ARCHITECT VS. DESIGNER
I think I am making genuine progress in my work as an architect; however, my work as a designer has really paused, ever since winning the Bee Breeders competition of fall 2018. This past year has been a true technical education in architecture, from DD to CA, with some project management experience sprinkled in. I feel like I am rounding out the three pillars of the profession - Design, Technical Knowledge, and Management. For the first few years post-Cornell, I was so obsessed with "perfecting" the first pillar that I haven't made progress on the others. After working for a couple years, I've realized that those other two pillars are even more important in the real world. There's so much to learn, and each project phase is so unique and different from each other, it really feels like 5 different jobs (competition/pre-design, schematic design, design development, construction documentation, construction administration) rolled into one. How a person is expected to master all five phases is beyond me -- but I intend to get as close as possible. I hope I get to engage with more design work this year, perhaps slowly. But I quite enjoy architecture more than design, these days, because I see more undiscovered opportunities there.
Running through the exams, and working through CA, I'm starting to conceptualize architecture in computer science terms - as software and hardware, front-end and back-end, engineering tasks and client-facing tasks. The "front end" of architecture is the early design phases -- the master planning, competitions, pre-design, and programming exercises. The "back end" of architecture is the construction and documentation stages -- design development, construction documents, detailing, specifications, cost estimation, trades coordination, and construction administration. To be a "full stack architect" means understanding all the interrelated systems and putting together a solid product - how to be at 30,000 ft in the air, to see larger community impacts, and also be at 1/2" scale on the drawing, to identify the best way to thermally insulate a gender-neutral restroom, or locate the supply air diffusers. Meanwhile, the software and hardware of architecture can be divided into two categories: structures and flows. "Hardware" structures include traditionally important architectural concepts, such as structural design, civil engineering, foundations, openings, roof design, envelope detailing, furniture, and finishes. "Software" flows include all the other elements that are "invisible" or otherwise in the background: programming, circulation, landscaping, HVAC systems, plumbing and sanitation, electrical/power, passive/active energy systems, AV and ICT, and smart-home systems. If we treat buildings like computers, which in so many different levels they already are, then hardware systems must work harmoniously with software systems. A lot of the times, too many designers, architects, and clients focus on the visual appeal of "hardware" and neglect "software", leading to buildings with inadequately performing systems. Other times, there are plenty of uninspiring, generic projects that have great, industry-leading software but clunky, hastily-designed, off-the-shelf hardware -- which is what separates "building" from "architecture". Clearly, there needs to be a clearer relationship and balance between both hardware and software systems in architecture, just as front-end and back-end "architects" should be more in-sync and in discussion with each other. We should consider buildings as computers to inhabit, and more as beautiful products rather than functional, one-off artwork, because products can evolve, update, and adapt over time.
FRONT-OF-HOUSE "CLIENTS" V. BACK-OF-HOUSE "SUPPLIERS"
VISIONS V. REALITY
Recently, I watched Makoto Shinkai's new movie "Weathering with You" and revisited his earlier blockbuster, "Your Name". I am absolutely blown away by both films' quality of animation and their ability to animate light and atmosphere. Each frame is an artwork by itself, and it seems like the characters are merely inhabiting an expansive, world-building, technicolor canvas. I believe Shinkai is the true heir to Hayao Miyazaki, because he grasps the idea of "space building" in a two-dimensional space, and he has a very consistent message about the power of love and nature in all of his movies. I remember when Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013, and the world was left a little less "magical" by the closure of Studio Ghibli. Shinkai's work and rise to prominence proves that there are always new stories to tell, new talent springing up from unlikely places, and fantastic discoveries to be made.
These films from Shinkai and Miyazaki are dear to my heart, because this notion of "Architecture Cinematic" has been driving my design aesthetics even before I discovered architecture. It was never about fanciful, finicky, tactile materials, or parametric doodads, or acetic minimal modernism for me; it was understanding, capturing, and recreating the sublime quality of spatial vastness, in anything I do. Within the context of aesthetics --- everything else is irrelevant. This is why I love living in Hong Kong, or climbing mountains, or running and kayaking along the Hudson, or talking about space. It is the feeling of spatial vastness, whether in a natural or artificial context, that inspires me to do visual work, and to live. When architects talk about designing from context, I want to start out from this vantage point of the sublime, of space itself. What is the least we can do to maximize "vastness" in rooms, buildings, neighborhoods, and landscapes? This is why I like simple architecture that tells clear stories, because the story should really only be about space. It's too easy to tell when the story is about materials or sculptures or objects, calling attention to the THING rather than the IN-BETWEEN, and then suddenly the story - and the environment - becomes very, very small.
I think it's unfortunate that I only started to learn about films later on at Cornell, when I was already knee-deep in architecture. I didn't focus, and deeply pursue, the value of images as space-making devices. And I think it is sad that within architecture, imagery is only necessary for sales, and beyond that it has no real value. It's almost like imagery is just another discipline, like HVAC, for the architect to coordinate, but to never really understand or appreciate. I wonder if I can keep pursuing it somehow.
Animation help you escape reality, but architecture contains reality. Architecture is a static, continuous animation. Through new technology tools and ways of living - can we do both?
Lately, I've been finding new ways to connect with friends and family. After feeling isolated for a couple years, in work and in my relationships, I've become more present in my interactions. My cooking is better. My sleep is better. A lot of times, I find that my anxieties/fears can be cured by a good meal, or a good night sleep, exercising, or simply reaching out. Being open and approachable has immeasurable rewards. I truly believe that honesty and transparency are vastly underrated; they are the true signs of genuine confidence and leadership.
EXCITEMENT VERSUS CYNICISM