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v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s




Production of this book was made possible in part by support from Roger Fullington and a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.



think like an architect




v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s



Copyright © 2007 by the University of Texas Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Fourth paperback printing, 2009 Requests for permission to reproduce material from this work should be sent to: Permissions University of Texas Press P.O. Box 7819 Austin, TX 78713-7819

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Box, Hal. Think like an architect / Hal Box. — 1st ed.   p.  cm. — (Roger Fullington series in architecture) Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-292-71635-3 (cloth : alk. paper) isbn 978-0-292-71636-0 (alk. paper) 1. Architecture.  I. Title. na2550.b69  2007 720 — dc22 2006038758

 ∞ The paper used in this book meets the minimum requirements of ansi/niso z39.48-1992 (r1997) (Permanence of Paper).

frontispiece: San Nicolás Tolentino, Nonoalco, Hidalgo, Mexico, sixteenth design and typography by teresa w. wingfield

ii  |  think like an architect


to my love, eden

v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s





Preface ix Acknowledgments PART ONE


The Place


Aspirations 3


Dreaming and Seeing 11

three four five



Finding the Best Buildings 21 Exploring Ideas in Architecture 29 Has Architecture Left the Building? 49

The Ground Floor Making Architecture with an Architect 57


Becoming an Architect 69


Thinking Like an Architect: The Design Process 81

nine ten eleven twelve

Visualizing with Drawings and Models, Pencils and Computers 97 The Critique


Building Architecture: An Example 109 Adding Meaning 123


Making Design Decisions 133


Style, Taste, and Design Theory


v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s




The Upper Levels


Making Connections 161


Finding Possibilities 177 Reading List 187 Seeing List 193 Photo Credits 199 Index




think like an architect


If you want to make architecture rather

again. In response, I’ve written, for this

than just a building, you have three choices:

book, a group of letters to friends, col-

hire an architect, become an architect, or

leagues, and you readers about the process

learn to think like an architect. This book is

of making architecture. The letters describe

about all three; it addresses laypeople as

aspirations for architecture and their fulfill-

well as students, aficionados, builders,

ment. They give a history of how architec-

developers, building committees, educa-

ture became what it is today. They present

tors, and architects—and also those who

ways of understanding and creating archi-

want to become architects. It concerns how

tecture, and methods of arriving at the

successfully one makes investments and

multitude of decisions required to create

how gracefully people can live their lives.

good design.

My purpose is to communicate ways to

This exploration can be extended infi-

give the necessary care to designing build-

nitely from the Reading List and the Seeing

ings that’s needed to enhance the quality of

List provided. Both offer ways to explore

life for the people who live with them as

the intellectual, technical, and artistic

well as the environment around them.

aspects of architecture broadly, in depth,

Through the years, I’ve discussed relevant

and in actual experience—the real joy of

questions about architecture again and


v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s





My experience in writing this book has

the right track: to Anthony Alofsin for guid-

been a delight because of the many friends

ance and assessment of my view of history;

who helped me. For this I give heartfelt

to Michael Benedikt for years of enlarging

thanks to those who came to San Miguel to

my brain and for encouraging me in the

lead me through this work: to Bill Wittliff

final stages; to Eden Box, my wife of thirty

for his early encouragement and coaching

years and in-house editor who would tell

while sitting on a bench in the JardĂ­n; to

me when it was rotten or good; and a spe-

John Trimble for his encouragement, his

cial thanks to Joanne and James Pratt for

kind efforts on the Roof Terrace in teach-

their careful reading and wise advice on all

ing me to write, and his dedicated e-mails

manner of detail and philosophy as well as

of multitudes of refinements; to Betty Sue

for the past fifty years of working together.

Flowers for offering her wisdom in the

And for help in the final crafting of the

Portico on how to clarify and put my ran-

book at the School of Architecture, thanks

dom thoughts together; to John McLeod

to Sarah Hill, whose skillful help with the

for marking out the non-sense in my first

illustrations and permissions let me finish,

draft while we were at the beach. Many

and to Raquel Elizondo, who was always on

thanks to my friends in Austin who gave

hand to help, and to Elizabeth Schaub, of

their time and knowledge to keep me on

Visual Resources Collection, Charlotte

v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s



Pickett, photographer, and Nancy Sparrow

Many thanks to the dedicated people

of the Alexander Architectural Archive. I’m

I worked with at the University of Texas

also grateful to those who gave me permis-

Press, including Theresa May, who encour-

sion to use their photographs: Blake Alex-

aged me to submit a proposal; Jim Burr,

ander, Larry Doll, Sinclair Black, Lawrence

who sought to teach me how to put a book

Speck, Bill Cox, Greg Hursley, Baltazar

together; the readers who critiqued my

Korab, the archives of Pratt, Box and Hen-

early manuscript; Lawrence Kenney, who

derson, and especially the Visual Resource

edited and helped me clarify; and Teresa

Center of the School of Architecture, Uni-

Wingfield, who designed the book as you

versity of Texas at Austin.

see it.



think like an architect









That far land we dream about, Where every man is his own Architect. r o be r t br o w n i ng (1812 –1889)

Dear Martin: When you told us in your drawing class that we had to visit a building to appreciate it, I didn’t realize that it is the actual experiencing of architecture that reveals, personally, in real time, the essence of the art. I learned that even beyond design, construction, intellectual content, and real estate value, your actual experience of the architecture is what affects your senses. And most important, your way of life—for better or worse. True, your quality of life is largely determined by how the art of architecture and city planning have made the physical place you inhabit. The benefits of gracefulness created by design can be priceless. I can’t relay to you the experience of a work of architecture in this letter, but I will describe examples of how I experienced the architecture of two special places. aspirations



Exploring central Mexico with a client

cessful that when one of the key architects

left: Transparency and

in search of a site for a health spa, my wife

of the last century, Charles Moore, walked

ambiguity of landscape,

and I were invited to see a house that

through the house with an appraising eye,

structure, and glass.

might interest us because of its setting and

he looked back at the ethereal mass of

Casa Pani Cuernavaca,

its newly reduced price. At the end of a

landscape integrated with structured

Mexico, 1986.

long day, we reluctantly turned off the main

spaces and said, “Frank Lloyd Wright, eat

street and drove down a tree-lined drive

your heart out.”

paved with mosaic stones through an

Only from the garden could you see

right: Spatial illusion from inside to outside. Casa Pani

antique gate. It opened to reveal an extra-

the white stucco walls with large planes

ordinary progression of architectural space

of glass dappled with light from mature

made of carefully crafted indoor and out-

flowering trees. Because the house was set

door spaces that melded the building in to,

in a tropical garden of green, with a

and out of, the landscape. Skillfully exe-

sequence of fountains, ponds, and streams,

Plan of Casa Pani house and

cuted in the manner of the great Mexican

it was hard to tell what was outside and

garden. Cuernavaca, Mexico,

modernist Luis Barragán, it was so suc-

what was inside. The transitions between




the place

Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1986.

spaces were so subtle and the openings so

wife made a half-price offer to buy the

large that it seemed the house didn’t exist;

house. The seller laughed at the offer, and

the house denied being photographed. It

we went away simply enjoying the deep

was all transparency with a few walls modu-

feeling of having experienced a place of

lating the space. The purity of style in

wonder. A month later, though, our offer

Modernism was finessed with European

was accepted, and a new life in a foreign

antiques of various provenances in a man-

country where we didn’t speak the lan-

ner that seemed just right. The architecture,

guage had just begun.

garden, and interiors were by the noted

Compounding the experience of this

Mexican interior designer Arturo Pani. It

timeless Mesoamerican Spanish-Mexican

was the most beautiful house we had ever

culture, we drove our new Mexican car

Portion of the architectural

seen. It was not large but engaged us more

over the Paso de Cortez between the two

accretion built over four

deeply than the great historical houses—

great volcanoes in search of the sixteenth-

hundred years. El Señor de

a magical place in the world that more than

century churches of the Spanish friars. In

Sacromonte, Amecameca,

fulfilled every aspiration imaginable to us.

the village of Amecameca, where Cortez

Mexico, 1524 onward.

On impulse, my real estate executive

had said a mass for his small army as they moved toward the Aztecs, we sought the pilgrimage chapel of Sacromonte by spiraling up a small hill overlooking the village. This sacred place had been a cave for meditation by Fray Martín de Valencia, who arrived in 1524 as one of the first friars in the New World. As the cave became important, the village built a portico to define the entrance, and over the next three centuries the cave was expanded by sacred spaces of advancing size, chronologically growing through several styles into a hexagonal dome terminating in an unusual nineteenth-century forecourt portico.We were fascinated with this unique assemblage of time and stone. We bought a beer and a taco from a vendor in front of the church. The cold beer and warm blue corn taco filled with sautéed squash blossoms gave me a sensation that anchored me to this place. I identified with the architecture around me with such curiosity that within a few months I had formed a team of Earthwatch volunteers to aspirations



document the church with measured drawings and photographs—the first of many such places in all parts of Mexico that we documented over the next twelve summers. I had found a new way to appreciate architecture—from earthen caves to Modernism—in a continuum of ageless labors producing architecture that raised questions about what we architects are doing today. Does all architecture have to be by architects? The nonarchitect friars of New Spain and the native Mesoamerican stonecarvers created a dramatically effective piece of

schools of business and of engineering, or

Town of Amecameca and

work that borrowed from the buildings

they were in all walks of life, people who

mountain seen from under

they knew and the materials and technol-

simply built the facilities they needed. The

the sheltering portico. El

ogy available to them at that particular

reality of the other 95 percent was begin-

Señor de Sacromonte, Amec-

place. The buildings of the nearby village

ning to sink in.

ameca, Mexico.

were handsome indigenous buildings of

To improve the built environment, the

distinctive forms and textures that had cer-

nonarchitects who are building now will

tainly been built by nonarchitects—put

have to know more about the making of

together out of the earth with adobe bricks

architecture and actively aspire to it. In the

formed by the same hands that patted out

past, before architecture schools and pro-

their tortillas. The vitality and dignity of

fessional licensing, master builders

those walls were timeless.

received their training through apprentice-

Realizing that the buildings in this vil-

ships in the crafts of building; they gained

lage and most buildings in modern cities

further learning from the examples of

are built by nonarchitects, I became acutely

craftsmen before them, some of which

aware of the plain fact that professional

were the great buildings of the age, made

architects build only about 5 percent of

by builders who traveled across Europe to

what is built.

learn from the masters. Their building

I had been aware of the fact of that 5

crafts were in stone, brick, and wood— ear-

percent, but this scene, which I found so

lier they had used mud and reeds, and later

beautiful, caused me to realize that I had

they used iron, glass, and early forms of

spent most of my career educating young

concrete. Today, the designer’s vocabulary

men and women to be professional archi-

has a multitude of materials with which to

tects, signing hundreds of diplomas, and

work, including inexpensive, imitative,

had not reached the men and women who

ersatz materials. Because of this, the task

would actually be designing 95 percent of

of the nonarchitect builder of today is more

the buildings. They were over in the

complex: new materials, a demand for



the place

The need to build shelter is primal; building it as architecture endures as a quest for beauty that engages us personally at our core. As I said in the preface, to make architecture rather than just a building, you have three choices: hire an architect, become an architect, or learn to think like an architect as an enthusiastic, informed participant in the design of the places we think of as architecture. When I told my physics professor father, who at the moment was laying brick, that I had decided to become an architect, he looked up from his work and said, “Do you know the Greek orders, their columns: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian?” I said no and walked away to find the encyclopedia. At age fifteen, I had never even seen architecture or met an architect. I just liked to draw and make things. I never looked back, and architecture became my passion. I was hardly alone. A recent survey of fifteen-year-old American boys revealed that fully 25 percent of them wanted to be architects when they grew up. People of all ages tell me that they had once wanted to be an architect but decided otherwise for various reasons.

top: Section through cave,

speed and economy, and the lack of a good

crypt, sanctuary, and portico.

vernacular from which to work. So the dif-

El Señor de Sacromonte,

ference between today’s builders and build-

asked Michael Caine, who had just won an

Amecameca, Mexico.

ers of the past is that in the past there were

Oscar for Best Actor, what he would have

better models that were studied with more

done had he not gone into acting. Caine

Plan, El Señor de Sacra-

care and focus on the quality of the archi-

replied, “I would like to have been an

monte, Amecameca, Mexico.

tecture. I believe that the commercial and


residential nonarchitect builder, with an

In a television interview, James Lipton

How do we account for this interest in

aspiration toward architecture and atten-

architecture? Experiencing architecture

tion to detail, will be rewarded with an

gives us thrills—it stirs our emotions

improved product for a better position in

as only works of art can. We love to

the market—an excellent motivation. This

build things. We like to draw too. Lots of

book can be a beginning of that process.

people delight in planning projects and aspirations



visualizing ways to build them. We love to

The education of architects for the pro-

dream, to fantasize about designing and

fession involved half of my career. It was a

making things. We love to acquire things,

cause that I believed would make for better

to be artists, to put together complex orga-

architecture and better cities. Yet, as I

nizations. There’s a curiosity about archi-

became an emeritus professor and at the

tecture—a desire to experience architec-

same time moved to a 450-year-old moun-

ture, to anticipate it in an exotic setting, to

tain village in Mexico, I had a new look at

understand it as a work of art, to keep it in

the making of architecture.

our memory as a story, or to feel the thrill

My village, a solid mass of architecture-

of making it ourselves. It’s a way of creat-

without-architects, gained its special archi-

ing something from nothing, of bringing

tectural character from its many eigh-

order to things in a satisfying way. It’s a

teenth-century religious and public

way of helping people improve the way

buildings. The indigenous architecture

they live. It’s an art that rewards you and

built in local traditions supported a delight-

the community.

ful lifestyle in a visually satisfying whole.

Should you want to, you can be a profes-

This was a different world. It became

sional architect. The profession is indeed

clear that I had been educating only a small

a thrilling one. You could be an active

fraction of the people who design buildings,

enthusiast—someone with a passion for

because the fact is that nonarchitects, hold-

beautiful architecture but no interest in

ing no professional degree or license, build

designing it yourself. Or perhaps you could

almost all the buildings in the United States

be an architecture scholar—someone who

and probably everywhere else. The magni-

takes to architecture the way Civil War

tude of this fact is rarely acknowledged, but

buffs take to that history—and maybe even

nonarchitects are clearly the major force in

extend that interest into doctoral studies.

the making of buildings and cities. Street space formed by walls of residences and shops at the street edge in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2000.



the place

Houses set on a plane of grass with a street running through it. Residential street in United States.

Some nonarchitects excel at making

ments of thought and the arts come from

architecture, while others seek the benefits

the courage to try something, all sorts of

of a better product to sell. They produce

things, for the first time. An enamored

valuable products and come from many

amateur need not be a genius to stay out

professions, particularly engineering.

of ruts he has never been trained in. . . .

Those who aspire to make architecture

In the long run, the ruts wear away, and

rather than just building have the positive

adventuring amateurs reward us by a

quality of the amateur. I use the word ama-

wonderful vagrancy into the unexpected.”

teur in its original sense. The French word

Helping nonarchitects learn about

amare, meaning “to love,” is a root for the

architecture obviously deserves our atten-

word amateur. The amateur, “one who

tion. In this book I hope to bring knowl-

loves an activity,” will be a focus of this

edge and confidence to discerning non-

book because to do architecture well you

architects and to encourage them to take

have to love it. Amateur is an enthusiasti-

care to enhance the environment. Having

cally positive term; it is not used pejora-

worked with architects most of my life,

tively here. As I see it, the loving spirit of

I intend some of my thoughts to be for

the amateur is essential to good architec-

them as well.

ture, irrespective of professional degrees or licensure. Giving importance to this role of the

I hope to address these topics from a point of view that comes from a life as a practicing architect and dean of an

amateur, Daniel Boorstin, the eminent his-

architecture school, and with a background

torian, spoke eloquently on “the amateur

that begins as one of those fifteen-year-old

spirit.” He said, “The rewards and refresh-

boys who wanted to be an architect. aspirations






Your way of life is your ultimate bottom line.

Dear Gregory: When you ask, “How do we experience

overheard on

architecture in our imagination and in real-

th e un i v e r s i t y o f t exas camp us ,

ity?” you point to a fundamental of the dis-


cipline. Of course, it is our senses that are at work, yet before we can appreciate what we see, a fuller experience can be gained from information about the building, its setting, and the designer’s aspirations for the building. Dreaming happens. You dreamed as a child digging in a sandpile or making a fort on the playroom floor out of seat cushions, pillows, and sheets. You were making spaces and forms that you could see, feel, and maybe hear. You may imagine a dream house as you look through books and magazines. Your dreaming imagination is at work as you contemplate any building project. Dreaming is essential. Dreaming about d r e a m i ng a n d s e e i ng



seeing a place puts you in the action.

like fitness training for an athlete—it

Dreaming of being the architect of some-

determines your level of performance. Find

thing seems to express a deep personal

architecture that is known to be exceptional

desire to make something happen.

or that you personally connect with. Enjoy

Dreaming, in a disciplined sense, is

it by experiencing its spaces and finding its

visualization—the key to design and build-

delights, find its surprises. It may be a real

ing. Between the dream and the building

thriller; or it may be just good. Then, study

there are needs for skill and knowledge,

what you are experiencing by digging

but first and always you must focus on the

deeper: study plans and sections of the

Section cut through the nave

dream. The dream is the most important

building if published. Read about the

of the cathedral at Rheims

part of your effort. Have you ever watched

building’s purposes and how they were

shows the rib vaulting of the

children draw? They will often draw a


nave and side aisles.

house or a church in simple form with all

For example, in my preparation for

the appropriate iconography in place. Chil-

experiencing my first Gothic cathedral, I

dren have great imaginations; they make

examined the history of Rheims Cathedral

spaces out of cardboard boxes to enclose

in several sources. (Now you can Google

themselves and their friends. I watched in

it.) My reading reminded me that the kings

awe as a nine-year-old girl drew large,

of France had been crowned there, that it

detailed plans of her dream house with

suffered heavy damage in the Great War,

chalk all over her concrete driveway. With

and that it had recently been restored for

great enthusiasm she described all the

the glory of France. I also looked at cross-

rooms of the dream house, drawing furni-

section drawings of the nave to refresh my

ture, stairways, a second floor, and an attic,

mind about how the great weight of the

using considerable powers of visualization

structure could span the nave and be taken

and uninhibited drawing skill to express

to the ground with only stone upon stone.

her dream as a drawing.

The plan was the familiar form, yet it dem-

Seeing takes work. Vision produces over 80 percent of the information coming to us from our five senses— even more when

onstrated the complexity of the structure and the intricacy of the minor spaces. I began my actual seeing when I saw the

we are experiencing architecture. Yet it’s

great mass of medieval stonework gleam-

not automatic; seeing is a skill that

ing in the morning sun on the distant hori-

requires educated vision and perhaps new

zon like a ship. Approaching it, I followed

glasses. I mention that at the beginning of

the movement toward the great mass of

this chapter because poor vision is com-

stone that was growing closer and larger by

mon; I myself first saw clearly only after

standing up in our Volkswagen bus and

Plan of Notre Dame Cathe-

college. Confirming that you see clearly

looking out the sunroof. Arriving at the

dral of Rheims, France,

and distinctly will enhance your perception

site, we saw the façade rising out of a

shows the base of its skele-

and enjoyment.

strong, brightly lit ground plane with peo-

tal structure, ca. 400 –1300.

“Training your eye,” for a designer, is



the place

ple and color moving through it on a Sun-

left: A Gothic structural

day morning. I insisted we have coffee and

ing, try to learn why it was built and what its

triumph of sculpture and

a croissant within the aura of the façade so

function in the community was and is now, so

enclosure presents itself

I could analyze it before we went in. Mov-

you can understand it socially before you

at Rheims.

ing into the sacred space through the great

begin your physical understanding. Note,

portal amid a miraculous cacophony of

too, how it relates to its neighbors—

center: Significant urban

bells, I walked slowly down the left aisle

the buildings and activities around it.

scale presented by Notre

while the choir’s recessional moved in the

Dame Cathedral of Rheims.

opposite direction up the center nave, sing-

up as you walk around. Much of the archi-

ing a hymn based on Dvorak’s New World.

tect’s effort is above eye level. See how the

right: Spatial progression

Just as I reached the transept and looked

light hits the surfaces. Notice the shape of

of walking through the rib-

up to the glorious bright circle of stained

the shadows. Notice the number of layers

structured nave of the cathe-

glass and stone tracery, the huge chancel

in the façade, starting with the layers of

dral at Rheims.

organ burst forth with Widor’s Toccata. It

mass closest to you and receding to the

was so overwhelming that my knees buck-

window glass. Focus, in turn, on color,

led, and I was brought to tears by the

form, texture, proportion, rhythm, silhou-

beauty. It was far better than the dream—

ette, mass. Look only for form for a bit,

I was almost literally “transported.” That’s

then look only for proportion, then the

experiencing architecture. That’s the way of

other elements of design— each in its own



second, raise your normal view and look

How do you learn to see places and

third, sense the space by the size and

sense spaces? Let me suggest ten ways to

shape of the spaces, how they sound as you

explore and understand a building.

speak, and how the light slides in and

first, as you begin to experience a build-

bounces around. Sense the space formed

d r e a m i ng a n d s e e i ng



far left: Light, shade, and shadow express form, making ornament at the Quadrangle, Dallas, Texas, 1964.

Layers start at the glass and progress forward through each plane and molding edge of the window of Casa Canal, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, ca. 1850.

by the building outside, and, as you go

sensed to be fully appreciated. You can’t

inside, see also how the spaces relate to

hold architecture like a book in your lap.

each other and transition from one to

You need to experience it full size. But

another. Architecture being the art of

when you can’t travel to the building and

space, it cannot be fully communicated in

must rely on pictures and words, take time

pictures, drawings, or words but must be

to let your imagination make it real to you. far left: A post and lintel structure has columns in compression and beams in bending. Marsh House, by author, Austin, Texas, 1978.

top right: Spaces of Casa Pani progress along the straight line of an enfilade.

Follow gravity as it pulls the weight of the wall above, around the arch, and down the wall and column to the foundation in the earth. Lindos, Greece, 1983.



the place

working. Are they in compression (pressing down) or tension (pulling apart like cables)? Heavy and massive? Light and airy? Are the materials hard or soft? Rough or smooth? Opaque or transparent? Solid or void? Reflective or dull? Man-made or natural? Warm or cold? Are they local or exotic? What colors are they? What texture? What ideas do they conjure up for you? Are they permanent or transient? Fragile or strong? Common or extraordinary? sixth, determine how the building was constructed. Is it steel frame or concrete frame? Stone masonry laid by hand or precast concrete panels installed by machine? Wood framing with thin masonry veneer or thick, load-bearing masonry? Metal or glass Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantile-

fourth, train your eye to understand the

panels? Exposed structure with curtain

ver is made possible by the

structure of the building you are seeing.

walls or a solid mass? Was the building just

tensile materials of the twen-

How is gravity pulling down on the build-

well built or was it, in fact, exactingly

tieth century at Fallingwater,

ing? How is the structure itself keeping the

crafted—that is, did individual craftsmen

Bear Run, Pennsylvania,

materials in place?

lavish their special art on the building?


fifth, determine how the materials are

seventh, examine the historical prece-

Tension structure of Santiago Calatrava spans the Guadalquivir River in Seville, Spain, 1992.

d r e a m i ng a n d s e e i ng



dents of the architecture you are seeing.

Francesco Borromini’s

This fascinating question, the subject of

Baroque church St. Ivo is

entire libraries, is the basis of an important

in a long line of prece-

academic discipline in itself. You will find

dents. Rome, 1642.

that history is the source, whether you are going to look only at this century, as is the wont of Modernists, or at the eight thousand years of humans’ efforts at creating habitat. Historic architecture was eliminated from the academic design studio after World War II, but, as you will find, architectural history gives design its direction and meaning—gives us the cultural antecedents of the building’s form, the materials and techniques, as well as the decorative arts. A whole world of architectural history and anthropology is ours to learn from, even though many designers have avoided it. Rhythms of an arcade dominate the composition in the Stockholm City Hall, Ragnar Ostberg, 1911.



the place

Lines of alignment help

eighth, analyze the composition, the

compose and organize

proportions, the rhythms of what you’re see-

special. Beyond seeing and understanding

objects, solids, and voids.

ing. What relates to what? What lines up?

the architecture, visit some construction

Taj Mahal, Agra, India,

What vectors of force do you see in the

sites and see how architecture is built. You

1630 –1653.

composition? Is it a classical composition

will see that it’s a rather primitive opera-

having a well-defined bottom, middle, and

tion, not like a manufacturing plant turn-

top? What are the colors and textures

ing out repetitive products with machines.

doing to each other? What are the qualities

Each building is unique. The joys of con-

of light and shadow? What spaces have

struction are many. One is the thrill of see-

been formed? How do they feel to you as

ing the space you have imagined that’s just

you move through them? Do they give

been created by the structure and how the


sun hits it. Another is the interaction with

ninth, observe the appropriateness of the

tenth, analyze what makes this building

the many workmen and craftsmen actually

building in terms of its setting. Does it

doing the construction. Fine workmanship

complement that which is around it, be it

may offer the most satisfaction for you, the

natural landscape or urban form? It had to

client, and the craftsman. I once asked an

take the place of something. Is it as good as

elderly carpenter laying a hardwood floor

what was there before? Has it improved the

to help me make the transition between

beauty or meaning of the setting?

two rooms really special and gave him a rather complex integrating pattern of inlays within a rectangle to visually connect the two rooms. He took my drawing home to work on it, and when I saw the design installed I was as thrilled with his execution as he was. It was a handsome addition to the building. Some months later I received a letter from his wife saying that he had died but that he was pleased that he had built one beautiful thing in his life. Each construction site seems to have its own culture. On some jobs there will be a close-knit team that works together from

Intervention of the Modern-

beginning to end. Others will have a num-

ist, Stadthaus, Richard

ber of subcontractors who aren’t connected

Meyer & Partners. Ulm,

except insofar as they are parts of the job

Germany, 1993.

and who arrive in trucks and then depart for lunch and for the evening— each group a specialist. The sound of the job is a mix of rock ’n’ roll for the carpenters, country d r e a m i ng a n d s e e i ng



and western for the masons, and ranchero

masons, and returned to the building in

music for the tile setters. There are no

solemn fashion, where it’s placed in a

hammering sounds anymore; nail guns

prominent spot on top of the ongoing

work on compressed air and sound like

product of their labors. After that, the fami-

chuk. If it is wood-frame construction, the

lies of the workers arrive and a lengthy

smell of freshly cut wood gives a special

party ensues. At my first such party as

aura to the place.

architect-owner, the crew dug a roasting pit

By tradition, when the frame of the

in one corner of the living room, slaugh-

building is “topped out,” workers place a

tered a pig in another corner, and bar-

fir tree on the roof.

bequed the pig all afternoon while enjoying

On a construction site in Mexico, there will be no sound of hammering and sawing

the beer and music. Get permission to go on a construction

because wood is too expensive to use. The

site and take some time to see how things

buildings there are of masonry—brick,

go together, how various construction

stone, concrete, rubble— or some version

trades work, how the craftsmen work their

of adobe. The sound is the chink, chink,

materials; see how all the trades coordinate

chink of hand chiseling on masonry or carv-

the construction of a one-of-a-kind

ing on stone. The smell of the job is the


smell of food cooking for almuerzo, which

My favorite professor, Martin Kermacy,

is cooked and eaten communally around a

once asked us, “How can you design a

charcoal fire that heats each person’s meal.

great building if you’ve never seen one?”

The men often play cards, and lunchtime is

Examine the Reading List I’ve appended to

a precise one-hour recess. The workers are

this book. It’s not an academic list, but

usually the extended family of the maestro,

rather one that I think is useful to anyone

or job superintendent, as was the case on a

who wants to participate in the making of

recent job of mine where the maestro’s

architecture. I have also been bold enough

father drove the truck, his grandparents

to list the architecture that I think is most

were the night watchmen, his brother was a

important both to see and experience in

mason, and his ten-year-old son sold Cokes

real life. You’ll find those buildings in my

and candies on nonschool days. Cousins

Seeing List.

and uncles were also spread out in the job.

Go see the great architecture, and on

The architect, who is usually the contractor,

the way see also the minor architecture you

visits the job daily and personally brings the

admire. For architecture you are unable to

weekly payroll to the job site.

visit, go to the library, bookstore, or the

When a building is “topped out” in

Web, where there is a tremendous amount

Mexico, a handmade cross decorated with

of information. Find well-known examples

ribbons and flowers is taken by the work

and study them in plan, section, and pho-

crew in procession to be blessed in the

tographs. As part of such study, it’s useful

church of Santa Anna, patron saint of

to draw sketches, even to trace a drawing,



the place

to help you understand the building. This

It gives a building an aura wood can

also helps you learn to draw. Filling your

never do.”

memory with images and ideas of great

The question is, How do you inform

architecture gives you something to work

your dreams, give them rich backgrounds,

from, and like learning a piece of music or

lead them along, and elaborate on them?

a poem, you get to participate in the art.

One answer is to build a memory bank of

Fourteen-year-old Alex Pratt responded to a

architecture through a lot of seeing. The

great building with these lines in her diary:

architect Charles Moore, formerly dean of

“If you ever want to witness what looks like

architecture at Yale, department chair at

a piece of Heaven, or at least something

Berkeley and UCLA, and then professor at

holy-looking, go to the Pantheon on a

the University of Texas, described his

sunny day . . . there is a vastness and great-

approach to architectural education as

ness which you must grasp . . . you must

“taking students to see places and listen

then realize what stone is like. It is cold,

to people.” Seeing and understanding

hard and it makes things very dark. This

through travel, reading, drawing, theoriz-

adds to the grandeur of a building . . . [and

ing, contemplation, and conversation make

to] a building’s sense of timelessness.

the key—but the most important learning

Stone makes everything seem so old.

comes from seeing.

d r e a m i ng a n d s e e i ng






The surest test of the civilization of a people . . . is to be found in their architecture, which

Dear Mr. Kenneth: I agree that what we call architecture is

presents so noble a field for the display of

rare and that excellent architecture is even

the grand and the beautiful, and . . . is so

rarer. On our tours we had to search for the

intimately connected with the essential

few buildings to admire. A lot of the archi-

comforts of life.

tecture we admire exists because it had a

w i l l i a m h . pr e s co t t

long, productive life, making it also an

(1796 –1859)

excellent investment. Some of the great architecture is in ruins but remains valued because of its history. To experience architecture requires effort, but because the high points of a civilization are often expressed in its architecture, the search for a region’s best buildings is rewarding on many levels, sensual and intellectual. In search of the best buildings, I began the requisite architectural tour of Western civilization, traveling and camping in a Volkswagen bus over two six-month f i n d i ng t h e b e s t b u i l d i ng s



periods in 1964 and 1967. I had been

history until the Renaissance. Professions,

removed from architecture while in the

as we know them, didn’t come into being

Navy and had had a few years as a practic-

until the mid-nineteenth century—well

ing architect. I wanted to experience the

after what I think are the best buildings

new modern buildings we had studied in

had been built.

school and while abroad, look around at

Some say that the essence of wonderful

the old buildings we had read about in our

architecture comes to life in the passion of

architectural history courses. I remember

the architect—amateur or professional.

the shock of discovering that the modern

The “passion to build,” shared with a king,

buildings appeared to be architecturally

emperor, or pope or, now, a corporate, insti-

impoverished compared to the buildings of

tutional, or individual client, is the force

earlier epochs. Basically, I decided they

that creates great architecture. Or maybe

lacked content. After months of exploring

not. Sometimes the passion is only for

Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Switzer-

building at the least cost and sometimes

land, Germany, and Austria, I felt that I

the professional or amateur, however

had been deceived.

enthusiastic, proves inadequate to the task.

