Pro-Seminar "Paper"

Stephen Sun

M.Arch II Proseminar

11/30/2014


 

Architecture: A discipline concerned with solving problems of increasing irrelevance with increasing precision. (Peter Drucker)


 

Introduction/Abstract

 

Paul Nakazawa presented a framework in terms of examining the relationship between the pedagogy and practice of architecture. To properly understand this paper, one requires familiarity of the issues covered in Contemporary Frameworks of Practice taught by Paul Nakazawa as well as having a deepened understanding of domain knowledge, in the case of this paper, the domain is the discourse of architecture, and finally the Platonic freedom of venturing beyond the confines of the cave to explore a higher truth - one I will label as extrinsic forces.

 

The audience of this paper is for anyone who wishes to pursue the study of design, specifically that of capital A Architecture. Even more specifically so, I would love the feedback of anyone studying architecture especially those with professional experience. Don't refrain from sharing your thoughts at ssun@gsd.harvard.edu.


 

This paper will examine the relationship between architectural domain knowledge and relative extrinsic forces as well their respective relationships to the practicing world. The paper will have four parts:

 

1) Compare how GSD prepares its professionals to how the Kennedy, Business, and Education schools prepares their respective domain specific professionals.

 

2) Define the term extrinsic forces and explain their relevance in the study of architecture.

 

3) Conclude how deep domain knowledge rarely guarantees professional success

 

4) Finally, a few concluding thoughts on how best to expand one's understanding of extrinsic forces at a place like Harvard University.

 

Part I - Educating for Practice

“Doesn't matter if you're the best. If you're an asshole, no one will work with you”

 

What makes a successful student in a studio setting? And does that setting prepare one to practice in the real world? An obviously loaded question, I would argue the most successful and celebrated student in the studio setting is a recipe for disaster in the world of practice.

 

Peter Drucker once said: “Beware of solving problems of increasing irrelevance with increasing precision.” This is the academic syndrome under which GSD is operating within. For instance let's narrowly examine the curricula design and how it responds to the educational objective of the M.Arch II track:

 

There are 4 units dedicated to seminar discussion, 4 units for professional practice, 4 units for teaching pedagogy, and 8 units for studio design - a total of 24.

 

Harvard Graduate School of Education offers a design studio course - T522 called “Innovative technology in Educational Projects,” (4 units) which combines all the elements of the 24 unit curriculum into a 4 hour, once a week superstudio. The class takes diverse educators with no technical, no design, and no business background and successfully empowers them with: an iterative design mindset, managing user experience and graphic interfaces, group discourse on scientific theories of learning, psychological motivations for learning and models of education, legalistic hurdles for projects, cybersecurity of projects, financial planning and business acumen, production implications, technical jargon in developer/design practice, and educational policy within which these projects must operate. 4 units, 4 hours a week.

 

The Teaching Assistants in T522 are especially noteworthy considering their credentials. Ann Kaufmann is the ex-superintendent with a Ph.D in education of one of the largest school districts in Massachusetts. Frank Freeman is a serial entrepreneur in educational technologies having founded two companies already with a design and education background. Nick is web/app developer that does professional consulting and covers the tech/business questions. The support gained from the teaching team merely in terms of quantity and quality of facetime, feedback, and experience far surprasses any class I have yet to hear from in the GSD.

 

HGSE does in 4 units what GSD attempts to do in 24.

 

I suspect one reason why school of education is so rigorous, effective, and efficient is that, like businesses, the disciplines have one extremely specific and clear objective that has remained unchanged for centuries. Where businesses maximize value creation, educators maximize student learning. It is very difficult to argue otherwise. What is the converging educational objective of Architecture?

 

Let’s take another 4 unit course at the Kennedy School with MLD224 - Behavioral Science of Negotiations -. Each week there are “pro-seminar” + lecture style classes where we delve into great depths of scientifically validated tactics and psychological techniques. The theory is directly applied in negotiation exercises between colleagues that have extremely relevant negotiation backgrounds who then offer each other immediate feedback.

 

The equivalent studio project involves real life negotiation between previously unknown stakeholders concerned with real issues  that the professor and the teaching fellows assist in as consultants.. Similar to HGSE, one enters the class having absolutely no experience in negotiations or understanding negotiations, and leaves as an expert.

