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.

 

 

 

The lie of privilege.

Ok. I’m tired of this. I’m going to say it in public and out loud:

Dear famous/wealthy/privileged designers and architects.:

Stop perpetuating the following lie:

“It’s not about the money.”

Stop. Just stop. Now. Instanter.

Before my head explodes. Let me explain something to you- when you say this at any time, it’s obnoxious. When you say it when there is a rate of unemployment of near 40% in the arch/design industry? It’s completely unconscionable. It’s not about the money for YOU, because you ALREADY HAVE THE MONEY. This is not a difficult concept. If you’re a famous and wealthy person in the industry, you get to make these ridiculous pronouncements, because the reality of what you just said doesn’t touch you.

Here, let me remind you of a few things. Design/Arch is not a “job”. It’s a career, and it’s very often more than that. It’s what you are, not what you do(not unlike being a writer, so I’m told.) The difference is that there are no legal requirements for being a writer (though I’m not sure some writers think that’s a good idea.) You are not required to go into massive amounts of educational DEBT to become a writer. But the point is this- that arch/design is something we love to do. We do it because it’s who we are. But do not, for one single shining moment discount the fact that it is a JOB and that YES in fact, the money is important. Sure! Everyone LOVES to see happy clients. Everyone LOVES to see a happy project manager. However the pat on the head and the “nice job” only goes so far. YES IT’S ALSO ABOUT THE MONEY.

See, you lose sight of this when “not enough money” is the difference between buying an ipod this week or next week rather than “how am I going to scramble together enough work so that I still have power” or whatever. And when upwards of 40% of the profession is currently out of work, “it’s not about the money” is RIDICULOUS. It’s only not about the money when it’s not YOUR money it’s not about.

STOP DOING THIS. NOW.

Education is key. It will, however, only go so far.

The lovely and talented Su Butcher said things, here:

http://www.justpractising.com/its-about-money-stupid/architects-my-client-doesn%E2%80%99t-understand-me/

I’ll wait.

The video is short, and is not much different than the stuff I’ve seen on Clients from Hell, or heard, in fact from *every single* designer, artist or Architect I’ve ever known. The only difference is the designer says these things out loud, rather than just in their heads. Also, everything to me is funnier in a cartoon. Especially with robots. But I digress.

This video made me laugh. I know all too well how that blue robot feels. I know lots of other people who do too (Val and Dare, I’m looking at you two.. Ahem.) Interestingly, the bit that went around recently about the graphic designer who was asked by a co-worker to make a poster for a missing cat, seen here: http://www.27bslash6.com/missy.html had the opposite effect on me. Everyone seemed to think this was seriously hysterical and I thought it was not in the least bit funny.

Which brings me to why, on both counts. I told Su I’d post here because 140 characters wasn’t going to cut it. I always advocate for all design professionals to educate, educate, educate. It is KEY in what we do. Most people don’t have an understanding of what architects, designers and artists do, and really need to know more.

However, I want to make something really clear- there is a difference between people being educated about something, and people who don’t think that thing has any VALUE. In the former case, you may actually get real clients out of it. In the latter case, you *never will*. Im going to use the video as an example- the green robot time and again makes comparisons to people (his eight and a half year old nephew, for example) to the designer. This guy is not really ignorant. I mean, he might be, but no matter how many ways you explain to him how it works, and no matter how politely you do it, this guy *will never be a client*. Never. He has no respect for what you do *on top of* his ignorance. He’s not a potential client- he’s a bargain hunter. You can fix the ignorance. But the lack of respect will not change. People who just need educating have a different approach- “Hey, I need this thing done, but I have no idea how much it would cost or how much time it would take. I don’t have a lot of money, so could you please tell me what you think this would cost and how long it would be?” This person approaches a situation with respect, and admits up front they need help.

I see this same phenomenon *every day* in SL(because seeing it for years in RL wasn’t enough). People who will loudly and vocally swoon and sigh over clothing and announce how badly they want it- but ONLY if they can get it for free or at a steep discount. The moment they have to pay for it is the moment it becomes valueless to them. These people will never become shoppers. At best, all they will be is bargain hunters. “Is this real, or did you make it yourself?”

My philosophy is to simply cut them off at the pass and say you can’t help them. Ok, well I do that when it comes to design. I am FAR more creative when it comes to art. “I can make this myself!” Really? Can you get me a dozen of them by Friday? I’m low on stock.

Which brings me to the bit about the cat and the graphic designer. When there’s an actual emergency? A missing pet? A missing child? You either make the poster and STFU, or you tell them you can’t. You do NOT jerk them around. That’s not the same thing as the robot video. At all.

Reminder: It’s not about you.

I know, I’ve said this before. Apparently, we need a refresher course.

This morning, a question was asked about “aesthetic theory” or something like that. Basically it was asking designers and architects why they feel compelled to talk about some kind of overriding aesthetic concept/principles when clients rarely prioritize the theory behind such things. Lots of answers.

Question:

The number of clients who are interested in the aesthetic philosophy behind a project is minimal #justsaying so why do architects bang on?

The answers ranged, but several were super disappointing, dripping with arrogance and barely concealed disdain for clients as a whole.

