Thursday, May 07, 2009

I've been a bad blog daddy

So my last post was September 16. Coincidentally, Katy went into labor that week and somehow I never got around to regular blogging again. Well, it's time to come back. The first five months or so I had a pretty good excuse. But since then Amalgamated Baby & Baby has been going to bed at seven and sleeping through the night, and I have no infants left to take the blame. I'm going to fight back against the evils of RSS feeds and online Netflix, and attempt to reintroduce myself in some way back into adult society, even if through a digital proxy.

Here's the first chestnut I have to lob into space (warning, bore alert):

How much longer until systems engineering becomes a necessary part of multinational architecture? If the last decade of architecture has made much headway (and I have my doubts) it's in attempting to rationalize and codify the value of design. What is baffling to me is that this has been done more successfully by people designing cars and cellphones. Architects seem to have been stuck re-hashing the same arguments, with slightly varying terminology, for roughly the last eighty years. Or at least the last twenty five.

It strikes me as plausible that, when discussing the success of Apple versus the relative obscurity of Norman Foster, the real difference is not in commodity value but rather in systems engineering. The entire idea of coordinating complex material and labor flows, attempting to rationalize a design with a material reality, from the very beginning, is something that architecture hasn't necessarily caught on to. Architects inevitably get stuck on meta-discussions about cultural relevance, and relegate the space-time stuff someone else's lap, in the last half of the schedule.

Obviously the problem here is dollars, or yuan, and how and when they're getting given around to people. "We don't have time," we always say, "and our margins are too thin as it is." Our margins are too thin because most clients consider our work to be at least 50% window dressing. And these considerations are the result of architecture having a poorly explained value, beyond a roof that doesn't leak and marginal improvements in worker productivity. BMW doesn't have to explain the value of design to anyone. And, despite what you're thinking right now, it's not because people love cars. It's because BMW has people who love to think, talk, and live automobile design, who talk to other people at bars about things that are not related to automobiles, and then come back and breathe this life into their cars, AND that these designers have an unseverable direct link to a system of engineering and production that is simultaneous and nearly instantaneous. Oh, and Everyone. Is. On. The. Same. Team.

Boy, that would be nice.