The Death of Drawing?

I applaud Sophia A. Gruzdys, the author of this review, for taking a stand against this book’s argument that drawing is no longer a viable tool for architects.

1503-The-Death-of-Drawing_coverRead the review: The Death of Drawing: Architecture in the Age of Simulation | Book Review | Architectural Record.

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Color Options

My client chose a particular rich dark green siding and black window trim for their Craftsman bungalow. I presented them with options for the remaining  trim and door colors. Then I made this quick GIF animation for fun.

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Grotesques

This post is an answer to question posed in the previous blog post:

Q.  “Who are we?”

A.  We are grotesques, inlaid into the terra cotta floor of the Reading Room in the Laurentian Library, in Florence, Italy.

libreriaThe Library’s Entry Vestibule and Reading Room were designed by Michelangelo. They are notable because of the radical ways in which architectural elements are used without strict adherence to their traditional/ expected/functional roles. The tall vestibule, an interior room, is made to feel like an outdoor courtyard, literally outside-in.  There are large corbels (brackets) that don’t physically hold anything up, and window-frames surrounding planes of opaque stone rather than glass.

It is a prime example of the style called Mannerism. From Wikipedia, “Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. Mannerism favors compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity of earlier Renaissance (work).”

I had been taught that the Laurentian Library was both conceived of and fleshed out by Michelangelo. Because of this, I thought that the faces inlaid in the floor were made from sketches by Michelangelo. However, in a correspondence with Leonard Barkan, a scholar, currently at Princeton University, with many deep interests including Literature, History, Art History, Classics, and Meaning, I learned that this was not the case. He wrote:

The faces on the floor of the Laurentian Library are indeed interesting, in the fashion of grotteschi, which were a widely diffused style of decoration throughout the sixteenth century and beyond.  They probably don’t have much to do with Michelangelo himself.  The Library was realized from what appear to have been his very generalized architectural designs, but he seems to have had very little input as regards the details, since it was all done after he had definitively left Florence.  And the letters we possess on the subject suggest that he wasn’t very closely connected with what was going on in the construction.  The drawings for the floor were (we’re told) by Niccolò Tribolo.  For a brief account in English, see: http://www.bml.firenze.sbn.it/ing/tour_of_the_complex.htm

The inclusion of this assortment of cartoon-like heads in this stately space may have been done in order to include the wild, sensuous, and willful side of human nature along with the sublime, intellectual and religious side.

Grotesques are found in architecture throughout the world. The following Gothic examples are from the Bayeux Cathedral, in Bayeux France.

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Bayeux images courtesy of  George P. Landow

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How Writing by Hand Benefits the Brain

Dalton-Ghetti-pencil-alphabet

Educator Ainissa Ramirez observes that…”those who are taking notes by hand are processing the information and representing it in a way that makes sense to them. They are learning…So in this age of technology, (she is) suggesting that students take notes with paper and pen. It’s a crazy idea, but hear( her) out. This is a re-post of her article:

The Lowdown on Longhand: How Writing by Hand Benefits the Brain.

“My Catholic school third grade teacher was extremely tough on me. Her biggest gripe was my handwriting, which looks more like an EKG scan than penmanship. For years, I harbored not-so-fond memories of her, but now I know that her strictness about penmanship was actually helping my brain develop. Recently, scientists have shown that longhand writing benefits the brain.

Today, cursive writing is becoming a lost art as note taking with laptops becomes more and more prominent in classrooms. But what we are losing is much bigger than a few scratches on a page — we are losing a robust way of learning.

There has been much debate on the use of laptops for note taking in classrooms. The pro side sees laptops as an efficient way of collecting and storing information. The con side sees laptops as an opportunity for distractions and multitasking. What’s missing is an understanding of how taking notes by longhand influences the brain. Recent studies have shown that students taking notes with laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than the students taking notes by longhand. In short, they had the information on their computers, but did not have an understanding of that information in their brains.

So in this age of technology, I’m suggesting that students take notes with paper and pen. It’s a crazy idea, but hear me out.

A Plea for Penmanship

When students take notes with their laptops, they tend to mindlessly transcribe the data word for word, like speech-to-text software. But taking notes verbatim is not the point. What is lacking in their note-taking-by-laptop is the synthesis, the re-framing, and the understanding of the information. Students that transcribe with laptops have shallow connections to what’s being presented to them. However, those who are taking notes by hand are processing the information and representing it in a way that makes sense to them. They are learning.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that longhand writing is so 19th century. But we need to answer a question: do we want students to have a deep or shallow connection to the information we’re giving them? While we live in a world of short sound bytes where news is thrown at us unprocessed, this should not be the mode for schools. In the 21st century, the ability to connect knowledge in new ways is more important than the knowledge itself. So students with deeper connections to information can link it in new ways — they can create.

