My summer experience at Disney World has been great.  I have learned much about project management and leadership during my quick three months here.  First, lets talk about leadership.  From Alec, I learned that organizational leadership involves leveraging professional skills, speaking the language, and investing in your team.  Leveraging professional skills involves combining the skills of a project manager with those of a professional, such as an architect or engineer.  I believe that this is forward thinking;  many project managers seem to have worked their way into the position.  Rightfully so, they deserve credit for their ascent.  However, these project managers sometime lack the technical skills to solve the problems in the field.  Brad was an excellent example of how a project manager can step out of the project management role and be an active member of solving design problems by leveraging his Professional Engineer license.  Second, speaking the language is important.  Alec consistently referenced terms that are widely used or systems that have been developed; this helps us communicate across organizations, as well as extends our credibility.  Third, Alec makes a point about investing in the team.  More than any manager I have seen, he meets with his staff and gets into their projects.  He is actively helping them all succeed.   He also nurtures talent by meeting with even interns one on one.  Leadership and promotion are things actively and strategically thought about; they do not simply happen because you do a great job, although that always helps.

What made our conversations interesting was that they were focused on “high level” talks.  What I found particularly interesting was the idea that executives are always asking the next question.  It seems simple, but indeed it is true.  The boss always knows what question to ask next.  So workers below the boss always must be thinking ahead if they ever want to move up.   

There was another remarkable moment about my internship, in which I realized, I can wait for the rest of my life for everyone to tell me how an HVAC system works, smoke detection, or sprinklers, etc; or I can simply start paying more attention.  Some of the best thinkers in the world have been the most curious.  What is excellent about the field of architecture or construction is that through observance and curiosity you can learn very much.  This new eye sight of mine, logically, I feel comes at an opportune time.  Most of my design career, I have been able to see the big picture, such as arranging spaces, entries, exits, etc.  Now, however, I realize it is the pieces; the door, the jamb, the strike, the latch paddle, the closer, that make a building work.  It is the very pieces and how they come together.  When thought in this light, an architect’s role is not only designing, but calling out, labeling, illustrating.  Often this involves pre-made components, which make one’s job even easier with a quick search on the internet.  A few interesting details I have noticed:  Any thought on how a handle is attached to a cabinet?  How does the hinge work?   Where exactly does your air conditioning run in the house?  Where is your breaker and what circuits control which parts of the house?  Curiosity is what it takes to move an intern architect to a professional architect. 

Each morning, my brother and I would zip into his Camaro and hurtle down the black pavement towards the train station, of which we’d approach from by a left turn off the main thoroughfare.  Buying my ticket, I’d glimpse the numbers ticketing by on the tv screen overhead, heeding the trains labeled “express,” not to be caught unmistakedly on the “local” train; that would be quite un-New York of me, to take more time than necessary.  Frosty breaths and those long, business coats floated on the platform.  Although surrounded by other people, we are cordial yet distant.  There is a rare myth that public transit somehow unites people of disparate backgrounds, but it does no such thing; it, like the sidewalk above, is simply another part of the city we share, one item in a long list of them.  There are always people about, but the city has its districts that are quiet and slower, or louder and fast.  You can, at the right time, be one of only a few walking down a particular block.

Its a glamorous life of energy but it also has hidden challenges.  Space, the bountiful of the countryside, becomes parsed, segregated, separated, and owned in the city.  The space of a washing machine, of which no one in the Midwest would question, becomes a luxury in the city of New York. It makes more sense to pile them up, one on top of each other, side by side, in a corner washing store down the street, of which space and economy become complementary.  If one could get a washing machine, how would one transport it, especially without a car?  Delivered to your work place, you could bring it home with you, piece by piece on the subway, – the lid under one arm and the buttons in another hand –  and reconstruct it for use. But then you’ll need an exhaust vent for it…alas.  The city is a place for everyone yet for no one. It hardly bares a mark of any one person.

