Friday, May 30, 2008

53. Take a lesson from IKEA

IKEA sells a brilliantly envisioned, meticulously conceived, inter-operational collection of constructed "components" of individual identity, situated in the domestic sphere, and supported by a global system of logistics, engineering, marketing, operations, but most of all DESIGN, that is really remarkable.

The connection that I made with all of this is the increasing significance of design, in the most universal, far-reaching sense, in the world of software. Apple Computers' incredible success of the last few years since the introduction of MacOS X, the iPod, and its super-sexy notebooks, is not about selling a Unix-based operating system, a digital personal music player, and mass-market commodity laptops - it's about DESIGN, transformative, transcendent design that engages us in experiences which makes our inner ape feel safe, happy, sexy, powerful - emotional experiences which stimulate our pleasure centers and form habits of use, habits of consumption.


Similarly Starchitects are not about designing a building, they about designing a brand of architecture and ideas that stimulates us in a certain way. To accomplish this, some are pushing a pre-existing trend of outsourcing to a whole new level.

REX for example is a relatively young firm. Both partners Joshua Prince-Ramus and Erez Ella are in their 30's and so are most of their staff for that matter.

They were able to design Museum Plaza [a complex multi program 62 floor skyscraper] relying on an equally complex team of consultants. In fact they see themselves as orchestraters of the design process. They hand pick the team, they coordinate communications, set the goals, and direct the conceptual ideas. Their contribution to the design is simply the initial concept and mission control from there on.

Below is their philosophy statement directly from their website.
We design collaborations rather than dictate solutions.
The media sells simple, catchy ideas; it reduces teams to individuals and their collaborative work to genius sketches. The proliferation of this false notion of "starchitecture" diminishes the real teamwork that drives celebrated architecture. [Read here why this Denunciation of Starchitecture is important to your mystique] REX believes architects should guide collaboration rather than impose solutions. We replace the traditional notion of authorship: "I created this object," with a new one: "We nurtured this process."

But REX is just one of many famous firms on this bandwagon. Listen to Thom Mayne of Morphosis on this very subject:

How does that team function, You are the lead guy on these projects, but what do you leave to the other people that work with you, how does that work?

Oh, I leave a lot.

We are called Morphosis and we were started in 1972
It was a kind of a very 60's idea
It was an idea about a collective practice

I was looking at film a lot and I saw architecture very parallel to film in its collaborative nature.

It was very conscious of removing authorship in a singular way. So the name Thom Mayne came out of the firm. It happens to be that Morphosis is a very generic name: the development of form. It applies to architecture, planning, landscape, and to industrial design etc. and we very much work like that. I guess my position very simply, would be that of the auteur: the director. I am definitely guiding conceptually the interests, etc of the group.

there are discussions and sometimes I am putting down the first hunch. Sometimes a form already closer to architecture and other times its just about ideas; about the land, or about a slope, or a force of movement or something else. Its just words working back and forth.

Its a collective practice where I am part of the directorship but it is absolutely collaborative. Then of course with that comes the huge amounts of people that work on large scale projects, the structural engineers, the mechanical engineers, the landscape architects, the cost estimators, on and on.

I left a meeting today and there were 20 of us at the table and we are at the very beginning of the project, just introducing the basic components and getting a pre-schematic together: The beginning essence of what a project is going to be.

I love that , I love working with a lot of people

A lot of people think of the kind of Ayn Rand- Frank Lloyd Wright idea of the architect. You enter the room, everything is in your brain [wherever it is located] you have this incredible creative instinct, you already have this genius idea in your head and you are going to lay it down for everybody.

For me it's the complete opposite, [Again, Read here why this Disassociation from Starchitecture is important] you walk in the room absolutely blank, nothing up there, and you start a discussion. If you put me in a room by myself, I would go nutty, I need interaction, I need push-back. I need dynamism of the group activity...

In essence what we are beginning to see is a gradual reshaping of the traditional model of the Architecture Firm. One that does not require the architect to be a specialist in the technicalities of building design within his own firm, but one that is a director of a team of consultants. By outsourcing much of the technicalities, this type of firm leaves itself room to focus more on concepts, research, brand, image, and publicity. The Architect becomes [as Mayne puts it] an auteur where he acts very much in the same way as a film director tweaking and stoking his crew and actors to achieve a certain effect on our inner ape.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

52. Know How to Tell Your Story in the Media

Publicity is by far one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal, but how do you promote yourself to the media so that they will give your growing business the spotlight it needs?

Storytelling. That's right, because ultimately, business stories are human interest stories and every reporter is looking for a good story. In fact the press refers to the articles they write as stories. Here are 4 things you need to give the press to help them tell your story:

1. Personality. "A company is faceless without the people who run it," says Joanne Cleaver, a business writer whose work has appeared in Home Office Computing and Dividends Magazine. "In any story, you want the personality of the people to come through. You want to get a sense of who they are."

