I am very excited to be working on a new house project for a couple who lost their house in the recent Fourmile Canyon fire just west of Boulder. I feel deeply for their loss – years of mementos, photos, etc. all lost, not to mention the house itself, the repository of years of memories and events. So it is kind of odd for me to be happy working on a project that stems, to some extent, from a great sadness. But I can’t help it, I love to make buildings, to sit down with folks, listen to their stories, their dreams and thoughts and try to give form to those explicit and implicit desires.
The design we are working on tries to balance the centrifugal forces that are directed toward magnificent mountain panoramic views with the centripetal forces that focus on a courtyard and the internal landscape of the house.
These are some relatively early views of SketchUp model of the project. SketchUp is a great tool and its integration with Google Earth allows us to upload the model and place it in the actual topography and verify view corridors to specific sites – in this case, a distant view east to Denver and extensive views west and south to the mountains.
While I would probably never give up the tools of physical models, sketches, plans, etc., the use of SketchUp is a powerful tool that might tempt one away from such traditional design methods. It can in fact be a bit difficult to remember that even though we can make a fully rendered model of the project that we can walk through, view furniture and the light streaming in, that we have not completed the design of the project. We may have crafted the space and maybe even captured some of the touch and feel of the building, but we hardly even touched the larger and more difficult task of detailing the structure. Every eave, every handrail, every window mutin has yet to be drawn and studied. As my friend David Leary says, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I have a bit of a superstitious disposition. I try to wear my lucky hat when fishing. It frankly does matter which pencil I draw with. And for every presentation of a new design or interview with potential clients, I wear an orange shirt.
Not the same shirt mind you. Almost any orange shirt will do, and over the 16-plus years of this predilection, I have had quite a few. However, it all started quite innocently and probably took a year or two off my life in the period of few minutes.
When I was in grad school, my first architecture jury was approached with even more than the usual amount of apprehension. I was about to present my work in front of some of the most respected, most famous, architects and educators on the East Coast. I had done well at the local state university and worked in the architecture world for a few years but now I felt I was about to be handed my ass and kicked out the door of the fancy ivy league institution. Clearly a Kentucky kid was about to be whupped.
I was working on a painfully complex project with carefully interlocking spaces and building elements. To demonstrate this I had a series of color-coded plans and building sections. Red for circulation, blue for public spaces, etc. And, not by design, the day of the jury I sported an orange shirt.
In my undergrad school, juries were often savage affairs of public humiliation and even occasionally criticism. I assumed this fancy grad school would turn that up a notch or two, and as this was my first grad school jury, I was expecting the worse. So, when a preceding student presented two or three sketchy drawings and received a flurry of sympathetic response, this did not ease my anxious heart, it only deepened the truly unknown depth of the chasm I was about to be hurled into.
My turn. The pin-up wall behind me was chock full of my drawings, models, sketches, diagrams, etc. I had worked my ass off and hoped to get some quality criticism and to frankly make it to the other side of this. As my friends know, public speaking is a bit of a disaster for me. I blush, get flustered, stumble over my own words, etc. So, as I begin my description of my project, I am stunned, completely flummoxed when one of the jurors stands up and very loudly and aggressively says, “what’s with all these colored drawings, all this is distracting, it’s all just so much eye-candy!” “And, what’s with this orange shirt, are you trying to distract us?!”
Umm… ugh…excuse me?
He launched into this yet again, declaiming my project and my shirt. And again. And again. Mind you this is with me only ONE SENTENCE into my description. He didn’t even have the decency to let me finish before he attacked me. Blushing and bit confused (“I don’t really remember this happening at UK”), I asked him if he was done. That prompted new vigor and even more complex and fierce denunciations. So I asked again. And maybe this time I was a bit aggressive in turn. And maybe I told him he could just sit down and that I deserved the opportunity to finish my description and get some comments from the other jurors. And maybe I suggested that he could sit the fuck down and I possibly helped him to do just that. With my hands on his shoulders (being smaller than me certainly increased my bravery), he sat, and in the awkward, stunned silence of the assembled crowd I started, again, my description. Much to my surprise, I got through the whole thing with my prof speaking quietly into the ear of the asshole juror the whole time. I don’t know what he said, but Mr. Asshole didn’t utter another word as his fellow jurors gave me some tough but really valid and needed critique. Jury over and, only a few months into my grad school experience, a bit of a reputation forged. One that I didn’t want, didn’t seek, didn’t need. Having even more people show up for my juries to see if I would manhandle another juror was not good for a reluctant public speaker.
In any case, I survived grad school and in memory of that juror, whom I later found out was dean of another ivy league grad school, Dean Asshole, I have worn an orange shirt to ensure success in all of my presentations over the last 16 years or so. And it works almost every time. Needless to say, the thought of finding myself without a clean orange shirt on the day of a presentation is a bit of nightmare. So we can’t let that happen.