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This Site Is Not Dead Yet

And unlike the Monty Python bit, it won’t be any time soon, either. But there is a real concern that posting every 1, 2 or 5 years could become an annoying habit. All that being said, here I am again.

So what happened over the last five years? So much that it’s hard to know where to begin. I got licensed as an architect, accredited as a LEED professional, and certified as an accessibility specialist. About as much professional upheaval as possible while still remaining employed at the same company. Lots of my friends and family got married. I got married. My father died. I bought a house.

As I hinted at in my previous post (er, five years ago, ahem), I want to pass on my knowledge and experience in professional development. The path to getting licensed as an architect in particular, but also the LEED AP and CASp processes as well. To this end, I’ve created a new category called Flight School to organize these posts.

I’m also excited to share the adventure that is my new house. Built in 1955 by the short-lived San Francisco team of Bernard J. Sabaroff and Harold C. Dow, it’s a delightful mid-century contemporary situated on a small but dramatically sloped site. It will need work to get it back to top shape. But “it has good bones” as my wife likes to say. You can follow along with our progress under the new Hangar category.

In closing, I would be remiss to not mention my lovely wife, Natalee. She is my co-pilot on this crazy adventure, and I couldn’t imagine anyone with whom I’d rather fly off into the sunset.

So there you have it: Five years summarized in a few paragraphs. I just hope another five years doesn’t go by before the next post…

Filed under Boarding Pass, Flight School, Hangar

Brace Yourself

I’ve allowed this site to languish for over a year — again. But no more! There are changes in the works (mostly subtle, behind-the-scenes things), but most importantly I am newly committed to posting fresh content. Of course, we’ll all find out in a few weeks if this time is any different… In any case, first up will be a discussion of my professional development over the last year or so. I know that sounds slightly less than thrilling, but you just might learn something about becoming an architect. Stay tuned!

Filed under Boarding Pass

35,000 Feet

Flying high above, looking down, the textbook examples come alive: the patchwork grid of agriculture slowly becomes more granulated as the edges blur into urban centers, until finally it is the geometry of the city — a denser grid (perhaps rotated slightly to better catch the prevaling winds?), or satellite outposts linked by lonely stretches of road, or radial developments extending like fingers from the palm of your hand.

In the distance, you can see the glitter of skyscrapers… but they are so insignifcant from up here. The things that seem so important on the surface shrink to almost nothing when viewed from above. It is an excellent metaphor for life!

Filed under Flights of Fancy

Pierre Koenig

An article in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times describes the efforts of a local architecture afficianado to complete the last design of Pierre Koenig. It made me recall the brief period of my life in which he played a significant part: My architectural education at USC. He was not only a groundbreaking Modernist architect but a wonderful educator as well.

How does one truly measure the legacy of an architect like Pierre? Is it the architecture that he designed and built? Is it the students that he taught and quizzed? Is it the family that he loved and raised?

I had the honor of being Pierre Koenig’s student not once but on three separate occasions. Yet I had actually met Pierre months before becoming his student — at his home, for an Alpha Rho Chi Rush event. (Pierre was a Brother of the Fraternity.) Surrounded there by his own steel-and-glass monument to the Modern lifestyle, Pierre had a presence that was at once both humble and authoritative. It was like he had all the answers but didn’t want to spoil the adventure of those around him. In many ways he did have all the answers, as anyone who has stood in the living room at Case Study House #22, cantilevered over the city below, is likely to tell you.

I believe one of the reasons his designs are so successful — why they tend to elicit such a strong emotional response in both their inhabitants and their casual observers — is their careful attention to even the smallest of details. Pierre had a fascination with details. My classmates and I discovered this as we spent most of a semester learning how to detail wood construction, not only in drawings but also in full-size models of post-and-beam connections. At the time, we all thought this was a strange thing coming from someone like Pierre Koenig — shouldn’t we be learning about steel connections? — but I’ve come to an understanding of his rationale.

You see, Pierre was a great aficionado of music. And just as the most complex symphony is merely a collection of simple notes, so too is the most complex architecture merely a collection of simple details. Pierre saw this, saw the importance of simple, honest details forming the underlying structure of simple, honest architecture. Beautiful details are honest details — honest to the material being used. Steel is steel, wood is wood, glass is glass; each has distinct properties. (To paraphrase Louis Kahn, a brick likes an arch not a cantilever.) He wanted his students to understand how the material used in a design could and should influence the design itself — how the physical nature of materials created natural limitations as well as inherent design strategies. Though such concepts may seem elementary to architects today (or not?), Pierre was promoting them when they were seen as revolutionary.

After his passing, several architectural critics in the press seemed to dwell on Pierre’s supposedly stubborn adherence to Modernism, even when, as they put it, it “fell out of fashion.” However, it seems he had the last laugh: At the life celebration in his honor at the USC School of Architecture, one of the speakers noted that Pierre had managed to live long enough to be popular twice.

Yet this elitist view of architectural styles — that Modernism is somehow old-fashioned, or that it is a failure — neglects the reality around us. Few architectural movements have had such an impact on everyday life as the Modern movement. A quick look around reveals many of the hallmarks of Modernism fully integrated with today’s society: the open plan that maximizes usable internal space, the honest expression of structure and materials, and the constant desire to blur the distinction between inside and outside. While the Modern movement may have failed to completely convert the architectural desires of the greater public — a Herculean task if ever there was one — it wildly succeeded to illustrate futuristic possibilities that have forever changed the design landscape of the profession.

And Pierre was there, essentially from the beginning, revealing to the world the wonders of the Modern way of life, one building at a time.
One student at a time. He will be deeply missed, not just as an educator, but also as a visionary architect and a truly amazing human being.

This entry was inspired by the speech I gave on February 28, 2005, at the opening of the Pierre Koenig Memorial Library at the Andronicus Chapter House.

Filed under Flights of Fancy

Welcome back

It took a while — okay, almost a year-and-a-half — but I am finally re-launching this site. My goal is to return to the source, so-to-speak, and write about my life as an “architecture geek” living in Los Angeles.

There are several important changes to the site, not the least of which is the debut of a new logo. The old logo has served me well, but it was time to do something new. I hope you like it.

I have also introduced several filing categories called “gates” — you may notice a distinct aeronautical feel to the new names around here — intended to make it easier to track down specific entries or browse similar entries.

One of the changes I wanted to make but ultimately could not: Abandonment of so-called “blogging software” like Movable Type and WordPress. It’s not that I don’t like using them, or that they aren’t up to the task. Rather, I felt that my desire to disallow public comments combined with the harsh reality that this site will never have a significant number of visitors — or, for that matter, a significant number of posts — to render the need for an “advanced” back-end publishing system as tremendous overkill.

In the end, however, some of the basic functionality I want to include here — a basic search function, cross-referenced archive pages, a calendar of posts — necessitated an automated process. Manually updating a half-dozen pages every time I posted would practically guarantee this site’s demise once again.

While I will do my best to keep it running like a well-oiled machine, there will be times that you, a visitor, will find a broken link or a mis-rendered page. I would appreciate your help in keeping this site in tip-top shape, so please let me know if there are problems.

Filed under Boarding Pass