Greetings, fellow earthlings. I am blogging from Southwest, Texas this weekend, writing this post while hanging out in a local coffee shop and hotel lobby while my family attends a nearby music festival. I’m a music-lover, too, and would like to attend if it weren’t for the extreme heat that seems to bother me more lately.
Global warming (another loaded term)… and a nice segue into this month’s topic for Architalks #13: “Citizen Architect.” (please see my special note below, at the end of this post).
Citizens and architects. Architects sometimes feel that we are ‘above the law’ in terms of design. And we are – or we have to be – in order to bring imaginations to life. Sometimes we’re so busy designing that we forget we are citizens, too. In architecture design school, for example, groomed by well-meaning professors, we’re taught to believe that “we are little gods”, the design connoisseurs of the built environment. (Note: I could not locate the source of this quote– so my kudos to whoever was first to coin the phrase (‘architects are taught that we are little gods”).
Since the heyday of the Big 80’s Post-Modern Starchitecture, there has been a sea change over the past two decades and our profession has gone from shunning the input of mere bystanders (i.e. end-users– aka people) to embracing the necessary politics of the “community architect”, e.g. a community leader who can effectively communicate with the various players of any public project and create a cohesive design and see that it gets built close to budget, almost on time, and possibly earning LEED Platinum accreditation.
You can Google the following people/terms and read about their contributions to this new way of practicing architecture: Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio, Rick Fedrizi and the USGBC green movement, and now ILBI.
From my perspective, having ventured into the healthcare arena from 1993 to 2002, this sea change has been surreal. To get a glimpse of how far we’ve come, here is a brief bullet-point timeline of my very early forays into the world of architecture. I’m providing this as a way of presenting over-arching themes that I think all Americans have experienced:
In the spring of 1974 or so, my Dad hired someone to dig a huge hole in our backyard in preparation for a summer garden. I never understood why we needed a huge hole dug. And then a pile of dirt was delivered and plopped right behind our garage (not sure if these two events are related) but– I do know that we eventually had a thick layer of topsoil spread on top of it and then, finally, the tilling and planting of seeds. But while the hole was there, I saw an immediate opportunity to finally build that fort all of us kids in the neighborhood wanted. I reasoned: we already had the floor and the four walls; all we lacked were the roofing materials long enough to span the length and width of the hole- which was (in retrospect) about 20’ wide and 30’ long. I searched the garage and found a long wooden ladder that we used to access the attic (I was certain mom would miss that key item) and we had exactly two 2×4’s, and a few spare lightweight aluminum framed window screens. But none of these items were long enough.. We needed a support at midpoint and there was the problem of needing some crates to serve as a floor rather than a mud hole. I knew plywood would be expensive and my mom would never take me to the lumber yard to buy such. What I decided I really needed were a few pieces of those lightweight opaque-looking pale greenish colored corrugated plastic roofing sheets that I saw in other people’s back patios, the poor man’s carport. Surely somebody had some spare ones lying around. They seemed durable enough to act as a roof but not claustrophobia-inducing and they seemed affordable and light enough for a 10 year-old to lift.
Around the same time, around 1975,I had discovered my parents’ old builders and architectural “lookbooks” in the lower level utility closet. I pored over them and they inspired me to design my own residential floor plans and elevations using my dad’s engineer’s quadrille pads which were in abundant supply around the house (he was an electrical engineer at Rockwell, Int’l). The grander the design, the better it seemed to me.
I always loved running errands with my mom, driving around in different zip codes: admiring the different homes– the bigger the house and the deeper the front yard, the better.
I created the game of “office”, a builder’s office, to be exact–but admittedly, I had a hard time recruiting my younger brother and neighbor kids to play. Seemed they found it boring and didn’t have time to wait on me to create a specific new design for them. Plus, they really didn’t have a need for my design services. Seemed they could care less about what their future dream home might look like. So, undeterred, I set out some initial preparations and gave my make-believe ‘clients’ three choices of house styles: English Tudor, Spanish, and Traditional. I preferred pitched roofs over flat- unless it was for a terrace over a carport. Only then could it be flat. And of course they could be two-story or ranch but never split-levels as I detested those (because I lived in one and I associated them with lower incomes). So I guess it didn’t take architecture school to make me into an aesthete.
In 1979 and 1980 The Ohio State Fairgrounds was the site of the first full-scale ‘earth berm’ house; my parents were all excited about it as by then it was set that I’d be majoring in architecture. I couldn’t wait to tour it. I suppose this house was in response to the Energy Crises in the mid-70’s and was coming on the tails of popular culture phenomena of “earth shoes, pet rocks, atriums, terrariums, and macrame wall-hangings among other things like Grape Nuts and Yule Gibbons. It was the Hippy Movement 2.0– but, unfortunately, it didn’t last. When Leonid Brezhnev failed to nuke us, and as Disco reigned, we decided we all wanted to live the “Sporty Life.” Syanara, fears of gas shortages and, ironically, “acid rain.”