The Pen is Mightier

All this begs the question of how we can incorporate longhand in a digital age. What about a daily notebook, written by hand?

A lost art in the world of science is the lab notebook. In it, scientists write down observations, impressions, and all the variables and outcomes of an experiment. If you are teaching STEM classes, might I suggest that you resurrect the lab notebook and have students personalize it? Give them assignments where they have to hand-draw pictures of what they see and what they predict. Let them figure out how to visually represent these things — without digital pictures, by the way. The data says that taking images with a camera does not improve one’s memory either, so these notebook entries must be written or drawn. Skill doesn’t matter. What we are fostering are experiential links in a child’s brain, and one of the best pathways is through their fingers.

If you are not teaching STEM classes, have students carry a personal notebook in which they write down observations and draw things by hand on whatever topic. We are trying to create more connections to information, and developing fine motor skills along the way.

If you have a classroom with lots of technology, try to integrate note taking. Often when I give my PowerPoint slides to students, I pass out a version that doesn’t have all the information that students are seeing on the screen, which means that they need to fill it in by hand. And when I glance over their notes, I see how their work doesn’t always look the same. This is great because my students are doing the most important thing we can teach them — they are learning how to teach themselves.

So let us not confuse efficiency with the real goal of teaching. Teaching is not a job of cramming as much as we can into a brain. It is about learning. And getting students to learn means that we must use every pathway to connect them with the information. Using laptops reinforces the Industrial Revolution ideal that every kid should get the information in the same way, and that it should come out the same way. But by occasionally replacing the laptop with a pen, learning happens, which is why we got into this business in the first place.”

 Blog re-post courtesy of Ainissa Ramirez.

Pencil Alphabet” image courtesy of Dalton M. Ghetti.

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When We Work Together, What Should You Bring to the Design Process?

people_edited-1Bring problems, not solutions

To get the most out of the design process, it is best to present me with a problem statement rather than a solution. Isolating the problem statement is easier said than done. I find clients usually understand their design problems perfectly. They know what parts of their layout are inefficient, which finishes are outdated, which views are not accessed, which views should be blocked, what needs are simply not provided for in their home.

Most clients take the next step and propose a solution: “We need a room laid out like so, with a door here and a window here.” Of course no one knows your house better than you do. However, as an architect, I can step back, analyze your needs and study your house as a system which accomplishes the following:

  • provides space for needs and uses
  • allows varying levels of access
  • expresses family priorities
  • allows for privacy as well as togetherness
  • interacts positively with its surroundings

By taking all of these factors into account, in addition to issues of structure, cost, codes, and so on, I can present a solution you may have never thought of that solves your problem very well.

Here’s an example. A two-career, two-computer couple hired me to add a study/library to their home. They stated that they wanted this room right off of the kitchen, because it would be “close to everything.” They felt that the problem needing a solution was: how do we get light into the kitchen if we block off its sliding glass door with another room.

I understood that this couple needed a new room, but questioned whether it had to be right off of the kitchen. In fact, that would make it too close to everything. I proposed location a little further off the beaten track. This proposed location was secluded enough for actual study to take place. It had the added benefit of being structurally simple and not taking away the kitchen’s light and access, which were established and enjoyed.

I will help peel apart the issues driving your design. The first few sessions may well consist largely of discussion and questions about your house, your needs, your priorities, etc.

Bring an open mind

When presented with solutions you may never have thought of, it is best to have an open mind. You may discover that I have hit upon a great solution! It goes without saying, though, you are the final judge. A good way to evaluate a design is to ask the following question: Does it solve your problems constructively? This is the most important thing a design must do.

Bring a notebook

I recommend that clients keep a record of the design process. A notebook, folder, or journal allows you to have a central location for questions, issues raised at each meeting, items to consider for the next meeting, opinions, priorities, lists, and so on. Many clients collect photos of projects they like. I regard these as impressions, not necessarily as solutions to directly reproduce.

Bring hard information

If you have house plans already, by all means, bring them. It will give me a good head start on preparing “as-builts.” This can save many hours of billable time.

Bring a budget, even if it is not “set in stone.” Be honest about your intentions so that I can work towards the best solution that you can afford. Without an accurate budget range to work with, I will probably propose more or less than you want.

Eventually, you will be responsible to provide data such as your legal description and tax assessor’s number (for permit). If site information is required, such as a survey or a letter or report from a soils engineer, it is typically provided by the client.

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