The historic architecture excelled in all

But the building happens anyway, no mat-

categories, as I saw it. I felt compelled to

ter what its objective or the skill level of the

question Modernism; it was simply not

maker, and the world either rejoices or

equal to what was there before. Not even

bows its head in shame— or worse, seems

close. Nothing compared with the Gothic

to be indifferent.

architecture I was experiencing. The Baroque, Renaissance, and Neoclassical architecture that made up the historic cities shone boldly as works of art, while most modern buildings looked starkly inadequate— often cheap and out of place. This all took a while for me to assimilate, but it was clear that the historic buildings had greatness and that many of these buildings had been designed and built by extraordinarily skilled and inspired builders who did not fit our current model of an architect. Clearly, some of the best buildings are by architects without professional degrees or licenses. Designers of the best buildings learned from other buildings and as

Roman Temple of Jupiter in

apprentices; most were never named in

Baalbek, Lebanon, ca. 15 BC.



the place

teenth-century architect of Turkish mosques, was also given recognition as an individual architect. Nonarchitect building projects today sometimes enjoy the care of an amateur architect and succeed beautifully. Of course, many burst forth thoughtlessly aloof to the idea of architecture, blindly built solely for immediate needs by a default amateur architect (here I’m using the word in its negative sense). Thoughtlessness is the worst sin. If the thoughtless builder became an informed, sensitive amateur, everyone would benefit. Today, laws restrict our use of the title

While most buildings are built without

Filippo Brunelleschi built the

architect, although the great buildings of

the involvement of professional architects,

dome of Santa Maria del

history were designed and built by genius

most never aspire to be architecture—that

Fiore in Florence, Italy,

talents without a license. The title architect

is, artful. Some buildings, perhaps most,


has been used to connote dignity in many

are conceived as merchandise for sale as

cultures. There have been court architects,

real-estate development or as thoughtless

priest architects, and gentleman architects.

functional buildings pretending to be invis-

These impassioned builders were not

ible, “just happening,” because they are

licensed or certified by academic degrees.

needed immediately for business or hous-

Some Roman and Greek architects had the

ing or government. A very few building

authorship of their work on record. The

projects involve architects, and unfortu-

medieval architects who designed and built

nately not even all of those, or even most,

the great Gothic cathedrals were rarely

are visual assets to the community. In a dif-

known by name. Others were paid for their

ferent business and cultural setting, how-

construction skills rather than their design

ever, there are buildings, like those in pre-

skills, so they fit the positive aspects of

industrial, Third World areas using

“amateur,” which I’ll call them just for the

traditional forms, that can be so sensible,

purposes of this chapter, even though they

strong, and right that they are a visual

built some of history’s greatest architec-

delight—and they exist without the benefit

ture. Beginning again in the fifteenth cen-

of any architect’s involvement and only

tury, with Filippo Brunelleschi and his

through a common knowledge of building

accomplishment in building the extraordi-

(of course when that knowledge was

nary dome of Florence’s landmark cathe-


The Renaissance architect

dral (the Duomo), the individual architects were named. Mimar Koca Sinan, a six-

The word amateur, now corrupted by common usage to mean “unprofessional”

f i n d i ng t h e b e s t b u i l d i ng s



or, worse still, a “dabbler,” once conveyed

ency—important values, yes, but easily for-

the same meaning as the Spanish word afi-

gotten by the building’s occupants or pass-

cionado, meaning “someone who has a fer-

ersby, whose quality of life will be either

vent interest in and appreciation of some-

enhanced or diminished by the building

thing.” The spirit of the enthusiast engages

for decades or centuries.

here as well. You’ll notice that my defini-

Envisioning a new house for the family

tion is broad enough to allow even profes-

or working on a committee with profes-

sional architects to qualify as people willing

sional architects planning a school or new

to take risks to satisfy their desire to create

corporate headquarters requires an

something bigger than life, and perhaps

informed, passionate, actively involved cli-

take a larger risk of personally investing in

ent, an aficionado. The old truism “Archi-

it or even living in it. I’m pleased to be an

tecture is no better than its client” pays

amateur flutist and a professional architect

homage to the client’s critical importance.

who performs with amateur and profes-

When that client is an informed amateur,

sional musicians. You may be an amateur

able to communicate and collaborate with

architect and, for instance, a professional

constancy and tenacity, the prospects for

lawyer working on a building.

good architecture soar.

Being an amateur architect who builds

I think the amateur is important to

carries gratifications such as being in love

enhancing the discipline of architecture as

with what you are doing as well as being

well as being a creative leading edge, a crit-

able to work with technology and construc-

ical spokesman, a patron who is more con-

tion, where, in the process, you fulfill your-

cerned about the art of architecture than

self. Effective amateurs improve homes,

some academics and professional archi-

public buildings, neighborhoods, and cities

tects. You may feel unqualified to serve in

by educating themselves, by being involved

any of these roles, most especially that of a

in the design process, and by being respon-

creative leading edge. But I plan to show

sible citizens helping make good design

you that even that role is realistic and criti-

decisions in their community. Being a cor-

cally needed.

porate or politically appointed client for a

Even though every building can be cre-

public building is an opportunity to play a

ated as architecture, some buildings, by

critical role by learning, through reading

their place in the world, have a responsibil-

and travel, how to make intelligent and

ity to be architecture. Public buildings,

sensitive design decisions. There are too

high-visibility buildings, symbolic build-

many accountants, engineers, government

ings—all have a broad influence generated

officials, and executives, on building com-

by the quality of their design. Don’t you

mittees, for example, who have not devel-

think that when more buildings seek to be

oped the architectural literacy to make

architecture, a more beautiful city evolves,

such important decisions. They tend to

our quality of life improves, and values of

use, as their sole guide, cost and expedi-

all sorts soar beyond the ordinary?



the place

While thrills for the amateur may come from doing something to the best of his or her abilities, the quality of the end result

how your building would fit into the landscape or the streetscape? 7. When you put pencil to paper to de-

will require enough self-criticism to refine

scribe an architectural idea, do you get

and nurture initial conceptions of propor-

excited about getting it down so that

tion, scale, composition, and other elements of the design. This requires that you

you can understand it and explore it? 8. Have you found yourself engaged in

lavish a great deal of time on making

building projects that are so important

thoughtful design decisions. There will, in

to you that they overwhelm you and

fact, be thousands of them. For many of us, refining the design becomes one of the

give you goosebumps? 9. Does your collection of books on archi-

main delights. And it offers the opportu-

tecture, cities, landscape, and interiors

nity for artistic growth for both amateurs

outnumber your other books?

and professionals. I hope I have established the importance of the amateur. I want to offer a test

10. Do you think about what you might have done, or might do, as an architect?

to see if you might be a dedicated amateur. Try these questions:

If these thoughts stir you, particularly the first five questions, you are definitely

1. Do you travel to see the great build-

an aficionado, an amateur. I want to give

ings and cities of the world and enjoy

your role of amateur both dignity and

discovering wonder-filled exotic places

respect, helping fan an enthusiasm into a

where people seem to live in a work of

passion that has the power to make better


architecture as well as better cities and

2. Do you keep a clip file of magazine

neighborhoods. Now, if you responded pos-

photos showing beautiful rooms you

itively to the last five questions as well, you

like and would enjoy incorporating

might consider becoming an architect and

someday in a place of your own

read that chapter carefully.

design? 3. Do you think about ways to make your

Truly grand projects, those magnificent works done for a king, priest, pope, bishop,

city and neighborhood more

or emperor or for a landlord, industrialist,


or philanthropist, were each made by an

4. Do you like to make things?

experienced master builder, an Archi (chief )

5. When you look at a piece of land, do

-tecton (builder), or Architecton, the basis

you sometimes imagine building

for our word architect. The chief, or master,

something on it and imagine what it

builder trained for his work just as an ama-

would be like to be there?

teur would—by working with more experi-

6. Do you get giddy just thinking about what you could see from the rooms or

enced master builders and by traveling, drawing, reading, and gaining knowledge

f i n d i ng t h e b e s t b u i l d i ng s



great volume of building, and new archi-

Master builders designed

tectural theories emerged. Capitalism

and built Gothic cathedrals

looked at capital and returns rather than at

by learning from other mas-

beauty and art. And Modernism offered

ters and their examples.

the new professionals what seemed an

St. Maclou, Rouen, France,

exciting path to a brave new world.

1435 –1521.

Today, only those who are certified by the state can use the title architect. In the United States, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) created a tradition whereby it was deemed unethical for an architect to build the architecture he or she designed, reasoning that it created a conflict of interest in representing the client. That stricture, making it unethical to build what one designed, eliminated the “builder” component of the word architect as chief builder. Other countries, meanwhile, continued the older tradition. Fortuand skill. Until the mid-nineteenth century,

nately, in the late 1970s, the AIA revised its

the “schools” of architecture were the near-

ethics to again allow architects to build

est buildings under construction or the

their own work, provided they sign a thor-

architecture within traveling distance of the

ough non-conflict-of-interest clause. Unfor-

aspiring (amateur) builder-architect.

tunately, the tradition of design-but-not-

The traditional professional, a specialist

build had already been established. With

having skill and experience in a particular

this change the U.S. architect can again be

activity, differed from the amateur only in

a master builder, and the AIA now pro-

that he was paid for his work. Architects,

vides contract documents for such work,

doctors, and lawyers did not come into

although in many building types the tech-

being as professionals certified by the state

nology has become so complex that the

and practicing a profession until the nine-

design process requires the help of a team

teenth century. I find it curious that by that

of professionals.

time most of the great buildings of the

Even without building anything, the

world had already been built, and due to

amateur can get some of the greatest plea-

other circumstances the general quality of

sures of the art by experiencing wonderful

architecture had begun to decline. Forces

architecture—by seeing and by being in a

such as the industrial revolution had

space and moving through it. Experiencing

brought new technology; increasingly,

architecture is one of the major reasons

rapid growth and expansion had caused a

people travel. They want to see the wonders



the place

A special place to learn

of the world that various cultures have cre-

looking up into the great vertical dome;

ated. It’s also a way of “seeing” the past.

I wanted them to watch as the concentric

By experiencing architecture, I mean

rings of balconies moved to reveal the Lone

using all the senses. Start with looking, of

Star at the top of the dome, and then see it

course, but don’t forget listening, moving,

eclipsed as their motion continued. I also

touching, sometimes even smelling, and if

insisted that students visit Louis I. Kahn’s

there is food, sitting down and enjoying

Kimbell Museum for as many hours and as

both flavors and ambience. Enhancing the

often as they could. A Greek colleague of

enjoyment of the senses, the experience

mine was told by his Athenian teachers to

can be greatly improved by knowing the

spend three hours a week at the Acropolis.

building intellectually, by learning its his-

When I experience a place several times, a

tory and social purpose; and of course, as

kind of cumulative effect happens, just as

an architect would, by studying it in plan

in listening to music or looking at paint-

and section to understand its anatomy.

ings—the senses acquire a familiarity, an

When I was teaching architecture, I

appreciation, a memory of the experience,

architecture is in Louis I.

insisted that my students walk slowly along

a knowing of the art. I like to spend time to

Kahn’s Kimbell Museum in

the main axis of the nineteenth-century

get to know them. During my family’s six-

Fort Worth, Texas, 1973.

Texas state capitol building with their eyes

month architectural tour, we camped for a

f i n d i ng t h e b e s t b u i l d i ng s



week in Florence on a hill overlooking Brunelleschi’s dome. One morning, my twelve-year-old son, Rick, and I walked up the hill to San Miniato al Monte and sat for a long time on a low wall, looking intensely at its magnificent marble façade. I showed him how to analyze the façade’s composition and how to explore its complex interior spaces, an experience that may have contributed to his eventually becoming an architect. Amateurs who love and demand good architecture are sorely needed. We need people who so love good architecture that they will demand it in all buildings, especially the public buildings that give form to our cities. We need amateur architects who

fully, the thoughtless amateur will become

San Miniato al Monte offers

themselves, with help, can create good

aesthetically responsible. The best profes-

basic lessons in composi-

buildings. We want to remember that most

sionals will continue to be “amateurs.” I

tion. Florence, Italy, ca.

of the world’s buildings are still built by

would like to encourage the thoughtful

1000 –1288.

amateurs—both the loving, thoughtful

amateur and help him or her excel and

amateurs and the thoughtless ones. Hope-

succeed through their love of architecture.



the place



Dear James,

We all see more of architecture than of any other art. Every street is a gallery of architects’

You’re right. Architecture is not a static


art. It is always changing. And each

c . e . m o n ta gue

designer has his or her individual approach,


formed by experience and education. You and I began architecture school at the time of two significant changes. One was the fresh new ideas and objectives that surfaced at the end of World War II, when people were ready for a new start and well-traveled veterans returned to college. The other was the revolutionary ideals of Modernism that were replacing the traditional training of architects—the design styles taught by the influential Ecole des Beaux-Arts. This exciting period in architecture and architectural education would create a new kind of architect and architecture. Every-

e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



thing was new. Our professors had been

tecture—and so many opinions about

educated in the Beaux Arts, so they too

architecture held by people who love it—

were new to Modernism. Both professors

that I suggest starting with the common

and students could now happily avoid

definition from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate

teaching and learning the tedious old theo-

Dictionary, Eleventh Edition:

ries, designs, and skills of the various styles and invent something new. I had

1. The art or science of building; Specif. :

started college at age fourteen and was as

the art or practice of designing and

impressionable as one could get in this

building structures and esp. habitable

milieu. But my apprenticeship with O’Neil

ones; 2 a : formation or construction as

Ford, the early definer of Southwest

or as the result of conscious act <The —

Regionalism and explorer of Modernism,

of the garden>; b : a unifying cohesive

helped me find my own path near his. This

form or structure <the novel lacks — >;

experience gave me a Modernist education

3 : architectural product or work; 4 : a

but with a strong feeling for place—leav-

method or style of building.

ing me more a Regionalist than a Modernist. Observing the profession of architec-

My favorite definition of architecture is

ture from a career spanning some fifty

in Nikolaus Pevsner’s introduction to his

years, I see its changes as a continuous

An Outline of European Architecture (1943):

stream of development but moving at glacial speed compared to the technology

A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln

around us.

Cathedral is a piece of architecture.

What is architecture all about today?

Nearly everything that encloses space

How did most of it get to be so, well, unap-

on a scale sufficient for a human being

pealing? What happened to the kind of

to move in is a building; the term

architecture we value in the historic build-

architecture applies only to buildings

ings we so revere? Where are the orna-

designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.

ment, symbolism, mythology, romance,

Now aesthetic sensations may be caused

human scale, and proportions that we still

by a building in three different ways.

enjoy? Why are so many public and com-

First, they may be produced by the

mercial buildings as well as millions of

treatment of walls, proportions of win-

individual houses so, excuse the expres-

dows, the relation of wall-space to

sion, ugly? Is it really enough for a build-

window-space, of one storey to another,

ing to be only functional, economical, or

of ornamentation such as the tracery of

Green? Fortunately, here and there we can

a fourteenth-century window, or the leaf

still find wonderful new architecture that

and fruit garlands of a Wren porch.

seems just right. So, what is architecture

Secondly, the treatment of the exterior

and what is not?

of a building as a whole is aesthetically

There are so many definitions of archi-



the place

significant, its contrast of block against

block, the effect of a pitched or flat roof

To those definitions let me add some his-

or a dome, the rhythm of projections

torical perspective to the current scene to

and recessions. Thirdly, there is the

help you appreciate where we are in the

effect on our senses of the treatment of

evolving art of architecture. A dramatic

the interior, the sequence of rooms, the

change of design direction consumed archi-

widening out of a nave at the crossing,

tects at the beginning of the twentieth cen-

the stately movement of a Baroque

tury. The new concepts, which were in full

staircase. The first of these three ways is

force by the time I entered architecture

two-dimensional; it is the painter’s way.

school in 1946, meant that all of the tradi-

The second is the three-dimensional,

tional studies of classical proportions, orna-

and as it treats the building as volume,

ment, and different styles had been aban-

as a plastic unit, it is the sculptor’s way.

doned. We were told that we must create

The third is the three-dimensional too,

our designs with absolutely no preconcep-

but it concerns space; it is the architect’s

tions, to start with a clean piece of paper—

own way more than the others.

innovate. Theoretically it was a clean slate, yet on that slate would be only Modernism

What distinguishes architecture from painting and sculpture is its spatial

in an ideology rarely questioned by archi-

quality. In this, and only in this, no other

tects for almost a hundred years now. But

artist can emulate the architect. Thus

this design freedom proved to be a tall order

the history of architecture is primarily a

for the nongenius 99.99999 percent of us

history of man shaping space, and the

designing the world’s buildings.

historian must keep spatial problems

Using only new ideas obviously left

always in the foreground. This is why

architects without a tradition to work from

no book on architecture, however

and left nonarchitects without a useful

popular its presentation may be, can be

guide. Innovation became the only design

successful without ground plans. But

direction respected or condoned by our

architecture, though primarily spatial, is

teachers, and only innovation was news-

not exclusively spatial. In every building,

worthy in the architectural press. To not

besides enclosing space, the architect

innovate was to be derivative; everything

models volume and plans surface, i.e.,

had to be new, starting from near zero with

designs an exterior and sets out indi-

each project. This conceptual blinder con-

vidual walls. That means that the good

tinues to distort most of today’s architec-

architect requires the sculptor’s and the

ture, subordinating all other aesthetic val-

painter’s modes of vision in addition

ues to the quest for innovation, “the New.”

to his own spatial imagination. Thus architecture is the most comprehensive

Modernism had begun two generations

of all visual arts and has a right to claim

before mine in progressive circles in West-

superiority over the others.

ern Europe. By the end of World War II it had replaced the monolithic doctrines of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts on which much e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



The Neoclassic Battle Hall Architecture and Planning Library by Cass Gilbert was built in the same decade as the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius. Austin, University of Texas, 1917.

Antonio GaudĂ­â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Casa Mila presented Modernismo in contrast to Modernism, in Barcelona, Spain, 1910.



the place

Fallingwater was Frank Lloyd Wright’s response to Modernism at Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1936 –1938.

of academic architectural education had been founded. The great new freedom proved a relief to everyone, students as well as teachers, for architecture felt like a stimulating and open new world to explore. Reinforcing the movement were plenty of new books and magazines full of the new ideas. There were only a few rules to follow, the chief one being “Form follows function.” The previous discipline was thrown out along with the plaster casts of ornament and moldings that students had previously drawn to learn how light defines surfaces. The classical sourcebooks, such as Giacomo da Vignola’s, had been put on the top shelf to gather dust, their place taken by books on the “modern masters.” Ideas and images were changing so fast that some journals and magazines were carrying the message more than

Eliel Saarinen developed

books. The art of architecture had under-

regional expression in the

gone an intellectual makeover. Do we won-

National Museum of Finland

der why we see so much inept detailing

and later came to America to

trying to imitate the classical?

produce a classic learning

Enormous diversity in design was possi-

environment in the Cran-

ble; many divergent philosophies and idi-

brook Schools. Helsinki,

omatic expressions typified the excitement,


and confusion, as the new era began. The major forces, each of which could have provided the direction for the new era, were, in my mind, these seven legendary figures: Antonio Gaudí (1852 –1926), Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), Eliel Saarinen (1873– 1950), Gunnar Asplund (1885–1940), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 –1969), Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, Le Corbusier (1887–1965), and Alvar Aalto (1898 –1976). One could make a case for following the lead of each of these genius architects, and one could even visualize how architecture e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Chapel shows classic precedents of form and proportion to establish the desired character. Ornamental column capitals were stripped away as in many early examples of Modernism. Stockholm, 1918.

The human scale of Alvar Aalto’s brick forms in the Saynatsalo Town Hall has provided a memorable architectural image for decades. Saynatsalo, Finland, 1949.

The simplicity of the planes in the composition of Mies van der Rohe’s “Barcelona Pavilion,” characterized as one of the two dominant icons of Modernism. Barcelona, Spain, 1929, demolished 1930, shown here as rebuilt in 1959.



the place

The sculpture on stilts of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy was the other dominant icon of Modernism, often emulated. Poissy, France, 1928.

might have proceeded had that architect’s

ism, by definition, is a self-conscious break

influence been dominant.

with the past and a search for new forms of

The groundswell of Modernism covered

expression—an aesthetic introduced as “the

up the spectacular earlier work of other

International Style,” which was the contro-

promising modern movements: the Mod-

versial name given to Modernism by Henry

ernismo of Barcelona, the Secessionist of

Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson.

Vienna, the Art Nouveau and, later, Art

In the midst of these great architects

Deco of Paris, and all the others. Modern-

was Walter Gropius (1883–1969), founder of an influential school that proposed a

The Bauhaus school sought to abandon the influences of history. Dessau, Germany, 1919.

new kind of design education, one that turned its back on history. The Bauhaus in Germany (1919 –1933) began as a design school for industrial production and later included architecture in the new aesthetic of Modernism developing from the de Stijl group of Dutch artists and Russian Constuctivism. Gropius then came to Harvard in 1937 to aid Joseph Hudnut in begetting a new model of architectural education in the United States—a doctrine which other e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



schools either paid close attention to or

At this point I need to introduce another

emulated directly. Gropius urged his stu-

concept, that of Regionalism—a different

dents, “Don’t look back,” and architecture

direction from International Style. Region-

was turned upside down through the edu-

alism challenged the lack of human

cation of young architects who looked to

dimension in Modernism. While keeping

the new heroes of Modernism rather than

up-to-date with technology, Regionalism

to the world before. Harvard’s Graduate

demanded some adjustment of the Inter-

Center, designed by Gropius at that time,

national Style to fit the regional, more

now seems out of place as a building that

localized cultural and environmental char-

didn’t look back.

acteristics that Modernists, in their zeal,

Actually, there was a lot more going on

meant to ignore. Regionalism can be

in the beginnings of Modernism before the

romantic or nostalgic because it doesn’t

dominance of the Bauhaus-Harvard philos-

dogmatically exclude those warm, human

ophies. I urge you to enjoy some of the doc-

emotions. As its very name implies, it

umentation of the era found in my Reading

emphasizes place—the particulars of a geo-

List. Here, though, I hope to explain the

graphic or cultural region. Its determinants

various influences and directions in Mod-

are the particulars of climate, especially

ernism as well as how they affected the

extremes of hot or cold, sunny or cloudy,

education of architects, who have, for the

wet or dry, as well as particular traditions:

past seventy years, led both other architects

social traditions and lifestyles, construction

and nonarchitects to design what makes up

traditions, dwelling types, patterns of

most of what you see in American cities.

urban life, and, of course, available local

With Modernism in total command of

materials and crafts that are both practical

architectural education by the mid-1940s,

and visually appropriate for the region. For

it was exciting for us to think that we were

example, the traditional Swiss chalet works

washing away the past and replacing it with

well in the snow and cold of its region, but

something we would invent on our own

would seem alien on a tropical coast. A

clean piece of paper. It was an ideology

New Mexico adobe pueblo, meanwhile,

impenetrable by any other intellectual or

would seem out of place—in fact, would

artistic force, so strong that it was consid-

melt away—in a South American rain for-

ered a moral imperative rather than a style.

est. When designing university facilities in

Because it was happening all over the

several parts of the United States, I knew

country, schools quickly climbed on the

there would be differences because of the

bandwagon; one school claimed in 1948

regional determinants—all would be con-

that it was the first regional school to

sidered modern, but they would at the

embrace Modernism. But they were wrong,

same time be regional. A university build-

because by 1946, my first year at the Uni-

ing in Oregon was quite different from one

versity of Texas, the students and faculty

in New Mexico. However, many of today’s

had not only embraced Modernism, they

architects were taught to consider invalid

had married her.

any concerns for context, harmony, and



the place

regionalism. While one could find the rare

far removed from the epicenters of Mod-

exception, a sharp-edged, shiny-white

ernism on the East Coast and Europe, the

International Style building would be inap-

school felt free to consider some of the

propriate in an urban context defined by

other, less dominant directions of the Mod-

regional characteristics.

ernist movement. At this time, the faculty

Thanks to the good sense of Regional-

and students, while aware of the Interna-

ism, there was not a total acceptance of

tional Style, were enthusiastic about the

International Style Modernism in some

work of Wright, Aalto, and Eliel Saarinen as

schools. Most faculties had been educated

well as the regional architectural expres-

in a strong Beaux-Arts tradition, although

sions being developed on the West Coast by

the younger faculty had experienced that

William Wurster and Pietro Belluschi and

tradition on the wane. There were direc-

by two local Regionalist architects, David

tions of Art Modern, Art Deco, Classicism,

Williams (1890 –1962) and O’Neil Ford

Eclecticism, and various revivals, as well as

(1905–1985). These were the forces that

Regionalism, still active in design studios

activated the design studios of the time.

and on construction sites. The most impor-

With a strong interest in Regionalism,

tant architectural critic of the time, Lewis

an acknowledgment of Modernism, and a

Mumford, recognized that Modernism and

respect for Wright, the Texas school went

Regionalism were not necessarily opposed.

in search of a new dean in 1950. They

To illustrate the dilemma, let me use the

chose an influential California architect,

experience at the University of Texas. Being

Harwell Hamilton Harris (1903–1990),

Harwell Hamilton Harris made wood and brick valid in the white stucco and steel aesthetic of Modernism, Eisenberg House, Dallas, Texas, 1961.

e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



Seeking a regional expression of the Southwest, O’Neil Ford expresses natural materials and simple construction in buildings of the Trinity University Campus, San Antonio, Texas, 1949 –1989.

who was extraordinarily sensitive to all

tional Style. The architect’s ability to create

three design directions in his own highly

and extend the designs of the preceding

admired work. Harris represented a fusion

era had disappeared, while the conceit that

of the three values.

Modernism could solve the ills of the mod-

To explore design under the influences of the International Style, Wright, and Regionalism, Harris, together with a new

ern city drove design and political decisions of the era. The focus moved to two modern mas-

professor, Colin Rowe (1920 –1999), gath-

ters, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

ered a bright, energetic, young interna-

Le Corbusier had been a strong force in

tional faculty that would eventually call

initiating Modernism. His early ideas vir-

themselves the Texas Rangers, canonized

tually dominated the minds of architects in

by Alex Caragonne in his book by that name. They had a deep respect for regional design issues and traditional aesthetics. Though they questioned the tenets of Modernism, they were, like everyone else at the time, overwhelmed by the momentum of Modernism in Europe and on the East Coast. In fact, that is where the Texas Rangers moved after a few years, all to create design curricula at architecture schools of importance—Cornell, Syracuse, Cooper Union. An opportunity for fusion of the three design directions pursued in the fifties was lost to the zeitgeist of the Interna-



the place

Harwell Hamilton Harris and the “Texas Rangers” joining the faculty of the University of Texas School of Architecture in Austin, 1953.

van der Rohe, who invented architecture of such elegance and apparent simplicity that it seemed made to order for modern highrise buildings in the new technology of steel, concrete, and glass. The influence of Mies generated the most popular commercial “style,” mainly because it could be emulated at such low cost. Some architects scoff at the idea that this was a style, but it was. During this time Sigfried Gideon, secretary general of the influential Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne, defined architecture for my generation of students in his seminal work Space, Time, The “Marseilles Block” of Le

the fifties and sixties. He created extraordi-

and Architecture (Harvard University Press,

Corbusier became a social,

nary buildings that we consider heroic

1940). Along with other manifestos, it

structural, and composi-

models: Villa Savoy and the Marseilles

introduced us to a new age and effectively

tional model for buildings of

Unite d’Habitation, and later, toward the

brainwashed us about the past, filling our

medium height. Marseilles,

end of his career, he remained a true

cleansed crania with a singular idea: the

France, 1946 –1952.

visionary in his designs for the Ronchamps

glory of Modernism. Fifty years later, a fel-

Chapel and La Tourette Convent. These

low student and I made a pilgrimage to the

buildings, together with many of his well-

ultimate shrine of our early education, the

published theories, had a huge impact on

great icon of Modernism, Mies van der

both practicing architects and academics.

Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, 1929 (recon-

Parallel to Corbu, as he was called, there

structed 1985). We found it hollow, soul-

formed a group of devout followers of Mies

less—far from the elegant design state-

The fluid shapes of Le Corbusier’s Notre-Damedu-Haut of Ronchamps, uncontrolled by the usual grid, presaged dynamic sculptural forms for Modernism and created another icon of the era. Ronchamp, France, 1955.

e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



ment that its singular photographs had conveyed to the world. One could now look back at it and consider it only a stylish new idea—a fashion surrounded by mystic rhetoric. The design “truth” it claimed to represent was artifice; it was in reality another “style.” More than a fallen idol, it was, at this viewing, depressingly comic. Having been involved as an architect and educator for half of the last century, I thought Modernism was exciting, but if you will examine the beginning of this chapter in light of today, you can say that my generation of architects and those to follow were more than excited—we were thoroughly brainwashed. How else could we have so ignored the earlier architecture? Looking for the New, we students of Modernism did not learn the basics of classical proportion and composition as the originators of Modernism had learned in their own education. The architect’s main guide, the architecture of the past, had been denigrated, and the skills involved in its creation, in large part, lost. Had these skills not been lost and had we continued to validate historical examples, the amateur and the nongenius professional would today have better guides from which to

United States. Had the tradition developed

The Seagrams Building of


logically and organically through the years,

Mies van der Rohe was the

Such guides were available to the six-

the derivatives of the traditions would be

exemplar for the modern

teenth-century Spanish friars who brought

more successful than what we have now.

office building. New York,

European architecture to the Americas.

The search for the New was ushered in

The friars knew their art from woodcut

by radical manifestos. Below, with apolo-

prints of architectural elements as well as

gies to all historians, I take a simplified

from their memory of authenticity. The

look at the credos of five architects whose

plan books of the nineteenth century

ideas helped form the modern movement

reached a high degree of success in creat-

in architecture.

ing buildings that we admire today in the



the place

Adolf Loos (1870 –1933) espoused more


ideas than he built buildings. He believed

“Less is more.” That dictum spawned such

that reason should determine the way we

reactions as “Less is less,” “Less is more

build, he opposed the decorative Art Nou-

profitable,” and “More is not Enough.”

veau movement, and, in “Ornament and

Walter Gropius championed what he

Crime” and other essays, he described the

called the New Architecture. Sidelining the

suppression of decoration as necessary for

classicist Joseph Hudnut, Gropius created

regulating passion, wherein comes his

a new curriculum for architectural educa-

famous quote, “Ornament is a crime.”

tion based on his watchword, “Don’t look

Actually, he himself used color as dramatic

back.” He banned color from class projects


for fifteen years. His polemical teaching

Frank Lloyd Wright, the most famous American architect, built many innovative

had much more influence than his buildings.

buildings in his ninety-one years. He felt

This exciting revolution pressed a

that his organic architecture was the only

“restart button” that had architects—and

valid way to build and ridiculed all others,

in fact, all designers—rethinking the form

as when he accepted the high honor of the

of everything from cities to coffeepots for

AIA Gold Medal only to say, “It’s about

the next four or five generations. The man-

time.” Some called him “the greatest living

ifestos are relearned by each generation

nineteenth-century architect,” but his Uso-

from teachers who still subscribe to the

nian House was the important model for

Modernist manifestos, either because noth-

middle-class housing in the postwar

ing better has come along or, more likely,

period, and his Broadacre City influenced

because of their own brainwashing. Per-

the city planning ideal of sprawling sub-

haps the more important truth is that Mod-

urbs in the United States. (See the Reading

ernism provided a needed cleansing of the


tired interpretations of building styles. As I

Le Corbusier introduced the influential

mentioned earlier, many architects, stu-

functionalist architectural concept, “A

dents, and teachers of this era looked upon

house is a machine for living.” His extrem-

these new theories and models as moral

ist proposal to raze Paris and replace it

imperatives, using words like honesty, integ-

with modern skyscrapers influenced the

rity, and truth. The aesthetic had been

building of the United States. His Swiss

intellectualized beyond visual sensitivity to

background as a painter led us all into

become in many cases strident and raw.

sharp-edged, white, prismatic forms and

The reaction to relieve this stridency

simplified cubist compositions leading into

came from architects of the generation that

dynamic sculptural form decades later.

followed the original “modern masters”:

(See the Reading List.)

Louis I. Kahn (1902 –1974), in the con-

Mies van der Rohe, an architect much

crete, sculptural expressions of space,

admired as a master of abstraction, simpli-

structure, and functional elements of the

fication, and elegant detail, taught us that

Kimbell Museum and Salk Center; Jørn

e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



Jørn Utzon’s bold design for the Sydney Opera House became one of the world’s great landmarks. Sidney, Australia, 1957–1993.

Utzon (1918 –), in the magic of the Sydney Opera House; Charles Moore (1925–1993), in the quiet repose of his buildings at Sea Ranch; Robert Venturi (1925–), in his questioning of Modernist form and resurrection of the decorative arts; and I. M. Pei (1917–), in his mastery of technology and form in his many urban building types of the period. This generation continued to refine and enhance the ideals of Modernism, yet found it easier to follow the safe, narrow Modernist views in training the next generation. Following a period that included several really good modern buildings and thousands of not-so-good buildings, there

Louis I. Kahn graced the sea

came some big steps forward. The inven-

with pure sculpture made of

tive California architect Frank Gehry

complex functions in the

(1929 –) made a masterpiece of sculpture

Salk Institute. La Jolla,

and architecture in his Guggenheim

California, 1959 –1966.

Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and followed that with the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. These buildings had nothing to do with Regionalism, International Style,



the place

Postmodernism, or Deconstruction, Minimalism, or any other -ism. They represent a personal design evolution in which digital software and innovative technology were employed by an individual genius who had been exposed to all the influbelow: Charles W. Moore, in

ences above but produced something

his Sea Ranch work, found

extraordinary and fundamentally new and

form generated by indige-

beautiful. Architecture critics have named

nous buildings to provide a

this new paradigm the Bilbao Effect. In a

model for a generation of

similar jump ahead, the Spanish archi-

small buildings in the United

tect/engineer Santiago Calatrava (1951â&#x20AC;&#x201C;)

States. Sea Ranch, Califor-

accomplished extraordinary sculptural

nia, 1964.

expression at the scale of architecture in

right: I. M. Pei, the master

his dramatic structural approach to form

of many building types,

in bridges and buildings. The singular

enhanced a mountain land-

sculptural nature of these designs gives

scape in the manner of a

them qualities that might be inserted into

Greek monastery in the

a natural or urban landscape without

Atmospheric Research

compromising the local identity of

Center outside of Boulder,

Regionalism. These examples suggest

Colorado in 1965.

that in the era of globalization, local identity may gain greater value.

e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



At the same time, examples of Regional-

These new ideas and evolutions are the

ism evolved at a sophisticated level by such

joy of architecture and are producing won-

heim Museum in the Spanish

architects as James Cutler (Seattle), Fay

derful results. Unfortunately, in most cur-

city of Bilbao grandly accom-

Jones (Arkansas), Hugh Newell Jacobson

rent design thinking, Modernism still

plished its task of bringing noto-

(East Coast), David Lake and Ted Flato (San

demands that we erase previous ideas. It’s

riety and visitors to the city,

Antonio), and Rick Joy (Tucson). These

a kind of “Architectural Alzheimer’s

while presenting an architec-

architects work in the realm of Modernism

Effect.” Older architecture became what

tural landmark to the world and

but, in addition, are exploring the path of

educators called “history,” that is, it was not

the history of architecture. Bil-

Regionalism with new ideas and

appropriate for current use in design, only

bao, Spain, 1997.


for architectonic and cultural background.

left: Frank Gehry’s Guggen-

Most important and regrettably, many

right: The virtuosity of the

in Mexico and Spain as Modernism, and

“modern” ideas failed to fulfill their early

architect and engineer Santiago

still exudes Regionalism, is the extraordi-

promises: buildings will be better without

Calatrava brought structural

nary architecture of Ricardo Legorreta and

ornament— e.g., new materials will last

technology and artistic finesse

Rafeal Moneo, to mention two of the lead-

longer than traditional materials, life will

to bridges and buildings with

ing figures. This work satisfies both ideolo-

be simpler and better, cities will be more

the use of tensile forces.

gies and adds the dimension of Minimal-

convenient to use, etc. And, worse, because

Quadracci Pavilion of the Mil-

ism, making for an architecture that seems

of the purge of the old ideas and old design

waukee Art Museum, Milwau-

to work in many different contexts.

skills, craftsmanship either faded away or

kee, Wisconsin, begun 1995.

