Saturday, September 29, 2007

18. Make it Different

There is one thing that the work of celebrated architects has in common. I am not referring to the fact that their buildings are necessarily more beautiful than those of their less-acclaimed colleagues (in any case, that is not always true), nor that serious architects generally imbue their designs with loftier aspirations than everyday builders. What I am thinking of is something more obvious: that most buildings designed by acclaimed architects, whatever else they are, are different.

What I mean is not merely that they are different one from another, but that they stand apart -- they embody an air of detachment from the world around them. This isolation can be the result of the form of the building. There is nothing else in New York, or indeed in any other city, like the dumpy spiral of the Guggenheim Museum. Sometimes the difference is the result of structural leger demain, like the odd, reverse-stepping facade of the Whitney Museum; or Edward Larrabee Barnes's I.B.M. Building, on Madison Avenue, which looks ordinary enough, until one notices the gravity-defying corner, floating unsupported over the sidewalk. Frequently, famous architects just have the opportunity to do things on a bigger scale than anybody else. Arthur Erickson's Law Courts in Vancouver, B.C., are located under a glass roof, which could be described as a sort of greenhouse, but a greenhouse 350 feet long.

Some buildings startle us with unorthodox materials, such as chain-link fencing, lead-coated copper, or raw plywood, all of which have appeared in Frank Gehry's designs. James Stirling is particularly skillful at the shock effect. No one who has ever seen his Staatsgalerie,

in Stuttgart, Germany, will forget the hot-pink balustrades, as thick as wurst, or the acid-green floor of the entrance hall; the crazy-quilt work of the front of the recently completed Clore Gallery, in London, is equally memorable. Antoine Predock's designs have often used color to effect; the exterior of the United Blood Services building, a blood-donor clinic in Albuquerque, N.M., is startlingly, but appropriately, red, and a pueblolike apartment complex, also in Albuquerque, achieves its major impact from its unusual polychromy.

A striking difference between most works of architecture, and, say, your local K Mart, is that the architecture usually costs a lot more. There is nothing like expensive materials, exacting workmanship, custom-made fittings and elegant appointments to create an atmosphere of exclusiveness. It is the architectural equivalent of the "thunk" you hear when you close the door of a luxury sedan. What sets a luxury car apart from the econobox is also the way it is put together, what automobile devotees call good fit. In buildings, too, there is good fit.

It was Mies van der Rohe who is reputed to have said, "God is in the details." The origin of this statement, like that of his other well-known aphorism -- "Less is more" -- is obscure; no one is sure exactly when he said it. It would be interesting to know the context. Was the famous architect answering a question, and, if so, what was it? For example, had someone asked him about his design for the Illinois Institute of Technology chapel -- the one that resembles a boiler house: "Professor van der Rohe, where is God in this building?" Or had the question to do with his consuming, almost obsessive concern for precision and exactitude in building construction?

Probably the latter, for what characterized all his buildings was the careful and studied way in which they were built. There were no accidents; every corner, every meeting of materials, every point, inside and out, was specially designed to be a part of an esthetic whole. No detail was too small to be pondered. When the British property developer John Palumbo engaged Mies to design an office building on London's Mansion House Square (it was to be his last commission), the first communication he received from the architect, who lived in Chicago, was not a preliminary sketch but a parcel containing brass door handles and travertine ashtrays. "Is this what you had in mind?" queried the accompanying note.

The architectural consequences of such fastidiousness are impressive, but they can also be disconcerting. Whenever I go into a Mies van der Rohe building I am slightly intimidated. I feel like an interloper in another world, one that is flawless, unequivocal and absolute. A perfect world for perfect people.

Mies's influence has waned since his death in 1969, but in one sense, at least, all contemporary architects are Miesians, for all share his overriding preoccupation with perfection. Whether they are modernists, post-modernists, or deconstructivists, their buildings exhibit the same desire to bring every facet of the building under their esthetic control, and the same tendency to reject conventional ways of doing things for specially designed ones that carry their personal stamp.

Mies van der Rohe designed his window frames the same way he designed his structures, using standard steel profiles, welded together, which made the windows appear to be an integral part of the building. Le Corbusier, seeking a different effect, often set the window glass directly into a groove in the concrete wall, thus doing away with the window frame altogether, and producing the unexpectedly rustic impression of an opening cut directly into the wall.

