Saturday, November 07, 2015

[first] project [worst] crit

this months #architalks topic is [my first project].  so i decided to tell the story of my very first project in architecture school and subsequently the worst critique of my life.

fall of 2002, i had completed three years of engineering school and had decided to start all over in architecture. since i had several prerequisites completed the college of architecture, planning and design, let me start in 2nd year, which was the first year of architecture "studio."  as i sat there on the first day not knowing what to expect or how to act, we were handed our first project.  it would be a case study of a famous residence built by an architect.  i was given a partner and a house.  we would be studying the "gropius house" designed by the modernist walter gropius. we were to study, analyze, draw, model and present our research. 

"ok, that's not so bad, i can do that." i thought to myself.
i then proceeded to approach the problem in a very "engineer-ish"fashion as i had done the last three years of my college career.  i found pictures and floor plans of the house, which was hideous in my opinion, and used the drafting skills i had learned in engineering to reproduce them by hand.  my partner and i built different pieces of the model and by the end of a few weeks had what i though was a perfectly complete project.  i had done everything on the list of requirements.  i believed i was perfectly prepared for this thing my classmates called a "crit."

i was wrong.

on the day of the crit, i overheard my classmates discussing how we were going to have two professors known to be extremely tough critics for our review.  i wasn't worried, i mean i had done all that was required. my partner and i were the first to present.  a position i would later learn was one of the toughest.  my partner and i spouted out what we had read in books and online, and would occasionally point at the drawings or the model. after about 10 minutes of regurgitation, we opened it up for questioning, which i though surely there couldn't be any to ask.  

the first critic spoke up and said "that's great, but what did you learn?"

"i just told you what i had learned." i said.

that's where it started to go down hill.  they asked questions regarding site placement and orientation, or why walter used the materials he did.  almost all of the questions were answered with "i don't know" with an ever increasing sarcastic tone.  it should also be noted my partner was more of an introvert than i was, and as the crit got worse he got more and more silent, leaving me to defend our project by alone.  the questions and answers got worse until one of the professors finally asked,

"did you even care about this project?"

to which i said confidently and matter-of-factly, "no, i didn't"

"well it shows. in your drawings, model and presentation." they stated back.

after that fact was out in the open, the crit actually became very educational.  the critics stood up and started pointing out features, details and design moves completely foreign to me.  they pointed out how important the site of the project was and how gropius had broken up the landscape into different areas with the house.  how the style reflected the teachings of the bauhaus but with new england materials. how glass block was used to filter the light and create a transition from exterior to interior.  i stood there amazed at everything i was now learning.  the building started to make sense.  everything had a purpose,  this isn't some strange white boring box in the middle of a field, rather this house was actually derived from the site.  not only did they educate me on the building but they went on to explain the importance of presentation drawings  and how they should be placed on the board.  not haphazardly, but rather with a purpose.  

as i sat back down i saw the "glad that wasn't me" look on my classmates faces.  years later, usually late at night, my classmates would still talk about how bad that second year crit was.  it would in fact turn out to be the worst crit i had in school, however it was the most educational.  lessons learned from that crit still echo in my head every time i design a building, figure out a detail or make a note on a construction document.

does this have purpose?

the gropius house went from a building i thought to be the ugliest thing i had ever seen, to becoming the representation of everything i love about architecture. 

i wonder what would have transpired if i had been given falling water.

please take the time to view the posts from the other architects in the #arcitalks community to read about other [first projects]

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
My First Project: The Best Project Ever Designed That Wasn't

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
My "First Project"

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
My First Project - Again

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
first project first process

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Our First Architecture Project [#ArchiTalks]

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: My first project

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
The First One -- A Tale of Two Projects

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
Why every project is my "First"

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Early Years of My Architecture Career - My Role

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
What is Architecture

Sharon George - Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
My First Project - The First Solar Decathlon #Architalks

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Project Me

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist)
Fake it 'til you make it

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Define First

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
my first project

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Top ten tips when faced with a challenging Architectural project

Aaron Bowman - Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Community 101

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Major Differences between my 1st School Project & my 1st Real Project

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
My First Project – The Contemporary Cottage

Nisha Kandiah - TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
The Question of Beginning


Unknown said...

Yikes. I felt nervous for you just reading that critique.
I think everyone who was in architecture school probably has a similar experience - if you weren't crying you weren't trying. But that one experience probably taught you more about architecture than any book you could read. More and more I really think everyone should be required to take 1 architecture class.

Also, I actually (kinda) like your physical model and drawings. I would've made your twisted wire trees a little taller, but what was that (pleasantly horrific) base material? - Shellacked papier-mâché?

Meghana Joshi said...

Oh boy, that was tough! Interesting trees.

Unknown said...

At least it sounds like everyone got around to constructive learning. I remember some second year crits that seemed to just be pick on the new guy type stuff.

Great Post.

mghottelarc said...

i can pretty much tell you that i did not learn as much with the case study project we had but i am still really good friends with the person that i teamed with. we did white prismacolor on black board (no model required) and i probably have never sharpened a pencil so much in my life because it was a venturi house and there were a lot of shingles...

ercwttmn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ercwttmn said...

Meghan's! Ha ha ha, yes the trees were interesting! Several Band-Aids were needed to finish them, I wouldn't recommend them!

ercwttmn said...

Thank you!

ercwttmn said...

Mghottelarc! Wow! I can't imagine doing the Venturi house with white prisma color! Props on that! I would love to see a blog post on that !

ercwttmn said...

Brady! yes, the base was papier-mâché, which was my idea. The trees were my partners idea, very difficult to make! I love your quote, if you're not crying you're not trying, so true sometimes !

Sharon said...

I believe the reason we go through crits in architecture school is to develop a thick skin so that we can stand up to criticism from anyone and everyone in the real world. Bravo! Great job on turning this one around.