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AIA Convention Wishlist

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What I wish the AIA was talking about at its Convention in Miami right now:

Design
Somehow, the fact that architects are designers seems to get lost in the shuffle at AIA proceedings. That is understandable, as the AIA is essentially a professional group that promotes its members’ interests. Thus, liability and legal loopholes, legislation, and healthcare are more important to it than the fact that most of the buildings appearing every year in this country are execrable in their design. A serious debate about what constitutes good design, where you find it, how you train to do it, and how you evaluate it, might not be a bad starting point if the profession wants to hold onto what is supposedly its core competency. Giving awards at least shows you some examples, though I never heard any serious discussions about what makes the winners good.

Beauty

Even more wrought is the question of what is beautiful. Yet architects will have to confront this question if they are going to do something more than provide services that more highly specialized professionals and even computer programs can fulfill. You can buy software to design your own house these days, and large buildings are so highly regularized, for both economic and code reasons, that there is little leeway for creativity (another dangerous word at the AIA). So, what is it that architects can provide? Once they have fulfilled the task of creating sufficient and appropriately arranged space, made the building secure and safe, are they done? No, they must prove their fees by shaping the building into something we might call architecture—something beautiful, perhaps?

History
One of the ways architects justify their work is by inventing the ever-new. They make new forms, new shapes, or new spaces. They use the latest computer programs and technologies. Then they try to fit those inventions into existing human and natural landscapes, while hoping that the inhabitants and observers will not be completely alienated by their forms. If architects were instead to think of their work as an intelligent understanding, rearranging, reusing, and opening up of what already exists, might we not have a more sane way of designing?

Environment
Ecology is our new religion. Obtaining a LEED certification justifies everything. But at a more fundamental level, should we not ask the question of whether we need to make new buildings at all, when they waste tremendous amounts of natural resources? Is there a way of justifying tearing down structures, carting off the waste, importing new future waste, and building a spanking new structure that will have to change as soon as users begin making use of it? And what of the fact that architects are complicit in sprawl?

Sprawl
Speaking of the dissolution of urban structures into the miasma of human structures and infrastructures spreading over the globe, how can architects design for sprawl in such a way that it makes sense? If we cannot create new human landscapes that are socially and environmentally sane, is architecture not morally corrupt?

Learning from Las Vegas—and Landscape

When will architects admit that interior designers are creating the most effective, sensible, sensual, and spectacular spaces and that landscape architects are making the best urban designs? The restaurants and stores of Las Vegas, the housing plans of the Netherlands, and the public realm of the Duisburg-Nord Industrial Park do everything architects should be aspiring to (OK, and a lot more), yet architects sniff and sneer at anything that is not an autonomous structure. Time to look around, you aspiring Howard Roarks.

Space
It is the final frontier. It is the mystery of architecture. It justifies what architects do. Yet nobody has ever seen it, felt it, touched it, smelt it, or tasted it. How about trying to get at the mystery of what it is?


If the AIA Convention addressed just a few of these issues, perhaps it might justify the carbon cost of bringing all those soi-disant designers to the shores of what was once the swamps of Florida.

An Idiosyncratic P.S.:
Let’s ban the use of all fluorescent lights and air conditioning. They sap your vital bodily fluids.

 
 

Comments (5 Total)

  • Posted by: CCSArchitect | Time: 5:18 PM Sunday, June 13, 2010

    I like your list Aaron and think it's entirely relevant and thoughtful. I also like the 'anonymous' response in capital letters! Made me laugh because their response resonates with my own life experiences. I even like their point number 1 about the job fairs but want to comment that people need to remember that long-lasting jobs come from the private sector. It's not up to the AIA to provide architectural jobs or spur job growth. It's an impossible task for the institute or any institute since free markets are what creates jobs, not government or trade associations or the AIA. We need to implement measures which will reverse the shrinking of our private sector first and second, we need to change our business models as architects to fit-in with the new economy. I recently wrote a blog entry http://ccsarchenter.blogspot.com/ entitled "Real Estate is Where It's At. Are You Listening Architects?" If we can parlay our superb knowledge of people and neighborhoods into enabling us to take more real estate ownership, then we will be in better control of our profession. Better control of architecture translates into controlling our own job growth. It's a far-fetched proposition considering our already lengthy training but I sincerely think this is the direction we need to engage-in as a profession. To re-iterate the point in my blog, why do you think the top architecture schools have introduced dual real estate and architecture programs in the past 5 years? Best wishes to all architects!

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 4:44 PM Friday, June 11, 2010

    Great list. Which one (or several) of these topics will you be presenting (or organizing others to present) on in New Orleans next year? I believe the deadline for submitting proposals is July 1st. :). Thanks in advance!

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 3:59 PM Friday, June 11, 2010

    Possibly, the AIA could sponsor a workshop on the demolition of the three World Trade Center Towers and the death and mayhem this terrorist act has brought upon society; Endless wars, millions dead and displaced, untold casualties and environmental disaster. Thank God for Richard Gage and A/E for 911 Truth and Professor Steven Jones. Not to mention the fact that this was an 'inside job' with U.S. and Israeli government complicity.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 3:14 PM Friday, June 11, 2010

    1. THE AIA NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT CREATING JOB FAIRS! 2.THE AIA NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT COMPANYS THAT HAVE EMPLOYEE RAILROAD TRACKS ONLY PRODUCE DESIGN MONKEYS AND PRODUCTION MONKEYS, NOT WELL ROUNDED ARCHITECTS. 3.THE AIA NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT REINVENTING THEMSELVES. 4.THE AIA NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT SUEING ALL THE I.T. TRADES ILLEGALLY CALLING THEMSELVES ARCHITECTS. 5.THE AIA NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT A MANDATORY RULE THAT THE FIFTH YEAR OF EVERY ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL BE THE A.R.E LICENSING EXAM TESTING YEAR. 6.THE AIA NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT IMPOSING A RULE THAT THE EVERY ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL HAS MANDATORYCLASSES THAT LEAD TO ANY CERTIFICATION SUCH AS LEED AP, ...ETC.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:06 PM Friday, June 11, 2010

    One of our other core competency is that we are supposed to be able to detail buildings that control the passage of heat, air and moisture, yet building enclosure technology rarely gets mentioned at the major architecture conventions. Perhaps if we were percieved as at least competent, let alone the leader in making buildings that perform we might then be given more credence for our views on design. When we do both badly, as is all too often the case, we are doomed to the category of an administrative box that must be ticked, i.e. hire the architect for the bare minimum fee required to get a permit. After all, the owner already knows the look they want and the contractor really figures out how to build it, right? Of course we can get a few extra bucks if we play the LEED game well. Who cares if the actual energy performance is several times over the predictions of the model and that the facade has to be rebuilt in 10 years because it leaks and starts to rot as long as we got enough points so the developer can put a plaque on the wall. We can pat ourselves on the back for the bamboo flooring and carpet made from old tires. By the way, if you want to learn something from Las Vegas it is that nothing saps bodily fluids like a trying to live in a building without air conditioning when it is 100 degrees and 90% humidity outside, no matter how many operable windows and sunshades you have.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.