AIA Look Up Film Challenge

Don’t have 4th of July plans?

Why not channel your inner-filmmaker and enter the AIA’s “Look Up Film Challenge?”

A part of the AIA’s recent “I look up” campaign, the AIA is looking for submissions of short, 3-5 minute films from teams of 1-3 person collaborations that “illuminates how architecture enriches our lives and our communities.”

Register by July 15th to receive the AIA’s “secret prompt” on July 17th. Winners will be notified in September and earn an award of a cool $3000, two SXSW Film Festival Badges, two round-trip flights to Austin, Texas, a one-on-one session with a media professional, and national distribution of their film.

For more information as well as an inspiring example story featuring Chris Downey, an architect that returned to practice after losing his sight, go here: http://ilookup.org/filmchallenge/.

Happy filming, and Happy Fourth of July!

The Long (and Short) Of Things

A few years ago, I read a piece by David Brooks entitled “The Summoned Self” that has remained fresh and relevant as time and life continue on.  Given what I believe is a relevant message for young professionals, and  really people of any age or stage of life, this blog post is my personal reinterpretation and synthesis of Brooks’ piece, through the lens of my own life and experiences as a millennial and person experiencing rapid-fire change both professionally and personally.

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Having lost a parent at a fairly early age, I am constantly trying to reconcile my long and short-term goals and views, both personally and professionally. This often looks like an internal dialogue that mimics a pendulum swinging between thoughts regarding “live in the present moment and enjoy it to its fullest” to the extreme of “what do I really want to accomplish—to achieve in my lifetime?”

Having discussed these states of being with many friends and colleagues, in many different contexts and subtexts, it seems this oscillation between the quotidian and the profound, the domestic and the daring, is fairly universal.

More simply said, it seems that having to decide on the “best” decision at a certain moment versus the long-term impact this decision might have when paired with subsequent decisions is simply a necessary feat in order to live from one day to the next.

While I might conclude that there is really no option but to act on the decision that elicits the most confidence and to then proceed with unflappable conviction, I believe that perhaps one of the biggest challenges young professionals must face is how to balance the two—i.e. to accept a healthy amount of organic evolution of their career and life while still steering their ship towards long-term goals that align with personal ambitions and aspirations.

As it’s graduation season, it’s perhaps best to illustrate this idea when considering one’s initial departure from academic life. After graduating from academia, this line of dual decision-making becomes omnipresent. It is also at this time that a legible fork in the road becomes highly visible.

What does this fork look like, you might ask, and where do the roads lead?

Speaking only from personal experience, watching myself and peers figure out our own “paths” post graduation, years later these roads continue to look like two different approaches to what I still hope will be a similar outcome.

The first is the pursuit of what might best be called a “set course,” inclusive of a decided upon career, place to settle, and ultimately—a multidimensional life comprised of what one might consider “predictable” decision making. In many ways this path is the foundation of American life in the mid 20th century; a time when pursuing a “stable” career and domestic bliss would lead to known “success” related to specific decisions and actions (some might still refer to this as one manifestation of “the American dream.”)

The second path, which seems increasingly popular in this mobile and global lifetime, looks more like a Robert Frost poem. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Perhaps the first true millennial, Frost might have suggested that exploring a new path is a chance to explore and evolve, all the while not really knowing what the set outcome might be, but pursuing one decision to the next in order to find out.

At the precipice of my 30’s, I’m finding that the paths of the millennial generation, both “less” and/or “more” traveled, are beginning to converge (after a decade of what one might only describe as exciting divergence.)

While some of my contemporaries chose to settle into careers and family life shortly after school, they are now in many ways beginning their Frost-like journeys, having achieved success at an early age. Others continue to explore, waiting to see where they land. The majority, it seems, are still in the middle, starting to make decisions that might lead to less physical movement and a greater sense of investment in people and place, but all the while trying to stay cognizant of which way the scales his/her decisions might tip; short and long, present and future.

Revisiting Wright

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Many posts ago I eluded to a rather embarrassing moment in my career development, but never quite disclosed the full story.  Months later, an experience has prompted me to tell the story in-full, if only to set the scene for a recent trip I took with Knoll and several other local Denver designers to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, studio, architecture school, and in many ways, complete Xanadu in the Arizona desert.