The work of Louis Kahn derived much of its impact from a careful articulation of the joints -- the location of every brick was predetermined -- which sometimes makes his buildings look as if they were the work of a cabinetmaker rather than an architect. An interior by Richard Meier achieves its minimalist impression because the designer has ingeniously done away with most of the moldings and joints that occur in ordinary rooms, which enables all the surfaces -- walls, ceilings, soffits -- to blend seamlessly into a sculptural whole. The simplicity is deceptive; in fact, such subterfuge is both difficult and expensive.

It seems to me that this emphasis on the minutiae of construction is something modern. In the past, architects relied on craftsmen and builders to carry out their work, and did not concern themselves with inventing new construction details. Of course, buildings had details, but at any particular time these did not vary a great deal since they followed strict conventions. Ornament, not construction, was the way architects dealt with the joints and junctions.

When the modernists banished ornament from architecture, they were obliged to replace it with something, and construction details became a new type of decoration. In time, this technical adornment became more imaginative, more personal, but also more precious, and fussier. Beauty had been re interpreted as mechanical perfection.

There is some indication that this situation may now be slowly changing. With a renewed interest on the part of some architects in figurative ornament, there is no longer a need to adorn the building with unusual and peculiar details. The recent work of Michael Graves, or Robert A. M. Stern, for example, achieves its chief architectural impact through decoration and the ornamental treatment of surfaces rather than from finicky joints. The forms and colors may be unusual, but the technical bits and pieces, more often than not, are ordinary. The result is that their buildings, while losing nothing in originality, are also more familiar. They may not be perfect, but then neither are we.

From The New York Times; "It Seems That God Isn't in the Details, After All" By Witold Rybczynski

Friday, September 28, 2007

17. Blow your own horn!

The ONE thing that keeps most people from becoming rich and famous - and how YOU can grab that crucial advantage for yourself!

What's the one thing that keeps people from achieving the wealth and fame they probably deserve? It's so simple, yet almost nobody knows how to do it. Without this one thing, you might achieve a little and do okay, but getting rich and famous will be far, far out of your reach. So, what is this one crucial ingredient for the ultimate success? Blow your own horn!

That's right--most people don't know how to blow their own horn. They don't know how to QUICKLY IMPRESS you with how much they know, how helpful they can be, how much they have achieved, how fast they can get new information, AND - most importantly - how they can help YOU get what you want.

Promoting yourself is absolutely crucial to becoming a well-known, trusted figure in your field. And mark my word, once you become "famous" earning a fat paycheck is not far behind. Doors will open. People with healthy bank accounts and wallets fat with credit cards will practically INVENT ways to give you money. All it takes is a deep breath and a little know-how.
So let's start promoting you.

Here's how:

1. Write down a list of every cool thing you have ever done. Make note of all the fun, interesting, complicated, or action-filled experiences of your life. Try to slant your list toward experiences that could show how you can help somebody else in your field.
For example's sake, let's say your list includes:* Took a lifeguard course--learned CPR and how to keep cool in emergency situations.* Worked your way up to assistant manager at a donut shop where you were in charge of arranging work schedules and ordering new inventory.* Spent a couple of years going to college where you took English composition, physical science, two business management courses, and financial accounting.* Now you read the boss's copy of the Wall Street Journal every day, and spent last Saturday at the library sitting in a comfy chair reading through all the latest popular business books.
Now let's BLOW YOUR HORN. Granted, there are millions of people who have experience very much like yours, but there is no reason we have to make you sound ordinary.

2. Write a paragraph that briefly shows how your life experience qualifies you to be a big help to someone in your field. Let's say you want to consult over-worked managers like your boss. Your paragraph might be:
I learned how to think clearly and act fast in crucial situations while training to be a life guard. Later I mastered managing people and materials while working in management and inventory control for a busy mid-sized business. That experience, in addition to my university training in management, analytical thinking, and concise communication, have given me a sharp mind and a cool head. Now I stay abreast of cutting-edge trends through industry periodicals and books by important thinkers.
Wow! You sound pretty impressive, don't you? A boss in sore need of clear thinking and new ideas (and what manager isn't?) would welcome having a person like you sitting in her office tossing out thoughts and ideas. And it's all because you learned how to blow your own horn.