 

HBS, HGSE and HKS vigorously confront their disciplines with their relative extrinsic forces. Classes are incessantly exploring the governing dynamics of value creation, student learning, and negotiation outcomes using techniques, research, and data found in disciplines outside their “own.”

 

How is the discipline and practice of architecture addressing its respective extrinsic forces? How is the pedagogical structure within and outside of the GSD adapting to these forces?

 

Part II - Extrinsic Forces

“We know what we know. We know what we don’t know.

We don’t know what we don’t know.” - Debbie Millman


 

The reason why architectural study has become so myopic and esoteric is due to modernism’s failure. It was a period where every discipline was hugely mis-calibrated having not understood the extrinsic forces involved. In the wake of modernism’s failure to tackle questions of urbanism, housing, etc… a backlash that concerned itself with rhetoric, authorship, and argument produced a generation of architects that actively neglected extrinsic forces. The practice since then has been so deeply insular in terms of not addressing:

 

  • Organizational Leadership

  • Educational policy and reform

  • Strategic thinking

  • Ethnographic research

  • Material Supply/Chain Management

  • Sociological/Anthropological Study

  • Neuropsychological behavioral

  • Evidence/Data driven design

  • Environmental Public and Personal Health

  • Financial discipline

  • Organizational design

  • Political frameworks

  • Policy Management

  • Legal and Patent Policy

  • Planning and Urban Design

  • Real Estate/Mortgage/Investment Banking

  • Applied Engineering Principles

  • Computer Science

  • Negotiation/presentation/communication

 

Many would argue it is impossible to coverage such a wide range of vague topics that begin to define extrinsic forces. Unfortunately, projects that fail to address and incorporate such forces fail to deliver a solution.

 

I’ve worked professionally at Aedis Architects, a firm specializing in public educational projects. Consider the following statement illustrating the nature of architectural projects:

 

Bond measures that are passed through local governance systems determine both budget and scope of projects that require the majority of the time, voluntary media, operational, and curricular design to react to psychological studies that point to teaching methods to improve classroom environments and teacher performance which directly applies to federal funding. The ability for school districts to pass such measures highly depend on the neighborhood and land value costs which often times are a product of special zoning configurations and policy ordinances that give exemptions to allow incentives businesses or industries to settle in a specific place to promote economic growth.

 

The architectural problem offers no flexibility, no negotiation, no understanding, no ability to change because the architects weren’t there to frame the problem. The neglect of extrinsic forces ostracized us leaving architectural issues to be defined by non-architects.

 

Part III - Tactician vs Strategist

“More is Less” - Day9


 

For some reason, we seem to pride on not needing to know what we don't know, which has directly resulted in our professional marginalization.

 

Professor Ali presentation raised an interesting point of how, despite the building industry being a multi-billion dollar industry, we spend a negligible amount of money in terms of research, development, and education to evolve the discipline. Conversely, there exists a quantifiable number that runs across multiple industries in terms of resources dedicated solely to R&D. A substantial 20%.

 

For example, 3M, a 107 billion dollar industry devotes 20% of all employees’ time to open ended study on anything that is outside of their domain expertise. Google, Fedex, Kodak, Valve, Intel, Southwest, all have similar policies where they force themselves to understand extrinsic forces to heighten their internal domain expertise.

 

Making a “better” glue, faster and cheaper is a product of mastery of domain knowledge and an understanding of specialized tactics in the science and production of adhesives. Such tactics are necessary, but by no means guarantees the invention of the post-it note. Such innovation is the product of both mastery of internal domain knowledge and the understanding a few of the extrinsic forces mentioned above.

 

This brings us back to Paul’s presentation. His research is an objective nature of overviewing the taxonomy of practice.

 

Jorge brought up an important trend of our professional marginalization. Look at the number of consultants, construction managers, client/architect counseling, lawyers, code interpreters, lighting consultants, energy consultants, etc… Such is one consequence of our failure to adapt to extrinsic forces. The topic of taxonomy of practice deserves a separate paper all together, but it’s worth examining the pedagogical shifts that occur in other disciplinary practices in the following case studies:

 

In the book 3D negotiations, professor James K Sebenius examined the field of negotiations as one solely focused in the domain knowledge of negotiation tactics and behavior psychology pioneered by . In the past, the difference between a good and great negotiator is their mastery over tactics. The greater one’s understanding of body language, logrolling capabilities, estimation of ZOPA, and other esoteric tactics makes one a greater negotiator.

