Studio and the Seat

Having spent my first several years in practice immersed in workplace design, I bore witness to the changing paradigms of what might be considered a “modern” work environment.

Despite the range of industry types (ranging from advertising agencies to biotech to executive search firms to a multi-tenant non-profit center), relevant dialogues and design thinking related to wellness, flexibility, choice, and culture became central to the process and outcomes of the resultant environments.

As employers continue to adopt mobility programs, champion shrinking physical footprints, and invest in collaborative and shared amenity spaces, I remain somewhat ambivalent about the future of the architectural studio/office; a workplace typology that feels rightfully caught between the past and the future, between rich and evolving traditions paired with the uncertainty of the unknown.

Why the confusion?

Because, after many discussions with industry colleagues and peers, I’m still not sure if an architectural studio (a space type presumably based on daily team collaboration paired with explorations, iterations, and discussions of physical models, pinned-up drawings, and digital media) can translate as productively within the confines of remote-work and online sharing as it can by spinning my chair around at work and asking a teammate what they think of a sketch I’m working on.

Unlike professions that thrive with a high concentration of individual contributors, the team-like structure and iterative nature of design work seems to lend itself to the benefits of face-to-face communication as a means of problem-solving, constructive critique, and ultimately, team-based decision-making.

If I’ve dated myself with this previous statement or made the reader sigh with contempt, I don’t apologize, but rather ask you to share what’s working; that is, if you’ve found solutions for your office or firm that empower the employee to be more mobile and flexible without suffering from a sense of absenteeism or lack of energy in the studio/workplace, what have been the tools for your success?

While the transition from desktops to laptops and creating robust online-collaboration and communication capabilities are obvious first steps to facilitating workplace mobility, I am curious about the broader implications of an architecture studio that thrives on virtual presenteeism and collaboration, or, alternatively, an “alone together” approach in which people are encouraged to engage in individual work and to come together for less spontaneous, less frequent but theoretically more “productive” collaboration time (along the lines of this recent discourse: https://hbr.org/2014/03/why-you-should-stop-brainstorming/ or http://www.fastcompany.com/3033567/agendas/brainstorming-doesnt-work-try-this-technique-instead)

I welcome, as always, any discussion on the topic as a response to this blog post.

Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach To Architecture

Partners

Audrey and Alex Worden, recent Boulder transplants and multidisciplinary designers

Is Boulder the new Brooklyn?

I had to ask myself this question after my first meeting with recent Colorado transplants and designers, Alex and Audrey Worden. Co-founders of the Boulder-based design firm, Studio TJOA, Alex and Audrey left their jobs at Enclos in New York and moved West after Alex landed a job with Studio NYL, a progressive structural engineering firm based out of Boulder, Colorado.

With hopes of finding home in a new city with the presence of an emerging design community balanced with a tangible ease of living and creating, in the few short months since their move Alex and Audrey have already become contributors to the design, parametric, and maker communities that continue to grow rapidly both in Denver and Boulder.

TJOA_Lilypad_2

Lily pad by TJOA

With Alex’s background in architecture and Audrey’s education in product design, Alex continues to explore the synergies between architecture and structural engineering for NYL, while Audrey continues to explore design, fabrication, and representation through a wide range of scales and media.

Having both explored alternative career paths than their traditional architecture and design backgrounds might prescribe, Alex and Audrey serve as co-authors of this week’s post, exploring the benefits of multidisciplinary architecture and the opportunities it might provide…

Thanks Alex and Audrey! – Beth Mosenthal, Assoc. AIA

 Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Architecture

by Alex and Audrey Worden

Entering the field of architecture requires years of study, beginning with a foundation comprised of core classes followed by a concentration in art and design, culminating with an intensive focus on architecture. Through this process, the general field of vision becomes narrower and more myopic. Following undergraduate studies, designers generally join firms whose focus is not just on “architecture” in a general sense, but rather a specific practice area such as commercial, residential, transportation, healthcare, etc., design. As a result designers tend to become more specialized.

However, what many students of design education are learning is that there are many career paths that can be launched from a design education.

TJOA_ExpressGlam

“ExpressGlam” product design

The skills learned in an architectural degree program are transferable to many different disciplines. These can include engineering, construction, industrial design, animation, fashion, graphic design, or manufacturing to name a few.