3. Now get covered by media. Mass media has mass audiences. It is the instant way to become famous. Start by dong something that gives media a reason to feature you. You can:
* Crate something big and important* Stage an event that is visual, unusual, or downright crazy* Comment publicly on a current controversy* Write an article for trade publications or ezines* Write a short book and publish it yourself, then send copies to local radio, TV, and newspapers.

4. Repeat the process as often as you can. Keep adding your accomplishments to your "Blow Your Horn" paragraph. When you create a new event, tell about it in a press release, including your "Blow Your Horn" paragraph at the bottom. Send the release to local media, trade publications, and businesses you might want to work with.
If you get nothing else from this article, get this: Don't keep your greatness a secret. YOU ARE GOOD AT SEVERAL THINGS. Tell the world!

by Kevin Nunley

1. Throw a brick at someone famous
2. Use stratagies of a publicist to get in the news
6. Amass Symbolic Capital

Sunday, September 16, 2007

15. You have to work at it

When I was in grad school at Texas, I asked Charles Moore to tell me how he got famous, more specifically how he got great commissions. He said these things happened because he developed the teaching track - teaching, writing and lecturing gave him the money, he said, to keep the office going irrespective of how much work it had coming in. That way, if there wasn't enough fee to do that killer rendering, or to work up presentation materials for publication, say, he could infill with his own money. He got bored with being known for a singular type of work, he said, so as people approached him about starting and being associated with other offices, he did. Being in three places at once was kind of a novelty that helped his profile as well.

... [Moore] said being famous was just like any other driven career track - you have to commit to it, you have to think your way through it, you have to make the right connections with clients, the right types of clients, people who control publication, people on the academic side - you have to devote your life to it, which he did. I don't believe it's a random thing - there's an element of randomness to it, but becoming famous doesn't happen at random. Just ask Britney Spears' mother.

Left to right: Richard Whitaker, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore, and William Turnbull.

Post from Archinet forum "
How to become a Famous Architect"


2. Use stratagies of a publicist to get in the news
6. Amass Symbolic Capital
14. Do Good Work & Keep Your Soul

Sunday, September 9, 2007

14. Do Good Work & Keep Your Soul

Adrian Shaughnessy

January 25, 2006

: In your chapter dedicated to self-promotion, you touch on the celebrity issue that has surfaced. I agree that we depend on our reputations to maintain work and get new clients, but things seem to have gotten out of hand. Why have so many designers been lured by celebrity instead of simply making good work?

Adrian Shaughnessy: The world is obsessed with celebrity. Perhaps it always has been: I suppose the difference today is that that because of the all pervasiveness of always-on electronic and print media we find it easy to become obsessed with people we’ve never met, people who are often famous for nothing other than being famous. I don’t think design is even close to that situation yet. ‘Celebrity’ in design is still predicated on excellence of work. Of course, there are things designers can do to promote themselves as design-world celebs – produce monographs, go on the lecture circuit, sound off in the magazines – but the opportunity to do these things is only given to those who have achieved something measurable.

So, when I talk about celebrity in design, I’m not talking about the sort of celebrity that’s chronicled in the glossy magazines you buy in supermarkets. I think what I’m getting at is that when I became a designer in the mid-seventies, absolutely no thought was given to the notion of fame. Yes, there were famous designers, but they seemed like well-kept secrets; you knew their work, but not much else about them.

Today, every designer knows that they can achieve a certain sort of fame. I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with this – it might even be a useful spur to good work. But if it replaces good work as the ultimate goal of the designer, then I think it is a dangerous cul de sac. I also think that certain designers have become adept at building their own myths. I’m thinking of the way that many graphic designers who came into contact with the music business, learned how to spin their own mythologies. The downside to this is that it creates the illusion of a grime-free existence. If we only read about superstar designers gliding from one lecture theatre to the next, from one perfect job to another, then we have a distorted view of the life of a designer.

It’s one of the reasons why I made Stephan Sagmeister the ‘patron saint’ of my book, I loved the way he exposes (wittily) the myth of design celebrity in his book Made You Look. That was a great inspiration to me.

