Wednesday, June 03, 2015

my three favorite [hardest] words

[chairs][stairs] and [squares]

years ago, during my college internship, i was sitting at my desk very frustrated.  i was trying to get a set of stairs to beautifully fit into a space as well as reach the second level.  my principle came over and laughed.  as i looked up he said,

"chairs, stairs and squares..."

confused i said,


to which he responded,

"the hardest things to design, chairs, stairs and public squares."

he left me pondering as he walked away laughing.

i'm not sure if this is an original quote of his, but over the years i haven't been able to find the person who may have coined this phrase.  it's been 10 years since he told me the phrase and over that time i've realized how true it is.  they may be the hardest thing to design but they are also some of the most beautiful objects to view when done right.  to this day i find myself admiring chairs, stairs and squares.

why exactly are they so hard to design?  i've come to decide they each have their own individual frustrations, but the main reason is because they are so experiential to the user.  all three interact with you on a very personal level, so personal in fact that when done wrong, they become almost unbearable to be in, on or use it.

chairs are incredibly personal.  they must be ergonomic.  they need to "feel" right.  you can have the most beautiful chair in the world, but if no one is comfortable sitting in it, it fails.  reversing that, you can have the most comfortable couch in the world, but if it's ugly as sin, no one, or at least no architect would ever place it in their house.  however, when beauty and ergonomics come together you'll find yourself with a celebrated chair. so much in fact your name will become synonymous with it, see eames, le corbusier, nelson, mies or jacobsen.

stairs are also incredibly experiential.  your whole body is engaged when using stairs.  while stairs must also "feel" right, the hardest thing in my opinion is creating beauty along with following all the codes associated with stairs. codes are not to be dismissed, they are their to keep us safe.  i feel the beauty in stairs is when you see a flight gracefully and thoughtfully ascending down, detail after detail, all the while following the necessary codes.  stairs are incredibly sculptural, and become more intriguing when you see all constraints surrounding them.

public squares or plaza's are a whole other beast entirely.  whole classes in college are devoted to understanding them. professionals have spent entire careers trying to figure them out.  it still comes down though to does it "feel" right.  does it make you feel safe? is there a focal point? is it too wide? is it to long? is it elevated or sunken? is it landscaped? is there a variety of seating options? are there public and private realms? is there activity nearby? is there circulation?  thousands of tiny little questions and answers come together to make or break an open public area.  if done wrong, plazas can be empty spaces that breed crime and other harmful activities. however when done well, they can be a thriving node of a city; a place where the city feels alive.

although they can be difficult to design [chairs][stairs] and [squares] are three of my favorite words in design. they also happen to be three of my favorite things to photograph. i get extra giddy when two or more appear in a photo!

please follow the links to other architects talking about their three favorite words in this months architalks.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture
3 Words To Get Started

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect
3 Words: Are. Blogs. Important.

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture
3 Words

Marica McKeel - Studio MM
Never Give Up

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet
What's Your Story - My Three (or Four) Favorite Words

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect
i make art

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC
#ArchiTalks: I love it!

Andrew Hawkins, AIA - Hawkins Architecture, Inc.
Three Favorite Architectural Words

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design
I Am Listening

Cindy Black - Rick & Cindy Black Architects
Spirit of Optimism (my three favorite words)

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect
architalk#9: my three favorite words

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC
My Three Favorite Words

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom
My Three Favorite Words (Architalks #9)

-->Michael Riscica - Young Architect
How’s it going… Finishing The Architect Exam?!??

My Three Favorite Words

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect
I am in

Jonathan Brown - Proto-Architecture
The Big Idea

-->Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture
three little words: #architalks


matthew said...

I really enjoyed your post. I find myself drawn to the same three design elements. They can be tough to do right, but can be the most important part of a design when done correctly.

Enoch Sears (@businessofarch) said...

Chairs, stairs and squares. Very original Eric! Hadn't heard that one before! And what great images!


Andrew said...

Stairs are usually kinda fun. The others are very difficult to get right. I mean stairs are also, but I like that challenge. The other can get frustrating. But I think that phrase will now stick with me also from this point forward. Great that it stuck with you. And that it is an accurate phrase.

Meghana Joshi said...

Beautifully curated blog!

Lora said...

Gorgeous pics. Where is the wood integrated stair/seat space located?