Shedding Water = A Building
I believe that the prime difference between buildings and other things humans construct (bridges, sculptures, cars) is that a building’s prime directive is to protect its users from the weather. Thermal protection is pretty easy, as is making a wind break and providing shade: but shedding water can be dicey.
Creativity has many outlets: in painting its color, in music its found in melody and meter, in politics its smearing distortions. In architecture it can be found in detailing and materials, or in innovative planning or technological applications. But in this generation creativity in architecture has largely become the sound bite of a building’s shape. “Formalism” is architectese for making interesting shapes that go to great lengths of abstraction to have zero historic allusion.
Historic shapes drape plans with an overcoat whose first job is to shed water. Hence the gable roof, the shed, gambrel, even mansard: all viewed as brain dead replication by architects seeking “cutting edge” cred. That means surfing a Fine Arts Wave away from things that look like they were built to things that are virtually sculpted in appearance, if not in actual construction.
But, to me, a building that does not shed water is really not a building, its a sculpture. So I tend to be dubbed a “traditional” architect by the “cutting edge” – if they even notice me at all. But truly “traditional”/historicist architects think I am illegitimately breaking rules and being more disrupter than designer (or at least according to those who have bothered to comment.)
That mixed reaction is nothing new in my 40 year term in architecture, but a recent blurted commentary revealed how this career focus is seen by my peers – in this case a great group of AIA members who have spent 6 months considering my work.
I was lured into being a member of my profession’s one single voice, the American Institute of Architects a scant 11 years ago. I had always thought it was disingenuous to belong to a consensus group like the AIA when I had (and have) fundamental issues with how architects present themselves and how the AIA murkies up the distinction between membership in their organization with licensure as an architect.
But the AIA wanted to give my book, “The House You Build” its imprint, – effectively selling thousands of books. I was 50, had talked in front of a slew of local AIA chapters, had won a bunch of local AIA Awards (but giving many thousands of dollars of entry fees to failed applications as well) and had published the works of scores of AIA members in my writings. There was no animosity, just a sense of misfit.
But the entreaty of positive regard for my writing that putting their imprimatur on the book meant played sufficiently to my vanity that I was happy to join 11 years ago.
Furtive inquiries a year ago from several AIA architects asked if, now that I had been an AIA member for the requisite 10 years, I was interested in competing for “Fellow” status – being one of the 40 or so architects out of the 400 Connecticut AIA members that are seen as “contributing to the profession” in one of several ways. I was deeply honored to be tapped by the dozen or so Fellows on the local Connecticut committee to compete in the national AIA process for Fellowship status – so I naturally said “Yes.”.
Despite winning over 20 national awards and honors for my work, my odd position as neither “cutting edge” or “traditional” put me in at a odd place for the nomination as a designer, so they opted to nominate me for “Service to Society”.
Even though that was my application basis I still have to show my design work in 15 projects. Which meant a lot of soul searching and careful presentation of each in a one-page format. Its not my first rodeo so I had an intern or 2 spend a couple of hundred hours to make a crushing presentation.
The reactions of my peers was interesting: one non-AIA architect saw the 15 pages and hated them. Others were more generous. But in the final review session by the local AIA Fellow Committee the group liked what I had spent 4 months and thousands of dollars of staff time creating: but with an interesting, near uniform reaction summarized by one comment:
“Its a very nice presentation – I like how the variety of graphic approaches tends to smooth over your obsession with roofs.”
The committee was nodding its collective head and then burst out laughing when I responded:
“Yeah, that whole shedding water thing is tough.”