A parallel design universe that thrives



the place

left: The architects David

was lost through neglect. I would hold that

that I relish the New— certainly in the

Lake and Ted Flato have

to derive from tradition is far better than

genius buildings and also in my own

teamed up to explore, exploit,

having a cold start from zero. Most of Mod-

efforts. Relating to these ideas personally,

and finesse the vernacular

ernism is as derivative of itself as is Neo-

I found that I was not a traditionalist at all

design idioms of Texas and

classicism. How could it not be derivative

because I, too, was a maverick. I’m unable

the latest materials and tech-

of itself after a hundred years?

to reduce my current thinking to a theory,

nology of the Modernist. Lake

The outstanding popular advantage of

Austin Residence and Boat-

Modernism was, and is, this: it can be

house, 1980.

cheap. Cheap proved instantly popular

but I’ll share some thoughts of how I personally relate to these issues. Clearly, I have moved on to a very differ-

simply because one could use the building

ent view of architecture, a viewpoint differ-

right: Fay Jones, a follower of

construction budget for all sorts of things

ent from the intellectual and moral notions

Frank Lloyd Wright, produced

other than buildings. Profits could soar.

of Modernism as well as stylistic exten-

in a forest of the Ozark Moun-

The shorter life of cheaper buildings would

sions into Postmodernism, Deconstruc-

tains the ephemeral glass and

offer more opportunities to build the New.

tion, Minimalism, and such. Of one of the

wood structure Thorncrown

The cheapness of the Modernist idioms

recent design fads, AIA Gold Medalist Fay

Chapel, which has a magic

created a boon to developers, bankers, and

Jones said, “I think I’ll sit this one out.” I

rarely found in man-made

the construction industry, at least in the

agreed. The terms anachronistic and roman-

objects. Eureka Springs,

short term.

tic that once held such negative connota-

Arkansas, 1980.

If I sound reactionary here, please know

tions for us in the era of Sigfried Gideon

e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e



have become terms I’m comfortable with, for I’ve learned to associate them with architecture that has afforded me many delights. My quest for new old ideas led my wife, Eden, and me to move to a storied eighteenth-century town of central Mexico, San Miguel de Allende. Here they still build in the ways of the eighteenth century or earlier, with artful imagination made cohesive by the complete absence of Modernism. Their architectural protection laws, placed

historic center is a light-filled delight of

The architect Ricardo Legor-

on the center of the city in 1927, have

color and texture, unexpected forms and

reta, enhancing the simple

allowed the historic center of San Miguel

silhouettes, personal façade decorations,

native forms and saturated

de Allende to have nothing to do with the

and engaging ground plans, all combined

colors of Mexico, created the

architecture or city planning concepts of

in a heterogeneous mixture that allows

expansive spaces of the

the twentieth century. The town skipped

one to shop for daily needs without a car

Museo de Arte Contemporá-

the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

and walk only on stone rather than asphalt

neo (MARCO) in Monterrey,

and continues as a charming, romantic,

or concrete. The buildings are no more

Mexico, in 1991.

picturesque, scenically beautiful, histori-

than two stories and are without side yards

cally textured, timeless town of nearly sev-

or backyards, thus allowing high density.

enty thousand. Almost every view in the

The minimal parking allows it to be a The architect Rick Joy’s Tucson Mountain House fits the land—the slope of the horizon, the verticals of the saguaro cactus, and the building materials that thrive in the desert. West Tucson, Arizona.



the place

Looking from the zaguán of this “eighteenth-century house” one would not know that it was handmade by artisans in 1997 using traditional tools and materials of the eighteenth century; no power tools were used. Casa Quebrada, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. By the author, 1997.

right: A block away from Casa Quebrada is Casita Blanco, also by the author, which used the same tools, materials, and artisans, together with the idioms of Modernism. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2003.

pedestrian town. Crowded with cars, yes,

more and more precious because of high

but still pedestrian. This isn’t a place of

demand and limited availability, their

great beauty like Florence. More populist,

example could usefully inspire new towns

it’s content to be charming, a place of

and the rebuilding of old.

delightful everyday architecture and

The quest for an appropriate architec-

intensely human urban form. In addition,

ture begs to be a major public issue

its climate and compactness as a historic

because it affects our quality of life. Fortu-

city allow it to be less energy-dependent.

nately, some key architectural thinkers

San Miguel de Allende and thousands of

today are groping with new forms in thrill-

towns like it challenge us to rethink our

ing ways. Also encouraging is that the stu-

assumptions about appropriate architec-

dents of today are more questioning, and

ture for the future. We shouldn’t need to

because they are very bright—and perhaps

move to a historic town to enjoy a more

also more immune to the brainwashing of

humane lifestyle and rediscover charm.

the two previous generations— design may

While the historic areas are becoming

evolve in fruitful ways.

e x p l o r i ng i d e a s i n a r c h i t e c t u r e






Form follows function. l o ui s s ul l i va n (1856 –1924)

Dear Richard: You say that “architecture has left the building,” and your letter talks about how fulfilling architectural dreams in a meaningful way involves the deepest aspects of

Form follows finance.

society, far beyond the qualities of the indi-

s te v e r o s s

vidual building. I agree. And you as a fel-


low architect and, further, as a developer have much at stake in the effectiveness of your investment as well as in the public’s reaction to it over time. So if architecture has left the building, how will we get it back? Thinking beyond the functional needs of the building and beyond the current manner of architectural expression involves serious questions. Bright minds continue to search for answers at drawing boards and computers and in articles, h a s a r c h i t e c t u r e l e f t t h e b u i l d i ng ?



books, seminars, and public forums, far

museum weigh?” No one could answer, but

beyond bricks and mortar. It is a lively dis-

another broad topic had been launched.

cussion to join. Buckminster Fuller epito-

Our breakfast was yet another thrilling

mized such great thinkers and excited

four-hour lecture, this time for just us two,

audiences everywhere.

covering the universe and Fuller’s manner

In one such forum years ago at which

of addressing the challenges. Agog, we put

my partner and I were asked to give a talk,

him on the plane at noon and began to do

we discovered that we would follow Mr.

our best to “think beyond.”

Fuller—about the most humbling experi-

Thinking beyond your own project can

ence that could happen to young architects.

give you rewarding insights. Think about

And this was not only because of his great-

how your project might affect the quality of

ness in conceptual thinking and his inven-

life in your community, how it relates to its

tion of the geodesic dome, but also because

urban setting, its environment, the tradi-

he was known for talking nonstop for three

tions of the place, other architecture, its

or four hours. To everyone’s surprise, that

neighbors, its time, its overall sustainabil-

morning he finished within his allotted

ity. Even if your own architectural project is

hour. After the long applause for his bril-

as simple as a boathouse, you might enjoy

liance subsided, my partner and I took the

contemplating its features more if you

stage to present a live multimedia presenta-

think about what Palladio, Corbu, or Kahn

tion, Space Is an Illusion, using two narra-

might have done with your project. So

tors and two projectors to elaborate on con-

before you start to design, step back and

cepts of space in nature, in architecture,

consider some of the issues involved in

and in urban life. The audience of three

architecture today.

hundred public school art teachers at their

Thinking beyond in the twentieth cen-

1967 state convention in Dallas was atten-

tury resulted in some great architecture:

tive and appreciative. But after we finished,

Kahn’s Kimbell Museum, Gehry’s Bilbao

Fuller came over to the two of us and said,

Guggenheim Museum, Utzon’s Sydney

“You boys are like crustaceans crawling

Opera House, Le Corbusier’s Ronchamps

around on the bottom of the air ocean.

Chapel, and Wright’s Fallingwater. These,

You’ve got to think beyond this. Meet me at

and more, will be known as individual

my hotel tomorrow at eight for breakfast.”

works of major significance as histories are

That evening we heard one of his legendary


four-hour lectures at the Dallas Museum of

Yet, as you look around, you’ll see that

Fine Arts, during which, in the middle of

most of our urban environment is unat-

his talk about energy for movement and

tractive and not at all exemplary of the high

lightweight structures for shelter, he asked,

level of civilization we otherwise enjoy. Our

“Who is the director of this museum?”

suburban and rural settings are polluted by

When Director Jerry Bywaters stood up,

the thoughtlessness of indiscriminate

Fuller said, “Sir, how much does your

buildings in the vast areas between the



the place

well-designed architecture. To understand

architecture schools get beyond function

the magnitude of the challenges, consider

and reason to even mention the concept of

that the total number of buildings we’ve

beauty. Architects have seemed embar-

built is the gross physical product of our era,

rassed to use the word beauty. What’s

and consider the good architecture to be

wrong with beauty? It’s certainly some-

our net. Clearly, our net-to-gross ratio is

thing amateurs understand. We love beauty

infinitesimal. Surely we can do better.

in people, we love it in nature, so why not

Please understand, my concern is the scar-

in buildings and cities? Similarly, the

city of good architecture, not the scarcity of

words graceful, charming, comfort, and har-

great architecture. Great architecture has

mony are rarely heard. Instead, one will

always been scarce.

hear social purpose, intervention, function,

We live in the most advanced civiliza-

workable, style, and sustainability, along with

tion in history. Why, then, is most of what

many esoteric concepts and just plain jar-

we see being built so unsatisfying and

gon. Eventually the intellectualization

inadequate, visually and socially? Devel-

becomes expressed in concrete.

oped nations like ours have the technology,

It would help the amateur and the non-

the wealth, and the governmental and busi-

great architect (yes, there are many of us)

ness mechanisms to build great places to

if we knew how to achieve those time-

live, work, and play. Why can’t our everyday

honored attributes. We need to know how

streets and buildings be beautiful? A big

to make beauty, charm, grace, and comfort

reason, beyond cost, is that beauty is out of

for our lives with appropriate architec-

fashion—we seem to no longer seek it.

ture—to improve the thousands of build-

Why? Only recently did conversations in

ings that lie in the large distances between the rare great buildings.

Graceful, charming, com-

What’s happening? The public streets

fortable, and harmonious,

are scenes used by designers to “make a

this seating area could be

statement,” “make it new,” “innovate,” and

called anastilo, without style,

“intervene.” These objectives, encouraged

and more or less without

in schools of architecture, are inherently

time. Casita Blanco, by the

different from a harmonious streetscape—

author, 2003.

cacophonous to the minds of some, glorious in-your-face moral interventions in the eyes of others. To consider this propensity to stand out, I suggest the analogy of the music school. Music students are taught to stand up like a soloist when they play, even though, once out of school, most will sit in the orchestra rather than stand up as soloists. Shouldn’t architects, while being

h a s a r c h i t e c t u r e l e f t t h e b u i l d i ng ?



taught to be soloists, also learn how to sit

serves a clientele that builds large commer-

down and be part of the orchestra? Let’s

cial buildings, high-rise buildings, and

face it, of the thousands of architecture stu-

institutional buildings, but very few resi-

dents in schools today, will we get one great

dences. The profession is rarely asked to

soloist architect per year, or even per

participate in the design of ordinary build-

decade? Maybe not, so why not focus on

ings, commercial strips, big-box retail, or

the nongreat and the nonarchitect and

any kind of housing, regardless of price.

insist that they learn to sit down and be

Even multimillion-dollar residences built

part of the ensemble, the orchestra?

for the speculative market are usually built

Ensemble or not, the buildings pro-

without the aid of an architect— or with

duced in our economy are cheap buildings

the aid of a licensed architect only to “draw

with short lives. We are in a culture con-

it up” for building permit purposes. What

cerned mainly with business. Private enter-

are our aspirations?

prise, which builds most of our buildings,

Why is the use of the profession so lim-

naturally must make a good return on its

ited in these buildings? One reason is that

investment or it’s not an investment worth

the cost of professional architectural ser-

making. The market tends to create many

vices is one item that can be omitted from

disposable, throwaway buildings. Cities are

the building costs; construction drawings

choked with obsolete buildings that are

can be made somewhere in the building

underutilized, left behind by new buildings

industry where architecture isn’t an objec-

seeking to replace them with a more com-

tive. Another reason is the profession’s

petitive design and a better market position.

isolation from the rest of the building

Are investors expecting too much, too

industry. Design services can be offered

soon? Compared to today, pre–World War

through the building contractor at a finan-

II building investments had lower returns,

cial advantage. Our tradition of profes-

in the short term, from more-expensive,

sional service doesn’t like the idea of pack-

better-built buildings, having put more

aging services with the contractor, citing

resources into quality design and construc-

the obvious conflict of interest in manag-

tion. This raises questions like: Can build-

ing the construction. Yet what we give up

ing budgets include quality-of-life issues

in so doing is the opportunity to put a

and still be profitable enough to merit

higher value on architectural services when

investment? Does “beauty”— or, if you like,

we join a team with contractors to produce

“high visual quality”—subtract from or add

a well-designed and well-constructed prod-

to profitable returns? If good architecture

uct. Many countries place the design and

isn’t valued in the marketplace, is the mar-

construction tasks in the same organiza-

ketplace the absolute arbiter for the quality

tion. Both building contractors and archi-

of our lives? The dilemma is that we want

tects could benefit from this manner of

both a good market and good architecture.

doing business.

Most of the architectural profession



the place

Though it’s often not realized, the cost

of design is almost insignificant compared

with public and private dollars as well as by

to the cost of construction, furnishings,

investing their attention as individuals.

debt service, taxes, operating budgets,

Proposed new public buildings deserve

building maintenance, and utility costs

massive input from concerned citizens.

over the years. If beauty is so cheap, why

New public buildings are an expression of

do most building developers abandon it to

the community, so the selection of the

save an infinitesimal amount of cost by not

architect requires its input and oversight.

engaging architects? Is it arrogance or

Excellence in design is a matter of pride, a

ignorance? We notice that highly success-

matter of aesthetic responsibility, that

ful developers like Gerald Hines of Hous-

shares importance with our social and

ton are wise enough to hire the world’s

political responsibilities. To assist the

best architects to design large speculative

objective of aesthetic responsibility, the

buildings that receive a market advantage

reintroduction of art programs in the ele-

by being of good design. Such developers

mentary and secondary schools could help,

benefit the community as well as their own

and—more radical still—we could include

profit line.

exposure to the art of architecture in public

The barriers to good design go beyond cost and are seemingly infinite: the regulatory challenges, the financial challenges,

schools if we think that is an important part of our lives. The architecture where people live,

the societal challenges, the engineering

work, or just hang out comprises an art

challenges, the sustainability challenges,

form in which I like to walk around: the

and the multitude of other design chal-

architecture of the city, a college campus, a

lenges. The game is to win one challenge

sixteenth-century village, and any place that

at a time.

has been made wonderful by design. My

Amateurs (remember, amateurs are

thinking beyond doesn’t reach as far as

those who love) can encourage investment

Buckminster Fuller’s; he was probably

in good building and good community

thinking beyond Mars.

Communal open spaces offer a place to walk, meet friends, and have events. West Mall, University of Texas at Austin.

h a s a r c h i t e c t u r e l e f t t h e b u i l d i ng ?






m a k i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e w i t h a n a r c h i t e c t






The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of the cheapest price

Dear Thomas, Of the three choices you have in making

is forgotten.

architecture—hire an architect, become an


architect, or learn to think like an architect—the most assured choice is working with an architect. As chairman of the building committee you described, you have, I’m sure, many questions. How do you choose an architect? What does it cost? What services are provided? How do you work with an architect? What do you gain? Choosing an architect is in many ways the same as choosing other professionals, such as your doctor, lawyer, or accountant. You have seen or heard that their work is of the quality you seek, that they have a good reputation, or that there is an individual in the firm that you would trust with your project. m a k i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e w i t h a n a r c h i t e c t



In other ways, though, the selection of an

ent. I had an agenda of seven proposals,

architect is quite different. This relationship

each listing one or more ways in which I

is personal and often intense. You will share

was prepared to give ground and let the

your dreams and hopes for the building that

building function a bit better even though

will ultimately emerge; you will share how

it would compromise the architecture. But

you live and want to live (if this is a house

the client smilingly dismissed each of my

for yourself ), or how to achieve your partic-

seven proposals, proclaiming, “Client, 7;

ular goals in an institutional or commercial

Architect, 0!”, allowing it to be a much bet-

building. You are also looking for a person-

ter building—based, in this instance, on

ality that would work well with yours.

subordinating Vitruvian commodity to

The professional and artistic quality you

delight. The client was smart enough to see

seek has the capability to bring to your

that he was sacrificing only a minor func-

project the commodity, firmness, and delight

tionality but gaining a major delight. This

of the Vitruvian triad—that is, functional

was yet another proof of the axiom, “The

workability, structural and mechanical

architecture is only as good as the client.”

soundness, and delight of the senses. Plus,

Another reason the selection of an

you want it completed it on schedule and

architect requires care is that your relation-

within your budget. The choice of architect

ship may last for years. You will probably

will come with investigating, assessing,

spend more time with your architect than

and reaching a consensus on the decision

you will ever spend with your doctor, law-

with your partner, committee members, or

yer, or accountant. As an architect, I have

board members. You want an architect who is a good listener and pays attention to the details of

worked with some clients as long as fifteen years through many projects. From the architect’s perspective, I tried

your needs and desires. But because you

to become known to clients with whom I

want the architect to make architecture, not

wanted to work, knowing likewise that

just build at your direction like some

those prospective clients were looking for

draftsman, he or she must have the design

architects with whom they would like to

latitude that is essential to the project’s

work. Toward that end, in the early days,

architectural success. The client and archi-

my partner and I would go to a concert

tect work together.

and, at intermission, race down four floors

To illustrate, let me share a story. Once

from cheap balcony seats to say hello to

when working on a house with an experi-

prospective clients in the main lobby. We

enced and architecturally astute client, I

saw the clients we sought regularly, and it

designed what seemed like a wonderful

eventually worked.

abstraction of geometric form in an ideal

Most selection decisions involve inter-

landscape. It was so perfect that I worried

views, which are often competitive and

about my being overbearing in forcing

intense because the client is seeking some-

functions into this idealized architectural

one to trust with spending sometimes mil-

form, so I asked for a meeting with the cli-

lions of dollars and the architect is trying



the ground floor

no less seriously to get the commission.

In the case of an income-producing project,

Both parties seek a good fit through being

programming will work with a business

open about needs, qualifications, and

pro-forma. The architect will work through


the program in more detail and elaborate

Before starting the selection process,

on the specifics. The objective is to make

you will have formed a general idea of what

major decisions before construction begins

you want to build, its purpose, and where

rather than after.

you want to build it. You will be well

An individual designing a house or

advised to keep an open mind rather than

an entrepreneur planning a commercial

be too specific because, as you progress,

project is far different from a board of

you will be getting new information about

directors of an institution seeking to build

the sort of building you are doing and the

a museum or hospital with public funds.

nature of its construction. The architect

Yet in all cases there will be a personal rela-

will have the education and, usually, broad

tionship between architect and client. As

experience upon which to base artistic and

projects get more complex, the makeup of

professional opinions. At the same time,

the architect’s organization and his or her

your role as client comes from a different

team of consultants must be defined, as

set of experiences and is equally critical to

well as the complexities of the client’s

the quality and effectiveness of the build-

building committee and staff, and perhaps

ing. Both roles will set the “chemistry” of

adjusted for an effective working

the relationship, and you will become part-


ners in the realization of the project. The

The actual selection process takes sev-

construction contractor, the third major

eral forms. The simplest is to select three

member of the team, usually comes later.

to five architects with the best information

Forming your general ideas into specific

you can find and begin talking with them

requirements is the predesign process of

about your project. Ask those architects

programming—perhaps the most important

who still interest you to take you on a tour

set of decisions you will make. In a com-

of their projects and introduce you to their

plex building, programming can be done

clients. Look for how they actually solved a

either by the architect or by a separate pro-

particular client’s building program, how

fessional. Either one will help you decide

successful the client thinks it was, and how

what kind of space is actually needed, how

comfortable you yourself feel with the final

the parts relate to each other, and what the

product. Find out how well it fit the budget

mission of the facility should be, and will

and the time schedule. Ask yourself if you

thereby define the project before beginning

would be enthusiastic about going through

the design. In a complex institutional or

this long process with this particular archi-

business facility, the program often bene-

tect. Talk about fee arrangements. Make

fits from the services of a professional pro-

sure that you have looked at enough archi-

grammer working with your staff and lead-

tects to feel that you can make a good deci-

ership to assess your needs and intentions.

sion. Then get started.

m a k i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e w i t h a n a r c h i t e c t



In a large public project, about the same

member ranks a firm, and the group

thing happens as with a board of directors

decides how to arrive at a list of ten or

but with a more inclusive search, more

twelve for further discussion. Firms are

transparency, and more attention to the

eliminated one by one in this discussion,

public responsibility. The first step is to

and a group of three to five is decided upon

appoint a selection committee whose task

for further review. Those three or five are

will be to interview and recommend to the

often invited to come to the committee and

board a first, second, and third choice. The

the site and present themselves along with

selection committee might include major

their objectives in the project, their ideas

donors, political representatives, building

about the project, and their team of consul-

professionals, and knowledgeable archi-

tants. It is unwise to ask the architects for

tects who will not be considered for the

other than verbal ideas at this time because

job, or a hired architectural consultant who

they will not know enough about your proj-

can recommend candidates and comment

ect to present a well-informed sketch or a

on those being considered. The consultant

modeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that would be premature, before

might be a respected retired architect or a

they have an understanding of the project,

local architecture professor who is knowl-

the site, and your intentions. A further

edgeable about the particular kind of

committee deliberation may lead to two or


three architects whose offices as well as

If you are selecting an architect when

some of their most recent projects and cli-

public funds are involved, you must send

ents should be visited. A detailed review of

out a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to

exactly who in their office will be working

the profession at large in an appropriate

on the project, the fee arrangements, the

publication so that all interested and quali-

actual consulting firms and their qualifica-

fied architects will have a chance to be con-

tions, time schedules, and details of com-

sidered. The committee or its consultant

munication can then be discussed before

will recommend a broad list of architects to

making a final decision and signing an

be contacted and sent an RFQ. Because the


most respected architects get many RFQâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s

The simplest way is for an individual

and their response can cost thousands of

entrepreneur to decide on an architect and

dollars, the most desired architects may

simply get to work. And thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the way most

have to be courted by the committee to

of my own projects began.

encourage their response; personal con-

The most complex way involves a design

tacts may be necessary in order to get them

competition, which is open to all architects

sufficiently interested in the project to sub-

and which follows specific AIA procedures.

mit an RFQ. The architects who respond to

The competition is conducted under the

the RFQ and appear qualified are then

auspices of a professional advisor, who will

reviewed. The review, best done by the

(1) lay out the procedures for the competi-

entire committee, may involve a hundred

tion, including the design program, (2)

portfolios on an important project. Each

select the jury who will evaluate the



the ground floor

designs submitted, (3) address questions,

1957, it was one of the first postwar design

and (4) receive final proposals. The jury,

competitions circulated in the United

not the client, determines the winning

States. The Enrico Fermi Memorial Plaza

design, though the jury might include a

in Chicago was to be judged by a jury of

representative of the client. The architect

significant figures of the twentieth century:

of the chosen design is awarded a cash

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gordon Bun-

prize or the commission to do the project

shaft, Jose Luis Sert, Pier Luigi Nervi, and

or both. Some competitions are open to all

Lancelot White. We entered the competi-

and some to invited architects only. An

tion because we were eager to know what

International Design Com-

expensive process, the design competition

these great men thought of what we might

petition for the design of an

is more popular in Europe than in the

do. Joining with Joanne Pratt as sculptor,

urban plaza commemorat-

United States. The risk is that the winning

we managed to win the second prize and

ing Enrico Fermi, Nobel Lau-

architect may not be the best one to serve

Recognition of the Jury, among 355 entries

reate, who developed the

the client; the advantage is that young, as

from 25 countries—with publication to fol-

first nuclear reactor. Chi-

well as established, architects may present

low in important journals. It was a thrilling

cago, Illinois, Second Place

concepts exceeding all expectations.

win and also a huge encouragement to

Entry of James Pratt, Joanne Pratt, and Hal Box, 1957.

When my partner and I entered our first international design competition in

think that we might be going places. Soon we entered another competition, this one to design a neighborhood, the Better Living for Middle Income Families Design Competition, sponsored by Matico, Inc., in 1959; the chairman of the jury was the distinguished architect and dean of MIT, Pietro Belluschi. We won the Grand Prize of $10,000, considerable recognition, and commissions to plan neighborhoods in Virginia and Kentucky. When, a decade later, we felt that the Downtown St. Louis Urban Design Competition was right up our alley, we spent months working on designing the progression from the Gateway Arch at the Mississippi River through downtown to Union Station and the Carl Miles Sculpture Garden. All three of us partners went to St. Louis for several days to study the place. The competition, which, alas, we didn’t win, cost us each at least a month’s salary, proof that such competitions can be expensive for all parties. Another consideration in complex

m a k i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e w i t h a n a r c h i t e c t



building projects is that they involve a team

and the architect were required to repeat

of specialists, sometimes in-house within

phases that had already been completed.

the architect’s office, but more often inde-

The fees vary. For institutional work, the

pendent consultants working within a spe-

typical fee is 6 percent of the construction

cialty with many different architects. The

cost up to 10 percent for technical projects

consultants may include specialists in

like hospitals or the intricacies of remodel-

urban design, traffic, site design, founda-

ing. Fees for commercial work are much

tion, structure, energy and water conserva-

less and vary with the building type. Fees

tion, plumbing, lighting, acoustics, food

for full services on a residence will be at

service, elevators, building code, fire pro-

least 12 percent of construction cost, and

tection, security, interior design, landscape,

some of the better architects will require

heating, ventilating, and air conditioning

an 18 percent fee. Lump-sum contracts for

(HVAC), as well as building-type specialists

the architect’s services are sometimes used

for hospitals, sports facilities, and airports.

when the project is well defined. The most

It should be clear in your agreement when

common form of contract is the most

and if these services will be needed and

recent edition of the appropriate contract

who will pay for them.

in the American Institute of Architects’

What will your architect’s services cost? The extent of the service, the building type,

series of contracts. The owner usually has the responsibil-

and the fees of individual firms will be the

ity of providing the technical information

key determinants. The simplest fee basis is

on the site: a legal description of the site

a cost plus a multiple of direct expense agree-

with boundary stakes in the ground; a top-

ment whereby the principals of the firm

ographic site plan showing the location of

and its employees are billed to the client at

trees and other features, including utility

cost plus a multiplier—2.0 to 3.0 times

entry points; and a subsurface soils and

being typical. This kind of agreement can

foundation survey.

be for a few hours of consultation or an on-

The work progresses in phases. The

going open-ended agreement that is billed

Predesign Phase may include the program-

monthly. I’ve had some such arrangements

ming mentioned above as well as visiting

last for years through many projects with-

similar building types around the country

out negotiating a new contract for each

to inform client and architect. When


designing a hotel, I was privileged to

A fee based on a percentage of construc-

explore with my client some of the best

tion cost is the traditional basis for full ser-

hotels and restaurants in the United States.

vice, beginning with the initial predesign

When selecting a museum architect, our

phase through the final construction

committee traveled around the country to

phase, with monthly statements upon the

learn about museums, their architects, and

completion of each phase of work. Percent-

the opinions of clients. In some situations

age fees are definite; the only change

architects travel abroad with their clients,

would be if the scope of the work changed

both of them seeking knowledge and inspi-



the ground floor

ration from the great architecture. The

but it should be a design that will ensure

architect you select should be well traveled

a wonderful design in the next phase.

and be able to tell you of the important

Schematic Design comprises 15 percent

precedents that can inform the design of

or sometimes more of the design team’s

your project. Once a good understanding

work and compensation. When the client

of the program and intentions has been

decides that the architect’s schematic

reached, the formal phases of the work

design is what is to be built, and prelimi-

proceed, after Predesign and Program-

nary cost estimates are made and

ming, in this order: Schematic Design,

approved, the design can proceed to the

Design Development, Construction

next phase for further development.

Documentation, Bidding and Negotiating

The Design Development Phase is

of Construction Contracts, and Con-

exactly what it says: it’s the development of

struction Administration.

the design in all its detail, in every room

In the Schematic Design Phase, the

and every exterior surface. Design deci-

architect outlines the parameters of the

sions will have been made on all spaces—

project while working with consultants on

their materials, lighting, heating and air

structure, mechanical, landscape, interiors,

conditioning, sound, energy consumption,

and with other specialists. He or she brings

and other building systems. The consul-

the functional elements into an efficient

tants are all reinvolved in the design team

arrangement and begins to determine the

to confirm and adjust the many systems

character of the spaces and the relationship

involved in the building. This phase of the

to the site. The basic organizational and

work is mainly internal to the architect’s

architectural decisions will be made in this

design team because this is where they

phase. Sometimes it will take many trials;

hammer out the intricacies of the building

sometimes it will happen on the first try.

systems. Design studies of all parts of the

The process should not be rushed because

building will be made, examined, and tied

both architect and client need to be satis-

together into a whole. The client will want

fied before proceeding, and to achieve this,

to check the progress; the architect will

the architect may want to make several

want to get detailed questions answered by

other trial designs to ensure that the best

the client. There may be preliminary view-

one is developed. At this stage the architect

ing of the design as it is taking place. At

can usually work as fast as the client can

the end of this phase, about 35 percent of

make decisions. The schematic design

the design team’s work has been com-

determines how big the building will be,

pleted. When the client approves the

what its arrangement of functions will be,

Design Development documents and the

and how it will relate to the site; it will give

preliminary estimate of cost, signing off on

an idea of what its spaces and character

both, the project can proceed into the next

will be and a preliminary estimate of cost

phase: preparation of detailed designs,

based on square footage and type of con-

drawings, and specifications for use in esti-

struction. It is only a schematic design,

mating, bidding, and construction.

m a k i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e w i t h a n a r c h i t e c t



The Construction Documents Phase describes the design in terms that can be understood by the contractors and subcontractors who will be building the building. These drawings and specifications define precise forms and proportions, materials and methods of construction, individual pieces of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing equipment and their systems. These documents form the basis for the contract between the owner-client and the general contractor. At this point, about 80 percent of the architect’s work is completed. In the Bidding and Negotiating Phase the most appropriate general contractor is selected, and costs and conditions are agreed upon in legal documents: the plans, specifications, general conditions, and contract between owner and contractor being the four elements of the contract to be agreed upon. The general contractor may

willing to go forward by talking to previous

Brick, concrete, and wood

be selected by putting the project out for

owners and architects for whom the con-

construction in progress.

competitive bids either to a selected group

tractor has worked and by examining the

Marsh House, by author,

of contractors or to all contractors, as

contractor’s financial condition. Actual con-


would be the case in a public project. The

struction costs can be determined only by

lowest qualified bidder is carefully consid-

the contractor agreeing to build the build-

ered along with other low bidders. (A small

ing for a specific cost; architects, engineers,

spread between the high bid and the low

and estimators obviously cannot guarantee

bid indicates the contractors’ thoroughness

a price. The construction cost will vary

in preparation of the bids that have been

according to what is happening in the

assimilated from many suppliers and sub-

economy, the variable cost in labor and

contractors. It also measures the clarity of

material, and the local competition in

the architect’s documents that are bid

building activity at the time of bidding.

upon.) In a public job, the contract will go

Another arrangement for selecting a

to the low bidder unless there is good

contractor is to make the selection early in

cause for change. Before an award is made,

the project, based on the merits of the con-

the owners will want to investigate the con-

tractor. The advantage here is that you can

tractor, satisfying themselves that they are

get his or her expert opinions and cost esti-



the ground floor

mates during the design phases, then

respond in a way that improves the design

negotiate a price when the documents are

of the building rather than detracts from it.