 So here goes…

If the diversity in age and educational background of my M.Arch class is any indication, it’s evident that a calling to become an architect finds people at many different ages and stages of life. From a 40-something former computer programmer to a 30-something friend that had studied medicine and law before deciding on architecture (rounded out with classmates including a physicist, mathematician, and environmental designer,) our past vocations and interests ran the gamut of possible professions and passions.

My calling to become an architect came twice. First, as a young child with a preference for building with blocks rather than Barbies, and consistently requesting that my parents and I go for walks to “look at houses.” Throughout school, when given an open-ended assignment, most of my papers were written on various architectural topics. From a research paper on Julia Morgan to a humanities project in which I “recreated” Frank Lloyd Wright’s sketchbook over a 10 year period, my love of architecture remained present throughout my academic development.

All this changed when I discovered school “politics.” After pursuing school president and working on some local political campaigns, around the time to apply to college I decided confidently on the George Washington University, where I might hone my skills in the sociopolitical sphere.

Fully accepted and with my first deposit in place, my family and I went on a last hurrah family vacation during spring break of my senior year. My parents had planned a great trip to Arizona- exploring Phoenix, Scottsdale, staying in a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, and later exploring the stratified landscape of Sedona.

Where it all began...

Where it all began…

One stop on our vacation led us to Taliesin West. Fast forward from parking to sitting in the first stop on the tour; Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal studio. As a full group of about 25 people looked on, our youthful 80 year old docent began explaining the unique environment that Wright created. Several minutes into this speech I began to cry. Not quiet, muffled tears, but true, loud, ugly sobs.

In perhaps what might be one of the very few epiphanies I might have in this lifetime, all of my ambitions and aspirations to become an architect became apparent at this moment.

To the chagrin of my younger sister, and the beckoning calls of my mother that I was already accepted at GW and that I should not apply to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, I left Taliesin with a complete change in mind and attitude regarding my future academic and professional course.

While I ultimately did not attend Wright’s school (and was consequently not required to build my own dwelling place first semester), I did end up pursuing art, art history, and English in college, all the while building a portfolio to attend architecture school on the graduate level.

Currently I have one more ARE and I will finally be allowed to say that I fulfilled a dream to become an Architect (with a capital A!) rooted in a meandering path and a powerful moment of understanding.

As you can imagine, given the opportunity to revisit Wright, I felt both trepidation and excitement. Would I feel sentimental, inspired, or-least desirable—underwhelmed? Having been taught to accept and give constructive criticism at a moment’s notice, would I feel critical of a place that at one time felt magical for reasons both tangible and inexplicable?

Thankfully upon experiencing a tour as an older version of my rather consistent self, I felt both the nostalgia I had anticipated, as well as a deeper connection to why the tour had been special the first time around.

The man himself...

The man himself…

While I am not a Wright zealot by any means, being in an environment entirely curated by one individual’s subscription to a specific way of life communicated through design still proved to be visually and conceptually fascinating, especially given the small chance a place like Taliesin could ever be realized in today’s society (building code alone would drastically change the aesthetics and proportions.)

Wright’s vision to create an environment that is school, residence, museum, not to mention a living laboratory that continues to facilitate experimentation and a special appreciation of nature, art, and culture remains highly relevant.  In most architecture studios today, these principles remain an important cornerstone in how designers think about thoughtfully integrating nature into the built world (and vice versa.)

As we drove to the airport from the landmark, I felt appreciative of the opportunity to see something of personal significance twice in my life, not to mention at vastly different stages of life. Not only was it a moment to reflect, but also a moment to acknowledge that for me personally, intuition and accepting life’s obvious and subtle cues remains an equally important part in decision-making as reason.

Something tells me Wright might agree.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach To Architecture

Partners

Audrey and Alex Worden, recent Boulder transplants and multidisciplinary designers

Is Boulder the new Brooklyn?

I had to ask myself this question after my first meeting with recent Colorado transplants and designers, Alex and Audrey Worden. Co-founders of the Boulder-based design firm, Studio TJOA, Alex and Audrey left their jobs at Enclos in New York and moved West after Alex landed a job with Studio NYL, a progressive structural engineering firm based out of Boulder, Colorado.

