Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Crazy Architecture in Dubai

When I was a kid I read as much science fiction as I could get my hands on by authors such as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Andre Norton, etc.  At the same time, real life magazines like Popular Science, which I consumed like candy, promised a future filled with flying cars, personal robots,  and fantastic architecture.
Magazines like Popular Science were big on modern
architecture and the inventions that went with it.
The covers of pulp science fiction often featured
architectural extravaganzas in futuristic mode.
I also devoured sic-fi movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet (the best movie ever made).  It didn't help that my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Karp, predicted all sorts of inventions that would come about by the time I grew up. Specifically, he said it was all but certain a transporter machine the size of a telephone booth would whisk human beings from one place to another in the same manner a conversation traveled through phone wires.  I am still waiting for this invention to materialize.
Sci-fi movies then and now featured futuristic design. A set from Forbidden Planet, above. 
In other respects, it seems that the science fiction of yesterday is the reality of today.  I marvel that we actually seem to be living in the world of tomorrow. Hand-held computers, personal robots (I have a Rumba that cleans my floors every day), and other stuff of the future is here now.  Even our architecture resembles the cover of a science fiction novel from 1955. Not everywhere, but in many places.  Especially in Dubai with the Burj Kalifa tower, the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel, and the Palm Islands. Now an upcoming project in Dubai continues the science fiction esthetic: Aladdin City. It's a little bit crazy and a lot of fun. The total cost of the project has not been announced. It will have air-conditioned bridges with a moving floor to connect the structures.  The highest of three towers is thirty-four stories.
The three towers of Aladdin City, Dubai. 
Aerial view of Aladdin City. 
A YouTube video about the project can be found here: Aladdin City.  The project will include offices and a hotel. So, you'll have a place to stay if you want to travel to the future.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

To the Student in Architecture (Part Three)

Last summer I was invited to a promotional tour sponsored by Anderson Windows. Our group of about twenty architects came from different states, all specializing in residential design. During one of our social events the conversation turned to zoning codes and the increasing difficulty in getting anything done under a labyrinth of rules and regulations. This is a common subject amongst architects. All cities everywhere are making things harder instead of easier. The time and cost of implementing new rules delays projects and drives up costs.  I threw in my usual complaint about how these evolving rules are my greatest frustration. “It is the one thing,” I said, “ that makes me want to leave the profession and go on to something else. I want to spend my days creating architecture, not jumping through bureaucratic hoops.” I was exaggerating the degree of my frustration, but a young architect from Houston immediately countered, “Oh, no. It’s what makes my job interesting.  I love figuring out the puzzle of codes and arriving at a solution that makes a project work.”  Obviously a more optimistic thinker than myself!
Frank Lloyd Wright surrounded by his students.
The Houston architect's response did make me think more broadly about the profession of architecture. For me, design was the main draw to the field and is what keeps me interested to this day. However, the student in architecture should know that there are many other aspects to a career in architecture and many ways to practice as a professional. One of the wonderful things about an architectural education is how broad-based it is. Architects are the last of the generalists. (We know a little about a lot of things, but not much about anything in particular!) An architectural education can be great preparation for many different career paths. As an architect, design is not the only way to practice.  The young Houston architect made me realize there are other passions. Problem solving is more than design solutions and architects are, by general training, problem solvers. The various types of jobs in a large office should make this clear. Among the many permutations of architectural practice there are...
  • Specifications writers
  • Presentation artists
  • Client relations experts
  • CAD technicians
  • Community planners
  • Program writers
  • Project managers
Yale school of architecture designed by Paul Rudolph.
The list could go on. Many credentialed architects don't specifically practice architectural design.  They may even find careers outside of architectural firms in such things as law, building administration, education, construction management, community development, code writing,  and industry consulting.  The point is that, as generalists, architects are eminently qualified to take on a broad array of tasks that indirectly affect the design of the built environment. Taking this a step further: if a student were able to couple an architecture degree with an MBA or an engineering or law degree, then you have a commodity in extremely rare supply (and in high demand) on the job market.
Student exhibition from a class taught by the author at the University of Oklahoma.

Student work at the University of Oklahoma by Wm. Devine.

Another student project from an exhibition at
the University of Oklahoma. 
To the student in architecture I must amend my initial rush to caution. I've previously implied that unless you truly have a passion for design, forget about architecture.  However, there are other passions to be found in architecture that I may be immune to. So, my amended advice is to discover what architecture is, or can be, for you. See if your talents coincide with some aspect of architecture, and look at what part of this broad field might be of interest to you.

