Wednesday, 26 December 2012

American architects embrace energy modelling?

Well, if not today, maybe tomorrow.  

I was trying to read the subscription on-line copy of the November/December  issue of Eco-structure, an American Institute of Architects magazine. My irritation with the avalanche of advertisements was shading out my interest in all the new technologies and initiatives they were trying to bring to my attention.  And then, I came across 'AIA Perspective', by Jeff Potter, the 2012 President of the Institute.

Jeff was really only doing the marketing for An Architect’s Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in the Design Process, published in October.  For that he apologizes, then makes an impassioned plea for his fellow practitioners.  I can't give you a live link to the article, so I take the liberty of quoting extensively from his statement:

By not making a credible, evidence-based claim for performance, we are abdicating our responsibility to both the client and the user. This will further erode our reputation as well as the value of our work.  Furthermore, if we do not have a firm grasp on how our buildings will actually, not theoretically, perform, it will have a negative impact on the quality of what we design.  What’s the alternative? A good beginning is to learn the ABCs of energy modeling.
This is the point where eyes glaze over. Energy modeling sounds boring and wonkish. Yet architecture is not just the thrill of shaping form; it’s also the science of delivering value. We do ourselves, our profession, and, frankly, other members of the building team a disservice if we acknowledge only the aesthetics and leave the question of performance to someone else. Being able to say how a design works has historically been part of what we do for our clients. These days it may be the leading question clients ask. The challenge of climate change and the smart allocation of limited and increasingly scarce resources offer new opportunities to reassert our responsibility.
The message closely echoes my own concerns about architects, and recent developments in the provision of architectural services. At the moment, the initiative to move in the direction Jeff Potter advocates is unlikely to be led from the architecture schools, where the capacity to deliver courses in the science of architecture is arguably at historic lows.  But professionals could, if they see the urgency of his message, devote some of their compulsory professional development to the cause.  If you want to change the balance of your professional reading, you can do worse than bookmark

Friday, 14 December 2012

Architecture “no longer interested in anything but its own image”

There seems to be an outbreak of introspection in the online architectural media.  Two posts ago I praised ARCHITECTURE.AU for hosting an article reflecting on the limited usefulness of the ‘hero shot’.  Today, Deezeen magazine leads with the above headline linking an article by UK critic Owen Hatherley.  It's hard to do better than to quote from that post:
Hatherley says sites like Dezeen and Archdaily “provide little but glossy images of buildings that you will never visit, lovingly formed into photoshopped, freeze-dried glimmers of non-orthogonal perfection, in locations where the sun, of course, is always shining.”
He adds: “In art, this approach to reproduction is dubious enough, but in architecture – where both physical experience and location in an actual place are so important – it’s often utterly disastrous, a handmaiden to an architectural culture that no longer has an interest in anything but its own image.”
Of course, there is irony in that this elegant summary of a much more complex article – written for The Photographers’ Gallery in London as part of a series of critical essays on photography in the 21st Century – is itself published on one of the two sites named and shamed.  That the irony is intended is made obvious by the image of the preening critic chosen to headline the report.

As must be obvious by now, I share Hatherley’s concern.  But if I am to be honest I have to declare that I am a voracious consumer of both Dezeen and Archdaily, because without them I simply would not be able to keep up with what is going on in architecture.  And to be fair, they can only maintain the flood of architectural news through the medium of text and image, mainly supplied to them by self promoting practitioners.  It would be nice to think that the material could be appropriately editorialised, and supplemented by much more contextual and performance information.   But in the real world such editorial resources cost real money and require sometimes deep and elusive expertise, neither of which are easily available in the new world of advertisement supported online magazine publishing.
That said by way of excuse for the image peddling media, the architectural profession itself has much more to answer for.  If Hatherley is right in his characterisation of architectural culture, and by implication its practitioners as actual and aspiring narcissistic prima donnas, it augurs badly for the future of the profession.  I wish I knew the answer to how that perception might be tempered. I wish I knew how to fix the corruption of architectural knowledge which is the other inevitable by-product of this relentless image making

Friday, 7 December 2012

Slow architecture

Not so much purposefully, but neither aimlessly surfing for solar and shading software, I came across Gnarly Architecture, a blog by Brian Lockyear of Slate Shingle Studio in Oregon, USA.  Brian describes himself as "a digital voyager with an artistic temperament and an eye for both the sublime and the quirky", and I'm happy to agree with his self-assessment.  For anyone who wants to turn a general fascination with the sometimes dangerous world of parametric architecture into something useful, Brian's blog is compulsory reading.

But the entry that stopped me in my tracks, made me smile inanely, and which I have immediately linked to my First Year coursework site for architecture students at UNSW, is Passive Aggressive Solar Design.  Brian describes it as:

Passive Aggressive Solar is about creating magical spaces by actively considering solar movement in the design. It’s about a window seat and a book at sunrise. It’s about a shady spot at noon. It’s about framing the perfect sunset. At its best, Passive Aggressive Solar is about moments no longer than the time it takes a rainbow to appear and disappear.

He argues convincingly for a healthy synergy between computational analysis now possible to predict exactly the complex geometries of sun movements, and the traditional craft sensibilities of a masterful architect.

Finally, he proposes "a “slow light” approach to solar design, in which we take the time to think about each opening in a space and how it contributes to the magic. Why not use the sun to incorporate movement into the design but on an architectural scale – somewhere between the speed of a waterfall and the stealth of a glacier."

How can you argue with that?  Read the full posting here, and savour the last paragraph.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Challenging imagery

The hero shot.  Memorable to the point of misrepresenting the building, misinforming even the discerning viewer, sabotaging the creation of knowledge?

Probably true in the case of most buildings written about in traditional architectural media, and still true today when most of our information is gathered from the web. But the proposition is seldom subject to critical scrutiny, least of all in the web-based architectural media themselves.

So it is doubly refreshing to come across the article We don't need another hero, in the most recent posting of ARCHITECTURE AU.  More than doubly welcome in fact, because not only is it a rare reflection by the media on their own role, but it is actually an article written as a collaborative essay by a group of Monash University Masters of Architecture students.  That the students' piece itself critiqued magazine reviews of two heavily promoted local projects completes an unusual circularity.

OK, the writing is more earnest than profound.  The issues raised are limited to the lost opportunities for communicating more about the buildings than the hero shot allows.  Tellingly, the students take at face value all other rhetoric about the two buildings represented, and therefore they are arguably complicit in the very process of controlled representation they seek to highlight.

But we should be grateful for any and all attempts by our media to reflect on their role, and especially when they deliberately help us deconstruct rhetoric.  So, congratulations Architecture AU.

Read the original article here.  And open up the excellent Discourse section of this on-line magazine for a generous collection of other content here.