They’re sadists. There. I said it.

Though I am sure I will have something more interesting to talk about tomorrow, since I have plans to take photos of a friend for the beginning stages of a furniture design project (and I’ll probably get some nice photos of Harlem too while I’m at it- I haven’t been taking enough photographs lately anyway), I do have something to say today.

The people at AutoDesk are sadists.  And not in a good, fun way, either.

Since the upgrade of my trusty computer Chuck to Chuck v3.0, I decided to bite the bullet and update AutoCAD too.  I knew going in that there was a good chance that I’d feel this way after I did so, and yep..here I am.

See, every year AutoDesk updates AutoCAD.  But I swear that these folks sit around cackling like madmen at their desks as they write in the changes.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate their hard work, but I swear that you spend six months learning where they moved everything, and then just when you finally get used to whatever version you just upgraded to, they release a new one, so you’re confused all over again.

So you decide, okay… I’m not going to update every year.  I’m just going to use the version I have and not make myself insane.

Yeah, that’s what I  did.  So now, the upgrade is *hyooooooge* and 3x as confusing and I want to put my head through the monitor.

Of course I’ll be fine in two weeks, once I learn how to switch all the menus back around to something that makes sense.  In the meantime, I’m glad I learned all those keyboard shortcuts.  Yeesh.

Damned sadists.

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The Problem. (now with photographic evidence!)

Let’s play a game.

See if you can guess what’s my all time, number one, with a bullet design peeve.

Wait. This will never work- too many of you already know. Okay, for the three people on the planet that don’t yet know, it’s when tables are too close together in restaurants. This makes me CRAZY. And in NYC, with over 31,000 restaurants and little space, it bothers me a LOT.

Right up front- I am passionate about food. I own and co-moderate one food community and I’m a moderator on another. I cook. A lot. I take photos of food. A lot. I am deeply passionate about restaurants and restaurant culture. Restaurant design is my favorite kind, because I get design and food in one shot. I read just as many food blogs as design and architecture blogs, and I read a lot of design and architecture blogs.

I am all about this whole restaurant thing, and I live in one of the single best places in the world to *be* all about the whole restaurant thing. When I *do* wind up with a residential project I would much prefer it be a kitchen, and more than that, be a kitchen for someone who is going to beat the holy hell out of it, too. Because I understand that mentality.

Last night, while I was toodling around Noah Kalina’s photography site, I was faced with The Problem.

Over.

 

And over.

 

 

…and over.

 

 

I understand, fully and without any question that the goal of a restaurant is to make money and that in order to do that successfully you are trying to make the maximum money per square foot/meter of space. I GET IT. I also understand fully and without any question that in a tight space you are trying to put as many tables in as possible in order to increase the amount of money per square foot/meter. Understood.

However the LAWS OF PHYSICS prevent people from being able to reform themselves into two dimensional objects with no thickness in order to be able to slip between tables that are placed this close together. There is *no way* to get in and out of these seating arrangements easily and cleanly. Not to mention it’s not just you. It’s your bag, or your purse, or your briefcase, or whatever you were carrying with you that day. Even a light jacket or sweater, which is not a bad thing to have on you in summer since a lot of restaurants are overly air conditioned.

At a *bare minimum*, ergonomically speaking, you need 18″ between each of those tables in order to be able to safely get in and out from behind them. I didn’t say comfortably. For that, you’re looking at a minimum of 24″. And if you honestly don’t know those numbers, I know you flunked design studio somewhere. Probably more than once, and you deserved it, too.

This doesn’t even begin to address that in these photographic examples, you’re practically sitting in the lap of the person adjacent to you on the banquette. Do you really want to overhear everything they say that badly, or vice versa? Being that close to adjacent diners screws with your sense of territoriality in a big way sometimes, particularly when it comes to putting things down like purses or bags or jackets. I’ve read countless stories of diners winding up at one another’s throats because of this issue. Is it *that hard* to pull one table out and separate the others to accommodate for the basic realities of physics? Just because your C of O says you CAN fit X amount of people into the space does it mean you have to *try*? I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t pay an extra few dollars for their meal (especially here in NYC- come on, we’re already paying a fortune anyway) just to not be breathing in the exhale of the people sitting next to them against the wall.

