Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Palleroni Has Landed

And Delivered.

Last Tuesday night at the Graham Foundation, Sergio Palleroni lectured on his life's work with his program called the BaSiC Initiative. I knew a little bit about what he does from seeing it on the PBS series Design e2. None-the-less, he went into considerable detail on a number of projects and I was impressed by the depth, scope, and global reach of his work.

It all started nearly 3 decades ago when he decided to put his formal education to use by helping his people. After a brief stint building housing for the UN and World Bank, he struck out on his own.

Mr. Palleroni gave us a good impression of the poverty throughout the world and I gained an appreciation for the methods he was using to help them. He wasn't giving them fish, as most government entities do to house the poor, he was teaching them to fish. Which is probably the best way to reach out the vast number of people and communities that need help. During his lecture he casually mentioned a community he worked in of 1 million squatters. That resonated with me for a while and is still something I think about. A community of 1 million squatters. I'm so far removed from a situation like that I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like.

Teaching them how to build housing, schools, and libraries gives them a sense of empowerment and ownership over the land which in turn strengthens the community. Some even banded together to get loans and matching grants.

At some point during his presentation there was so much work I found it hard to believe that what he was showing was all his even with him presenting it. In speaking with him afterward I came to find out he had a family on top of it all. I asked him how he was able to complete projects on 5 continents (What, no Antarctica?) at the same time and raise a family.

By now, he is able to appoint students and research assistants he has known for a few years to lead projects. After a number of years of doing this those project managers and former students have gone on to start their own initiatives.

On balancing family life with professional, he humbly credited his wife for being understanding but admitted having her as a partner in the firm has helped. He used to bring his kids with him to locations around the world. But now that they're older they have to stay home to attend school.

Upon his departure I'm left with more questions: Is his Portland school initiative expandable to Chicago? What other programs like this can we create here in Chicago to address the specific needs of our poor communities? How can we address the social breakdown that seems to be a unique trait to poor communities in America and can architects design housing to facilitate the improvement of those social structures?

I want to thank Mr. Palleroni, who took time out of his busy schedule while in Chicago to speak with us. He mentioned the importance of sharing and distributing knowledge and in continuing that spirit he shared his slides with me so that I might composite his lecture with the audio recording I had thanks to the Graham Foundation. Accordingly, this lecture and workshop series couldn't have happened without Roberta Feldman of the City Design Center and the selfless contributions of the rag-tag group that makes up the partnership that is Converge:Exchange. Whether you missed it or have to see it again, please enjoy Sergio Palleroni: Affecting Lasting Change Through Design Build Activism.

Part 2
Part 3

Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Monday, October 26, 2009

Speed Mentoring at Archeworks

This Tuesday night at 6pm. The Chicago Women in Architecture and the Archeworks Alumni Association are hosting the event. Answer the following questions and email them to

1.   List your name and current contact information:

2.   Are you registering as a Mentor or Mentee?

3.   What are your reasons for attending?
4.   Who is your current employer or organization?

5.   What is your educational background?

6.   List any other organizations you are active in or affiliations you have that you think would be helpful for this event:

Speed Mentoring
6:00 - 8:00
October 27th
@ Archeworks
625 N. Kingsbury

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Pecha Kucha Beta Site Launches

The beta version of the global Pecha Kucha site has been in the works for a while and guess who has the honor of being the only non-tokyo presentation posted on the site; moi. I had nothing to do with their naming of the presentation. I probably would have called it volunteering in chicago architecture or something. But the word they chose did get the most laughs. Jokes that you don't have to think about tend to have that effect.

This site has officially experienced the PK Bump and Peter Exley deserves my sincerest thanks for his support.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UNSudio and Parametric Modeling

Last night I attended the opening keynote for ACADIA 09 by UNStudio's head of design integration, Christian Veddeler. I write this with the assumption that you're familiar with both UNStudio's work and parametric modeling software.

While I am familiar with and admire their work, I saw Ben Van Berkel speak about the pavilion this past summer, I was intrigued to learn more about their design flow. Mr. Veddeler used the Mercedes Benz Museum as a case study.

Image courtesy UNStudio.

The Museum is based on a trefoil knot:

From there the knot was pulled and repeated vertically to create a double helix circulation strategy. Parametric modeling software was essential in keeping the project viable by keeping costs manageable while maintaining a fluid design process.

