now! This is when the disconnect to the real world makes its second appearance. He never believed it when he heard others say that it matters where you went to school. With my talent, it won’t matter! Aah, but it does!
There are three distinct education classes in the architectural profession; Ivy League (the perceived gold standard) private universities or, heaven forbid, state or city universities. (I know, I know, there are some good state schools out there, I just haven’t met any of those grads yet. Anybody out there a K-State grad?). In the mid-eighties William was an apprentice at a mid-size, nationally recognized firm in New York City. Not a “starchitect” firm but rather a trend follower that produced middle-of the road work. As a private university grad he thought he stacked up pretty well amongst his peers except for one small thing; his lack of an Ivy League degree.
That precluded William from ever landing a coveted “designer” position, (which would have allowed him to walk around the office with a black sweater on his shoulders and Corbu styled glasses hanging around his neck discussing the tenets of post modernism). Or from designing a three-story nursing home addition that neglected to consider that the existing buildings structural system may impact the design until a column showed up (pointed out by a state university grad) in the middle of the door entering the addition (on all three floors and the entire building had to be shifted to the right). From a Yale trained architect.
Instead, he was relegated to “project architect” status, producing construction documents while directing a team of drafters (again, state university grads). It takes a while before what is happening to you sinks in. You convince yourself its good experience, you’ll have your opportunity to design your own projects at your next job. So you jump ship, looking for the Holy Grail.
The next job is always going to be different. After three or four jobs come and go the little voice in Williams head grows louder. I can do this! Look at all the idiots I’ve worked for! None of them were as talented as me. Maybe I should open my own practice. How hard could it be? Then I’ll be free to design what I want when I want it. I’ll show them! So he takes the plunge and starts his own practice.
The excitement is palpable. What’s so hard about this? He sets up his “studio”, hangs his licenses and private university diplomas on the wall and waits for the phone to ring. You convince yourself that you are different from the thousands of other firms providing the same services as you. Why is your firm better?
Because it’s yours!
The work starts to trickle in, run-of-the mill stuff but yours none the less. It won’t be long now! This may last or year or so, and the glow of the start-up is still burning. William pretends not to hear that little voice in his head. After a year or two, he’s still not doing the work he wants to do, still compromising, but hey, he’s got to put food on the table. This goes on for several years with varying degrees of success. Smaller projects are published, prestigious institutional clients are added to the firm roster and William becomes an “expert” in a project type that he didn’t even know existed prior to starting his practice. But the signature projects aren’t there, the ones that will land him on the pages of Architectural Record, and no matter how hard he tries the engine just won’t turn over. And there’s that voice again…
Reality Disconnect three
It starts to dawn on William that making a living working at architecture and creating works of architecture (or being able to look yourself in the mirror) are two separate things. “I’m not sure if it is the same in other professions but there is no correlation in architecture between talent and success” says William. Some of the more successful architects (in financial terms) that he has been associated with couldn’t even draw or think three-dimensionally. One would think that those attributes would be prerequisites for an architect, but a well trained low paid intern, tracing paper and a copy machine are adequate substitutions.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian responsible for the “You might be a redneck if….” comedy routines and joke books. You can do the same thing with architects says William. “You can make a living as an architect if….
-You are willing to compromise any values you may possess
-You have no problem with clients coming to you to “execute” their ideas (here’s a photo of another project we like, can you do this?)
-You recycle your designs (but change the corner roof hats to something “contemporary”)
-You have no problem undercutting your competitor’s 3-4% fee just to get the job
The architect hangs his hat on the adage ‘architecture is an old mans profession”. So we toil for years working for others or in our own practice waiting for the opportunity to show that we are not like the rest. We have talent damn it! It’s what keeps us going. And you would be surprised how long one can fool themselves thinking that the next one is going to be the one.
After several years in private practice, the little voice in Williams head starts to bellow. Is this all there is? Can I do this for another 25 years? He starts to think that private practice may not offer access to the once-in-a-lifetime commission he craves. Maybe it’s time to join one of those A-list firms? After all, look at all of the experience I have running my own practice? Who wouldn’t this expertise on their team? Well, as it turns out, pretty much nobody.
In the world of architecture leaving a private practice to once again become an employee is seen as an act of failure. Partners and principals distrust your motives, and staff can’t understand why anyone would want to give up working on their own to work for someone else. (I can understand that thinks William, it is a sentiment he shared as a young intern.) But he decides to give it a shot. “What else am I doing”, he thinks to himself? And then he realizes that after all these years nothing has changed. Architects are still being slotted based an educational bias, the people in charge don’t really have as much talent as him (if any at all) and the young generation of designers and architects leaves much to be desired.
