Tag: Architecture

“But I Still Think It’s Ugly”: Explaining Architecture to Non-Architects, Part IV

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In the first couple of installments in this series*, I discussed some of our habits of mind that may get in the way of us architects making ourselves understood by normal people. I realize now that I left one out; perhaps I pulled a punch. In any case, before going further . . .

We hear potential clients say things like, “I know what I want. All you need to do is draw it up.” We find such remarks annoying, because “drawing it up” is not the most important of our roles. It is, however, tangible, so perhaps it is understandable that non-architects should latch onto it.

Interestingly, though, people don’t latch on in quite the same way to the tangible things that other professionals do. If you ask anyone over the age of eight what doctors do, you won’t hear, “They tap you on the tummy.” Nobody goes to the doctor because they want their tummies tapped. What doctors do is incidental; what is important is what they provide: health.

Similarly, we might think about explaining to the public not what we do, but what we provide. Easier said, of course, than done. One reason is that there isn’t a single word for it, like “health.” “Architecture” means too many different things (we can’t even agree on it ourselves), and the more familiar definitions are not helpful. Take, for example, “Architecture is frozen music”: suggestive, certainly, but people don’t want frozen music the way they want health.

Thirty-five years ago, when I was a young architecture student, some of my fellow students prepared a questionnaire intended for the profession at large, one section of which asked respondents to check which of a long list of motivations properly guide an architectural project. Among these was “What the Client Wants,” and, among the students involved, this phrase was code for “Selling Out.”

This conviction—that one shouldn’t pander to the wants of the client—has had remarkable staying power and is among the more invidious of the correlates of the thesis that architecture is a form of art, a discipline meant to unsettle the public, rather than assuage it. It is a conviction not readily realized in practice, as few clients willingly pay for the confounding of their wants—exceptions being arts institutions and patrons, who are themselves occasionally conflicted around the question.

But if it is rarely possible to give—or, we should say, sell—clients what they don’t want, it is all too easy to adopt a schizophrenic attitude, grumbling about clients’ wants in the back office, while outwardly complying with them. Doing so truly is pandering, because it is offering something you believe to be wrong. The solution, however, is not to withhold it, but instead to accept the rather obvious possibility that it may not be wrong, after all.

This is not to say that the architect doesn’t from time to time have the obligation of telling a client, “No.” A professional, by definition, serves both the immediate client and the public good. An architect is responsible for advising clients against compromising the public good, just as doctors are responsible for advising patients against conduct that spreads disease.

It is to say that, if we are going to ask the public to value what we believe in, perhaps we should try to value what they believe in, as well. We needn’t abandon our values, but we would do well to frankly assess those values and the motivations behind them, taking care not to treat as moral absolutes values that are, in fact, matters of acquired taste. I’m thinking, for example, of the almost universal refusal of architects in San Francisco to design buildings with conventionally configured bay windows, not because they’re incommodious—to the contrary, under the city’s zoning ordinance, they can be larger than rectangular bays, and they typically extend the space of the room more gracefully—but because they’re not “of the time.” What this means is unclear; they certainly were popular in an earlier time, but then so were Levi’s. Both remain affordable to produce and are extremely popular today.

More important, though, than any particular case is the general and too-common attitude among us that non-architects are mostly a bunch of numbskulls and that the way to make good buildings is to avoid all but the rare client who “gets it.” Not only has this attitude further marginalized the architect’s role in shaping the built environment, it also works against any efforts to “educate” the public—that is, to make, rather than merely find, good clients—because the first requirement of teaching is that you respect your students.

One thing that has driven this point home for me is that, because my wife is a faculty member in English Literature at U.C. Berkeley, I have had the good fortune to meet many extraordinarily intelligent and well-educated individuals in a wide range of academic disciplines. These people, who are decidedly not numbskulls, are nevertheless much more likely to share the aesthetic values (regarding buildings) that we associate with the general public. Astrophysicists tend to like Arts and Crafts style houses, to like ornament, and to not understand why architects don’t want to build them anymore. Perhaps they don’t feel an obligation for their homes to represent the leading edge of twenty-first century thought, because their work is the leading edge of twenty-first century thought. They are also typically more willing to try to explain their work in a way that an architect can understand than architects are to explain our work in a way that astrophysicists—or the bus drivers whose tastes they share—can understand. So, let’s not condescend; let’s choose to respect the public and their values.

 

Good Morning; Good Afternoon; Good Evening

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Burkhart_fellow1021Morning: 6:00 a.m. (or thereabouts) one day in February, Erik Burkhart, FAIA, Principal at Lee, Burkhart, Liu, Inc., stumbled, attempting to turn off his iPhone alarm. In the clumsy process, he happened to glimpse an email from AIA National, and the entire wake-up process instantly turned pleasant.

Afternoon: Too excited to contain the news until the respectable and appropriate hours of contact, he awakened family and a few colleagues to share. And a few hours was enough notification for his office to throw an impromptu congratulatory party, which made for a joyous afternoon indeed.

Burkhart, an architect whose career in California spans over 35 years, was humbled and honored to attend the Investiture ceremony. “I was particularly struck by the talent and diversity of the AIA Fellows I met, the amazing contributions they are making to their communities and the honor they bring to our profession,” he said.

