You have to give in order to get.

I spent my day yesterday torturing graduate students at Pratt – I was a critic for design juries.  I even introduced myself with “good morning victims.”  I apologized in advance for scarring them for life.  Little did I know it may have actually happened.

There were nine students.  7 of them had serious problems with their projects of varying degrees.  At least one of them was what I’d consider a disaster.  Of the two successful projects, only one of them was both successful and potentially realistic enough to work without significant alterations to the plan. Almost none of them got out of the 2d phase.  They just ran out of time to pull it up and work with it properly.  Im fairly sure they all hate me now, but I’m used to that.

The truth though is that none of this was their fault (and if you’re one of those students reading this right now? Yes, I told your professor that, and he told HIS chair that.  I’m about to stick up for you guys, because I don’t think what happened was your doing.)

I was told  “They’re grad students, they should be able to do this.   If they don’t have the information they should know to go look for it.”  No.  This statement presupposes that they were *taught* how to do this – and not in their current studio(because they weren’t, due to lack of time), but at some previous, unknown point that may or may not have ever happened in undergrad.  In order to look up the information, they need to know what the hell they’re looking FOR. Was *I* taught how to do the kind of project these students were handed? Yes.  I hated *EVERY MOMENT* of that semester, but I learned it.  But these students I saw yesterday are not me.  I don’t know where they went to undergrad.  Many of them did not get their undergraduate degrees in the US.  You cannot presuppose what they have learned, and to expect them to draw upon knowledge based on lessons that may never have been taught is fundamentally unfair.  The problem is the program.

Confused yet?  Let me show you:

A twice divorced investment banker in his early 70’s has bought the top floor and penthouse of a residential
building in Chelsea, in the hopes of enticing his daughter and son-in-law with their young children to move into
the space if he offers to renovate the two floors into two separate apartments. Although he is a young 72 year
old, he realizes that in another 10 to 15 years, he may want or need to have his family close. He plans to
create two living quarters, giving his children privacy, but is also interested in the possibility of some shared
space- even if only the lobby on the top floor. With the offer of free babysitting services, he has convinced his
daughter and son-in-law to move into the building.

He has slowed his business to pursue his passion of collecting indigenous ceramics from Northern Europe.
Through his extensive travels, he has acquired a taste for all things culinary. He likes to cook and have
intimate dinner parties.

His daughter is a sales manager with sportsillustrated.com as well as the mother of two children, a four year
old son and a six month old daughter. She has negotiated a schedule which allows her to work at home four
days a week. His son-in-law is a high school biology teacher who fancies himself a lepidopterist, and has a
significant butterfly collection.

You are to design two apartments situated on the fifth floor and the penthouse level at 33/35 West 26th Street in
Manhattan. Two floors of two buildings operating as one residential complex are the locus of your investigation into the
nature of public and private space for a multigenerational residence. Consider notions of community and domesticity
in an urban context while addressing the distribution of spaces between the two apartments and the two floors as ways
to connect, separate, and identify, activity and identity. Consider materiality driven concept development as well as the
nature of collections and the objects of daily life as they make and mark the interior. Focus also on an investigation of
the impact of color, texture, joinery, and application of materials in the definition of identity and space.

General Requirements
The site includes the area indicated on the attached plans. This penthouse level roof decks are also part of the site.

You must maintain the existing elevator core and fire stairs in both 33 and 35 West 26 street.

A portion of the bearing wall that separates #33 from #35 may be removed, but not the whole wall. The structural
framing between floors consists of 2” x 14” joists @ 16” on center spanning east and west from the center bearing wall.

No additional exterior enclosures on the roof deck are allowed, but the design of the exterior area is encouraged.

A 5th floor lobby will serve as the entrance to both apartments.

Consideration should be paid to the distribution of the space between the two apartments (one duplex, and one top
floor, one penthouse and one top floor, two duplexes, etc.) and the shared space(s) for the extended family.

The shared space should include the lobby on the top floor but could include more – a shared living area, roof deck(s)
on the penthouse level, etc.

