Architects Are Not Cartoon Makers
Peter Gluck founded the design-build firm GLUCK+ in New York City as a logical step toward delivering buildings that are built efficiently and well so that they adhere to the highest levels of life-cycle performance and aesthetic presence as prescribed in the design documents.
The strength of his firm’s work may lie in his breaking down the silos that separate the design office from the construction trades. The same project team of architects at GLUCK+ have a direct supervisory role at the building site, and in fact are in touch with the building trades before construction on site has begun. The theory is that there are no separate departments between designing and building, thinking and making. The pedagogy of the studio is that this integrated approach is the foundation for great buildings to be possible. This requires a shift in thinking.
“My pejorative position is that if you hire an architect who has been in the field for eight years, that is the point where he or she is resistant to change and tends to be defensive about being on a construction site and operating there.”
Gluck will join Ma Yansong, mad architecture, Beijing; Jeff Kovel, Skylab Architecture, Portland, Ore.; and Kai-Uwe Bergmann, BIG, Copenhagen, this coming April 11-12 in Charlottesville for the eleventh VSAIA Design Forum, “Dwelling: The Art of Living in Century XXI.”
In a recent interview with Inform, Gluck shared his personal views on three reasons architects have abandoned their responsibilities in the construction of their buildings.
Airs of a profession
In the late 19th century, architects wanted to distance themselves from being seen as tradesmen or craftsmen. They wanted to be seen as professionals. They brought academic pursuits to America from European institutions, notably the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and no longer aspired to talk tough and wear overalls on the job site.
Supervision: The Scarlett S
As litigation became more prevalent in the post-WWII boom, which lasted through the 1960s, lawyers began advising architects against supervision. Even though construction supervision is the one best way to know what happens on the project and is crucial to developing young talent, risk avoidance means that architects haven’t supervised job sites for several generations. By passing that responsibility over to others without the training and experience, risk avoidance became the greatest risk architects could possibly take.
Academy versus polytechnique
Architectural education has moved too far from reality. The thinking among many faculty is that true architectural education is purely academic, “and the polytechnique is for those who must build the building,” Gluck says. “So the third reason architects get separated from the construction world is that there is an attitude that they are artists, and that artists don’t dirty their hands with the real work. But, if you know anything about artists, you know that they have dirty hands.”
We have already seen the architect become the straw man—the target—when something goes wrong on the construction site. The architect’s role used to consist of schematic design, design development, construction documents, and supervision. If you believe, as Gluck does, that architects have already given up the supervision aspects, what is next? His answer is not to shy away, but to get involved in the process of translation from the abstract representation of an idea of a building to the full-size built version. He warns of the danger of depending on building information modeling (BIM) software as a panacea to replace the hard work of communication.
“Our process has been called analogue BIM because we have our people sitting next to each other doing the plumbing, structural, and mechanical drawings,” Gluck says. “The coordination is done humanistically—at the same time those people are design the architectural space.”
If architects concede design development to some looming side profession of BIM managers (as so many conceded to construction managers in the 1970s and ’80s), “then architects will be relegated to making cartoons or sketches,” he warns.
For more information on the 2014 Design Forum, Dwelling: The Art of Living in Century XXI, visit the AIAVA.org Education Web page.