Reflection

Reflection

Friday, February 1, 2019

How Hip Hop Took Over the World, and Quite Possibly Can Save Architecture in the Process

In the old school days...

If you polled my classmates in 1991, a good many of them may have voted me off the studio.  You see, prior to the iPod or iPhone containing a huge library of music; prior to you even having access to a computer in the studio which could also play your music, architecture studios were essentially boom box battle zones.  My boom box was among the biggest and hardly anyone else liked my kind of music.

I like a lot of music.  Truly.  But, for all that is holy, I can only stand so much Brown Eyed Girl or, Lord help me, Best of Billy Joel.  Certain people in my studio pirated the airwaves with that junk all day long while professors were mulling around.  Either all they had was that one CD or they were too lazy to take it off of "repeat".  It didn't matter because it was the banal stuff that would offend no one.  It was, however, all I could do not to grab their boom box and throw it out the fourth story window onto the unsuspecting engineering students below.  During the day, my kind of music was taboo.  But as soon as night fell, I pressed 'play".
One of my favorite album covers.  Maybe because the artist was an architect, Matteo Pericoli.
Check him out:  Matteo Pericoli
I showed up to college in 1991 with a crate of rap and hip hop cassettes and CD's.  There was no streaming music back then?  Remember Columbia House Records?  You got 10 CD's for $1, then you had to buy so many for regular price over then next 37 years.  It was a total scam but I had Public Enemy, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, Beastie Boys, NWA, Digital Underground, Eric B & Rakim - you get it.  I had some punk and what would be called alternative stuff too, but in order to drown out the Chicago Greatest Hits for the eighth time that day, I went to something like Ice Cube.  And loud.  My friends hated me, but I was 18 and intent on offending those around me whom I had decided had offended me with their oppressively uninspired and stale taste in music all day.
Shock value?  Sure.  But contextual too.  This was one of my first hip hop albums.
I was nearly alone in my affinity for the genre.  They all scoffed at my "Hizzouse" music and they were all sure it (hip hop) would never last as a viable musical category.  I did get a few friends together to see Public Enemy, Ice-T and House of Pain at Rec Hall with me in 1992.  It was a steal for a $20 ticket!  But as Chuck D looked out on us (the audience), I believe he called us "Quaker Land".  Predominately, it was a sea of white kids at Penn State, as it was my studio.

Fast forward almost 30 years.  Hip Hop basically took over the world, as we all know.  Beyonce, the Kardashians - they all married into hip hop royalty.  All of my friends were wrong, and I was obviously right.  And today the AIA is literally dying to get some diversity in the profession of architecture.  Still.  They talked about this 20 years ago.

A couple years ago, a then graduate student in architecture, Michael Ford, blew up the architecture scene with a compelling program called Hip Hop Architecture Camp.  From their website:

The Hip Hop Architecture Camp® is a one week intensive experience, designed to introduce under represented youth to architecture, urban planning, creative place making and economic development through the lens of hip hop culture.

Learn more about Hip Hop Architecture Here:  HipHopArchitecture.com

Beautiful.  How do we get young architects with diverse backgrounds in the pipeline?  College is too late.  High school is too.  Take the message to them early.  Make it seem cool and like it can make a difference.  Music and architecture have always had this symbiotic relationship.  I remember our first year instructor Don going on and on about Mozart's compositions and how you could have "too many notes" and all that.  Did that resonate with 17 and 18 year olds in 1991?  Not a bit.  Well - maybe a little since I remembered it 27 years later but - Don was no Grandmaster Flash, that's for sure.

Early hip hop spoke about the environment, the real environment, in which the artists lived.
Ford introduces kids to architecture within the context of contemporary messages.  Bad environments can produce bad social/economic situations for those who live there.  -Of course.  Good environments can promote social equity.  -There's the solution based problem solving we need.  Architecture is contextual, just as there is a regional component to hip hop.  It started as a battle between the Boogie Down Bronx and Queens, but as rap spread, it became East Coast vs. West Coast.  Then it became even more regional, so today we have such selections as Dirty South, Crunk, Miami Base; there's a Chicago scene, a Twin Cities scene, St. Louis, Atlanta...you get the picture.  If a certain type of music makes sense in certain place, doesn't it make sense that maybe the architecture should reflect that too?  Ford will personalize his hip hop to the location of the camp.