I went to the Ohio State fairgrounds that summer to tour the house but was disappointed. It did not relate to the site (how could it, being plopped down on a parking lot near a telephone pole along the fairgrounds midway). All I remember about it was it was an all-white, modern-looking tent-like “house” with an atrium, a Kitchen, a floor plan layout like any other typical suburban home. The only “neat” gadget was something about how the lights switched on and off– but, I missed that detail. Overall, if that was what architecture was all about, I didn’t want anything to do with it. In researching Google last night, I found a link to the architect’s website- yes, the gentleman who designed that specific original “earth berm” house (please see Editorial note below). Here’s a link to his website: www.undergroundhomes.com. Interestingly, he answers a question that’s been plaguing me for years: what happened to the earth berm house (and other sustainable movements) that sprouted up in the 1970s and died out? He gives 3 reasons why they had to disband their company: “1) interest rates under the Carter Administration had reached 22%, 2) the news media began to discuss earth homes and energy-efficiency less and less each year and 3) unfortunately, most of the people who contacted us proved to be sort of “information junkies” that we never heard from again, once we sent them our original materials.”” He goes on to write: “ I said good-bye to earth sheltered design for 20 years and worked for architectural firms in Dallas, Texas, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio on various traditional “above ground” structures such as hotels…”
As I grew older, my grand plans further gave way to the reality of high school “Drafting Class” where I was one of 3 or 4 girls (quite a few considering those days). What annoyed me most was the lackadaisical attitude of the instructor. He didn’t seem to care what we were doing from day to day. So I took home the 1950s textbook and attempted to teach myself. I would re-draw some of the 3-d images for practice but I had no idea what the lines meant. I did learn about the triangular layout for the optimum kitchen. Things began to look up when a real world architect came to visit and talked about “sexy ideas” and we were tasked with designing a bird aviary at The Columbus Public Zoo. We went on a self-guided field trip, a handful of classmates and me, driving ourselves up there to check out the zoo site; it was a bitter cold February Saturday. Sadly, we never followed through with creating any designs. I don’t think we knew where to begin. The older I was getting, the more my ideas began to shrink, it seemed.
So, what does all this mean? I don’t know. I just enjoy taking trips down memory lane and thinking about the overall scheme of things.
As part of my research for writing this post, I purchased Eric Cesal’s book “Down Detour Road” on Kindle so I could read his chapters on “Citizen Architect” and “How To Make A Golf Course Green.” I highly recommend you check it out. I also bought the Kindle version of Randy Deutsch’s “BIM and Integrated Design” looking for a particular quote but did not find it. Instead, I found this quote which fits this topic”
“The most problematic architects I have worked with don’t see themselves as architects. They see themselves as artists.” — Jack Hungerford, PhD
I don’t totally agree with that quote ( especially when it’s taken out of context- as I’ve done here). David Zach (@DavidZach on Twitter), a Futurist and prior AIA Board Member is often encouraging architects to move away from “thinking in boxes” and rise above the minimum standards of building codes and lists. I do agree with that. So, there needs to be a balance.
Racing forward from pre-9/11 days to now, what’s going on? Well, everything. As Scott Simpson of @dinet has noted: “Architecture is experiencing an earthquake,” (horribly paraphrased by me). The point is, architects are now feeling pressure to learn BIM, design better, meet increasing client demands, work at sub-par remuneration rates, and address sustainability issues that even scientists fail to agree on.
There are some leaders in the field who are rising to the occasion and I had the privilege of talking to one via a Twitter exchange yesterday: Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and now founder of @dosmallworks. His recent lauded accomplishment was designing moveable tent-like temporary structures for a Refugee Camp in Jordan, just outside of Syria. In an 08/27/2015 article, an exclusive interview with @dezeen, Sinclair is quoted as saying:
“Design isn’t only about aesthetics, it’s about problem solving and we have a planet plagued with problems,”…”The human race is an endangered species and unless we treat it like one and we use our skills for it then we’re fucked.”
He also said of his career (my favorite quote yet):
“I will never do a skyscraper in my life ever, I’m going to die happy knowing that.”… “And I am never going to win the Pritzker Prize, I’m going to die happy knowing that.”
Well, that may be. But I would personally vote for him and I hereby nominate him as “Citizen Starchitect.” (I hope he doesn’t take offense at the “starchitect” part.)
***Editorial Note: In response to my above post, Lance Hosey, (@LanceHosey), Architect, designer, and Chief Sustainability Officer at Perkins Eastman, generously pointed out to me via a Twitter convo that the “earth berm house” at The Ohio State Fair noted above was not the first one ever designed. (Obviously, as I had over-simplified in my haste). He stated: “That architect didn’t invent earth homes. They’re ancient (e.g. Icelandic turf houses).” And he continued in a subsequent Tweet to further clarify with: “And Michael Reynolds and others did them earlier than 1977.” I stand corrected and clarified. Thank you.
Thank you for reading my contribution to the 13th Edition of #Architalks, a volunteer consortium of architects who blog about a shared topic usually chosen by Bob Borson, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP (author of Life of an Architect blog) and creator of the #Architalks series; you can follow our posts on Twitter using that hashtag (#Architalks). I encourage you to take a look at the unique perspectives presented by the posts from the rest of the gang; links to their blogs are listed below for your convenience…
Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Citizen Architect … Seems Redundant
Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Good Citizen Architect
Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Does it Mean to be a Citizen Architect?
Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
small town citizen architect
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: The everyday citizen architect
Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Citizen Architect: #architalks
Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Architect as Citizen
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
My Hero – Citizen Architect
Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
We are the Champions – Citizen Architects
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Meet Jane Doe, Citizen Architect
Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
Architalks #13: How Can I Be But Just What I Am?
Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Help with South Carolina’s Recovery Efforts
brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Senior Citizen, Architect
Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Citizen Architect – Form out of Time
Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[cake decorating] to [citizen architect]
Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Citizen Architect #ArchiTalks
Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Citizen of Architecture
Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)
Protecting the Client – 3 Ways to be a Citizen Architect
Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Courtney Casburn Brett – Casburn Brett (@CasburnBrett)
“Citizen Architect” + Four Other Practice Models Changing Architecture
Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
How Architects Can Be Model Citizens
Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Citizen Architect: The Last Responder
Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Inspiring a Citizen Architect