Category Archives: Making Sense Of It

ongoing attempts to make sense out of it all

The Domino’s House

The Type A apartment is a result of the 1928 study the Stroykom team of architects did to determine the potential and technology for smart, affordable and universally suitable housing. They focussed on adapting existing residential typologies to new realities. One typology was the double-aspect apartment paired about a landing and their redesign was called the “Type A”, the first of the letter-tagged plans and schemes the team produced.


There’s much that’s good about the Type A. It’s smart, efficient and hospitable. The dual-aspect living area allows good daylighting and ventilation, not so much because mechanical ventilation was expensive at the time, but because daylight and good ventilation were known to prevent tuberculosis. Planning-wise, the stairwell intrudes into the apartment area to push the front door into a corridor no longer than the two narrowest rooms. It can’t get any better. 

It’s not possible to access two apartments with any less space than a stairway and landing and, since those can’t be made any smaller, smaller apartments need a larger percentage of building volume to access them than do larger apartments. This led to the development of corridor-access plans. The problem of using less resources to build apartments became a problem of reducing the building volume used to access apartments. This was to lead to the development of the famous Type F. [c.f. 1928: The Types Study]

In A-blocks in Yekaterinburg, they have the elevator only in 1 stairwell but you may pass through a gallery in the attic if you live in a top floor. Elevators were defunct and removed way before my birth I think. Galleries were appropriated by upper apartment residences – a feast upon socialism. What we’ve lost is superior and better lit where every room has to have a window for there’s no other way to tuck it into the plan. Victor.

Thanks for that виктор! These images you sent me some while back are very relevant to where I want to take this post.

The Stroykom team knew how building depth affected building volume and spent much time trying to determine the optimum depth for any given set of parameters. 

The text to the right of the parametric depth scheme says “It’s a scheme from architect Klein”. It’s not a Stroykom product, but OSA published it alongside so it’s confusing. Klein must have been a sole practitioner who worked independently to determine the same problem the team were. V.

It was probably the first and last example of socially-driven parametric design. The Type A plan was a brilliant invention but volumetrically inefficient for small apartments. The Stroykom Team would have been amazed by the sheer abundance of stairwells and elevators in this next apartment building I saw on It’s in Charleston, South Carolina. Much is made of the fact there are views in both directions.

What we have here is the corridor-less apartment. Interestingly, the memory of a corridor remains because if all elevators are on the same floor and their doors and those of the fire escape stairs were all open, then it’d be possible to run from one end of the building to another. It’s not a very sociable building but given how “streets in the sky” came to be regarded, there doesn’t seem to be much point in accessing apartments via corridors. If a configuration such as this directs horizontal pedestrian movement to ground level and into real lobbies and real streets then it might not be such a bad thing.

Once I went to a party at some friend of a friend’s place in Clapham North or Brixton. We went in, and immediately up a flight of stairs with a corridor along one side and with a landing at one end and a similar space at the other. Along the corridor were doors to a bathroom and a kitchen having windows onto a light well down the side of the house. The spaces at each end of the corridor had a single door leading to a living room and, once inside the living room, was another door (in the same wall) leading back to a bedroom I never saw, but which must have had a narrow window opening into the lightwell. This house was probably built sometime 1850-1900 I’d say. Each upstairs tenant thus had a suite of two private rooms, but a shared kitchen and bathroom. It was quite a sensible arrangement for people to share spaces if they weren’t necessarily friends. G.

Rather than isolating people inside buildings it might be better to design apartments that not only allow for multiple occupation but allow for multiple modes of occupation. The rules of occupation were clear. That’s the logic behind this next plan. 

Clapham House

I’ve given two tenants their own bathrooms but downgraded the importance of the kitchen – it’s just a place people go to get cold stuff or to make stuff hot. The preparation and consumption of food is not styled for families. This next one is tighter. The stairs are back outside now but I added a double-door elevator. My logic was that if every two apartments are going to have a stair with two doors and a double-door elevator like in that Charleston project, it makes no difference if they’re shared on the edges or shared in the middle of the plan. I was working my way back to the Type A.

Clapham House3

I can’t stop seeing the elevator opening into kitchen! Given a kitchen share, double elevator door becomes unnecessary and overlapping lobbies of elevator and stair are more efficient. V.

Exactly! DazenTech do quite a nice passenger elevator for US$15,000. G.


A residential passenger elevator for US$15,000 is nothing compared to building corridors on every floor to pass by two 5m-wide apartments.

Clapham House2

People understood 90 years ago that any Type A variant has a constant ratio of apartment access volume to building volume remains no matter how many storeys – it’s 34% here for the worst imaginable case, but halves if the apartment is doubled to make say, a 3-bedroom 2-bathroom apartment. I think it’s time to revisit the Type A.

You are disclosing one of my very basic mental splits. Should I design plans that could get built easily or should I design the heavenly plans which we’ve lost – with narrow bodies and other indispensable plain and inscrutable traits? V.

As ever, it’s a tough call. G.

One day this will be luxury. It already is for many people but, back to kitchens. Not only has this plan worked its way back to the Type A, it’s also downgraded the kitchen.

Kuhonny Element Kitchen

I once had a Parisian friend, Pascal, who lived above a café in the 11th. His living room had two leather armchairs, a wall of books, a violin hanging on a music stand, and a bottle of Chartreuse – green. On the kitchen floor was a six-pack of Evian. The sink was dry and brown with rust. Clearly, he went out for all other food and drink. 


Most of us, however, don’t get ourselves dressed and downstairs to get everything to eat, any more than most of us don’t walk along a corridor to a communal kitchen. G.



Increasingly, the food and drink comes to us, delivered as room service if we live in a hotel or an apartment serviced by a hotel [c.f. The Well-Serviced Apartment], as raw materials or pre-prepared meals from a convenience store, or as fast food or even restaurant fare delivered by in-house or outsourced couriers.

Living like this has crept up on us but we should’ve seen it coming. Having food being delivered to homes isn’t new but it’s now no longer confined to fast food as a weekend treat or an occasional extravagance.


All that’s left to be done is to cut out any remaining middlemen.


Drone delivery may have architectural implications for apartment dwellers. Wait! … let me see … yep, someone’s already on the case.

drone apartment.jpeg

I clicked on the first link so you won’t have to.


I’m not sure if this is cutting-edge design responding to our fantastic brave new world, or merely more architect collaboration in the ongoing neoliberal project. Since they both amount to more or less the same thing, we may as well take this idea downmarket immediately and see how it fares in the wild.

The Domino’s House

But that would be to miss the point, for the Domino’s House is actually the Domino House updated for our times. When an apartment’s spatial functions, service functions and access are all contained in a single core, the enclosing shell becomes arbitrary. It’s a bit like that Joe Colombo prototype except what’s in the middle is the important bit that stays and the walls enclosing it are the consumer item.

If plans and sections are no longer a subject for the application of architectural intelligence, then The Domino’s House allows for Free Architecture – or at least what has come to represent it. The architectural enclosure is now be free to be anything it wants to be as long as it doesn’t compromise anything in the core. An amicable separation of building and architecture would allow an ideal modernism to coexist with an ideal post-modernism.

A2 round dot

Here’s the same plan as a tube of arbitrary height. It still works.

A2 round copy
Here it is as Miesian fantasy. It still works.


You can bend it, extend it …

A2 bent

If you repeat the square block you’ll get a wall.

If you multiply the round one you’ll get a forest.

If you multiply this, you’ll get something different again.

Other variations readily accommodate contemporary tropes such as walls faceted or curved in one or two dimensions. Yet other variations could respond to site or environmental factors in real ways or even as representations of real ways. If the Domino’s House represents the architecture vs. building divide, then it is only because


Building design and construction are now free to move towards technical, functional and economic perfection, and architecture is now free to go its own way.

• • •

The featured image is Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage, “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?”

Talking Shop

This one has to be about architecture school – a general survey of the role of architecture education. Pondering through another letter-swamp of project placement on archdaily I found myself immersed in a mass of architecture school-yak links. Architecture media talks about schools a lot. Isn’t architecture the discipline that pumps its education the most? I’ve never heard of aerospacedaily or carpentrydaily or jurisprudencedaily. Marketing of architecture schools is subtly fused into the existence architecture has in the media. If someone invests a lot into convincing you they can teach you, then there’s room for uncertainty as to whether they actually can. V.


A good idea! Until now I’ve stayed away from the topic of education, probably because it’s too close to home. I shouldn’t really. This blog only exists because of me, students and education. G.

