Thursday, March 18, 2010
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Friday, March 12, 2010
1% for Architectural Research
Some of my time these days is spent reading, thinking and writing, seeking perspective and insight into the current challenges related to our profession - in particular the critical role of research in addressing ways to create more responsible architecture despite the impacts of economic pressure and globalization of practice. I find myself looking both backward to historical precedents and forward to the actions we must take to advance our profession.
In my last post, I cited a paper on Caudill, Rowlett, Scott by Avigail Sachs, and now I'm adding references from her most recent award-winning research paper, The Postwar Legacy of Architectural Research. From these research papers and Bill Caudill's TIBS, we can see the historical context for architectural research, the professional need for this research, and the difficulties both past and present that architectural firms face in funding their research work.
In a 1966 TIB, Bill Caudill stated his view that architecture needed theories, research and greater creativity to respond to an increasingly complex profession. He further observed that many professionals in his firm, CRS, were resisting the need to delve into design research. One could make that same observation today about architectural practice.
Worlds -- THEORY
23 June 66 WWC
"Our complex profession is getting more complex. We must have theories, simpler methods, greater creativity, and much more design precision to solve our problems and those of our clients.
We are faced not only with the complexities of the team, technology, and larger projects, but we have problems relating to tremendous changes in architectural design created by new building types, large scale projects, advanced technology, and the necessity for team action.
I mentioned the need for new theories to solve the new and more complex problems relating to architecture. I find many CRS people resenting our activities in delving into design research. Too egghead is not CRS, they believe. They think theory is too foreign to CRS -- that it kills creativity, and only complicates things.
Theory should not frighten us. We architects are problem solvers -- practically or artistically."
As Avigail Sachs points out in her CRS study, Caudill's philosophies of practice were formed in the late 40's and early 50's by practicing in College Station, Texas; teaching at Texas A&M; and conducting research at the Architectural Devision of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station. This trinity forged the idealized institutional setting for establishing a firm theoretical basis for modern architecture and design. The following quote from Avigail's CRS paper gives Caudill's even earlier 1952 perspective on the profession. In the ideal institution, Caudill explained:
"The staff should practice architecture (to understand the problem), then do research (to find out how to solve some of the problems), and then teach it (to pass on to the students their broad experience and knowledge)."
While the quote shows the issues framed primarily in a university setting, Caudill carried these three perspectives into the structure of his research based, learning practice. These three ideal practice perspectives are still critical to contemporary architectural practice, and more so now than in 1966 when Caudill was considering the complexities of technology and larger projects. But as the history of CRS's and the AIA's commitment to research show, the reality of changing economical conditions, corporate or practice goals, and philosophy make the application very difficult to accomplish. The wide economic swings in the building industry put immense pressure on the AE process, challenging in many instances, some firm's survival. So how do today's firms resolve the contradicting and competing pressure to support research in their practices, beyond their philosophy, beliefs and determination?
These contradictions were established early on as shown in the Caudill comments noted in The Post War Legacy of Architectural Research.
"We believe that if architects can in some way carry out a continuous research program within their own office, if only on a very small scale, good advancement can be made. We also believe that if architects will exchange ideas, and will unselfishly work towards improving our architecture, the profession will be much better off."
The key concepts I take from the quote are the need for a continuous research program and the unselfish exchange of ideas. But as noted by Avigail Sachs, these concepts proved a challenge to realize even by Caudill and his partners. The following captures the contradictions:
"But as Caudill complained, this project was supported, and therefore also controlled, by the design work done in the firm: when we are busy we cannot spare the personnel; when we are not busy we cannot afford research. Caudill's comment also points to the snag in the AIA program. Although cooperation and collaboration were seminal ideals in the profession projected to emerge from the re-professionalization project, the existing profession was based on
competitionbetween private practioners."
So here we are forty to fifty years later, with the professional competition model far more developed than the cooperative model. As a result, the majority of architectural research has been advanced by the university community, specific interest groups like the Center for Health Design, industries like Steelcase, and the AIA.
What next? There will need to be a belief that there is an economic basis for our research in addition to the increases in intellectual capital, cultural capital and professional capital. Certainly research or evidence based design approaches now could be the basis for a 're-professionalization project', similar to prior attempts in the 50's to create the needed professional and intellectual capital. Collaboration with established university research programs, which has been the strategy of a few large firms, would leverage both intellectual and professional capital, and is an avenue that I believe can be expanded as CRS did. Improved design quality would be evident, but where is the economic engine to support funding beyond the scattered and incremental self-funded research programs which are often driven by a competition/differentiation model?
So perhaps the model of corporate social responsibility established by Y. Chouinard and Patagonia, called 1% for the Planet, could provide an alternative funding model. I previously wrote about 1% as it relates to sustainability, but I believe that this model could be reframed for the A/E profession and redefined as 1% for Architectural Research. Participating firms would contribute 1% of their gross income to a not-for-profit organization which in turn would provide funding to create an opportunity for a professionally supported, continuous research program. Parallel with this initiative, individual firms who believe in the economic and societal value, could simply allocate 1% of their gross income internally to achieve a similar goal within their own organization.
