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The Hypothetical Development Organization


If the name isn't descriptive enough, the Hypothetical Development Organization is a group of folks who generate what they call "implausible futures for unpopular places". They'll take an abandoned or under-developed site and come up with an interesting use for it, develop the concept, and deliver with often otherworldly renderings. In many cases, they actually print out Coming Soon! style announcement boards and post them at the existing site.

I like that they make cool images and that they're playful and interested in improving things, but their approach is so close to the way I see things, and the way that I want to practice some day, that I was terribly disappointed when I found out that the designs don't have any teeth. As their name suggests, the designs are always purely hypothetical. There is no pretense about designing buildings for the future; these people design drawings, renderings, and concepts. Now, I don't mean that as a value judgment; I'm not saying what they do is bad. In fact, I don't think it's bad at all. The limited scope allows them to be crazy, which is good, and they generate creative buzz in the areas that they target. And I can understand why they don't even attempt to make real things (other than real ideas...) because it's difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

What I am saying is that I initially thought that they were a real company that did real stuff, and that I'm disappointed that they're not [they didn't mislead me; I just misunderstood]. Imagine if there was a company that went from place to place doing unsolicited design work for unsuspecting places, and then pitched amazing proposals to the owners/decision makers and helped them make the design happen. I know it's kind of silly, but I think it would be great. One day someday I'll try it out.

Not to keep going back to my own work, this is the approach I took with my graduate thesis (briefly mentioned here). I identified a focus area in downtown Auburn and proposed new uses for all of the abandoned and under-valued sites within it. I wanted to see if I could come up with stuff that I thought was appropriate and had value, and I wanted to experiment with ways of producing descriptive and attractive visuals. The whole exercise was meant to be a run-through of what I hoped to do professionally: design big changes, and sell the ideas. It went okay.

NOT Twice As Tall…

This is an update to a previous post found here. Architizer updated their story with a few caveats. The story came from "anonymous, unofficial sources", and Adrien Smith + Gordon Gill Architects "categorically deny the design featured" on the site and involvement in any "design of a 'mile-high' building". So there you have it. The whole thing is hot air.

Via @gary_hustwit again. [I don’t know where he’s getting “still unconfirmed”.]

Huge Historic Renovation in Auburn

Old Brick Building
I should say first off that by "historic renovation" I mean that someone bought a really old building and they're peeling back all of the layers of history and giving it new life. This project is not a restoration project at all. The new owners are turning this thing into a single family residence, complete with yard and driveway, which I think is great. Check the links to see what the plans are, what progress they've made so far, and to explore the really cool website they made to document it all.

Beyond the fact that it's old and cool and located in Auburn, this building is special to me because of all the time I spent staring at it and drawing it one semester. In a third year studio at Auburn, we spent a lot of time considering the value and character of different materials and how those qualities change with time. One day we went out to the above building as a class and talked about how the different physical pieces of the building were aging. We looked at the bricks, the concrete, the window panes, the mullions and door hardware. For many of us, it was the first time we had ever intentionally studied the way that different materials age; some develop an attractive patina, while others are completely destroyed. Some materials look great after 80 years of rain and sun (this building was built in 1920). Others simply deteriorate.

So what's the difference? Why is it that a 200 year old brick wall can look so beautiful, while so many other materials just look like garbage? [Obviously, lots of reasons, but that's not the point.]

For me, the most resonant question that came out of this discussion was this:

"What if this was porcelain?"


Now I know that this question isn't profound in any way. It's very straightforward, actually. But every once in a while, someone puts something to you in such a way that it resonates, and previously inaccessible understanding strikes you as the purest common sense. That's how this was for me, and I still find myself asking this question all of the time. "Yes, but if it was porcelain..." Light, shadow, texture, acoustics, even time - everything about the way we experience it would be completely different.

SO, my class visited this building, but, as with most good academic lessons, the discussion was followed by an exercise. While onsite, we took photographs and measurements so that we could go back to studio and draw the building in as photorealistic a way as possible. Each portion of the building was assigned to a pair of students. In each pair of students, one drew in black and white (all graphite), while the other drew in full color (colored pencils).

We spent hours and hours and hours shading patches of moss on individual bricks, copying the shadows cast by overhead power lines, and, in my case, replicating the many layers of semi-obscene graffiti. That's part of why I'm talking about this renovation project. The building is special to me and I think it's a funny story. I spent many hours painstakingly recreating something that a drunk idiot threw up on a wall in seconds.

I didn't finish, but the results of my color rendering are below. The trained eye can clearly see the point at which I decided that the deadline was too rapidly approaching, and that I had better abandon my high standards if I had any hope of finishing in time. Alas! to no avail.