SU: Elaborate on the statement that closes the Self-Promotion chapter, “If you want to be famous, the first thing you have to do is stop wanting to be famous.”

If you do good work, you will get noticed.

AS: This relates to what I said in the last answer. If you do good work, you will get noticed. The design press has an insatiable need for good new talent to fill its pages. If you are any good, you’ll be found. So, concentrate on the work.

SU: Passion seems to be a consistent theme in the book, and you provide a wealth of information to further designers’ passions. Why do you feel designers must maintain passion throughout their careers?

AS: I think passion has become a bit of a graphic design cliché. It is often used to mean stubbornness, or narrowness, or insularity. I try to use the word to mean a love of graphic design. By that I mean maintaining the excitement you had when you first encountered design. But that’s not an easy thing to maintain. At various points in my life, design has suddenly seemed unimportant. Yet, I’ve always managed to rekindle my interest, and despite a few ‘bust-ups’ I’m still in love with graphic design.

Paradoxically, I think passion is best maintained by having an interest in the world beyond graphic design. One of the reasons why graphic designers have a poor public image is because they are often seen as only being interested in graphic design. The best graphic designers are not obsessed with graphic design to the exclusion of everything else. I also think that the best graphic designers have what I’ve called in the book ‘cultural awareness’. The thing I like best about being a designer is moving from one subject to another. But you can only do this if you have an awareness of what is going on in the world.

SU: You stated that designers must possess humanistic qualities—they must have a voice—and I agree that we should be more than just a set of hands. IDEO has labeled their ideal team member a ‘T-shaped’ person, where there is one deep level of knowledge complimented by a wide spread appreciation for varying subject matter. How does that label compare to your idea of a designer’s attributes?

AS: I defined the key attributes of a graphic designer as communication skills, cultural awareness and integrity. Obviously, talent is important, but the good thing about graphic design is that it allows a very generous definition of talent. There is room for all sorts of talent – we can be good at only one tiny thing and still find a way of becoming an effective graphic designer. But for me, designers have to be able to communicate (both through their work and the way they talk about their work); they have to have cultural awareness (see above); and they need integrity. Integrity is the difficult one here. What does it mean in graphic design? I’ve been criticized by an English reviewer for not taking a hard line on ethical questions in the book. I deliberately refused to do this. Political and ethical decisions are matters of personal conviction – I’m not going to presume to tell people how they should run their lives.

But by integrity I mean being honest in the way you deal with the people you inevitably, as a graphic designer, come into contact with. And I also mean believing in something. This can be an aesthetic, a political or a pragmatic belief, but you have to be prepared to stand up for something. If you don’t believe in anything, no one will believe in you.

My main reason for writing this book was my frustration with designers who say – I don’t get any good work. I wanted designers to realize that we can’t go through our working lives blaming clients and the economic climate for our poor work. We have to take responsibility for the successful outcome of a project, and to do this we have to show integrity. It’s a bit glib, but I divide designers into heroes or doormats. And the difference between heroes and doormats is usually integrity.

SU: How else can designers distinguish themselves, especially if it’s right out of school and they’re trying to find work?

AS: I’m amazed at how ill-prepared for working life many young graduates are. In the book I go into a lot of practical details – portfolios, interviews, etc – but really what I’m talking about is designers acquiring the ability to see objectively. I’m appalled by the self-absorption of many designers (I can spot this because I’m often guilty of it myself!) As someone who has employed dozens of designers, I’m always won over by intelligently presented work. The way young designers present themselves often says more about them than the work they show. It is a sure sign of potential.

All images taken from How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, available by Princeton Architectural Press.

Adrian Shaughnessy is a self-taught graphic designer. Until recently he was creative director of Intro, the London-based design company he co-founded. He left in 2004 to pursue an interest in writing and consultancy, and is currently consultant creative director of This is Real Art, a 'virtual' design company. Shaughnessy has written three books on design for music (the Sampler series) and edited a book of Intro work. He writes for many of the leading design publications, and is a contributor to Design Observer and The Wire. He lectures extensively around the world, and in January 2006 he was appointed editor of a forthcoming magazine devoted to illustration.