Review Review

Dec 20 2010

It’s the end of the semester, which means that all of the pressure that’s been slowing building for the past two months is now suddenly off. So quick recap of what I learned this fall:

This semester was intellectually stifling. Our design prompt was a new school for Newark’s Iron Bound area, which had so much potential. A school, like any institution, is rich in architecturally symbolic language. There is also a proud tradition (which we spent the first half of the semester researching) where the School serves as a barometer of social conditions. Social reform often begins in schools, or at least features some idea about how our schools should function. A school is a place where the built environment can really engage with function, politics, and pedagogy, in essence: IDEAS.

Yet, here in the third year of NJIT’s Undergraduate Architecture program, all of this is besides the point. During the mid-review, one critic pointed out to me that the school typology was an arbitrary decision. He said that it was only selected because it was common-place, and has a high enough level of programmatic complexity to be difficult for Third year students. NJIT says the only point in designing a school is learning how to design something big.

I tried to design a project that stemmed from social reform ideas and manifested itself as a resolved approach to programmatic needs.

I failed pretty miserably. The ideas ended up being drowned in the presentation requirements, and the presentation requirements weren’t met because I spent too much time on idea development. But there is some silver lining; namely, I learned a lot. It actually blows my mind sometimes; I’m a much more capable designer then I was three years ago. I was left almost entirely alone when developing this project, since my section critic was at best unhelpful, and at worst outright belittling. As a result, everything I produced was entirely original. I developed the entire project through my own research and hard work. Additionally, I tested my own theories about design development. And even if I bombed at my review, I’m proud of the work I did for the rest of the semester.

Now onto my specific review notes:
– Most importantly, I somehow managed not to push the design far enough. My design wasn’t bold enough to accomplish what I wanted it to. It was interesting, but not transgressive. A lot of the following comments reflect that.
– One guest critic pointed out that I fell into the trap I sought to avoid. I was arguing that education should happen in a less restrained way than how it does currently. But I gave in and grouped kids into classes which were conceptualized based on age. Which essentially created a modular unit that was deployed without enough tact. I need to find some way of facilitating a graduated transition from young child to young adult, while maintaining some sense of individual and group identity.
– A young guest critic at my final review spoke very eloquently about working within a more conventional architectural language. He thought that I may have gotten a lot of value out of more selectively deploying my strange architectural elements, focusing instead on elements that are traditionally thought of as very banal, eg staircases or finish materials. He wanted to see more nuance in my execution of ideas, and he framed my project as a potential study of figure and ground. IE, if attention can be called to some figure, and it can be perceived separately from the ground/ context, it becomes special, without resorting to something as brutal as a whole new architectural vocabulary.
– With regards to negotiating such a large amount of programmatic spaces, Julio Figueroa mentioned something really helpful that was evident on a lot of people’s plans. “By grouping spaces together into larger chunks, program resolution becomes simpler.” Instead of working with twenty individual classrooms, one large “classrooms” block is an easier unit to manipulate. Things sort of clump together based on some strategy for arranging them, as well as programmatic affinities. Judging by other people’s designs, I think it also becomes more tectonically significant to express and resolve a dozen masses, instead of a hundred.
– Another very interesting suggestion I got was to try personifying architectural elements. Don Wall suggested that I give personalities to different types of walls and classrooms. Exterior walls and interior walls are, after all, very different, and “want” to be expressed differently. Don also suggested that I completely re-evaluate the given program, which I only did partially (see above about using classroom units).

So I’ve got some feedback to work with, and hopefully by the end of the winter break I’ll have my first real portfolio piece.

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