With a wider skill set, designers can be more flexible, often finding meaningful work outside of the traditional architecture practice. For example, after graduate school Audrey worked for a few years as an industrial designer for a branding firm, practicing skills in packaging, product displays, digital and CNC modeling, photography, and photorealistic product rendering. This opened up the opportunity to design a perfume bottle. Such a chance is widely valued by designers and architects of all kinds, but it all came about through the skills Audrey had fostered after studying architecture and digital fabrication.

TJOA_LilypadIn graduate school, Alex took a different approach to his studies. In his thesis, he proposed that the textile technique of crochet can be a perfect analog to the digital parametric tools architects have begun to use and explore. Alex then used the skills he developed from his research of integrating textiles and tools like Rhino and Grasshopper to join a facade contracting firm, Enclos. The experience gained as a facade designer has not only allowed him to gain an in-depth understanding of building enclosure systems but see how parametric modeling can aid in the optimization of the whole construction process from design through field installation.

These types of diverse design experiences can influence a designer’s thought process. For example, having knowledge of structure can streamline decisions during initial design phases, thus saving both time and money as the project progresses. Knowledge of materials and fabrication techniques gained from the industrial design field can allow designers to push the boundaries of these capabilities, extend the life of the building, or make routine maintenance easier.

TJOA_GObox_FabTJOA_GObox_2

These facets of the design field can be learned a multitude of ways and for an infinite number of reasons. Specifically, we both deviated from the traditional approach to architecture. By working at a facade contractor, Alex had the pleasure of working on some high profile projects designed by a number of architects. The biggest benefit to working at Enclos, was having the opportunity to work with many different firms and getting a chance to help them realize their designs. By taking a M.S. Arch., Audrey could specialize in digital fabrication instead of the traditional M.Arch approach to a graduate degree. This allowed for a less rigid approach to architecture, while still being anchored in the field.

NYL_Wall_Assembly

Studio NYL Wall Assembly Study

 

NYL_Rendering

NYL Rendering

Our chosen paths have offered us the flexibility to design on a multitude of scales and explore many different mediums. Our diverse work experience has influenced our approach to design and our ultimately our decision to relocate to Boulder from Brooklyn. We both wanted to live and work in a place that is welcoming and has a community that fosters progressive thought and design. The plasticity offered by the skills we have both cultivated has allowed Alex to join Studio NYL as part of their SKINS Group and Audrey to move her practice, StudioTJOA to Boulder and begin working with groups like Boulder-based Live Architecture Network and aiding other firms with parametric and visualization needs. TJOA_HoneycombJust as the decision to go into architecture is hopefully owned by each individual, it should be remembered that each designer can choose how they want to shape their professional career and praxis. It should be noted that a hands on approach to learning the different facets of construction and design can have a more meaningful impact through practical application rather than study guides, flashcards, and exams can provide.Who knows, if you deviate from the path, you might come across something you never would have thought you would enjoy.

 

“The Problem with Parametricism”- Guest Post by Bill Allen and Tobias Hathorn

Is Colorado the last to jump on the parametric bandwagon?  Here is Bill and Tobias’s demystification of the parametric design process and its seemingly limitless iterative possibilities.. (and by the way, the answer is no, Colorado’s grassroots design community is already on board, with 1-2 people per firm that seem to be familiar with the tools, as well as a handful of fabricators and engineers locally.)  Is that going to be enough to push Colorado’s design forward in terms of form and fabrication?  The jury is still out, but as I see it, the more tools our design and construction community has in their repertoire, the fewer limitations they might have in creating designs that transcend the limitations of software and machines to create design that responds to the needs and potentials of the 21st century.  – Beth Mosenthal, AIA Colorado blog contributor

“The Problem with Parametricism”  by Bill Allen and Tobias Hathorn

Is parametricism the new bee’s knees?  If you have attended or taught at any University in the last 5 years, you are well aware that the University is pushing this idea of parametric model building with their students.  They are using such tools as Grasshopper and Dynamo coupled with Rhino and Revit.  Students are coming out with this knowledge in technology, however you may ask yourself the question as an Architect in this industry, is any of this really applicable to what I do day to day?

Undulating BeamsThis idea of parametricism is in fact is not a new concept at all, but in recent years has definitely become more main stream.  My journey began about 6 years ago when I attended an ACADIA parametricism conference in 2011.  I saw much value in the process during the conference, and decided to build my first parametric model using grasshopper.

My most recent parametric building….(clear throat)…“table” was a Design After Dark project with our team at OZ Architecture.  We used grasshopper to parametrically model a unique profile for every carpet tile.  We also programmed the tool to tag every carpet tile with a unique identifier and layer for fabrication of the table.

