Sunday, December 03, 2006

Elaborations of the Two Foot Rule

To my surprise, my post on the Two Foot Rule garnered a few comments, which is rare for my little space of the web. People seemed quite intrigued by the idea and asked for some clarifications, perhaps some documentation, even tips on implementing the rule into their own projects and presentations. So, I think I need to clarify myself.

I see the Two Foot Rule representing something more general about Architecture, in education and practice, and not necessarily a universally applicable design process. For me, the Two Foot Rule highlighted the inherently subjective nature of the studio experience. The fact was that, for this particular professor, something about the dimensions of the two foot square seemed, somehow, proportionally harmonious. Perfect. It was an aesthetic that attracted the eye of my professor, and in my opinion, laid a foundation for a positive reaction to the overall project.

Perhaps the years have made me a bit too cynical. Perhaps my experiences have made me a bit prejudice. But, it is my personal opinion that, for better and worse, we will always be judged, primarily, by another person's inherent aesthetic preferences. As a student, this was the hardest thing for me to reconcile with. I kept telling myself that this was an educational environment, a place of egalitarianism and meritocracy. I wanted to be that student who overcame the "aesthetic" evaluations, which I felt were superficial, through though-provoking design questions, challenging conceptual proposals, things that made you go "hmmm". But, in trying, I remained ignorant to the most simple realization. The studio environment wasn't this idealized, objective playground, and it never could be.

It is an obvious statement. Whether we admit to it or not, we make snap judgements, mainly based upon the appearance of things. We find things appealing or not, attractive or not, desirable or not. From the clothes we put on to the restaurants we eat at, we are keenly aware of the "look" of things. Architecture is no different, even if I wanted it to be.

Why do some people continue to build McMansion monstrosities, perhaps in the tutor style, or the french renaissance? Why does the average person recognize the words rambler, traditional, country, plantation? Because, these words represent aesthetic preferences they carry with them, preferences they use to judge what they want to spend their hard-earned money on. I may find all of it an atrocity to my design senses, but that is my personal aesthetic preferences coming into conflict with theirs. And, ultimately, we both have the right to our beliefs.

So, when I posted about the Two Foot Rule, it was not intended to be taken literally. (Although, if your professor happens to have the same taste as mine, you probably have a good chance at success by doing what I did.) My post was intended to highlight, a bit facetiously, something I refused to believe as an undergrad; image, while not everything, is certainly something.

As a designer, I evaluated the success of my projects upon the questions I had posed, the rationales I had created to reach my final result. If asked, each design decision could be explained, each move defined within my intellectual framework. But, in doing so, I had refused to engage with a fundamental question of Architecture - that of image, of taste.

So, to those of you hoping for insights into the Two Foot Rule, this might be a bit disappointing. But, I ask you to consider my post in a more general light; it is a reminder to take a minute and consider your audience, not only that of your professor, but of the critics that will come to review your work. Let that guide you in these final days before your crit. Not all that insightful, perhaps, but a thing we tend to forget in our rush to finish our requirements, render out our computer images, finish our models. Remember, you have, maybe, five or ten minutes to communicate the key points of a semester's worth of thinking. All to a person who has, likely, never seen your work before. That, in and of itself, is a challenging design proposition - one I usually took too lightly.

I wish all of you out there good luck. I don't envy you. But, here's to hoping that, by the time you're done, you will have each found your own Two Foot Rule.


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