MFosterBrickRendering

If you're interested, you can see the second rendering I did, this one in black and white with a little billboard contraption attached to it. I'm not sure why I thought that was a good idea.

When I see people taking old abandoned buildings and bringing them back to life I get really happy and really jealous. I'm glad that some people value the things that I value, but I wish that they had given all of their money to me so that I could do it instead of them. There are loads of buildings in Atlanta that I want to buy. I even know which ones are for sale and about how much they'd cost me. [Also, remember this one?]

This project in particular, though, makes me want to go back because it's in Auburn. There was a building in Auburn that my roommates and I always talked about taking over and turning into a restaurant or something. It's a two-story infill building right next to the railroad tracks. The wall of the building that faces Toomer's Corner - the intersection where Auburn's downtown meets the University campus - is a full-size pastel painting of a street bicycle, with an old-school type across the top that says "the freewheeler". If we ever took it over, the first order of business would be to repaint that wall, not to cover over it, but to sharpen all of the lines that have faded over the years.

I even included the building in the study area for my graduate thesis. You can't see much of it here, but it's the baby-blue one on the left. Every once in a while someone will recognize it in an interview or something, and most people remember it fondly. Maybe I should start a Kickstarter for the Freewheeler Cafe.

MFosterBrickRendering

From my friend Phil.

Twice As Tall…

Someone in Saudi Arabia wants to build a building that is twice as tall as the recently completed tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I appreciate the impulse to build bigger and better. On the other hand, it's stupid; a mile high is too big.

The designer is set to be Adrian Smith of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture who worked on the Burj Khalifa while at SOM. While he's likely the most capable and qualified person to build this thing, I doubt the building will ever be completed.

See UPDATE here.

Via @Gary_Hustwit.

Business - YES

Taken from a really, really exceptional article about Coudal, if this line doesn't make you want to walk away from everything and spend all of your time making cool things, then nothing will.

"Well, do we wanna build up this whole thing again and go chase business that we don't want and get into pitches and win or not win business based on the whims of people who are stupider than we are? Or is there another way?"


This statement summarizes the way I hope to practice architecture one day, and it's the way that I think every architect should practice.

Unqualified blanket statement: All exceptional architects should also be developers. If we know cities and design and love them both well, then shouldn't we be the most fecund builders in the world? Yes, we should. I plan to write about this more at length soon. Stay tuned.

Via Joshua Blankenship.

Practice Makes Passable: Resumes and Work Samples #3

This is the third in a series of posts documenting my evolution as a designer through the lens of resumes and work samples. If you missed the first two, you can find them here and here.

RESUME 5 - FOR WORK:


This one got me several interviews and my first real job out of college. As you can see, the resume hasn't changed much, but the work samples are almost completely different. The only thing that I didn't change was the idea of featuring one type of work on each page.

Page One: I Like Books
I've always struggled with professionalism and adult etiquette — don't talk politics and all that. I'm not good at being professional in the traditional sense. I think that work, especially design work, is or should be personal. I loved studio culture at school and I really hoped to find a firm with a similar working atmosphere. The book page was almost meant to be a litmus test for potential employers: if they saw the books and found the page interesting or compelling, then there was a good chance I would find them and their work interesting and compelling, right? And of course, on the flip-side, if they didn't like it or get it, then they probably weren't the kind of people I was looking for. This is one of the few things that I've produced that I'm not ashamed of yet. I don't necessarily think it's the best way to present myself to potential employers, but I do like it a lot. And coincidentally, when I was interviewing for my first job out of college, the interviewer had me walk him through each of the titles. Either he was humoring me, or he was interested/compelled, so I guess it worked.

Page Two: Architecture Models
As in my first work samples, this page is dedicated entirely to my best/favorite models. I thought it very clever at the time to have as little text as possible. The idea was that work samples should stand alone and communicate 80% of their message at a quick glance.

The best thing about this set of work samples is that somewhere between this one and the one before, I must have discovered that there's no need to reinvent the wheel every time you do something. When in doubt, use a simple grid system. Don't struggle and fight with images and type in pursuit of the perfect layout or composition. Just communicate as simply as possible and walk away. The painful irony is that I probably worked a lot harder on the terrible one.

Also, I'm pretty proud of these images. I still use them.

Page Three: Urban Design
On this one, I strayed from the formula. This one lacks the simplicity and clarity of my books and models. The text is hard to read, the images are too small to be descriptive, and its confusing: what's with the grid of faded images in the background? I don't know.

Page Four: Thesis
Again, too complicated. Text is hard to read and the images are too small. I think I was falling into the old trap of working too much on the computer screen and not printing enough. On a computer, 8.5 x 11 can seem infinite, but it's not. A single sheet of paper should only hold so much information, and this is way too much. Also, my thesis wasn't attractive enough or compelling enough to justify its own work sample page.