William believes the profession has collectively suffered a death by a thousand cuts. Piece by piece our role of master builder has been dismantled. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. First it was construction management. What do we know about construction? We can’t possibly be committed to designing a project with constructability in mind, or seek creative ways to reduce a project’s cost without sacrificing functionality. Instead, we opened the door to having an intermediary injected into the architect-client relationship. What about energy efficient buildings? After all, before the “green movement” architects had been designing energy efficient buildings for thousands of years. As architects, what could we possibly know about the planning and design of “green buildings?. Obviously not much, as the profession sat idly by and lets LEED accreditation get fostered on ANYONE who can pass the exam. Need a green building designed? Call your neighborhood LEED accredited plumber!
William comes to realize that clients view architects as nothing more than a commodity, a means to an end. There is no holy grail out there, no Fallingwater, Guggenheim Museum or clients with vision. Just the same get it done and get it out of here mentality. The fire in William is extinguished as he realizes that it is nothing more than what it is.
“Sometimes you get little opportunities to make a difference, over time maybe they add up to something. But you don’t see those projects as opportunities until they’re in the rear view mirror. That’s the problem with looking for the next best thing; you can’t always tell when it’s right in front of you. Maybe it’s just learning something about yourself, about what makes you tick. I don’t know, but I’ve got another 25 years or so to figure it out. I’ll get back to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m wanted in the conference room.”
Don’t laugh this could happen to you….
This article was first published in 2009. It’s still relevant.
Robert Vecchione is an architect/designer and principal of the multidisciplinary firm Cobrooke Ideas-Architecture-Design (www.cobrooke.com).
And he is not William.
House in Carapicuiba by spbr Architecture is set in a small valley far below street level. To design a house that provided for both living and work in this unique site, the architects created a multi-level structure that separates private and professional space. The entrance to the concrete and glass building, reached via a steel-grid bridge, provides two options upon entry: a descending staircase to the living space, or an ascending staircase to a tube-like structure that serves as the office.
Full story and all photos in Architizer
architecture, Design, Engineering, Interior design, modern architecture, Sculpture
architecture, Brazil, Carapicuiba, David McFadden, design, spbr Architecture
Does being an architect imply you’re creative?
I had someone remark recently that using the phrase “creative thinking” in my firm description was redundant because being an architect implies creativity.
Is that true?
We’ve all been in and seen our share of uninspired buildings that don’t deserve to be called architecture. A majority of the built environment is comprised of buildings. How can we all be so creative and wind up with the built environment we do? Isn’t there a distinction among architectural firms, those who fall in the more creative side of the spectrum (think Gehry, Hadid) and nuts and bolts production firms?
Doesn’t a market exist for both buildings and architecture?
If so, are there creative and non-creative architects?
Can creativity and creative thinking be quantified and marketed as a service?
Or is being an architect enough?
Robert Vecchione is an architect/designer and principal of the multidisciplinary firm Cobrooke Ideas-Architecture-Design (www.cobrooke.com)
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Architect, Architectural firm, Built environment, business, Creativity, design, Frank Gehry, Gehry
Unlike the stock market, which is setting at record highs, the housing market has yet to recover from the depths of the last recession. While real estate sales and prices are trending higher and are clearly better off than they were a few years (or even months) ago, a full recovery is still far off.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it gives more people more time to take advantage of still low prices and interest rates. Nor is it a good thing, since it means as much as one-third of current homeowners are still underwater with their mortgages (eg. they owe more than the property is worth).
But with prices up, inquiries on the rise, and the spring selling season in full gear, it remains to be seen how this uptrend will play out.
For this installment of Investing 101, Shari Olefson, noted real estate attorney and author of the new book Financial Fresh Start, walks us through the basics of renting versus buying when it comes to making the investment of a lifetime.
1) Follow the “Rule of 15”
Before you make the decision to rent or buy, Olefson offers this rule of thumb: “If you can buy a home in your area for less than 15-times what your annual rent is, than financially it makes much more sense to buy than to rent.”
For example, if you pay $2,000 a month in rent (or $24,000 a year), she says the basic buy-rent cutoff price would be $360,000.
However, she warns that if rental rates in your area are abnormally high or the home you are looking at will need repairs, you must factor that in. Of course, she says “this is only one of several factors to consider,” but adds it is still “a great line in the sand” for narrowing down your initial search.
2) Determine What You Can Afford
Olefson says affordability is another key variable to consider. As a rough guideline, she suggests looking at properties that cost no more than 2.5 to 3 times your annual income on housing.
More…Even if you wanted to spend more, she says the mortgage market has changed drastically and financing requirements are much more strict.
“How you look on paper, what your credit looks like, and do you have the 20% down payment,” are also going to be factors of affordability to consider, as will your employment history.
3) Market Conditions
Whether you rent or buy, the laws of supply and demand certainly apply to housing prices. Right now, Olefson says for a number of reasons, there are simply fewer houses for sale than usual.
