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    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    RANT - Sustainable Archi'torture..


    It's a common scene..

    Every other day, as an architectural office, we're bound to come across a client or two who would like his/her/their needs to be met specifically and according to an image they have in their minds (or a certain message they want to deliver, but miss the imagination factor).. There's no harm in that, so far, because in the end, we ARE there to satisfy those needs (No, not in that way, you perv)..

    However, when those "needs" happen to NOT comply efficiently with architectural and spatial standards, or the image is not architecturally doable/thiesable/practical/sustainable/yada/yada, that's where our job begins..

    It's our duty, as designers and engineers, to make sure that those standards and rules of thumb adapt and fit perfectly to make those needs factual, more than just fictitious scribbles on a napkin.. and sometimes, it works vice versa as well..

    Impressing the client, architecturally, happens in 3 ways:
    1. Spatial needs and how they're reflected on the plan..
    2. Cost effectiveness (we rarely come across an open-checkbook client)..
    3. The "bling" factor (mainly, how the building looks vs. standing out to the surroundings)..

    Nothing is wrong with that image.. When a client gives you a requirement, you show him/her/them how it's done and then you show off your imagination and concept behind your work.. Project ends happily ever after, you're commissioned for that "job well-done", and you spend the night out celebrating with your annoyed-by-your-working-hours spouse..

    Obviously, that utopian case scenario is NOT what am blogging about..


    Based on my limited exposure, i've come across three main types of clients:

    • Those who know nothing about architecture.. Usually the peaceful kind who nod when you "bling" and smile when you leave.. Always have easy-on-the-soul feedbacks, and always impressed by how realistic that architectural rendering is.. These clients are sweethearts, but never create enough challenge for you to get your degree's worth of brain-mashing..
    • Those who know little about architecture, and they happen to be extremely helpful.. They know exactly what comments to give, and use the right terminology to make your conversation much easier, and therefore, much more productive.. And, as an ego plus point, When you do a little neat architectural trick here or a great conceptual lay out there, Kudos is in order..
    • Those who know little about architecture, but know nothing about the thinking process and the architectural requirements of spaces.. Those are the clients who think they wrote the Ching design book, and think Standards are annoying.. Usually make an awful weird list of requests that are not workable with the municipality.. For instance, they want more floors than the allowed FAR of the area.. Or more occupants than their square meters allow.. Or more diverse spaces and functions that don't work well with each other (changing room opens directly RIGHT NEXT TO THE reception)..

    In a normal case scenario, you'd sit down, look them in the eye and tell.. According to this and that, and because of this and that, those are not going to happen.. Usually you'd present documents at this point showing exactly why it's our of your hand in and in the hands of a higher authority.. And usually, in a great case scenario, the client and/or office has the right connections to bend the laws just a bit to fit your crazy structure, or get those spaces worked out WITHOUT causing muscle failure in the middle finger..

    However, that's not the case.. Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Aneurisms..

    If things are done according to that AIA professional practice book, you will lose clients quicker than you think.. Why? Because, as always, Architecture is seen as a consumerist product with a production date, and expiration date, and a list of ingredients right in the back..

    You are NOT supposed to tell the client "that's physically impossible for that amount of money", because, we need all the clients we can get..

    The company is heading towards bankruptcy? Nope.. Just regular old Profit Maximization..

    The "customer is always right" may be the case, commercially, but when did Architecture bridge over to being commercial? I know some divisions are, but as a field, the customer is NOT right 30 or 40% of the time.. that percentage would double once you cross the border to our lovely peninsula..

    You're always asked to IMPRESS no matter what the cost is.. The clients needs a four star hotel, while sending you spatial requirements COMPLETELY ripped off a 5 star hotel.. Or has a piece of the building where he can make some public attraction feature, and create more interest to the building, he wants to make out the maximum amount of rented square meters possible.. To the extent of having a one-floor basement as a residential suite.. a basement.. A DAMN FRIGGIN' 3rd level BASEMENT!!

    Right under the cars and trucks and the actual villa.. And guess what, it's expensively priced as much as the suite on the 12th floor..

    Or another client, who keeps on showing me images after images of sky scrapers that he likes, and would like to see a building similar to it, while putting three beautiful cautions:

    • I want it all glass..
    • I want it to look EXACTLY like this building..
    • I want that + 10 more floors + more parkings than the standards allow + spatial requirements of Burj al Arab for X amount of money (X happens to be way less than the actual needed amount, which is usually around 10 times whatever X he proposes)

    Client: "I don't give a damn about heat and sustainability, mowahaha, just DO IT!!, or else.."

    Company: "NO NO NO, YOU'RE MY 1 BILLION TRILLION RIYAL MILESTONE, of course he'll do it"

    -b*tch slap to submission-

    "RIGHT?!!"

    Me: "Sure" -foaming-

    I actually sketched that scene (based on actual events, minus the slapping) on day 7 of my career.. Hopefully, i'll comic strip this as a past time activity when am retired (professionally and/or mentally)


    Of course, being the small-little-new-architect in the office, am supposed to agree in complete obedience, and see the process of a project turning from a concept with awesome potential (spatially and aesthetically), to a visually horrid slab of concrete and some fake greco-roman columns to support it, and shiny cheap blue reflective glass..

    Boy, not to mention segregation.. I mean, architects who design with Saudi-influenced segregation (not islamic-influenced, apparently), should be awarded for actually creating such an illogical layout of spaces WHILE MAINTAING THAT DAMN GLASS FACADE!!

    I already designed and assisted in designing some successful attempts to do so, but i keep on wondering, the amount of brain cells wasted trying to solve a problem WE CREATED could've been used to make an architectural landmark.. Something we can stand by and choose as a milestone achievement to reach even better (and more practical) understanding of the ever-growing field..

    Then again, Does it matter if the square meters don't allow fitting more than 3 rooms up to minimum standard requirements? Or should i just create inhumane spaces that fit 5 rooms in a space minimally fitting 3?

    One clear message.. Do i tell you how to do your job (of being an annoying clueless prick)? Then, please refrain from telling me how to do mine.. (if things keep on going this way, i might be already bankrupt before i even consider thinking of having the slight intent to open my own practice)..

    Change MUST happen, for the sake of what this field has in terms of social/economical/cultural/commercial potential to better this plot of land (currently overrun by the same damn CAD templates from the renaissance period "1970's Saudi")..


    *suddenly reflecting on a blog i posted about this topic before*

    Oh sh*t.. IT'S HAPPENING!! am becoming THEM!!



    Yours,
    Lou..

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