2. Facts & Figures. Reporters love facts and figures; they anchor a story in reality. However, if you prefer not to divulge sales figures, talk instead about your rate of growth. Say, "Our commissions have doubled in the last year," or "We've already met our objectives for this year, and it's only July."

3. Anecdotes. As impressive as numbers can be, they are not the whole story. Real-life examples of how you solved a client's problems bring your story to life. According to Cleaver, "Readers want to hear about real people, they respond to that. Your story says I've been there." Tell the stories behind the facts and embellish them with details that would make someone want to listen (This is where drama comes in handy).

4. Details that Reveal. Reporters have their antennae up for interesting details about the people behind the companies. More and more, that's the approach that reporters are taking, so you need to be open and to share details. Maybe the contents of your refrigerator reveals something insightful about your marketing strategy, or the fact that you work best in the nude. "No business experience is a straight line. Your motivation and vision for the business is affected by who you are. Think about the attitudes that have played into your success or your experience, " says Cleaver.

From The Art of Self Promotion #22, How to Tell Your Story in the Media by Ilise Benun

Saturday, May 17, 2008

51. Denounce Starchitecture

Starchitects Have Reason to be Gloomy

First, the good news. The early model of the starchitect incited by the image-mongering of Frank Lloyd Wright is still in play. It captured the extra-architectural imagination of the popular press and helped catapulted the careers of many architects ever since. Unfortunately we may now be seeing a more universal fatigue with the entire enterprise. Now, the bad news. The fatigue has become so bad that starchitects have now become a popular instrument of ridicule by the media in popular culture. The starchitect have come to represent vanity, greed and shallowness; an enterprise that is ethically challenged. The model has so many broken windows that it has become popular for every lowly wayward to throw a brick at it.

So many architects who have worked up the ranks to gain starchitect status are beginning to question whether there may be fools gold at the end of the rainbow.

Remember the old adage "Be careful what you wish for...". As one journalist put it "[it] reminds me of the one Looney Tune that terrified me as a child, where a selfish and gluttonous Porky Pig is subjected by a mad scientist to a nightmare of unending force-feeding. Enough already. Please. Enough."

In his article Anti-Starchitecture Chic:What’s a budding celebrity architect to do when the winds of change begin shifting away from fame?, Philip Nobel describes the current plight of the Starchitect.

Are we ready for something new? Starchitecture culture in its current form—characterized by the premature coronation of designers based on flashy forms and blowout press coverage, the infection of schools with the idea of fame as a career objective....[has reached it's] current levels of saturation

We’re bored with the stars...even at such previously starstruck schools as Princeton, Col­um­bia, and Yale—who are rejecting stardom as an aspirational model and are looking for other, perhaps more grounded ways to build a practice. Some of them also report a widespread dissatisfaction among their peers with the type of ­teaching—typically image-heavy and form-centric—that ­starchitecture has imposed on so many schools. In a related development, younger firms are more often using generic titles rather than marketing themselves exclusively as name-brand stars on the hoof...

Backlash is in the air, and using the same refined organs that so ably guided their rise, the smart stars can feel it.

So what to do? Here are three suggestions:

1.Denounce Starchitecture.
2.Denounce Starchitecture.
3.Denounce Starchitecture.

If you are not yet famous, do as I said in last week's post. Don't tell anyone you want to be a famous architect. Don't tell anyone you read this blog. Just chill out with it. I wasn't kidding. If this doesn't work laugh at it

If you are an almost famous architect [a prince in waiting to be crowned Starchitect], Nobel's article outlines the pros and cons of renouncing the monarchy of fame even while you are being crowned.
market yourself by saying “I am not a star” (as Josh Prince-Ramus has done since his split with Rem) [but this] is only to buy into the same tired trope. To get work, architects must sell a thing—the idea of a building—that by definition does not exist at the time of the sale. So recourse to some sort of theater is appealing. And their customers, prepared as they are to spend millions, are not the most easily sold—and in many cases, particularly for corporate or institutional jobs, they want the splash that only a star (or, it has to be said, a really great building) can reliably bring. It’s a puzzle; the economic pressures to operate as a star are many, and the alternative strategies are few. The only truly credible course may be to reject the very idea of using yourself as a brand, to work and work well, and then to get what press you get in the course of yet more good work. Boring maybe, but until a less destructive model of high-profile practice emerges, it’s the right thing to do.

But what if you have a full blown case of Starchitectamyelitis what do you do?
If you are a true virtuoso you can just denounce yourself. Nobel describes the real genius of Frank Gehry at the top of his game.