Build Table

You may be looking at these images, and saying to yourself, “well it only makes crazy curvy non buildable forms.  It’s great for making a wavy table, but there is no way that this can be applied to buildings”.  Well, allow me to enlighten you on some projects that I have been fortunate enough to work on.

 

 

 

Parametric vehicular canopy using adaptive components and dynamo

CanopyDynamo

Parking garage façade intended to simulate the mountains in Breckenridge,  Colorado

2014-05-09_8-46-322014-05-08_23-43-50Breckenridge Rendering

The Challenges:

These are the challenges I have come across personally when pushing and implementing these concepts in an architectural office.

  1. “It’s not buildable”

Inevitably when I show teams these types of projects, the criticism that comes up is that you can’t document it (or you will spend a long time documenting it) and you certainly can’t build it.  Tools like grasshopper actually offer us some amazing utilities to help us design functional and buildable forms.  Just one simple example of this is the planar test.  How planar is an object?

Planar

Also, digital fabrication has come a long way as well.  Rather than issuing “shop drawings” we can issue a “shop model”, and fabricate directly from a model.

  1. “I don’t want to be a programmer”

Below is a screen shot of the script I used to create the table with the carpet tiles I illustrated earlier.  No doubt at first glance an architectural designer could be turned off by the interface.  Give me Sketchup he or she says.

Grasshoper Script

The interface does take some time, but keep in mind that building an object parametrically gives you the ability to create an enormous amount of design iterations simply by moving graph mappers and slider bars.

2015-02-18_14-45-09 2015-02-18_14-43-57 2015-02-18_14-41-47 2015-02-18_14-40-35 2015-02-18_14-39-55 2015-02-18_14-39-11 2015-02-18_14-38-53

Additionally you can optimize your building design using Computational Design Iterations with Galapagos.

  1. “There’s no community”

With the advent of the internet and meetups exploding, this is no longer the case.  Grasshopper has its own community website at www.grasshopper3d.com.  Additionally in Colorado, we have created the Rocky Mountain Building Information Society (RoMBIS)  Boulder/Denver Meetup.  We recently hosted a discussion around the topic of “Construction and the Utilization of Parametric Technologies”.

RoMBIS Boulder RoMBIS Boulder (NYL)

In conclusion, I believe that there is a vast amount of resources and processes that we in the greater Colorado area have not even begun to scratch the surface on in the context of parametric modeling and Building Information Management.  I would like to invite you personally to come geek out with us at one of the RoMBIS meetups either in Boulder or in Denver.  Our meetups provide food, beverages, and knowledge.  Through your participation, we as a community will have a greater influence on the direction of our society and our industry.

 

 

The WORKSHOP8 Story

This week Joseph Vigil tells us about the creation and journey of Workshop 8…

In the fall of 2009 the small firm (VaST architecture) I started with my wife (Brandy) in 2000, was hurting. Work had steadily been declining for the last two years and we were trying to either sell or rent our house, sell our second car, and sell or rent our commercial building. Life was pretty scary. The custom home market was dead, and who was going to hire a mom & pop shop to work on anything other than smaller projects? Especially when everyone else was vying for the same work.

That October we attended the AIA Colorado annual conference because I was on the North Chapter Board and was required to. If I hadn’t been on the Board, there is no way we would have spent the money for such a luxury. It turned out being a very influential and informative couple of days.  I attended a presentation about the amount of work being performed by large architectural firms versus small firms, and how the percentage was increasing for large firms and decreasing for small firms. This was pretty scary stuff for a small firm on the brink of bankruptcy. However, the presenter went on to talk about joint-ventures and collaborations. As we re-capped this presentation, Brandy and I started talking about how we could survive given this trend.

The birth a new architecture firm

We started contacting other sole proprietors and small firms about the possibility of collaborations or joint-ventures, and maybe even merging. Our original concept was to talk to as many disciplines within the field of architecture as possible and try to create a diverse pool of professionals. We talked to interior designers, landscape architects, energy consultants, LEED consultants, general contractors, graphic designers, architects and even structural engineers.