Evening: His reports of the actual ceremony are reflected by many. It “was dignified by tradition and yet celebratory, not unlike a graduation ceremony,” he reported. Incidentally, the ceremonial garb was misinterpreted as he wore it and waited at the elevator with public onlookers. “I was asked how many couples I would be marrying downstairs that weekend.” And even though he did not bless or unite any happy couples, and even though he reports the reception being a bit of a chaotic blur, he was privy to his own sort of ceremonial contentment. The next evening though, was “more relaxing and collegial, filled with stimulating and witty conversation,” he said. “I look forward to returning next year as an ‘old’ Fellow.”

 

Density and Presence at MDC

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For those of you who attend the Monterey Design Conference at Asilomar, you know how illuminating it is, one of those rare instances where professional development is an actual intellectual exercise. 2013 was no exception. The things that stand out in my mind were the degree of subtlety that was on display and the emphasis on the phenomenology of space in opposition to more formal or graphic expressions. Perhaps this emphasis is best characterized by the “spirit in the prosaic” or the exercise of finding “the great within the small” and, by so doing, “elevating the ordinary to the status of architecture,” as Marlon Blackwell explained. Listening to him talk, I realized that there is a fundamental humility that comes from working in less urbane areas of the United States and that it serves a less esoteric approach to design. Marlon works with small budgets in modest locations and creates sublime results without any of the pretention that is associated with the academic practice of architecture.

Brian Price’s brief presentation followed a similar trajectory. A new and more experimental practitioner, he has already realized that we are often best served by “working through subtraction, . . . re-framing familiar things.” He was eloquent as he discussed the need to find new forms of engagement, an important comment on the nature of architectural practice in this, still new, century.

Anne Fougeron’s work is a testament to dedication and persistence. Her lecture, titled “Work: A Decade,” charted a trajectory in both scale and invention that is something to aspire to. I was surprised to learn about her education as an art historian, but knowing that allowed me to understand her work through a new lens. She made references to Dan Flavin and James Turrell, artists who work in the abstract medium of light. Their work has direct implications for architecture, where the medium is space, a material enclosure that has density and presence—sealed containers that reject, limit, modulate, or allow the introduction of light (and other environmental phenomena) as a fundamental “function.” Only someone with an understanding of, and appreciation for, art can appreciate the power of working with this ever present but immaterial medium. It clearly informs Fougeron’s approach to architecture, which is more about being than seeing—an important message in this era of instantaneous image circulation and consumption.

I had the unique opportunity to attend the Monterey Design Conference at the same time as I was attending the Carmel Ideas Festival. The Ideas Festival is a gathering of authors, some as well known at The New York Times’ David Brooks or the author Jane Smiley. Each speaks for twenty minutes to an audience of interested lay people about a diverse set of subjects. As you might expect, they are very good at delivering their thoughts in a concise and compelling fashion. Without being overly critical, I was left with the impression that we, architects in general, need to get a lot better at communicating our ideas. As wonderful as the projects that were presented at MDC were, the presenters often fell into simple narration of the images on the screen, sometimes losing track of the rhetorical agendas that the titles and introductions to their talks suggested.

With that criticism in mind, the highlight of the conference for me was the Saturday session with Jack MacAllister. Jack spoke for almost an hour, in front of a single image, without notes. Granted, he has sixty years of experience to draw from, but his “Top 10 list for Architects” was both valuable and entertaining. His common sense advice was the sort that can only come from a deep and varied career. The way he told his story—and I use the word story intentionally, because I am convinced that we need to become better storytellers—made his professional trajectory easy to comprehend. Working from the details at the Salk Institute, to founding firms, to advising, his impact has become larger and larger as he has touched more and more people with his knowledge and wisdom. At this late stage, he is a curator of architects, perhaps more influential than ever. His easy, unscripted communication underscored that message.

The conference was a success, and, reflecting on it, I have to inquire about the agenda of the organizers. Are these thought leaders working to help usher in a new era in our field? With lecture titles like “Material/Immaterial,” with work by Odile Decq, whose projects evidence the expressive potential for small modulations within a regulated field, I believe that the message is clear. Space is the medium in which we work, phenomenology is the mode of experiencing that medium, and, whether or not one can find the language for expressing it, everyone responds to it. Architectural discourse has been on a juggernaut from form follows function, less is more, structuralism, post- modernism, to de-constructivism and out the other side. Perhaps the 2013 Monterey Design Conference was styled to remind us about what the real “stuff” of architecture is. To demonstrate that there is ample intellectual potential in contemplating and working from that stuff and to re-focus our endeavors in this time of growing environmental concern. There has never been a moment when the world needed our thoughts and talents more. Let’s hope we can rise to that challenge.

 

“But I Still Think It’s Ugly”: Explaining Architecture to Non-Architects, Part III

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Part 3: Coming to Terms: Order and Experience

The two previous installments in this series, “Divergent Mindsets” and “Reason and Effect,” looked at how architects are acculturated, in school and the profession, to think about buildings in ways that differ fundamentally from the ways non-architects think about them. The architect’s mindset favors reason over experience and conceptual and developmental coherence over effect. My suggestion is that, to explain to average folks the purpose and value of architecture as architects understand it, we should keep in mind these differences in mindset. And we must credit the average person’s value

With these thoughts in mind, it’s time to begin to build more concrete bridges between the terms of the architect’s value system and the terms of other people’s value systems. Among the terms that shape architects’ understanding of buildings is order. Where does architectural order meet the experience of the everyday user of buildings?