  • Back in 2011, The Twisted Education of Architects post depicted the frustration a student can develop at an architecture school if they were blind unreceptive to the early twentieth-century abstract imaginal design generation. 2011 is six years and a bachelor and masters ago. Me, I enrolled in 2011 but what did architecture school learn in the time it takes a student to graduate? 
  • In technology, places like MIT are praised and mentioned but usually for the virtue of research work and usually on the topic of that work.
  • In medicine, teaching hospitals are often places where treatments and therapies are pioneered. There are no Harvard GSDs in medicine.
  • What technology school or law school or medical school should teach its students is an interesting question that would have solid and definite answers. “What architecture school should teach its students”, on the contrary, seems to be a slippery ground, despite 100 years in service.

Soon to have 100 years of abstract architecture school (Bauhaus 1919, VKhUTEMAS 1920). We can expect a lot of anniversary recapitulation and probably the wrong conclusions. Don’t forget that Bauhaus only began to teach architecture in 1928, under Hannes Meyer, and then as building science. In a draft for an upcoming post titled “Models of Instruction” dealing with the history of architectural education, I insinuate that Gropius was copying the Montessori style of education that had evolved 20 years earlier, with its emphasis on learning by direct handling of materials. He was to follow Ms. Montessori in exporting it to America, along with himself as a similar innovator in architectural education. 

Bauhaus is accepted with respect and credit. Should it have brought a revolution in human habitat, being the first architecture school totally connected with modernity? The spread of modernism definitely happened after the school’s emergence. Gropius’ genius was to later blur the boundary between himself, architecture, architectural education, and what was actually taught at the Bauhaus under Meyer. The four were always linked via the Dessau building but never in the same place at the same time. Of course, having Mies on the other side of Meyer made it easier to forget the building science bit in the middle even though it was “the meat in the sandwich”.

Mass industrial housing emerged and its virtues outweigh shortcomings, given most of these buildings continue to shelter people. But is it correlation or causation, in relation to school’s existence? Modernism was an inherently cheaper way to build so would probably have happened anyway. J.J.P. Oud and the Dutch were already making it work in The Netherlands. Ernst May provided 15,000 housing units between 1925 and 1932 and independently of whatever was or was not happening at The Bauhaus.

If we take the 20 most renowned architect names, how many of them would be Bauhaus alumni? Meyer, Gropius and Rohe were not immediately displaced by mighty new youths they taught. I had exactly the same thought yesterday. How many people passed through Wright’s office or Le Corbusier’s office and what happened to them? With LC, the two who became most known both left his office after six months and went on to do their own thing rather well. Another three, three decades on, did what Gropius did and promoted themselves as having had special access to privileged knowledge. But what was that knowledge? Or did they just trade off anecdotes? (“Well what Corb would have done was …”) Sure “Bauhaus style” spread around the world, but it is a convenient tag and not what was invented in the school or by its alumni in the field. Exactly. I think that to call something a style is to neuter it. I blame Johnson and Hitchcock, as you know. 

BXYTEMAC [VkHUTEMAS – it took me a while to get what you did there!] taught Ivan Leonidov, who immediately became a poster boy to wrongly attach “constructivism” tag to. After his graduation, Ivan Leonidov led a very tragic life of a person who never acclimated to his context. The fact it was a menacing bloody context is worth mention. Still, the divide between nonconformism for the sake of decency and illicit tragism in everyday life is slippery.  Yes – I worry about this all the time. =) That aside, Ivan Leonidov graduated as an architect inadequate for what lay immeditely beyond the school door. And it did not go shitty just overnight, to be fair.

Andrew Burov was another BXYTEMAC graduate, who shone as a “talented young man”. He abandoned the OCA organization as soon as the sour winds blew and put on the social realist, neoclassical revivalist’s shoes. [I shall investigate. Did he become one of those “Post Constructivists” – those proto-post modernists?] He never showcased any regrets for that and lived a long continuous career, no matter whether flat roofs or gypsum facades, or flat roofs again he was asked to provide. He managed to appear borderline between an actual person and servile rat despite his preference for food, shelter and job before his personal values, if these existed. It’s odd you mention Burov. Less than an hour ago I found this photo of him enjoying a cigarette break with Le Corbusier and Alexander Vesnin in Moscow, 1929. It’s the only photo I’ve ever seen with LC holding a pencil. Why is everyone but Vesnin wearing the same glasses?


The two cases of Leonidov and Burov might be just two person’s characters, irrelevant to the school itself. I’m not so sure. They may have been one-offs but if they even inadvertently showed others the mechanism of how to leverage buildings to become famous, it was still the birth of modern architectural education as a closed ecosystem of teachers and students. Everyone wanted Leonidov on their team and he was pulled along by events but it sounds like Burov went whichever way the wind was blowing.   

This abstract imaginal education was formed as to “zeitgeist” of early 1920s, with enormous uncertainty over the ashes of a world war and hatching mass machine civilization. The locations where the two schools emerged are not surprising – both Germany and Russia had been mauled by world war and revolution. For each, “machine” became a fantastic entity which would undo the calamities by wonders of invisible mechanisms. It was an ontological drug to endure the hardships of life there, using sorcery of floating transpatial rectangles painted on a canvas, or spiralling pieces of wood forming an antenna for a newly found socialist hivemind. Coping means are good until you make these central pieces of your life – what only indicates how tragic your tragedy really is. Speaking of architectural education as abstract imaginings, this was in an Unbuilt Moscow feature in today’s Guardian. I saved it because I thought the caption was iffy. I find it hard to believe that, with The Russian Revolution not even three years gone, emphasising themes was more important than realising them. Suspect.


Nikola Ladovsky [VKhUTEMAS instructor], 1920. The spiral structure of Ladovsky’s design emphasised the key Communist party themes of progress and communal living intended to revolutionise family structures.

But having grown up in Australia, I never felt such weight of history. When I was an undergraduate at UWA, I discovered Shinohara’s first book of houses in the library and, impressed, wrote him a letter saying how much I envied him for having had such a spectacular and worthwhile tradition to interpret, or act as a base, or something. In time, I received a short letter back saying that I would surely find my path if I just continued questioning. (I pinned it above my drawing board next to an image of Richard Meier’s Douglas House.) Forty years on, I’m still questioning and I think it’s time for some answers.   

Apparently, the price humankind paid to enter the era of geometrical freedom of free-floating masses put together in light was never seen prior to the non-freedom of humans put together in camps and frontlines. Unprecedented control of mass was brought forth by unforeseen human-powered machines of violence. I think the Futurists have a lot to answer for. Perhaps newness for its own sake supplying “the missing ingredient that allowed Modernism to happen” was never the answer. It may have merely been the missing ingredient that enabled rampant capitalist (and then endless neoliberalist) churn for its own sake. The powerful only need buildings to remind everyone who the powerful are. 

The reliance on abstract composition in schools may only be a means to retrofit the appearance of organic emergence into modernist architecture, whose history is not as clear and actually poorly documented. My new cognitive bias goggles have help me make sense out of a lot of things. Any attempt to introduce abstraction into architecture furthers a neoliberalist agenda where buildings exist for the sake of architecture and not for anyone who might happen to use them or even pay for them. We can backtrack from Patrick Schumacher and the neoliberalist architect dream of an architecture beyond reason, interpretation or criticism, and go back a bit further to Rem Koolhaas and his 1979 “Development is good!” thesis, re-articulated by Bjarke Ingels with fewer words and more pictures in “Yes is more!”) “Abstract painting gave birth to abstract architecture” sure sounds convincing, but actually may be an instance of pareidolia, the desire of human mind to see a pattern where it may not be the case. Probably. Mies’ “Brick Country House” was five years after van Doesburg’s Rhythm of a Russian Dance yet the two often appear on the same page of history books. van Doesburg even made it easy for Mies by demarcating inside and outside.   

What could have been just someone’s thesis statement became useful to form a consensus of persons who could sustain their agenda for the longest using this thesis as a cosmological myth. There wasn’t that much mid-20th century abstraction happening but perhaps De Stijl’s van Doesberg was the first to get there. Some say it may even had been Wright who first hit upon this cheap way to build. 

The fact that the architecture as something with pretensions to being art and not building science suggests it was better at furthering the agenda of its proponents (and clients) by claiming to be so. We don’t remember Peter Eisenman, Mies van der Rohe or Frank Lloyd Wright for their contributions to building science.  Traditionalist architects blame modernism for speaking a “bird language”. Once you knew their complaint and read any piece which featured use of word “space”, you’d never see it the way you did before. Overusing the word “form” is also a symptom. 

