Category Archives: professional practice

Future Practice

Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture by Rory Hyde
Routledge, 2012
Paperback, 280 pages

In 2005 Rem Koolhaas and compatriots launched Volume, a journal that, among other things, called for architects to "escape the prison created by the architectural office as currently constituted." Its editorial stated flatly that architecture reached its limit in defining the art of making buildings. In the ensuing seven years Volume has continued to churn out issue after issue (33 as of the end of 2012), but the profession has for the most part remained the same, focusing on the design and realization of buildings, and celebrating iconic buildings, even as fewer and fewer projects relative to the ever-increasing number of architects are commissioned. Yet year after year, as new graduates embark on their careers, more and more of them are questioning the traditional role of the architect, even before working in a firm or taking other supposedly required steps toward licensure. Rory Hyde's new book of interviews traverses this slow yet apparent shift in the professions, charting some directions that people educated and/or trained in architecture are taking.

Needless to say, threats to a profession are often met with resistance, if not downright hostility. Architects aren't burning Future Practice (I don't think so, at least), but Dan Hill rightly points out in his foreword that voices from outside the profession are needed to question the attitudes that keep it mired in potentially hurtful thinking; hurtful in the sense of not bending to larger cultural shifts. Hyde, like many of the interviewees in the book, straddles traditional practice and its new forms. He calls himself an architect, but one who "[works] across design, research, broadcasting and building." He has selected a good range of people and practices to interview, some of them well known (Burce Mau, AMO, Studio Gang, Volume), but most of them known to a much narrower audience.

Future Practice is hardly a comprehensive primer on how to set up a non-traditional firm, nor does it answer all of the myriad questions that revolve around such a theme. Of course, it's not meant to do those things. But it does a fantastic job of expressing the nearly unlimited ways that architects can take advantage of their conceptual and practical education to better themselves personally but also others. Even though Hyde's helpful headings speak about how each interviewee is unique (the Historian of the Present, the Strategic Designer, the Professional Generalist, etc.), this quality of betterment points to one shared concern, which is rooted in traditional architectural practice yet is broader than it: the various practitioners want to improve conditions for people. Their practices may not do this as directly as designing and realizing a house for Family X, but many of their approaches have the potential to yield a greater impact.

Another shared trait is that each practice in the book is relatively small. These are not 100-person firms pulling off grand designs. They are small-to-medium firms (ten people seems to be a good size for those represented) that take advantage of networks to extend their scope. It would actually be easy to see a number of the practices in the book working together, tapping into each other's specific strengths to produce this or that. All of this is quite general, but Hyde is capable in getting the people he talks with to describe what can be rather vague things in some tangible specificity. Those considering an architectural education, or those disgruntled in practice, are recommended to read this snapshot of architecture on the cusp of some great changes, whether we like it or not.

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Architecture: From Commission to Construction

Architecture: From Commission to Construction by Jennifer Hudson
Laurence King Publishers, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

Books that collect works of contemporary architecture tend to present them in some fairly typical ways, particularly by building typology (houses, museums, public space, etc.) and as finished projects with highly polished photography. The former trait allows architects to examine precedents when pursuing a particular project, and the latter paints a building in as positive light as possible, for both other architects and potential clients. But what about the process of a project? Isn't that as important as the "final" building? Of course it is, given that the building is the result of successive steps, from concept design to construction documents to the actual construction, and all the steps in between. So it's refreshing to see Jennifer Hudson's survey of 25 buildings, of varying typologies, that traces them from, as the title says, commission to construction.

The book's format is pretty straightforward, and is consistent from project to project. The first two-page spread gives a view of the finished building alongside Hudson's descriptive text and the projects details—location, use, client, site and building area, dates of design and construction, and budget. The three or four spreads that follow visually document the project from early sketches and models through the subsequent steps to completion. It's refreshing that only one page of the six or eight pages is devoted to finished photography, with much of the rest featuring drawings and other documentation that isn't typically shared in books or online. The example accompanying this review is Peter Rich's Mapungubwe Interpretation Center in South Africa, a project that won the 2009 WAF Building of the Year. Additionally, this week's dose presents another project from the book—Écomusée du pays de Rennes in Rennes, France, by Guinée *Potin—and uses the opportunity to further examine how Hudson's book gives insight into parts of a project that are often overlooked.

The most important parts of the book are Hudson's captions that accompany the numerous illustrations documenting each project's process. It's not enough to show, for example, drawings of the facade for LOT-EK's Weiner Townhouse without explaining how they were submitted to New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission so that windows made of truck bodies could be used in a historic district. The captions lead us through the drawings and other illustrations, like a narrator in a documentary explains the images that tumble before our eyes. Thankfully, the selection of projects is varied in many ways (if a bit heavy on projects in the UK and designed by UK architects): There are houses, formally extravagant cultural institutions, installations, a stadium, projects that have to deal with preservation, and so forth; about the only thing missing is a tower (a highly specialized typology that gets plenty of in-depth investigation elsewhere). It's a good book for architects to see how other practitioners work through a project, but it's more valuable for students to understand how a building makes its way from an idea to a reality in the world.