Photographer Glen E. Friedman took this photo on his own roof.  He did album covers for many artists across many genres.
Hey, it is no coincidence that the rappers I was listening to in the late 80's / early 90's are now popular cultural icons with proven acting careers like Ice-T, Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Will Smith, Latifah, Mos Def, Common, etc. The list goes on.  These people had something to say, and once our demographic became the one with all the money to spend, producers and sponsors took notice.  Now half the commercials on TV have hip hop scores in the background.  And by now we've all heard that Ice Cube was studying architectural drafting if that whole NWA thing didn't pan out.  Kanye wants to "architect" things.  The interests are aligned.  Sir Mix A Lot now fronts the Seattle Symphony.

Even Canada has their rapper.  Yeah, Toronto!
While I may have tried to force my musical preferences on those around me in studio by cranking my box to "11", it took someone smarter than me to harness the power of hip hop to reach out to youth that maybe wouldn't have ever considered the career path of architecture or design.  If you don't get what the kids are listening to, they probably know something that you don't, and maybe never will.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Happy Accidents



Happy Accidents
Serendipity. Providence. Lucky Breaks.

There always seems to be an element of design that is due, at least in some part, to “fate”.  I’m not talking divine intervention, at least I don’t think so.  I’m talking about how, in school, a piece of your third year model falls off and moves to the other side, where it looks inherently superior.  Or, while frantically trying to pin up for a critique you flip your trace paper backwards and your professor makes such a big fuss over the mirrored version, you have to change the entire trajectory of your project.

Neither of those things happened to me, of course, but I have seen similar situations.  In real life even.

The first occasion I can recall was when we were designing a camp for missionaries.  This was a training center for those planning to move overseas for extended periods, so the decor was intentionally sparse.  The living arrangements consisted of four identical buildings each with twelve monastic cells arranged around a central living and dining space.  The rooms were simple, but generous enough for two people and each has a bathroom with a shower.  While the building design was simple, there was a concerted effort for sustainability that aligned with the values and mission of the Owner.  This project was to utilize a geothermal heat source.  And this was 1999 in a little town in Pennsylvania.  This town was so small, it had neither liquor licenses nor a locally adopted building code.  Think the town in Footloose.

The envisioned Campus
We were hosting a coordination meeting in our office with the Owner, all our engineering consultants and the Contractor.  A geothermal system of this size requires space for pipes, pumps and tanks, especially since the campus was going to be utilizing a well field, shared between these four buildings and the large educational building on the campus.  Our simple parti did not include large mechanical rooms: basements would be too costly and the attic arrangements would not accommodate enough space.  Do we actually have to build a mechanical wart on the back of all these buildings?  Problem is, there is no back to these buildings.  Half in jest, I said “why don’t we just put all of it in one of the guest rooms?”  It was about the right size, as it happened.

Crickets. 
The chip board model.
Sorry, just trying to diffuse the tension… Everyone kind of tilted their heads for a long moment.  After the most pregnant of pauses, the Owner said, “we can make eleven rooms work in each building.”  That was the solution.  Perhaps the most simple and direct solution there that a room full of people were too focused on to find.  Sometimes it just takes a slightly sarcastic twenty-something kid to disrupt the thought process.  Okay, maybe “slightly” is being generous.