This is why it’s good to have the architect

The contracts for construction can be a

on hand during construction. Example: I

lump-sum “turnkey” price for the work

once worked with a contractor who told me

described in the documents, where the

that he would do anything to save the client

contractor takes the risk and changes are

money, irrespective of my design. I agreed,

handled by change order. Or the agreement

with the proviso that he let me work on the

can be the actual cost plus a fee, preferably

problem before making the change. He

fixed rather than a percentage, so that the

agreed, and an excellent working relation-

fee doesn’t escalate with the construction

ship lasted through five large building proj-

cost. I have had good experience with both

ects, because when he presented me with

types of selection and both types of con-

an opportunity to save money, I improved

tracts because of the care taken in qualify-

it from a design point of view and usually

ing the contractors who might be inter-

saved more than he had expected. This is

ested in doing the job. All communities

the way architect and contractor can have

have some contractors that are better than

a beneficial relationship rather than an

others, and to get those contractors some-

adversarial one, for both their own inter-

times requires lobbying them and fitting

ests and the owner’s. The client-owner will

into their work schedule. Taking a low bid

also be involved in those decisions and

from a marginal contractor and expecting

always when there is a change in cost

that you can simply require that the work

requiring a change order.

be done right and in accord with the plans

Taking shape on the ground and in the

can lead to big frustrations and expense.

sky, the spaces of the building and its views

Low bidders can be what we call “change-

will come into a much clearer reality than

order artists,” who make up for their low

on plans or models. It will be exciting. Rare

bid with change orders.

is the project that will go straight through

In making decisions on cost, know that

without changes. Changes offer an oppor-

the most expensive thing you can buy is

tunity to make small adjustments that

something you don’t want.

make it better. When such adjustments

The construction phase is messy,

appear to be beneficial, ask the contractor

changeable, dangerous, complex, and excit-

to give you a proposal for the cost of such a

ing. Anything can happen, beginning with

change. The contractor’s saying “It’s too

the excavations and foundations, where

much” is not really an answer because the

one might unexpectedly find hard rock,

contractor doesn’t know how much you

soft soil, historic artifacts, or water, any of

think would be “too much” for this particu-

which will often require revisions and con-

lar improvement. Get the numbers and

sume time. And all the way through the job

then make a decision. There will be thou-

one can expect the unexpected and can also

sands of these decisions to be handled by

m a k i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e w i t h a n a r c h i t e c t



you or your representative, so my advice is

confused, but it turned out beautifully.

to enjoy them.

John Smith was the best superintendent I

To enjoy the construction process more,

ever knew—a true miracle worker. He had

you can ease the financial stress by having

been an Army Corps of Engineers master

personal or corporate contingency funds in

sergeant and ran the construction in that

addition to the contingencies that might be

manner, treating me as his commanding

in the contract. In that way, you can take

officer. He went on to become a general

advantage of opportunities that arise or

contractor of large commercial projects

resolve problems that are encountered.

around the United States. When he unex-

Five percent of the construction cost is

pectedly appeared at my university office

appropriate for that extra contingency.

ten years later in a handsome suit, he had

There is much to admire on a construc-

become a vice president and member of

tion job. Compliments encourage the good

the board of one of the nation’s largest cor-

workmanship you seek. Building architec-

porations! So much for first impressions.

ture in a personal way means making

Change orders will be requested by the

many visits to the site. When finish work is

owner, architect, or contractor, priced by

being done, whether in wood, stone, tile, or

the contractor for cost and time delay, then

glass, watching the individual craftsmen

reviewed by the architect and presented to

can ensure the quality of finish. When a

the owner for approval. Contractors will

new craftsman comes on the job, watch his

need to make a monthly or weekly draw on

work for a day or two, and if it isn’t good

the construction account in order to meet

enough, dismiss him. On only three occa-

their payroll and their subcontractors’

sions have I had to have a workman

charges. Your important hold on this opera-

replaced, but the big one was when I

tion is that you stipulate, and AIA contracts

removed an inept superintendent of con-

do stipulate, that the owner retains 10 per-

struction on a five-building school com-

cent of each payment until the satisfactory

plex. His replacement arrived the next

completion of the project. It’s important to

morning—red-faced, late, and hungover. I

have a signed release from all the subcon-

asked his name, and he said, “John Smith.”

tractors before final payment.

What was your last job? He said, “I just got

Ensure that the general contractor also

out of the army.” Had I made a big mis-

retains 10 percent from all of the subcon-

take? I couldn’t visit the job until two days

tractors. This 10 percent will be their moti-

later, but when I did, I saw a new small

vation for finishing the job satisfactorily.

building that had nothing to do with the

The retainage helps you get your project to

plans. I yelled, “What’s that?” He said,

final completion with good craftsmanship

“That’s my office.” It was complete with

and on time.

phones, electricity, and air conditioning, all

Completion requires that all of the con-

built in two days, and it even included a

ditions of the contract be met. This one-of-

place for me. I was both impressed and

a-kind project, with lots of variables, using



the ground floor

many building crafts, is nothing like Dell

coming in to finish its work. When the con-

making you a perfect computer within

tract is complete, the general contractor

hours of your order.

turns the project over to the owner. With

There are shortcuts to this process,

the construction crews off of the site, the

such as going to a design-build company

landscape and interior furnishings and

and telling them what you want and how

equipment installation can begin.

much you want to spend. This kind of ser-

The landscape and interior designers

vice has extreme variations in quality of

have been working during the construc-

design and construction. Most popular are

tion, usually under separate contracts, and

the quick and cheap alternatives that have

have been involved with the architect in the

nothing to do with architecture. In the case

design process from the beginning. The

of a residence, a home builder might mod-

client will have been working closely with

ify a standard plan and call it “custom.”

these specialists as the building finally

This is, in fact, the way most buildings

comes together and is ready to function.

happen. However, a design-build process

At this point, the furnishings become more

can be in the time-honored manner of

important than the building. Then it’s all

building in which the architect builds what

integrated when each space is comfortable

he or she has designed and produces

for each user. Installation of electronic

extraordinary results for the client. This

equipment, art, special facilities, and such

kind of professional service is standard in

may take weeks—with even more deci-

other countries. Recent AIA contracts have

sions to be made by the client-owner.

been refined to make clear distinctions in

After the building is completed and

roles that eliminate conflicts of interest

shaped into its best form, you should have

between the architect-builder and the cli-

architectural photographs made of both

ent-owner, making this an attractive and

exteriors and interiors. There are two

efficient method of making architecture.

reasons: first, the client and the architect

The many specific details to be com-

can offer them for publication if desired;

pleted, or redone, before the project is

and second, the architect needs a record

complete are noted in a “punch list,” the

of the work because it will change over

device that owners, architects, and contrac-

time through remodeling and will no lon-

tors use to complete all the details of the

ger represent his or her work. The archi-

project before final payment is made and

tecture will simply become real estate

the retainer is paid to the contractor and

on the market, to be remodeled in unex-

subcontractors. Making punch lists and

pected ways, and the only record may

crossing off the completed items marks the

be in photographs.

final stage of the project—painters are

One last suggestion: have a grand open-

touching up; electricians are checking out

ing event to celebrate everyone’s accom-

lighting; in fact, almost every trade will be

plishment and enjoy your new building!

m a k i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e w i t h a n a r c h i t e c t






This generation should prepare broadly— for more than one career, perhaps as many as four. henry cisneros (1947–)

Dear Amelia, “What’s it like to be an architect?” you ask. Your entry into architecture school is part of your dream and you have chosen a great school. For others who are about to build, becoming an architect is the second and most dramatic choice in their effort to make architecture rather than just a building. The sheer joy of being an architect comes from the way you feel in your head and gut when you are being creative, when you solve a complex problem with clarity, making something happen that’s better than you thought it could be. Or when you feel yourself applying hard-earned knowledge from study, travel, and experience to the creative process and you approach the b e c o m i ng a n a r c h i t e c t



edge of beauty. Or when you arrive at your

have degree programs in these specialties

construction site early in the morning and

without the long training required to

feel goosebumps.

become a practicing architect. For example,

The dream of becoming an architect

you will find that some universities now

seems to be deep-seated. Mine was realized

offer undergraduate and graduate degrees

with an early decision. Most people don’t let

in Architectural Studies in which limited

themselves even consider becoming an

amounts of technology, drawing, and

architect because they imagine such a

design are required. These programs focus

career to be unrealistic for them. They tell

on architectural history and theory, special-

me, “I’m bad at math” or “I can’t draw” or

ized issues, and two or three years of

“It would take too long” or “I wouldn’t make

design study. Because these students are

enough money.” I’d answer with the follow-

smart and come from varying back-

ing, in order: “There’s actually little math

grounds, they help create an exciting intel-

involved”; “You can be taught how to draw”;

lectual milieu in the school. In the field,

“The formal schooling is five to seven

they create a better architecture by preserv-

years”; “The financial rewards vary signifi-

ing good architecture of the past and help-

cantly—some architects drive Porsches,

ing to design more humane cities while

some drive pickups. I’ve driven both.”

working in roles as consultants or as com-

Others think about the long education

munity leaders and in public office. Being

and never do it. Still others start architec-

passionate and educated, they can be

ture school in their thirties or forties.

extremely effective.

Philip Johnson, one of the legendary archi-

To explore a career change or choice,

tects of the twentieth century, was a suc-

consider enrolling in such programs as the

cessful museum curator before setting off

Career Discovery Program at Harvard, or

for architecture school in his midthirties.

the Summer Academy at the University of

Andrea Paladio, perhaps the most copied

Texas, or others listed at If you

architect in history, was a stonemason

are making a career change, look for the

until, at age forty-two, he called himself an

program that best fits your needs in a city

architect. Filippo Brunelleschi, who led

where you would like to live for a while.

architecture into the Renaissance, had been a goldsmith. Some of the best students I can remem-

The probability of success in architecture school is not easy to measure because architecture requires so many aptitudes

ber started in their late thirties. Some who

and talents. And after exploring the field,

make a career change want to be profes-

many students decide to seek another

sionals; others want an education in archi-

career instead. For instance, among

tecture to pursue careers in historic

famous actors there is Jimmy Stewart, who

preservation, urban design, sustainable

graduated from the architecture school at

development, or environmental issues—

Princeton, James Mason, who studied

or perhaps even doctoral studies in archi-

architecture at Cambridge, and John Den-

tectural history and theory. Many schools

ver, who studied architecture at Texas Tech.



the ground floor

Architecture, being the domain of the

one-man office after heading a large firm

generalist, doesn’t have a special entrance

where others drew for me, and the last

exam like the LSAT or GMAT, which sup-

time, when my design students felt so inse-

posedly gauges an applicant’s likely success

cure in their drawing skills that they

in law or business school. Only one defi-

insisted I learn to draw again so I could

ciency completely inhibits a person from

teach them! However, drawing improves

understanding architecture: poor spatial

seeing, and drawing in the form of sketch-

perception. The three-dimensional aspects

ing is the key to visualization. The more

of architecture are the heart of the matter,

facile one is in such sketching, the better.

and if abstract space cannot be perceived,

Parents ask me how their aspiring high

architecture cannot be conceived. Math is

school student might best prepare for

used mainly to understand physical princi-

architecture school. I suggest a good gen-

ples and for its elegant lessons in logic. You

eral education; a start in a second language

don’t have to be good at drawing because

so as to explore other cultures, enough

architecture school will teach you how to

high school math and physics to handle

draw adequately if not beautifully. I’ve

introductory college courses, experiences

learned how to draw four times—first in

in freehand drawing, and, most important,

architecture school, then again when start-

extensive travel. It helps to visit with sev-

ing a practice, then again when starting my

eral architects you know or can be introduced to, to see what their lives are like, what they do in their offices, and, if possible, to follow them around for a day or so to learn what their world is like. If you are really lucky, you may find a mentor who will guide you in school and beyond. Almost everyone enjoys architecture school even though it’s known to be a strenuous course of study. The two most important ingredients for success in school seem to be high intelligence and enthusiasm for the crushing thrill of the work involved. Fortunately, it’s fun; if it’s not fun for you, don’t do it. Students practically live in the studios— drawing, building models, and learning from each other while making

North portal of the School of

lasting friendships. It’s seductive and con-

Architecture, University of

suming. Those who don’t feel jazzed by it

Texas at Austin. Paul Cret,

feel distinctly out of place and drop out


quickly. My first impression of architecture b e c o m i ng a n a r c h i t e c t



school was shock upon seeing the lobby of

never thought of being an academic—I

the architecture building filled with huge

didn’t even have a graduate degree. He asked

watercolor drawings of beautiful buildings

me to think about it. But at the time, I was

by the year’s top students. I had no idea

three years deep into the most exciting proj-

that architects did that, and I was sure that

ect of my life, so I called back after a week to

I couldn’t do anything like that. But when I

say that I appreciated the opportunity but I

visited the school soon after graduation, I

couldn’t do it. A few weeks after that, my cli-

saw my thesis in the same lobby.

ents unexpectedly sold the big project and I was up in the air. When Dean Green called

In choosing an architecture school, look at

again with the same question, I said that I

the student work, the backgrounds of the

would come out and talk about it.

faculty, the studio and support facilities,

Thus I entered academe as a tenured

the library, the administration, the curricu-

professor and dean of what would become

lum of the particular degree you want, and

a new architecture school. I was on an

the city, since you’ll be living there for a

exciting but steep learning curve, writing

while. Explore for infor-

course descriptions, the curricula for archi-

mation. It seems that every school, even

tecture and four other environmental

the less prominent ones, have a few really

design degrees, hiring the faculty and

good students. Because a school is only as

staff, remodeling buildings for space, and

good as its students, one gauge of a school

starting a library. Five years later, with a

is “How good is the weakest student, and

great deal of help from local architects

how fantastic is the best student?”

and engineers, we had produced an accred-

There are now 114 architecture schools in the United States. But back in 1971, Dallas/Fort Worth was the largest urban

ited school of architecture and our first graduates. Having completed that mission, I was

area in the United States without a school

then asked to be dean of architecture at my

of architecture. That soon changed. In an

alma mater, the University of Texas at Aus-

unexpected telephone call I received one

tin, in 1976 and assigned the charge of

evening, Dean Charles Green of the Uni-

rebuilding the school. I made a full com-

versity of Texas at Arlington asked, “Would

mitment there and enjoyed the next

you consider coming out here and starting

twenty-two years amid an extraordinary

an architecture school?” I asked him to say

group of colleagues, students, and ideas.

that again because I thought he must think

Degree programs in architecture started

he’s talking to someone else. After he

at universities in the United States in the

assured me that I’d heard him correctly, I

late nineteenth century: MIT in 1866, Har-

asked, “Why me?” He said, “We’ve read

vard in 1895, the University of Texas in

your comments in the news about the need

1909. Some architecture schools started

for a school. You have a good reputation as

within a college of Engineering, some in a

an architect, and we think you can make an

college of Fine Arts, and some in graduate

architecture school here.” I told him I’d

schools; most programs evolved eventually



the ground floor

into independent schools within their uni-

ture can plunge right into architecture

versities, many also offering education in

school with enthusiasm, but many fresh-

the related disciplines of city planning,

men take a little longer to decide, so they

landscape architecture, interior design,

start out in liberal arts and benefit from a

other design specializations, and

broader education and more campus life


before committing to a professional

Degree programs are structured in several ways. If you also have a degree in

program. Students from all disciplines can suc-

another area, you typically start in a gradu-

ceed in architecture school. Musicians and

ate program that could be completed in

literature majors stand out as some of the

about three years. If you’re just starting

biggest stars that I remember. Science and

college, the odds are you will do a four-year

engineering majors, though seemingly well

undergraduate degree followed by a two-

prepared for architecture, often require an

year graduate degree. But you may get a

adjustment to a teaching method that is far

baccalaureate degree in another area first

more subjective than their familiar objec-

and then go to a graduate architecture pro-

tive processes. Students with a mechanical

gram. Or another choice is the long-stand-

drawing background or digital expertise

ing five-year undergraduate professional

can often draw faster than they can design

degree that could be followed by a graduate


degree. Course work includes Design,

The teaching method for design and

Drawing, Architectural History and The-

drawing differs from most disciplines. We

ory, Structures, Environmental Controls,

use a one-on-one discussion of the stu-

Construction, and Professional Practice,

dent’s work, similar to teaching in a music

plus a thorough liberal arts experience.

or art school. One who has difficulty with

Around 60 percent of the students are

the process of criticism may experience

Design studio in the School

men and 40 percent are women—up from

limited progress in the study of design. It’s

of Architecture, University of

just 3 percent women in the 1940s. A col-

the special and personal way we teach and

Texas at Austin.

lege freshman anxious to get into architec-

learn, which is of course rare in the large universities of today. Small classes and daily personal contact with the professor in the studio and on field trips create a healthy learning environment. On one such field trip to see the work of a famous architect, a student asked, “Can you teach me to think like that?” Life revolves around the design studio, where about fifteen students each have their own workspace, usually with computers. Because studio classes last fifteen hours a week all semester, studio life b e c o m i ng a n a r c h i t e c t



becomes the ecosystem of the school. Stu-

know how she got into graduate school, but

dents live in the studios literally day and

when I met Anna in her first week, strug-

night when a project nears completion. I

gling at her drawing board, and asked if I

would sometimes go by the school to find

could help, she said, “I do need help! Until

my entire class working in the studio at

last week I was an emergency room nurse.”

midnight, high on the intensity and endur-

I noticed that her drawings were scratches,

ance of the “charrette,” smelling of pizza,

clearly her first try—and also that she was

and having a good time.

pregnant. How could she handle these

The phenomenon of the charrette

classes? Young Professor Refuerzo

comes from the tradition of the Ecole des

demanded that every student in Anna’s

Beaux-Arts in Paris, the most important

class make an A—and insisted that they

architecture school of the early twentieth

earn it, too! So, somehow, by semester’s

century, where students lived and did their

end Anna had learned to draw, and by her

work in little apartments all over Paris. As

third semester she had become so skillful

the story goes, a horse-drawn cart—in

that I had her teach a drawing class. Being

French charrette—was used to go around to

a single parent, Anna brought her baby boy

the students’ residences and pick up their

to the studio, where he took his naps in a

drawings. The drawings had to be quickly

neat little bed made between the rungs

put on the charrette, and if the project

under her drawing table. After six semes-

wasn’t finished, the student would jump on

ters, when Anna had become one of the

the cart and try to finish the project while

best designers in the entire school, I

wobbling down the cobblestone streets to

proudly brought our guest, the famous

the waiting jury of professors. Charrette

architect Bill Caudill, to see her work after

has thus come to mean an intense effort

his all-school lecture. Her design studio

over a period of time, like twenty-four to

was a grand room designed in 1916 by

forty-eight hours, during which one goes

Cass Gilbert, the architect of the Supreme

without sleeping and one’s mental and

Court Building in Washington, D.C. It was

artistic abilities are concentrated into a cre-

around 10 p.m. We found the great room

ativity machine more effective than one

full of students, cardboard models, stacks

ever could imagine. It is a great “high,” a

of tracing paper, coffee, and rock ’n’ roll.

great feeling— one that my partners and I

They were clearly embarked on an all-night

continued to experience as professionals,

charrette. As Caudill and I were admiring

when, in an overnight charrettte, it was the

the imaginative drawings on Anna’s table,

only time that we played music—usually

a smiling little face looked up from his bed

Verdi’s gorgeous Requiem, over and over—

and said, “Hi!” Her son, now age three, got

until the project was finished and we had

a big hug from us, then walked around the

given Verdi a cha-cha beat. You can tell that

studio to kiss all the students in the class

most architects enjoy studio life and the

goodnight, as he had done for as long as he


could remember.

Let me tell you about Anna. I don’t 74


the ground floor

Even life outside the studio is intense

nium, they enjoyed so many opportunities that recruiters were offering hiring bonuses. Because the architecture profession plans new construction, it has been a bellwether of the nation’s economy. It’s one of the first indicators of decline in business activity at the beginning of a major recession and also one of the first indicators of an economic upturn. The awkward gap between school and practice—the ideal and the real—is often bridged by the opportunity to work in an architect’s office while in school. My first Students present their proj-

because architecture dominates so many

such opportunity came in 1948, when I

ects to faculty and visiting

discussions. Most schools have a lecture

had decided to skip summer school for a

critics for review.

series of visiting architects and scholars

job as a musician. Instead, I received one

several times a month; a vital school will

of those life-changing phone calls. The

have several each week. An ad hoc noon-

caller said his name was O’Neil Ford, that

time forum in a packed seminar room may

he needed someone who could draw, and

become the hottest venue for discussion.

would I like to come work for him. I had

One forum may invite faculty and guests

never heard of Ford, but he was an archi-

to explain their formal work. Another

tect and that’s what I wanted to be, so off I

forum may invite a scholar to present a

went to his office in San Antonio. But this

topic they are working on but haven’t yet

was no ordinary office. This was a large

resolved. (These are often the best forums

spread on the San Antonio River next to

and can go on for hours.) A variety of

the historic eighteenth-century San Jose

architectural exhibitions and guest lectur-

Mission, with a group of old stone houses,

ers offer new ideas and create vitality

workshops, and barns forming a large

around the school.

courtyard. Outside were peacocks, guinea

Eventually, graduation happens!

hens, chickens, dogs, and little children

Whether it’s a boom or bust economy, or

along with a collection of period automo-

even if the world is at war, students gradu-

biles in various states of repair. It was the

ate and expect to enter their profession. My

magical world of Willow Way, where Neil

early mentors graduated into the Depres-

and his family lived and worked and also

sion or into World War II. I myself gradu-

where we draftsmen lived, next door to the

ated into the Korean War; others after me

drafting room. We were being shaped in

graduated into Vietnam or into economic

quite a different way than we would have

booms or recessions. A placement director

been in a corporate office in Manhattan.

I once knew called it “graduation bingo.”

My next training came in the last two

As students graduated around the millen-

years of school with another of the region’s b e c o m i ng a n a r c h i t e c t



first Modernist architects, Charles Granger,

complete. While you will be registered in

who had trained with both Richard Neutra

only one state, this exam gives reciprocity

and Eero Saarinen. This kind of preprofes-

possibility in other states.

sional experience is available in schools

Alternatively, it’s significant that some

with professional residency programs

of our best architects, past and present,

offering academic credit within the

have no professional architecture degrees.


Three giants of the twentieth century,

A professional degree is just the begin-

Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and

ning. Even with a degree that has taken

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, were not grad-

five, six, or even more years to earn, you

uates of an architecture school, nor was

must become registered by a state before

Harwell Hamilton Harris. In the South-

you can call yourself an architect. To be

west, for example, the foremost regional

registered, you must complete a three-year

architects have done beautifully without

internship with a registered architect,

professional degrees in architecture. (David

although in reality it’s a normal employ-

Williams lacked one course and as a mav-

ment without the regimen that accompa-

erick refused to complete his degree.

nies a medical internship. Extensive experi-

O’Neil Ford took some courses with the

ence in the office of a registered architect

International Correspondence School.

can no longer be substituted for a profes-

David Lake and Ted Flato completed four-

sional degree for registration in most

year preprofessional degree programs and

states. After internship, you can qualify to take the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) given by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. The exam is in nine parts: Predesign, General Structures, Lateral Forces, Mechanical and Electrical Equipment, Building Design/Materials and Construction, Construction Documents and Services, Site Planning, Building Planning, and Building Technology. Each part requires three to seven hours on a computer in a test room. Any parts failed may be retaken in six months. The pass rate is around 80 percent, and some of the best architects I know failed at least one

The geometric structure of

part and had to wait six months to retake it.

the Wilson House was of

Nowadays, good preparation courses make

solid mahogany. Dallas,

it just another hurdle, but it does require

Pratt, Box and Henderson,

intensive preparation and at least a week to




the ground floor

finished with an intensive apprenticeship

organized, possessing both business skills

with Ford.) All of them became registered

and people skills, having a flair for entre-

when experience was an alternative to a

preneurship, and getting some good

professional degree. It’s notable that each

breaks. If you want to open your own

of these men excelled as an architect, mak-

office, your questions will be: Should I

ing extraordinary architecture on the cut-

open first, or should I cultivate potential

ting edge, often published, and broadly

clients first and get “known”? And how


does it happen? In my case, my partner,

When I took the four-day registration

James Pratt, and I had the good fortune to

exam in New Orleans at Tulane’s Architec-

be known first—and in an unusual way.

ture Building in 1955, I was a navy lieuten-

We had the audacity to do a study of down-

ant about to be able to return to my career

town Dallas, using the occasion to promote

and needing to pass. Fortunately I did,

some new urban design principles—new

whereupon I took my passing exam report

ideas for that time, anyway—that seemed

to the Orleans Parish Courthouse to have

to deserve vital discussion. After three

my architect’s registration recorded. There,

years of work, we caught the attention of

a kindly gentleman climbed a ladder to the

the national architectural journals. We had

top of a bookcase and brought down a

also won an international design competi-

handsome red-leather volume with gold

tion and received a lot of press even though

lettering that read Registry of Midwives and

we were still young associates in other

Architects. I think I was number 445, but I

firms. Then our first client called, the one

doubt that registry survived Hurricane

who asked us to tell him what he should do


with his 6.2 acres of downtown Dallas. We

Fulfilling oneself as a professional

negotiated a contract to design a high-den-

architect requires one to operate with three

sity, mixed-use development, printed a let-

distinct personalities, each having its own

terhead, and opened our office with more

separate value system. The architect is (1)

courage than business plan. It grew to

an artist, (2) a technician, and (3) a busi-

become known as Pratt, Box and Hender-

nessperson. The values involved invariably

son for the next thirty-five years.

conflict and must somehow be reconciled,

Being an architect is more difficult than

however uneasily. A practicing architect

becoming one. Our firm’s interest in the

spends more time in technical and busi-

design of places and things at every scale

ness matters than in design matters.

involved us in urban design, business and

Isn’t it amazing that we have symmetrical

institutional buildings, houses, landscape,

architectural trinities: Commodity—

interiors, and furnishings. These were

Firmness—Delight, and its parallel,

exciting times. Unbelievably, we worked


even harder than we had in school. After

The practice of architecture is quite dif-

that first big commission, we designed a

ferent from school. Success in practice has

small, one-story office building that sorely

additional demands. It involves being well

tested our knowledge and experience, b e c o m i ng a n a r c h i t e c t



because we had each been working only in firms that were doing skyscrapers. Our experience had also not prepared us for designing a large house for an old Dallas family. My being from a little town in East Texas, and my partner from a little town in West Texas, we didn’t know how to design a fine home because we had rarely been in one. As luck had it, though, our client was patient and instructive. We lavished time on the design and construction. All of us were delighted with the result—in fact, in 1990 it was named one of the fifty best houses ever built in Dallas, still extant. Next came a private school for mentally retarded children, two exciting churches, and a large market building—projects that would put us in the magazines and even a few books. We stayed involved locally with community service and internationally with design competitions, through which we could see how our ideas compared with those of other architects. We took time for travel to see the great architecture of the world. (How can you design a great building if you’ve never seen one?) Our small firm

large residence where we had designed a

top: Interior of St. Stephen

conceived a plan whereby the three part-

complex roof geometry of exposed wood

United Methodist Church

ners would each take a three-month trip

structure, for which we planned to use the

with walls of Archilithics.

every three years at the firm’s expense. We

most economical cedar available. A former

Mesquite, Texas, Pratt, Box

traveled on shoestring budgets, but among

client, himself in search of a good buy on

and Henderson, 1961.

the three of us we saw most of the great

cedar, alerted us to a boxcar of dense furni-

architecture of the world.

ture-grade Honduras mahogany that had to

bottom: Plan of St. Stephen

be sold at a big discount. So we made the

United Methodist Church,

is to work with new or unusual materials

house as a piece of mahogany furniture

conceived to serve the litur-

coming either from advancing technology

within the original budget! The geometry of

gical processions of the con-

or from extraordinary natural materials

the three parts of the residence came

gregation at worship, sat

found at an affordable price, such as a par-

together in a way that I could not draw well

freely on a prairie in Mes-

ticular brick or stone or just the right type

enough to explain to the carpenters how to

quite, Texas, Pratt, Box and

of glass. One such example for me was in a

build it, so I had to climb up on the second-

Henderson, 1961.

One of the excitements of construction



the ground floor

floor roof and piece out the rafters at the

tectural fantasy. Unfortunately, because of

correct angle.

legal problems with patents and owner-

Once, while looking for new materials

ship, the material was not used again,

on the edge of technology, we got ourselves

much to our loss, but it was a forerunner of

invited to watch a contractor’s experiment

the fiberglass-reinforced stucco now in

with a new material composed of Portland

common use on buildings of many types.

cement, fiberglass roving, and a secret

Practice has many surprises, such as

admixture for a material eventually called

when the American Institute of Architects

Archilithics. The cement mixture and the

asked me to write a book on the architec-

fiberglass roving were to be shot separately

ture in and around Dallas. Having avoided

out of a two-nozzle gun onto a steel arma-

history and English in both high school

ture to make economical thin-shell con-

and college, I found this a task that re-

crete structures and other fluid shapes. At

quired help from every friend I had.

the end of the demonstration, the remain-

We produced the first credible book on

ing concrete mixture was shot onto a row

the subject, The Prairie’s Yield: Forces

of concrete blocks about four feet tall by six

Shaping Dallas 1842 –1962 (New York:

feet wide. Several days later, we returned to

Reinhold, 1962)—and I had my first

see the dome experiment. For some rea-

glimpse of another facet of the discipline

son, someone happened to kick over the

of architecture.

wall of concrete blocks, and it stayed

Our firm eventually grew to employ over

together like a solid wall. The cement with

thirty architects and handled large projects,

the admixture had bonded to the block

such as college dormitories, office build-

while the fiberglass roving for reinforce-

ings, wholesale markets, apartment build-

ment held the blocks together. Eureka! We

ings, schools, churches, a community col-

suddenly had ourselves an inexpensive wall

lege campus, and several urban design

that could be shaped in curves without

projects, specialty shopping centers, and

formwork by common labor rather than by

even an amusement park. We wanted the

masons! We asked a testing service to set

large office because it provided us with a

up a strength test on a ten-foot-high wall

base for doing significant projects, but it

sample, one-third of which had no founda-

was a big risk; we have since learned better

tion under it. Weight was applied to the

ways to do significant large-scale work

cantilevered end of the wall, stressing it to

(chiefly by associating with other firms).

failure. This yielded evidence of a very high

We won a number of design awards for our

stress resistance on the strain gauge. Our

work, and all three partners, along with

design was the answer to how we would

most of the long-term members of the

build a church we were then designing that

firm, were honored by election to the AIA

was composed of continuously fluid

College of Fellows. A career high came in

shapes. It was quite successful. It won sev-

1968, when we began design on a thirty-

eral design awards and was published here

two-acre mixed-use project in downtown

and in Europe— even in a book on archi-

Dallas with a flagship building that would b e c o m i ng a n a r c h i t e c t



Model of Griffin Square and Tower with I. M. Pei City Hall in foreground. Pratt, Box and Henderson. Dallas, Texas, unbuilt, 1961.

be both the tallest concrete building in the

imagined. An empty building is just a

world and the tallest building of any kind

piece of real estate, but when it is given a

west of the Mississippi. The thrill of that

place in the community and when land-

dream kept me awake at night and

scape, furnishings, art, books, music, and

intensely engaged during the day, working

food are added, or when a business or edu-

sixty billable hours a week with a large

cational enterprise flourishes, it provides a

design team for three years. Lots of flatter-

satisfaction far stronger than seeing oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s

ing press came out of it, even a front-page

building in a magazine or receiving a

story in the business section of the New

design award. It gives meaning to the work

York Times and articles in several European

beyond its architectural aspirations and

journals.Our New York partners ultimately

makes a contribution to the community.

changed, however, and our grand project

On a personal level, being an architect

stopped. But for three years I had the fun

allows you to acquire and enjoy many

of thinking I was actually designing one of

skills. It provides a rich sense of accom-

the tallest buildings in the world, exploring

plishment. It allows a growing intellectual

leading-edge technologies, and helping

understanding of how and why architec-

shape a city.

ture evolved as it did, together with a sense

As an architect I have found the design

of participation in it. If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re fortunate,

process thrilling and the construction pro-

your works will live in their communities,

cess challenging, but the lasting joy comes

in books, journals, and the ephemera of

when the client loves the building and uses

scholarsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; or at least in the memories of

it in beautiful ways that I had not even

you and your colleagues.



the ground floor



When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how

Dear Ms. Van Zandt: The alternative to hiring an architect or

to solve the problem. But when I have

becoming one is learning to think like an

finished, if the solution is not beautiful,

architect and getting the help needed to

I know it is wrong.

make architecture. You have said that you

buc km i n s te r ful l er

want to build on your own account.

(1895 –1983)

Assuming that you wish to invest yourself in the process, I should first say that thinking like an architect differs from thinking like most other professionals because the architect is a generalist seeking to produce an art that is in service of people’s needs. Its range of activity is broad. The first time I thought like an architect was probably in Miss Klimer’s first-grade class when she had us build a house—a real, full-size house with a roof and stucco walls—in an oversized classroom at East Texas State Teacher’s College Training t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t



School. The three small rooms were made

and methods of design process vary, I’ll

of orange crates covered with chicken wire

describe the way I think about it and the

and plastered by the hands of seven-year-

way I have taught it.

olds. Miss Klimer taught us to grow vegeta-

Making shelter for people, things, and

bles in a garden out back, then take turns

tasks is a basic human need; architecture is

cooking lunch and living in the “house.”

in the service of those essentials as a ser-

That project was so successful that she had

vant art. Building designs can be scratched

us build a barn out of cardboard carpet

in the sand or sketched on the back of an

rolls, like a log cabin, and bring in pets

envelope in minutes or formatted from

from the farm. The thinking I remember

available sources and printed within hours.

was the awe of seeing that big shape appear

But the design of true architecture takes

from the stuff we had had on the floor and

time, patience, knowledge, skill, and a will

how good it felt to press plaster into steel

to make it happen.

mesh. That teacher and those two build-

You begin the design process by explor-

ings plus her stories of Mexico must have

ing three worlds that are about to meet:

set my future.