 

What Sebenius found, was that although deepened domain knowledge surely contributed to one's performance, the impact and outcome of that negotiation is ultimately limited by not understanding the extrinsic forces involved in negotiations. His realization implied that the best negotiation outcomes are actually be achieved by leaving the tactics on the table and completely reframing the negotiations through extrinsic forces. The book uses Staples’ CEO Thomas Stemberg as an anecdotal example of how this was achieved.

 

Professor Josh Flax of the Kennedy School uses the most recent example of the Iran nuclear crisis to illustrate Sebenius’ argument of using extrinsic forces to achieve unprecedented negotiation outcomes. It was only by leaving the current negotiation stage and introducing a new party - Russia that allowed the international talks to move forwards. This new party would be interested in purchasing the enriched uranium designed for weaponry and convert it to fuel to be sold back to Iran which creatively solved the issue.

 

It is hard to argue that being more effective at anchoring, or using behavioral tricks and tactics would persuade the Iranians to stop producing weaponized Uranium.

 

The consequence of adapting to the extrinsic forces is a complete pedagogical shift and re-calibration of the negotiation’s domain knowledge - making it even more relevant to society and aspects of everyday life.

 

What is the architectural equivalent of a complete pedagogical shift and re-calibration?

 

Being a better negotiation tactician doesn't necessarily make you a better negotiator.

 

Being a better business tactician doesn't necessarily make you a better businessman.

 

Does being a better architectural tactician make you a better architect?


 

Part IV - Moving Forwards

“The best way to predict the future is to make it” - Continuum

 

By no means am I arguing to abandon the theories and histories acquired through understanding the five points, the 10 books, the four chapters. There is a place Foucault’s pli, Baudrillard’s critique of technology, Heideggerian epistemological gaps, and the Eisenman’s infatuation of Tafuri’s texts on the rhetoric text and signs

 

It is by simultaneously expanding depth and breadth of domain expertise that we validate the practice and discipline of architecture.

 

GSD is the place to go deep into our field with absolute rockstars such as Jorge Silvetti, Michael Hays, Sanford Kwinter, Farshid Moussavi, Rem Koolhas, David Adjaye, Peter Cook, and the list of esteemed faculty goes on - all whose knowledge rivals that our the Harvard archives. However we fail to explore the broad range of factors that make, for instance Rem, as successful as he is. I will argue that Rem’s expertise in both the architectural domain and the understanding of extrinsic forces is what made them successful as practitioners of their ideologies. I am, of course, borrowing Paul Nakazawa’s argument. I wonder if an Alvin Roth moment will ever happen with our discipline where a figure such as David Gensler, who “studied economics at Darmouth College, and then earned an MBA at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business,” (www.Gensler.com) will win the Pritzker prize.


 

Architecture school teaches a divergent mentality of ideation and novelty along with the development and refinement of “techniques.” The success of the architecture student is  celebrated in the individual production of drawings, concepts, models, and “knowledge.” What we widely celebrate in terms of lectures, built work, student theses all fall under the trap of domain knowledge.

 

We are trained to speculate the future and achieve fluency in architectural language while operating under pressure and multi-party multi-issue scenarios. Paying homage to Ken Robinson and Carol Dweck, I suspect many of us were informed architects are not good at business, negotiations, computer science, marketing, law, etc... Scientific research show that is absolutely and perversely false. Psychological barriers are the only barriers, and Dr. Carol’s work is the tipping point to an educational revolution in terms of realizing just the extent of what we’re capable of grasping. (another paper)

It is painfully ignorant and outrageously dehumanizing to hear faculty at a leading institution make assumptions and inferences about the architectural profession that continues to belittle the potential impact architects can have on the world.

 

Harvard University is THE PLACE  to study extrinsic forces to further Architecture’s domain knowledge. The world needs design more than ever, and Paul Nakazawa’s presentation is the light in Plato’s allegory of the cave.