In one of the most enigmatic of his many enigmatic remarks, Louis Kahn declared, “Order is.” He relates that he had been trying to come up with a convincing definition of order, “Order is _______”; but he couldn’t settle on the predicate. He couldn’t fill in that blank. And then it occurred to him that the reason he couldn’t do so is that order simply is. On first blush, this sounds like the last proposition that might help build a connection between architectural thinking and everyday thinking. But there’s actually something to it.

Because we architects don’t typically stop with the is. We go on to the predicate; our decisions are predicated on order as an operational tool. It is a tool of great service. For the architect, systems of order help assure a consistency of thought regarding every other factor in the equation. We seek order of all sorts. Structural integrity demands perhaps the most rigorous consideration of order, in the economical and dependable distribution of loads. We depend on systems of order to keep track of the correspondences among the many components of our increasingly layered construction systems—the attachment points of shading elements to glazing, of rainscreen to thermal barrier. And we employ ordering patterns to interweave hierarchies of elements and spaces, the tessellation of tatami mats forming a room, the order of piers counting off the side chapels of a basilica.

Le Corbusier, regulating lines for the Villa Stein.

Le Corbusier, regulating lines for the Villa Stein.

The architect thus understands order as a matter of regulation and hierarchy: regulation of the geometry of parts, whether constructional or (as in Le Corbusier’s regulating lines) formal; and hierarchy of elements and spaces. The emphasis here is on coherence of thought in the creation and development of the building.

For the user of the building, however, how the building was thought out by the designer is secondary—distantly secondary—to how the building is experienced. The user couldn’t care less about the logical coherence of systems of order, which is not something one directly experiences; one must stop and think about it, and that’s not how people engage buildings. The user does experience hierarchy directly, but in somewhat different terms than we architects usually talk about. For the average person, the hierarchy of a building is about finding one’s place and finding one’s way. It’s a process of discovery through experience, and the result of it is not thinking, “Oh, dig this hierarchy,” but rather feeling, “This is where I ought to be.”

The easiest sort of order to understand in this way is symmetry, which in its simple, classical rendition draws us to the center of a composition, both inviting entrance and, often, giving pause: stand up straight! Square your shoulder! OK, now proceed. Simply and powerfully, symmetry leads us (any experience of an axis includes, always, a tug—a visceral recognition that we’re either on it or off it), through the great doors, say, of Ely Cathedral, down the central aisle to the crossing, where two symmetries intersect and so we pause and discover yet a third, upward to the lantern, upward to heaven.

Ely Cathedral, nave, photo by Wikimedia Editing User Maxgilead, reproduced under CC BY-SA 3.0; lantern photo by Wikipedia User Soloist, reproduced under GFDL.

Ely Cathedral, nave, photo by Wikimedia Editing User Maxgilead, reproduced under CC BY-SA 3.0; lantern photo by Wikipedia User Soloist, reproduced under GFDL.

That’s an experience of order in which the architect’s understanding—the intersecting axes, measured by a pattern of columns—corresponds visibly to the pilgrim’s experience, the column pattern pacing the rhythm of approach to the crossing, a still center in which to ponder faith (or its absence).

But not all architectural orders are so straightforwardly visible. The neo-Gothic residential colleges at Yale University, for example, are highly ordered, but it’s not the order you see that matters; it’s the order that’s inhabited. James Gamble Rogers designed them as a tool for building a social order within the community. Each college forms a perimeter enclosing two or three courtyards; onto each courtyard open a handful of entrances; each entrance leads to a stairway of two or three stories; each landing has two suites; each suite two bedrooms; often, each bedroom two bunks. Roommates, suitemates, entrymates, courtyard neighbors, and the college as a whole: a hierarchy of social relationships.

Trumbull College at Yale, by James Gamble Rogers.

Trumbull College at Yale, by James Gamble Rogers.

For the residents of the college themselves, the order is visible if not obvious—the picturesque treatment of the exterior somewhat obscures the regularity of the system—but it is something they deeply experience.

Trumbull College, central courtyard, looking west, photo by Tim Culvahouse.

Trumbull College, central courtyard, looking west, photo by Tim Culvahouse.

Not incidentally, the whole system is entirely opaque to the casual New Haven passerby.

Trumbull College, south entrance from Elm Street, photo by Tim Culvahouse.

Trumbull College, south entrance from Elm Street, photo by Tim Culvahouse.

The Yale example is perhaps more relevant than Ely today, given the popularity of fluid, irregular forms and the transfer of the logic of order to parametric processes. But, whether the architectural order is immediately visible to the attentive onlooker or not, the effects of that order on how we move and where we come to rest are among the qualities that the non-architect can readily understand and value.

 

What is the Value of Licensure?

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Diversity and inclusion within the profession is not an old conversation, but as of late it has been a hot topic. It has been less than a month since I wrote my article, “I am the 5%,” and several major positive decisions have been made towards inclusivity.

