Saturday, December 29, 2012

Advice for An Aspiring Architect

In December of 1931, as the Great Depression took hold, a young man by the name of Richard Crews wrote to a number of prominent architecture firms in the city of Chicago. Soon to enter the profession himself, Crews was curious to learn about an established architect's typical working day, and so sent letters to local masters of the trade to find out from the best possible source. Four incredibly gracious responses arrived, including the one below; a letter filled with honest, sage and extremely quotable advice from Charles Morgan, a highly regarded architectural artist who in the '20s and '30s provided renderings for a number of large firms such as  Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Dear Richard Crews:

I am sorry to be delayed these few days in answering your letter of Dec. 21st but I shall hasten and do it before the new year. 

Of course, you would be more interested in what an architect does in a day's work in normal times, than now. So if you will excuse the liberty I shall make the discussion, or at least the answer, on what an architect should do in a day's work. 

An architect should, unless it is impossible, answer his mail the first thing in the morning. Then his mind is free to plan and design upon the problems of his clients. He goes to work planning from within outward just as truly as from the ground upward. There are very few real architects who get big jobs because it is only the politician who gets big jobs, and the politician never has time to be an architect. So by all means the architect should learn to do small jobs well, because of the very fact that if he is sincere he shall probably never get big ones. 

The architect should always remember that Jesus was an architect and that to be entitled to the same name he should love truth and beauty above all else. 

An architect is too busy to bother much about luncheon. A sandwich at noon is enough. He draws or builds models most of the day because that is an aid to his imagination. Imagination is the only quality that is creative. 

Above all else the artist must not copy. Imitate nothing except principle. That is best understood by reading such as Henry Thoreau's "Walden" and of the lives of great people. 

A real architect like a good man in any business does not waste any time whatever doing things of which he might be ashamed. He must above all be a sincere artist. 

I congratulate you upon your choice and sincerely wish you much strength and happiness. Make no compromise from that which you know is right. 

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'Charles Morgan, Chicago Associate of Frank Lloyd Wright.')

December 30, 1931

Building In Nature

The act of building can be brutal.
When I build on a site in nature that is totally unspoiled, it is a fight, and attack by our culture.
In this confrontation, I strive to make a building that will make people more aware of the beauty of the setting, and when looking at the building, a hope for a new consciousness to see the beauty there as well.

I think sometimes I have a deal with the climate,
The nature,
And the topography.
It is important to get a dialogue between nature and creative life.
It is curious to say it, but at the same times the dialogue between the past and the present also has to be manifested.

by Sverre Fehn

The Unconventional Approach

I could never have had a conventional career in architecture.
I think you do have to take a certain risk.
You have to make a decision when you leave school whether you are going to risk it or play it safe;
That is really fundamental, the main thing.
If you can take risks, I think it is worthwhile.

by Zaha Hadid

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Architecture: The Dented Wall

What does an architect do?
The idealistic answer would be: to build a building.
The realistic answer would be: to sit in an office figuring the yet to build building.

What is the significant of both statements which seem to be the same?
I think first of its simplicity of the idealistic answer. Architect's job yet simple in the definition, it is complex in execution. Ideally it should be so, realistically it was so.
Now, in our current state of practice, in our epoch which is the early 21st century, we complicate the job definition for ourselves, the architects, yet what we do is so specialized that it is much simpler practically comparing to the real practice of past, the ideal practice of today.

I am trying to record my experience in the construction site, hoping that my one year stay at my current work place would not change my idea of Architecture.

I like the purity of material and construction.
The material has soul. The process of construction is an act and effort put in by the craftsman, it should be revealed. These are among many the legacy left by the Modernists.
I think it sounds brilliant, but I know it is quite impractical. Impractical not because of it is not doable, but the architects lack dedication and patience to see it through, and have it carried out.
A broad themes I am proposing here in this paragraph. I think of one day, if I still remember it, I shall expand on this.

Back on the title of The Dented Wall.
Today, during my site inspection walk around, I saw it. I saw The Dented Wall by nail or screw, I am not quite sure which to be exact. In a conventionally wrong practice, the workers would plaster the dented wall with certain kind of paste depending on the nature of the wall, obvious we cannot use the same universal paste plaster for steel and wood and concrete. The Dented Wall, though has been plastered, the first cover, then painted, the second plaster, it is still visible to my eyes. I have sharp eyes by training and, I think, so should every architect have trained sharp eyes.
I hate The Dented Wall for perfection and design reason. It is fine if I designed The Dented Wall, but in this case it is clearly a flaw in construction. Such mistake is intolerable. I also hate the fact of covering for it does not reveal the process of construction.
Arguably, covering can be excused if it is the design intention and also provided that the architect knows the contractor has a good painter in his disposal. But, of course, being a lousy architect, my current office knows not.

Back to The Dented Wall, yet again to make my point.
Whose fault is it?
Now, most architects will agree that it is the fault of the contractor unable to carry out or to produce decent workmanship. Most architects are lousy architects.
We, as architects, should have ourselves to blame on this matter. It is our moral conduct and architectural duty to be introspective. We should not blame others before we introspect ourselves.
I am not arguing that the contractor is not to be blamed, I am trying to make my point that before we start to blame the contractor, we should inspect ourselves on what could have we done.
To design such a lousy thing is the architect's fault. Why do the architects allow themselves to design a wall that need to be plastered and painted?
There are a lot of flaws in the design, yet I observe the architects blaming the contractor. Where lies our fairness as an architect? Should we not be the fair judge on our design and construction? If we always blame others for our own fault, how are we supposed our profession to be taken seriously?
We have lesser and lesser significance in society because of these mediocre architects sprawling practicing Architecture.

The Dented Wall has taught me so.