To the student in architecture: you may discover a world of architecture that goes beyond the common conceptions of what an architect ought to be. That can be exciting in itself and may nourish a career over a lifetime. Best wishes in discovering your passion!
Drafting room and "classroom" at Wright's Taliesin West studio.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

To the Student in Architecture (Part Two)

On June 9th in 1900 the great architect Louis Sullivan gave a lecture in Chicago entitled The Young Man in Architecture.  He outlined architectural ideals and inspired young architects like Walter Burley Griffin who was present in the audience. Sullivan later published a book on the subject, The Young Man in Architecture (1939). Frank Lloyd Wright gave a similar lecture in 1931. Exploring the same themes, it was entitled To the Young Man in Architecture. In it Wright said, "...beauty is no less the true purpose of rational modern architectural endeavor than ever, just as beauty remains the essential characteristic of architecture itself."  However, in both Sullivan's and Wright's manifestos you will note the male pronoun. It was assumed that only males could become architects or would want to. Architecture was not a woman’s profession.
Louis Sullivan.

Frank Lloyd Wright
As recently as 1959 a brochure aimed at high school students asked Should You Be an Architect? It was written by architect Pietro Belluschi and was provided as a public service by the New York Life Insurance Company. It also bore the imprimatur of the American Institute of Architects. The leaflet repeatedly used the male pronoun. “A few boys… pick architecture while they still are very young.” “Most boys… have had an opportunity to weigh various careers.” “After a boy has finished college, he still must get three years’ training…” (Emphasis added.) And so on. The concluding paragraph gets more specific:
You’ve noticed, I suppose, that I’ve directed my remarks to boys. I cannot, in whole conscience, recommend architecture as a profession for girls. I know some women who have done well at it, but the obstacles are so great that it takes an exceptional girl to make a go of it. If she insists on becoming an architect, I would try to dissuade her. If she still insists, she may be that exceptional one.
Brochure from 1959.
Today we find such assertions inappropriate at best and insulting at worst. But this misogyny continued for decades. When I was in architectural school, the number of female students could be counted on one hand. A good friend, Elaine, was explicitly told by a counseling professor to leave the school. It’s not a place for women; get out. She ignored the advice, graduated, and went on to enjoy a successful career in architecture. Elaine was in the vanguard. The situation for women is somewhat better today. According to AIA membership statistics, 17% of all members are female compared to only 9% in 2000. The picture appears even better when looking at the percentage of women in architecture school: 43%. (According to the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.)

However, when you look at the statistics for women advancing in architecture to licensing, employment, professorships, and principals, the percentages steadily diminish. The “glass ceiling” starts to take its toll, apparently.

To the student in architecture: your gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or politics shouldn’t matter.  For the most part, it does not today. A more interesting question is what happens as people graduate and go on to careers in architecture. It is a question that could be asked about many fields formerly dominated by white males:  physicians, air traffic controllers, police officers, chefs.
Can you tell whether the architect of this structure is a man or a woman?
Ms. Zaha Hadid, architect for the above building.

The bottom line, then, is the motivation of the individual. If you really want to practice architecture you will feel it inside and nothing will stop you. To that young person in architecture I wish them luck.  However, what is needed more is persistence. If you are in high school or younger and you are thinking about pursuing architecture, your counselors will tell you two things: you need to know math and you should have artistic talent. The former is only somewhat true and the later is only qualitatively true. Regarding math skills: a sense of geometry is absolutely necessary because architecture is described by geometry. However, higher math skills - like calculus - are more

How many architects remember integral or differential calculus?
appropriate for engineers.  For architects, higher math is a hurdle to leap over and, for some, an insurmountable obstacle.  It shouldn't be. I don't know any architects who use calculus in their work routine. Once learned, quickly forgotten.  A talent for art is a little more subjective.  Undoubtedly, architecture is an art. However, if an individual is particularly good at painting or music or sculpture, does that mean he or she would make a good architect? Decidedly not. Conversely, if a person had no obvious talent in the fine arts, does that me he or she would not make a good architect?  No. Architecture is a unique art.  It combines practical considerations (the clients program, budget, etc.) with the need for beauty and originality.  An understanding of the art in architecture is certainly a prerequisite for a good architect... but I have no idea how you measure that ability. I think a person would have to know it inside.

I said persistence is what is needed when building a career in architecture. That applies at every level. Persistence in getting though math, even though you will scant need it. Persistence in finding your own definition of the art in architecture. Persistence in getting through more than half a decade of university, serving an apprenticeship (internship), and studying for the licensing exam. Remember, most don't pass the entire thing the first time around, so just taking the exam can eat up several years! 

Still want to be an architect? Than I assume you are a persistent personality and you certainly must have a passion for architecture.