Our second visit to Holland this past Friday was quite an engaging learning experience.  We had the company of Bill Johnson (founder of JJR), Soren Wolff (City Manager), and Phil and Greg (City Planning of Holland).

We began with a brief three minute talk of each of our projects and then heard a few great comments from Bill Johnson.  He spoke to us of how he had convinced Holland, Michigan to pursue walkable urbanism.  Bill Johnson’s process involved hand drawing in front of the client, as this approach, he said, ” Did not scare anyone.”  His method also provided for the chance to better engage the community members in the process and to make changes to the plan on the fly.  Furthermore, in the case of hand drawing, he stated, “If it is rough in the mind, why not express it roughly on paper?” 

Soren remarked on how Bill Johnson excelled at listening.  Bill then stated that when dealing with clients it helps to say, “This is what I’m hearing you thinking about.”  In terms of project marketing, Bill made a strong point that you have to get powerful people on your side to promote your idea.  In this case, Soren was the person who promoted the downtown master plan religiously.   The conceptual plan as a document, Bill said, had lasted over 20 years because of its “fundamental nature.”  The details of the entire project were not figured out on that one plan.  This flexibility allowed the plan to survive even if some of the details of the downtown plan had to be compromised. 

As we discussed urbanism, Bill’s comments made us realize the spirit of “neighborhoods.”  “Neighborhoods are delicate.  They don’t react well to foreign objects,”  he stated in a be-aware-of-this voice.  As our discussion on urbanism came to housing, we thought of how the wind and the sky become crucial to the well-being of residents on upper floors.  Balcony access makes even potentially crowded conditions feel spacious.  We then proceeded to discuss parking, of which our group’s conclusion was that streets are still part of our “open space,”  but the automobile dominance has merely changed our perception of its potential uses.

As we drove back from Holland, Michigan, Jordan and I had some interesting conversations ab0ut the profession of architecture.

First off, I think we can all realize the challenge architects have in having to use representation methods to convey an unbuilt reality.  I think our challenge as both students and as professionals is not to get caught up on the limitations of our representation methods, but allowing these to change or re-conceiving these in ways that enable greater and more eloquent expression of the characteristics of space.  For instance, the spirit of a space may come from the way it handles the sunlight filtering in from above, the sunlight of Holland, Michigan, and not that of another distant part of the globe.  How do we convey this though? 

Second, we discussed timeless buildings and their relationship to typologies.  Professor McCullough has emphasized the importance of considering building typologies during our investigations for Holland’s Civic Center.  We have all been grappling with the struggles of creating “empty space” or a “shell” perhaps.  Most of us are used to cramming spaces in, making vibrancy through a heightened proximity.   Reminiscing on our travels, we concluded that most of the timeless buildings of humanity have been open spaces of outstanding detail and character, involving an important narrative that links the building to a specific time and place.  As we continue to develop this project, our understanding of building typologies and their relationship to the past will inform our proposal for the future. 

One of the fundamental notions I have been confronting as a graduate student is finding or re-affirming my own process and values of design and understanding this as it relates to my background and disposition.  In this sense, I believe designers have a particular manner and viewpoint from which they see the world.  My midwestern childhood, my family’s carpentry/mechanical background, and my family’s overwhelming computer science career orientation has fundamentally shaped the way I design.  As an architecture student, I see architecture as always having to have meaning.  It can’t be arbitrarily “cool,” as this directly conflicts with the “black and white” nature of mathematics so key to my family’s mental disposition.  At the same time, however, our family has the touch of carpentry and mechanics, which both have very definitive methods of working, but the end product can be a multiplicity of outcomes.  This is why I conclude that each architect has his or her own viewpoint and modus operandi by which they can create they best architecture.   Architects must balance the zeitgeist of the avant-garde, pressing onwards towards the future, but not losing their own path, their own understanding of how they design and what this means to the clients they serve.