Construction:

The last few weeks I have attended a great variety of guest speakers, which have given me particular great insights into the workings of the architecture and engineering disciplines.  The first speaker, Mr. Teare explained his role on the Ross School of Business.  He served as a third party consultant, the Architect’s Field Representative,  to the architecture team.  As a third party, he helped enforce the stringent construction documents developed by the New York City firm.  This relationship was particularly interesting because the typical animosity that sometimes exists between contractors and on-site architects was nearly eliminated.  In this case, as a third party, he felt more able to enforce the construction documents and work collaboratively with the contractors.  Furthermore, he did not have the legal fear of “instructing a contractor as to mean s or methods,” which have been explicitly given up by architects in their contracts.  As one who had intimate familiarity with the plans, he became a resource to the contractors and a source for asking questions before rather than later, preventing unnecessary re-work.  It became particularly important to have clearly defined responsibilities and legal abilities.  He would go through the necessary CM channels, avoiding speaking with subs directly, but rather their bosses.

My meeting this morning with Mr. Owen proved particularly interesting.  He emphasized the importance of the architect in creating construction documents that help contractors build; if the  architect had mentally “constructed” the project, he felt that this became evident in the plans, which became a resource for helping one build.  He also emphasized the root nature of the job of project managers; to take complex information and break it into smaller parts, that can reduce the higher level thinking to lower levels.  One great example of this was his boss, who drew in chalk all the doors, door swings, and walls of a complex floor plan, thus eliminating some of the thinking and ensuring a better end product. Similarly to O’Neal from the night before, he emphasized the importance of getting work put in place, which really becomes the fundamental goal of both architects and engineers.  From his experience, he believed that the contract structure – whether traditional (design-bid-build, joint venture, or CM) – did not drastically change how one built a building; rather the process was relatively the same only a few things changed in terms of formalities.  In terms of career choices, he was particularly enlightening in his experience of working both with architects and engineers.  He emphasized that starting in the construction side would give me field experience and allow for a switch to architecture later one, while a switch from architecture to engineer or construction would be nearly impossible later on.   He also emphasized the importance of his MBA in helping him navigate the financial aspects of projects, which often drive projects.  As a company, the contractor often holds the contract because they hold the bulk of the contract dollars, while the architectural fee may only amount to 10%, the other 90% is wrapped up in the actual construction. From my conversation, I have become particularly interested in working for a construction company constructing a building designed by a high end starchitect; which would be particularly valuable as a person aiming to design to that quality of work.

In regards to construction strategy, locating in places where their are capitols and major universities was part of the strategic plan of the company, as they are not as susceptible to economic downturns or tax incentives.

A particularly recurring theme is the need to see a project from start of construction to the end; this provides one with the fundamental exposure to all aspects of a building that needs to be designed and constructed.

Architecture:

In terms of architecture, I idea of putting work in place, has been taking on its own terminology within architecture, termed “making.”   Architect’s interest in making physical objects is a result of a period of paper architecture, in which the drawing and rendering had served to communicate the majority of the project intent.  With the rise of the digital, the drawing has to some degree become both easier and more misleading, making the physical construction both more intriguing and more conducive to investigation.  Of particular interest recently was the Whither Installation, which brought together a group of both architectural educators and architectural makers to discuss this prevailing trend within the architectural field.  Chair John McMurrough has interestingly placed the pedagogy of the school in the context of the “speculative and the real,” which has become embodied in the list of speakers and conference attendees he has consciously, and well done so, curated to form the atmosphere of Taubman College.  Particularly interesting is the rise of the “Experts in Studio Series,” which brings in outside experts in the field of architecture to engage students in intensive one week workshops regarding a particular position to architecture.  Last semester saw the arrival of Alexander D’Hooghe, who placed architecture at the intersection of big box and infrastructure, being both real and speculative simultaneously.  Dan Wood, this semester’s visiting critique, takes this even further, with an explicit agenda to be “engaged int eh envisioning the future,” in a positive and forward looking, particularly at a larger scale than that of the building.  This is partly a reaction to an attempt to broaden and expand the work of the architect at the edges of the profession.  This strategy was termed “architecture and,” which aimed to align architecture with other foci, such as technology and teaching.  His ending note was particularly intriguing in his concern for the addressing the question of the architect’s role, due to critiques of their work not being “architecture” because it is too political or too diagrammatic.  

The best example of this simultaneity, however, is Robert Somol, whose proposals for cartoon urbanism, custom massification, among other architectural theories, presented architecture as both creating real buildings while at the same time reconsidering the stances of the profession and the possiblities of architecture.  Last night, we heard from Paul Lewis of LTL architects, who explained their firm’s investigations as encompassing speculative work, installations, building, and interiors.  Their particular firm approach focused on these five points; “Catalyze Constraints” – use limitations to advantage, “Invention Sprawl” – invent at all scales of the project, “Multivalent Performance,”  “Social Intensification” – achieved through human density and choreography, and “Architecture does not equal money”, as in the quality of the architecture is based more on creativity than on a high price tag.
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