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Portfolio Design

Portfolio Design, Fourth Edition by Harold Linton
W. W. Norton, 2012
Hardcover, 224 pages

Harold Linton's Portfolio Design was first published in 1996. I remember referencing it as I assembled my portfolio after graduating from undergraduate architecture school the same year. A lot has changed in the last decade and a half, much of which has influenced the shape and form of portfolios. Design work is produced in the computer, rather than by hand; images are modified and portfolio pages are laid out with Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) or other software; and prospective employers would rather look at PDFs or websites before considering somebody for a position, after which they can look at a print portfolio during an interview. These are not hard and fast rules, of course, but advances in computer technology, and their influence on the production of architectural design, have necessitated three new editions to Linton's helpful book.

While I don't have the third edition, I do have the second edition from 2000. Number four differs from that one most overtly by having color illustrations throughout the book, not just on a few pages in the middle of the book. Linton's preface to the new edition makes it seems that the full-color examples are also a change from the third edition. It is important that every portfolio is example is presented in color: Since the examples are basically printed versions of pages made in InDesign or similar software, what we see on the pages is close to what one would see on a monitor. And this gets at what is missing in this shift to color and reproductions of digitally laid-out pages: Very few physical portfolios are presented as examples. Linton's second edition has plenty of photos of portfolios splayed out so one can see covers, binding, and some pages. But the need to design for digital and print realms simultaneously means the emphasis is on page layout rather than the portfolio's design as a physical book. This is not to say that page layout was not important before (Linton's guidelines from the second edition are pretty much intact in the fourth edition), but the examples stress it more than before.

By staying updated with trends in producing and disseminating portfolios, Linton has kept his book relevant. This is particularly true relative to the examples given, all of which appear to be fairly new. They exhibit the influence of the computer in design as well as in assembling images and laying out pages. Overall the text is helpful in knowing how to approach the design of one's portfolio and how to assemble digital and print materials, but it's the examples that give students and architects plenty of inspiration. Things fall apart a little bit in a chapter on "the interactive environment and portfolio package." While it even incorporates recent platforms like Architizer, Linton's emphasis on branding one's identity and his rudimentary knowledge of social networking make this chapter pale in comparison to the evolving, tried-and-true chapters on portfolio design that precede it. Nevertheless the book is a great reference for students and young architects looking for work or making their portfolio fresh, thanks to Linton's efforts in finding the best examples to go with his helpful text.

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Wonderland Manual for Emerging Architects

Wonderland Manual for Emerging Architects edited by Wonderland - Platform for Architecture, Silvia Forlati, Anne Isopp
Springer, 2011
Paperback, 352 pages

Some years back I downloaded the first issue of Wonderland - Platform for Architecture, a magazine that was distributed with A10, New European Architecture. Even though I only had a PDF, I was intrigued by the page layout, as well as the graphics and the means of visualizing information, the latter with its surveys on the state of architectural practice. Geared at helping young architects in Europe to start up a practice, the first issue, "Getting Started," came across as a fresher and more readable alternative to the US-equivalent, AIA's The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice. This comparison, while unfair in that one is aimed at European architects and the other at American architects, illustrates what makes Wonderland unique: it surveys firms and collects statistics alongside numerous essays to embrace architectural practice in numerous guises, not just the traditional practice espoused by bureaucratic organizations like the AIA or RIBA.

The Wonderland Manual for Emerging Architects collects the magazine's first issue, the following two issues that were published -- "Making Mistakes" and "Going Public" -- and adds two previously unpublished sections: "Getting Specialized" and "Making Competitions." All five sections utilize the same style of illustrations and data visualization, set apart from each other through the different color schemes. Graphically the book is impressive, but it is the content that makes the book extremely useful to European architects, of course, but also to architects elsewhere. Some of the more practical information, such as the licensing requirements for the various EU countries, may not be applicable to a wider audience, but a lot of the data and contributions (interviews, essays, etc.) offer snapshots and advice that architects in other parts of the world will want to read. Many of the contributions by European architects give candid insights into various ways of working, be it dealing with clients, getting work, or promoting themselves.

Ultimately, the manual does not push for a single type of practice, a fact that is particularly evident in the epilogue by  Tatjana Schneider and Nishat Awan, co-authors, along with Jeremy Till, of Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture. In this regard Wonderland is valuable for architects who not only want to set themselves apart from their peers but want to do it responsibly and work towards dealing with areas of crisis that architects would do well not to ignore. The rest of the book is not as explicit about "other ways of doing architecture," but it provides tools and ways of thinking that work just as well towards an alternative practice than a traditional one.

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