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‘I think we’re being a little too tough,’ suggested Peter Bohlin, FAIA, as he and his two fellow jurors were finalizing their decision on this year’s Studio Awards. From a roster of 65 unbuilt entries, the jury had selected only one for an award. Bohlin thought that might send a discouraging message, especially to students and faculty, so he asked Brigette Shim and Walter Hood to reconsider their “no” votes on two other entries. Those two concepts – one by a teacher, the other by an instructor and student – had been dismissed although the presentations demonstrated apparent pre-design research, which the jury agreed was essential for an unbuilt project to be awarded. However, Shim and Hood were adamant that the proposed buildings – the culmination of the respective research – diminished each overall concept. “[Entries such as these two are] typical of what you see in a lot of architecture programs where you have this really rigorous analysis,” countered Hood, “and you end up with a dumb structure in the end because one feels that they have to make a piece of architecture. To me, it seems like, well, why go through this interesting inquiry if you’re going to end up with a [generic building].” Shim concurred: “I would have to say that when you deal with the unbuilt work, it’s the relationship between research and the design proposal that you have to look at…The whole point of doing the research is that you do better design. The research and the deeper understanding should actually move your design thinking somewhere.” Rigorous inquiry, the three agreed, was missing from the Studio Award entries, with the exception of the two aforementioned projects and the one they chose for an award—Specht Harpman’s zeroHouse (featured on the cover and profiled on page 84). Evidence of research would have proved to the jury that “you reasoned it through,” Bohlin said in offering advice to practitioners as well as students and faculty. “So if you’re in a competition like this, you would take those projects and instead of having a great picture, you would make a compelling set of arguments.” Shim added, “You’re making a case for the project…We need to understand a
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Yes, the Studio Awards jury was uncompromising, but for a reason
Specht Harpman demonstrated pre-design research findings in the slideshow for the award-winning zeroHouse.
fuller picture to understand both the process and the final results.” In their Studio Awards wrap-up, the jurors spoke passionately about the need for firms to encourage investigations by their designers. “I think that both for the schools and for the profession,” Shim said, “there is a direct relationship between research and design, and that opposed to maintaining the status quo, for the discipline to move anywhere we need to make a more deliberate link between those two. As a profession, we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t take on research within practice.” For larger firms, opportunities for investigation are as close as the next speculative design competition, and there may be a payoff if the concept wins the commission. But for small firms, the day-to-day necessities of bringing in work and satisfying clients often exhausts the impetus toward involved research. However, as the jury repeatedly stressed, the time
and effort invested in research will pay off for the firm. Bohlin, Hood, and Shim – all hardworking practitioners whose individual work illustrates successful career trajectories – were not preaching or speaking down to anyone. Instead, each expressed sincere concern for the future of the design profession. Programs such as the TSA Studio Awards, they said, need to be nurtured and encouraged because they provide opportunities – for young designers particularly – to improve one’s talent through research. “Often we don’t get handed a commission right off the bat,” Shim said. “So the idea that you can take an issue, a topic, an agenda that really is important to you and you can research it and actually speculate about new ways of addressing it and use a program like this to really talk about the future is precisely the spirit of an award like this.” Stephen Sharpe is the editor of Texas Architect.
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