In science, 10 years after your graduation is when you have to focus on your research, because you may make studies and discoveries only while your brain is still fresh and regenerating. Your career after 35 is mostly you living off that foundation. My use of word foundation is misleading. This work is not what you stand on, doing your job later after you’ve acquired it, but the actual most valuable work you produce. Which you may later only tinker with or modify. My evidence is James Watson claimed it in his own memoir, he also wrote it was consensus thinking. Interesting. Worrying. I still have a couple of early ideas I haven’t monetised yet. Last week I received an email saying the commissioning editor at XXX had decided not to make a publication offer in response to my book proposal. 

In architecture, a fresh graduate may face their uselessness in the office for them being “that ignorant fresh graduate person” that just graduated from fascinating enterprise which is contemporary architecture school. More often than not, they will toil until their fifties, about which time, they’re told, architects “bloom”. Architecture in many ways is an archaic trade. One of signs of that is the gerontocracy in the upper tier of it. People who think of themselves as sentinels of undermined beings spent a lot of time praising the late ZH but the actual ill social composition existing in the profession, they never question it. The demise of Russian communism was foreshadowed by escalating gerontocracy a  few decades ago. Is architecture heading to the same direction? I suspect so. Experience is good in the case of the integrated design, operation and maintenance of complex systems such as railways but, with architecture, experience seems to be defined more narrowly as people who have simply clung on to fame for the longest.  

Relationship of education to work outside that of “self-referential circle of recommendations and funding” was not yet mentioned in this list yet. It should be. Already on the case in a separate draft. Le Corbusier’s former employees visited the US and were immediately made Professors of Architecture.

Sure, the basic framework never changed and the imaginal conceptual focus is the king. After all, the whole twentieth century saw architecture’s dilution with appearance of structural engineering as a separate trade, and inhabitability systems (i.e. HVAC) consultancy as yet another trade. With two thirds of dreary firmitas-utilitas-venustas trio taken out of the solution, architecture became a fine arts homeopathy. When I read this now, I see now that what you wrote is exactly where I took the Myths post [Architectural Myths #23: Architecture] post – you arrived at the same conclusion well before I did! 

Taking imaginal sophistry out of the curriculum would leave the vessel empty and no one would know what to fill it with. Would we have any abstract-faceted-sculptural sentiment if the first years were “performance design” instead of “affect design”? After a few years of low-level fundamental study would one see any charm in any other design approach? 

Also remember your frustrations with pupils unable to imagine a form, not to mention to document or present it in a projection? In shortcomings of teaching graphics to students you’ve defined a vision. I always like to look for reasons in things. If students can’t draw, or imagine things, then it’s because nobody is asking them to develop these skills that (quite frankly) most of my students will never be asked to use. Education adapts to its market surprisingly quickly. 

Media images melting reality into an post-causal mush you’ve bashed back in Smoke and Mirrors – and in Rendering Ethics on commonedge. The unintelligibly real prospects in form of images are hyper-lurid and captivating. The amount of work required to produce the images gave birth to dedicated visualization industry within the profession. This has only become necessary in order to feed the image digester. In its photo credits, ArchDaily includes visualisations and credits them as if they were photographs. I can’t help thinking something important is being lost. Reality? Online resources get bigger and bigger view counts across a reducing number of domains, and popular ones rule, as to law of accelerating returns. Instead of a multitude of opinions, mindsets and methods, the online architecture that actually emerged appeared to be a hybrid meta-mush of proven modernist tropes (or just stupid lazy design?) and a few recent design effort indicators like shuffly windows. This hybrid nests in an information platform accessible from any connected place. The farther the place is, the more charming the international newsfeed seems. What we have in the end is “archdaily (dezeen, architizer) epidemic”? Internet for ideas, good or bad ones, is what airlines are to viruses. I’ve often wondered about that. You see the same house in Korea or Chile or Bregenz. This trope is a hybrid of Fallingwater and Savoye – a media vernacular for our modern times.

For hundreds of years, the sole key to mastery was a long apprenticeship and recurring repetition – or at least we were told by literature that it was so. Within accelerating and escalating monopoly of the image, we end up having many designs as mere vehicles to create a final presentation image (your phrase). The rhetorical pair of substance vs image appears to have committed an incestual act, as image is the new substance, apparently.

The isolation of architectural academia is not yesterday’s news. Together with starchitecture firms they form a symbiotic circle running in a hermetically sealed cleanroom of waste-free production – potential students are lured by image of creative architectural practice, they enroll into a school, usually in exchange for hefty tuition fees, to be, in the best case, taught in personal studios of ones whose image charmed you in the first place. Somewhere in the middle, school builds a background of “successful student appreciation”, in form of articles with words “workaholic”, “creative” and “over hours”. In the end studios receive creative over-hours workaholics they can underpay because you’re so creative I see you didn’t come in the industry for the money did you? Sometimes these workaholics even paid to enter the job – via a school and personal studio that is. Credit to architectural industry to monetizing a perfect opportunity and wrapping their practitioners around a finger, to their own excitement and gratitude. This is all true and not cognitive bias. Just as education has adapted to what little is being asked of it, so has architecture. The idea of an architecture reflecting the priorities of the global economic elite is not such an absurd one. The International Style certainly came to “represent” progress to local populations as they were colonized by American businesses. OMA and ZHA are the new face of that. We should be pleased Schumacher has made the link between architecture and neoliberalism more obvious to more people. I’m beginning to think that starchitects are created and sustained by the system in order to sustain it. Think about it. If the buildings of a certain class of architect are granted automatic legitimacy regardless of the location or political culture or whose lives it destroys or with whose money it was built, then of course starchitects are going to get called upon to legitimize the unlegitimizable whenever there’s a need. It’s no accident the buildings they get called upon to legitimize tend to be in the dodgier countries, or that rich rulers and property developers (or rich-ruler property developers, or property developer rich rulers) are the clients whose edifices most require legitimizing.

Those currently in school are mostly millenials, who grew up in the presence of internet and the cultural transformation it entailed. One effect of which is “culture” became less about foundational notions and more of a coarsely ground mush of ideas, notions, emotions, and opinions based on such pesky sub-structure. The relationship between content, screen time, attention and worldwide connection naturally selected the most entertaining and least elaborate material which could be provided in a constant dopamine-gratifying stream. “12 books about urbanism”, “13 definitive movies for architects to watch” and whatever other list you can imagine on any topic beside architecture create an appearance of a broadly covered spectrum on a topic of interest, what satisfies the users and makes them believe in their becoming an informed person. The concept of Everything is Architecture is a new way of justifying this. Social media seems to function as a way of reminding people that one is interested in architecture. Putting stuff out there to share for our benefit has in some debased way come to be identified as education.   

What results is a culture of erudite idiots, precisely because long-term programs are not about immediate content. This idiocy is implicitly understood, what is indicated by recent abundance of a word “expert”, which is used wherever to separate audience from the speakers who have an oratorical monopoly. Becoming an expert is then a media vehicle, and there are many people who would help one to become an expert in exchange for money. Yes, we need to monetise this! =) 

• • •

The uncertainty about architectural education may result from profession’s ongoing decomposition. 20th century cemented the dissociation of structural engineering and habitability engineering from architectural design practice, at least in big architecture scene. The role of 20th century architecture school in that has yet to be scrutinized.

  • Decomposition of imaginal public relations practice of perception-management happens along the lines of imagery production competences, one recent case of the process is emergence of architectural visualization as a separate self-contained trade. Bashar once told me he saw an job listing for an “environmental graphics technician” and It amused us to think it meant those people who draw those airflow lines all over building sections. I was recently disappointed to learn it’s the new term for signage and wayfinding.
  • Decomposition continues for the material of architecture as a discipline which engineers a public relations envelope, a desired image for projects built around development gain or the concerns of image itself, as are many “cultural centres”, a typological trope beloved by both architects and their students.
  • Decomposition is an exotermic process. Once it stops, we’ll see stone-cold mineral remains of previously organic discipline. But decompositional heat can be mistaken for metabolic heat, creating a vision of a vibrant living system. hhhh I don’t know why I should be laughing … the analogy is all to apt – this mistaking of energy for life.  