My answer:
Holdover from arch/design school. all asked to justify our projects in this way, even tho clients dont care about that.

It’s true. We’re required to justify entire design philosophies, even beyond concept, lest we be accused of “putting something in because it looks nice.” Every decision we make MUST be justifiable in some larger sense.

What’s also true is that clients usually don’t care. They care about whether or not it looks good and how much it costs. They rarely go farther than that because hey, isn’t that what they hired you for?

However back to the arrogant responses(which I am not reprinting)- once again, let’s remind everyone that ultimately, it’s not about the designer. It’s about the client. And when the client *MAKES* it about the designer, I suggest you should be concerned, because that says to me that the client is less concerned with their own project and more concerned about whatever perceived “status” they’re getting out of it. Truly, if that concept rocks your socks, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know that about you.

Check your overinflated ego and remember that what you design is about your client. YOUR job is to coalesce their wants, needs and desires, create a package that meets them (and their overall aesthetic preferences), and prevent them from doing something illegal, unsafe or grotesquely stupid, while working within the budgetary constraints they have. Really, that about covers it.

Aesthetics aren’t about you. They are about *them*. You should be able to design things that they love, but you wouldn’t choose for yourself if it were the last available design on Earth. You should be able to design outside your own narrow personal aesthetic preferences (and if you can’t, please send your job to me, because I can, and your clients deserve better than you’re giving them.)

You *SHOULD* be able to justify any design choice you make. But not by some abstract aesthetic theory. This isn’t design/arch school. By showing how each and every choice relates to the needs *THEY* lined out in the programming (brief) phase. That’s how this game is played.

FFS, it isn’t about you. It’s about the people you’re there to help. LEARN IT.

Flush This: A discussion of bathrooms in two parts, part two.

Dateline: Two days ago.

The question was raised “Should women be designing ladies’ rooms?”

It was at that moment that I seriously considered wading in to the main conversation but decided not to risk a migraine. I bit down on my urge to say “SERIOUSLY? DID SOMEONE SERIOUSLY SUGGEST THIS?” at a volume that would make glass break and suggested politely that thoughtful design knows no gender. (This is often the case- polite response, screaming internally. It’s noisy in my head a lot.)

But since this is *my* blog, let me reiterate this:

Seriously? DID SOMEONE SERIOUSLY SUGGEST THIS?

See, even as a hypothetical question of “how does design change when x does it instead of y”, I’m not sure who this insults more, but it’s not a compliment to anyone. Let’s break this down:

1. It insults men. It says that men are obviously so lacking in basic understanding and home training (that clearly, they cannot have gained anywhere or learn anywhere) that they couldn’t possibly figure out how to thoughtfully design a ladies’ toilet. Obviously women do something in the bathroom that is so far outside the realm of understanding to men that they can’t POSSIBLY figure it out and design for it appropriately. More on this notion in a moment.

2. It insults women. It basically implies that in fact, we ARE doing something so outside the realm of understanding of men that clearly, only those of us versed in the art of oh I don’t know, not having a Y chromosome could possibly ever understand how to do it. It’s just too…girly for men to bother with and only women can do it right.

and finally, my favorite insult of all…

3. Does this mean people who are transgendered shouldn’t be able to design bathrooms? Does this become like the IOC where we should (again, realizing this was a hypothetical question but I’m showing how outrageous this entire line of thought is) test people to determine their sex? “Oh sorry, you had gender reassignment surgery so no bathroom design for you.”

Now, this question was not brought up with any of these three things in mind. Sadly it was brought up because unfortunately, it is taking far too long for a traditionally male dominated industry, PLUS those people who are responsible for building code in many places, AND lawmakers to learn some *basic facts of the universe*.

Here, let me help:

Women take slightly longer in the bathroom, on average, than men.

Not every woman, and not every time. As an overall group, yes- we do. Even sadder is the reasons ascribed to that- that we’re just primping or fussing about or whatever the fuck it is that sexists think about women in general. But that’s not really it. It’s due to two things- one- we don’t have exterior biological plumbing, and two – often our clothes are more complicated. That, folks is it. But the former is an immutable biological fact. Learn it, live it, feed it on Thursdays. The latter may not be immutable fact, but it is often true, particularly in winter months. Both of these things combine to create a situation where if you are designing a location that has male and female facilities, you *do* in fact, need more of them for women than men. A trip to ANY stadium, convention center, mall bathroom or amusement park will show you this problem in action. It can be identified by LONG lines for the womens facilities and NO line for the mens. It’s not because “men can hold it longer”, it’s not because “we’re playing with makeup or fixing our hair”. It’s because we can’t easily pee standing up, and we don’t have a way to “zip and whip”. We have to essentially partially undress every time we need to run to the bathroom and that takes a little longer.