  • I attended the Missing 32% Symposium put on by AIA SF
  • The Pritzker rejected the Petition for Dennis Scott Brown’s Retroactive Award
  • In response, Kazys Varnelis, Director of the Network Architecture Lab at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, said “Good Riddance to the Pritzker.”
  • AIA New York Petitioned the AIA National Board to Expand the Gold Medal rules to include Joint Collaborations, allowing for couples like Robert Venturi and Dennis Scott Brown to both be awarded the Gold Medal
  • Robert Ivy, CEO and Executive Vice President of AIA National, announced on his twitter feed that the: “AIA will sponsor major, authoritive study on gender and inclusion in 2014 as part of repositioning. “We need facts and acts.”
  • The AIA National Board obliged and changed the criteria for the Gold Medal
  • Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA became the first Asian-American female architect be elected 2014 First Vice President and 2015 President-Elect.

Given the current buzz on diversity and inclusion, I became more interested in the following question, “What is the true value of licensure?” After all, if we increase the value of the architecture license, wouldn’t more individuals choose to jump through all the necessary hoops to get their architectural license? Would it then follow that there would be more diversity within the profession of those getting licensed? Perhaps I am being too naïve.

However, the MBA in me sees no real cost benefit analysis to the value of licensure. Many of my friends who are happy at their jobs are not pursuing licensure. They continue to be challenged with additional responsibility on their projects, and their salaries reflect their growth in the firm. Many of them are content with their work/life balance and have no desires to be principals of their own firm.

While attending the Missing 32% Symposium put on by AIASF, students and associate members were indirectly asking the value of architecture. Responses from the sage elders ranged from expressing pride; to reminiscing on the friendships made from a time when the architecture registration test was only held once a year; to making statements to the effect that one is not legally able to call oneself an architect unless you are licensed.

As the Associate Representative to the AIA National Board, I was often asked how we get more individuals to pursue their license. My common response (which I stole from a good friend of mine) before I attended business school was, “Guarantee everyone who gets their license in your firm a $10,000 raise for their accomplishment.”

Reasons for obtaining my license were selfish. I wanted to make a difference within the profession, and believed that the AIA provides me the capacity to create change. However, to be a leader within the AIA and to earn the respect of my colleagues, I also needed to be able to have conversations with them as a licensed architect.

It is true that a lot of work has to be done on Diversity and Inclusion within architecture, but we would be absolutely remiss if we did not look at the value of the architectural license. What are your thoughts on Diversity, Inclusion, and the value of licensure?

 

“A Blueprint for Women Architects to Overcome Doubt, Discrimination”

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California women leaning in: Haley Gipe, Darden Architects; Evelyn Lee, MKThink; Phoebe Schenker, EHDD; Liz Ogbu, Center for Art & Public Life, CCA; Chelsea Johnson, David Baker + Partners; Adrianne Steichen, Pyatok Architects; Leigh Christy, Perkins + Will; Allison Albericci, SOM; Kati Rubinyi, The Planning Center. And the author, Mia Scharphie, formerly of Public Architecture, now at the Harvard GSD

California women leaning in: Haley Gipe, Darden Architects; Evelyn Lee, MKThink; Phoebe Schenker, EHDD; Liz Ogbu, Center for Art & Public Life, CCA; Chelsea Johnson, David Baker + Partners; Adrianne Steichen, Pyatok Architects; Leigh Christy, Perkins + Will; Allison Albericci, SOM; Kati Rubinyi, The Planning Center. And the author, Mia Scharphie, formerly of Public Architecture, now at the Harvard GSD

“Patterns of self-doubt are culturally ingrained from an early age, and are incredibly pervasive among female designers . . . . The everyday patterns of behavior women fall into have insidious and far-reaching consequences. When we undervalue our work and our worth, the people around us don’t see it either.” An insightful essay by Mia Scharphie in The Christian Science Monitor.

 

“But I Still Think It’s Ugly”: Explaining Architecture to Non-Architects, Part I

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Part 1. Divergent Mindsets

This is the first in a series of articles, intended to help us better explain architecture to non-architects, with the goal of increasing their appreciation of the buildings that give us such joy and wonder and satisfaction. We want people to like the buildings we design, because, speaking candidly, we want them to ask us to design more of them.

Before going too far, it’s perhaps worth asking, “What is the difference, really, between ‘architects’ and ‘non-architects’?” We know that, with only a few exceptions—African termites, Baltimore orioles, Pritzker laureates—architects are people, too. Why should there be, as there so often is, such a great divergence in our likes and dislikes? We might suppose that our likes are shaped by our understanding—that architects like certain things because we understand their value, while other people don’t. That’s a good beginning. One thing we can do is to identify valuable things about buildings and demonstrate them to people. Improving how we do so is one of the aims of later installments in this series.

Yet, a litany of valuable features, however well explained, is unlikely to overcome objections of the sort, “Yeah, but I still think it’s ugly.” To get our heads around such objections, we must grapple with ideas that may make us uncomfortable, like “beauty” and “taste.” We needn’t dig deeply into philosophy—Edmund Burke’s distinction between the sublime and the beautiful has its place in architectural thought, but it’s not here, in the workaday task of nurturing a public appreciation of design. What we do need is a sober appreciation of how people come to have the preferences they have and—as importantly—how we architects have come to have the ones we have.