Don’t even *begin* to give me the song and dance about “people being bigger now”. Look at these (really illustrative) photos. People *were never* that small. And yet we continue to think that in restaurants the laws of physics are somehow not applicable. It’s NONSENSE.

Move the damned tables.

On an entirely unrelated note- If you’re reading DGD from a feed? If you comment on the *feed* I don’t get it in my mailbox. I will only ever see the comment if I just happen to catch it. If you want me to see the comment you have to do it at the original post (meaning here, at the DGD site proper.)

 

 

 

 

 

You might be paid to think, but you’re not paid to read like stereo instructions.

“You’re not paid to think.”

Well actually, I am paid to think. It’s one of the best things about this job. It requires you to have a brain in your head. (see: differences between designers and decorators, part #4,587) I love the fact that I’m paid to think. For someone who tends to live in their head anyway (like me) this is an absolute bonus plan.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t understand why so many people who are paid to think also think they’re paid to write using a pretentious, specified lexicon where it’s not needed, in order to sound like they’re somehow more elite than the average schmuck who is reading what they’re saying. I read a LOT of architecture and design material, and so much of it is full of shit. Not because the *ideas* themselves are bad- they’re not(okay, well sometimes they are, but not in any greater percentage over any other ideas presented differently). I just have a hard time suppressing the urge to slap people upside who can’t figure out how to write without sounding like they came out of a 15 week course in Art Criticism and Pretension, and got an A.

It’s not a matter of vocabulary, in the sense of “words one doesn’t understand”. It’s a matter of sounding like you’re deliberately going out of your way to exclude as many people who are not as “in the know” as you are. In the end, so many times people wind up sounding like *complete morons* because of it. What? Do you think you get paid more if you sound like that? Only if your clients are seriously stupid, and one would hope that they aren’t, because stupid clients are a pain in the ass.

I was reading something yesterday and there was a comment that made me think “What the hell does that even *mean*? Does the author even know, or did they just pull random words out of a hat, reordered them so they were grammatically correct, and is having a fantastic laugh over how “enlightened” they sound.

Come on, knock it off. You’re not fooling anyone.

It’s not about you.

I’m entirely open about the fact that residential design is not my idea of a good time. I don’t think I’ve ever made that a secret and I can’t imagine why I’d start now. I’ve done a lot of it though, and I still continue to do it despite the fact that it often makes me want to take a cheese grater to my eyeballs.

But this isn’t a post about my lack of enchantment with residential work. It’s a post (in what is I promise, an endless series, because I will never run out of reasons) of why I hate “design television”.

Almost all of the programs about design on television aren’t really about design, but that’s a topic for another day (see I told you I will never run out). But the vast bulk are about people’s houses, rather than about well… anywhere else. Now the reason for this is simple- the people watching these shows aren’t designers (unless they’re playing a drinking game.) They’re homeowners. Sometimes they’re do-it-yourselfers, or decorating junkies or design wannabes. There’s no reason for them to be interested in anything outisde the sphere of the home. And the advertisers (remember, that really is what generates what you’re seeing) are selling products *not* to the trade, but to homeowners at your average retail or big-box hardware store. As I said a while ago, most design is not a handicraft project, but you’d never know that by watching “design” tv.

But aside from that, one of the misconceptions that the average person could take away from watching these kinds of programs is that residential design is about the designer. Years ago, when I could still stomach watching programs like Trading Spaces (I promise, I can’t anymore. I just start screaming incoherently at the screen after a while) the buzz was always about which designer would be assigned to what space. The rooms that they decorated (cause seriously, let’s call this what it is, here) were WAY more about them (the designers) than the homeowners. Like all “reality” television though, it doesn’t wind up portraying the industry it shows in any kind of positive light.