 

Just don’t stone me to death.





 

Analytics in Architecture

Analytics in Architecture

 

The role of analytics is understudied in the practice of architecture. Analytic in the strictest form of its definition “is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data.” (wikipedia) Under the framework of architectural discipline and practice, the discussion on analytics tends to steer towards one of building engineering performance, parametric design, and operational management. However that is not the topic to be addressed. We shall define analytics as the accumulation and development of an extrinsic body of knowledge that simultaneously advances the discipline and practice of architecture.

 

Present day

 

An example of such influence is that of programing and computer science which lead to advanced animation software such as maya and scripting platforms like grasshopper. Such tools  allows designers to generate complex geometries and renderings. However,  the disciplinary pursuits in novel forms and spatial qualities without social relevance only further divorces the discipline from practice. A symptom of this influence is the marginalization of our professional authority over the built environment.

 

Contrarily, BIM technologies in its ability to produce construction documents at an unprecedented rate of speed and efficiency, serves only the practice. While addressing the constructability, economics, and business aspects of architecture, serving only the practice results in the hysterical mass developments of curtain wall wrapped boxes, driven solely by real-estate markets.

 

Serving only the practice or disciplinary agendas does not develop a body of knowledge to be analytic per our definition above. Digital Project produced by Gehry technologies is considered an “analytic” development because it engages both the architectural discipline and practice.

 

Yet we are slightly ahead of ourselves.

 

History

 

Mathematics and geometry are the most primary and earliest forms of analytic knowledge that advanced both discipline and practice of architecture. Ranging from the typologies of greek temples and their use of ratios and proportions to typologies of Gothic Cathedrals, there is a clear development in building science as well as cultural intent across those periods.

 

In the renaissance, this growth of mathematically based form of analytic knowledge accelerated - best exemplified by San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Designed by Borromini, consecrated in 1646, the building is a perfect example where Kepler's geometric formulas combined with the technique of perspective drawings creates an architectural opportunity to explore the illusionary effect of a space while using the same geometric principles to enhance structural performance.

 

The mastery of geometry advanced spatial complexity (discipline) and structural constructability (practice) thus becoming eligible as being a domain defined as analytic knowledge.


 

Two centuries later, in 1863, the introduction of industrial materials, namely iron, set forth new disciplinary and practice based possibilities. Violet-le-Duc’s exploration of the market-place using the wrought iron to achieve great spans was a response to the industrial age’s economic demands of mass open market space. The sheer increase in volume in goods, production, and means of transportation dictated an architectural response. The steel "trusses," as decorative and crude as they seemed, allowed a gathering place for markets which then became a metric of measuring architectural performance.

 

The mastery of material science and the implications of ornamental/spatial effect (discipline) through the economic validation of large span spaces (practice) became another form of analytic knowledge.

 

The challenge of spanning horizontally was replaced by the race of achieving vertical heights with the advent of the skyscraper. Inaki Abalos' Tower and Office thoroughly explores the different bodies of analytic knowledge produced by SOM, Knoll associates, Kahn, Mies, Foster, and many others. Evolving from simply the domains of geometry and economics, architects now integrated lighting systems, mechanical systems, real estate development, multidimensional structural systems, complex programmatic systems, among other disciplines that simultaneously advanced practice and discipline.

 

Rem’s exploration of programmatic thinking became perhaps the most influential contributing analytic body of knowledge with his office: OMA.

 

The architectural agenda of collaging different sets of programs resulted in projects such as: the National Très Grande Bibliothèque. As intriguing as these spatial qualities become, the experience in projects dealing with multiplicity of spaces, complexities of program, their associated building implications, and finally the social relevance to the urban context is perhaps what positioned his office to produce masterpieces such as the Seattle Public Library.

 

The mastery of understanding complex program elements and their spatial effects (discipline) through its relation to the metropolitan fabric (practice) became another form of analytic knowledge.