The distinction between “architect” and “non-architect” is only partially due to our differing bodies of knowledge. More fundamentally, it involves different habits of mind and, sometimes, quite contrary values. Architects think in ways that other people don’t, and we often value things that other people don’t. Our values and ways of thinking could certainly be put to better and wider use in our society, were we better able to demonstrate their benefit; but there are also limits to their applicability. We sometimes forget those limits, supposing that we always know best.

So, we might begin by adopting an attitude of humility or—if we’re feeling too damned humble already—of critical self-reflection. Rather than start with the assumption that our task is to remedy the deficits in non-architects’ understanding of design, we might ask how our own understanding has been shaped and perhaps skewed by professional education and training—more broadly, by professional acculturation.

Try to remember your earliest days in architecture school. After the obligatory lecture on how hard the course of study is going to be and how poorly you’re going to be paid once it’s done (a lecture that practically guarantees that anyone with any business acumen whatsoever will transfer to another major), you probably began your design studies with an exercise that, at the time, was unexpected. You may have been asked to build a three-dimensional interpretation of a painting, or to make a collage out of found objects, or to draw with a pencil held between your toes.

A common goal of such exercises is to de-familiarize the subject matter of architecture, and it’s a fine and possibly necessary step in a design education. We grow up with such intimate and yet inattentive experience of buildings that, if we are to acquire a systematic understanding of how they work, we need to gain some distance, some perspective. Accordingly, beginning students in a professional degree program are rarely asked to design something normal and familiar, like a single-family home.

Often, the attitude of de-familiarization is reinforced throughout the professional design studio sequence, programmatically, as in assignments that invoke uses like “a house for an acrobat”; and critically, in the insistence that normative responses be rigorously questioned and, by implication, avoided. While a powerful goad to thinking, this attitude has at least two dangers. The first is that it tends to instill a distrust of, even a disdain for, the familiar. Rather than merely thinking, “Avoiding the familiar is a useful way to learn about the properties of architecture,” we think, “Avoiding the familiar is a necessity for designing good buildings.” We transform a pedagogical tool into a design standard.

The second danger is that we may fail to realize that, at the same time we are questioning the average person’s experiences of buildings, we are ourselves becoming attached to a set of experiences that we will cherish as much for their own newfound familiarity as for their objective qualities. While we might like to think that our appreciation of the Villa Savoie or the Thermal Baths at Vals is purely the product of reasoned inquiry, it is in fact as much a product of our familiarity with these buildings as is our non-architect friends’ preferences for whatever buildings they enjoy. It turns out familiarity does not breed contempt, except in relation to our in-laws.

Many psychological studies have demonstrated this phenomenon, which is known as the “exposure effect,” or, in social psychology, the “familiarity principle.” In one such study, participants were asked to look rapidly through a really, really big series of photographs and to say which ones they liked. They might have surmised that the study was looking for commonalities in the qualities that people like in photos, but it wasn’t. Instead, it was measuring the impact of familiarity on preference. Deep in the series of photos, images that had appeared earlier were occasionally repeated, but infrequently enough that participants didn’t notice that they had seen them before. Participants reported liking the repeated images with greater consistency than those they saw for the first time. Even with so brief an initial encounter, and with no time for rational evaluation, participants preferred the familiar to the unfamiliar.

We recognize as much in the preferences of young children, who love to hear the same books read over and over. (If my seven-year old son asks me to read Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book one more time, I will go insane.) A more compelling demonstration for those of us already condemned to adulthood might be found in popular music. Like most people, I suspect, I have a particular fondness for the popular songs of my youth. I wouldn’t begin to argue that Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” is a better song than Green Day’s “American Idiot,” but I like it better. Is that because I first heard it at a particularly impressionable time, or because I’ve heard it so many times since? Whichever, I had best remember, when I see young people’s eyes roll at my enthusiasm for the dulcet tones of John Fogerty, that they’re not numbskulls. Nor am I; we’re just accustomed to different things.

After our teen years, architecture school is probably the most impressionable time we will experience in our lives, at whatever age we enter it. The intensity of immersion in a community of thought and experience is extraordinary. We emerge from the experience loving certain architects and buildings only partly because of the knowledge we’ve gained of them; we love them, as well, because they have become intensely familiar. We may be able to convey that knowledge to others, but we will have to find ways to work through the differences in familiarity, because those can’t be shared in the same way.

In future installments, we’ll look more closely at how architecture school shapes our habits of thought in ways that may sometimes impede our communication with non-architects. And we’ll look at ways to more effectively share both our reasoned appreciation of buildings and our irrational—but no less true—love of them.

 

California Custom Housing Architects to Meet at PCBC in San Diego

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Paso Robles Residence – Architect: Aidlin Darling Design

By all accounts, one of the most valuable benefits of AIA membership is the ability to network with peers. While this occurs at the local level and virtually through the National AIA Knowledge Communities, members have been asking for a way to connect on issues of statewide concern. The Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN) has been eager to connect members statewide. To that end, the first meeting of CA CRAN will be held on Wednesday, June 4, 2013 from 12:00 – 4:00 p.m. , at the San Diego Convention Center. All members engaged in custom residential work are invited to attend, regardless of formal affiliation with the AIA CRAN Knowledge Community.