Let’s make this perfectly clear. Residential design is NOT about the designer. Period . The end. Full stop. Do not pass go, do not collect 30% over net. Residential design is about the client. Because at the end of the day, and the end of the project, sure the designer’s name is on it, but we don’t have to LIVE in it. We get to walk away and move on to the next project. But the client is stuck with the results. And it damned well better be what it is *they* want and need, rather than some kind of ridiculous ego stroke for the person who drew up the plans.

My job is to give the clients what they want on time, on budget, and with enough good taste and sense to prevent them from sailing over the edge and doing something dangerous or stupid. What my job isn’t is to give them what *I* want. Because I have my own house for that. I don’t need to borrow someone else’s. Half the time I couldn’t tell you what I want in my own house anyway, besides cats that will clean up after themselves (it hasn’t happened yet) and a dishwasher (which hasn’t happened yet either.)

The other danger when residential design becomes designer rather than client driven is that all your projects tend to look alike. And sure, if left to your own devices as a designer, everyone develops a signature style. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just that residential work is a lousy place to express it, unless your clients like living in a space that looks like the last ten you designed. But when you allow the work to be client driven you can design anything. Any style, on any given day. All you have to do is remember that you (the designer) don’t have to live in it- your clients do. But it gives you a wider range of things you know you’re capable of, rather than retreating to the same looks all the time. You never have to design the same look twice, which in the end is better for the designer anyway in terms of experience and a varied portfolio. But it’s also better for your clients who are going to have to live with the results, too.

When you’ve gotta go…

I wasn’t planning on writing this today. I was planning on writing something about packaging design. But that’s been bumped to tomorrow, because last night my good friend Marianne wrote this post on her blog about public restrooms. And though I am sure I’d have gotten to writing about this topic *eventually*, suddenly it popped to the top of my schedule.

Now, I am not here to discuss this issue from the angle of body politics. This isn’t a blog *about* body politics. I’ve guest blogged over at The Rotund (Marianne’s site) before, talking about one of my biggest peeves in the entire design world- when the tables are too close together in restaurants (really, this drives me utterly batshit.) and how that affects body politics in three dimensional space. But since my blog is coming at this from a different angle, this post will too.

Ok, first of all, I want to address this, since it was written (probably largely in jest, but I have heard other, similar things said in all seriousness) in comments over there- there is no conspiracy as to why public bathrooms suck. It’s not a matter of gender politics. It’s not a matter of men designing things and not understanding the needs of women. It’s not a tinfoil hat scenario. The reason why public bathrooms suck (and in this context, I’m using public to mean “any space not in a private residence”, not truly public space) can be summed up in ONE word:

Money.

Folks, no one ever made any real money out of people needing a place to pee unless we’re talking about a pay toilet. The truth is that the rest rooms in almost all of the public spaces you encounter are designed with very few considerations:

  • using the least amount of floor space possible, in order to save square footage for money generating activities.
  • using the least amount of money possible, in order to save design and construction funds for things that will generate income on the far end.
  • fulfilling the legal requirements in terms of building code (and in the US, the ADA) *and that’s it.* (why? see the two points above this.)

The rest room setups that most of us are familiar with are *standardized* and because they are standardized they are *CHEAP* to produce. They are designed to use the least amount of space *legally allowable* in order to leave more room for the things that are needed to generate revenue. That’s IT. Period. There’s nothing more to “read into it.” I promise.