Antoine Picon delivered the best lecture of the past two and half years at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  As a speaker, he hit on all the important tendencies within the profession, including the prioritization of surface, the fall of tectonics (or construction through parts) and the move towards inflection (an accent to space comprised of fluid rather than separate parts), and the creation of atmosphere and effects.  Part of his interest was in relating architecture now to history and the past, citing Koolhaas as one who deeply understood Modernism and was thus able to act in the present using knowledge of the past; this connection made him able to act.

In the history of construction, he spoke of the cultural dimension of technology; the choice of how to build and of what is not merely the act of the architect, but also reflects the culture of the architecture’s place; England embraced iron as being able to create organic form, while the French resisted this, instead assuming a more traditional vernacular gabled use of steel.  Historically, structure and material were not divorced, but were considered one and the same.  He is interested in reflecting on the return to this co-mingling or unification.  He also spoke of the time required to divorce an architectural object from either a material or structural classification; it took nearly three decades for reinforced concrete to be perceived as a material, rather than only a structure. In many ways, he viewed the current trends towards deconstructivist architecture as one that exposes and misconstrues material and structures.

 

 

He also believed that architecture had a link with the way we experience our own bodies, and that it was construction, that allowed us this introspection.

Of particular interest was his exposing of the question of structure as truth or lie.  Louis Kahn would advocate for a truth to materials, and avoidance of “hollow” columns; Paul Rudolph would use false columns.  Similarly, the Wainwright Building used false columns to greater emphasize the structure; “the best way to be faithful is to lie” said Antoine Picon.

In one of his most provocative statements, he stated that the Parthenon as a model for architecture was dead; the idea of a pure structure, one that held the fascination of modernism, is no longer a valid model in the 21st century.  This is partly in response to the greater complexity of architecture, in which new systems erode the clarity of structure and space.  There exists no longer any stable tectonic principles, which he believed is not necessarily an ideal situation.  He believes that architecture needs to reconnect with memory and history and create a new tectonic narrative; this is what my thesis will take on.

As a side note, although I had discussed the Parthenon as a model of column architecture, I had avoided pictures of it or referencing it in my essay.  In retrospect, I believe it to be my unconscious awareness that, as a model, the Parthenon eroded my own argument or search for progress.

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.

The Whither Installation conference was held today at Taubman College at the University of Michigan.  The conference focused on the affects installations by architects have had on both pedagogy and on practice.  Eric Hulman, Katie Balliet, and Chris Romano all presented during the pedagogy portion of this session.  Chris Romano presented his “Living Wall”  studio project.  This entailed groups of six to eight students designing a inhabitable installation that required both sitting and sleeping spaces.  It required students to understand basic structures, detailing, waterproofing, transportation, and material quantities; seems like a perfect integration between architecture, engineering, and construction.

Kristy Balliet presented a talk called “Dog sized models,” which required students to build 3 to 6 foot models.  Her particular projects were interesting in that they focused on topics germane to my own research, that of weightlessness and column architecture.  Her students particular projects involved creating a space station, in which the ground floor and the walls became intertwined in a radial plan (gravity no longer vertical).  Another project was a terminal, which required the use of columns to  provide wayfinding and orientation.   Kristy particularly focused on teaching students to be “explicit;”  a reaction, I believe, to the proliferation of new ways of making and the lack of surety in what projects architects are to focus on.  There is no longer an over arching mission of method, as there had existed in modernism.

Eric Hulman’s projects touched on a few of my own concerns, particularly how the architectural installation manifests it in architecture work.  He was particularly adamant about not “becoming installation specialists.

Installations do have many benefits to the profession, but there particular focus on material affect, rather than structure, which indeed is the backbone and essence of architecture, is particularly troubling; architects continue to surrender true building to the contractor and construction manager; only when architects learn again how to build will they be able to regain their influence in actual building, and not simply the installation.