Hazy conceptual soup remains in the profession, but we soon may see “design philosophy consultant” as a next big thing in architecture. We’ll have to watch for Design Philosophy Consultant Masters Program banners on architecture web outlets. It’s only a matter of time. Those three words already occur together in the similarly abstracted field of economic policy. 

design philosophy consultant

Design philosophy consultants may already be walking amongst us, for what’s a design philosophy consultant but a person who uses misleading narratives for perception management? If such people were to exist, they would make pre-emptive announcements of current concerns in anticipation of “proof” by projects only they know are in the pipeline. Those planted pre-emptive narratives would soon, invariably, come to be seen as prophetic.

• • •

To all architecture students out there,
best wishes and good luck!

Architecture Misfits #27: The Analog Student

If Architecture itself is a myth then what are architecture students supposed to believe in? Architectural education is often thought to be reactionary and unresponsive to market forces but my perception is that it’s attuned all too well. There’s no shortage of digital students who’ve picked up on image and perception management being everything. For them, architecture is an endless learning curve of new software skills. Their modern career begins with being accepted into a starchitect intern farm where they’ll compete to generate daring development envelopes and appropriately dramatic or atmospheric visualizations. But what becomes of the analog architecture student who has a complete set of skills no longer needed to produce this new architecture of the present?


Being able to see the bigger picture is not something wanted by employers despite the analog student being more likely to know what’s important by having observed it and processed it.

big picture 1

big picture 2

The analog student will generate proposals that succeed as visual compositions even if they are no better or worse than any other student at balancing the equally real contexts of urban planning and development gain. Their problem is with perception management. They don’t understand how the new modern architect “sees” physical context as a driver to generate forms representing the future of global society, and how this is more important than satisfying any provincial concerns. The bigger picture the analog student sees is not the new and bigger one.

Sketching has no place in the new way of doing architecture. We already knew this since sketching isn’t a skill employers are advertising for. It may be quicker when it comes to communicating an idea but, when the only type of idea needed is a crowd-pleasing shape that maximises development gain, Sketchup is sufficient to model the magical ROI+α volume. On the perception management side of things, everyone’s happy with digital visualizations because they “look more real”. The real problem is that sketching is thinking and, as such, poses multiple threats to the new architecture.

It’s evidence someone can observe and decide for themselves what’s important. Not good. 

It’s evidence someone is trying to understand something for themselves. Again, ungood.

It’s evidence someone is weighing alternatives – a subversive activity in a world where the best solution is the one presented loudest.  

Sketching is evidence someone can imagine something, can think of how much nicer something might be – and that’s absolutely the last thing wanted. 

Finally, sketching is evidence someone enjoys having their eyes, brain and hand work together. It displays a shocking lack of reverence for our new digital technologies and the 0-1 world they are being used to create. 

Physical modelling skills similarly have no place in this new way of doing architecture. Everyone wants perfect 3D printing NOW so the human link between idea and modelmaking can be eliminated in precisely the same way as the new architecture attempts to eliminate all trace of the human labour that went into its production.

As it is with sketching, making a physical model shows someone wants to understand something and this is not the way to impress zeitgeisty architectural employers intent on providing an architecture of affect that’s beyond understanding.

Software skills aren’t exclusive to the digital student as the analog student is not ignorant when it comes to software.

The analog student is likely to be an AutoCAD user because, much like a pencil, it doesn’t do anything unless you push it. The analog student sees no beauty in the object libraries enthusiastically embraced by digital students sensitive to time and labour efficiencies. The analog student views object library parts as external intrusions that are flawed in principle as well as by overdesign, overcomplexity, excessive file size and inherent bugginess. The analog student measures real things that work and then designs their own components to be clean and light. Analog students don’t map other people’s textures.


Ultimately, the problem the analog student has with digital tools is the same problem they have with analog ones. They insist on using them to either design things their own way or to understand things their own way. They use technology on their own terms and for their own ends. As such, they have all the signs of a misfit architect.

гвоздильщик (2)

What place is there for the analog student? They have the complete set of skills not required of those who are to generate our brave new architecture.

• • •

the analog architect

Analog Student!

We hope there will be a place for you sometime soon.
In the meantime, wherever you are,

misfits salutes you!

• • •




The Expansible Home

Australia has a history of expandable houses, some of it intrinsic. These two plans from the McNess Housing Report of 1941 had all habitable rooms beneath the main roof and non-habitable one such as bathrooms, laundries and the ubiquitous verandah (often enclosed as a sleep-out) as extensions. The wc was still an outhouse halfway down the back yard.


The document A Thematic History of Government Housing in Western Australia (p87) reports that “Early in 1947, Northam Council had been outraged to have the Workers’ Homes Board permit the construction of ‘half a house. A couple, pregnant with their first child, were granted a permit to build only the back half of their home, in order to get them out of their existing inadequate accommodation. Despite their indignation, the Council allowed the home to be built, as the situation was viewed as an emergency.” This filled a housing need that had hitherto gone unfilled and led to The Expansible Home that was featured in local newspapers.

“From 1948, ‘expansible’ homes were designed by the SHC, also referred to as ‘detached flats’. Ninety were planned under the Commonwealth- State Housing Scheme in the first year, including thirty to a standard plan by a local architectural firm. This design proposed an initial house of hall, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and external toilet/laundry, with later additions of living room, two further bedrooms, rear verandah and front terrace.

“Expansible homes were promoted as suitable for married couples who could then add rooms as they expanded their families. A 1949 design [below left] included entry hall, living, dining, kitchen and bathrooms, with cupboards and cabinets serving as partitions. Divan beds were planned for the living room. Provision was made for future bedroom additions and a future rear verandah, which would connect the external toilet and laundry with the house. Another 1949 plan [below right] began with bedroom, living room, bathroom and external toilet/laundry, with future kitchen, extra bedroom and rear verandah.” 

This second design had the advantage of presenting a completed street frontage as soon as the core part of the house was built.

The designs received considerable media attention and, although criticised, were recognised as an expedient measure in the housing crisis. These smaller-than-standard homes were designed to put a roof over the heads of as many families as possible, with promises to local authorities that they would be extended to ‘full size’ when the crisis period abated. 


“A 1951 booklet of SHC standard plans included 30 designs, ranging from one to three bedrooms. Most also allowed for a rear sleep-out if required. The larger two-bedroom designs and most of the three- bedroom plans included separate dining and kitchen areas. The smallest homes were ‘expansible’ designs (Types WS302AR, WS304A andT1B). These were designed to be erected with a bare minimum of rooms, with provision made for additional rooms in future. Generally, additional rooms were projected as bedrooms, but the Type T1B residence was planned to have two bedrooms but no kitchen, with temporary sink and stove allowances in the living room. The largest floor plan in the booklet was a three- bedroom home of 1,142 sqft (106m2) and the smallest the Type T1B expansible, at 519 sqft (48m2) (647 sqft/60m2 with kitchen), but most were around 800-900 sqft (74-84m2). These measurements did not include porch, laundry, toilet, sleep-out or verandah, which generally added around 250-400 sqft (23- 37m2) to the overall size. Almost all the designs included a bathroom within the main house rather than in an enclosure on the back verandah, and some also included laundry and toilet within the main house.”

The need for expansible homes lessened towards the end of the 1950s and opportunity for expansion gradually atrophied to space for an additional room at the rear. Whereas a two-storey house was a rarity [in Perth at least] as late as 1970, the smaller plots a few decades on made adding a second storey the only option.

This had always been the case in countries such as Taiwan where the pressure was to go upwards not outwards, and not in the way of architect-homeowners who provide magazines with gushing yet lame insights such as “we couldn’t open up the house horizontally so we opened it up vertically”.

Overall, our houses no longer have the latent ability to be enlarged. Ad-hoc expansion is performed when and where it’s thought needed but this doesn’t necessarily correspond to any functional, structural or servicing logic. This is due to the pressures of construction economy as all walls might not need to be structural ones at some time in the future. any latent ability is a real redundancy until used. One of the conclusions from this next project for a (UAE) house that could be constructed in stages was that functional modules necessarily involve structural redundancy [as they do with shipping containers.] 

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Another problem was the lack of logic to the water supply and drainage systems. All homes require wet areas from the beginning and enlarging a home shouldn’t have to disturb these. This wasn’t a problem in traditional Yemeni houses as the absence of water supply meant room functions weren’t designed but assigned as and when necessary to whatever rooms were available. The allocation changed according to time of day as well as to short-term changes such as visitors and longer-term changes to family composition and size.