That being said, I have been waging (what often feels like single-handed) war on the standardized design of restrooms since I started my design career. Because I think they SUCK, and we can do much better. It genuinely bothers me that in a space like the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle here in NYC, designed by SOM, who by any accounting you could consider have both more money and talent than any firm needs to know what to do with STILL HAS LOUSY BATHROOMS(though I have to thank them for providing a convenient and free place to pee on the west side. Thanks, guys!). The space is so carefully crafted- so thoughtfully planned out… and then you walk down this long corridor towards the rest rooms and it suddenly feels like an afterthought. Plain white walls, standardized stalls.. you name a cliché here and it’s there. And there’s no *reason* for it. Because if what you’re selling, ultimately, is an *experience* (and boy howdy that’s what retail is selling you, as well as product and don’t you forget it), as much as people are grateful (really! I’m grateful) for a free place to pee on the west side, the illusion you’re creating is BLOWN when the bathrooms suck.

I love to design restaurants, retail spaces, hospitality, nightclubs, bars… all those kinds of places that you find the kind of bathrooms we’re talking about here. And I know for sure that *it can be done*. It’s BEEN done. It’s been done at Bar89. It’s been done in the (now gone.. *snif*) lobby of The Royalton, in the men’s room(don’t ask me how I know that). It’s been done (and still my favorite in all of NYC) at Peep. I know it’s been done all over my damned portfolio. It’s been done in a whole lot of places, actually, all over the world. So it *is* doable. The question is for designers, why aren’t we fighting to do it more often? It’s a fantastic design opportunity and if you do it well it becomes a serious talking point and something people will go to see. Why is the design of a restroom so often an afterthought (and it looks it- you aren’t fooling anyone, you know.)

And if you question whether or not people *WANT* that; whether or not they want changes in how rest rooms are designed, even if it means paying a buck or two extra for their meal or whatever, go read the comments over at the post I linked to at the start of this. Work from there.

Peeve.

The news of the day, sports fans, is the release of Fumihiko Maki‘s design to replace the Cooper Union engineering building at 51 Astor Place in NYC.  I’m seeing this all over my rss reader today from Curbed and Tropolism so far (but I expect it to be pretty much everywhere by day’s end.)  For those who are familiar with the area- it’s the building where the other Starbucks is over by Astor. The one closest to St. Mark’s Place. North side of the street.

Now, I am sickeningly familiar with this spot. I have taken *innumerable* pictures of this spot.  I have nothing to say about the design of the building (yet) because honestly, I’m up to my eyeballs in a massive portfolio revision, so I haven’ t looked at it very closely yet.   The only reason I am even commenting on this at all right now is because this rendering is MAKING ME NUTS.

2008_2_51astor.jpg

It took me ten minutes to figure out where the hell this view was taken from. Granted, I’m slightly dyslexic so for a normal person I expect it would have taken five.  Now, I realize that they wanted to show the whole building. I get that.  But it drives me crazy when renderings magically appear with views that simply *CAN NOT EXIST* in real life.  And this, folks? Is one of them.  Because near as I can tell, this view is in theory, from the southeast corner of St. Mark’s Place, looking northwest.  I don’t think I have a photo of this specific corner, but now I have a reason to take one, just to prove the point.  (If anyone has one, let me know, just to save time.)

In the foreground of this (otherwise perfectly lovely) rendering, it looks like there’s a big open plaza. Looks nice, right?  Yeah.  That doesn’t exist.  There’s a bustling old corner right there that last I heard wasn’t going anywhere.  No one will *ever* see this view of this building, pretty as it is.   As much as (yes, I *get* it, you’re trying to show the whole building. I get it, I get it…) this view looks awfully nice, it’s just got nothing (at all) to do with reality.  I would have liked it a lot more if even in a transparent layer, you’d see what actually exists there.

Granted, I haven’t looked at the whole proposal yet.  I’ll get there. They may have images that show what this really would look like more realistically. But this is just such a peeve of mine, because somehow, it feels fundamentally dishonest to me.  You’re selling people on a view that will simply never exist.   The vision that’s presented here will never be realized, even if they build the building to look precisely like this.   People have enough trouble visualizing things they can’t see right in front of them.  Do we have to lie to them, too?