We did indeed turn one of the 12 guest rooms into the geothermal mechanical room.
Just a glamour shot of the shared living/dining rooms.
A little later in my professional life, I was confronted with another situation with which (I believe) I handled with more maturity.  This situation, coincidentally, dealt with a building housing twelve dwelling units, this time for retirement living. The rooms were on two floors, six over six, and had parking below.  We had two stair towers and thought we had them located properly – as many of you reading this will know, exits must be a certain distance apart to qualify as separated.  In this case, one-third of the overall diagonal of the building.  We knew this, we just failed (up until this point) to account for the balconies – and they were pretty big balconies.  Long story short, we had to push one of the stairs away from the core of the building.  I felt responsible.  I was responsible.  Not only was it my job to fix it, but it was my job to tell the Owner how we had to change their plan.
In the original rendition, the stair was more or less flush with the porches.
The plan only had to change slightly, but the stair had to project out farther than previously envisioned.  It actually provided for some improved privacy between two adjacent balconies and created a feature on the rear of the building.  This time there was something of a back to the building and it needed a feature, and here was the opportunity to break up the rear elevation and introduce a tower element.  Even so, the change would add some square footage to the program and add some cost and we (that is to say I) still had to convince the Owner that this would be a good thing.  I sat down with the Owner to review the code issue with the location of the stairs and the proposed solution.  Without any hesitation, the Owner latched onto the new design as an improvement.  No head tilts, no pauses (pregnant or otherwise)…

Without the projection of the stair, I don't believe this elevation would have worked as well.
Call it what you may; happy accidents or serendipity; but sometimes turning your designs upside down can only improve them.



This is the 45th topic in the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is "Happy Accidents" and was suggested by me this month.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:


-->Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
When a Mismatch isn a Match -- Happy Accident

-->Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"happy accidents"

-->Nisha Kandiah - The Scribble Space (@KandiahNisha)
Happy Accidents

-->Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
There is no such thing as a happy accident

-->Architalks 45 Anne Lebo - The Treehouse (@anneaganlebo)
Architalks 45 Happy Accidents



Monday, October 1, 2018

Learning from Mistakes

Learning from Mistakes

Much of what we do as building professionals has to do with this month's ArchiTalk subject.  As a code/regulations and quality control person in the office, most of my personal experience as it relates to reviewing construction documents has to do with how I or someone I know may have been burned in the past.  But as an office, we have a collective experience that can surely help us make good projects even better in the future.
The Project Autopsy

Case in point, I had a meeting on my calendar today listed as "Lessons Learned on XYZ Project".  Again, this was a job that went pretty well.  But when was the last time you said, " the construction of that last job could not have gone ANY better"?  Of course you haven't.  Things can always be better.  This was a fairly small job, though complex.  It dealt with a lot of high profile areas at the main entry, and had to be completed during the summer - about two months.  So the schedule was aggressive. 

The meeting consisted of the quality control personnel, the construction administrator, the design team (project architect, interior designer and Revit drafter), interiors partner and the specifications writer.  A total of eight people in a room discussed what could have been done differently to have been more successful than the project already had been.  That is a fair investment of staff hours on a pretty small job that for the most part went pretty well.

Some of the topics discussed included:
  • Long Lead Items on Short Schedules
  • Specific Details on One of a Kind Details
  • Demolition Notes
  • Existing Conditions
  • Door Hardware on Aluminum Storefront
  • Utilizing Technical Representatives from Manufacturers
  • Specifying Finishes in Publicly Bid Work
Some of these topics are so specific, that they may never be applicable to any other job we do.  However, a few of the items will go on the Quality Control Checklist that we maintain.  There are a few items that are already on the checklist that will be repeated for the benefit of the staff's memory.

Regardless of the size of one's practice, having a procedure to do a postmortem on even successful jobs is a great way to strive for improvement for your next challenge.  While most projects are unique, there are often opportunists to apply what you've learned to other situations.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is "Learning from Mistakes" and was led by Steve Ramos.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
some kind of mistake

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Learning from mistakes in architecture

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Archi-scar - That Will Leave a Mark!

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"Learning from Mistakes..."

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Forgotten Mistakes

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Are Architects Experts?

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
A, B, C, D, E...

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Learning from mistakes

Steve Mouzon - The Original Green Blog (@stevemouzon)
How Living Traditions Learn From Mistakes