Untitled 4Untitled

This next proposal attempts to recreate these advantages in a vertically-expansible building that allows for different forms of tenure.

Extensible House 2.jpg

LEFT: This first attempt could be called an Extended Family House. There is one main entrance but the interior can be divided into different semi-autonomous living zones. It assumes the occupants are related for, if the building were to have differing tenancies (such as sub-let or co-housing), it would be deemed a building of multiple occupancy and different fire escape and other regulations would apply.

MIDDLE: This is the same building divided for multiple occupancy. There’s hardly any difference. The insertion of partitions isolating the stairs is what’s happened to much of London’s terraced housing stock anyway. The provision of elevators and smoke lobbies is not mandatory.

RIGHT: As would any new-build block of apartments, the rightmost proposal requires an elevator and a smoke lobby to the fire stair and, because of that, is now not suited for use as a single family house or as co-housing by like-minded people. At best, it would be a collection of flat-shares.


In the end, I didn’t succeed in deriving a single building type for different types of tenure and that was expansible vertically in a predetermined manner. Other potential emerges. Tiny though it is, this layout pleases me. It’s contained in approximately 32′ x 32′ (10m x 10m). If built as a freestanding structure, slit windows on adjacent sides provide daylighting variation but preserve view inscrutability. If built as a tube structure to the current maximum slenderness of 24:1 it could be around 70 storeys give or take.

Extensible House 2.jpg

“Hey Graham! How about a spare elevator?”


“We may as well make it worth our while! 40′ (12.3m) a side @24:1 gives approx. 100 apartments in 100 storeys with 2 private elevators.” 

I’m not aware of any need for a housing product such as this but some have a tendency to create their own.


432 Park Avenue’s four elevators serve 104 apartments spread over 85 storeys with [as far as I can determine] at least two being private above the 35th floor.

Extensible House comparison.jpg

I’m just putting it out there.

Burden of Proof

First of all, Thank You All and Season’s Greetings. Have you noticed how the end of the year is always rich with lazy content? Here’s the AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Projects 2016 WinnersHere’s Dezeen’s Top 10 Architecture Books of 2016, along with a gratuitous picture. 


The caricaturization of architecture: Seeing how the illustrator has managed to work some sky into the view of Fallingwater’s best side, we can expect similar liberties have been taken with the content. This is one of 2016’s top ten architecture books.

Well before December’s not-entirely-unexpected articles wanting to suddenly tell us about Zaha Hadid’s family life and early paintings, a March 2016 article had already given us Ten Best Zaha Hadid Buildings by way of an obit. December’s Guardian also blessed us with Oliver Wainwright’s top ten buildings of 2016. Designboom contributed TOP 10 architecture projects that integrated nature in 2016 plus Top Ten Reader Submissions of 2016. “News” such as AIA Names Top 10 Most Sustainable Projects of 2016AIA Names 10 Best US Houses of 2016 and DAM Selects the Top 10 Architectural Books of 2016 was thoughtfully re-broadcast by ArchDaily. Getting into the spirit then, here are Misfits’ Top Ten 2016 posts.

1. Architecture Misfits #22: H Arquitectes


This post from May this year is the 18th most accessed post of all time. [Well done guys – keep it up!]

2. The Mat Building


This post from March was a close second at #22.

3. The 1 1/2 Floor Apartment


This post immediately followed the one above and came in at #39.

4. Living Together


The all-time #41 was this February post the first of several dealing with the implications of co-living.

5. Co-living


This post immediately following came in at #47.

6. Architecture Misfit #21: 村野藤吾


I’m glad this post is doing well at #53. There weren’t many architects like Togo Murano then and there certainly aren’t now.

7. The Free Facade


Musings on what the façade has done with its freedom.

8. Architecture Misfits #24: Rural Studio


A long-overdue tribute tothe work of Rural Studio and their approach to making things better.

9. Misfits’ Guide to DUBAI


It was about time I took a look around.

10. Architecture Misfit #20: Edward T. Potter


There was a lot more to Edward T. Potter than the house he designed for Mark Twain. A fitting misfit.

The 2016 posts are still fresh so I don’t know which will be forgotten, which will be remembered, which will prove to be slow burners, and which will have any lasting relevance. However, some trends are starting to become apparent upon seeing the ten most accessed posts of all-time (since June 2010).

1. The Maximum Dwelling

nilly hall

Who’d have thought the labyrintine plans of 19th century Victorian country houses would have proved such a hit on Pinterest?

2. The Things Architects Do #3: SANAA


This post is surely found by foundation year architecture students searching for assignment resources.

3. Kazuo Shinohara’s Houses


The buildings of Kazuo Shinohara are interesting yet little known. This post has gone on to have further adventures on other blogs.

4. The DARKER Side of Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye bathroom skylight

A post much accessed by students looking for LC or VS resources. [You’re welcome!]

5. Architectural Myths #20: The Villa Savoye



6. It’s Not Rocket Science #3: Yakhchal


This post has been much reblogged in the off-grid community. [A shout-out to Señor Coconut – hope you’re all doing fine.]



The hidden complexities of the Farnsworth House.

8. It’s Not Rocket Science #5: Night Sky Radiant Cooling

ice house chardin

A post about the little understood natural principle Persians used to make ice in the desert a few centuries gone.

9. The Japanese Machiya


From Japan, some sensible housing for a change.

10. The Buildings of YEMEN


A country so un–neoliberal that, instead of Architecture, it has a stunning culture of vernacular building the likes of which we can’t imagine.

I like to think all misfits’ posts have some sort of relevance for our built environment but three of these ten all-time most accessed posts can also be seen as about nothing more than routinely famous architects and buildings – thus inadvertently sustaining the status-quo. Two other posts can be also seen as being about (Japanese) architects with a largeish presence in architectural media culture and this amounts to much the same thing. The post on Victorian country houses can be seen either as a curio or as nostalgia – which is also a worry. Only the Yemen and the yachchal/radiant cooling posts fit into the category of really useful things – but the worry here is that they were best thought forgotten.

• • •


I confess I haven’t read much further than the first chapter of this book. [To be honest, I’m finding it a bit brainy.] I’ll stick with it though as so many of misfits’ themes resonate with its theme that I feel in my gut is true. So then, until I can back up my bloggy conjectures with references and citations, let’s just suppose that neoliberalism does have an architectural manifestation. What evidence would be sufficient to prove such a claim?

1) The End of History

By this I don’t mean the end of buildings, just the end of attaching any sort of importance to them. This project is well underway and in places already complete. ArchDaily. The history of architecture is still taught at universities but no-one knows why as history skills are on no employer’s wish list. [c.f. Learning CurveArchitecture students are pleased history has stopped accumulating. The continual shrinking and condensing of a body of knowledge into a few names and buildings of uncontested regard is not proof of their enduring greatness but a caricature of history and one of learning as well. I used to understand this as the postmodern sickness whereby a thing gets replaced by a representation of itself but postmodernism may have just been a symptom of the greater plague.


If we’re all Futurists now – “Sir, what’s a Futurist?” – then the advantage to neoliberalism of us all wanting to forget the past is that we’re primed to embrace newness for newness’ sake. We’re ready and willing to enjoy constant change and for progress to be measured in terms of how newly something represents change. [c.f. The Autopoiesis of Architecture] An energetic dynamism looping back onto itself and going nowhere is an excellent way to represent such change and happens to be just what your average dictocrat wants. It’s a problem for Architecture when all it has to do is represent something going somewhere but architecture is by far the best means to do it because there’s never any danger something as static and immovable as buildings will actually move on.

3) The Objectification of Architecture

The supposed globalization of architecture was our excuse for rationalising why these buildings tended to get built in other countries and not the “liberal democracies” but it might just be that our societies aren’t fully prepared (yet). The flow of neo-liberal architecture is the reverse of the mid-20th century capitalist one.

Teheran Hilton 1965

Hilton Hotel, Teheran, 1965

3) The Shrinking of History

Buildings and architects get dropped from the history of architecture all the time. Some buildings we saw in every book on modern architecture 50 years ago aren’t even memories now. [c.f. World Architecture 1963 and World Architecture 1963 PART 2]


Central Library, National Autonomous University of Mexico, designed by Gustavo Saavedra and Juan Martínez de Velasco, and opened in April, 1956

If buildings and architects keep getting dropped from history, then sooner or later we’re going to run out of the stuff as we’re not laying down any more architectural history for the future. What will a history e-book look like in 50 years time? What brave person would even dare write one? What buildings will come to epitomise the age in which we lived? We will have to make do with “Top Ten Modern Classics”. History now has no interest for architects beyond being a resource for interesting imagery.


