Thursday, March 18, 2010

On the Other Side

Recently I got to sit on the other side. Instead of standing alone against the firing squad of visiting critics, I was, this time, one of those dreaded gunman.

Let’s face it. Our profession is a glutton for punishment. There are few other academic fields that require you to, with frequency, present a concise version of weeks of work, to people who have little to no idea what you’ve been doing. And then, you get to stand while these strangers dissect you, in front of an audience of your peers. It’s a less bloody, but not necessarily less painful, cage fight.

My experience with reviews has been, well, heated and often frustrating. See here and here, for just a couple of examples. Let’s say, looking back, I can see a certain error to my ways. But, at the same time, I defended my work, which I would still do. Maybe I’d do it with less passion and more logic, but can you blame me?

Presentations are tricky, mainly because, the presenter, who is most familiar with the material, presents to a naïve audience. Having spent months with your project, it is easy to forget that your chain of reasoning isn't as logical to others as it is to yourself. Remember, the information the presenter provides is pretty much all that the critics can pull from to understand the designer’s intent. Beyond that, each critic will draw from his or her own knowledge base, references, experiences, to process what they see and hear.

What about that wall of drawings pinned behind you? Well, while drawings might provide enough insight, we, the audience, usually sit about 5- 8 feet away. Plus, we don’t always get the chance to study every line and notation. Then, there’s that whole time thing. We have to look at the drawings fast, process them fast, and dissect them fast. Those are not great odds for perfect comprehension.

So, if you spend 10 minutes taking us your journey of self-discovery, failing to mention the fundamentals of your intent, we critics will be confused. Ignore referring to your drawings, or point out why you programmed your project a certain way, and we, the audience, are going to have to guess. And, this comes from experience. You don’t want critics to guess.

At this past review, some students were well prepared. They did as they should, acting as tour guides, leading us through their project with clear, concise descriptions that balanced intent and basic information. Discussion in those projects could get into more complex issues – relation of execution to concept, material choices, use. Those discussions could focus on weaknesses and provide the student with possible avenues of exploration.

But, some of the presentations - they were rough. There was a student who began defensively, since they wanted insights from a specific critic who was running late. Another spent most of the 10 minutes trying to clearly explain his original intent, but ended up repeating the same thing over and over. In each, the discussion barely got beyond a basic understanding of the designer's words; instead of having a conversation concerning strengths, weakness, material choices or directions, it was spent on basics of why and how.

For the first student, her frustration only made it more difficult, as every question was rebuffed, as though we should have already known the answer. Missing from the discussion could have been the formal translation of the concept, which was odd and seemingly random, or how the programming could have been improved. The student ended upset, and to be honest, as a critic, so was I. Instead of getting critical feedback on the project, the discussion was 10 minutes of getting the basics figured out.

For the other student, without any real information, what could critics do, but hypothesize? Could the circulation move in any direction? Could the floorplan be flipped to the other side? Could the façade be completely open? Did you need doors? How is that empty spaced used? And why do you have empty room in the first place?

Without any real information to pull from, commentary was abstract and vague. As vague as the student’s own design intent. Undoubtedly, the student probably left his crit feeling directionless, but as critics, so were we. Without knowing what the student hoped to achieve, we could only give him ideas of the potentials we saw. Whether those directions fit with the student’s own ideas, we couldn’t tell.

So, in light of the season, with final reviews looming, if any students are reading out there, please, take away this small piece of advice. When you present, consider putting in the time to consider how you present, and not just what you present. You spend hours and hours getting ready. Don’t blow it because you ad-lib, and in ad-libbing, confuse your audience even more than if you hadn’t spoken. Prep a script if necessary, run lines in front of classmates. Whatever you do, remember that you represent your work. You need to do it justice.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Inspirations_Video Edition

You've got to love Rube_Goldberg Machines.

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Cat Fight

Kinda loving this post over at Design Observer. I've had issues with some of Mr. Ouroussoff's articles in the past, but Ms. Lange really takes him to task. If nothing else, she brings up some great points about what an architecture critic should be....

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