Program Requirements
Shared Lobby Area
Storage for bikes (up to 5)
Recycling and trash storage area

Apartment #1
Entry
Coat closet, Powder room
Living
Seating for 8 (minimum), sound system
Dining
Table for 8 (expandable to 12), serving surface, storage for table linens, china, glassware and silver
Kitchen
Counter space for dining, range, dishwasher, refrigerator/freezer, appliances, sink, storage of food, cookware,
and silverware; trash and recycling bins
Laundry
Washer, dryer, iron, counter space for folding clothes
Master Bedroom
King size bed, side tables, dresser, closet/storage of clothing
Master Bath
2 sinks, WC and bidet, bathtub and shower, linen closet, storage
Office
Desk space for 2 plus necessary technology (computers, phones, printer, etc,), storage for books and files,
sound system and TV
Children’s Bedroom(s)
Bed(s), bedside table, storage for clothes, toys and books
Children’s Playroom
Seating, work/play surface, storage for toys, games and art supplies, sound system and TV
Children’s Bathroom
2 sinks, WC, bathtub and shower, storage

Apartment #2
Entry
Coat closet
Living/Dining/Kitchen
Seating and dining for 6 (minimum); serving surface, storage for table linens, and silver, counter space for
dining, range, dishwasher, refrigerator/freezer, appliances, sink, storage of food, cookware, silverware, and
china, glassware, trash and recycling bins, sound system

Master Bedroom
King size bed, side tables, dresser, closet/storage of clothing
Master Bath
Sink, WC, bathtub and shower, linen closet, storage
Work space
Desk space plus necessary technology, storage for books and files
Display and storage of art collection

Project Requirements
Process: Sketch models, drawings
Plans at both levels @ 1/4” = 1’-0”
Sections @1/4” = 1’-0”
Elevations @ 3/8” = 1’-0”
Final Model @ 1/4” = 1’-0”
Detail model at 1” = 1’-0”
Detail Elevation or Section/Elevation of wall(s) that demarcate or join the two apartments at 1” = 1’-0”

Requirements above are minimums. Students are, as always, required to determine beyond the required forms of
representation & process what might be required to adequately, poetically describe their projects.

Project Goals
1 To study and apply the principals of universal design to spaces of dwelling.
2 To engage the relationship between furnishings, selected or designed, and interior conditions and affects
3 To explore materiality and its impact upon spatial experience while also considering the affect of specific material(s)
on construction and detailing.
4 The acoustical properties necessary to support the activities of the various spaces

Project Objectives
1 To explore the spatial relationships between private and public space in residential design
2 To engage the potential emotional and psychological connection to the interior
3 To address the intersection of technology and contemporary lifestyles

Gather/ Evaluate/ Synthesize/ Apply: appropriate and necessary information, research and/or precedents.

 

So let’s talk about what is so fundamentally unfair about this.  :

1 To study and apply the principals of universal design to spaces of dwelling.

Let’s *start* here.  Universal Design is not something you throw someone into without making *damned sure* it was actually TAUGHT at some point.  Designing for aging/elderly/aging in place is not something you toss people at and say “wing it.”  This is a real and specific subset of design.  There’s an entire industry devoted to it. There’s architects and designers who do *nothing but this thing*. This is NOT something you presuppose when you have students coming from wildly diverse backgrounds and educational experiences. YOU HAVE TO TEACH IT.

The social dynamics in this project are *VERY* complicated.  The dynamics of multigenerational living in a modern western framework (where it is not an expected norm) are complicated all by themselves.  Further, you have two children of opposing gender here.  Sure, they’re little now- but last I heard kids grow up.  The concept of being able to design for children in an adaptable way is not something you pull out of your ass. You have to have been taught it.  One might HOPE that it happened in undergrad, but unless you know that (I don’t know, try asking?) there’s no way to determine whether or not this is true.

Oh wait, that wasn’t complicated enough:

With the offer of free babysitting services, he has convinced his daughter and son-in-law to move into the building.

This right here is a sentence fraught with tension.  Of course since the students were in way over their heads on this, all of them had a hard time even addressing this little gem, so they mostly ignored it, pretending that everyone was happy to be living together.  Though they struggled (and for some values of the word) succeeded in dealing with issues of privacy, this sentence tells you something that goes beyond a mere privacy issue. This is a *reluctant* situation.

Oh wait, still not done. Let’s talk about the class related social dynamics here.

Grandfather? Loaded.

Daughter? Also loaded.