The first person we pitched the idea to was an interior designer we had previously shared office space with. We were surprised how readily and enthusiastically she joined up! That gave us the motivation to contact others and by the end of 2009 we had a small group of people who were meeting on a weekly basis, talking through what this new entity might look like, and how we might operate. In March of 2010, Brandy found a national design competition and pitched it to the group.I recall sitting around the table when Brandy made the pitch and the room kind of lit up. None of us had anything better to do, so we eagerly agreed to enter, mostly as an exercise to see how well we worked together. The next few weeks were a complete blur. There was a lot of pent-up energy and an excitement that was palpable. We were trying to create a good design, but more importantly, we were trying to impress each other, and forge a longer term working relationship. Not all of the original participants stayed with the group, the people who left had good reasons to do so, they definitely thought we were crazy for putting the amount time into the initial design that we did.

The name WORKSHOP8 was generated at some point between midnight and 2:00 AM, over a flurry of emails without a lot of debate. We needed to incorporate and present a somewhat professional front.

Getting Pregnant on your first date

To make a long story short, we won! We beat out other national caliber and highly qualified firms. Our first thought was pure joy, quickly followed by complete panic! We were just a group of designers, we didn’t have a common work location, no insurance, no past working relations, no operating agreement, no graphic standards, and no common software/hardware.

The project had a very tight deadline, as the client had received an ARRA grant (American Recovery and Reconstruction Act) and the funds needed to be spent in a short timeframe to help jumpstart the economy. We needed to have our 100% construction documents completed by mid-September, less than four months away. It was an incredible process, from the crazy start, to the surreal start of construction, and finally the joyous inhabitation of the structures. The process changed us all forever, it will be a pivotal point in all of our lives and one we talk about in our retirement.

Epilogue

Spoiler alert, stop here if you want the Cinderella ending.

The original WORKSHOP8 partnership lasted about four years. Ultimately we did not give enough forethought, nor put in enough ground work into the business entity. We operated without any sort of working agreement and only a generic set of bylaws. If, from the outset, we had put a little more effort into the legal/business entity of WORKSHOP8, I believe it may have survived in its original form.

In the early Spring of 2014, WORKSHOP8 Inc. bought out three of the partners. So, it is back to Brandy and me. We are planning on bringing additional partners on board, we are definitely not a mom & pop shop anymore!

Well, actually, we kind of still are.

C. Joseph Vigil, AIA

WORKSHOP8 Inc.

Teaching Up; Learning from our Summer Interns

Just yesterday, our summer interns gave a final presentation regarding a Denver-specific research project they have been working on in tandem with project work for the entirety of the summer.

 Upon first initiating the project, our intern committee’s hope was that the research might be used as a vehicle for collaboration as well as a chance to become acquainted with one another and the city of Denver.

 After the presentation, and hearing the interns talk about their experience, it seems the research exceeded our expectations. Serving as a vehicle for sharing ideas and skill sets, the project became an important opportunity to merge and acknowledge different work styles, processes, and modes of thinking amongst students from different disciplines including architecture, interior architecture, interior design, and illustration/environmental graphic design.

 Not to get too warm and fuzzy, but the interns smiled as they described their experience working together on a shared project as transitioning from “difficult” to their new team description—“four hearts and one mind.”   This Captain-planet combining of forces, skills, and viewpoints led to a cumulative design that articulately blended their different ideas and disciplines into one cohesive design—a feat I wasn’t entirely sure could be pulled off in the brief interlude of summer, but is now under consideration for potential realization.

 Watching them present was a refreshing reminder of the importance of teamwork, and the beauty of the multidisciplinary approach to design. When asked how the interns combined their work, they talked about looking for “the most important aspect” of their preliminary designs, and finding ways to prioritize the inclusion of these ideas while formulating a cohesive design. As my coworker mentioned, this provided a design solution based on the importance of function, rather than aesthetics.

This reminder of approaching group work as a chance to extract the most salient design ideas of individuals, and bring them together as a group to solve a problem was both refreshing and reaffirming.

While most of us have been taught to work in partners, groups, or teams since college or graduate school, I have found professional practice to be the ultimate litmus test for collaboration. Whether a project is a month or two years, the changing nature of project teams, the delegation of roles and responsibilities, as well as the mixture of different personalities often feels like experiencing one sea change after another.

I am always excited when a new project starts, as working with different people and clients is an inherent opportunity for growth and exposure to new work styles and ways of thinking. With that said, the nature of professional practice at times can lend itself to efficiently living within the confines of certain roles and responsibilities—a navigable but at times stifling way of working. What excites me about the intern presentation is that it reinforces that the best idea should, and must win, regardless of source or origin.

 Today is the interns’ last day—we are sad to see them go, but happy that they have “taught up” in providing a stellar example of what productive collaboration can yield- both in terms of building relationships as well as creating amazing work.