Now, it’s a valid question to ask “WOULD a woman design toilets differently.” I contend if there’s a serious difference that cannot be ascribed to the individual designer in question, then you’re talking about *bad designers* in general. Part of our job is to understand our end users. When you can’t get the bathroom right you’ve missed this vital piece of your job. It’s one of the reasons I get so cranky when bathrooms are overlooked- when you so this you’re denying a fundamental part of *everyone’s* daily experience. You’re failing to really understand your end user. I would expect that if a male designer were designing a ladies room and wasn’t sure he’d gotten it right he’d just *ASK* a woman to look and see if there was anything he’d missed. I know I’d do the same thing if I were designing a facility for a group I wasn’t a part of- it’s called *research*. It’s what we do, isn’t it?

Yes, it is true, undeniably that building code and lawmakers need to finally and fully grasp that women do take a little longer and need more facilities than men because of it. But just as important is WHY- not some ridiculous and false notion of why that relegates women to the girly corner. A basic understanding of how people function in a real life way would do. But to suggest that there is some fundamental thing that male designers cannot and do not understand about women in regards of how they use a bathroom is insulting to everyone, and we can and should do better than that.

Flush this: A discussion in two parts.

Dateline: Yesterday.

A bunch of Architects and Designers get together both in person in the UK and online everywhere on Earth to discuss “matters of importance”. Most interesting conversation?

Bathrooms. We’re a wild bunch, let me tell you.

After trying to have this conversation in 140 characters or less, I realized it was once again time for me to start the Bathroom Manifesto Smackdown. I don’t think I’ve done it since I started this blog, but I’ve done it many, many times previously. However in this case there’s two different topics that need addressing and so I’m going to divide this into two parts so as not to confuse the issue in comments.

I had made the comment that I would settle for bathrooms not being an afterthought (I am STILL looking at you, Warner Center…). I have long been the champion of getting bathrooms right, so let’s take it from the top:

A bathroom, no matter where you design it, is an exercise in designing an experience. If you think it isn’t? You are missing a design and psychological opportunity and failing your clients.

Now, in a residential setting, this is obvious. If it weren’t true, there wouldn’t be a multimillion dollar bathroom industry. Bed, Bath and Bedamned wouldn’t exist, and Kohler would have gone out of business years ago. Proving the case for this in a residential setting is a no-brainer.

But what about all those other spaces? Retail, Hospitality, Restaurant, Office, Airports, Public Spaces, Convention Centers, etc. (I’m going to leave institutional design off this list because it’s governed by different priorities.) Guess what? It’s true of those places too. The question is identifying the goals of the people using the space and what the priorities of that experience are. It goes beyond peeing, people.

Here’s an example – In an office environment. Particularly here in the US where we work more hours a year than most other countries, you spend a lot of time at the office. Since fewer people smoke these days, there is less of a built in time or excuse to simply *walk away* for five minutes. People eat lunch at their desks, and they stare at a computer screen for long hours. But eventually, everyone is going to have to go to the bathroom. That’s an opportunity. I don’t mean it has to be the most luxurious event ever. What I do mean is that with a little forethought, people can walk away for that five minutes and actually come back a bit more relaxed, a little calmer, a bit more ready to tackle their day. Make those five minutes pleasant, and you get more pleasant people to deal with in general. Though people may do vastly different jobs in the same office what they all have in common is that at some point, they’re all going to need a bio break. It’s an opportunity to create a pleasant experience for everyone by design- one that levels the playing field for everyone and one where people can be equally comfortable.

In restaurants, if you blow the bathroom, you have *failed* as a restaurant designer. Honestly. No matter how much or how little room you have to work with, there is a way to make that experience part of the overall restaurant environment; make it part of a holistic package.

This overall idea can carry over into any kind of bathroom design situation. That’s not to say you should ignore the overall priorities of the project- but for every project there is a way to make the bathroom work and make people more happy, more relaxed, more ready to deal with the rest of their day due to the experience you provide, by design.

Bathrooms are fantastic equalizers. The question is what level do we want to equalize *to*?

Thus endeth part one. Part two is about bathroom and gender. Yeah that ought to get good, cause we all know how much I love institutionalized sexism. *eyeroll*

Finals week is exhausting, and I’m not even in school.

This week is finals week for design/architecture schools in NYC, apparently.

Yesterday, I was on the Pratt jury for their ID finals.
Tomorrow and Friday are FIT thesis projects. I’ve been asked to jury those too.
Monday is the CCNY 3rd year architecture finals. I’ve been asked to jury those, too.

Fortunately, I’d seen half the projects I helped critique yesterday at midterm.  I had not seen the other half, as at midterm, the critics were split into two groups, each seeing half the total projects.  But yesterday, though the plan was to split the critics/projects in half again, only 3 of the 6 jurors showed, forcing a double packed day.

I was very pleased to see significant improvement in the projects I’d seen at midterm. Ultimately, those were all very successful.  Unfortunately, it seemed the ones that my group hadn’t seen at midterm were the less successful of the two groups, though surely there were some winners in that group also.  There were, thankfully, no disasters0 all the projects ranged from decent, to outstanding.

The jurying process though is really exhausting. I’d had less than an hour’s sleep going into it, and the 14 hour day did not help.  Fortunately, I was able to stumble in, put all the electronics on their various chargers, and pass out.

Today I’m trying to do all the stuff I didn’t do yesterday.  Also, expect another egg post soon.