With hopes of finding home in a new city with the presence of an emerging design community balanced with a tangible ease of living and creating, in the few short months since their move Alex and Audrey have already become contributors to the design, parametric, and maker communities that continue to grow rapidly both in Denver and Boulder.

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Lily pad by TJOA

With Alex’s background in architecture and Audrey’s education in product design, Alex continues to explore the synergies between architecture and structural engineering for NYL, while Audrey continues to explore design, fabrication, and representation through a wide range of scales and media.

Having both explored alternative career paths than their traditional architecture and design backgrounds might prescribe, Alex and Audrey serve as co-authors of this week’s post, exploring the benefits of multidisciplinary architecture and the opportunities it might provide…

Thanks Alex and Audrey! – Beth Mosenthal, Assoc. AIA

 Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Architecture

by Alex and Audrey Worden

Entering the field of architecture requires years of study, beginning with a foundation comprised of core classes followed by a concentration in art and design, culminating with an intensive focus on architecture. Through this process, the general field of vision becomes narrower and more myopic. Following undergraduate studies, designers generally join firms whose focus is not just on “architecture” in a general sense, but rather a specific practice area such as commercial, residential, transportation, healthcare, etc., design. As a result designers tend to become more specialized.

However, what many students of design education are learning is that there are many career paths that can be launched from a design education.

TJOA_ExpressGlam

“ExpressGlam” product design

The skills learned in an architectural degree program are transferable to many different disciplines. These can include engineering, construction, industrial design, animation, fashion, graphic design, or manufacturing to name a few.

With a wider skill set, designers can be more flexible, often finding meaningful work outside of the traditional architecture practice. For example, after graduate school Audrey worked for a few years as an industrial designer for a branding firm, practicing skills in packaging, product displays, digital and CNC modeling, photography, and photorealistic product rendering. This opened up the opportunity to design a perfume bottle. Such a chance is widely valued by designers and architects of all kinds, but it all came about through the skills Audrey had fostered after studying architecture and digital fabrication.

TJOA_LilypadIn graduate school, Alex took a different approach to his studies. In his thesis, he proposed that the textile technique of crochet can be a perfect analog to the digital parametric tools architects have begun to use and explore. Alex then used the skills he developed from his research of integrating textiles and tools like Rhino and Grasshopper to join a facade contracting firm, Enclos. The experience gained as a facade designer has not only allowed him to gain an in-depth understanding of building enclosure systems but see how parametric modeling can aid in the optimization of the whole construction process from design through field installation.

These types of diverse design experiences can influence a designer’s thought process. For example, having knowledge of structure can streamline decisions during initial design phases, thus saving both time and money as the project progresses. Knowledge of materials and fabrication techniques gained from the industrial design field can allow designers to push the boundaries of these capabilities, extend the life of the building, or make routine maintenance easier.

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These facets of the design field can be learned a multitude of ways and for an infinite number of reasons. Specifically, we both deviated from the traditional approach to architecture. By working at a facade contractor, Alex had the pleasure of working on some high profile projects designed by a number of architects. The biggest benefit to working at Enclos, was having the opportunity to work with many different firms and getting a chance to help them realize their designs. By taking a M.S. Arch., Audrey could specialize in digital fabrication instead of the traditional M.Arch approach to a graduate degree. This allowed for a less rigid approach to architecture, while still being anchored in the field.

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Studio NYL Wall Assembly Study

 

NYL_Rendering

NYL Rendering

Our chosen paths have offered us the flexibility to design on a multitude of scales and explore many different mediums. Our diverse work experience has influenced our approach to design and our ultimately our decision to relocate to Boulder from Brooklyn. We both wanted to live and work in a place that is welcoming and has a community that fosters progressive thought and design. The plasticity offered by the skills we have both cultivated has allowed Alex to join Studio NYL as part of their SKINS Group and Audrey to move her practice, StudioTJOA to Boulder and begin working with groups like Boulder-based Live Architecture Network and aiding other firms with parametric and visualization needs. TJOA_HoneycombJust as the decision to go into architecture is hopefully owned by each individual, it should be remembered that each designer can choose how they want to shape their professional career and praxis. It should be noted that a hands on approach to learning the different facets of construction and design can have a more meaningful impact through practical application rather than study guides, flashcards, and exams can provide.Who knows, if you deviate from the path, you might come across something you never would have thought you would enjoy.

