27 March 2010

Dot Processing

Dwight, So and I start to sort out our ideas into a building. During our presentations earlier in the day, Balmond discourages So and others who were studying a grid-based system from continuing in that direction. The grid, he believes is too restrictive to allow interesting results. So prior to our next meeting with Balmond, we agree to use mine and Dwight's ideas to move forward with the building design. First we will use the space organization I developed to lay out the spaces of the building. Then we will use Dwight's system for building enclosure to create the exterior walls and windows. In the meeting Balmond confirms that there is potential in our process so we start on the algorithms.

          The non-linear design process uses algorithms, or repetitive patterns to create forms. Knitting is an example of an algorithm. The repetition of pulling one loop of yarn through another and changing direction at a regular interval produces material. Unlike knitting, which uses an algorithm with known results, the results of our algorithms are unpredictable and variant. But with the right adjustment of the rules and their variables, the algorithms will create a design that can be built. The computer enables us to quickly test the algorithms and adjust the variables to get different results. The catch to this is translating the algorithms into commands that a computer can understand.

       Writing computer code is not typically part of an architectural design studio, and often does not come naturally to architects. A few students have computer science backgrounds and can write lines of computer code as easily as English sentences, but the exactness of the process leaves the more creative and less logical architectural minds befuddled. I find myself somewhere in the middle--I have experience with scripting from an elective I took last semester, but I am not nearly as fast as some.

       I write and edit code for a week attempting to get dots (representing the architecture students and faculty,) to behave the way I want. At first I can't get them to interact at all, then I can't get them to separate. On Monday Roland Snooks' advises me to switch to a program called Processing which can work through algorithms much more efficiently. As he predicts, by Wednesday's studio meeting, I have hundreds of red and blue dots wandering around the screen forming into groups. These groups, I hope, can start to layout the rooms inside Dwight's enclosure.

In the video blue dots represent students, pink dots are faculty and green dots are temporarily established groups.

23 March 2010

Team Building

We are required to work in teams of three, but forming these groups is not as easy as counting off.  Studio groups involve friendship, working style, expectations, and language barriers.  They are like short term marriages and you don’t want to end up divorced.  Occasionally, in a studio, a break up happens leaving one person to do the work of three.  And since,  for the first three weeks we have already been individually brainstorming and researching ideas for non-linear architecture projects, compatibility of ideas was critical too.   
The assignment for our studio is a new design school for Penn.   I've been thinking about how people organize themselves into groups within a school of design.  My initial assumption is that the functions of a building can be organized by simple rules based on desire of the students and faculty to learn.  The process has the potential to define the proximity and size of rooms, but does little in terms of structure that could make a building.  Knowing my limitations, I teamed up with Dwight Engel, a friend who has similar interests but I have never worked with before.  For this studio he is interested in the relationship of structure and transparent surfaces--walls and windows. 
So Sugita is an easy choice for a second teammate.  Working together last semester we produced one of my favorite projects I have completed at Penn.  Dependable and intelligent, he kept our group moving forward toward a final result.  His interest in self-organizing circulation paths fit nicely with my programmatic spaces and Dwight’s structural ideas. 
With the engagement confirmed, we meet--Dwight, a fit, stylish guy with curly brown hair who is always willing to talk about architecture;  So, an immaculately dressed Japanese with black rimmed " architect" glasses;  And myself, the least well dressed and the most opinionated of the group.  We make our first decision, unanimously, to go out for burgers and beer.    

Directed by Cecil B.

The NAAB has approved the architecture program at Penn with high praise, citing only safety and accessibility (the lack of handrails and handicap ramps in our drawings,) as a "student performance criteria"  in need of improvement .   With our degree assured, we can now get back to work preparing for our first meeting with Cecil Balmond.
                After three weeks of working on diagrams and reading, biweekly discussions with Roland Snooks our  assistant professor, and one false alarm--last week Balmond's flight was cancelled at the last minute-- he finally arrived. 
                At four o’clock two men in black walked in to the studio. The black attire was about all they had in common.   Snooks is a tall scruffy thirty-something Australian, while Balmond’s is shorter, with a thin white beard highlighting his olive complexion and a shiny bald head also lined with white hair. 
                As the presentations began it quickly became evident that Balmond deserved his big reputation as a non-conventional designer and teacher.  "Make an assumption and jump," he told us as we crowded around him in the studio aisle, but "be careful to reevaluate your assumptions."   He was absorbed in our presentations with an attention and curiosity I have rarely seen in other professors.  Balmond's interest in the studio was clearly not only to teach, but also to learn.  Inquisitive and instructive, his statements imbued us with a confidence to explore this new idea of non-linear design.  Balmond seemed to welcome uncertainty:   "At the beginning you want to be vulnerable."  More like invention than conventional design, the non-linear or non-hierarchical design process provides the uncertainty that he desires with the upside of potentially new, more efficient, interesting and ultimately successful  building designs.  By exploring new design systems and making bold assumptions, he believes we can discover design and construction processes that we would not find through traditional design methods. 
During the four and half hour session Balmond never waned.  He moved through the fourteen students—two presentations followed by a discussion--continuing to provide acute direction and inspiration for each of us.  With students fading fast (we had been up most of the night working),  the presentations ended after eight.  We all were looking forward eagerly to some food and much needed sleep when Snooks announced that we should form into working groups of three.  These groups were to present a cohesive design statement at ten the next morning.  Groups are a common part of studio projects, but forming them can be tricky.  As Balmond and Snooks walked out, frantic negotiation ensued.    

04 March 2010

Degree NAAB'd?

It looks like the pages of a giant high school yearbook have been ripped out and pasted over the glass surrounding the galleries at school.  I assumed the overly posed black-and-white wrapping was part of a fine art project until I realized the National Architectural Accrediting Board, the organization that regulates all architecture schools in the country, was visiting this week.
             In something like a tax audit, every three to six years, the board visits the school and does a detail review of all the curriculum, faculty, and student work and confirms whether the school is adequately educating its students to enter the architecture profession.  Behind one glass wall covered in smiling students and building models was the NAAB temporary office, and the other, the lower gallery, was the student work for review. 
                Being one of the most established architecture schools in the country, the review should be a formality--A pat on the back and a few suggestions for improvement.  But there have been some rumors surrounding the review--one being the difficult search through the student work to find a floor plan that included toilets and handrails.
Their findings will be announced on Friday at a school wide closing reception.  Hopefully our faces will still be smiling.