 

Should this be unclear, here is a simple analogy of how the advertising industry instrumentalized mathematical formulas to advance its discipline and practice. The pure mathematics of probability distribution, link analysis, numerical weighting, etc… are inherently esoteric and socially irrelevant. That is until Larry Page applied this knowledge to what is now known as google: giving birth to Page Ranks. The fundamental mathematics behind these algorithms is responsible for the targeted advertisements that reflect the topics in your emails, web queries, and chats. This is how netflix and amazon are able to accurately predict items you’re likely to purchase.

 

The mastery of understanding numerical probability algorithms (discipline)and its application to the advertising industry (practice) became a  form of analytic knowledge, and forever changed both by continuously advancing both.

 

What is the present day equivalent for architecture?

 

The practice of Gensler reveals one of the most current examples of producing a body of analytic knowledge. Starting out as a simple Tenant Improvement architectural service, they ostracized their practice to space planning and workplace management. The prolonged experience and understanding of the workplace, which was then not a topic of interest to most architectural firms, is reminiscent of the Malcolm GLadwell story of Joe Flom:

 

“ The old-line Wall Street law firms had a very specific idea about what it was they did. What the old-line firms also did not do was involve themselves in hostile corporate takeovers. It’s hard to imagine today, when corporate raiders and private-equity firms are constantly swallowing up one company after another, but until the 1970s, it was considered scandalous for one company to buy another company without the target agreeing to be bought. [...] From the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s, the amount of money involved in mergers and acquisitions every year on Wall street increased 2,000 percent, peaking at almost a quarter of a trillion dollars. All of a sudden the things that the old-line law firms didn’t want to do - hostile takeovers and litigation - were the things that every law firm wanted to do. And who was the expert in these two suddenly critical areas of law?” (Gladwell, Outliers 124-128)

 

The architectural equivalent “old-line Wall street law firms” would be the post-modern singular figure architects with strong disciplinary-centric practices. The Joe Flom equivalent would be Gensler. The stories are strikingly similar in disciplinary, environmental, and chronological context, which explains  the similar outcomes in financial success of Gensler and Joe Flom.

 

Design sensibility to the architectural discipline  is not solely responsible for their growth and success. It is the analytic knowledge produced from years of T&I and workplace management that, in Michael Porter’s term, “differentiated” their practice from the rest.

 

Professor Nakazawa in PRO-0708  will address the role of analytics in practice. It is a generally understudied aspect of practice that has not been formally theorized or organized as a topic. Join us!

 

A New Ontology

Michel Foucault speaks of the invisibilities that drive the behaviors, the natures, the appearances, the reality we perceive to be. The dinstinction and the relationship between the invisible forces and its latent counter part: the visible product defines a new mode of thought: the classical episteme versus the modern one. The architectural implication first surfaced in late 19th century when the ontology of architecture was disrupted by the sudden modernization of technology, culture, and society. Architecture had to respond to these recent changes, yet its historical method in doing so has always been in the typology of the "style." The modern episteme of thought sought the deeper explanations of the evolution and definition of style and thus has led to an intense study of historicism: the modern episteme of thought. The following architects: Violet-le-Duc, Hubsch, Botticher, have all tackled the "definition" of style, attempting to reveal its origins in order to propose either an ontology of architecture for their immediate present/history or for the future times to come.

 

                Before examining each architect's examination of architecture's crisis in the 19th century, it is important to note that the form of the "diagnosis"  itself is very left minded: analytical, mathematical, scientifically driven . The invisibilities mentioned previously consists of behavior of material, of climate, of structural performance, the relationship of form to the culture that created it, the principles and rule sets geometries and geometrical behavior follow, the invisibilities behind style, just to list a few. By understanding the source, the invisbilities, perhaps a proposal for a new ontology for architecture will be made.

Four architectural themes occurs throughout all the writings; but respectively to each writer, one topic is by far most prevalent in its use to argue for a new ontology.

Botticher states: "Every creative generation that has given birth to a new style has had to start from the beginning with this process of mastering the material." (155) To clarify, one needs to define the two key components of the statement: generation and material. Bubush proceeds to describe the Hellinistic culture to that of the medieval culture and how the two are improperly and very unsatisfactorily employed in the period when Germany struggled to define a new style for its own culture. Greek temples had no need for programmed space and are made of massive marble, capable of spanning great lengths. New German culture attempted to achieve spans that cobblestones were incapable of doing and were not suited to provide for the intricate programs of markets at the time.

