Architect Barbie…really?

Sometimes, on twitter, the strangest things pop up.  Today it was this link to a new Barbie – the Barbie I Can Be….Architect.

image courtesy of


“Girls can imagine designing their very own Dream House with Barbie® I Can Be…™ Architect.  Ready to tackle the daily responsibilities of a real architect in or out of the office, Barbie® I Can Be…™ Architect includes a hard hat and a set of blue prints. Wearing an architecturally inspired dress showcasing a city skyline, Barbie® doll’s outfit is symmetrically stylish with bold colors and clean lines.  In designing this doll, Barbie®  partnered with the American Institute of Architects to keep Barbie®  I Can Be… ™ Architect  doll  authentic to the career.”

End Quote:

I’m a little disappointed that she’s dressed so “colorful”.  I mean, everyone knows the “architect” is supposed to dress all in black with black framed glasses.  And seriously how many architects you see these days carrying a roll of drawings in a tube on their shoulder?….NONE.  But hey, who am I to judge.  After all, they did consult with the AIA to ensure “authenticity”…. :-\


optimistic or pessimistic?

Currently architects are stuck in a time of flux between optimism and pessimism.  Indeed it’s hard to be cheerful about the current state of our economy and even more difficult to muster up a pleasant outlook for the future.  The economy is almost a constant topic on most of the blogs that I read.  I’ve seen questions posted from students wanting advice about getting into the architecture profession, from those in the profession wondering if they should bail, still others simply shouting out frustrations at the wind and anyone who will listen, and who can blame them?  Each day listening to the news brings a renewed sense of near hopelessness at our elected officials who seem hell bent on destroying the economic prosperity of our country.  Banks and car companies have been bailed out and allowed to continue trudging along with their old and inefficient technologies and even sometimes criminal practices while rail and infrastructure projects all over the nation are being placed on the chopping block to make room for more social entitlement programs that only inhibit growth – solid investments in our future are being dashed in favor of pork barrel spending and wasteful government services.

So is there any optimism to be had?  Will we ever dig ourselves out of the sorry state of affairs we currently find ourselves?  The turmoil in Egypt puts this all in a unique perspective.  For years they have lived under an elected dictatorship that has squandered the resources and talents of the populace and a breaking point was reached a week ago.  Now the citizens are demanding their country back, demanding a leadership concerned with growth and prosperity not with greed and government largess.  Is this any different than the situation we currently find ourselves in?  I don’t think so.  The only difference I see is we have lulled ourselves into this state of apathy, where we’ve allowed ourselves to be put in a similar situation but without any pride left to stand up and fight against the establishment.

I’ve read that we (architects and building professionals) need to remain fixed on the “bright side”.  The bright side being the fact that we’re working and not living in abject poverty like a majority of the worlds’ population.  Is this true?  Should we simply be happy with what we currently have instead of working to make things better?

In the words of my British compatriots I say “bollocks” to that.  Architects are the ultimate innovators, we are constantly thinking of things in new ways and finding new uses for old materials.  But there is only so much that we can do when our hands are literally tied behind our backs by government idiocy and the total lack of vision on the part of 99% of our clients out there.  And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of advocacy going on on our behalf either.  Sure there is a significant Advocacy/Lobbying arm to the AIA at the State and National level, but are they lobbying our best interests or are they simply lobbying big government and social change?

In the last 7 years of my practice I haven’t seen a lot of positive change in legislation for architects.  Our fees are steadily decreasing because we aren’t allowed to pool together and discuss how our fees should be structured unlike nearly every other profession on the planet, including doctors, lawyers, mechanics, dentists, insurance companies (health and auto), etc.  Why are architects shoved into the back of the drawer on this issue?  Why is it legal for everyone else, but illegal for us?

All of these questions (and yes I’m aware of the staggering lack of answers) leads me to believe that architects do truly represent an optimistic profession because we are so angry and discontent with the current state of affairs.  It is this anger that is driving us ever forward toward something better – toward a tomorrow that is more responsible, more prosperous and more sustainable.  So, to all my architect friends out there, raise your glass, raise your hand and raise your voice.  Talk may be cheap, but without solid ideas no action will ever take place.

