Monday, December 31, 2007

Year End Review

On the last day of the year, I thought I’d finally get back to posting. One of many resolutions I hope to fulfill in this upcoming year.

Typically, the year end signals a time for everyone to reflect on the great and glorious things that have past. There are the lists of bests, lists of worsts, lists of favorites, lists of so many things that are meant to summarize why this year might be memorable to future generations.

This little blog has been going on for a little more than two years; it was started on a whim, to chronicle thoughts that had, for the most part, sat idly in my head, taking up some much needed space. So out they came, these notions and ideas and opinions, a way to clear out my mind and clear up my mind. Things are a lot easier to reconcile when they are put into words. At least for me.

I might recall this past year most for marking my transition from student to working professional. Or as professional as one can be beginning their first job. To ensure that I would not get dooced, I have been rather vague about the job. But I can, at least, note the lessons learned moving from the studio to the office. A reminder to myself of what I should have learned.

Lesson one: You can be too productive.

In school, I poured myself into work. And even then, there were times when it wasn’t enough. When I started my job, I brought with me that same intensity, which left me pretty much a dried up prune come mid-year. I learned that, when you give yourself to your work, they only ask for more, rather than acknowledging your effort. And once you’ve set a level of productivity, they’ll push for more, expect more, until you realize you just can’t do it. Which leads to….

Lesson two: No is a word that you must learn to deftly use.

I never used to say “no”. It wasn’t the way I was taught. You took on whatever your boss/superior/teacher told you, and always with a smile. That was the way to show respect, to be a good employee. But, what I learned very quickly is that, without using “no” once in a while, those above you will constantly place more on you. Not because they are lazy or demanding, but because you haven’t communicated clearly what your own limits are. A good boss will respect your “no” if you have clearly stated why you needed to use it. A bad boss with probably resent you for saying it, but at least leave you alone. Either way, you’ve made it clear that you’ve hit your threshold. It saves your sanity.

Lesson three (a): Creative clients are great clients.

Working with people who are constantly questioning, thinking, designing broadens your own pool of ideas. They challenge you to challenge yourself. They bring to the table new inspirations, materials, approaches. They make you remake yourself.

Lesson three (b): Creative clients are pain in the ass clients.

They change their mind, swap proposed finishes for things they “just found” and often have something “in mind”. You may propose something, and they might like it. But then you’ll hear, “it’s just not, well, right for the brand”.

Lesson four: It is often you against the machine.

Be it AutoCAD, which I’ve been able to crash on multiple occasions, or the hassles of printing, this is the age of digital production. Hand drafting is now a “rendering skill” used to “warm things up”.

Lesson five: Getting out of the office is good.

Sure site visits are fast. But they are like school field trips - except you get paid to attend these ones.

Lesson six: Liking work is thirty percent based upon the work you do and seventy percent based upon the people you work with. (At least so far, in my experience)

I work with great people. I like seeing them day in and day out. It makes those long nights a lot easier to handle. Especially when you have a number of them.

Finally, Lesson seven (you know, since it is 2007): The difference between my life now and my life as a student isn’t great.

The only difference now? I have prescribed office hours now, rather than personal ones.

So there it is: my recap of my first year here in this crazy city, the first year of my “career”. Here’s hoping that your own year was filled with lessons, good and bad, that have set you down a path towards something remarkable. Can’t say if I am on one of those paths myself, but maybe having written some more things down, I’ll be closer to figuring it out. See you on the flip side.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Age of Invention

Having spent a significant amount of flying in the last few weeks, I couldn’t help but marvel at the contraption I found myself in. This sleek aluminum cage facilitated the travel of great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. It allowed me to get to places that, a century ago, would be impossible given my short window of opportunity. And, as I looked out the window, at the tiny dots of lights, of houses and cars, lighting up the black landscape below, I couldn’t help but think of how great our leaps have been in certain fields.

Invention has been a hallmark of this century. Transportation, manufacturing, media – all have undergone radical transformations. I still can’t believe that, less than a decade ago, a cell phone was considered the luxury of corporate elite. Now, I don’t even own a land line.

There’s no denying that this march forward has dramatically affected Architecture. The way we practice, the way we work and design, it all has changed. The mouse is now our rapidiograph, our screen, our drafting table.

Yet, as much as our modes and methods have changed, Architecture, it could be argued, has not. Sure, we build taller, bigger, faster. New materials and construction techniques have allowed for our current age of megastructures. But, beyond the gloss of new, the veneer that flashes itself across glossy pages in magazines, has Architecture really evolved?

Stripped of the embellishment, the spaces created from all this new technology are rarely revolutionary. The pancake model of construction, which typifies so much of the modern skyscraper or mega-monolith create the same box, only repeated at a scale not seen before. I guess that’s something. But is it enough?

I remember watching The Jetsons as a kid. Sure it was a trippy cartoon of a future many years from now, rendered in a 50’s era doo-whoop motel style, but it was a visionary one. It imagined life lived in a remarkable, transformed way. And it was communicated, in part, by the architecture that surrounded them.

But, have you looked around? Just in this crazy city, there are dozens of new condo units rising on every available lot, skyscrapers shooting up left and right. They all tout new amenities, new ideas for living, lifestyles for this new age. They all market themselves as unique, revolutionary, transformative. And then you look at the floor plans, the renderings for their “amazing” living spaces. Notice anything? How the floorplans are all the same – some variation of squares, with “open concept” living space? How the finishes usually include some type of streamlined cabinet, dark wood bottom and glass fronted top, with stainless steel appliances, granite or some stone countertop, and glass tile backslash? And, of course, the wall of windows, floor to ceiling, which in concept are wonderful and airy, and never shown with the window coverings that will, on the second day, appear to screen out the hundreds of eyes capable of looking into your slice of new generica? Your millions have bought you what? The same space as those on floors above and below you? Unique indeed.

This is not just the case in cities, contained to these glowing glass boxes. Look at the houses in suburbs across the country. Floorplans repeated over and over again, masked with stucco or wood or brick or siding to give a sense of ownership, of being different. Yet nothing so dramatic as to quell that sense of déjà vu, of thinking, I’m sure I’ve been here before. Because without that feeling, then how could you sell the home as welcoming, comfortable, “homey”.

Maybe a revolution is coming. Maybe it can’t happen. The way we eat, sleep, live both drives and is driven by our surroundings. It’s another chicken and egg scenario; do we try to change the way people live, or do we respond to the changes people are making? And if changes are coming, will the lead to a Jetsonian future? Or will it be something like we have now?

There is no denying that Architecture has progressed, has changed. But when the sketches of visionaries a century ago seem to match the renderings of buildings being planned and built today, it seems like we may want to imagine, for a new century, what Architecture may become.