This meeting will be held in conjunction with PCBC – a gathering of America’s most prominent single family and multifamily builders, developers, investors, lenders, architects, contractors, building scientists, marketers and product manufacturers. Through targeted educational forums, exclusive networking venues, a curated exhibit floor experience, product “matchmaking” sessions and more, PCBC is dedicated to creating better ways for the housing industry to connect and engage.

Click here to register for the CA CRAN meeting

The PCBC show takes place June 5-6 and features a number of educational sessions of interest to the architectural profession as well, most are AIA/CES accredited. Click here for the PCBC Schedule at a Glance.

PCBC has generously provided the meeting space for our CA CRAN meeting and complimentary exhibition passes to all CA CRAN attendees. PCBC has also offered all AIACC members discounted conference registration – all AIACC members will receive a $50 discount on any educational forum or the PCBC Passport by using discount code “AIACC” at check out – click here to register

It is our hope that all members of CA CRAN attendees will be interested attending the meeting and in registering for the PCBC conference.

 

Practice Tool: Acoustics in Multi-Family Residential Design

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Cherokee Mixed-Use Lofts – Architect Pugh + Scarpa


Each day complaints are received by property managers at home owners association meetings regarding noise from the neighbors above. Some of these complaints involve airborne noise sources, such as talking, music or plumbing, but many of the complaints are regarding noise from footfalls. In this article we will discuss the descriptors and building standards associated with sound impact insulation and provide some useful tips to solve this design issue in your next project.

To better understand controlling sound within our design it is important to have a basic knowledge of sound properties. When controlling sound it is important to remember it has two components loudness and tone. As designers we use the decibel and frequency. As humans we hear sound as low as 1 decibel and sense pain when it rises above 120 decibels. The typical human voice at conversation level measures 55 decibels at a distance of 5 feet. We also have a tonal range from 20 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz with most of our information communicated to us between 200 Hertz and 8000 Hertz. Humans are more sensitive to high-frequency sound then low-frequency sound. As designers, descriptors used to describe sound within the human environment have taken into consideration both our sensitivities to loudness and tone. The two most commonly used descriptors in multi-family residential construction for the control of noise are the STC and the IIC. Often we find that these two descriptors are misunderstood or interchanged.

There are multiple web sites devoted to unhappy apartment and condominium dwellers sharing their sorrow over their noisy neighbors, they play loud music, sing in the slower, walk around in the middle of the night, and have a loud answering machine. The walls and floors that separate units should be designed to prevent intrusive noise. For airborne sound transmission the descriptor that quantifies this performance is the Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating.

The STC rating is a single number used to describe a materials ability to block sound transmission between two spaces. It can be used to quantify the performance of a wall, window, door or floor. The value is derived from the measured transmission loss (TL) values between 125 Hz and 4000 Hz. This is the typical range of noise generated by people. Though our ability to hear is as high as 20,000 Hz, a wall that successfully blocks sound at 4,000 Hz will block higher frequencies. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) establishes procedures for STC testing under ASTM E336-97, Standard Test Methods for Measurement of Airborne Sound Insulation in Buildings. Measurements are made using a loud, broad-band noise source on one side of an assembly to derive the remaining noise level on the other side. These “receiver room” values are corrected for the room size and reflectivity. Values from these measurements are recorded in 1/3 octave-band values between 125 Hz and 4000 Hz. They are then plotted on a graph with transmission loss (in decibels) on the vertical axis and frequency (in 1/3 octave bands) on the horizontal axis. A fixed curve is then moved vertically to a point where the sum of the values below the curve is less than 32 decibels and that no single value is less than 8 decibels. The single value for the STC is chosen as the decibel value at 500 Hz when the curve has been positioned.

By selecting a wall with a sufficiently high STC rating, and by ensuring it is installed properly, intrusive noise should be completed. Building Codes establish standards for minimum performances for partitions separating residences. For a floor/ceiling assembly between units, an STC 50 is considered the minimum acceptable performance under code in the United States.

In recognizing the need for guidelines that provide higher levels of sound insulation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development created A Guide to Airborne, Impact, and Structureborne Noise Control in Multifamily Dwellings. This comprehensive guide establishes three grades of performance that can be regionally tied to the cost of construction. Under their guidelines a Grade III provides a basic level or “minimum” that equates to local building code. A Grade II performance provides for a significant improvement of 3 – 5 rating points higher than building code, depending on the condition. The highest level, Grade I, is prepared for units associated with “luxury” and improves on a Grade II by an additional 2 – 4 points. This guideline goes further by establishing criteria that is specific to the types of spaces that are being separated. For instance, the rating for a Grade II partition between two bedrooms is an STC 52, while the Grade II rating for separating a kitchen from a bedroom is an STC 55. This adjusted performance addresses the additional noise generated in a kitchen that should be addressed when adjacent to a space used for sleeping.

Typically it is necessary to achieve an STC 52 for the majority of residences to perceive adequate sound isolation.