What do you think about investing 1% for Architectural Research?
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
In an earlier post regarding CRS, Bill Caudill and his TIB's, I mentioned CRS's commitment to research, and that I'd be returning to his "Things I Believe" and their relationship to current architectural issues. Flipping through the book, I came across the following TIB on research from Bill in April 1966.
"There are a lot of definitions for research.
I like this one:
'Regarding the search for truth'
It even looks good:
A few weeks ago I came across some new information on CRS. In her excellent paper, Marketing through research: William
Caudill and Caudill, Rowlett, Scott (CRS), Avigail Sachs provides historical analysis of the "research attitude" of the firm in its formative stage. She notes their power to integrate professional practice and research, in both marketing and design, while leading the AIA and profession in applying research and new techniques to the design world. In her conclusions, she advises contemporary architectural practices to learn from CRS's early stage commitments to research, scholarship, marketing and design leadership. Though many contemporary A/E firms have benefitted by engaging research in their practice methods, the profession still has a long way to go to bridge the research/practice gap.
For example, a few months ago I prepared a short paper in our firm, advancing the argument that architectural programming is actually primary research. The word research often has multiple meanings and requires a variety of skills that many architects and engineers are not trained to perform. Most design professionals understand that primary research is the collection and evaluation of data leading to knowledge that does not already exist, but what isn't clear to practicing professionals, is the linkages between architectural practice and design research. Looking at our profession and our firm's design practices, one might raise the question, what parts of our current methods are or could be defined as research and how as a firm and profession can we better understand and refine these methods.
In his book, Inquiry by Design, John Zeisel sets out some basic concepts regarding the relationship and cooperation between research and design, from the perspective of an environmental behavioral researcher and a designer. He argues that designers and researchers can work together to solve more broadly defined design problems than they could each solve alone. A major issue, however, is the usefulness of research material. It must be in a form that designers can not only use, but in turn, improves the chance that research information can be tested in practice. Research investigators learn by making hypothetical predictions, testing ideas, evaluating outcomes and modifying hypotheses. These activities are the basis of their collaboration and cooperation.
Zeisel states that there are at least three day to day design practices that offer opportunity for research/design cooperation.
1. Design Programming: research for the design of a particular project
2. Design Review: design assessment for conformance with exis
ting environmental behavioral research knowledge
3. Post Occupancy Evaluation: assessment of built projects in use in comparison with original design goals/hypotheses
This diagram is from Zeisel's text and describes the relationship between environmental behavior knowledge and the design process.
Of these three project practices, a revised approach to programming offers a major opportunity to recognize its research nature, improve our methodology, and create a basis for innovation and idea generation. In some ways over the past forty years, programming has moved from a very specialized consultant service into a more mainstream process, often blended with services like planning, master planning and concept design. Thus the discipline of programming has become blurred.
Perhaps a step back in recent history would be useful. Two important books were published forty years ago,
"It (the program) lays the foundation of information based on empirical evidence rather than assumption that helps the designer respond effectively and creatively to client requirements and facility parameters and constraints."
"Programming is an information-processing process. It involves a disciplined methodology of data collection, analysis, organization, communication and evaluation through which all human, physical and external influences on a facility's design may be explored."
The opportunity then is to reassess the methods, tools and techniques currently used to program within our profession, practices and building typologies. Considerable effort has been invested in developing templates and formats for quantative program/space needs and related programs. However a bigger opportunity still exists in regard to a wide variety of methods available to conduct primary research/facility program requirements. In Robert and Barbara Sommer's book,
- Observation: includes casual observation, systematic observation, video recording, photographic recording, and behavioral mapping and trace measures.
- Interview: includes unstructured interviews, structured interviews, semi structured interviews, telephone interviews and focus groups.
- Questionnaire: includes open end and closed questions, ranking versus rating questions, matrix questions, group or individual survey, mail survey and internet survey.
I believe we should take Avigail Sach's advice to heart. We should learn from the early CRS "research attitude", look to the roots of architectural programming as a discipline, and as John Zeisel does, define programming as primary research.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
SOS: Support Our Scientists
In a recent Newsweek article, An SOS for Science, Daniel Lyons argues that clean energy science should trump politics in creating climate change legislation and positioning the United States to take advantage of the alternative energy revolution. SOS, the international signal for distress from 1908 to 1999, sends a message that we are sinking. According to wikipedia, the first ship to send an SOS was the Cunard Line, Slavonia, in June 1909 just over one hundred years ago. Much later, in popular use, the three letters were often associated with "save our ship" or "save our souls." However, Daniel Lyons is sending a different message, "support our scientists. "
His article covers the conflicting attempts to draft meaningful legislation, to get our policy makers to believe our scientists, and to get our country and policy makers to see what the rest of the world is doing to meet the alternative energy/climate change challenge. Lyons says that, as a country, we have too much prosperity, making us fearful of change and unwilling to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. He believes we, and in particular policy makers, are too easily frightened by politically charged arguments, framed to create what people in the computer industry call FUD - fear, uncertainty and doubt - against what otherwise might be common sense solutions. He draws a bleak and threatening picture of what we are up against, though in fact, that may be counterproductive.