“We have four months worth of inventory right now, normally we have over six months,” she says, “that’s about a 25% decrease from this time last year, which is huge and what is driving those prices up.”
To be fair, she conceded part of the reason there are so few listings is because so many sellers are unsure about the market right now and whether or not they want to be in it. Still you have to be careful since national statistics smooth over some of the big statistical differences that vary from market to market, such as foreclosure and unemployment rates.
4) When to Become a Tenant Again
“The same formulas apply,” Olefson says, but that is really “a lifestyle feature” type of question; such as whether or not you may be moving or retiring in the near future. Even so, she says it’s a good idea to look at the local market and familiarize yourself with prices and rents and then run the numbers to see if ”it makes more sense to rent or to own your own home.”
Watch video at source Yahoo Finance
More interns are employed and getting licensed than during the throes of the recession. Read article http://www.aia.org/practicing/AIAB098254
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architecture, Architecture billings index, David McFadden, design, jobs, recession, unemployed architects
After Sandy, the lifeguard stations on New York’s beaches were destroyed. But these new versions are built to withstand a storm–and might be a model for how to think about building better for the future.
Garrison Architects has created a plan to introduce net-zero energy, flood-resistant, modular structures along the beaches of Coney Island, Staten Island, and Rockaway Beach
Jim Garrison is a busy man. Just before Christmas, his architecture firm got a call from New York City officials asking if he could design and build nearly 50 lifeguard stations and other beach structures to replace the ones wiped out by Sandy. The one catch: The new units needed to open to the public in five months, on Memorial Day weekend, the symbolic start to summer.
The new structures will be constructed in a factory offsite, and later installed into site-specific support structures and access ramps on the beaches. Relying on quick-to-install modular structures in the future might serve as the foundation for the reconstruction of whole neighborhoods (as opposed to throwaway, temporary trailers).
When Garrison Architects needed shop drawings done so the contractor could begin fabrication, they called Consulting For Architects (CFA) to find them an architect to execute the drawings. “Within 24-hours, we closed the deal with Garrison Architects and a talented CFA Consultant who started this week.” stated CFA owner David McFadden.
Since then, “it’s been a wild ride,” Garrison told me over the phone on Tuesday. After 40 days worth of 16-hour planning sessions, Garrison Architects emerged with a plan to introduce net-zero energy, flood-resistant, modular structures along the beaches of Coney Island, Staten Island, and Rockaway Beach. He says his designs are not only economical and aesthetically interesting– but could help lay new groundwork for the way that cities respond to climate change-related disasters in the future, by relying on quick-to-install modular structures that serve as the foundation for the reconstruction of whole neighborhoods (as opposed to throwaway, temporary trailers).
Better lifeguard stations are nice, but their design could also help lay new groundwork for the way that cities respond to climate change-related disasters in the future
He says the initiative is the first time he can think of that any American city is “confronting the reality of starting to build infrastructure that can deal with these enormous storms and can live beyond them.”
Garrison’s designs for new lifeguard stations, comfort stations, and beach offices include a number of features that make them both flood-resistant and sustainable: they’re elevated above the new FEMA storm surge numbers, and they rely on photovoltaics, solar hot water heating, and skylight ventilators as part of a net-zero energy system. The wood siding was salvaged from boardwalks wiped out by Sandy.
The project also involves relandscaping the beaches, reintroducing dunes in certain places to help protect the shore, and eliminating boardwalks. “The waves basically just roll under [boardwalks] and sometimes take them away with them,” Garrison says.
The new structures will be constructed in a factory offsite, and later installed into site-specific support structures and access ramps on the beaches. According to a briefing by Garrison’s firm, “New York has only a handful of modular buildings, such as low-income trailer housing or modular classrooms, most of which essentially qualify as manufactured boxes on chassis, not unique designs. Our modules are a premier example of cutting edge modular building practices and sustainable design solutions for the future.”
The new buildings are elevated above the new FEMA storm surge numbers, and they rely on photovoltaics, solar hot water heating, and skylight ventilators as part of a net-zero energy system. The wood siding was salvaged from boardwalks wiped out by Sandy
What’s perhaps more impressive than the speed of the design is the way the city’s bureaucracy got out of the way to let the project unfold under tight deadlines. “I’ve never seen anything like it on [the city’s] part,” Garrison says (and he’s been designing buildings in New York for more than three decades).
Garrison hopes that the project serves as a model for disaster rebuilding efforts in the future, when it’s possible that Sandy-strength storms will be the norm. “Next time it hits, can we mobilize [modular design] as disaster housing? And I mean good stuff–not FEMA trailers that make people sick, stuff people can really live in for the long term?” Garrison wonders. “This is a way to build in an era of congestion, ecological challenges, and the need for permanence.”
Credit Zak Stone
Zak Stone is a staff writer at Co.Exist and a co-founder of Tomorrow Magazine.
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