Architectural Manifesto

Every designer should have a personal architectural manifesto.  My own personal manifesto was actually a requirement for my college thesis.  I’m posting it here because I want feedback.  I want to know what makes you passionate about architecture, what do you hate about architecture, what would you change if you had the keys to the kingdom, so to speak?  Or are you happy where you are?  Is your architectural career what you always hoped it would be?  For most of us, I’m thinking….NOT.  So, first, mine, then I want to hear from you.  Be bold, be passionate, be whatever you need to be about architecture and post your comments below.

[note: this manifesto was written almost 10 years ago at the start of my senior year in college. that’s not a defense, simply a statement.]

“Architecture connects us to daily life, clarifies our relationship with one another and to the realities of place and time.  We should do the opposite – obscure and isolate – only out of neglect or indifference or error.

Among other things, architecture is about fit, revelation, and prediction.  It should fit with what is there and what transpires, and it should reveal what is there and how events change.  And the fit and revelation are not just now, at the start of design, but over time, in the future; thus prediction.”  — Joseph Esherick, FAIA –

What Esherick is saying, and what I will say, is that architecture is no longer defined by a set of rules, regulations, or styles.  Architecture is whatever we, as designers, wish to make of it.  In Connected Isolation, Thom Mayne theorizes that the key issue for architecture is that “the recognition of diversity is the natural evolution of things”, and by accepting the dynamics of this diversity, rather than attempting to substitute for unified and simplistic principles we are able to tap into the vast forces inherent in all things.  This is to say that through the experimentation and investigation of new thoughts, methods, and techniques our architecture will capture the essence of imagination and be bound by nothing, save gravity.  In a number of today’s cities there seems to be distaste for the introduction of experimental architecture.  Some in these cities seem to think that the inclusion of such experimentation will somehow diminish their identity as a community.  This is simply not true.  The expression of new materials and new ways of thinking is necessary to further the exploration of an identity; nothing is static.  The character of a given place is not rooted within any one thing, but in the personalities and ideals of its people, and these people constantly change and grow, as any architectural expression should do.

As we continue to grow and change so does our architecture.  With the progression of each year, each decade, each century, our identity, our defining characteristics change alongside them.  Life is not a fixed, monotonous endeavor.  It is something that molds anew with the inclusion of each new generation.  Our architecture must act in the same regard, as a pliable and renewable resource.  What we build today becomes our history tomorrow.

everywhere, everywhere containers

A friend of mine sent this article post to me the other day.  I’m telling you, container homes and offices are EVERYWHERE.  You can’t escape them, they are here to stay.  These images are not projects that are just in random overseas countries – they are in our own back yard and it’s AWESOME!  Enjoy.

The Daily Green

Anyone who wants to learn more about containers, container homes or building with them – let me know!

dMass via jetsongreen

this blew me away at 630 am.  Just AWESOME!  Mad kudos to Howard J. Brown, founder of dMass.

i teach and i do

I love that old saying “those who can’t do, teach”.  I actually do AND teach.  For the last two years I’ve been teaching Autocad (from intro to advanced) at a local community college in St. Augustine.  But, this semester, I get a new challenge – teaching Principles of Architectural Design – a.k.a. “hand drafting”.

This is VERY exciting for me.  I first started learning hand drafting, technical drafting, in my senior year of high school.  It was something I took to naturally and really enjoyed.  This was critical to my early success in college.  As you can imagine though, architectural education in the last 10-15 years has mostly centered around computer aided drafting, instead of hand drafting – technology makes the world go round after all.

I began learning autocad in 1999 with release R-12 and have followed each new release since (pushing 12 years experience with autocad now), but hand drafting was still what I was more comfortable with, so most of my projects were done by hand.  This included plans, elevations, perspectives, renderings, etc.  As I moved through my studio classes it became increasingly difficult to continue producing hand drawn graphics for my critiques, so I was forced to hone my skills in CAD and other 3D platforms to more rapidly produce final products for critique.  I began thinking, even back then, that the art of hand drafting was being lost in education and became convinced of this when I began practicing in early 2004 and realized that I would probably never again do any hand drawings as an intern.  In order to survive as an intern I had to ramp up with CAD very quickly, and I did.  But I still maintained my drafting table/sketch books at home.