"Alternative energy is the next tidal wave in tech innovation. If we miss it, we will not only weaken our economy and harm our national security - we will turn ourselves into a second-rate nation.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is racing past us. In solar energy, the leaders are Japan, Germany and China. In wind it's Germany, Spain and Denmark. In nuclear it's France."
To underscore the concern he quotes Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Science who says "you can go up and down the list - in some cases we're players but we're no longer leading." To really catch up Cicerone says we'll need "a sustained commitment the likes of which are hard to see in American history." This approach in effect says we've collected the data on climate change, done the analysis and expect this information to change our thinking and, in particular, to change our policy formulation thinking.
Despite sending the SOS signal, Lyons doubts we have the collective will to respond to Ralph Cicerone's challenge of a "sustained commitment." He did note, however, a time over fifty years ago when we, as a nation, responded to the fear of falling behind the Soviets in the race for space. I was a junior in high school when Sputnik I and Sputnik II were launched, capturing the world's attention and catching the American public completely off-guard. During that year, the emphasis of college preparatory courses immediately switched to advanced math and science, leading me to the undergraduate study of engineering, and changing a generation of students and our country. Our nation's response to that "Sputnik moment," resulted in major investments in science, technology and education, leading to the creation of NASA and ultimately to man walking on the moon.
Unfortunately, the current climate change/global warming debate and context is not so singularly clear as being first in the race to launch a satellite into space. The impact of the Soviet launch was immediate and all Americans saw the event broadcast repeatedly on television and headlined in newspapers, resulting in the urgent, emotionally charged desire and commitment to change our behavior and speed up our own space program. But the space race was a long time ago. Not only has much changed regarding our own will to act, but much has been learned about how to enable people to act. Recent neuroscience has shown that, rather than threats, other methods are more effective in getting people to change their behavior, even for something as simple as recycling.
John Kotter's recent book, The Heart of Change, and an article, Managing with the Brain in Mind by David Rock, deal with neuroscience research and ways to approach change in behaviors based on the social nature of change and the brain. While their approach is related to change in organizations and high performance workplaces, the message is relevant to the save our scientists SOS signal. Current social brain research debunks common theories about the "threat and reward" response, finding instead that responding to a threat is generally not the productive path. As Rock states, "Humans cannot think creatively, work well together or make informed decisions when their threat responses are on high alert."
Nor is simply analyzing and defining the problem as shown in Kotter's message that "people change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings." Analyzing all the science, facts and figures won't do as much to create behavioral change as feeling strongly about the truth of a given situation. Al Gore's documentary effectively used this concept to show "an inconvenient truth", thereby spawning an emotional reaction that would lead viewers to take action for countering climate change. There is no doubt that the heart of change is in the emotion. Kotter summarizes it as: See, Feel, Change; three words that make for a more successful result than Analyze, Think, Change.
So if we are to support our scientists, which I do, and save our planet, which we all must do, then let our scientists find broad, powerful ways to demonstrate the truths of their research, in turn leading to emotionally committed citizens and policy makers who will settle for nothing less than fully meeting the climate change challenge.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
This I Too Believe
Why did he write them?'Good question,' he once replied. 'To pinpoint things we really believe in? To encourage and express the openness that characterizes our company? To communicate thoughts on current issues? To produce responses? To carry on a continuous writing of our history? Paper therapy? Perhaps all of these.'Probably the best answer is that he wanted to improve his thinking by expressing himself regularly in clear, simple thoughts. 'Most of us need to write/think,' he said.
TIBEducation -- NEVER COMPLETE26 December 67 WWCARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION IS NEVER COMPLETE.It is adquate when one has 1) developed sufficient skills, 2) absorbed every possible detail of knowledge, and 3) accumulated enough experience to ensure reasonable solutions to problems encountered by new work. Without all three -- skills, knowledge, and experience -- the architect is hard pressed to operate with any degree of competency.If he hopes for precision in architectural practice, let's say the design approach, he must face the realization that education must continue at a greater pace than he experienced at the university.This I believe.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
An opportunity I couldn't resist presented itself when Martin Meyerson, president of the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY-Buffalo), invited me to start a new school of architecture at his university. He arranged for my new school to report to three provosts: Engineering, Fine arts, and Social Science. I decided to have this school focus on an inter-disclipinary graduate program, which would have as its purpose educating a new generation of architects who could organize and manage research projects--as contrasted to designing buildings. We formed a nonprofit organization outside the university called BOSTI--the Buffalo OSTI related to my friend Don Schon's research organization in Boston. During the next 5 years, our team of graduate students participated in more than 50 projects--all of which were funded through BOSTI by outside organizations.