One world is the site, a place in the com-

If you draw to think or if you build use-

munity or landscape; another world is the

ful things from your thinking, you have a

program, the owner’s list of needs and

core of architect-like thinking at work. John

desires; and the third world is the budget.

Ruskin described architecture as, “An art to

The site will be visited, explored, walked

learn because we are all concerned with it.”

over, driven around, flown over, read about,

The readers I hope to address here

and studied in maps of topography, geol-

design large and small buildings. These

ogy, traffic, and weather. The geography,

people are developers, engineers, building

urban planning issues, building codes,

contractors, professional homebuilders,

zoning codes, and subdivision restrictions

and active architecture aficionados. Large

that are the physical and legal realities of

buildings require the seal of an architect or

the particular piece of property—all these

engineer to protect health, safety, and wel-

need to be absorbed. Learn the site; have a

fare in most communities. Small buildings

picnic on it.

and personal residences don’t require a professional seal.

The program is a statement of what the building is expected to do, what it will con-

Thinking like an architect suggests that

tain, how it will function, for what group of

some kind of magic will happen. True, the

people, what role the building seeks to play

design process is the magic, fundamental

in the community, and how it can relate to

to the architect’s work—a straightforward,

the urban fabric. If it is to be an income-

logical quest for information, inspiration,

producing building, its financial pro forma

artful resolution, and a means of expres-

becomes part of the program.

sion. You can think of it as creative problem

The budget is a prime reality of the

solving made into art—art contained and

project. It controls. It is value. When your

defined by functions. While approaches

project is finished, no matter how good the



the ground floor

architecture, it will be only real estate to

ables—and, tougher still, they all seek to

much of the world. I’ve never known of a

be reconciled simultaneously and artfully.

budget that was too large. Yet a wonderful

Mathematical formulae or computers can’t

client for whom I designed a large house

make these kinds of decisions because

with solid brick walls, solid walnut cabi-

each variable has a value judgment placed

nets, marble floors, and nothing ersatz

on it by each individual designer.

anywhere, said at the end of the project,

The challenge can best be handled with

“Hal Box is the only architect in the coun-

visual problem solving, in which diagrams

try that can exceed an unlimited budget.” A

of program requirements are made and

great quip, yet within a year he asked me to

solutions are tried. You make “bubble” dia-

add to the house a twenty-five-meter indoor

grams of various functional parts of the

swimming pool. Budgets must be realistic

building to organize relationships, func-

for the proposed undertaking. They can

tions, and proximities; then you begin to

change as objectives and resources change,

set limits and work with the messy body of

so they are not fixed—they’re just a fact.

information intuitively, by trial and error, to

Programming in the 1970s became an

find workable relationships of progressions

art form in itself with intricate procedures.

from one function to another as well as an

William Pena, in his book Problem Solving,

organization of the whole. Some variables

Program Making, described an excellent

have a higher value and get priority consid-

procedure that could be used by large firms

eration. It’s like solving a puzzle.

working with complex corporate organiza-

Eventually a possible organization for all

tions to come to an understanding of the

these variables becomes apparent. As you

client’s needs, record them accurately, and

work with the diagrams you can see rela-

agree jointly that the decisions made in the

tionships emerge and patterns form into a

programming phase represent what it is

composite that can be made into a build-

that is to be built. As you can see, such a

ing. In a complex building type or unusual

process is very reassuring. Since that time,

site, early discussions with consultants may

special consultants provide programming

suggest that some organizations are better

services sometimes even before an archi-

than others and may even be controlling

tect is hired. Although the program is an

factors because of cost.

essential beginning to the design process,

With site, program, and budget in

it is not the final arbiter. During the design

mind, you can begin to place each part of

process new factors will be discovered, pri-

the project in a hierarchy and give it prefer-

orities may change, and the program will

ence in size, orientation preferences, loca-

be refined.

tion, and functional proximity. Soon you

While the program presents the reasons

will begin to see possibilities for actual

why you build the building, many restric-

physical form and develop a progression of

tions and ordinances will tell you how.

spaces. This is visual problem solving.

Design of architecture is complex because

From the sketch diagram in plan form,

there are always so many competing vari-

visualize moving through the spaces; find t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t



axes that can help you organize spaces.

resolved in a preliminary way as you begin

Find a long wall that might become a refer-

to create forms of the building in your

ence plane to help organize the spaces

head. The architectural concept will help

around it. If it’s dull, twist it, overlay it,

you to define the form, the spaces, the

reverse it, manipulate it. Find progressions

light, the movement, and such, and it will

through the spaces. Look for ways to create

become a schematic design that you can

mystery and surprise on discovery. Begin

develop and refine.

to visualize roof shapes and sculptural

Students ask many questions before

form, but don’t be too quick to adapt a roof

finally understanding what defines a con-


cept. It’s your visualization of what the

After you get a schematic diagram that

building seeks to be. It can be a sketch of

seems to work, see if you can do a better

the floor plan idea, or a small sketch

one by starting all over, adding new consid-

model, or a sketch of the building sitting

erations such as thinking about how the

on the site, or any other means of describ-

building might be organized in cross sec-

ing the building in your mind— even a

tion (a cutaway view through the building)

written description of the concept.

and in elevation (a straight-on view of one

With thousands of variables to be recon-

side of the building or room). Think about

ciled in the design of a building, and with

how you will put a roof on it.

each variable susceptible to a broad range

Because each design problem is differ-

of values, the magic of visual problem solv-

ent, it’s reasonable that you might do it bet-

ing will surpass the ability of today’s com-

ter the second or third time. Yet we are told

puter. The computer can hardly be

by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink

expected to create art out of a building pro-

(New York: Little, Brown, 2005) that our

gram. The computer simply cannot make

first idea is likely to be the best, even

aesthetic decisions or creatively manipulate

before we go through a lot of reasoning.

functional aspects, yet it can compute

An experienced client once told me at the

many alternatives for you to pass judgment

beginning of the project, “I don’t want to

upon. For now, the task of conceptualizing

see a lot of sketches or process, I just want

a design remains in the mind of the

to see what you propose.” Luckily my first


schematic design was on target, was built,

It’s the architect’s responsibility to

and was successful on all counts. On the

develop an architectural concept that will

other hand, I think it’s good to check your-

satisfy the client’s program of need, desire,

self by trying several schemes. Design

and budget in a way that will enhance

problems differ from mathematical prob-

rather than damage the surroundings—

lems in that they don’t have one right

and do so in a way that will make the client,


user, and public grin with pure pleasure.

What you are working toward in this

My mentor, O’Neil Ford, said, “It’s not

phase of the process is an architectural

enough to make a client happy; you must

concept in which functions and budget are

make them ecstatic.”



the ground floor

Sketch of an architectural concept.

In the design process, my first rule is

cept is your most important design deci-

the same as the doctor’s injunction from

sion. Make it. Test it. Pin it on the wall in

Hippocrates: “First, do no harm.” In other

front of you and work toward it. Verbalize it

words, don’t damage the neighborhood,

if you can and write about it under the con-

the streetscape, the natural environment,

cept sketch—a simple list of adjectives can

or the budget.

give direction. Let it set for a while.

Test the concept to see that it satisfies

If you find that your architectural con-

the client’s program, that it can be built

cept is inadequate, restart the process and

within the budget, and that it meets the

develop one that’s better. Keep the old one

requirements of the regulatory agencies

pinned up because you may go back to it.

involved. Then, you want to see if it pro-

As you work on the design and make

vides the maximum delight to the users

decisions about it, keep the chosen concept

and people around it. That last test will

in front of you and in your mind. It will

require a number of trial designs to see if

help you make coherent decisions. Visual-

you have chosen the best. You will want to

ize it as a completed building rather than a

look at other buildings of similar criteria,

design on paper.

either in person or in the library. You will

An element of design to be balanced

want to visualize the completed and occu-

and adjusted about here in your process is

pied building to see if you wish to proceed

the matter of scale. Scale is the relationship

with this design or seek another. The con-

of the building to the human body or to the t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t



size and scale of the buildings nearby. Is it

cal aspects of the site, are assimilated into

too big or too small or just right? For exam-

your concept. These realities are expressed

ple, a tall doorway that dwarfs a person

in lists or narratives, or as you begin to get

near it is out of scale. A McMansion next to

visual in your process, these facts can

a small cottage is out of scale on the street.

become diagrams that might relate well to

Scale can make a setting be monumental

your physical planning. When all this

or cozy. A client once requested that a sin-

comes together, it is like a big pot of stew

gle person or couple feel comfortable and

which you stir up and boil in your head,

at ease in a room that seated two thousand

draw out portions of it periodically and test

for dinner; for this we designed protected

it—testing it in a sketch, a drawing, a card-

niches around the perimeter of the room

board model, or a computer model.

that could be intimate spaces within the larger space. A second matter of relative size is that

The building’s complexity will determine the specialized knowledge needed from consultants, who will form a team

of massing, the proportional relationship

with the architect to work on foundations,

of one mass of the building to another and

structure, heating and air conditioning,

to the whole building. Complex masses

plumbing, electrical, lighting, interiors,

become the solids and voids of sculptural

landscape, and perhaps much more. The

form. This is where an accurate three-

primary consultants will be major partici-

dimensional model is needed. A virtual

pants in the early development of the con-

model that can be rotated on a computer

cept, working with the architect, who is a

screen is a useful substitute.

generalist— one of the last in this world of

Remember, most buildings are inher-

specialists—with training to work cre-

ently ugly— often not as attractive as the

atively with many specialists. The early

natural landscape or old buildings they are

phases of design require the generalist to

to replace. So, unless great care is taken in

make many overarching subjective judg-

design, a new building is apt to actually

ments using incomplete information that

diminish the quality of the landscape or

is awaiting refinement by the specialists.

streetscape. Hence this axiom, which I

The untrained designer will make even

either heard or made up: “Make sure that

larger leaps that will need adjustment.

what you build is better than what you’re replacing.” Zoning ordinances, building codes, fire

The basic tool in design thinking is the pencil. I use a pencil because it allows me to change my mind and my drawing

codes, environmental standards, insurance

easily—I erase almost as much as I draw.

requirements, and other legalities tell you

Others use ink and draw definite ideas;

the minimum requirements of how to

my ideas are usually too tentative to be

design the building and must be learned

recorded in ink. I admire those who can

and recorded in your drawings as well. The

think so clearly, but I tend to suspect they

realities of structural systems, mechanical

may be arriving at form too quickly and

and electrical systems, as well as the physi-

missing the subtleties. More and more



the ground floor

designers use only computers and have

creativity in anything else, can be honed by

a computer skill that is as miraculous as

working through a cycle that I paraphrase

a fine drawing skill, to which is added

from the highly regarded poet and plan-

the advantage of the computer’s memory.

ning futurist Betty Sue Flowers.

Today’s students are extremely facile in computer graphics and use it as a basic

Prepare with a thorough investigation.

design tool. Digital drawings look so per-

Focus intensely, obsessively, passion-

fect that you may not bother to think of the

ately, as an eccentric genius.

reality of the actual full-size building. A

Dream and play, release cherished

freshman design class can now produce

notions, and explore new ideas.

what look like wonderful designs for build-

Seek a “flash of insight” by visiting the

ings, yet when you take the time to visual-

site, discussing ideas, assessing

ize the reality, it may be an unfortunate or inadequate design decided upon too early because the graphics looked good. I admire those who use the computer with such fluidity that you think they used

precedents. Work effectively to develop the ideas into a design that solves the problem. Assess your work; if it’s not wonderful,

a free-flowing medium like vine charcoal.

repeat the cycle, perhaps from a dif-

In discussing the medium used in design,

ferent point of view, until you reach

Bill Caudill, the distinguished architect and

the result you seek.

educator who spanned the era from watercolor renderings to digital design, claimed

The architecture you create must be

to be able to discern from looking at a

expressed in drawings, models, or images,

building which medium was used in its

not fantasies in your mind. Yet drawings

design: charcoal, pencil, ink, chipboard

can deceive you; you can fall in love too

model, foam-core model, clay model, or

soon with your own drawing. The architect

computer. Sometimes the medium used

Edmund Bacon, an exemplar of a twenti-

for design is readily apparent as you drive

eth-century city planner, cautions that

down the street.

“architects are often too quick to form.” Be

In whatever medium, find the form that

cautious. First of all, drawings must be to

might be developed architecturally. The

scale for reality to be visualized and

technique of laying a piece of cheap tracing

assessed. A scale like 1/4-inch equals 1 foot

paper over your previous drawing to refine

gives an accurate representation for visual-

your sketch again and again, or emulating

ization—smaller scales are used for con-

that process on the computer, can lead to a

cepts. A drawing not to scale will lie to you,

magic synthesis of your objectives. Think

leading you to wishful thinking and

of personally occupying the design, feeling

unworkable decisions. When possible, I

the presence as intimately as you would in

like to draw the basic plan full-size on the

your own home.

site with stakes and colored tape. When

Creativity in the design process, like

you draw to scale on paper or computer, t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t



remember to visualize the full-size reality. Avoid the architect’s trap of making “paper architecture,” something that looks good on paper but is not right for the project. As you put design ideas on paper, the visual problem-solving process prompts one image to lead to another, as ideas feed off of themselves, enabling you to create something more complex and satisfying than the idea you first conceived. This process repeated again and again, as you trace freehand over each idea to improve it, makes the design process work. As you are developing plan concepts, you must be looking at the building in section and elevation so that you understand it three-

Complexity is not to be confused with com-

Cardboard study models of

dimensionally and are adjusting to how the

plication. Confusion signals that you

masses and spaces are

building will look and feel.

should go back and readdress the basic

thinking tools— easy to

problem, find a better solution by examin-

modify and refine.

If your design is not working as well as you would like, remember that you are not

ing the elements and putting them in

alone with that piece of paper; its lines are

another order, reexamine the program. Try

not set in concrete and it will take sugges-

eliminating a variable. Seek complexity;

tions from anywhere. There is wisdom in

avoid complication.

Emerson’s words, “Every man is a borrower

Models help you visualize and record

and a mimic,” so admit it, look around,

design ideas sometimes even better than

inform yourself, get inspiration, and work

drawings do and are useful for people who

from there. In beginning design studios,

lack drawing skills. The limitation of care-

some teachers will have students select an

ful models is that they are time consuming

architect they admire and have the students

to make and to revise and improve, so use

emulate that architect’s work in a design

something easy like cheap cardboard and

project. Mimicking good design informs us

Scotch tape to do rough models that show

and enhances our own design.

the masses, spaces, and light— don’t try to

Complexity enhances design by relating

make them look great; they are for you to

many disparate parts to one another and to

study so that you can refine the design by

the whole. Seek to form many interlocking

making informed decisions. To view a

relationships among parts of the building

model, put your eye at the eye level of the

in its spatial organization. Manipulate the

scale building and visualize it, as you

geometry and the interlocking proportions

would see it on the ground—that’s much

of the parts of a façade to make it visually

better than looking at a model from above,

richer in unexpected layers of delight.

as only birds would see it. The internation-



the ground floor

Excavators, form builders, steel men, carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians, painters, foremen, and inspectors descend on your site with nothing to guide them but a set of plans, their estimate of material, labor, overhead, and profit, and a few kind words from you. The plans, together with the written specifications of materials and methods, and a contractual agreement are the instructions on how you want to have the building built and how it will be paid for. The architect is much like a teacher. The architect’s drawings seek to teach the builders how this particular building is to be built. This is an essential Clay modeling is like sculpt-

ally acclaimed architect Charles Moore

process of communication because, obvi-

ing space. You concentrate

would give a building committee a site

ously, the architect can’t build the building

on the space rather than on

plan and a pallet of model-building materi-

alone. Construction requires people with

the walls.

als— colored paper, Scotch tape, cello-

different skills—it takes a team. The clas-

phane, soda straws, wire, candy Lifesavers,

sic example, Thoreau’s cabin, is an excep-

Fruit Loops, and rocks and vegetation from

tion worth considering, and that is why his

the site—and ask them to build a model of

Walden is on my Reading List. Wittold Ryb-

the building they envisioned. The commit-

czynski’s The Most Beautiful Building in the

tee would create models expressing what

World offers another sensitive insight into a

they wanted in the building. Moore would

person’s intimate relationship with design

elaborate on the ideas in their Scotch tape

and construction.

model and create from it the sophisticated

Conceiving a design requires both con-

forms that expressed the clients’ aspira-

ceptual skills and basic knowledge. For

tions for the building. The design process

example, I need to organize the site in my

absorbs all the knowledge and skill you can

mind and begin to orient the building. For

muster. And design doesn’t stop when the

me this involves many considerations:

drawings are finished. Design values are

knowing exactly where the sun is at differ-

important in the bidding process, as you

ent times of the day and the season; under-

decide on what to take out or add in, and

standing the direction of rain and wind

design continues throughout the construc-

(both the good directions and the bad

tion as details are being built.

ones); understanding the effects of cold,

Your design will be constantly up for

heat, and shade, all of which affect comfort

grabs on the construction site as a lot of

and energy consumption; finding the pos-

people you never met before come to the

sibilities for vistas, axes, and spatial pro-

job site to do something to your building.

gressions; exploring the requirements for t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t



both privacy and community; and under-

ingredients needed for success, either

standing the relationship with surrounding

financially, socially, or aesthetically. Zoning

buildings and landscape so as to appropri-

and building codes may need to be chal-

ately marry this new object with its envi-

lenged. The budget and the financial objec-

ronment. Notwithstanding this long list of

tives are principal elements of the design

considerations, one must keep primary the

to be managed and will control some aes-

reason for the building in the first place: to

thetic issues. Moreover, in any income-

satisfy the client’s program within the budget

producing project, profit too is a matter of

in a timely manner. This is all exciting stuff.

design. For example, in designing private

The thrills of the art come from know-

dormitories at colleges, I discovered that

ing how to manipulate the elements of

part of the profitability of the project was in

design: space, light, progression, move-

design issues under my control and that

ment, proportion, scale, rhythm, and color.

with a detailed pro forma in hand, I could

Thrills also come from determining the

find revenue-producing space, improving

influences of the site (the qualities of a city

profit centers to provide either a lower

fabric or a natural setting), mastering the

building cost, a larger profit, or a bit of

nuances of the location and “lay of the


land,” understanding the social purpose of

As the design process goes back and

the building and its symbolism. The con-

forth among functional issues, building

tinuing quest of the design process is to

systems, and aesthetic issues, it can be

find the appropriate relationships, the

effectively guided by formal design theo-

economy of means, the expression of pur-

ries—many of which are overwhelmingly

pose—all the while seeking an aesthetic

dense. But it is clear what Moore meant

that bespeaks beauty, charm, and comfort,

when he described how he used a theory

a mellow background, an inspirational

he called “the Goldilocks Theory,” in which

space or exciting place, or combinations of

Goldilocks would find something too large,

the above. This involves experimenting

too small, or just right; too high, too low, or

with different ideas and choosing one with

just right; too bright, too dark, or just right;

the confidence that it’s the best.

and so on. The design quest, the theory, is

Needless to say, the budget and the constraints of zoning and building codes quickly become basic controls of this pro-

simply to make things “just right.” And that’s one way to make art. Regarding what’s just right, Mark Twain

cess. Because ignoring any of these reali-

said, “The difference between the right

ties imperils the project, you must be clear-

word and the almost right word is the dif-

headed about what can be done. Yet you

ference between lightning and a lightning

must examine the opportunities. It may be

bug.” One will ask, “How do we know

that not enough money or land was allo-

when it’s ‘just right’?” Well, it’s for the

cated to the project; or it may be that the

trained eye to know that it’s “just right,” in

project is actually on an inappropriate site

the same way that the ear of a violinist

or doesn’t have all of the programmatic

knows that she has the sound “just right.”



the ground floor

Of course it’s subjective. All difficult deci-

of composition, dramatic events, stimulat-

sions are subjective—formulae or com-

ing color, and delight in the fine details of

puter code can handle the others. How

the building. Louis Kahn said, “God is in

does a court know whether to say “guilty”

the Details.” Other senses thrive on delight:

or “not guilty”? It’s by the same kind of

the sounds of the building: water, wind,

process. The best design theory I know is

footsteps, and the quality of voices; the

to keep thinking about how to make some-

touch of a building’s handrail or doorknob

thing that is “just right.”

and the texture of a wall or a floor; scents,

The next most simple and complete

both pleasant and unpleasant, also have

design theory is the classic that demands

effects. Moreover, anticipated delights of

that buildings have “Commodity, Firm-

the tastes to be sensed in the building add

ness, and Delight.” We would have much

to our overall perception. The design pro-

better buildings if everyone would use this

cess includes everything you can imagine

basic architectural test first established by

that will delight all the senses.

Vitruvius, the first-century BC Roman

Much of the satisfaction during the

architect and theorist. Here, “commodity”

design process comes in creating a design

concerns a building’s functional aspects

idiom for a building. The design idiom is

(how it satisfies its program); “firmness”

developed in the synthesis of ideas for the

concerns its vital properties (structure,

form, materials, and particulars of purpose

drainage, mechanical, electrical, plumbing,

placed into a style or manner of artistic

energy use, and such); “delight” concerns

expression that the designer uses in

our perception of the building’s aesthetic

manipulating the design elements. The

qualities. Achieving delight is normally

design idiom will show itself to the

the most difficult of the three and the one

observer in myriad ways—for example, in

that most demands the architect’s talents.

the way windows and doors are detailed,

Accountants and planners can ensure the

the way intersections happen, the way

Design projects can be as

commodity of the building, and engineers

handrails and grills and columns are

large as city blocks or as

can ensure its firmness, but the delight is

small as doorknobs;

the special effort of the architect—when

this one in bronze is by

achieved, it sometimes rises to the level

James Pratt.

of art. Delight enters the design process in many ways. The strongest delights, of course, come from our perception of space, light, proportion, and form—the basic art form of architecture. Yet there is much

The Villa Rotunda, one of

more. Delight continues with seeing the

many villas designed and

architect’s skillful manipulation of design

built near Venice by Andrea

elements: handsome proportions, rhyth-

Palladio from 1540 to 1580.

mic sequences, richness of form, balance t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t



Wright’s Prairie School houses used a consistent design idiom with slight modifications.

detailed, in the use of materials, and in

master of his idiom of white rectilinear

hundreds of thousands of detailed design

forms and their layering. Harwell Hamil-


ton Harris, O’Neil Ford, Frank Welch, and

Some architects, like the Italian Renais-

Lake and Flato created regional design idi-

sance master Andrea Palladio, formed con-

oms that continue to influence buildings in

sistent design idioms that influenced cen-

their regions. Some idioms are based in

turies of architecture around the world.

technology, some in craft, some in geome-

On the other hand, Frank Lloyd Wright,

try, some in traditional design, some in

a genius of invention, created a new, con-

invented form; all are a part of one’s indi-

sistent, integrated architecture composed

vidual creativity.

of many original design idioms—such a

An exciting way for an observer to

comprehensive set of idioms that it formed

understand an architectural work is to be

a design philosophy for the last century

able to “read” the building, and in so doing

and affected the way almost everyone

discover and enjoy the idiomatic aspects of

lived. Other important architects like Eero

the design. Design idioms can be found

Saarinen sought to develop a new design

and savored by the knowing eye just as the

idiom for each building; his inventiveness

ear savors classical music, its motifs and

was responsible for much of the refine-

variations evolving during their exposition,

ment of the Modernist movement. Some of

development, and recapitulation. These

today’s architects have been successful in

motifs or design idioms are at the heart

creating a consistent idiom that becomes

of both music and architecture.

inherent in all their work. The architect Richard Meier is an internationally known 92


the ground floor

Reading an existing building’s design idioms can be a rewarding experience and

The consistently elegant and crisp details of Richard Meier articulate the surfaces of the Rachofsky House, Dallas, 1995 –1996.

Eero Saarinen developed a

useful in developing your own design idi-

new design idiom for each

oms. Start by looking at a window. How


you look in or look out are major events in experiencing the building and an essential part of the architecture as seen from the outside: the façade. Notice the edges of the window. How are they made and of what? How deep is the reveal, i.e., how far is it set back from the wall? What surrounds the window? How is the window divided? What are its proportions? How does the designer relate it to the other windows? Is there something special about this window? Is it the right height when you look out of it? What supports the weight above it, an arch, a lintel, something invisible? That specialness may indicate the design idiom. Look at the doors in the same way to see how they relate. Look at the roof and the cornice. Is the edge thick or thin? Is it flat, sloped, or shaped? What’s the roof made of ? How is the roof held up? By walls, beams, arches, or does it appear to t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t



hover? Look at the walls and see if there is

unusual work available in the magazine’s

something special about them. What mate-

office at the time of publication. A richer

rials? How many different materials? How

collection of good examples may be found

does the mass meet the ground, meet the

in your bookstores and libraries, where the

roof ? Is it a load-bearing wall or a visible

editors, the designers, and the public have

structural frame with infill? Is it a local

had more time for assessment. Aside from

material or exotic? What is the color pal-

the inspiration your search will give you

ette? Look at the massing of the build-

insight on how other designers solved

ing—have the parts been articulated or

problems like yours.

expressed as a single mass? How do you

When you decide that your schematic

perceive from the outside what is going on

design has resolved all the major decisions

inside? How does the building address the

regarding architectural concept, size, cost,

street, the sky? Does it have authenticity—

and construction type and that this is what

does it look real? Is it derivative or innova-

you wish to build, you are ready to be spe-

tive or both? Does it have classical propor-

cific by refining all of this in the design

tions and composition? Is the composition

development drawings.

random, symmetrical, or asymmetrical?

The design development drawings, as

These observations can help you know how

the words imply, will develop all the archi-

the designer developed various idioms to

tectural aspects of the building—the struc-

solve design issues. In designing, when I

tural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing,

can find the right idiom for a particular

communications, and other specialties,

building, I feel that I have a way to solve

including interiors and landscape. These

most of the design issues without reexam-

drawings will be the basis for the detailed

ining every condition—let the idiom help

preparation of the technical construction

you work through the building in the


design process. Place examples of your

You have several ways to go with the

design idiom next to your concept sketch

design development and construction doc-

and it will guide you. Getting the right

uments and the actual construction,

design idiom is almost as comforting as

depending on how involved you wish to be.

getting the right concept. It’s like Gold-

It will depend on your skills and on the

ilocks finding the right chair.

level of design you want in your building.

What if you don’t like what you’ve done?

One, you can take the results of your

It’s not right. Take action, seek inspiration,

design process to an architect and work

go to books and journals that you respect,

with him or her to review, refine, and fin-

and explore new ones. Look for ideas that

ish the job, carrying out a full or partial

might improve your almost right design.

professional service. You may want the

Scan architectural journals to assess the

architect to begin at the beginning, using

current design directions. That architecture

your work as input to the program, or sim-

is not necessarily good; it’s simply the edi-

ply to complete the technical aspects of

tor’s choice of the newest and most

your design. While many architects are



the ground floor

unwilling to do the latter, there are con-

cessful developers with various combina-

tinuing relationships of architects with

tions of “design-build” that can produce

nonarchitect clients that produce good

good buildings. This works best, from a

results time after time.

design point of view, in building cultures in

With varying objectives, building contractors often have their own in-house people who will “draw up” your design. Hand

which architecturally viable building traditions are still in place. When you think of the skills involved in

your drawings to a contractor or builder,

the design process, the difference between

make a written contractual arrangement,

professional architects and nonarchitects is

and start construction with a general idea

large. The professional has the advantage

of what to build and realizing that most of

from university-level design studio courses

the decisions will be made by the contrac-

of over two thousand classroom hours of

tor on the job. The risk here is obvious. In

instruction. He or she will have studied in

this scenario, the assurance you need can

a succession of design studios for five of six

be gained by looking at previous work of

years, five hours a day, three days a week,

the contractor or builder and understand-

and have taken a lot of technical courses.

ing the level of design, materials, and

So, lacking the professional training, the

details you can expect.

nonarchitect must be patient— explore and

Another bold choice is to work through

refine, don’t be daunted by your lack of

it yourself, getting the help you need in

experience; you are gaining experience rap-

various stages and working with a contrac-

idly when you take the time and get tute-

tor that you trust to realize the project.

lage throughout your project. To design is

Reading construction documents is less

to redesign. There are hundreds of thou-

difficult than reading some books. These

sands of design decisions to be made.

are the drawings used by the architect to

We’ve just begun our work on the

communicate to the building contractor

design process, but for now, know that your

exactly what is to be built. You can under-

aspiration for good architecture needs your

stand what is intended when you focus

audacity and dedication: the audacity to

your mind and vision, starting by locating

find the best solution and do it, the dedica-

the outlines of the walls and, by looking at

tion to get it right. Make it a well-behaved

the dimensions, visualizing yourself there.

building, courteous to the street and to its

Buildings are designed and built by suc-


t h i n k i ng l i k e a n a r c h i t e c t






If we are to devote our lives to making buildings, we have to believe that they are worth it,

Dear Haley: Visualizing and drawing are the keys to

that they live and speak and can receive

the architect’s work—as important to the

investments of energy and care from their

quality of the work as its construction. You

makers and their inhabitants, and can store

ask, “How does one visualize a design and

those investments, and return them aug-

capture it in a drawing or model?” Visual-

mented. Bread cast on the water comes back

ization is at the heart of creativity; it’s the

club sandwiches.

mechanism that enables your imagination

c h a r l e s w. m o ore

to focus. It is an essential tool.

(1925 –1993)

I was first able to visualize a building full-size in my mind late one evening while working on a second-year studio project to design a small museum. I had sketched several perspectives of the building and realized I couldn’t visualize from my sketch what the building would actually be like. So I built a small cardboard sketch model. That helped a bit. Then my roommate said, “Be real! Go out in the street and try to see

v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s



it in your mind full-size.” The Austin street outside our place was quiet and empty, but contained lots of trees, streetlights, wires, and such, so that I could use them in visualizing roofs, walls, and parts of the building full-size. My imagination formed an image in my head of a real, full-size building that made it real enough to allow me to make design decisions with some confidence. This image was then easily transferred to a drawing—in this case, a perspective drawing of what I had visualized in the street. From there the plans and elevations developed. The final project earned my first commendation from a design jury. Visualization had really proved its value. Visualization tools were also needed in the design of the Great Hall of the Dallas Apparel Mart for Trammell Crow in 1964.

The Great Hall of the Dallas

As big as a football field—sixty feet high

Apparel Mart required a

and programmed to seat two thousand for

twelve-foot-long model to

luncheon fashion shows—it was sur-

design the 300' x 120' space.

rounded by one million square feet of

Pratt, Box and Henderson,

showrooms. One end of the space could


hold every building my partner and I had ever built. We couldn’t visualize the reality

Plan of the space shown

of such a huge space, so we built a model


at the scale of 1 inch = 1 foot, large enough for two people to stick their heads through holes in the model floor and look around so that we could sculpt the space from inside. To visualize dimensions full-size— for instance, the size of a cornice sixty feet in the air—we measured comparable features in the only room we could find that size, which was Grand Central Station. When the building was completed, we found the visualizations accurate except for one dimension. When the scaffolding was finally removed to reveal the finished 98


the ground floor

space, and we walked into it, it appeared

Try some more, until you get a drawing

much wider. I had not realized that my

that begins to communicate your idea.”

head had taken up twenty-four feet in the model. My point, though, is that you need to do

Computer programs do a great job, too, provided you have good computer skills or the time to learn them. I suggest you start

whatever you can to invent devices that will

off with a simple beginner’s program. A

help you visualize so as to get a realistic

professional program like Auto-Cad may

image of your project.

require far more time than you want to

Visualize and draw. Draw and visualize.

give to become facile enough to design.

Saul Steinberg, of New Yorker drawing

While most architects’ offices use Auto-

fame, said, “Drawing is a way of reasoning

Cad extensively, it demands much training

on paper.”

and regular practice. Follow the instruc-

I want to empower you with the knowl-

tions with the software or take a class, but

edge of how to realize your design on

keep in mind the design process I suggest

paper by offering some simple directions

here. When using the simple “Build a

on how to get started. Drawing is really not

House” programs, ignore the unfortunate

complicated. Dispel the fear that you can-

architectural realizations they show. It’s

not draw. You can, I assure you!

easy for the computer to give you a false

Design starts with a thumbnail sketch

sense of security because it draws without

or a “napkin sketch”—that is, a sketch on

thinking and it draws very well. Most archi-

whatever’s handy. With a scrap of paper, an

tects I know agree that it’s best to begin

idea, and a pencil, you can do wonders. In

your designing with a pencil. Some archi-

fact, you may do the most important draw-

tects, however, don’t use a drawing board at

ing of the entire project at this stage, since

all, opting instead for Auto-Cad. After years

it may help you capture a seminal concept.

of practice they can do subtle, fluid, lyrical

Find something to draw on as soon as you

work on a machine that one would think

have a good idea. On an airplane, for exam-

would make it rigid. Today’s students,

ple, airsickness bags have proved better

who’ve grown up with computers, defi-

than napkins and far more durable. The

nitely have a head start when it comes to

important thing is to start drawing your

developing excellent design skills on the


computer. Computers are already shaping

One of my freehand drawing teachers offered this simple but very useful tip:

advanced architecture in ways that would be impossible without them.

