Best of Show

Thank you Allison, Catherine, and Xiaoyin for representing our studio in the Best of Show review–and congratulations to Xiaoyin for taking home the 3rd Year Best of Show honors! It was terrific to see how different each of your projects were in concept, design, and representation–but all at a high level. And I was proud that the jurors recognized each of these projects as a “proto-thesis” where you made the studio brief your own, and put in the work to translate that idea into a design project.

Of course, Best of Show is just a small window into our studio; there were certainly other projects (or project fragments) that could just as easily represented our studio.

Our studio generated a ton of good discussion that should propel us forward into the spring, but I wanted to highlight a few comments:

  • Inventing Program: Coming up with novel and extreme program (such as a bio-modification center for mutants or a never-ending playscape for nomads) is a good way to generate novel and exciting architecture. However, architects rarely get to “design” their own program, and at some point it may be possible to retain the forward-looking architecture while normalizing program somewhat. For example, Allison’s architecture is easily transferrable to a children’s hospital or a biotech research institute–both of which may initially seem programmatically conservative, but could be made totally amazing when viewed through the lens of her winter project. This doesn’t mean that Allison or anyone else should feel like they must normalize their program, but it’s a good reminder that crazy, pie-in-the-sky projects can actually have substantial impact on “real world” architecture.
  • Customization vs. Systemization: This came up specifically in reference to Xiaoyin’s project, but applies to everyone. Architecture is a discipline of systemization, dependent on a degree of repeatability (especially when it comes to material/construction systems). Note that systemization is not quite the same as standardization: the former is built upon a clear set of rules and conditions that allow for variation, while the latter implies endless repetition and homogeneity. One of our goals in thinking through sequential diagrams, and project “recipes,” is to ground our design decisions in some kind of systematic basis. As we move from conceptual and schematic design (winter) into design development (spring) and begin to think about materials, fabrication, and construction, the importance of systemization is foregrounded.
  • Performance Criteria: this is related to the systemization. As you pursue another level of rigor in your project, you will need to apply performance criteria to it. What makes a form or a space successful or useful? A very small handful of architects in the world get to say “my building is the way it is because that’s how I like it.” What are the main performance criteria for a given space–a particular quality of light? The ability to accommodate a particular kind of work? A particular kind of connection to another space? A particular way of accommodating the body? You need specific goals for each space you design, or else you’re just designing program boxes, or arbitrary spaces that are difficult to justify. The good news, this is really helpful–identifying your key performance criteria is often the same as identifying your key design drivers, which gives you direction and purpose.

Let’s continue to discuss this and more. And if you have any other thoughts coming from Best Of Show or our final review, start a conversation in the comments section.

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