Constructivism the art movement (and graphic inspiration-to-be) should not be confused with Constructivism the architectural movement that had a social(ist) agenda of housing people with an efficiency of resource usage.

History is never mined for interesting ideas that, taken out of context, could have important ramifcations for us now. [c.f. Modest Megastructures] We’re encouraged to convince ourselves that the only good ideas are the newest ones. 


4) The Objectification of Architects 

In 1997 Body Shop‘s Ruby campaign stated “There are three billion women in the world who don’t look like supermodels and eight who do.” [ref.Treading the same path came Dove’s campaignforrealbeauty.


The parallels with architecture and architects are many but here I want to draw attention to the ongoing objectification of architects. Is it just me or are today’s stararchitects more “starry” than ever? [What is driving this? Is it a need of ours or, like the Sony Wallkman, something that once invented creates its own need?] It’s only been necessary to promote a few architects to star status to create and perpetuate the notion that architecture is all about glamorous and shapely buildings. The efforts of architects less stellar who get on with the real business of real building are supposed to be championed by professional organizations that instead reward the elevated few with accolades in the name of awareness-raising. The appearance of success breeds success and success means you don’t have to pretend to be nice anymore.

BIG gentrification.jpeg

5) Gentrification – in general**

6) Gated communities – a highly localized form of gentrification, no matter which side of the fence you are on.

7) Encouraging people to see Brutalism as nothing more than a style has proven a highly effective way of ensuring its social agenda remains forgotten [c.f. High-Rise]

Professional bodies organize petitions protesting the demolition of Brutalist buildings but in doing so effectively support the neoliberal agenda by arguing on the grounds of stylistic worth [… a fine example of the early work of …” etc.] when they should be making a point on the grounds of social worth. August Perret may have used béton brut (unfinished/raw concrete) without any connotations of aesthetic delight or social utility but that is what the argument has become. It doesn’t really matter whether you see raw concrete as beautiful or ugly for, whichever way, you’re not thinking about how the money and resources spent on unnecessary finishes was, for a short while, diverted into providing more and better quality housing for the population.


8) The advent and rise of theories celebrating the consequences of unfettered economic activity, and the complete absence of critical comment thereof.

9) The scary earnestness of architectural evangelists, their scarier eagerness to give audience, and the even scarier ease with which they find one. 

10) The celebration of buildings encouraging people to see themselves as no more than the sum of their assets and investments


11) The continual pressure on us all to do the same with whatever means we have to do it


• • •

We all know how AirB’n’B enables people without their own buildings to contribute to economic activity by monetizing their surplus capacity living space, how Uber enables people to monetize their surplus capacity transport and how Instagram allows people to monetize* their personality or lack of it. Given all these intimate ways in which people are encouraged to value themselves according to their level of economic activity, it seems that neoliberalism has already done all it can with government, business and architecture and is now moving on to mop up the small fry. Whales feeding off plankton is a good analogy, except whales are nice.

• • •

thanks for the link Megan
19 Dec. 2016: I added Nos. 5) and 6) as further evidence.
*20 Dec. 1016:  8) and 9) added.

Need To Know

wasteNow that the 15th Architecture Bienalle in Venice is over, how was it for you? Are you up to speed on all or any of the above topics and resolved to make the world or even your own little corner of it a better place? Or are you well over it? In a now distant November in Athens, outgoing US President Obama asked us to continue to believe democracy was a good thing despite everything. In the same week, post-truth was selected as the new Word of the Year. Beware: The term itself is a post-truism as it implies politicians used to tell us nothing but facts.  


I’m still unsure how to use it. It’s said to describe appeals based more on emotion than fact but seems to refer only to impassioned appeals to our baser instincts. There’s still being led up the garden path for impassioned appeals to our better ones.

This was also the year the term digital occupation entered our lives when Detroit Resists digitally occupied the US pavilion at the Biennale. I’d heard this any number of times without managing to find out what it actually entailed. I imagined something like this minus the projection.


I was sort of right. It was the smartphones that turned out to be significant as the digital occupation was an overlaid exhibition viewable on a smartphone as one went around the actual one. Augmented reality.



Detroit Resists‘ eminently sensible point was that The Architectural Imagination wasn’t perhaps the best lens through which to view complex problems of urban decay and regeneration.

In June this year, the concept of a democratic digital platform entered our lives when Mimi Zeiger called for one in a Dezeen review of the 15th Venice Architecture Bienalle. It’s easy to see that participation in the world of digital architectural media isn’t equal or even symmetrical.

I think we’ve learned our lesson. An architectural digital democracy is not about all people being able to access information – we already have this. And nor is it about all people being able to access balanced information – we already have this too, although not many know it or make use of it. Like any other kind, an architectural digital democracy is about all people wanting to access balanced information. This is something we definitely don’t have.

We’re aware that digital platforms have a few problems. In that same speech, ‘President Barack Obama spoke out about fake news on Facebook and other media platforms, suggesting that it helped undermine the US political process’ [ref.] Speaking in Germany though, he was speaking to the converted.


You’ll recognise the US Berlin Embassy from this post.

Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had had something to say about that very topic two weeks prior.  


Back home, it had already risen to the top of our newsfeeds that Facebook might be playing with our minds, knowingly feeding us fake news in order to increase this thing called engagement in hope of adding value to their advertising model.

Digital protest #1: Create a new Facebook account and add as friends any total strangers they suggest. Add them as fast and often as you can. Before long you’ll get a message saying You are using Facebook in a way for which it wasn’t designed. [!] and blocked for half an hour as punishment. Persist until you have about half a million or so friends and Facebook’s data is irreversibly corrupted by totally meaningless connections. Meanwhile, extend your activism to non-digital forms of protest such as not designing any buildings for Facebook …


… or Google.


Like many aspects of modern life, the internet has exacerbated trends already present in our analog media but it’s not as if newspapers and television channels hadn’t filtered or distorted news for decades in order to increase engagement and for the very same purposes. The technical term for headlines like this is screamer.


The mechanism of tailoring news content in order to deliver targeted advertising to reader demographic is not new. A century ago, did Country Life publish Edwin Lutyen’s houses because its advertisers were targeting people with those aspirations? Probably. They knew.

We used to think magazines had this thing called editorial policy and that news became news when someone decided something was worth knowing about. This is a primitive form of filtering if it was meant to encourage certain people to purchase particular magazines. I suspect it was if magazines also featured buildings featuring the products of their advertisers – as they still do. New big or important buildings by famous architects also shifted copies. It didn’t mean the buildings were any good. We’re wrong to assume it was a nicer world. Our filter bubbles are simply smaller and individually tailored now. As a general rule, when people tell you nothing but what you want to hear, you’re being taken advantage of.

I’ve noticed Twitter and Instagram aren’t particularly good at suggesting what might interest me. Facebook never was. YouTube suggests similar content based on past viewing but its suggestions are obvious and often trite so their algorithms must be as crude as their indexing. Of all the algorithms in my life, Apple Music’s impresses me most. It quickly learned what I like (for, after all, I did tell it) but it’s getting pretty good at suggesting other music I might like to try.


btw the Lang Lang / Herbie Hancock / John Axelrod /LSO version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is as stupendously new and exciting as it must have been once before Bernstein’s interpretation took over

I don’t expect Archdaily will ever reach the level of sophistication where it actually expands our architectural horizons for why should it even aspire to if there’s no need?  Our digital architectural media are no better than they need to be to do the job they exist to do. But what is that, exactly? We might want to wonder a bit more about why they have settled on their current formats.

The day after the US election, I had a look on the “News” section of ArchDaily to see if anything had happened that might have implications for the built environment. Nope. Nada. Nanimo. All I found were annoucements for next half dozen upcoming BIG projects, plus this.


President Obama complains about Facebook the same week he gives the bloke who designed their headquarters a medal – and a Medal Of Freedom at that. FOL.

By broadcasting everything, ArchDaily admits no concepts of editorial or curatorial responsibility. And why should it when it’s simply not possible for any one person to even view everything it publishes let alone process it or, perhaps crucially, have an opinion on it. Occasionally, it inadvertently reminds people of the need to have opinions. It received some heat earlier this year for posting details of a competition to build a US-border wall. Sides were quickly taken.



The complete article is here.

