Notes from the Road

Thoughts about the world as I travel through it


Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Architecture and Income

It’s well known that architects are poorly paid. With a lengthy degree, followed by three or more years of apprenticeship and professional exams before they can even use the word architect, it seems crazy.

It’s not crazy, even if it is unfair.

I believe that people’s willingness to pay for a service has to do with their sense of criticality: the distance from a crisis. A simple analogy: most yachtsmen are resistant to the cost of a proper¬†life-raft, when they see one in the chandler. No-one intends to have their boat sink, and it seems hard to justify the raft. But the same sailor, when dismasted and holed in the open sea, will happily pay almost any amount for helicopters and other rescue options. Similarly, if you need surgery, your first thought is not the cost, but the quality and experience of the surgeon. If you are up against the IRS, you want an experienced tax advisor, not just a cheap one. (more…)

Work and the NextGen Office

The Architect magazine this month has a feature on work – ¬†you can learn more at their website – it’s an important topic, because we mostly do too much of it.

On the front page of the article is a drawing that lists some of the activities we enjoy (endure?) in the workplace:

  • focus
  • nurture
  • nourish
  • meet
  • research
  • grow.

It’s a good list, but I think it misses something really important. In my experience there are two very different kinds of focus work.


Bjarke Ingels at TED

Architecture is about the application of ideas to the environment. Bjarke Ingels understands the power of an idea to symbolize our relationship to the environment – both in a spatial sense and in terms of more abstract ideas like sustainability.

In this video he talks about how he has used architecture and master planning to create environments that are a pleasure to be a part of, while offering new perspectives on traditional typologies.

BIG and Small

Glen Small writes about Bjarke Ingels in this article. The comparison is interesting: Both are full of energy and ideas. Their architectural strategies have a number of things in common. But they could not be more different from a business perspective.

The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has a stream of prestigious comissions, and a portfolio of significant projects in many parts of the world. Glen in contrast has a lot of breakthrough ideas, but much less built work.

There’s no answer to the question of which is the right approach. At the end of the day, some choose to produce ideas, others choose to produce product. Ideas can be very influential (think Adolf Loos), and so can product (Frank Lloyd Wright). It’s probably more comfortable to make a living out of product than ideas, and Glen can attest to that.

Music, emotion and architecture

Years ago, I sang with a choir called the Schola Polyphonica, under the direction of Maxwell Fernie, in New Zealand. On the rare occasions when we performed, an emotional sense of engagement and connection arose between the singers and the audience, that I have rarely experienced elsewhere. Through rehearsing and performing the music, we were all changed, and somehow brought closer together.

Music seems to create that opportunity and experience, perhaps more than other art forms.

Having made a career shift back to architecture, I’m looking for the same thing. Architecture is not really a performance art (although we do perform in making client and internal presentations). How do we find the same kind of emotional connection to the work? Through the collaborative process? Through drawing?

I wish I knew.

Architecture is certainly very engaging, and the problems are fascinating. Perhaps this is why Zaha Hadid does oil paintings, and Steven Holl and Santiago Calatrava use watercolors – as a way of connecting body to image?

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