Son in law? High school biology teacher, now living with father in law where FIL is the patriarch and owns the house.  Predictably, 8 of the 9 students seemed to have forgotten *he existed*, which you know probably would mimic his feelings day to day anyway.

None of these complex social relationships was explored.  They got handed this hot mess and told to make sense of it without finding out what sort of lessons had been taught previously.  When I questioned the fairness(and sanity) of this, I was told there was no time to impart the lessons.

Well then, don’t give the project.  Don’t set students up to fail.  It was clear that no matter how bright, talented or otherwise good these students were, the one who actually nailed the project had been *taught* these lessons as an undergrad (I should have asked her where she went.)  Further, she was from the US- she had no cultural barrier. She had no language barrier.

I don’t enjoy doing residential design. I am *good* at it and people like my work, but it’s not really my thing.  However- residential design is SOCIAL design.  It is *culturally complex*.  It has a framework in culture, in time, in location.  It must adapt, and be flexible.  If you aren’t going to teach that yourself, the least you could do is make sure your students have been taught it elsewhere.

Meantime if you overlook the entire aging in place aspect to this project, which really seems to be its ultimate focus, you may as well skip the whole thing- the students will be lost without those lessons.  This is NOT the project you hand people who have never designed for an older/aging person before.  It’s not. It’s got too many complex variables, and you’re not teaching them any of them nor giving them enough time to get it right.

You have to *give the lessons* in order to *get back successful projects*.

This is not their fault.  It’s their school’s fault.

 

 


 


Advertisements

Legos do not have a gender. And neither do the projects they create.

This is a Lego brick.

 

This is a Lego brick.

It’s in black and white because I overexposed the hell out of the original shot, but other than that, it’s an ordinary Lego brick.  It has four sides, six nubs on top, and a nub on the bottom.  You know what it doesn’t have?

A gender.

There are no boy Legos. There are no girl Legos.  A Lego is a Lego is a Lego.

You know what also doesn’t have a gender?  The things you make out of Legos.

Now that everyone is thinking “wtf is she on about now?”, a few hours ago someone retweeted something and it floated in front of me. I’ll be honest- I don’t remember which of my friends retweeted it, and I don’t know the original source – the person who said it is not someone I know, and I can’t even remember who it was. I do know what my reaction to it was, though.  Here I am, several hours later typing angrily into my keyboard, because I need to say this.

What it was about was a Lego build of Venice, Italy, seen somewhere.  The comment was “Finally, a Lego build for the ladies.”

Oh. Hell. No.

HELL no.

Not for nothing, but Zaha Hadid kicked in the door to the Pritzker Prize in 2004, and even that took too damned long.  But that one sentence explains so much of why women in architecture and design *STILL* have to fight tooth and nail.  STILL.  It’s ridiculous, and I’m not letting it go by without calling it out.

Venice is a beautiful city.  It’s lovely and romantic, which is (I am quite sure) what was meant by the comment.  But it is also a place of *fantastic* engineering.  It is a city based on the *technical marvel* of the built environment vs. nature. I am damned sure that was *not* what was meant by the retweeted comment.

On my desk I have two Lego builds. One of the Empire State Building. The other is of  the Guggenheim NYC.  Are those Lego models not for me?

*checks*

*checks again*.

Nope. No penis.  Still female.

The point of Lego- which is still the greatest toy ever for anyone who loves to build, adult or child, is that it allows you to create anything. Anything.  From a firehouse, to the Empire State Building, to Venice, to a bed for your cat. NONE of these things has a gender. There are no “builds for the ladies” without the inherent assumption that OTHER builds are for the men.

Bullshit.

This particularly kind of gender-biased and odious thinking in architecture is why in a magazine spread about architects, you have to BEG them to include a woman, even though there’s no shortage of talented women in architecture.  It’s about why women routinely decide not to deal with engineering- because they have to deal with stupid shit like this all the time.  It’s about why when you say youre a designer, as a woman, what people *hear* on the other end is “decorator*.

It’s RIDICULOUS. And here in MY space? I will not stand for it.

Besides, gang, it insults *MEN* just as much.  For everything assigned to women in some offhanded gesture of casual, institutionalized sexism, it excludes men from that same thing.  That’s nonsense too, and I’m not having it.

Legos? Neutral. Lego builds? Neutral. ARCHITECTURE? Neutral.  DESIGN? Neutral.

LEARN IT.