Mapping and Design Process

How does one begin learning the design process? Start teaching, and you will relearn it in a whole new way! Coming across students with a variety of approaches, intellectual understanding, creativity and methodologies begins to teach the teacher how to teach. Nearly all architects claim to be good designers, because all of us got to where we are today after having been through those grueling studio exercises and years of professional experience. However, those who stay in academics after school form a completely different design vocabulary than those who practice in firms. Needless to say, it’s a process of relearning when a practitioner delves into academics after staying afar for years. Welcome to my world!

One side effect of teaching is that the educator has to read a lot. Fortunately, by this time through your experiences, you have formed a deeper understanding of what you are reading than the time when you read similar content as a student years ago. Hopefully. Reading now is far more eye-opening, inspiring and enticing. Suddenly spending your Saturdays catching up on reading doesn’t feel like a daunting task, but something you’d look forward to.

Mapping and the art of drawing has always been a curious subject to me. As a student I invested some energy into getting inspiration from the processes of mapping and composite drawings. But once you start practicing in the professional world, you normally tend to lose touch with such theoretic approaches. The priorities change, and design process becomes mundane, if I may. I am revisiting the subject now as a “part-time academic”. I just finished reading about “The Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design” in Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte. Not only is it applicable for students in design studios, but for practitioners creating drawings, documenting their work, making presentations, conveying ideas we might say. A great read, for the academic or professional within you. Read it, and let me know what you think.

Residential Architecture

A kid’s drawing of his house

Regardless of the culture, country, vernacular, or time, a kid’s drawing of a house speaks a universal architectural language. The results of kids playing with Legos are also astoundingly similar due to the limitations of the building blocks. Some of these kids grow up to become architects and find their individuality. Some of them begin working on residential projects, whether custom homes, tract homes, or multi-family residential buildings. Yet how many architects live in a house designed by them? Only a few hold on to the dream of building their own home, and of them very few get the opportunity to do it. In the end the inevitable question of financing surfaces, which we so commonly lack even after lifetime of working in this profession. Unfortunately the lack of the dream is a bigger reason than the lack of finances for this sad reality.

The mention of residential architecture typically brings to mind the image of a custom single family home. This typology is extensively celebrated in our profession through design awards, publications, and focus groups. Makes sense, because a majority of architects work in this typology. It appears that the multi-family residential projects often get overlooked on the recognition platform. Possibly they are not being submitted, or lose the competition against higher budget commercial projects. The design discussion definitely needs to extend more to these projects. An outlook towards neighborhoods and communities in our thought process towards future development of the profession would be far more impactful than isolated cases of single family homes.

The AIA’s Architecture Billings Index shows the multi-family residential sector has the highest billing rate. The large cities are especially witnessing an upheaval of multi-family condominium or apartment buildings. California happens to be planning an entire new town next to the Salton Sea with construction slated to begin in the next three years. The developers claim that it will be one of the greenest developments with many job creation opportunities. Although the reviews are many-fold as to the absurdity of this project, it is neighborhood development nonetheless. A good or bad omen for architects? I’d let the environmental groups fight over that.

Another shameful trend is the absence of an architect in the design teams for residential projects. Due to lax laws in some States, many non-licensed professionals get away with doing major residential work and go unnoticed. Where the laws are lot more strictly abided, the law itself allows for small residential work to be done by non-licensed professionals. Some might say that this is all that is keeping some people afloat in the dire economic situation in which we find ourselves. But this trend is obviously affecting some licensed architects that have to compete with cheaper non-licensed inexperienced pseudo-architects. On top of it all, there are now a few software programs available to lay persons that let them design what they want and just hire a contractor to build it. People can now purchase home designs from a roadside stall. The need for an architect is vanishing. Is this technological advancement or ample availability of free design options for the good of our profession? What does the future hold?