Gehry, of course, is an expert at managing his fame. Perhaps that’s why he felt compelled recently to deliver to me a T-shirt tastefully printed with “Fuck Frank Gehry,” and insist by proxy (the New York–based creator of the shirts acting as courier) that I wear it at the 2007 Temko Critics Panel (“What to Make of Starchitecture, and Who to Blame for It”). Apparently the shirts are popular at the offices of Gehry Partners LLP, and Frank was feeling frisky. My fellow panelists were amused and assumed I was a sellout, so it did have an effect on the proceedings. But I declined to wear the gift—ethics, you know, and anyway I prefer to get paid to advertise—and I responded by sending back a shirt with my name and a similar blunt mes­sage. May he wear it in good health—in front of as many cameras as possible.

Friday, May 9, 2008

50. chill out on your famous/oeidopus complex

Dear Cat,

No personal offence taken.

I am just very happy to get feedback.

Actually, your comment falls into the most common category of responses to this blog.
I think that most people believe fame is something that comes to those who work hard, do good design, are talented and have a bit of luck.
In my experience this is true but missing a very critical ingredient.
That ingredient is called "working on cultivating fame for yourself"

I wished we lived in a great meritocracy where architects are recognized purely on the basis of their work, but this is just not reality. Once in a blue moon a lucky chap will win a competition and get instant recognition. But if he/she does not cultivate their fame they will loose it. For the rest of us, its a goal that is cultivated and worked on over a lifetime like any other career path.

My hopes with this blog is to open people up to this idea. Fame is an achievable goal that must be tampered with talent, work, a bit of luck, etc, etc,. To focus on fame alone is just as bad as focusing on hard work alone. Haven't you heard the saying "Hard work and no Fame makes Jack a dull boy"

If I seem a wee bit obsessed with fame...well... that's just because I am! (genealogists have proven that I share a common ancestor with both Paris Hilton and Philip Johnson) It's also because this blog is just about this one aspect of the big picture. I don't wish to tell you how to design, or how hard to work, I leave that up to you. That's another blog.

I am not worried about being perceived as fame hungry because I don't talk about fame with other people as much as I write about it. I don't even tell people I write or read this blog and neither should you. See my post on how to read this blog.

Anyway, please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or comments.

Best Regards

Conrad Newel

Freeing Minds Since August 2007

--- On Tue, 5/6/08, cat wrote:
From: cat
Subject: famous architect comment (cat)
To: architect.journal [AT]
Date: Tuesday, May 6, 2008, 6:36 PM


Name: cat

i think you need to chill out on your famous/oeidopus complex
(cant spell, sorry).

its distrubeing, and though amusing..
ultimatley you will be perceived as the
one that wanted to be famous,
rather than the one who worked hard enough to
become famous.

nothing personal.

Date/Time: 2008-05-06 09:36:19 PDT

Thursday, May 1, 2008

49. Young Architects Now Means "Young"

This was just too good to pass up. We have been talking about this stuff all along and then came this. We have said don't wait. The age of "The Lone Genius" architect is gone we are now in the era of the united team , go out and work for a famous architect and most importantly Rem Koolhaas has wings. Well this just confirms it. If you can't take if from us take it from Icon:

Is it just us or is the young architect a very different beast these days? For the first time, "young" actually means young, but "architect" may no longer mean architect. This is our list of the most significant rising practices. Like all list stories, you'll disagree with some of it, but that's half the fun.

The first thing to mention is that the "young architect" is definitely younger than he or she used to be. We borrowed the convention of using 40 as our cut-off point, but at least half of the people on this list are 35 or under - and one of them is a 33-year-old overseeing a practice with 75 staff. Have we moved from the architect of promise to the upstart with power?

Secondly, the school of thought that architects need to build things to make their presence felt is losing currency. There are a few on the list who reflect that - these are the strategists and networkers who challenge legislation and foment debate.

Interestingly, of those who do build, by far the most successful in business terms are the practices who were nurtured by Rem Koolhaas at OMA. Theirs is a world of seismic competition wins and huge staff counts.

But where's all the rebellion? There's little sense here of a generation reacting against the ideology of its elders - Perhaps that's simply because we live in apolitical times. In fact, there are few signs of a coherent generation at all, although there are definite camps: the Children of Rem, the quiet but extremely sophisticated disciples of Zumthor and SANAA, the tower builders and the open network activists.

This is a global list in more ways than one. You'll find three Americans, two Japanese, two Chinese, a Chilean, and Indian and a bunch of Europeans. But increasingly these practices are international anyway, undermining notions of national architecture - more important (a crucible these days) are the practices they meet at. Having said that, you'd think a British magazine might put more British architects on the list. But then, the key thing that is giving all these youngsters their big break is the culture of open architecture competitions - and that's something this country desperately needs.

from Icon Magazine
original title - 20 Essential Young Architects -