Me, I don’t see anything wrong in attacking a platform, especially one whose stated mission is so vague. The death of architecture will be either a slow one due to overindulgence or a slow one due to accumulated toxins. Too much crap is getting said in the name of “generating debate”.


Yes, it’s the same image but this time the focus is on “Top architectural stories”. An internet news site sponsors an international architecture competition featuring a speaker who predictably generates predictable news. Dezeen then reports on the resultant brouhaha and the story bounces around the world and receives 80 comments within a day.


On the same platform, Mimi Zeiger writes an article intelligently critical of the 15th Bienalle and six months on there’s still not one comment. Without evidence of the balanced and critical consumption of information, it’s impossible to sustain the lie these sites exist to provide some sort of “forum for debate”. We should wean ourselves off any platform that has a business model reliant upon advertising, including global architecture competitions and award get-togethers.

wafEven though the spotlight is currently on digital platforms, we shouldn’t relax about what’s going on in the traditional ones for over in my inbox was this


Sustainability vs. Security? At least apples and oranges were both fruits.


Aravena’s gone from Elemental to governmental via a brief interlude of monumental.

The guy’s clearly a genius if his next project is to get the military-industrial complex to export sustainability to conflict-ravaged countries worldwide. Let’s wish him well in his star trek. It seems that in lecture theatres around the world, the same people are always in our faces delivering the same message. 


This talk in the UAE went unnoticed [Borrring!], unlike the one in Berlin eleven days later.

Proposed as a non-digital forum where architecture can be discussed, Turncoats provides the semblance of open debate conducted without the presence of digital recording media, mobile phones or cameras. The idea is to encourage open and un-selfcensored debate between participants but one of them is a plant – their views may not be what they really think. This makes a travesty not just of discussion but of dissent as well. At the end of the day, having a bunch of media players act out open debate behind closed doors only shows that beyond tragedy and farce is metaphor.


Never before in the history of humankind has there been so much talk about architecture. I can’t blame ArchDaily for everything that’s wrong with the world of architecture so let’s talk about David Basulto. He used couches hooked up to a non-stop video feed in his unintentionally menacing proposition of Architecture as Therapy for the Nordic Pavilion at Venice 2016 . This isn’t architecture as therapy. It’s architecture as sedation. What’s worse is that it was countenanced and endlessly reviewed but I find it too brazenly apt to be comfortable with it. 

Digital platforms for architecture are entering their post-content phase. The new notion that Everything is Architecture conveniently removes conceptual divisions between what is and what isn’t. It is the natural consequence of there being too little genuine architectural content compared with the amount of advertising and marketing that needs to be hung off of it.

The 1920s had a flourishing environment of architectural thought brought about by perhaps at best a couple of dozen magazines reporting occurrences in and around Europe, and in two or three languages as well. There was crossover between disciplines but everything wasn’t architecture and architecture wasn’t everything. Architecture’s products were for everybody but everybody didn’t need to know about its designs or designers. Information about architecture meant information about recently completed buildings and for a while there was a healthy cycle involving the natural generation of information that architects were eager to receive, process and use to produce better buildings and pass on those results to other architects so people everywhere could benefit. It was the most intellectually dynamic and socially progressive decade the world had ever seen. We forget this.

All but one of the slideshow images are from a MoMa exhibition titled THE ELECTRO-LIBRARY: European Avant-Garde Magazines from the 1920s (March 7–June 13, 2016).

Learning Curve

If you’ve been wondering what skills were most in demand at the top 50 architecture firms [according to a 2013 Architectural Record Top 300 Architecture Firms study], Black Spectacles has already surveyed 928 job postings and compiled the software and other requirements listed for each job. Well done them!  


“In summary, for software skills, over 70% of architecture jobs require Revit skills, and over 50% still require AutoCAD skills.  The #3 software skill required is Sketchup.  We must admit that we were disappointed (but not surprised) to see that Grasshopper was only required for 3% of the jobs.  And good old-fashioned hand-sketching was only explicitly called out in 4% of these jobs.

The authors admit that taking only the top firms skews the survey towards the larger ones, which of course implies a certain kind of top-down production system. The demanded software therefore reflects the office hierarchy. Documentation software such as Revit and AutoCAD figure largest. Communications and presentation software not so large, and aids to creative thinking such as sketching hardly at all. Offices don’t need a surfeit of creatives.

• • •

Here’s a quick rundown on some of the programs architects should have experimented with, perhaps adopted, and almost certainly discarded for ones less obsolete.

Computer-Aided Design Programs

Off the top of my head, I can think of MiniCAD, AutoCAD, Vectorworks, Microstation, AutoDesk, EasyCAD and TurboCAD. There’s many more out there and many have C-A-D as part of their name. Equally many people will advise on which is best for you.


Let’s follow the Architecture link.

Many an architecture student’s first introduction to CAD will be AutoCAD. Most students will have access to several versions and copies and people to teach them how to use it to draw plans, elevations and sections without getting their hands dirty or having to worry too much about accuracy. Making sure the elevations match the plans and the plans match the sections takes as much skill, care and time as it ever did.

Building Information Modelling

ArchiCAD has always been a struggler in the market due to poor choice of diffusion model in the early years. While AutoCAD was being given away to schools and businesses, ArchiCAD was expensive and had a complex system of hardware dongles purposely limiting any dissemination that wasn’t fully paid for. It was a shame because ArchiCAD was the world’s first CAD program with an integrated BIM and 3D functionality that no other program could match until Revit sort of did twenty years later.

Revit has leapt to the forefront very quickly and many people are amazed by how it revolutionalized the production of architectural drawings.


Visualisation Programs

“2D plans have long been the bane of designers when it comes to communicating ideas to clients, and humble concept boards and elevations can only do so much.  As such, more and more designers are turning to 3D which real, authentic and visual.” 

Some CAD programs have integrated visualization capabilities. It’s good to see cherry trees have finally made it into object libraries. [c.f. The Things Architects Do #11: Cherry Blossoms]


Google SketchUp has been around since the early 2000’s and was an instant hit with architects and designers who could not or were not able to sketch. 

“[It] is one of the most widely used and easy to learn 3D Modeling software packages on the market today. With SketchUp’s ability to use plug in software, such as V-Ray, iRender and Shaderlight, designers can take a basic 3D and morph into one that can (and will) get their ideas over the line in a manner in which clients can understand.” [ref.]

3D Studio Max was many an architecture student’s first introduction to texture mapping.


ARtlantis has also been around a while. It was one of the first rendering packages to enable control over lighting and illumination effects, and offered a choice of rendering engines. Maxwell and VRay were popular choices. Here’s a quick tutorial showing you how to set an Artlantis scene to be rendered with [in? by?] Maxwell.

And here’s one on how to export your SketchUp Pro 2013 model to ArtLantis Studio 15.

Here’s one on how to use the new VRay for Revit

Here’s a link to motionographer Alex Roman’s turgid film The Third and the Seventh,


and another link to an interview.


Maya was breathtakingly refreshing when it first came out but is now just part of the furniture.

“Bring your imagination to life with Maya® 3D animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software. Maya helps artists tell their story with one fast, creative toolset.” [ref.]


You can bring your imagination to life, if you dare.


You can use time to animate a cube mesh, if that’s your thing.


Here’s a YouTube tutorial on skinning rigging and applying mocap data.


Of all of the rendering sofwares, Lumion was perhaps the most welcome. It produced images that may have been incredibly cheesy but it was difficult to make something look really ugly.

Parametric Modelling Programs

Rhinoceros 5

Rhinoceros is primarily a free form surface modeler that utilizes the NURBS mathematical model. Its application architecture and open SDK makes it modular and enables the user to customize the interface and create custom commands and menus. Dozens of plug-ins available from both McNeel and other software companies complement and expand Rhinoceros’ capabilities in specific fields like rendering and animation, architecture, marine, jewelry, engineering, prototyping, and others.

“You can do anything with Rhino“, they say. “Can one really?” I say.


Here’s the Grand Staircase of the Titanic.



This is a visual scripting language for Rhino. It lets you do things like parametric rosettes and weaves, sine functions and transformations, solid difference, kanagaroo tags, voronoi boxes and lots of other stuff you didn’t even know you couldn’t do.


“For designers who are exploring new shapes using generative algorithms, Grasshopper® is a graphical algorithm editor tightly integrated with Rhino’s 3-D modeling tools. Unlike RhinoScript, Grasshopper requires no knowledge of programming or scripting, but still allows designers to build form generators from the simple to the awe-inspiring.” 