In reviewing construction documents, efforts can be seen to control airborne noise in the selection of partitions using an STC rating. However, structure borne noise, generated by footfalls, is quite often overlooked. Footfalls can generate noise levels that are highly intrusive. Levels above 50 decibels can be generated to units below from walking on a wood or concrete system. Sound is efficiently transmitted through the structure as vibration and re-radiated as noise using walls and the ceilings as the airborne component.

Impact insulation is needed to control noise that is radiated in the structure from footfalls on floors. Without this insulation, impacts are transmitted directly to the structure, as if we were “knocking on a door”. The vibration is passed into the floor system and down the walls in the space below, effectively creating multiple new sources of sound to try to block below. A common misconception is that increasing the STC performance of the ceiling below can control impact noise. Unfortunately, this method only treats one of the paths and can provide only a limited amount of improvement. In a typical wood frame flooring system with hard surface flooring above, the addition of a layer of drywall will only provide a 3-decibel improvement. Because improving the transmission loss of the assembly does not directly control impact noise, a different descriptor is used, Impact

The IIC rating is a single number used to describe a floors ability to limit noise when excited by impactive sources. Measurements are made using a small “armadillo” like machine that has 5 feet on a single camshaft. When operated, the machine raises and drops a .5 kilogram mass 4 centimeters to the floor in successive uniform impacts. The noise generated from this process is then measured from the room below with the resulting spectrum corrected for the size and reflectivity of the space. The procedure for conducting IIC testing is established under ASTM E989-89 and E1007-97. The measurement is conducted over the 16 octave bands from 100 Hz to 3150 Hz.

Insulation Class (IIC). The IIC rating is used in building code to provide means to limit noise from footfalls between residential units.

This rating allows the comparison of different assemblies to the same reference source. The minimum performance allowed by building codes is an IIC 50. As with an STC rating this level of insulation is not intended to provide comfort for all occupants. It is the minimum and should be used with care. The HUD Guidelines shown in Table 1 provide for different grades of performance. These can be selected based on the use of the source and receiver space to develop a tailored approach to controlling impacts. Isolating a kitchen over a bedroom requires more insulation than a kitchen over a living room.
The Performance of Various Standard Assemblies

To develop solutions for sound and impact insulation to work together, it is a good idea to start with the basic assemblies and their STC and IIC performances for treatment. Table 2 presents a list of standard assemblies showing their rated performances.
Table 2. Acoustical Performances of Standards Floor/Ceiling Assemblies

Impact insulation is best accomplished by preventing the vibration energy from getting into the structure. This method is appropriate in wood frame, concrete metal deck, or reinforced concrete flooring. The most commonly used material is carpet and pad. A typical wood frame floor/ceiling assembly can achieve above an IIC 60 using carpet and pad. For a hard surface flooring finish, a floating floor is used to improve the IIC performance. There are two types of floating floor systems, a locally reactive or a resonantly reactive. With a locally reactive floor, the surface material and the intermediate elastic material damp the impact force. An example is ceramic tile over cork. In a resonantly reactive system, the mass in the floated layer plays an important role. The floating slab is thick and stiff allowing much of the energy to be dissipated within the mass as cylindrical waves spread from the impact. This system is commonly constructed using gypsum topping over an isolation pad. Each of these systems can be used in all forms of construction. However, there are clear advantages for one over the other based on the finish floor surface and the grade of impact insulation desired. This should be coordinated further with the desired sound isolation. For efficiency, one should support the other. Here are some basic rules to follow:

  • For a standard 10” floor joist system, always us 3-1/2” un-faced glass fiber insulation, or thicker, in the joist cavity. This will provide a 5-point improvement over an assembly without.
  • To achieve an STC 50 or better, the use of resilient channel will provide as much as a 10-point improvement over a system without. To achieve a 4 point improvement in the IIC rating use two layers of gypsum wall board on resilient channel vs. one layer.
  • The total mass of the sub-floor and ceiling layer combined should be greater than 5 lb/SF to achieve an STC 52 or better.

Impact insulation can be applied below gypsum topping or on the surface depending on the desired rating and finished floor types. A typical topping thickness for a resonantly reactive system is 1-1/2 inches to prevent cracking, while a ¾-inch layer is required for a 1-hour rated assembly when used directly over the sub-flooring. This added mass of the 1-1/2 inch topping works to improve the STC rating at the same time. For a concrete slab floor, 6-inches is sufficient to achieve an STC 52 without a ceiling system below. Ideally we would prefer an impact system that does not utilize gypsum topping in a concrete floor system considering the STC has been satisfied. For this reason it is important to select the right system and product for the conditions at your project. For impact insulation, one product does not serve all conditions. Solutions vary depending on the performance, type of construction, and finish flooring.

Hard surface flooring areas are the conditions that require the of an impact insulation layer. In wood frame, 10-inch construction where the finish flooring is going to be a mixed-hard surface system throughout, (tile and engineered wood flooring) it is best to use the 1-1/2 inch gypsum topping over an insulation pad and a single layer of wallboard mounted on resilient channel below with glass fiber insulation. This will achieve both a Grade II Standard for both STC and IIC in a stacked floor plan. An additional layer of wallboard below can further improve this performance. Products that have tested in the field and laboratory to achieve this are:

  • Cork Sheeting 3/8-inch
  • Colbond Enkasonic 9110

This method can also be employed in individual rooms by using the isolator under the gypsum topping under the hard surface area, such as in the kitchen or hall. If the isolation pad is placed in these areas with a dam, to allow the gypsum topping to float without being ground by the adjacent space, the isolation pad can be left out in other area of the housing unit. This will allow the use of a single layer of 5/8”gypsum wallboard mounted on resilient channel below. This method does require additional labor and cost.