“Start with a dot.” By that she meant, “Put

To give you some insight into how draw-

the dot of a pen or pencil anywhere on the

ing is an essential tool of design, I will spell

paper other than the center, and start draw-

out how to get started.

ing either what you are looking at (say, a

I love the pencil, and no pen or com-

still life) or what you have in your head,

puter will ever come between us. I myself

recording as best you can your vision. So

favor the 2B for sketching and the HB for

what if it’s awful? You have a wastebasket.

hard-line drawings, but your first step in

v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s



drawing can be with whatever tools you

become full-size. Keep these in your pocket

have at hand. As you get caught up in the

or purse and you will be surprised how

process and as you need to get specific

often you will use them around a construc-

about your building, you will probably

tion site.

require a few special tools. If you intend to get into the design pro-

When you are all set up, think again about what it is you want to design. Can

cess, rest assured that you can get the basic

you state it simply? You’ll need to. I used to

tools for under three hundred dollars. Go

come up to my draftsmen or students, all

to an architect’s supply store or blueprint

hunched over their drawing boards, and

shop and buy some simple equipment.

ask, “What are you doing?” They’d typically

Here’s my shopping list: buy a 24" x 36"

give me a rambling, unfocused reply. I’d

or 20" x 30" drawing board with a built-in

come back with, “OK, tell me what you’re

parallel bar. (The Mayline brand is best

doing in one sentence, in the English lan-

because it has a reliable bar, and the fold-

guage.” This magically focused both of us

ing feet are handy when setting the board

on the most important task at hand. (You’ll

on your desk or dining table.) Also buy a

see an example of this when I describe the

45° triangle and a 30°– 60° triangle about

concept for the hilltop house discussed in

10" long. Buy two mechanical pencils

Chapter 11.) So I urge you to challenge

(Mars brand) with HB and 2B lead and a

yourself to put your intention into one sen-

pencil-sharpening grinder. Your constant

tence. Actually write it down! Now, if what

companion will be an architect’s scale—

you’ve expressed is what you really want to

use either 1/8"=1'– 0" or 1/4"=1'– 0" for

do, you have made a big decision and are

plans, elevations, and sections. Buy two

ready to start.

kinds of tracing paper: a roll of cheap trac-

If you have a piece of property to build it

ing paper 12" wide, to sketch on, and about

on, you will want to get specific. Not so

ten large sheets of 1000h Clearprint or

much as to encumber your vision, mind

K&E Vellum (expensive stuff, but you can

you, but enough that you can get all the

draw and erase on it forever). Also get a

qualities of your site into your vision with-

pack of drafting dots for sticking the cor-

out misleading yourself. So, without losing

ners of your paper to the board. Finally,

any of your fantasies, stick the plot plan of

buy a good white eraser in a plastic tube,

your property onto your drawing board,

like the Pentel Clic Eraser, plus a kneaded

overlay a piece of the expensive tracing

eraser and an erasing shield. I myself erase

paper, and start putting on that paper the

so much that I use an electric eraser.

critical information that you know. Of

While you’re out shopping, I suggest

course, you will do most of this by draw-

you purchase two tools of a different

ing—tracing the outline of the property,

nature: a small ten-foot tape measure and a

for instance. You may need to have the plot

Swiss army knife— one with a corkscrew.

plan photocopied to change it into an archi-

These are tools of reality that will remind

tect’s scale. Don’t let the expensive paper

you that what you are drawing wants to

intimidate you; draw and change—that’s



the ground floor

A compass rose showing

what your eraser is for. (I’ve drawn, erased,

angles of sun, solstice,

and redrawn so much on one sheet of good

breeze, and views.

paper that my first drawing ended up being used in the final construction drawing after months of work.) Use pencil, never ink, because the pencil drawing is so easy to change when you spot an improvement you can make. Isn’t this simple? Here you are learning about your most important asset, the site, as you learn how to draw! Your inexpensive sketch tracing paper, meanwhile, is for trying out ideas. You will use a lot of it, maybe fifty feet on a good day. The expensive paper is for recording facts and decisions; the cheap paper is for exploring new ideas. First, trace the boundaries accurately, draw a precise north arrow, then add any

sion of facts for a while and can begin to

site features that must be kept (like trees)

consider subjective issues. Heed this cru-

or avoided (like cliffs or boulders), as well

cial maxim: “Decide first where not to

as the directions toward attractive vistas

build.” Draw lines to define those places

you wish to see and any unattractive ones

where you will not or cannot build. Now

you want to hide. Draw the surrounding

you have drawn a base site plan depicting a

buildings so that you can relate form to

true representation of the facts of the site.

them and know what you see of them;

Keep it handy—it is the representation of

know what sun they may block. Draw the

your property.

all-important building setback lines (your

Next, before making any assumptions

city building inspector will help you deter-

about the plan of the building, draw several

mine these along with any parking require-

sections through the site, looking both

ments, maximum lot coverage, and maxi-

crossways and long-ways, if the building is

mum building height) and any other

on a hill. If these will fit on the edge of

information you consider important. Trace

your plan drawing, put them there, for it’s

the topographic contours (your survey

convenient; if not, put them on a new sheet

should already show them) with a light

of good paper with enough room above the

dotted line. Then embellish the north

ground line to draw the building. Now you

arrow into a compass circle (called a com-

have two base drawings: a site plan and a

pass rose) and draw arrows toward the

drawing of two site sections. Keep them,

views, as well as the solstice angles to help

understand them, and experiment with

you visualize the sun’s path as it rises and

both of them together so that you under-

sets. Now you are through with the preci-

stand the three-dimensionality of the site.

v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s



You should also consider building a

it and manipulating it on the drawing from

topographic model of the site. It will defi-

the vision in your mind. (See Chapter 11,

nitely help you visualize it. There is a sim-

“Building Architecture: An Example,” to

ple way to make such a model: use layers of

see how you lay out full-size rooms on a

cardboard cut to the outline of each con-

site with stakes and colored tape—remem-

tour, then glued into position to match the

bering that those stakes can easily change

contour map. Use a cardboard thickness

as well.) To bring your mind, your drawing,

that is the same scale as the map.

and your site into reality in three dimen-

You are now beginning to get this spe-

sions, also draw the room into your site

cial place, your parcel of land, in your mind

section drawing. Keep that visualization of

as well as on paper. You have converted

your concept and the reality working as

your eyeball perspective of the land from

you progress.

the street into a perfect and usable abstrac-

After doing the careful factual drawing,

tion of the land—in a drawn orthographic

assess it and play with it to see what can be

projection. That architect’s term, by the way,

done creatively. Give yourself permission to

describes three types of drawings: plans,

cut loose. You have the facts on paper, so

sections, and elevations. A plan is a bird’s-

now you can explore any fantasy you want.

eye view, looking straight down on the

Do some freehand drawing to loosen up.

building. A section is a drawing that

Maybe try drawing a bowl of fruit or part of

depicts what you’d see if you were to slice

a garden. Start with a dot near but not on

right through the site or building. An ele-

center and go from there. You may want to

vation depicts the sides of the building—

take a life drawing class at a local museum

in this case, the exterior sides—when

or gallery. The famed Spanish architect

viewed horizontally and without perspec-

Antonio Gaudí is said to have taken a life

tive. There are typically four exterior eleva-

drawing class every week, even into his

tions, one for each wall surface.

mature years!

Third, just for starters, make some

Now go to the cheap paper, overlay the

assumptions about the best site orientation

base drawing you made, and make some

for your building relative to the informa-

trial diagrams of how other rooms relate to

tion on the compass rose you drew show-

the most important room you have already

ing sun angles, prevailing breeze, views to

located. You may already have a start on

enjoy, and views to hide. Then draw, always

these, but try them with this new informa-

to scale, the single most important room of

tion on the base drawings. As these spaces

the building, putting it just where you

and relationships become more and more

think you want it on the site. It may be

realistic and workable, you can add them to

wrong in size, proportion, and location, but

the base plan drawing and the section

it’s a place to start. You are now using your


mind to connect the drawing of the site to

As images of the organization of upper

your vision of the building. This is the way

floors evolve, see how walls line up with

to visualize: full-size on the site, recording

those below, as well as where stairs might



the ground floor

go, and begin to think about structure. The

to place the windows, doors, roof, and

most important thing to know about struc-

other features you have tentatively placed

ture is that everything has weight, which

in your plan. It may not be very good, so

goes straight down to the foundation in the

lay over it with cheap tracing paper and

ground through walls and columns. Load-

work on the proportions and composition

bearing walls—typically the exterior walls

until you have an understanding of the

and walls of major rooms— carry most of

physical reality of your building. Because it

the loads. Be aware that rooms over four-

won’t be wonderful on the first try, even for

teen feet wide require some extra structure

a professional, think about how to improve

like deeper joists and beams or trusses.

it. Do you have an idea of how you want it

Openings more than six feet require some

to look? Go to some of your favorite prece-

special beams. There are always excep-

dents and see if you can get an idea that

tions, so you will want someone to confirm

will help. You will want to draw and com-

your structure and modify it, if necessary,

pose an elevation of every surface of the

to work properly.

exterior as well as every wall of every room

You can learn a lot by mimicking a good

of the building to know that every view has

model, so I suggest you find some architec-

been designed visually. But for now, simply

tural drawings of a building by an architect

know that you can draw and that skill will

you relate to and study them. This may be

come with repetition. You may later want to

the time to start buying some basic archi-

have someone redraw and refine what you

tecture books or exploring the holdings of

have begun. At every step you will want to

your local library. (Later, you can learn a lot

stop, look at the design in front of you, and

by studying and mimicking actual working

criticize it. See how you can improve it. See

drawings, as I did.) They’ll help you under-

how it relates to the other parts of the

stand the fascinating symbols and the lan-

design. Pin up several trial drawings on the

guage and conventions that architects use

wall and ask others what they think, then

to efficiently describe construction details

select the best. You also want to make sure

to the builders. These details are commu-

it fits with your original concept and bud-

nicated through what are called working

get, or maybe you’ll want to redefine your

drawings or construction documents, but

concept. In fact, you may want to start over.

that is more technical than what you need

It will take time.

right now. Eventually, you will study the elevations

Conceptual models can help you visualize spaces and masses. They give you a

critically. Start by drawing a section or two

small-scale abstraction in three dimensions

through the building. This is where every-

rather than the two dimensions of draw-

one, amateur or professional, has work to

ings. Models come in all sizes. I say, the

do, because this is where designers are on

bigger, the better. But you can start with a

their own, determining what the building

real miniature no bigger than your thumb.

will look like. Be patient and forgiving of

Believe it or not, I’ve seen students start

yourself as you draw the outlines and begin

with a model that small and present their

v i s u a l i z i ng w i t h d r aw i ng s a n d m o d e l s , p e n c i l s a n d c o m p u t e r s



entire concept with it. Use whatever mate-

by putting it at eye level. This gives you a

rials are available— cardboard, modeling

far more realistic view of your creation than

clay, balsa wood, thin pieces of metal, even

you’d get from a bird’s-eye view that no one

toothpicks. The miniature model, only a

will ever have. Show it to others; change it.

few inches long, can help you find an

How can you make it better?

image for the building that fits in the

You will probably have noticed that it is hard to put a roof on it. Roofs are such a

landscape. Of course, you also need a little model

difficult design problem that you may want

of the landscape to fit it in. You could then

to start over and consider the roof first. I

photograph it and make a montage with a

always keep the roof shape in mind as I am

photo of the site, by cut and paste, or by

designing, and sometimes I’ll even start

computer with Photoshop or some other

with the roof shape and work everything in

software program. The miniature model

relation to it as a sculptural mass. Here you

presents ideas of mass or image. But the

see one of the big advantages of the model:

most helpful model is one that is large

it demands a complete shape, a roof.

enough to visualize interior spaces. Modeling of space is best done with

Having a 3-D model you are pleased with, go back to the drawings and incorpo-

cheap cardboard and Scotch tape—some-

rate the changes. Don’t fall in love with

thing easy to work with and easy to cut up

your drawing or your model until you have

and change as your ideas evolve. Under-

tried another design of the same program

stand, this is not a presentation model

for the same site—it may be better. It can

made by a professional model builder; it’s a

be a new path to follow in design or it will

study model—a really rough draft or rough

simply confirm your first idea, which is

3-D sketch. I like to use white cardboard

often the best. I normally try out several

because it renders light well—light and

ideas before I decide to put all my money

space being the ingredients with which you

on one. When several people are involved

are working. Use scissors or a metal ruler

in the decision making, it may help to have

and an Exacto knife to make the floor plan

alternatives to discuss, such as: What are

just like your drawing (maybe a photocopy),

the merits of Scheme A versus Scheme B?

and paste it on cardboard. Cut the walls and

Usually new ideas will be generated, but

tape it all together. Then take it outside into

compare them to your first concept to see

the sun, or else put it under a single light

which is best. You have to prove to yourself

bulb in a dark room to simulate the sun in

that the concepts you have chosen are

the proper directions for different times of

really sound. There’s no better test than

day; start noticing the effects of shade and

through a critique. We’ll explore this phase

shadow. Visualize yourself inside the model

of the design process next.



the ground floor



Architects should learn to study not merely minimum requirements, but maximum possi-

Dear Hannah: How do I know when my design is “just

bilities; to learn not only how to economize

right”? you ask. You say you are designing

space but how to be extravagant with it; to

a small but elegant studio in which to dis-

learn not only to use space but play with

play your work and need to make some


important design decisions. No matter

j o h n s um m e r s o n

what your background or experience in

(1904 –1992)

architecture might be, you want to know, Is this design exciting architecturally, tastefully boring, or plain awkward? Is this really the best I can do? Does the plan work? How about the section, and the elevations? Are the composition and proportion right? How am I doing? These are all good questions. You’re ready for a critique! Deciding design issues requires a generous conversation between yourself and others. You want deep testing of your design before you commit to it with time the critique



and mortgage. You want to bombard your

an effective way to explore alternatives and

design with different scenarios, making

make the subjective decisions—that are

reality checks such as, Does it work for a

always more difficult than the objective

group of two hundred? or What if we

decisions of calculation. Clearly, this is not a

expand? or Is there a better structural sys-

time to be defensive; it’s a time to grow.

tem? Such questions, and thousands more

In architecture school, a critique hap-

like them, indicate that you could use help.

pens either at the student’s desk or via a

Even though you have already done a lot

formal design jury composed of faculty,

of self-criticizing as you developed your

students, and professionals to whom the

design, you will benefit greatly from a criti-

student presents his or her design in draw-

cal review by those knowledgeable about

ings and models in a crowded exhibition

the project. The professional architect as

room. Each jury member discusses the

well as the student uses the critique as a

design’s attributes and its unresolved prob-

basic process to test, to vet, to evaluate, to

lems, perhaps makes suggestions, and

gather new ideas, to confirm thinking, to

offers an overall assessment with a

call into question, or to propose a new

response from the student. It’s much the

direction. The critique is not an exercise in

same in professional practice except that it

negativity or a review by an art critic.

is in the form of a conference in which sev-

Rather, it is a way of assessing and review-

eral specialties present their points. Each

ing the design, its effectiveness, and the

critique, properly taken, helps you reach a

quality of what is proposed. For example,

new plateau of refinement. The critique is

when my partners and I reviewed each oth-

your friend.

er’s designs with respect to visual concerns

Client conferences resemble jury cri-

such as composition, proportion, and

tiques in that you present to a client, they

form, we would pin up the drawings on the

respond to you, and then you go back and

wall and evaluate. Often we would pin up

forth to find the right answer. When you’re

three or four variations and discuss which

both the client and the designer, take the

was best and what could be done to

client’s role and look objectively at the

improve it, then take the best, draw it up,

designer’s work and make notes.

and try to improve on it. The eyes make

Design conferences with consultants are

this kind of choice; there are no numbers.

a sort of collaborating critique in which a

The one-on-one critique is the basic

mutual solution that’s better than either

method of teaching design. It’s also the

individual solution evolves. A favorite pro-

basic method of teaching music, painting,

cess of mine is to work creatively with an

sculpture, and most of the arts; it’s even

imaginative structural engineer, who is

used in business schools on business plans.

dealing with hard facts, and together come

In acting or sports it’s called coaching; in

up with something both exciting and

writing it’s called a critical reading. Yet in


architecture, where so many subjective decisions are required, the critique offers 106


the ground floor

Quite different from the design conference and critique are the many reviews by

public agencies demanding your compli-

and money on the approval process than

ance with local, state, and federal laws, or

on the design process. There is rarely an

by financial institutions loaning money for

architectural review of design quality,

the project or insurance. Such a review can

though. That’s up to you.

be a prolonged and controlling process.

Hard-won knowledge of the codes, plus

But it’s an essential process, or at least an

early reviews by specialists, will inform the

inevitable one, so my advice is, work cre-

creative process. Indeed, the codes are a set

atively with it rather than grudgingly

of realities, similar to your budget, that

against it. Often the reviews—for zoning,

contain and define the project. Join them

building codes, fire department regula-

to the design process creatively and they

tions, environmental regulations, historic

will simply become another part of the

preservation laws, disabled access, traffic,

equation to be solved.

sustainability, and such—are so technical

Before going forward, consider this

and time consuming that consultants have

checkpoint: If you don’t love it, don’t build it.

to be brought in as facilitators and expedit-

The most expensive mistake is to build

ers. This is true for professionals and non-

something you don’t like. I also like this

professionals. Unfortunately, in some cities

advice from the great Winston Churchill:

this process has become so labyrinthine

“When you get a thing the way you want it,

that you might spend more energy, time,

leave it alone.”

the critique






It is something to be able to paint a particular picture or to carve a statue, and so to make a

Dear Jim and Betsy: In your last letter you said that you

few objects beautiful, but it is far more glori-

wanted to know what to expect in the

ous to carve and paint the very atmosphere

design and construction of your house

and medium through which we look. . . .

on the hill, as you think about whether

To affect the quality of the day—that is the

to do it yourselves.

highest of arts.

My purpose here is not to tell you “how

h e n r y d av i d th o reau

to do it.” It’s more “how to think about

(1812 –1862)

doing it.” No one knows a perfect way to design architecture—that’s why the profession is called a practice!—but it helps to have a reliable map to guide your way. As an example of a guide, I’ll try to tell you how I myself design as an architect—the kinds of things I think about during the process, and why. My colleagues, of course, have their own variations of this process, and many think in different directions. And you yourselves will surely have your b u i l d i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e



own, too. I am simply offering you one

breathtaking. This particular piece of land,

Distant view of skyline from

way. A house makes an excellent vehicle for

basically a hunk of limestone, poor in top-

the site for the Nob Hill

describing design, in part because we all

soil yet rich in native flora, had never been

House. Austin, Texas.

know about houses. After all, we live in

built on—it’s a great place to design a

them! Since you’re going to be building a


house on a hill, I’ll walk you through my

My wife, Eden, and I began to have the

own experience designing a hilltop house

kinds of fantasies one has when making a

overlooking the Austin skyline and the sil-

place to live. We spent hours thinking

very strip of river that runs through that

about how we wanted to live at this time in

city of evergreen oaks.

our lives, now that the children were

The site is on the very top of Nob Hill,

grown; retirement was nearing for me,

the first hill of the fabled Texas hill country

although Eden was still an active executive.

as you come up from the coastal plain

For starters, being a classical music lover,

along the Gulf of Mexico. These uplands

I wanted some room that would be large

help distinguish Austin from its flatland

enough to accommodate chamber music

neighbors. The Balcones Fault that formed

concerts. Eden, meanwhile, yearned for a

all these rolling hills and the river below

bath and dressing room that together could

has been inactive for thousands of years,

function like a morning office so she could

leaving a tranquil setting for chickadees,

begin her day on the phone while dressing

cardinals, mockingbirds, doves, and herds

for work. We also each wanted a room of

of whitetail deer. Covered with live oak,

our own for a studio/office. Plus we wanted

mountain laurel, and ash juniper, the site

space to entertain large groups, even

slopes up from the southeast and faces

though it needed to be a small house. Of

both the prevailing breeze and the view, a

course we had hundreds of minor require-

fortunate synchronicity which is pretty

ments, too, that would emerge more insis-



the ground floor

tently in the course of design and construc-

rethinking the design, again and again and

tion. Deciding on how you want to live

again, until it feels “just right.” I hope I

leads you to entertain ideas outside the

have persuaded you that good design is

ordinary, where you can create your own

labor-intensive—successful only when a

special world in your very specific place.

clear, appropriate, and exciting concept can

Keep in mind, your house need not resem-

be developed.

ble anyone else’s house—and probably shouldn’t! Being both the architect and half of the

My approach to developing the architectural concept for this program and place seems simple on the surface. On the half-

client at Nob Hill, I can make the descrip-

acre Nob Hill site, there’s a grove of live

tion of my design process simpler than it

oaks and a heart-filling view southeast,

would otherwise be. For here I’m free to

showcasing the shining Colorado River and

use an open, ad hoc process, workable only

the city skyline set in a sea of green trees.

for small buildings that don’t involve a lot

It’s obvious that the grand view will be

of clients, users, and consultants. It

dominant in any concept and that the

involves simply thinking through all of the

drama in the place will come from celebrat-

functional factors and design variables,

ing the view. Once I arrive at a promising

Topographic plot and site

using what I imagine to be common sense

concept, I make a sketch that depicts it, as

plan of the Nob Hill House,

along with experienced aesthetic judgment

I understand it, and pin it up on the wall in

by author, Austin, Texas,

after inserting the realities discussed in the

front of my desk. I then work toward that


preceding chapter. Then it involves

concept as the objective. If I change the

b u i l d i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e



concept for what I think is a better one, I

too. To get to know the lay of the land, I use

change the sketch in front of me. It’s the

some simple surveying instruments—a

target at which I’m aiming.

hand level and a Brunton sighting compass

When you think about how to develop

on a tripod. They help me understand the

an architectural concept, know that it may

engineer’s plat and also give me an accu-

take days of study, reading about the place,

rate bearing on the objects I might wish to

exploring its physical and cultural history,

screen out, as well as those I want to fea-

and of course, pondering the way you want

ture as views from the house.

to live there. I build the visual informa-

To make the most of the view from the

tion in my head using all kinds of visu-

various rooms, I map and imagine how to

als— contour maps, aerial photos, photos

view the dome of the State Capitol, the

of the surroundings, and photos with the

Tower of the University of Texas, an extinct

new building mass sketched in or simply

volcano on the horizon, and the foreground

with a drawing glued onto the photo. Pho-

profile of the live oaks, knowing, after

toshop makes images that can do wonders

hours of observation, just as in my first

to help you visualize and assess outcomes.

look, that the primary object in the view—

Color copies, cut and pasted, also help in

the centerpiece of it all—is the path of the

visualization, both for you and anyone

curving Colorado River and its reflections

else involved in the project. Conceptual

of light. The only bad view is really bad: a

ideas expressed in words help capture the

huge water treatment plant that mars the

idea, too. I try to abstract the major ele-

peripheral vision and must be masked by a

ments to find an obvious concept so fit-

part of the new building plus trees that

ting that it seems inevitable. I go to the

could block the view. Additionally, I want to

library to look at my favorite buildings and

find the most advantageous way to look at

seek out the latest ideas in journals to look

the close-in landscape. I note a few intru-

for precedents that will inspire me—the

sive views of neighboring houses that I’ll

opposite approach from the way I was

want to hide. But the site itself has never

taught as a Modernist (“Begin with no

been built upon, so there are no unattract-


ive or damaged parts that need to be healed

With these thoughts in mind, I walk the

or built over. I know, of course, that there

site slowly to assimilate the place, to dis-

will have to be a treeless area for the septic

cover and to map all the assets of this spe-

drainage field, but wildflowers should grow

cial piece of the world. It’s fun and infor-

well there.

mative to have an afternoon picnic on the

Obviously, building on the part of a site

site and then a morning coffee to see the

that’s damaged is a good place to build. But

site in different light; a visit at midday, the

more than once I have seen people buy a

most unattractive part of the day with its

site that they considered beautiful because

harsh glare and dark contrasts, is also

of its great trees and then, finding it diffi-

instructive. Seeing the site in the rain and

cult to work around or with the trees, cut

during other extremes of weather helps

them down to build their building. They



the ground floor

ignored the Hippocratic injunction; they

up with the cardinal points, or the diago-

did harm.

nals, but don’t compromise the desirable

You will want to be alert to your build-

sun orientation or views.

ing’s orientation. It is critically important

Back to Nob Hill. I next make a few tri-

to comfort, energy conservation, and the

als, on the site, of a possible ground plan,

drama of natural light in the building. For

using yellow ribbon and wire pegs and a

energy conservation and comfort in warm

sharp machete to find the best envelope for

climates such as Austin’s, you’ll want to

the building, particularly the major room.

face the long dimension of the building to

I make these observations and initial deci-

the south and avoid windows on the west.

sions about the “site’s sights” before I do

In cold climates, open up to the west, so

more than a quick sketch. I don’t like fall-

you can warm up the building in prepara-

ing in love with a drawing before I have a

tion for the nighttime cold. These orienta-

good idea of what all the design issues are.

tions need not be precise, though. Staying

Then and only then can I seek a concept

within five or ten degrees will suffice for

that will solve all the design criteria.

this purpose.

Next, on a drawing board, just as I sug-

If you enjoy astronomy, as I do, you may

gested earlier, I lay a sheet of tracing paper

want to get some accuracy in orientation to

over the carefully detailed surveyor’s draw-

the sky. I take an accurate compass, the

ing, which shows all the boundaries, set-

bearings on the survey, and (best yet) accu-

backs, easements, and trees and significant

rate alignment with the north star to locate

plants, along with any other special fea-

true north and lay out some stakes to visu-

tures of the site, such as interesting rock

alize the sun angles. This lets me deter-

outcroppings or evidence of ancient habita-

mine the location of the sun’s light and the

tion that I’ll want to preserve. Deciding

shadows it will create. I visualize the morn-

where not to build will be clear. I note on

ing, noon, and evening sun on the days of

my drawing all of the initial observations

the solstices of summer and winter and the

and decisions I made while on the site. I

equinoxes of spring and fall; using these as

draw arrows indicating good and bad views

guides, other days can be imagined. This

and circle areas that offer special opportu-

allows me to understand what the light will

nities. In short, I make a preliminary

be in the rooms, terraces, and patios on

sketch full of information that will help me

those days of the year and to consider the

design—this being all part of what archi-

effects of solar heat gain. My interest in

tects call visual problem solving. The brain

astronomy and cosmology—an outgrowth,

can somehow synthesize the information

I suppose, of wanting to know where I am

on the drawing and direct us toward forms

in the world—leads me to align the build-

that solve all the design problems simulta-

ing precisely on the cardinal points of the

neously. If it doesn’t, it’s back to the draw-

compass so I can enjoy predicting and see-

ing board.

ing the paths of the sun, moon, and stars. If such things interest you, consider lining

You may think this prep work is tedious, but it’s actually fun. I now take my prelimib u i l d i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e



nary site drawing and a mental construct of the concept back to the site and visualize in more detail where to place various functions of the building. In a dense urban site with party walls there will be fewer choices, but the steps remain pretty much the same. At this point in the design process, I am also being a bit of an amateur landscape architect and interior designer, since Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not calling in these professionals for early collaboration the way I would on larger projects. Later, though, I will want consultation on plant materials, garden plants, and garden organization and on specific interior colors, furniture, and fabrics that will enhance the concept. These specialists in interiors and landscape are essential for design refinements, and on most projects they are just as important for concept development. My next step on the drawing board, after understanding the features, light, and

sions, and forms. Like painters, we must

Concept sketch of the Nob

views of the site, is to loosen up after

design two-dimensional surfaces of walls,

Hill House, landscape, and

assessing all those facts. I find a soft pencil

floors, and ceilings; like sculptors, we have

views sketched on the back

and get creative. Now I want to accomplish

three-dimensional masses of the exterior;

of a meeting agenda. By

two things at once: (1) find the best places

yet the architectâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dominant medium, the

author, Austin, Texas, 1991.

for the functions, and (2) begin visualizing

three-dimensional space formed inside

the spatial-design possibilities that will

and around the masses, is our own special

make this a true piece of architecture.

challenge. We see most buildings from the

Materials, structure, and character, so far,

outside, but that is not how we experience

are considered only subliminally.

a building. To experience it, we must use

Architecture being a functional art,

and explore the building just as we would

unlike painting, sculpture, and music, we

take time to appreciate a painting or a

must include many issues beyond the aes-

symphony or a book that we may think

thetic, like the forces of gravity, of rain,

looks good on the outside but inside

building codes, sustainability, program,

loses us in a labyrinth of confusion and

and budget â&#x20AC;&#x201D; all while trying to make art.

dulls our interest. So you will want to

The poetry can still come in, though, in

design movement and spaces from the

the artful creation of the spaces, progres-

inside out.



the ground floor

Soon the concept emerges in my mind

giving helpful critiques as we go along. On

and on the drawing board clearly enough to

the site and on the paper plan, I locate the

abstract in words: “A stone wall on the

main seating group of the living room to

street with a thick portal through which

maximize the views in two directions and

you can see, past a garden, all the way to

place the dining table for similar views. I

the distant river, horizon, and skyline by

also locate the bed of the master bedroom,

looking through a central space formed by

the breakfast area, and the kitchen sink

two stone masses under a broad pyramidal

and bathroom sinks so as to optimize their

roof.” There, I’ve managed to get it all into

views, too. These are all places where peo-

one sentence! Everything else will work to

ple will spend at least some time gazing

serve that concept. The space between the

out the window. By the way, that awareness

two walls is the 22' x 36' main living space

of interior space dominates my thinking. I

of the house, with a 14' ceiling and sky-

learned early in my practice the importance

lights lighting the stone masses; within the

of drawing an elevation of every wall,

two stone masses flanking it are, on one

inside and out, so that I could know what it

side, the master bedroom suite and, on the

would look like and prevent any surprises.

other, the kitchen complex and garage. In

The only times I have been surprised

reality the concept evolved into a Texas Dog

occurred when I forgot to draw an interior

Run House by serendipity rather than by

wall elevation.

following a precedent. I decide to place both the guest room

(Let me confess something here: You may think it overkill, and it was, but I

and the studio in a tower detached a few

developed seven trial concepts to a quarter-

yards from the main house. Like Carl

inch scale, my reason being that we

Jung’s symbolic tower, ours will have three

expected to live in this house a long time.

levels: a lower level to promote deep cre-

One concept was developed into a set of

ativity (my studio); a middle level—level

working drawings before I found a better

with the main house—to serve as an

one. In these trial concepts, all the furni-

earthly plane (the guest suite); and, on

ture remained in the same location relative

top, a lovely roof terrace for entering the

to the views. On one attractive and complex

celestial plane—a great place to stargaze

scheme, I employed a colleague to build a

from a hammock on a summer evening.

large-scale model about six feet long, show-

Such symbolisms add personal mean-

ing all the interior spaces with a multifac-

ing—and I like them. As the design pro-

eted removable roof. It was a beautiful

gresses, I expect to add still other mean-

model and an exciting example of decon-

ings and mythic elements when I see the

struction, a buzzword in everyone’s


thoughts at that time. But as my wife and

In a simple building like this, I design

I brought reality into its visualization, we

the furniture placement before settling on

decided to go back to basics, agreeing with

the locations of the walls, confirming all

the architectural gold medalist Fay Jones,

this with my beloved client Eden, who is

who once said about a new design trend, b u i l d i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e



“I think I’ll sit this one out.” After the

house, as in a restaurant, dining happens

Plan of second design for

seven iterations, the one we decided to go

at specific times of the day, when natural

the Nob Hill House devel-

ahead with looked very similar to the first

light can be predicted, just as church ser-

oped in construction draw-

trial. What had we gained? Conviction: the

vices happen at particular times, allowing

ings but not built. By author,

sure knowledge that we had explored at

the space to be designed for the light at just


least six other ways and chosen the best.

those times.