Their website will get you started with tutorials.


Energy Modelling Software 

eQUEST is probably the quickest option and is also free. This tutorial will walk you through the basics.

“Keep in mind that it focuses almost solely on energy and that load design in eQUEST should be limited to the experts. Check out this video that shows how awesome eQUEST is!”

TRACE 700 “… is a great option if you need to do Load Design + Energy. Tell your boss to suck it up and buy it for you. It comes with free support.” [ref.]

IES“Investigate suitable bioclimatic strategies even before a line has been drawn, and connect from SketchUp™ or BIM packages. By enabling informed sustainable design decisions you can be confident that the VE for Architects helps you deliver ambitious performance goals while seeking opportunities to keep costs appropriate. In fact, as top engineers use advanced IESVE tools you can easily collaborate and exchange models with them as you progress – facilitating an improved integrated and data driven process.” [ref.]

Here’s a tutorial for how to use IES Light with V-Ray in Sketchup. How awesome is that!

Urban Design Programs

City Engine lets you make bold and sweeping inteventions relating to site density and height across entire cities, and provides you with updated floor areas and thus presumably return-on-investment as you go. If that all sounds a bit mercenary, we are reminded that CityEngine is used by several major animation studios and visual effects houses for the creation of digital sets of urban environments.” [ref.]


This test image was generated with CityEngine and has 1.135 billion polygons, no instancing and is rendered in 22 gigabytes of RAM.

• • •

A few observations.

1. Nothing’s changed.

No matter how skilled you become at using any or all of these software packages, you’ll still be a technician – someone who executes the ideas of others. No office needs a surfeit of people who can use a felt-tip.


Person using a felt-tip.

2. Nothing is used to its maximum potential.

All this productivity software results in highly contrived and inefficient workflows as a consequence of offices having legacy software and staff having different types and levels of legacy skills. For example, a head of architecture might “sketch” a building in AutoCAD 2000 because that’s all he knows how to use. That might then get passed to a graduate who has a copy of Rhino to “extrude” it so it can then be exported to SketchUp for preliminary work on elevations while being further embroidered in Revit. None of these programs is being used in the way for which it was designed to be used. And even if they were used in some far superior string of hocus-pocus, everything will ultimately be put onto a USB drive as a PowerPoint presentation to show the client at 1024 x 768 dpi on whatever IT/projection system there is in the boardroom.

The longevity of AutoCAD in the industry shows that software innovation and endless learning are unnecessary. Buildings are still being designed and built using legacy technologies in inefficient and illogical ways, only even more so.

3. Nobody knows it all.

If digital models are exported around the office into formats more suited to the task or the skills of the person actually performing the task, then the same is true for collaborations outside the office. File conversions are routine as is the loss/addition of information along the way. Municipalities may request submissions as Revit files but that doesn’t mean the project was designed using Revit or that Revit will be used for further documentation or detailing.


Nothing is ever enough

“Software skill requirements fell predictably along experience lines, with lower experience requiring more software skills.  The exceptions were in AutoCAD & Photoshop where the difference between the requirements of 0-3 years & 11-20 years of experience was over 20%.  The next largest difference was in Revit at 14%.” [ref.]

In other words, the most poorly paid are expected to be the most productive. This is no surprise. For a monthly subscription fee, will teach you how to use Revit and many other new packages suddenly indispensible for getting you a new job or letting you keep the one you have.

Lynda is linked to LinkedIn, the site that monetizes job dissatisfaction and insecurity. Just as you can never learn enough, you can never be too dissatisfied or too insecure.

The online software instruction industry has shown sharp growth. Not only are employees agressively targeted and made to feel as if they must stay up-to-date to retain their job, but the unemployed are also preyed upon. Devoted instructors plant ideas like the “self-education trap” and describe in terror-inducing detail how you may not learn of some essential feature if you teach yourself.

Also targeted are the pre-unemployed, a.k.a. students. Students have a natural insecurity about the quality of their education which, coupled with questionable career prospects can easily be leveraged into them paying substantial money in the false hope of being able to design better. The slickest software school setups have a vast media presence promising “cool speakers in free seminars” and all the other paraphernalia of media-fueled architecture practice.

3. ‘Those that can, exploit. Those that can’t, defraud.’

It’s that old adage again, this time expanding downwards into lesser but larger markets. If you’re still unemployed after having paid good money to learn all this software, you can still claw some of it back by taking classes to become a tutor. You’ll learn how to replicate a Shanghai supertall from an image and then move onto some megamansion you’ve almost certainly seen online. Some of the old favourites are still around to let students think they’re getting closer to design.


This is an example of ArtLantis being used to add texture to SketchUp. [Nobody ever seems to notice the huge hill behind the house.]

It’s rare the class that will pose design problems of increasing complexity that require the software to be creatively used in order to solve them. Mostly, copying is presented as designing and is accepted as designing. It sounds like a scam when aggressive mis-selling meets the suspension of disbelief. Or, it could be we’ve unwittingly reverted to the old Beaux-Arts system of learning by copying. If that’s the case, then two things:

  1. Copying is probably all that was ever necessary.
  2. The Bauhaus-style of architectural education created its own market in a way not so different from today’s software teaching schools. It artificially divided the workforce into a self-replicating system consisting of those who know and those who think they need to know. Those who know could teach others what they knew and, once they did that, could then teach them how to teach others what they knew.

Teaching now means teaching how to use software but how, and to do what? If those software ‘skills’ are best taught by copying then we’ve definitely returned to the Beaux-Arts style of teaching architecture.


The snag in the system is that the software developers and vendors are better placed to teach people how to use their products, and to teach people how to teach others.


Institutions of higher education need to think very carefully about the type of value they supposedly add. 

5. Nobody’s saying anything about design.

Software is concerned with the production of production drawings and marketing materials – there’s never mention of anything that stimulates the generation of ideas. This is because there’s no software that replicates the ability of the human brain to take diverse types of information and make both controlled and random associations to indicate where a solution might lie. It’s the creative process in its widest and truest meaning. 

Parametric design approaches are not what I mean because some vital information may resist quantification or even conscious identification. Genetic algorithms are also not what I mean. They also use only quantifiable information yet more closely approximate the creative process by bringing the brute force of computational power to the tried and trusted feedback loop we know as Trial And Error.

Adherents of both approaches claim that being able to explore “entire” [?] universes of possibilities assists the design process. The difference though is the type of design process being assisted. Parametricism tends to be used for form-finding “problems” and the solution found when the process stops and a solution decided upon – as ever it was.  Genetic algorithms tend to be used for multi-variable environmental problems and generate mutations of variable combinations until they converge on the optimum combination. It’s a bit like evolution, hence the name. 


Even if we overlook the diminishing importance of the ability to sketch architectural ideas, employers indicate no preference for where or how those architectural ideas are supposed to come from. It’s safe to assume clients don’t either. It adds negligible value to the product. Once again there’s no lack of people offering advice and instruction.


The generation of concepts provides a welcome relief from existential worries at institutions of higher education and is a source of professional pride for tutors, and grief for students as they attempt to magick a building out of less than nothing.


“the starting point was ‘bones’ … “

Some job advertisements request “design flair” but this could be just a ruse to flush out those who think they have it. Starchitect employees have already expressed their desire to work for a pittance in order to breathe the same air occasionally. That’s why they’re there.

6. Nobody’s saying anything about anything else.

The ability to hand-sketch was low down the list of desirable qualities for architects to have. A knowledge of history – or even an awareness of the role of buildings in society –wasn’t even identified as a skill let alone rated as one. History is still taught yet nobody knows why. It’s not on any employer’s wish list so it too can’t be anything clients value or would like to see valued.

The rejection of the Beaux-Arts’ revered history, the Modernists’ abstracted history, the Post Modernists’ caricatured history, and even the urban pragmatists’ what’s-already- there view of history means that we’re left with Futurism all over again, only this time it’s a mannerist and pan-global one fuelled by clients with the agendas to encourage it and the money to build it.


I’ve begun reading this [thanks Tim Waterman]. I expect it’ll be preaching to converted but every now and then it’s good to read a book that articulates what one had been suspecting for a long time. At £67 for the e-book, it’d better be better than good or else I’ll think I’m trapped in a system where thinking about architecture is produced and consumed like software, and with as little to show for it. I don’t expect to be getting my money back any time soon but I’ll let you know if I think you should part with yours.