By applying parameters to elements of the project it allows them to focus on design without having to worry about the means and method of construction as much. For example, a parameter for repeating concrete formwork was applied to the curves and other elements (the entire structure is reinforced concrete). Once that was established they were free to manipulate the design to accommodate the pragmatic constraints that we architects are always faced with; program, square footage requirements, gravity, etc. In this way they weren't waiting until the end to address such things as making certain elements fit into a module so the project budget doesn't spiral out of control.

And don't most architects work in this way? We design a building with little regard to how it's going to get built only to have to go back to the drawing board once the construction bids come back over budget. In my opinion, software tools like parametric modeling are essential for architects wishing to push the envelop of design and construction. It certainly has been for UNStudios.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two Significant Conferences this Week

This was me:


You get the idea. Anyways, I thought I was stuck until a colleague of mine, David LeFevre, let me know he would be at the ACADIA conference and offered to be a guest contributor. Given the importance of this global-reaching conference and his expertise in software for architects, I said yes.

ACADIA, Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, has a conference every year and this year it's being hosted by the School of the Art Institute. I'll be blogging on the presentations and keynotes that I'm able to attend, the opening keynote tonight features UNStudio's Christian Veddeler head of design integration, David will take on the rest. The workshop component begins today with the conference extending until Sunday.

It's with the conference component later this week that I have a scheduling conflict. It overlaps another huge conference with global reach, that brought to us by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, CTBUH. This one is hosted by IIT and features such speakers as Richard Tomasetti, Donna Robertson, Arthur Gensler, Steven Holl, Bill Baker, Adrian Smith, and Mayor Richard M. Daley. Whew.

You'd think they would have gotten together to work out a schedule. After all, you can't design a tall building any more without a legion of human AND computer power.

As if this wasn't enough, Farshid Moussavi of Foreign Office Architects is lecturing in Chicago on Wednesday night. Oh, and that Palleroni lecture tomorrow night.

Architects Needed for Design Charette at IIT

On Saturday, Oct 24th at Crown Hall, IIT is hosting a charette for the design of a new transportation hub at 35th and Federal. Architects are wanted to be added to teams of IIT architecture students. There is a fee to participate but it's offset by the lunch provided. RSVP

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Pecha Kucha Presentation

For those of you that missed it but wanted to see it, for those that saw it and need to see it again, and for those of you that are easily distracted, here is my Pecha Kucha Night Chicago presentation. My sincere thanks to Matt Dumich of Young Architects Forum, Peter Exley and his gang of volunteers responsible for bringing PKN to Chicago 6 or 8 times a year, and everyone who came out to offer their support. A special thanks to Thorsten Bosch for tolerating my pestering and sending me the video.

The next PKN is December 1st, see you there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Volunteer opportunity: Ask an Architect this Saturday

Chicago Bungalow needs volunteers on short notice. To make the cut, you must be licensed, be in good standing with the AIA, have experience in single family and especially vintage homes and experience with implementation of green technologies would be nice. Interested? Contact Chris Turley.
More information.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

IIT College of Architecture Symposium: What Next?

This Saturday, October 17th, with a keynote speech on Friday night, IIT will be hosting a symposium promising to address the impact of the following influences on the profession: rapid global urbanization, looming environmental change, algorithmic form generation, digital modeling and economic upheaval. The organizers have lined up an impressive roster of architects and educators to present the latest developments in these areas.

Here's a taste of the schedule:

Friday, 16 October 6 pm
Wishnick Hall, IIT,
3255 S. Dearborn Street

Keynote Address
Robert Somol
Director and Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture

Saturday, 17 October 9 am — 6:30 pm
McCormick Tribune Campus Center, IIT,
3201 S. State Street

What Next for Interface?
Joel Sanders
Associate Professor, Yale University
Principal, Joel Sanders Architect, New York

What Next for Probability?
Luke Ogrydziak + Zoë Prillinger
Friedman Assistant Professors,
University of California at Berkley
Ogrydziak/Prillinger Architects, San Francisco

What Next for the Avant-Garde?
Michael Meredith
Associate Professor, Harvard University
Principal, MOS, Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT

What Next for Resources?
Sandy Isenstadt
Associate Professor, University of Delaware
Member, Institute for Advanced Studies

What Next for the Past?
Andrew Herscher
Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

What Next for Futurology?
Felicity Scott
Assistant Professor, Columbia University

Plus a roundtable discussion with:
Joseph Rosa
Chair of
Architecture and Design, Art Institute of Chicago

The event is free and open to the public but seating is limited. If you're interested in hearing about where the profession may be headed from leading practitioners and educators, RSVP.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Upcoming Lectures

Check out the much-neglected sidebar for some outstanding lectures over the next two weeks including some heavy-hitting theorists at UIC (I've noticed a recurring theme here). Don't forget Sergio Palleroni, not a theorist-a practicist? Well, he's certainly an activist. He'll be here Oct 20th. Tune in tomorrow for information about a symposium at IIT this weekend. I hope your Friday evening and Saturday is clear.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Post AIA Conference Post

I wanted to write a brief reflection about my experience at the conference including some of the highlights as I think it would be relevant to the architecture community at large.