Hubusch, much like Botticher tackles the material argument, though instead of connecting material with cultural expressionism, the argument is a programmatic and performance one. "While it is true that the technostatic proportions of the architectural elements (geometric proportions and aesthetics) mainly derive from the material, they constantly evolve with advancing architectural experience and, in fact, are subject to permanent change" (71) This experience mentioned is the architect's mastery over material in both craftsmanship and understanding the structural performance of, in Hubusch's own example, greek Marble and German brittle stones.  The chemical difference, one being single yet massive, the other being brittle yet in multiples, lends itself to different techniques of application, thereby creating an architecture appropriate for one location.

Incredibly similar in both the content and style of the writing, the analysis and understanding of architectural style is flawless. Yet the writings of Huubsch and Botticher offer us no architectural solution to its identity crisis in the late 19th century. Viollet-le-Duc applies the same thought of: material expertise, construction technique, and contextual relevance to generate an architecture typology fitting for the time. A new style. A new ontology.

 

Although Le-Duc introduces various social topics such as labor, economy (cost), and theories of architectural practice that ties all previous arguments and more together; his position remains on theme of understanding materiality to enable design. "Architecture ceases to be an art when the design and the execution are separated." (53) Le-Duc reveals his own expertise by analytically criticizing the medieval ages of construction, exactly like Hubusch and Botticher, but offers the solution: cast iron. Specifically, he compares the application of iron versus stone in the building method of corbelling as seen in the following diagrams. It is clear that an architectural language of circulation preceded the new material and by understanding the structural performance of cast iron, we are able to reduce material, reduce ornamentation, and provide improved water drainage.

 

Le-duc furthers his argument by explaining how new programs such as markets, churches, and spaces that require large spans can now be achieved using the structural performance of iron. "The use of iron allows of feats of construction from which we seem to shrink back. It would appear that we have only an imperfect confidence in the properties of this material." (67) This is the logic behind Le-duc's incessant exploration of hybridizing iron with existing materials. The mastery, exactly like the mastery Hubusch refers to, leads to an economic and design form of control over a building.  The control and the search for material limits will lead to discovering the limit to new architectural ontologies.

Inevitably, architectural style's inevitable connection with multiplicity of variables and time means there is no such thing as an appropriate style to design within. Instead, architecture needs to be flexible and responsive. Architects, in order to retain their title as masters over architecture, need to be constantly re-evaluating, re-experimenting, re-observing architecture's relationship within the larger network of society. If we were to settle, to perfect, if we were to succumb to tradition and traditionalize, we would be falling into Ruskin's trap of perfection. Remaining imperfect allows freedom. Remaining experimental emphasizes the evolution of conceptual thought instead of performing monotonous techniques. Mastering thought leads to novelty: a new architectural ontology.

Harvard - GSD - M.Arch II Application Personal Statement

My background is two-fold: historical and immediate. The historical context, arguably consistent with many architects of my generation, began with Corbusier’s quote - “Architecture or Revolution:”- launching the discipline towards a humanitarian and culturally germane practice that engaged the 99%. However, the genius efforts in Ulrich Conrads’ book “Programs and Manifestoes Of The 20th Century,” though commendable, were premature. The historical, social, technological, and cultural circumstance that catalyzed the Modernist movement paradoxically deprived the designers of the apropos techne required to tackle the movement’s projects. These techne are partially introduced by Bristo’s essay on Pruitt Igoe, and run the gamut of present day neuropsychological, socioanthropological, macro-economical, market-branding, and ethnographical research modalities.


Our deficiencies in examining the “environment,” or in Eric Owen Moss’s words, “being unable to listen to what we can’t hear,” led to the subsequent implosion of Pruitt Igoe, and ipso facto, the modernist dream. While Jencks’ “Death of Modern Architecture” offered the discipline a chance to troubleshoot our professional and disciplinary miscalibration, the opposite occurred. Architecture’s conviction to move away from the politically subservient practice ironically condemned it to the esoteric study of rhetoric and philosophical critique: Post-Modernism. Rather than learning how to listen to what we can’t hear, we indulged in narcissistic song and ideologies: solving self-created problems.