There’s likely not another scheme out there that we would rather have built.) Designing the building inside while

Personal spaces of modest size benefit any habitable building. Such spaces, to which Virginia Woolf gave a resonant

looking out, I give first priority to places to

name with her novel A Room of One’s Own,

eat, because when dining, one has the time,

can be minimal, including only a desk and

several times a day, to really see and think

chair in a niche with or without doors. As

and chat. Working, meeting, and sleeping

you continue to develop the design, seek

places are second in line for good relation-

intangibles that give meaning, or give per-

ships to the outdoors and the prime view.

sonal or corporate expression, making each

If one has a special private place to medi-

room— each room!—a special place.

tate—a place I like to call a “bliss station,”

One of the most important functional

as in Joseph Campbell’s “Follow your

and spatial decisions, for me, is how to

bliss”—it might get the prime view. In a

approach the building—the entrance



the ground floor

Construction drawing of the

sequenceâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;as well as the subsequent

Nob Hill House. By author,

movement through the spaces inside and

Mediterranean approach through a patio


outside. Christopher Alexanderâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s classic

surrounded by tall walls instead of the

architectural manual A Pattern Language

more conventional American or English

describes this sequence beautifully in

approach, where you come directly off of

many details and concludes with the fol-

the street or front yard down a walk

lowing advice:

through a grass lawn. (The tall walls were

In the Nob Hill House, I employ a

against the zoning ordinance, but we felt Make a transition space between the

them so important that we sought, and for-

street and the front door. Bring the path

tunately got, a variance.)

which connects street and entrance

It should be easy to understand that

through this transition space, and mark

space formed by walls, structure, and land-

it with a change of light, a change of

scape is the driving force in the search for

sound, a change of direction, a change

spatial form. I begin here by considering

of surface, a change of level, perhaps by

how spaces and light will occur on this par-

gateways which make a change of enclo-

ticular site. Of course, if the site involves

sure, and above all with a change of

difficult terrain, or if there are other special


considerations, one will have to think of structure first, yet the structure is easier to b u i l d i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e



manipulate than many aspects of the build-

You can be sure that I visualize the

ing and consumes a small percentage of

environmental systems, heating, air condi-

the budget compared to finish materials,

tioning, and lighting by drawing overlays

mechanical/electrical systems, and equip-

several times during the project because

ment. Even so, if designed with appropri-

they can get out of control visually as well

ate simplicity and clarity, structure deter-

as out of budget, accounting for 20 – 30

mines much of the architectural quality of

percent of total building costs. A reflected

a building, helps provide an elegant spatial

ceiling plan is a good way to understand

solution, and usually costs less. I enjoy

what is going on with lighting and air con-

using here an elegantly simple, barnlike

ditioning and also a good way to control

structural solution that enhances the

their appearance. You draw a reflected ceil-

spaces and their architectonic aspects. This

ing plan by laying a sheet of tracing paper

will be a simple masonry-and-frame house

over the plan and drawing the ceiling as if

organized within the mass of a square

you’re looking into a mirror on the floor,

pyramidal roof. The pyramid is a strong

and you design the ceiling just as you

sculptural and symbolic image. And thanks

would every other surface. I insist on

to its simplicity (no corners or valleys), it

drawing all of the surfaces because the

sheds water well.

pain of drawing something ill-composed

Whatever building we make, comfort

or poorly proportioned will cause you to

and security are always our highest func-

revise your drawing. AutoCad and other

tional priorities. The reason we build shel-

software create these elevations and plans

ter at all is to make a secure and comfort-

readily so that you can examine and refine

able place—safe, dry, and neither too hot

them; your eye will instinctively catch awk-

nor too cold. We require quality drinking

ward composition and proportion or plain

water and sanitation. We also want a choice

error. It’s better to see it first on the paper

of light or darkness and all of the conve-

than in the building, when it’s too late or

nience and entertainment that technology

too expensive to change.

(and our budget) can afford. These support

Finding a way to hide every air condi-

systems should be civilized, arriving and

tioning supply and return grill makes an

leaving the building without visible wires

interesting game well worth pursuing. The

and meters. Some architects really like the

toe space under cabinets and bookcases, for

industrial aesthetic. I enjoy it myself but

example, is a perfect place to hide air condi-

only in an industrial setting, unless it is

tioning outlets. I also ask experts to look at

immaculately and artfully crafted. The dis-

these things with me. Architecture school

tribution of services, particularly hot and

doesn’t try to teach the novice architect how

cold air, requires a lot of space both in plan

to do all of the engineering; instead, it

and section; supply and return air grills

teaches just enough technical knowledge

can be intrusive, so all are best hidden

that the architect knows how to work intelli-

from view.

gently with consultants and to challenge



the ground floor

Back porch of the Nob Hill

them in a collaborative effort. Good engi-

House. By author, 1992.

neers are exciting to work with creatively. At Nob Hill, I base the design on design traditions of the region, just as my mentor O’Neil Ford had taught me, and use those design idioms with full confidence in their value: a big, simple roof that gives generous shade to all the walls as well as the porches; the local stone—Austin limestone—for walls and floors; natural wood for doors, windows, and cabinets; thick walls with lots of insulation; deep windows; tall 8' doors; niches cut into the masonry; and high ceilings (mostly 11' high) with light coming from above in all major rooms. In the plan, I devise special sight lines for distant vistas and interior enfilades. (“Enfilade” is a concept borrowed from artillery; it’s a sight line through several

The fireplace, the hearth, is typically

spaces down which one can shoot— or, in

used to center a seating group for conver-

this case, see.) The plan is organized for

sation, yet much of a family’s normal activ-

communal spaces with long views and

ity in this part of the world is around the

private spaces with intimacy and sound-

television, so a conflict is created between


hearth and TV; a group cannot face both.

The main living space, the traditional

Here, in place of a log fire, I decide to

“dog run,” is given much of the area bud-

install a large TV behind an ornamental

get at the expense of other rooms, so that it

fire screen. (The TV turned out to be

can make a significant-sized space in a

unused except for special events.)

smallish house. (I think the failing of many

Our most used room, I anticipate, will

buildings is that there is not one large

be the covered porch. It will provide a

room in which to gather.) The nine-foot

sense of being in nature, as it faces south-

dining table will get a place of honor in the

east toward the river and city. Eighteen feet

main room at the prime position for the

wide and sixty feet long, it will be big

view. The fountain that starts in the front

enough to accommodate a seating group at

courtyard will come through the living

one end, a six-foot diameter dining table

room symbolically as a dark green slate

for twelve at the other end, and a long,

inlaid in the limestone floor to emerge on

irregular-shaped fountain and fishpond in

the porch as a fountain into a fishpond.

between. Texas weather will allow the

b u i l d i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e



porch to be used at least once a day except

mirrors and track lighting so that it will look

on the few days that prove too cold.

more like a stylish dress shop than a closet.

To give the kitchen special character, I

I don’t avoid idiosyncrasies that I believe

seek the look of a “cantina,” an informal

will enhance the architecture. Some people

Mexican bar with barstools where men go

will advise you to build the typical, most

to drink and sing. The working part of the

common house plan in order to ensure the

kitchen—shallow and splendidly compact,

best resale value, but I believe that if the

everything reachable in three steps—will

idiosyncrasies are good design, they will

go behind a long, thick wood bar, the coun-

only enhance the value. At least that has

ter of which I plan to construct out of a

been my experience when houses of my

great, glossy slab of local ash juniper. The

design have sold. So I let in the idiosyncra-

lucky person behind the bar will get to

sies. The main atypical elements of this

enjoy facing not only his guests, but also,

house will be the 8' wall, creating a court-

beyond them, a broad skyline view. Warm

yard, rather than a front yard, as a central

colors, hardwood floors, and unexpected

part of the concept, and the separate three-

ornament such as a zinc, copper, and brass

story tower outside of the pyramid, requir-

image of the hill as the vent hood will give

ing one to leave the main house via a large

a nonkitchen look to this space so that it

back porch. Walking outside before enter-

can be used inconspicuously during par-

ing the tower, though, will provide a sepa-

ties; a large preparation area will get tucked

ration, both real and psychological, for my

right around the corner from it, out of

studio; it will also provide more privacy for

sight but readily at hand. Also off to the

the guest room and the roof deck, the latter

side I will have a cozy breakfast alcove—a

being a place where one can literally get

very special place. It will feature banquette

away and enjoy a 360-degree view.

seating for six and a severely dropped ceil-

In an earlier, more idiosyncratic house

ing sloping to 6' at the several small square

that I designed in town, I had separated the

windows on its two sides.

master bedroom from the master bath,

As for the master bath, I aim to make it

requiring one to cross the library that was

more of a real room by giving it a look of

open to the living room. It sounds bizarre,

spaciousness (actually 11' x 15'), comfortable

but my aim was to capitalize on the drama

seating, and a hardwood floor, set off with

of a Palladian plan that created a large cen-

an Oriental rug. Matching doors for the

tral living space with a dome 38' high. In

water closet compartment and the shower

that house, as in the Nob Hill House, the

compartment and windows with views in

idiosyncratic design proved effective. When

each of them will lend the bathroom sym-

sold, each house brought the highest dollar

metry and make it feel more like other

per square foot that a house had sold for in

rooms in the house. The clothes closet,

that city at that time.

meanwhile, I design as a large (11' x 14'), tall, walk-in dressing room with wall-sized



the ground floor

Building your design can give you even more goosebumps than designing it— or

maybe even than living in it. During con-

months of construction went apace in a

struction I went by Nob Hill almost every

pleasant and logical sequence.

morning because I enjoyed the workmen

The typical sequence of design and con-

asking me to help make decisions in their

struction goes through several phases. The

work. My attitude was that I wanted to be

program described why you would make

there to answer questions, and the workers

this architecture. The site selection deter-

seemed glad to see me because I was try-

mined where you would build it. The

ing to help them. Some architects will

design process defined what you would

come on a site and begin telling everyone

build. The work then progresses in this

what to do, triggering quick resentment. I

order: The construction documents will

did this only once. On my first visit to a big

describe in precise detail what and how

job as an architect, I tried to tell a brick

you wish to build. (The nonarchitect will

mason how to lay brick. I learned quickly

need help here.) The bidding and negotia-

that I didn’t know how to lay brick, but I

tion will decide who will build it, when it

found enough resilience to get across to

will be finished, and at what cost. The

him my idea of how I would like the brick

selected contractor and subcontractors,

laid if it couldn’t be done the way I had

together with the owner and the architect,

drawn it. Together we came up with a bet-

will make it happen. There are a lot of vari-

ter detail than either of us had in mind.

ations, but this is a typical progression.

You cannot build the building by your-

I would like to add two comments that

self. You don’t have the time, and you don’t

have to do with money. The better the

have the skills. The contractor is potentially

quality of the contract documents and the

your best friend, although many young

more carefully thought out the drawings

architects think he’s the enemy. He can

and specifications, the more they can min-

make a beautiful building, if you have

imize costly changes. I always use AIA

designed one— or he can make a mess,

contract documents for general conditions

run up the cost, delay completion, or all

of the contract and the actual contract

three. What you can do is describe to all

between owner and contractor because

involved how you would like it built

they have stood the test of time and are

through plans, specifications, shop draw-

updated annually. Changes during con-

ings, and on-site conferences. Then focus

struction are disproportionately expensive

on working creatively with everyone. My

and time consuming for everyone

test of whether I’m doing a good job on the

involved. Minor changes can happen with-

construction site is if the contractor is

out cost and improve the final result, often

happy to see me and has the problems

saving money. It’s important to know that

ready for me rather than solving them in

should you ask the contractor, “How much

his way. The general contractor selected for

will this change cost?” and he answers,

Nob Hill was a man I had worked with

“Too much,” that is not a valid answer —

before on several jobs, and the nine

you need to know how much so that you

b u i l d i ng a r c h i t e c t u r e



can decide how much is too much. The

surprises when we moved in. An architect

change may be minor, but it may make a

friend once asked me if, after living in the

great improvement over what you had

house, I’d have made any changes. “Yes,”

visualized in the drawings. The second

I told him, “I would have added twelve

money matter that can make for a happy

inches behind the dining table, and I’d like

job is for the owner to hold back a secret

to have afforded a standing-seam metal

10 percent of the building budget beyond

roof.” But the house proved to be a joy in

the contingencies that might be available

which to live and entertain. Magazines

in the contract.

published it, garden clubs from miles away

The finished house at Nob Hill, com-

came to visit it, chamber music ensembles

pleted more or less on budget, had such a

played in it, and it was used for museum,

strong visual form that it could be seen fit-

symphony, university, and political

ting into its hillside from five miles away.

events— even though it was only a thirty-

Because we had placed all of the furniture

six-hundred-square-foot house on a barely

during the design process, there were few

accessible hilltop.



the ground floor



Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest without mean-

Dear Gail: Designers are always looking for ways

ing. There should not be a single ornament

to help determine the form of their work,

put upon great civic buildings, without some

be it a function, a style, a theory, a struc-

intellectual intention.

ture, a precedent, a geometry, a sustainabil-

j o h n r us ki n

ity issue, a moral imperative—anything,

(1819 –1900)

really, that helps create form. We seek to validate our newly created forms visually, intellectually, and emotionally. We want them to be stamped “special.” We want people noticing them and admiring them and being eager to inhabit them. So your concern about wanting to make your compound “more than just bricks and mortar” is a valid one. So many buildings seem forgettable, even soulless. A few, though, somehow manage to feel alive and “just right.” They have the magic of true architecture. a d d i ng m e a n i ng



top left: “Pyramid of the Magician.” Unknown. Uxmal, near Merida, Yucatán, Mexico, AD 700.

In many cultures of the past as well as

top right: Greek temple at

in some present ones, myths, particularly

Paestum, Italy, ca. 500 BC.

those of a spiritual nature, have been the dominant form-giver. Architecture is

Mexican church interior,

intrinsically romantic. Myths of a spiritual

unknown, sixteenth century.

tradition were expressed in architecture through the use of special progressions of spaces, by specific forms, by light, by the arts of sculpture, painting, and music. These forms begot cultural traditions and symbols. Thus, many of the great buildings have a spiritual content. Of course, in Rheims Cathedral, spirituality is the whole

You may wonder about how this will be

purpose, yet nonreligious buildings can

of value to you. But follow me, if you will,

have qualities beyond the aesthetic that

as I describe this experiment with the idea

affect the spirit. This is true even of a

that buildings can tell the commonly held

house. So, being aware of this dimension,

stories we call myths. The hypothesis is

I experimented with the Nob Hill House to

that a connection can be made between the

see if I could create a level of extra mean-

architecture and the person experiencing

ing that would enrich the experience of liv-

it, provided they are open to it. Architec-

ing in the house as well as help me give

ture’s form, space, and iconography can

form to the design.

communicate ideas, tell histories, evoke



the ground floor

emotions, enhance spirituality, and create a

is built upon stories that have become pop-

sense of place. The stories have begin-

ular myths.

nings, middles, and ends. They help give

Myths embedded in architecture give

form to the building. Think of these myths

information, communicate ideas, explore

as metaphysics (i.e., going beyond physics),

mysteries, provide guidance, imply mean-

going beyond architectonics.

ing, and provoke thought, even awe. The

Some buildings are dumb, with nothing

architectural iconography of some civiliza-

to say, without voice—simple physics; oth-

tions is the only evidence left to tell us their

ers just make noise; still others may tell a

story. Buildings can represent a history of

fool’s story of pretension and ostentation.

human events that took place within them.

Architecture, once considered the Mother of

What speaks to us skips nostalgia and goes

the Arts, integrated painting, sculpture,

directly to the vitality of the human spirit.

music, and drama into the whole—a con-

Monuments communicate and perpetuate

cept that generated great ritual art and archi-

the myths. Simple everyday nonmonumen-

tecture through the collaboration of the art-

tal buildings can also express myths.

ists. The Beaux-Arts architect, who was

Some of today’s architecture seems

arguably more of an artist than today’s typi-

bound up in the search for form following

cal architect, collaborated with painters and

fashion, becoming empty once the fashion

sculptors to present an iconographic pro-

passes. It’s said that early Modernists

gram in the building, where artists would

searched for basic spiritual expression in

bring in sketches and plaster maquettes to

their abstractions, although the Modernist

the architect for possible inclusion. After

movement later gave little notice to expres-

centuries of successful integration of art and

sions of myths and meanings that a build-

architecture, the iconographic program dis-

ing might communicate. Is it true that

appeared with the onset of Modernism.

users and clients, finding little mythic con-

Should it be brought back?

tent in the new architecture, have found

The ancient myths of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Maya, as well as those of

less need for architects? Architecture determined by function,

medieval times, the Renaissance, the

structure, and theory leaves a blank page

Enlightenment, and even the 1930s indus-

rather than a story. This blank page can

trial period gave form to the art and archi-

invite many abstract ideas; yet missing is

tecture of their time. In some cases, the

the dialogue with the user about spiritual

myths were the sole reason for building, as

or mythical aspects of his or her time in the

in a monument or religious building. King-

building, leaving us with only the design-

doms like the Maya had much of their

er’s stylistic and personal expression.

power embedded in buildings that symbol-

Architecture wants to be more.

ized a connection with the sun and stars.

Should one wish to explore this, know

Myths were dramatized, empowered, and

that myth telling in architecture can enter

perpetuated by architecture and art. Much

the design process at each of its phases. In

of the popularity of Disney’s theme parks

conceptualization, one can think about cosa d d i ng m e a n i ng



mology, orientation, directional elements (fire-water-earth-air), iconography, symbolism, place, or a specific story. Painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts and crafts have always been the most direct way of telling a myth, as they are integrated with the architecture. Some of the architectural devices include spatial progressions of high and low, wide or narrow, light or dark, color and texture, quiet or reverberant, hot or cold, events along the way. Design devices of the architect’s craft can work to dramatize a story. Designing for the rituals of everyday use and special festive ceremonies gives cause to elaborate on the myths. The myth becomes stronger with each experiencing, each telling. Celebrations of a birth, a wedding, an anniversary, an Easter, a Passover, a birthday, a Christmas, a Hanukah, a christening, a reunion, and a graduation are the kinds of continuing events that extend the myth. Myths explore such questions as, Where am I? Who am I? Why am I here? What is my journey? What is my place in my

embedded in them that made them more

The architect Cass Gilbert

world? These are timeless, universal ques-

than just functional buildings. After World

used hundreds of icons on

tions incapable of precise answers; they

War II such iconography became rare.

the exterior and interior of

engage body, mind, and soul. For those

To explore this additional layer of

the Woolworth Building in

who believe there is no soul, please read

design, let me lead you through the design

New York City, built as the

on. There’s probably another name for it.

of a simple building. The design of the Nob

tallest building in the world

Hill House involved intangibles that I

in 1911.

Recent history, up until World War II, saw iconographic programs in post offices,

didn’t mention in Chapter 11 because doing

courthouses, stock markets, banks, utility

so would have confused the other issues.

companies, and office buildings. The icono-

Indeed, I believe these second thoughts of

graphic art gave meaning to many of the

intangibles add something of value to the

major buildings of New York City. Visualize

experience of the building.

the Woolworth Building, Rockefeller Center,

The iconographic program here is the

the Metropolitan Museum, the New York

Journey. It will have several stories within

Public Library, the Chrysler Building, the

it. The first story comes in defining the

Empire State Building—they all have icons

place, the location uniquely yours in ways



the ground floor

that own the place beyond the legalities of

you start? When possible, I like to start

the deed. On a typical street pattern, in a

with the concept of a clearing, a contained

row of buildings, this requires both imagi-

space under the sky, sheltered by simple

nation and invention. However, in this

roofs. It seemed perfect here to start by

example, the mythic journey begins thus:

placing a square, pyramidal roof facing

A road spirals up around the hill to the

southeast, the diagonals of the square on

place, the genus loci, the axis mundi, the

the cardinal points of the compass; and to

center of this particular world—visible

angle the ridge of the roof so that one can

from miles away near the top of a hill.

sight up the roof ridge to see Polaris, the

Looking out, one senses this place as the

North Star. This mythic locking-on to the

beginning of the Texas hill country, with

cosmos makes this roof seem “just right”

the Colorado River flowing toward the Gulf

intellectually. I thought about what was

of Mexico connecting us by water with the

built in simpler times, when one related to

rest of the world. I know exactly where I

the land and the climate before air condi-

am: Earth, Latitude 30° 17' 50", Longitude

tioning allowed overwhelming architec-

at 97° 47' 55", altitude 922.2 feet above sea

tural pretense, and I thought of how I

level, a physical place that I want to make

might articulate the space under that roof

also a metaphysical place.

as a “dog run,” the space in between the

The historical and geological story of

stone masses and under the apex of the

this place on a hill extends into the human

pyramid. That reinforced the architectural

story viewed in the skyline of the modern

concept; in the Beaux-Arts era it would

city: the dome of the Capitol of Texas, the

have been called the parti.

towers of the universities, the tall buildings

With this parti anchoring the pyramidal

of known and unknown enterprises. Vitru-

roof on the side of the hill, enclosing a cen-

vius tells us to locate the building on high

tral space, a clearing, I have a concept that

ground with salubrious breezes; Frank

can be metaphysical as well as physical. I

Lloyd Wright tells us to locate it near the

can use the historical vernacular forms of

brow of the hill rather than on the top. I

the region to help the myths unfold and

had to go with Vitruvius because of the

develop a clear, specific sense of place, a

small site. Any primitive builder seeking to

place in the cosmos and the topos—it

build a ceremonial site would relate to the


hills, orient to the stars, perhaps the cardi-

With place established, other myths can

nal compass points, and focus toward an

be engaged: myths about time, life’s jour-

important distant object to give meaning to

ney through time, the future, spirituality,

the place. In this case, facing due southeast

sense of self, and many levels of meaning

would relate to the cardinal points, the

and celebration beyond that of comfortable

direction of prevailing breezes, and the

shelter. The myth of a Texas hill country

view down the glistening Colorado River.

architectural idiom is expressed in lime-

One objective here is to make this place the center of a personal world. Where do

stone, metal roofs, broad overhangs with thin roof edges, porches, small openings a d d i ng m e a n i ng



against the west sun, and a clear search for shade and breeze. These are icons that enhance the myths of central Texas buildings. A steamship company pamphlet given to nineteenth-century German immigrants bound for Texas gave instructions on how to build a shelter in the harsh Texas climate: “Face into the southeastern breeze. Build a basic cabin, later a second cabin, one for cooking and eating, one for sleeping; separate the cabins by 10 to 20 feet to form a roofed breezeway (dog-

even in harsh temperature regions. The

top left: The front gate is a

run) and add a porch to shelter the house

stone walls and floors, sheltered by a thin-

portal into the personal

from the sun.” This is the parti of the Nob

edged metal roof, made people ask, “Is this

world of Nob Hill, where

Hill House described here — to which I

an old house?” That’s evidence that this

crossing the threshold

added glass walls at each end of the dog

parti possessed authenticity.

begins a journey toward the

run to allow for air conditioning. The

A clearing in the wilderness creates a

distant horizon as part of

myth of the harsh Texas summer is

place. In a forest, the clearing would be an

responded to by the maxim, “Find a breeze

enclosed space, a place of light. Primitive

and get in the shade.” Make shade with

tribes would mark the center of their world

top right: Rather than a

porches and overhangs; orient for shade

by making a hearth of three stones or a

front yard, it is a Mediterra-

and breeze. Air conditioning makes this

mound of five stones. Other cultures would

nean patio, an atrio of a six-

irrelevant today in Texas unless one

place a pole as the axis mundi—their world

teenth-century church, a

delights in natural settings, feeling

center. The Maya created a sacred clearing

clearing in the woods, a

breezes, and sensing weather’s variants

by building a group of three pyramids to

Maya primordial sea, or sim-

before it gets too hot or too cold —five

form a ceremonial space. This clearing

ply an enclosed garden.

good months a year. One can celebrate at

becomes the central space. In every build-

least one meal on the porch on most days,

ing I have designed I have made a central



the ground floor

the iconic program.

The snake looks toward a view of the remaining journey.

View from the house back to

clearing in the form of a patio or a large

the front gate looks through

central space.

the patio garden.

Joseph Campbell, an authority on myths, advises that they “help us experience the rapture of being alive.” One’s own personal myth becomes one’s largest mystery, more important than goals or plans or possessions. Imbedding this myth in a building can help one understand the journey. “Journey” and “time” can be sensed in linear progression through spaces. A circular path of spaces gives unending repetitions. The linear mythic journey expresses a beginning, middle, and end or extension to infinity. In the Nob Hill experiment, the journey

The cross axis as a transept

is a story that begins as one spirals up to

with the dining table as the

the top of the hill, where a small plaza is


edged on two sides by stone walls. A portal in the stone wall opens with a thick wooden gate to make the threshold into the private world marked by a walled garden

opposite page bottom:The

courtyard, expressing in a mythic sense the

view and path continue

beginning. The courtyard is the beginning

through the house, as does

of the journey—as in the Garden of Eden

the slate image of the watery

with its biblical icons. In a different mythic

snake, symbol of the journey,

system, the space formed by temple-moun-

heading toward the distance.

tains in the Maya creation myth represents a d d i ng m e a n i ng



the primordial sea, the underworld, where

here by the seating at the center of the

the Maya gods and ancestors live. The

clearing under the apex of the pyramid. The

Maya ceremonial space represented by this

fifth chakra represents the mouth and

garden advances historically to represent a

throat, in this case the dining table. The

third mythic system, the sixteenth-century

sixth chakra represents the eyes and the

Spanish/Mesoamerican ceremonial space

other senses, represented here by the dis-

of the Atrio (churchyard) with Posa Cha-

tant view. The seventh and final chakra,

pels in the corners, a Via Sacra walk

called “spiritual energy beyond,” is the view

around the garden-atrio, a Tree of Life con-

of the sky and clouds, the river, the skyline,

necting the underworld with the heavens,

sometimes a rainbow. I have used chakras

and a representation of the gathered faith-

to articulate events along a progression and

ful by post oaks and cedars in the center of

help form an idea of what should go on at

the garden-atrio.

each place to reinforce the experience.

The Nob Hill interior can be read as a

One has to include Feng Shui because it

sanctuary nave with cross axes arranged

can be another form-giver or modifier

like a church transept leading to the Green

when you take time to understand it or

Chapel (master bedroom) and the Red

work with a Feng Shui master as a consul-

Chapel (the kitchen). Fireplaces anchor

tant. I’ve found Feng Shui ideas to be help-

each end of the transept. The altar of the

ful. See the Reading List.

nave serves as the dining table; the view

It’s the historic myths of a building that

through the glass is the retabla. The jour-

are easiest to understand— connections to

ney ends in infinity.

one’s past as giving value to one’s experi-

Sighting up the roof ridge to Polaris sets

ence of a place. Things remembered, such

the scene to watch the constellations circle

as ideas of the clearing, the frontier cabin,

the house through the night.

the plaza, atrio, nave, transept, cloister, rec-

You can enhance the experience of pro-

ollections of architectural typology, diverse

gression through a building by using the

cultures, hero myths, and natural land-

idea of chakras, the mythic Oriental mean-

scapes—all give meaning and involve

ings related to seven areas of the human

myths. Add to the house or building the

body. Thinking through the chakras can

family stories or institutional history, and

give a particular focus to each event along a

there is a recollection of myths of the place

linear progression through the body of the

expressed in the iconography of objects,

building. The first chakra roots the building

paintings, photographs, favorite things,

to the rest of the world. The second chakra

heirlooms, and spaces.

represents the beginning, the entrance. The third chakra represents the navel as the

Bernard Berenson in Definition of Culture asserts,

connection to the world of energy and knowledge, symbolized here by a round

The effort to build a House of Life

reading table laden with books. The fourth

where man will be able to attain the

chakra represents the heart, symbolized

highest development that his animal



the ground floor

nature will permit, taking him ever fur-

architect and author Christopher Alexan-

ther away from the jungle and the cave,

der visited the house. I was intrigued to see

and bringing him nearer and nearer to

how he would perceive the house and what

that humanistic society which under the

he might say because I had followed his

name of Paradise, Elysium, Heaven,

advice in A Pattern Language. He wandered

City of God, Millennium, has been the

in through the gate, then through the

craving of all good men these last four

courtyard, looking down, seeing only the

thousand years and more.

paving. But as he approached the front door, he stopped and said, “What’s going

In building such a “House of Life,”

on here?” I told him that I was trying to tell

many things or places have commonly

a story through the spatial progressions

understood symbolic meanings as icons:

and icons along the way. He looked around,

the hearth, the bed, the stove, the table, the

perceived a bit of what I was trying to do,

reading place, the listening place, the view-

and excitedly said, “Have you written any-

ing place, the talking place, the thinking

thing about this?” When I said no, he

place, the workplace, the cozy place, the

asked, “Have you not had the time or have

public place, the cleansing place, the dress-

you not had the courage?” We spent the

ing place, the attic, the basement, the sun-

rest of the evening talking about how

rise place, the sunset place, the lunch

buildings could, and perhaps should, tell

place, the winter place, the summer place,

stories. We recalled that important archi-

the other-world place, the underworld

tecture used to have an iconographic pro-

place, the earthly world place, the celestial

gram as well as a functional program and

world place. All are places, objects, and

thought that it might again. His challenge

times to be celebrated. These are more

caused me to go into such detail here.

than functions for form to follow; these are

To summarize, my objective in these

the stuff from which the myths of Paradise

experiments was to find ways to design that

are made.

enhance a sense of place and purpose, but

In the Nob Hill experiment, I tried to

this only scratches the surface. In reaching

see if I could tell a story that would com-

beyond function, style, theory, and per-

municate the journey. But who would read

sonal preference, I found the myths to be

the several mythic themes and progres-

determinants of form that add intrinsic

sions? For me, it completed my conscious-

value to the architectural experience.

ness of the house. I thought I might be the

Absence of mythic content in architec-

only person who could read the iconogra-

ture is a missed opportunity. Of course, all

phy. But when the poet Betty Sue Flowers

the myths and meanings could be ignored

and, later, the Maya anthropologist Linda

in this experiment and one could simply

Schele visited, they found the meanings

describe this house as real estate in a clas-


sified ad: “Charming 3 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath,

While the experiment was still new,

stone house on a hill with a view.”

another reading came when the noted a d d i ng m e a n i ng






Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a

Dear John: Your project for a lakeside resort sounds

room in a house, a house in an environment,

exciting and sounds like a welcome addi-

an environment in a city plan.

tion to the coast. As a developer/builder

eliel saarinen

you already know how to approach the

(1873 –1950)

design process, so I want to offer a handful of practical guidelines that I’ve found useful in making the myriad design decisions involved in a building. Whether dogma or personal preference or style, they will give you a point from which to begin. Some of these guidelines I describe here are broad and conceptual; others address the hundreds of thousands of design details encountered in building. It is important to know that every guideline is subject to question, because the exception often proves to be the best solution.

m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



co n cep tua l

spaces that can create a courtyard, a plaza, a campus, street, or, in the absence of

1. “Decide first where not to build.”

design, a wasteland. Inside the building,

This injunction came from one of my men-

the three-dimensional space is designed to

tors, the city planner Sam Zisman; it’s sim-

form rooms, interlocking spaces, and con-

ilar to “First, do no harm,” and it’s the key

nectors, held together in movement as a

to intelligent site planning because if you

spatial progression. The art of space is the

decide first where not to build, the choices

substance of architecture. It is to be

of places to build will reveal themselves.

shaped, related to other spaces, and assem-

Evaluate your site so as to respect the best

bled in progressions.

part of it by not building on that part. Instead, consider building on the worst

4. Locate for the senses.

part to cover it up. The same applies at

Consider each of the five senses in locating

other scales: for instance, in a room decide

the spaces of the building.

where not to place furniture, and in a garden decide where not to place plants— these places are the best spaces for people.

1. Consider what your eyes see: the light, the views of near and distant points of interest, and the visual rela-

2. Make a place.

tionship to neighboring buildings,

Places are spaces that get fixed in your

spaces, and landscape. Focus on views

memory and become part of your life. Life

of a distant object, a mountain, a river,

takes place. We cherish memories of the

or a tower, if you are so fortunate, or

sensations of place and seek the discovery

gaze at an urban or natural landscape.

of new places. A place can be a city, a

2. Orient the spaces so you will feel

neighborhood, a park, a lake, a street, a

the breeze and sense the heat of the sun

garden, a house, a room, a chair, or a para-

or cool of shade trees or nearby water.

graph in a book. All form a personal hier-

When possible I orient the longest or

archy of places that exist—in fact or illu-

most inhabited side of the building fac-

sion—in your memory.

ing south because that light is the most available and the most controllable,

3. Form a space.

whereas east and west sun that penetrate

Planes—the floors, walls, and ceilings of

the building at low angles can be harsh

buildings—form architectural space and

and difficult to manage. North light is

give it shape. On a larger scale space is cre-

less intense, cooler in color and diffused,

ated between buildings. Space and area dif-

desirable for some conditions. When you

fer. Area is flat and two-dimensional. Space

want sunlight to enter all rooms, con-

is the three-dimensional substance in

sider orienting the building on the diago-

which we live. Spaces leading up to and

nal of the cardinal points, with the prin-

around the building create the presence of

cipal spaces facing southeast. Outside

a building. Groups of buildings form

spaces, gardens, patios, and spaces



the ground floor

between buildings are an integral part of

tainability are terms given to a broad range

the whole. The outside space formed by

of concerns in the building and its opera-

the buildings may be the most important

tion, efficient energy and water use being

room in which to be.

the most critical. In cold climates, consider

3. Screen and protect from sounds

an orientation for light and heat in a sort of

that bother, such as sounds of traffic

square plan oriented forty-five degrees off

and noise from the neighborhood. Find

the cardinal points because all of the rooms

or create delight from sounds like

will receive sunshine at some time during

splashing waterâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;it can also screen

the day. The many issues involved in orien-

unwanted sounds.

tation and sustainability can be explored in

4. Avoid the fumes from traffic,

the Reading List.

industry, and nature that smell bad. (Offensive sounds and smells are often

6. In a hot climate, make shade. In a cold

uncontrollable and may be such an irri-

climate, bring sunshine.

tation that a different site should be

This may seem self-evident, but keep it pri-


mary in your thoughts. This alone will

5. For the sense of taste, just find the most desirable location for meals and

bring you better comfort and lower energy bills.

snacks. 7. Trees are great assets. I enjoy orienting spaces to precise cardi-

Trees shade the building from the sun and

nal points of the compass to help me know

screen unwanted views, offer a sense of

where the sun will enter rooms, to predict

shelter, and provide texture, color, and

where to see sunrise and sunset at equinox

mass, as well as being one of natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s great

and solstice, and to follow the stars.

delights. A mature tree cools the air around its base by eight to ten degrees dur-

5. Orient for energy conservation.

ing the summer months. Designing

An aspect ratio of length to width of 2 to 1,

around existing trees and placing new ones

with the long dimension facing south, lim-

can create a special setting for the building.

its exposure to the sun on the harsh east

Trees can extend or shelter the building,

and west sides of the building while still

screen unattractive views, and create out-

having a good area-to-perimeter ratio. Sun

door spaces related to the building. Do

on south exposures is easier to predict and

every thing in your power to avoid cutting

control with overhangs. North provides a

down trees; add as many as you can. In

diffused light and puts no direct light or

most cases itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s more pleasant to see a tree

radiant heat into the building. Exceptions

than a building.

to this rule are when the topography or view dictates, or when you need to protect

8. Organize the plan to give rooms a lively

from excessive sunlight architecturally or

natural light.

with landscape. Green architecture and sus-

Southern exposure is generally the most m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



preferred for all rooms. North is desirable

the urban design scale and the private gar-

for diffused light in galleries or work

den scale. These shapes become the sculp-

spaces. East is good for spaces used mainly

tural forms of the buildings and spacesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;

in the morning and for shady terraces in

the solids and voids. Yes, voids have

the afternoon. West is an undesirable ori-

sculptural form too.

entation in hot climates, desirable in cold climates. West exposures are best used for

10. Shape the building by organizing

windowless rooms such as storerooms and

functional spaces.

garages in hot climates, or, in cold cli-

Organize functional spaces in a two-

mates, for rooms used mainly in the late

dimensional floor plan, working back and

afternoon or evening.

forth with your spatial objectives. Controlling this effort will be the detailed func-

9. Shape the building by considering the

tional elements of the building, so start

organization of inside spaces as they create

with the functional plan diagrams. I find it

outside spaces.

useful to think of the simple geometric

Conceptually, begin by shaping the plan of

forms that yield desirable spaces and natu-

the building in relationship to its sur-

ral light. Consider the possibilities of these

roundings, buildings, trees, and land-

abstract plan forms.

forms, seeking to shape both inside and outside space. Manipulate the shape of the

11. Plan forms.

Most plans that are rectilin-

organized inside spaces to form the out-

The simple rectangle is the most economi-

ear fit one of these footprints

side spaces and bring light and air into the

cal shape, as demonstrated by the archetyp-

or can be rotated to make

building. Shaping the three-dimensional

ical cabin in the woods and the archetypi-

angles as well as intersec-

open space gives particular form at both

cal commercial office building cereal-box

tions and combinations.



the ground floor

form. It is an object on a ground plane or

in the façade, such as the height of the

an object connected to an urban mass. It

entrance. Character is expressed by the use

has a limited capacity to form outside

of scale, form, materials, icons, and nuances

spaces or to provide spatial progressions or

reached by design study. Your eye and your

desirable orientations.

critical faculties will be your guide.