Hand drafting and sketching are invaluable tools for an architect/designer or someone wanting to practice in the field.  Hand drafting teaches you in a tactile way how to visually represent a building with 3 dimensional qualities in a 2 dimensional medium.  With CAD you use color to represent line weight (i.e. depth and drawing hierarchy), but if you don’t understand what line weight really is how can you accurately draft what you’re tasked to?

So, it’s going to be an exciting semester.  I plan on torturing my students from the very beginning with lettering – OH THE HORROR!  😉  It’s going to be so much fun to see the completely defeated look on their faces when they realize the work that goes into a quality hand drafted architectural drawing, and additionally that they can’t yet reach that bar of quality.  But in the end, I hope, they’ll have a greater and more profound understanding of the HOW of architectural drafting, which in turn will make them better at computer aided drafting and will lead to much less frustration in my other classes.  😛

history and modernity

My thesis in college studied how modern and historic architecture could and should fit in the same neighborhood context.  But we so seldom see contemporary or modern architecture butted up beside a historic monument outside of cities like NYC or Chicago or Prague.

Why is that?  Is there a general fear within planning departments to blend the new with the old?  Is it a lack of vision or imagination that perpetuates the repetition of styles that have no real historical significance in our modern times?  Some might wonder why I’m asking these questions (even though they are questions I’ve asked before) and it’s because I’m seeing a good bit of talk lately on the issue of Urban Planning in cities around the country.  Most of these discussions center around land use planning and infrastructure, but along with that will go the types of buildings that are constructed and what they look like.  In other words, the style of our cities is as much important as how our cities are arranged.  Compare two cities like Atlanta and Savannah, both in Georgia.  Atlanta, being a modern metropolis with an expanding urban core and dedicated public transit has a very fast paced and modern quality of life that is reflected in the architecture.  On the other hand, Savannah, being steeped in it’s history and it’s historic identity has a much slower, easy quality of life and even new construction is forced into a “historical mold” that tells us nothing about the modern times we live in today.  Two cities directly impacted by not just planning and land use, but also impacted by the architectural styles present.

What would happen if we married the modern and the historic?  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Historic Preservation (in it’s true form of preservation not forced architectural copy), but I am also a modern architectural designer.  It’s important that our generations’ architectural record reflect modern technologies, modern styles and modern materials.  Otherwise we leave no clear architectural expression of our own for future generations.  Currently I see us in a “Architectural Dark Ages”, where the majority of the construction I see going up (in my own little corner of the world) is, for lack of a better phrase, CRAP.  It’s a copy of one or two or even 10 different architectural styles that hold some kind of significance in history, and these buildings try to use these styles to relate in some way to their surroundings when all they’re really doing is insulting every architect who came before them trying to leave a mark of their time and place in history.

Ok, that was a really long sentence, please forgive my rant.  But haven’t you ever driven/strolled/walked/run though a neighborhood or city and wondered “what in the hell were they thinking?”  It happens to me quite often (occupational hazard).  Like right now, I’m sitting in a starbucks (i know I know, I’m not shopping local….but hey, I like the coffee damn it), in a strip infill building in Riverside that has NO meaningful architectural expression….none, nada, zip, zero, zilch….and what’s worse is across the street is a residential development….oh please don’t make me describe it.  Let’s just say it ain’t winning any awards, and, like a good serial killer, is not terribly memorable in appearance.

But these are the types of developments that are railroaded through planning and development.  Why?  Because they don’t challenge any conventions, they are specifically non-descript, could fit in any neighborhood in any city in America and give absolutely no consideration to pedestrians or the greater betterment of their surroundings.  I’m thinking we can do better, don’t you?  As architects, developers, land owners and potential homeowners, we can do much better for our cities.  Demand a higher level of design, a higher quality of life and a higher quality of architecture and design will follow.

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