RESUME 6 - FOR WORK:


When I got laid off last year, I spent a lot of time generating a new portfolio and fresh new resumes and work samples. This is where I landed. With these, I chose to format the work samples to be consistent with my resume, an approach that I think is very appropriate. The layouts are simple, the hierarchies are clear, and I guess I think these are pretty good.

I sent these out all over the city, and I've actually received a lot of really good feedback (apocalyptic recession notwithstanding). A detail of note is that instead of communicating personality through a full page of books that I liked, this one uses more subtle cues. My favorite one is that I specify 1983-Present beside my name. It's not a loud joke, but I think it's kind of funny. And it's consistent with the formatting, so why not? I'm sure that not many people notice, and that even of those that notice only a very few give it a second thought, but I recently got the following email from a firm I'd contacted:

"Michael:

We got your resume some time ago and while I don't have any good news for you, I wanted to email you anyway to say that I appreciate you sending it to us. Of the many we're getting these days, yours stands out for several reasons:

1. You're an Auburn guy... War Eagle!
2. Your work is very nice. I like the hand drawn elevations on the last 2 projects.
3. The 1983-Present by your name is hilarious. My partner and I laughed and laughed and wondered what we would do with the resume if it said 1983-2010. We hoped you were trying to be funny about it... if not, I feel a little ridiculous now.

Sorry about the job market these days. I'm afraid it will be like this for a while. There are few firms that seem to still be working - you may want to check with the [...] (I see job ads for them every once in a while). There may be some others - just keep on trying.

Please stay in touch. Who knows what the future will bring..."


So I haven't heard from him since, but he got the joke, and he liked it. So now he's on my list of people in the city that I'll follow from now on. I want to work with people that are ready and willing to laugh. People that won't laugh aren't funny.

Craig Mod on Books in the Age of the iPad

Excellent and thoughtful consideration of the relationship between content and its container (books, periodicals, digital devices, etc.) and the future of ink and paper books in light of new technology. This post is a bit old now, but I was reviewing some old bookmark links (via Instapaper, which I love) and I remembered my favorite part about this article. Not only am I a bit of a book junkie - like him, I love what he calls the "sexy-as-hell tactility of those little ink and paper bricks" - I'm also a designer, and in the realm of brick and mortar. At the end of his article, he predicts the future of book making, and I was struck by the strong correlation between his views on books and my views on buildings and cities. His words:

"I propose the following to be considered whenever we think of printing a book:

The Books We Make embrace their physicality — working in concert with the content to illuminate the narrative.
The Books We Make are confident in form and usage of material.
The Books We Make exploit the advantages of print.
The Books We Make are built to last. (Fig. 9a, 9b)

The result of this is:

The Books We Make will feel whole and solid in the hands.
The Books We Make will smell like now forgotten, far away libraries.
The Books We Make will be something of which even our children — who have fully embraced all things digital — will understand the worth.
The Books We Make will always remind people that the printed book can be a sculpture for thoughts and ideas.

Anything less than this will be stepped over and promptly forgotten in the digital march forward.

Goodbye disposable books.

Hello new canvases."


Think about real places versus digital places. This same battle is raging everywhere you look. Think Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon, CD Warehouse (remember?) vs. iTunes, Blockbuster vs. Netflix, etc. The list is long (SEE ALSO). In light of new technology, brick and mortar places seem to have a diminishing value. When everyone is highly mobile and communication to anywhere in the world is effortless and instant, it leaves little incentive to invest in an actual place, whether it's a city, town, or neighborhood.

I respect what Mr. Mod is saying about books: when we no longer need to make them, we will choose to make them and their design will communicate their value. In the same way, in an age in which we no longer need to build great cities or great buildings, I hope that when the rare opportunity to make a great place or to build something that will last comes along we'll be able as a society to rally around the cause and pour in the money and talent and great energy required to do so.

I would love to be able to say "Goodbye disposable buildings" or, even better, "Goodbye disposable cities" but I don't know if or when it's going to happen.

SEE ALSO: All through college I wrote papers about extreme cases of digitized experiences nullifying the need for real spaces. One of the best examples I found was a drive-thru viewing before a funeral in California. Mourners had to wait in line, not to see the body of their dearly departed, but to see a live video feed of the dearly departed, and all from the detached comfort of their car. Who needs a funeral home, right? Who needs a space crafted to offer comfort and solace and warmth and shelter to the grieving? I suppose the only people who need such spaces are probably too busy to ignore the time saving advantages of a drive through.

You should probably look at all of Craig Mod’s stuff. It’s all good, and this especially is beautiful to read and to look at.