The three themes of the conference, Building Information Model (BIM), Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), and sustainability certainly resonated throughout the seminars. So much so that, in many cases, the content of several seminars overlapped.

What I really wanted to convey to you was the impact of the opening and closing keynote speakers. The first speaker, Larry Prusak, talked about knowledge for an hour and a half. And while that may seem like a boring speech to sit through, he delivered it with such wit and enthusiasm that we were all on the edges of our seats. I easily could have listened to another 2 hours.

He talked about knowledge as the new commodity but, paradoxically, we are unable to exchange it as a commodity. And, unlike the old standby commodities, land, labor and capital, we don't run out of knowledge when we use it. In fact, it tends to increase when we share it. Some memorable quotes:

Knowledge has the tendency to stick. It's sticky.

Cognitive Diversity.

We should be teaching children rhetoric instead of calculus.

He referred to many present-day and historical references, describing companies like Intel that scour the globe for personnel and a company in Norway that has 30 "idea makers" whose job it is to find new ideas by talking to researches, academics and scientists throughout the world and bring back those ideas to the company.

What does this mean for architects? In the last 100 we have become more of a private club rejecting outside ideas or even closing ourselves off completely as a result, in my opinion, of our huge, bloated egos. I’ve often heard architects complain about structural engineers or contractors. In my experience, the more successful projects have been those where there is more of a collaborative effort and the architect welcomes the advice from contractors and engineers rather than stifling them at the risk of being proven wrong.

The closing keynote speech by Dr. Daniel S. Friedman, Dean of the College of Built Environments at Washington University was equally compelling and an appropriate way to end the conference. He talked about the profession changing, or rather, not changing while the world around it does. He suggested it was leaving us exposed to the potential of deregulation and referenced the deregulation of architects in the U.K. With all the talk about BIM throughout the seminar, we have to realize that we are no longer representing buildings with lines but we are now building models with objects, in effect simulating construction. This has the potential of bridging a huge gap between professionals and lay-people or students of architecture that previously existed, potentially lessening the value of the architect.

He proposed changes in the way architecture students are educated as well as the need of seasoned practitioners to teach and criticized the current system of tenure, saying some of these professors have never practiced and will never retire reducing the chances for change to occur at the university level.

He likened his new profession of architecture to that of the scientific or medical community in which university education, and especially research are extremely important to their respective fields. I've often regretted the fact that we in the architecture community are so competitive that there is a lack of collaboration that I feel is sorely missing. Perhaps if we had some kind of governing body or publication, like the Journal of Medicine, architects would be more inclined to share their ideas as there would be a method of providing and tracking acknowledgment.

On academia, he had 10 principals that he has been proposing throughout universities and to the NAAB:

1 treat the entire curriculum like studio - all studio all the time
2 use research to drive design (design as skill, design as an epistemology)
- type drove 19th
- program drove 20th
- research drives 21st
3 teach more building science (NAAB criteria should be ~ 50/50 in technical knowledge)
4 mandate teamwork
5 replace the jury system with studio rounds (like medical rounds / grand rounds for final reviews)
6 dissect abandoned buildings (access to building pathology…)
7 use case method to teach professional practice and ethics (courage to face uncertainty)
8 interdigitate research and internship
9 require internship for accreditation
10 quality interns for licensure at graduation

One of my favorites is the Studio in the Round, as doctors have, in lieu of the current system of critiques and jurors. He criticizes the current system saying we teach our students how to fail rather than how to succeed.

I spoke to him afterward and suggested that he could tackle architectural education reform from two ends rather than from just the universities. If the AIA has been able to incorporate mandatory green Learning Units, why not mandatory research or teaching units?

If you ever have a chance to hear either of these two gentlemen speak, I highly recommend it. I also recommend following Dr. Freidman’s work. Change is inevitable and it remains to be seen whether we as architects will step up to the responsibly or whether we will continue to ride the wave while outside influences force us to change to accommodate them. Lets put the leader back in architect.