 

“The Problem with Parametricism”- Guest Post by Bill Allen and Tobias Hathorn

Is Colorado the last to jump on the parametric bandwagon?  Here is Bill and Tobias’s demystification of the parametric design process and its seemingly limitless iterative possibilities.. (and by the way, the answer is no, Colorado’s grassroots design community is already on board, with 1-2 people per firm that seem to be familiar with the tools, as well as a handful of fabricators and engineers locally.)  Is that going to be enough to push Colorado’s design forward in terms of form and fabrication?  The jury is still out, but as I see it, the more tools our design and construction community has in their repertoire, the fewer limitations they might have in creating designs that transcend the limitations of software and machines to create design that responds to the needs and potentials of the 21st century.  – Beth Mosenthal, AIA Colorado blog contributor

“The Problem with Parametricism”  by Bill Allen and Tobias Hathorn

Is parametricism the new bee’s knees?  If you have attended or taught at any University in the last 5 years, you are well aware that the University is pushing this idea of parametric model building with their students.  They are using such tools as Grasshopper and Dynamo coupled with Rhino and Revit.  Students are coming out with this knowledge in technology, however you may ask yourself the question as an Architect in this industry, is any of this really applicable to what I do day to day?

Undulating BeamsThis idea of parametricism is in fact is not a new concept at all, but in recent years has definitely become more main stream.  My journey began about 6 years ago when I attended an ACADIA parametricism conference in 2011.  I saw much value in the process during the conference, and decided to build my first parametric model using grasshopper.

My most recent parametric building….(clear throat)…“table” was a Design After Dark project with our team at OZ Architecture.  We used grasshopper to parametrically model a unique profile for every carpet tile.  We also programmed the tool to tag every carpet tile with a unique identifier and layer for fabrication of the table.

Build Table

You may be looking at these images, and saying to yourself, “well it only makes crazy curvy non buildable forms.  It’s great for making a wavy table, but there is no way that this can be applied to buildings”.  Well, allow me to enlighten you on some projects that I have been fortunate enough to work on.

 

 

 

Parametric vehicular canopy using adaptive components and dynamo

CanopyDynamo

Parking garage façade intended to simulate the mountains in Breckenridge,  Colorado

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The Challenges:

These are the challenges I have come across personally when pushing and implementing these concepts in an architectural office.

  1. “It’s not buildable”

Inevitably when I show teams these types of projects, the criticism that comes up is that you can’t document it (or you will spend a long time documenting it) and you certainly can’t build it.  Tools like grasshopper actually offer us some amazing utilities to help us design functional and buildable forms.  Just one simple example of this is the planar test.  How planar is an object?

Planar

Also, digital fabrication has come a long way as well.  Rather than issuing “shop drawings” we can issue a “shop model”, and fabricate directly from a model.

  1. “I don’t want to be a programmer”

Below is a screen shot of the script I used to create the table with the carpet tiles I illustrated earlier.  No doubt at first glance an architectural designer could be turned off by the interface.  Give me Sketchup he or she says.

Grasshoper Script

The interface does take some time, but keep in mind that building an object parametrically gives you the ability to create an enormous amount of design iterations simply by moving graph mappers and slider bars.

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Additionally you can optimize your building design using Computational Design Iterations with Galapagos.

  1. “There’s no community”

With the advent of the internet and meetups exploding, this is no longer the case.  Grasshopper has its own community website at www.grasshopper3d.com.  Additionally in Colorado, we have created the Rocky Mountain Building Information Society (RoMBIS)  Boulder/Denver Meetup.  We recently hosted a discussion around the topic of “Construction and the Utilization of Parametric Technologies”.

RoMBIS Boulder RoMBIS Boulder (NYL)

In conclusion, I believe that there is a vast amount of resources and processes that we in the greater Colorado area have not even begun to scratch the surface on in the context of parametric modeling and Building Information Management.  I would like to invite you personally to come geek out with us at one of the RoMBIS meetups either in Boulder or in Denver.  Our meetups provide food, beverages, and knowledge.  Through your participation, we as a community will have a greater influence on the direction of our society and our industry.