This sequence: the accumulation of Modernist ideals, the imagery of our discipline’s failure, and our inability to recover from such a fall, has culminated in the marginalization of our professional and cultural authority. This is no news, as such crisis had
already been prefaced and tackled by Malcolm McEwen as early as 1974. His solution proposes:
“The first priority for the architectural profession is to reexamine its role and ideology and the functions of the professional institutions, with the aim of discovering how architects, individually and collectively, can withstand undesirable pressures,
raise the level of their own knowledge and performance, and influence both the processes of which architecture forms part, and the political, economic, social, and administrative context in which they work.”


McEwen’s manifesto, Architecture’s moderne history, and the subprime mortgage crisis constitute the historical context to my more immediate academic and professional background. I studied at Carnegie Mellon Universtiy for three years and transferred to Sci-Arc to finish my B.Arch. Over the six years at these institutions, I’ve acknowledged and accepted our profession’s ever diminishing role in society and have postulated the following:


Architecture must perform outside its prescribed cultural role by curating techniques and modalities of thought that establish extrinsic relevance in service of the umbrella strategy of re-positioning ourselves as authoritative guardians of the
environment and culture. (See portfolio section “listening to what we can’t hear” on projects attempting to do so)


Many have already begun practicing architecture in such unorthodox manner - examining McEwen’s political, economic, social, and administrative contexts using techne as observed earlier. In academia, Michael Speaks has rejected the Postmodern infatuation with European Philosophers (Deleuze, Derrida, Heiddeger, Kant, etc...) and has sought novel market driven approaches to validate the architecture. His involvement with University of Kentucky’s 2008 Solar Decathlon and design/economics studios exemplifies this notion of extrinsic practice. In the opposing world of academia, stand the ten types of architects introduced in the book “down detour road” by Eric
Cesal. He is a “Low-Rent Architectural Mercenary for Good,” (Linkedin) who founded the Biloxi Rebuilding Studio post Katrina and the Haiti Rebuilding Studio under Architecture for Humanity. Cameron, Kate, and Eric have positioned both the practice and discipline of architecture in a completely new medium operationally and culturally. One only needs to look at the network and growth they've established to see its design impact which dwarfs even the largest of architectural corporations. Between such extremists, one can find the innovative business/strategic approaches (through Architecture) by the post OMA fi rms: BIG, REX, MVRDV. Their respective use of program, grasshopper parametrics, formalism, and Tufte diagrams economically validate both the process of design as well as architectural performance.


The list goes on, but for Architecture to regain relevance, the practice must do more than simply reform. Improving old methodologies will never lead to the Corbusian call of a new “revolution.” Examining other disciplines’ modalities of thought, one begins to pose questions: what occurs to Architecture after studying Gladwellian text supplemented by Vitruvius? How are architectural movements different from medical movements such as the one initiated by Paul Farmer versus that of Martin Luther King versus that of Occupy versus the virility of digital media versus the educational
transformation led by Wendy Kopp? How should the architectural profession, and dare I include the AIA, reframe itself after studying Jim Collins, Debbie Millman, and Yahoo? Such questions, among many others, have led me to the GSD.


Harvard is a steward of leadership and movements, having enabled AFH (architecture), Teach for America (education), Paul Farmer (medicine), Facebook (technology), MASS Architects (architecture). The school’s name provides the logistical resources to extrinsically redefine the Architectural discipline in a professional, pedagogical, and theoretical sense, by networking modalities outside of the traditional scope of the discipline. It allows and solicits working through the platforms of anthropological sociology, educational policy, business ventureship, computer science not merely within the school and university, but of Boston.


This meta-project of defining “Architecture” is my investment in the GSD; which will be asymmetrically dwarfed by the converse should I succeed. The M.Arch is a stepping stone to extrinsically validate the architectural discipline and profession. Imagine a studio under Paul Nakazawa’s strategic guidance paired with Sanford Kwinter’s pedantic that serves business competitions run by Harvard Business School. Imagine jointly developing new digital techniques with MIT School of Computer Science and then broadcasting such technologies using Harvard’s platform of leadership and innovation.

 

I conclude with a saying of Margaret Mead: “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have.” (164)


My name is Stephen Sun, and I am one of those individuals.