In a 10-inch wood frame assembly with ¾-inch gypsum topping on the sub floor, where the finishes are going to be mixed between carpet and hard surfaces a less costly alternative to using 1-1/2 inch topping is available. Using a thin, locally reactive system can achieve a Grade II performance. Each type of flooring finish uses a different impact insulator:

  • Ceramic Tile or Marble – Cork Sheeting 3/8-inch
  • Sheet Vinyl or VCT – Jumpax
  • Engineered Wood Flooring – Sound Muffler or Silent Guardian

In each of these systems it is necessary to use 2 layers of 5/8” gypsum wallboard on the ceiling below with resilient channel to achieve a Grade II performance. The benefits to this type of system are:

  • A thinner system for ceiling heights
  • Lower overall material and labor costs
  • Installation of isolator after kitchen cabinets have been installed
  • Transitions heights between different finish surfaces are minimized.

For a tongue and groove wood flooring system in a wood frame assembly, it is necessary to provide mass, as discussed earlier, using plywood, gypsum wallboard, or gypsum topping. To achieve a grade II performance for an IIC rating, it should be floated on a system of sleepers that allow the assembly to be isolated from the structure. Without fabricating a system in the field, we have found only one product designed for this purpose:

  • Soundeater – wood strips with fibrous wood product sheets for insulation

Concrete construction solves half of the problem by having sufficient mass in a 6-inch thickness to achieve an STC 52. With this as a start it is relatively easy to achieve a Grade II or even a Grade I standard for STC and IIC performances. By adding a 4-inch airspace, glass fiber insulation, and a single layer of gypsum wallboard the assembly will achieve an STC 58. For impact insulation, the follow options are available:

  • Ceramic Tile/Marble – 3/8-inch Cork
  • Engineered Wood Flooring – ThinsuLayment, Rudpax, ½-inch shredded rubber
  • Sheet Vinyl/VCT – Jumpax
  • ¾-inch T & G Flooring – Soundeater

Summary
Solving impact insulation within multi-family residential design is a factor of performance, type of construction, and flooring finishes. For each there is a method that will provide the necessary isolation to achieve minimum Building Code and higher. The Project Architect or an Acoustical Engineer can develop solutions for sound and impact insulation. Acoustical Engineers focus on these details by developing system recommendations or field-testing assemblies for performance. Typically the services of a good consultant will more than pay for themselves by providing correct solutions that are evaluated for being cost effective. Once a system has been developed and tested, many Architects are able to incorporate the solutions in future projects. Recommendations to control sound and impact insulation should contain details for lighting penetrations, use of resilient channel, resilient caulking, and the control of noise through flanking paths in framing. It is also important to consider the transitions between these different finish treatments and the necessary insulation early in the project to deal with heights between corridors and units and within the unit between carpet and hard surfaces. Either way, taking care of noise issues within your project should be addressed before they become issues to further occupants.

 

DESIGN for Accessibility: Don’t Just Rely on the Code

in: AIACC / 2 Comments
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According to the United States Census Bureau, over 54 million people, 19 percent of the United States population, or in other words, one out of every five Americans, are disabled. This statistic represents citizens seeking education, employment, recreation and services and is a population with great economic as well as political influence. This population shares the same civil rights, and expectations to equal opportunity for themselves and their families.

As an architect, considering the history of response in the built environment to serving the needs of twenty percent of the American population, I must ask if the profession’s use of regulation instead of a design focused approach, has given us what some consider disappointing results. Some years back, the term “universal design” was coined in order to better address the complex issues surrounding accessibility. As architects we can do better by remembering our primary contribution to the built environment. DESIGN, not compliance is what creates great environments and successful communities. In approaching our work we must remind ourselves that none of us should be content with doing just enough to get by.

California has a long and respected history in the area of equal access to public facilities, beginning in 1968. In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act became the law of the land, and in California was reinforced in 1992 with the Unruh Civil Rights Act. All of these laws have emphasized that it is the responsibility of business to provide full and equal access to public facilities. Despite the long policy history, further refined by regulation, persons with disabilities continue to be denied equal access in many instances.

To address these issues, the California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA) was established in legislation in 2008 as a 17 member Commission, consisting of 11 public and 6 ex officio members appointed by the legislature and the Governor. It is made up of business, disability, legislative and public agency representatives, brings together the experience and knowledge required to best guide the development of resources and educational materials needed by the business community with the goal of access for all in lieu of legal claims.

The bill also required the State Architect to create the Certified Access Specialist (CASp) program and defined the role of the CASp in providing inspections. In 2012 the Legislature amended the original legislation requiring that the CCDA shall make a priority of the development and dissemination of educational materials and information to promote and facilitate disability access compliance. The bill additionally requires the CCDA to work with the State Architect and the Department of Rehabilitation to develop these materials for use by businesses.

The CCDA is working hard to assist both the architectural profession and the business community in California to provide access for all.