12. Design what the eye will see. Visualize walking through the site and the

14. Design a roof that makes shelter and shade: it forms the shape of building.

building by mentally walking through the

Sometimes itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s good to design the roof of a

floor plan, visualizing exactly what some-

building first, and then get under it. Make

one will see on a path through the build-

sure that flat roofs are not flatâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a slope of

ing. That is how we sense the spaces, sur-

at least 1/4" to a foot is needed along with

faces, and vistas in a building. Concentrate

plenty of routes for the water to get off the

on the design of the views of what you

roof without damaging anything. Roofs can

want to see and minimize the rest. There is

get complicated; keep them simple,

a theory that the Greeks designed their

because each change of material or inter-

visually rich panoramas in such a way that

section with another roof plane or wall

from your viewpoint you will see an object

invites a leak.

or a building corner at each fifteen-degree increment as you view the scene. I found it satisfying to see from my favorite spot in

15. Make your building look like gravity is working with it rather than against it.

the garden at about fifteen-degree intervals,

Dramatic exceptions of the Modernist

starting with a framed mirror, then a large

movement defy gravity with extraordinary

pot of bamboo, and on around to a bed of

grace, using the structural finesse available

flowers, a garden gate, a bench, and a foun-

to our era, and can create the illusion that

tain. Try this and see how it works for you

a building is hovering or cantilevering over

from your favorite viewpoints.

empty space. For this, use caution; gravity is the Great Resolver in aesthetics as well as

13. Express the character and scale of the

in engineering. I find as much or more

building in a way that communicates its

comfort in seeing gravity calmly at work


than seeing the modern expression of a

Is the building to be monumental, intimate

cantilever demonstrating great stress to

and cozy, or something in between? Does

hold itself off the ground.

the scale communicate monument, religious aspiration, prestigious corporation,

16. Express the structure.

effective government, substantial school, or

Let materials do what they are meant to do.

comfortable, secure homestead? Each will

Structures have four kinds of forces: com-

have a different proportional relationship

pression, tension, and their combination in

with the size of the human body that will be

bending and torsion. Stone and brick work

indicated by the size of spaces and elements

in compression in walls, arches, and m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



domes, where the stones or bricks are held

seum director, “How much does your

together by gravity to support the load

building weigh?” Lightness is a fascination

above it; stone will span small openings as

of our time—to leave the earth, become

a lintel. Wood and steel work with all

suspended, fly. On the other hand, heavi-

forces, usually as linear elements in a

ness has its reasons as well: permanence,

frame or truss. Steel works well in tension,

stability, security, compression, and identi-

as in cable structures. Steel-reinforced con-

fication with Earth. That’s what seduced

crete can do most anything, including col-

me in Mexico, where the timeless technol-

umns, beams, slabs, rigid frames, and

ogy depended on heavy walls with simple

many sculptural shapes. Metals and carbon

arches and domes—all in compression.

fiber plastics can carry all forces within

You can go light or heavy, or juxtapose their

stressed skin construction used in air-

contrasts. Of course, both of the systems

planes and cars, and more recently in

are hard to imitate in wood frame, sheet-

sculptural architectural forms. Because

rock, veneers, and ersatz materials of the

most of today’s buildings are concrete or

kinds now generally used.

steel frames covered with a thin veneer, expressing the structure may not be neces-

18. Walls do most of the work.

sary, but our eye still wants to see what is

Use walls to form space, to define, to give

holding up the building. The exceptions

security and shelter, to enclose, to screen, to

are seen in the new architecture of blobs

divide, to give privacy, and to sit on as low

and wobbly buildings, whose legitimacy is

benches. Give them color, texture, thick-

in the fantasy they can evoke.

ness, and proportion. Make them high enough to contain more than an area but

17. Manipulate the structural system. This can create unique spaces and complex

to contain, visually, a three-dimensional space.

sculptural form. In addition, it can express ephemeral lightness of high technology or

19. Foundations come first.

the eternal mass of earthy solidity. The

Foundations are invisible, and while one

extremes are dramatic: Calatrava bridges

may not want to spend money where it

versus Romanesque churches and stone

doesn’t show, the investment is essential to

fortresses. In my year in jet aircraft struc-

structural integrity. Test holes by qualified

tural design we sought to make the struc-

laboratories and foundation specialists can

ture as light as possible so as to use less

assure the client and the designer that the

fuel, carry more payload, need less aerody-

investment in the building will be secure

namic lift, and fly faster. A team called

structurally. Because the substrate of a site

Weights and Measures would come by

is not seen, several test holes are needed.

each designer’s desk and ask, “How much

On a site in Oregon near a millrace, there

weight do you have in your assembly?”—

had been a single test hole made that

like Buckminster Fuller asking the mu-

showed good bedrock at five feet, so we



the ground floor

scheduled another series of test holes closer

per foot, or 1/8" per foot if on smooth pav-

to the millrace, but we were on a fast track

ing—that includes little things like cop-

to finish the five-story college dormitory

ings, ledges, and windowsills.

before school started, so we were well along in design when the soils report came in. Bad news: the test showed that the bedrock

co mp o s it io n and p ro p o r t io n

fell off toward the millrace to a depth over

h av e s imp l e ancient rul es t hat

ninety feet. Our brilliant engineer rede-

o ur eyes f ind s at is f ying .

signed the foundation to put half of the building on piers to bedrock and the other

1. Compose objects in groups of three

half on pilings that would hold the building

rather than groups of two or four.

up by friction on the silt, both sides bal-

Two objects can present a dichotomy,

anced by measuring the weight of each half

opposing elements that may or may not be

so that each would subside at the same rate

the desirable message.

along an expansion joint through the building. The floors are still level at the joint.

2. Columns are best in pairs, rather than threes.

20. In selection of materials, consider first

Always have an even number of columns

the natural materials indigenous to the

making an odd number of spaces in


between. Ever see a Greek temple with

Compare these with the new processed

three columns? A column in the middle is

synthetics or materials from other regions.

to be avoided. A lovely exception is a

The natural indigenous materials may last

Gothic entrance or a Moorish window with

longer, be cheaper, and use less energy to

double arches.

manufacture and transport. On the other hand, look at the latest technology to find

3. Avoid putting objects in the middle

the best possible material choice for the

of a space.

particular situation; just be cautious of new

This restricts movement and can make the

materials. I’ve made this comparison ever

space static rather than dynamic. Remem-

since the failure of a new material that I

ber that the space not consumed with

used caused a lawsuit.

objects is the place where people can be.

21. Water goes downhill. Water runs either into your building or

4. Compose an arbitrary division of a line or plane at its “third point” or “center.”

away from it; owners do not tolerate water

This is a good place to start for a quick

running into their building from the

eyeball judgment. It may be either dull or

ground or the roof—and shouldn’t. Every

powerful; for proportion, you must decide

exterior surface, no matter how small,

and adjust to what seems like the inevita-

should slope away from the building at 1/4"

ble location based on your eye.

m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



5. Symmetry brings order.

slide or a 3 x 5 card. To use this proportion,

Symmetry can be strong and assertive,

simply multiply the width of the rectangle

even monumental, and it seems like an

by 1.618 to get the dimension of the length

easy way to compose. It presents the famil-

or height. For example, a window 1 meter

iar and pleasing kind of balance you see in

by 1.618 meters is found in many cultures.

the human body. But the limitations of

Use this for windows, doors, sizes of

symmetry are that visually, it may make

rooms, façades, anything—it may not work

the composition static and uninteresting,

but it’s a good place to start. (Notice that

and functionally, it often doesn’t work well.

this is the first mention of math, and this is

Asymmetry is a useful composition tool

no more math than you would use in the

and can be dynamic or balanced, giving

grocery store.)

emphasis to a particular element of the design. Your eye must work out the

8. Another useful proportion is the “square


root of 2,” the ratio of 1 to 1.414. This ancient proportion was easily con-

6. Once symmetry enters a composition,

structed in primitive cultures by using a

it demands to be continued.

rope to measure the diagonal of a square

So, continue the symmetry or go into

and rotating that length to become one of

dynamic symmetry, where things are visu-

the sides of the resulting rectangle. Use the

ally balanced but are unequal.

proportion ratios in both plan and section.

7. The best-known proportion is the Golden

9. The simplest proportion is the square.

Rectangle, a ratio of width to length of

And a very powerful one—a square room,

The most used proportions:

1 to 1.618.

a square wall, a square window are used to

square, square root of 2,

This historically satisfying proportion

make something special. A cube is super

Golden Rectangle, double

approximates the proportion of a 35 mm

strong. Again, as with symmetry in a




the ground floor

façade, when you start it, your eye may

13. Color can make or break a design.

insist that you continue it as a design

It amazes me to see how colors affect the


appearance, the size, and the ambience of a building or room, and how an expert can

10. The double square and the double cube

manipulate the infinite number of colors

are useful proportions and also good orga-

in the visual light spectrum. A color has a

nizers of space.

hue that can be changed by mixing several

They are less overwhelming than the

colors and can be made lighter or darker by

square or cube.

adding white or dark. Color is perceived through three variables: the actual color on

11. Use the circle as an organizing device.

the wall, the color of the light that illumi-

The circle has the magic of containing the

nates the color, and the receptive character-

most area with the least perimeter. It has

istics of each person’s particular eye sensi-

so many symbolic and geometric complica-

tivity. See the Reading List.

tions when used in walls of a building that one must use it thoughtfully because it is one of the most demanding forms. It is

us ef ul g uidel ines f o r ref inin g

useful as an invisible tool for composition.

t h e des ig n o f a wal l o r a façade

12. The 3-4-5 triangle can be used to make a right angle.

1. Façade studies require many trials before finding the one that is “just right.”

It’s a useful tool of ancient geometry. This

Review that procedure in the chapter on

The 3 – 4 –5 triangle made

is what Antonio Gaudí, the famous archi-

design process. This is a good place to

with cords has been used

tect of Barcelona, was speaking of when he

remember that a little knowledge is a dan-

since primitive times to

said, “With two rulers and a cord one gen-

gerous thing—get critiques.

determine 90 degree angles.

erates all architecture.”

The cord is also used to

2. Determine the geometric composition

determine a vertical line

of parts of a wall.

or plumb line, the force of

This is determined by how they relate to

gravity pulling at the end

each other and the whole, as described in

of the cord.

Jonathan Hale’s “The Old Way of Seeing” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994). 3. Visualize how sunlight will fall on the surfaces of your building. Light and shadow create patterns as strong as fixed elements of the surface and cause the surface to have varying patterns.

m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



4. In the design of a wall, draw absolutely

Designers using traditional

everything that you will see and compose it

forms and details need to

as a whole.

use proper sources, such as

Look for those things that you do not want

this example in works by

to see, such as electrical switches, trans-

Giacomo Barozzi da

formers, trash containers, electrical wires


and entries, meters, scuppers, and vents. 5. A garage door hurts any street façade. There’s no place to hide it. Find another place for the car. 6. Glass is rarely transparent. When one looks at a façade from the outside in daylight, glass more often reflects surroundings, makes glare, or appears as a dark hole. Glass becomes transparent only when the light is brighter on the side opposite the viewer, as when one is inside look-

8. The use of columns and moldings has

ing out on a sunny day or looking through

very specific precedents.

glass into a lighted interior space at night.

Columns and moldings can guide you if you will take the time to really study them

7. Windows happen.

or take extra care in their invention. If you

Windows are major elements in design;

can’t do moldings or any other period orna-

they are the difference between a building

ment correctly, don’t do them at all. There

and a solid sculpture. We can hide the win-

are thousands of excellent historic examples

dows behind a glass skin, part transparent

to copy.

and part opaque, as in a glass-box office building or a sophisticated sculptural

9. Should you wish to design a façade

geometry of glass skin. But for the most

around classical or traditional details, go to

part, we must deal with the composition

a good firsthand source in a proper book.

and detail of windows as major elements of

This is preferable to casually looking at an

the design. The size and shape of the win-

example and trying to approximate it. From

dow expresses what’s going on behind it.

the proper source, copy or have someone

Vertical windows suggest people are in a

copy it precisely with only minor modifica-

room standing up; horizontal windows

tions for your design. Build it carefully. The

suggest that the people are lying down or

suburbs are full of unfortunate, thought-

in motion; a large central window suggests

less, inaccurate borrowings such as the

the major space or function of the

front door as tall as a Triumphal Arch that


shouts its ignorance in a McMansion.



the ground floor

10. The entrance makes a statement about

curves, trusses, sloped rafters, and beams

the character of the building—the intro-

shape a space. Treat the ceiling as a vital

duction to this particular building—where

element of the space. Great rooms have dis-

the spatial progression begins.

tinctive ceilings. People who enjoy architec-

The entrance can be dominant in the

ture always look up.

façade, minor, or even hidden, but you usually want to make its location obvious.

3. Create lines of movement or axes that

Sounds easy, but on many student proj-

start and end.

ects— oftenbeautifullysophisticateddesigns—

Have the axes pass through openings in

I have to ask, “Where’s the front door?”

layers of walls along the way. A long axis or enfilade can increase the apparent size of the spaces. Design the walk through your

s pa c e a n d l i g ht (t h e arch it ect ’s

building as if you were doing a movie and

r aw m ate r i a l s )

the camera is the walking observer.

1. Ceiling heights are best when higher

4. Establish one wall of a space as the refer-

than ten feet, preferably eleven feet in nor-

ence plane, then organize space and objects

mal rooms.

in relation to it.

And to be commodious— or for acoustical

A reference plane can help compose spaces.

reasons when music is played— ceilings

It can define a limit or suggest movement.

should be at least fourteen feet to eighteen feet, determined by design in section draw-

5. Dimensions that seem spacious are use-

ings. (Builders’ houses became standard-

ful to know as you go about laying out

ized by the postwar FHA minimum


requirement of eight-foot ceilings, which

My rule is that a room needs to be at least

instantly became the dimension of manu-

thirteen feet wide, but sixteen feet is better,

factured wallboard and the ceiling height

and the major room needs to be at least

of most U.S. homes.) Another way to deter-

twenty-one feet wide. (It’s amazing how

mine height is to set it at three-fourths of

many English country houses and French

the smallest dimension of the room. The

chateaus are about twenty-one feet wide. A

ceiling height is not necessarily propor-

generous outdoor terrace or porch needs to

tioned to the size of the room; it is propor-

be at least fifteen feet wide. Major corridors

tioned for its effect on the feeling of space.

are best at least seven feet wide—furniture

Consider variations in ceiling height along

can be accommodated, and they will seem

the progression of spaces.

like more than passageways.)

A reference plane, a wall,

2. The shape of ceilings and volume of the

can help organize the com-

room define the space and the way we

position of objects and

sense it.


For example, barrel vaults, domes, exotic m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



6. Hide light sources.

of the room or balanced with light from

You should never see a light bulb. Lighting

above. Windows that let light shine on

only the paintings or objects will probably

adjacent planes, like deep window reveals

light the entire room without any additions

or on ceilings or walls, spread and diffuse

except for task lighting. Supplements will

their light around the edges, reducing the

be needed to add an overall incident light

brightness ratio. Curtains and blinds can

and to vary the mood or setting of the

mediate brightness. Because lamps or ceil-

space. Glare is the enemy.

ing fixtures may also be too bright, important spaces should have their lights on dim-

7. Natural light makes spaces come alive. Balance the light in a room with light on

mers. When needed, a high brightness ratio, like a spotlight, gives drama.

two sides, three if you can; four is better. A colleague once described his ideal light for

10. Use mirrors to expand space.

a room to be like what one sees while sit-

A mirror on the full face of a door or win-

ting under a large spreading tree on a

dow or an entire wall can give desirable

sunny day, with light all around and dap-

effects. Mirrors in frames appear a bit like

pled light coming from above through the

holes in a wall, which may be desirable for

leaves. Consider using skylights to give an

expanding the space but works against con-

effect of light sliding down a wall, or a sky-

taining the space. A mirror placed so that a

light in the middle of the space like an ocu-

person cannot see himself but sees instead

lus to give a centering light. This kind of

another scene from an angle is a playful

natural light often distinguishes a work of

trick in a garden.

architecture from a building. 11. Sound can be as important as light in 8. In the absence of natural light, the

some spaces.

“three-lamp rule” provides a good bal-

The sounds one hears in a room indicate

anced light for the average room or office.

the size of the space. Acoustics can make

The lamps should be arranged in a triangle

or break a building. The sounds of a beau-

around the perimeter of the room. Often

tiful concert may be lifeless if there is a

this provides enough light to both light the

short reverberation time, or chaotic if

room and light reading tasks in a residen-

there is too long a reverberation time. The

tial size room.

noises that can’t be isolated and are so loud that they cannot be tolerated must be

9. Keep the light balanced with a low

silenced, or the room should be relocated;

brightness ratio (the ratio of the brightest

the space where music is performed is a

area to the darkest area).

musical instrument itself that brings

It’s more comfortable on the eyes. A bright

music to the listener. There was an acous-

window on one side of a room needs to be

tical challenge in designing for the sound

balanced by a window on the opposite side

of the Great Hall of the Apparel Mart that



the ground floor

was to seat two thousand people. We

used three: stone, glass, and lead). Use a

sought excellent acoustics for concert qual-

lot of materials to loosen up (the Bilbao

ity music even though it was not a require-

Guggenheim used many).

ment of the program. The forms of the walls were shaped for live acoustical rein-

3. Two materials meeting in exactly the

forcement. A well-known acoustician was

same plane tend to create a messy joint.

employed to advise us, yet we felt that his

When changing materials in a wall, con-

recommendations would make the rever-

sider a reveal or break of 1/2 inch to 3

beration time too short for music. The

feetâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;whatever seems right. Moldings can

acoustical consultant proposed hanging

also be used at the juncture of two materi-

huge loudspeaker boxes from the sixty-

als to mediate the intersection. The excep-

foot-tall ceiling to alleviate the concern

tions to this rule are beautiful, especially in

that performers would be bothered by the

marble, in Italy.

echo of their own sounds. To test our design against that of the acoustician, we

4. Create wall thickness.

had a loudspeaker suspended on a crane

This refers both to real thickness and the

sixty feet above a vacant lot. My partner

illusion thereof. It makes the building seem

and I then sang an aria and discovered

more substantial on the interior and exterior

that no echo could be perceived. Because

and can hold a lot of insulation. Wall thick-

of its acoustics, the Great Hall was a good

ness can be created by the placement of

venue for concerts; the Dallas Symphony

bookcases and closets near major doors and

played their summer series there.

windows. Deep reveals at windows help mediate the brightness of the incoming light by reflecting light on the side walls.

d e ta i l s

The current preference for superthin walls can be appealing in a well-crafted work.

God is in the details. m i e s va n d e r ro h e

5. Deep reveals at windows and doors serve several purposes.

1. Use natural local materials.

They give a sense of substance, provide a

This will give authenticity, compatibility,

layering effect with more shadow, and help

and a sense of belonging and will probably

keep out driving rain.

save money and energy. Transporting materials can be costly.

6. Doors are better when they are solid and substantial.

2. The number of building materials used

Interior doors are best as inch-and-three-

can have an important effect.

quarter solid core, which adds an unex-

Use only a few building materials to give

pected sense of solidity, much preferred

solidity and formality (a Gothic cathedral

over conventional doors that are thinner

m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



and hollow. Think also of the possible need

tread and 5" riser is max, and 4" is better.

for wheelchair access by widening the

In an elegant hotel, I was surprised when I

doorways—required in public buildings

walked up two stories without noticing it—

and advantageous in residences.

the stair had a slow and graceful ratio of 13.5" to 5". When you feel comfortable or

7. Using double doors that swing onto thick

uncomfortable on a stair, check the ratio of

wall openings allows the door to be out of

tread to riser and make note of it.

the way when open. When a door is needed but a large swing-

11. Moldings can be key ingredients

ing door would not work, use double doors.

of a design. Most designers today have had no training

8. The height of the windowsill affects the

in moldings and often make awkward use

feeling and visual experience of the space

of them, yet moldings can provide impor-


tant transitions between walls and ceilings

There are several choices: at the height of

and around certain doors and windows. I

a table or a desk, about thirty inches above

remember seeing Michelangelo’s moldings

the floor, or at the floor where the floor

in Rome at the Campidoglio for the first

plane extends to the outdoors. To give a

time. I was amazed at how they caught the

sense of the outdoors but more sense of

light with such grace and balance, and

security, use a sill height of sixteen inches.

when I felt them with my hands it was an emotional experience—this was genius.

9. Consider the window treatment when

Moldings are sculpture, so think of them

designing the window.

as such rather than as pieces of trim.

Visualize the need and possibility for drapery, shutters, or blinds to control light and

12. Place light switches on the wall level

privacy—this is critical to the success of

with the doorknobs, at thirty-six to

the room. Window treatments are better

thirty-nine inches above the floor.

not left to chance.

Why? Because this is where the resting hand will be, and it’s out of our field of

10. Stairs must be generous, unless they’re

vision, so a wall switch won’t distract from

only service or fire stairs.

a nearby painting. Also, the switch plate

A generous stair has a shallow slope, long

lining up with the doorknob gives a small

treads, and short risers that give dignity to

degree of order. (Switches are placed high

movement— ease and safety too. Mini-

simply for the convenience of the electri-

mum dimensions are 9" tread and 7.5"

cian who is installing them.)

riser; an often-used ratio is 10.5" tread and 7.25" riser. Grand stairs will use a longer

13. Plan the furniture arrangements before

tread and shorter riser, such as 6" and 12".

planning the walls.

For outside stairs be more generous: a 14"



the ground floor

Figure out where and how you want things

to happen by placing the primary func-

and packages, a place for mail and mes-

tional furniture groups before placing

sages, art, and flowers. The space can be

walls. You can even mock this out on the

intimate or grand, making a contrast with

site. Figure out where you want to be at

the ceiling height, sound, and light of

various times of the day, what you want to

adjoining rooms. In Mexico, this kind of

see, where you want to eat, and where you

space between street and courtyard is

would like to read, play games, watch tele-

called a zaguán.

vision, and such. Example: When I was designing a lake house, the clients showed

2. The kitchen is the center of many

me where they always had their picnics on


the unbuilt site and said they spent a lot of

The kitchen is not only the place where we

time at the breakfast table, so I made a

cook, eat, and read the paper and some-

dining alcove on the special picnic spot

times watch television; it is also the place

that became the most important room of

where the children gather and play and

their house. Another example: In a house

where guests gather informally. It is often

I visited, there was not a comfortable, well-

the actual living room. It can be designed

lit place to read, watch television, or work

as a large room with a couch and arm-

on a computer; the house was wonderful

chairs and a fireplace, or it can be a small,

for entertaining a hundred people, yet it

functional unit related discretely to a living

worked poorly for the activities of one or

or gathering room. Hide appliances like

two people. Not placing the furniture in

the fridge by placing them around a corner,

the plan of the room will cause some

or disguise them by special doors. A U-

disappointing surprises when the room

shaped plan is the most efficient arrange-

is built.

ment for a kitchen because it can place the sink-dishwasher-stove-refrigerator ensemble close together. I like to use the three-

r o o m s i n r e s i dences

step rule, which states that you can get to everything within three steps. My favorite

1. The entrance is the transition between

arrangement allows one to plant one foot

inside and outside, public and private, bad

and reach sink, stove, dishwasher, and

weather and shelter; it introduces the

fridge without moving the foot, and still

building to the visitor, receives coats and

have a large room.

packages, is a place to exchange greetings. The part of the entrance that’s outside

3. “A living room confronts each visitor

needs shelter from the rain, a place to sit

with a style, a secular faith; he compares

and wait, a place to wipe feet, and it must

its dogmas with his, and decides whether

be of a size that accommodates several peo-

he would like to see more of us” (W. H.

ple standing at the door. The part inside

Auden, “The Common Life,” a poem from

needs a place to sit and wait or hold coats

About the House, p. 107).

m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



Most buildings have what one could call a

5. A bathroom is best when it doesn’t look

living room, whether it is a reception room,

like one.

meeting room, sales floor, or other space

The combination of dressing room/bath-

where people congregate. The residential

room/closet is very much a social part of

living room has a long history and some-

the house. It is where couples visit while

times has been called a parlor, sometimes a

getting dressed for the day or preparing for

drawing room, and recently a family room.

an event—important opportunities for

Lifestyles cause many choices, yet to me the

communication. Add a chair. Put a window

most important thing is that there is one

in the shower. Put the water closet in a sep-

large room that can be used to gather one’s

arate room about 3 by 4.5 feet with natural

entire extended family or friends or organi-

light or a view, and add a few books.

zation, be it formal or informal. The living room needs to be of appropriate size, have

6. Use alcoves in rooms to bring a personal

light on several sides, and have seating

scale to the room.

groups, a view or at least a focal point,

This is important for every room in a resi-

books, places for conversation, eating,

dence, but I found that alcoves are impor-

meeting, and all the other things one would

tant in giving a personal scale to parts of a

like to do in a group. Other rooms can be

large public room. Once a client said, “I

made smaller so that this main room can

want this room to seat two thousand peo-

be large. This budgeting of space is useful

ple for dinner but be comfortable for only

in every building or suite of rooms because

one person.” The room was the size of a

it builds a sense of place for a home, a busi-

football field and had sixty-foot ceilings,

ness, or an institution. On a larger scale,

but several alcoves made those places

urban living rooms are the special places in

pleasant for one or two people.

cities where people gather—an Italian piazza, a Mexican plaza, or a village square.

7. The fireplace has become a symbol more than a source of heat.

4. The bedroom can be a personal sanctu-

In buildings with central heating, a fire-

ary for a couple or individual.

place draws heat out of the building for a

The bedroom has a wide range of expres-

negative effect on energy use. Yet our liter-

sions, from monastic cell to a small living

ature and our memory make the symbolic

room with a couch, fireplace, books, per-

hearth a place, a social center, a visual

haps television, a writing desk, and a read-

focus, and an anchor signaling this is a

ing chair or two, in addition to a bed. Clus-

place of power, security, and domesticity.

ter the bathroom/closet/dressing room so

Effective heating with a fireplace can best

that they are a unit apart from the bed-

be accomplished by using a Count Rum-

room, through a single door. Feng Shui

ford firebox design with effective damper

suggests no television in the bedroom.


Natural light entering the space in unusual places can give the room mystery. 148


the ground floor

8. A wall of photographs describing a cor-

composition of places” in their extraordi-

poration or a family helps make a signifi-

nary book Chambers for a Memory Palace

cant place in a building.

(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994). Their

It tells a story. It provides depth and sub-

themes are so well stated that, when teach-

stance to the experience of the building.

ing, I give a copy of the table of contents to each of my design students to pin up at

9. The outdoor room can be the most-used

their board. I want them to read it when

room in the house at some times of the

they’re confused or wondering what to do

year, be it called a porch, a loggia, a por-

next. I use the ideas to help me enrich my

tico, a terrace, a patio, or a sale al aire

design process, as a sort of checklist to help

libre. Make it useful for conversation,

me go further, to make things “just right.”

eating, games, and parties— even cook-

Take a few minutes to think through each

ing in a fireplace grill. It can be no less

one of the chapter ideas and imagine the

than ten feet deep, good at fifteen feet,

pictures. Here they are:

and best at twenty-one feet, like a major room in the house.

Axes that Reach/Paths that Wander Orchards that Measure/Pilasters that

A list of this sort could be endless, and if it’s useful to you, look at two important

Temper Platforms that Separate/Slopes that

“lists” from two very different architects

Join/Stairs that Climb and Pause

that offer wonderfully insightful design

Borders that Control/Walls that Layer/

paths that can inspire and guide you. Christopher Alexander, in his widely acclaimed book Pattern Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), codified many of the simple, traditional, appropriate design issues in the making of buildings, neighborhoods, and cities. He offers a thorough understanding of many typical design issues, each of which is an excellent starting point for solving your particular design problem. Alexander’s landmark book does not enjoy the wholehearted endorsement of Modernists. In fact, I heard a Cornell architecture professor say, “Whatever you do, keep the students out of Alexander’s book.” Nonsense. I say it is a great place to start. Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon “assemble a set of observations on the

Pockets that Offer Choice and Change Openings that Frame/Portals that Bespeak Roofs that Encompass/Canopies that Center Markers that Command/Allies that Inhabit Light that Plays/Shadow that Haunts/ Shade that Lulls Rooms that Define/Space that Leaks Up Into the Light Types that Recur/Order that Comes and Goes Shapes that Remind/Ornament that Transmits, Transforms, and Encodes Gardens that Civilize/Water that Pools and Connects Images that Motivate m a k i ng d e s i g n d e c i s i o n s



As the authors say, “The Chambers

Remember, the exceptions to these

are meant to help assemble thoughts

guidelines could be the best, so keep your

about places . . . to nurture sparks in the

mind open for a better idea. When you dis-

designer’s consciousness . . . starting

cover more guidelines, add them to your

points, aids to the imagination.” I suggest

personal list. May it be long and useful. But

you find the book, read it, copy the con-

we’re just getting started— design, in con-

tents page, and pin it up where it may help

cept and in detail, comes from a rich set of

you design.

ideas on style, taste, and design theory.



the ground floor


S T Y L E , TA S T E , A N D D E S I G N T H E O R Y

If you foolishly ignore beauty, you’ll soon find

Dear Oliver: You expressed wonder at the influence

yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you wisely invest in beauty, it will

of style and taste on design. You had not

remain with you all the days of your life.

considered it, as an engineer of large con-

f r a n k l l o y d w rig h t

struction, but you say you are now consid-

(1886 –1995)

ering putting up a small office building in a residential neighborhood and need to take a closer look at design. Design inevitably brings up the sticky matter of preferences. People’s preferences—some would call them our prejudices!—have a huge effect on design and decision making in making architecture. Even close friends can have spectacularly different ideas about what’s attractive, can’t they? For example, several years ago, while having lunch in the dappled light of a giant willow tree in a Mexican garden ripe

st yle, taste, and design t heory



with lilies, bougainvillea, scents of flowers,

become involved in matters of style, taste,

food, and wine, a friend and I sat at a table

design theory, and concepts of beauty. Let’s

next to a dismal shack soon to be replaced

start with beauty. What will you mean by

by a house of my design. The friend,

that word beauty? And what will your archi-

Latané Temple, my midlife mentor, took in

tect mean by it?

the lush, colorful scene and remarked, with

You might be surprised to learn that it’s

his typical frankness, “Were it not for your

a word I rarely heard around architecture

vanity, you could be very happy here.”

schools. It wasn’t out of mind, no, but it

It was true. Latané was a poet and

was almost unmentionable there. Even

painter. From his viewpoint, the place was

though we invoke the idea of beauty daily

charming—beautiful even— despite the

to describe people, nature, music, and

rustic shack, or maybe even because of it.

objects—and even though we live in a cul-