As we look into how to adjust for the globalization, economic, technological, and legal trends questioning the role of an architect, we also need to dig deeper into that child within us that might have dreamt of designing his/her own home. Whether we are financially able to build our own home is a secondary issue. For the faintest of hearts and for all those suffering from the blues of economic challenges, I would suggest reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. An inspiring read about the challenges of master builders from the 12th century, it is an eye-opener for anyone who would think these are the tough times. Keep those childhood dreams alive for we might get to live in our dream homes someday.

Ten Books on Architecture (De architectura)

Ten books on Architecture (De architectura) are still relevant today even though they are couple of millennium old. It is widely held that the books were written at the time of Augustus (height of Roman power). This is a very sustainable building design handbook, remember all heating and cooling was achieved by passive techniques. The book had a huge impact on the Renaissance period (invention of printing press helped spread the book throughout Europe) and served as a direction for lot of Renaissance architects like Brunelleschi.

Book One – The education of the Architect
Vitruvius makes the case that Architects have to be trained in multiple field through practice and theory and if they do not train in those aspects for a long period of time, then they will never be worth much.
– History to understand culture and tradition and design accordingly
– Philosophy to be high minded and honest.
– Music to understand rhythms and harmonies
– Theatre to understand acoustics
– Medicine to understand climate, air, site and water effects on human comfort.

Vitruvius talks about Order, Arrangement, Eurythmy (Beauty), Symmetry, Propriety and Economy in Architecture. Placement of the rooms should be based on wind direction and daylight.

Selection of the site for a city, public building and homes is discussed as is discussed the layout of the city to break cold winds.

Book Two – Building Materials
Vitruvius talks about different construction materials on how to make them, where to procure raw materials and how to use them.
– Brick
– Sand
– Lime
– Pozzolana
– Stone
– Timber
– Highland and Lowland Fir

Book Three – Symmetry, Proportions and Columns
Vitruvius talks about the human body, its proportions and the different temples. Roman empire was heavily influenced by the Greek civilization and it shows in the writings. Vitruvius talks about the different parts of the column and there proportions.
– Base
– Capitals
– Entablature
– Entasis (Curvature)
– Podium

Book Four – Three Orders and their application in Temples
Vitruvius talks about the three different orders their origins and their proportions, ornamentation and their use in temples. He talks about the different temples and their design with the use of the different orders.
– Ionic
– Corinthian
– Doric

Book Five – Design of the Public Buildings
Vitruvius talks about the design of different Public buildings, including how the Greeks used to design their buildings.
– Forums
– Basilica
– Treasury
– Prison
– Senate House
– Theatre
– Baths
– Palaestra (school)
– Harbors
– Shipyards

Book Six – House Design
Vitruvius talks about designing the house to meet the cultural, climate and site differences. He goes on to discuss the different rooms, their sizes and proportions.

Book Seven – Plastering/Stucco
Vitruvius talks about the materials required for plastering the techniques and application of stucco on floor and walls. He talks about the different plastering and decorating techniques for different applications including damp locations and vaults.

In the last part of the chapter Vitruvius talks about the using marble and different materials to get colors in plastering.

Book Eight – Water
Vitruvius talks about water, how to locate it. Verify if the water is good, store it using cisterns and transport it using Aqueducts.

Book Nine – Astronomy
Vitruvius talks about the sun, the path of the sun through the different zodiac signs and planets. Vitruvius moves away from Architecture and more towards being the scientist.

Book Ten – War machines
Vitruvius is writing for Augustus and talks about the different war machines including hoisting machines and other utilitarian machines like the water wheels, water mills and water screws.

To learn more about Vitruvius visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvius
Further thoughts on Ten Books on Architecture (though not from an Engineering perspective) can be read at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Architectura
The book can be downloaded for free from the following location in many different formats http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20239

Five Classical Architectural Books

The following five books are the classical Architectural books that in my opinion had a significant impact on the practise and direction of Architecture. They are a must read for anyone who is involved in Architectural field.

  1. The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius
  2. Space Time and Architecture by Siegfried Giedion
  3. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi
  4. Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi
  5. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs