23 March 2010

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.    

No comments:

Post a Comment