written september 2007

Dear Architects…I am sick of our shit.

“When you point to a glass cylinder and say proudly, hey my office designed that, I giggle and say it looks like a bong. You turn your head in disgust and shame. You think, obviously she does not understand. What does she know?...... And then you say now I am designing a lifestyle center, and I ask what is that, and you say it is a place that offers goods and services and retail opportunities and I say you mean like a mall and you say no. It is a lifestyle center. I say it sounds like a mall. I am from the Valley, bitch. I know malls.”

Everybody who worked at an Architecture firm whom I kept in contact with, and some that didn’t, received the article in an intra-office email sometime in August. I received it twice. At first glance it seemed basically harmless and pretty accurate. The stereotypes were painted almost perfectly. Architects wear black, own cool eyeglasses, have crazy hair, keep long hours, and obsess over architecture, regardless of the appropriateness of the situation or the company.

But at second glance, I became more aware not only of how the world perceives us as architects, but how accurate that perception is. And that realization bothered me, not because I take offense to noting an artist’s dark attire, but because it means that we’re subconsciously yet intentionally distancing ourselves from the society that we claim to represent. We’re exactly (or at least fast approaching) a category of professionals who will be only seen to the rest of the world as black-wearing fashion-forward sleep-deprived design junkies.

So what’s so bad about this? Nothing I suppose. But in my mind it’s counterproductive to what architecture as a profession seeks to do. How can we hope to sell design to a society who feels disassociated from the idea of an architect functioning on a normal social level? It certainly isn’t impossible, but intentionally distancing ourselves from our clientele isn’t something we should strive for. What’s worse, is when society adopts the idea that architects, like artists, are too far outside the social norm to acceptably function in society, our role as designers becomes less legitimate. Perhaps the reason that there’s so much Wall-Marchitecture is because we epitomize the stereotype that supports the idea that hiring an architect to design something will only result in a formally misunderstood, budget destroying mess, rather than a functional and reasonable design solution.

I suppose our dichotomous architecture brains are to blame. In school and in life, you can either be the black wearing, A-earning, program-ignoring, conceptual artist, or you can be the methods loving, firm-working, get-A’s-in-everything-but-studio pragmatician. As a community of designers, if we hope to break this stereotype, we should strive to be more aware of a multi-dimensional role in architecture. Conceptual designers should not ignore the practical and buildable aspect of design, and Functionally-Grounded designers should open their minds to new design and building concepts.

And when we interact with society let’s try to step outside our personas and leave the architecture double-speak behind. Maybe, despite our conceptually infallible interpretation of our own work, there’s not much difference between a lifestyle center and a mall, and to our peers, our “transparent beacon of sustainability” really does just look like a bong.


by michael abrahamson, alumnus

Even within an oeuvre like Antoine Predock’s—characterized by fragmentation and juxtaposition—the Recreation and Physical Activity Center at the Ohio State University is unusually scattershot: materials appear and disappear, glare and reflection are widespread, spaces compress and release at a dizzying pace, et cetera… but look at that red thing! That red thing is Predock’s strategic attempt at unifying a fractured mess of a building. The red thing is what matters here, not the material and spatial juxtaposition or the fragmentation of form. The red thing is an overdetermined form, like those that so captivated Freud in his dream analyses: to use an architectural vocabulary, it is a multi-functioning element par excellence. Let’s explore some of its purposes.

First of all, the red thing is culturally resonant. It can be interpreted as part of a running track—signaling the building’s function as recreation center—as a horseshoe and therefore a ghost of its neighbor Ohio Stadium, or as a fragment of Ohio State’s red “O” logo. These are clearly not the only possibilities, just the most obvious. The red thing is imageable or has imageability, to borrow Kevin Lynch’s term. One can imagine that many a visitor has had their picture taken in front of it on football Saturdays, and it serves as a beacon for patrons and partiers alike. After dark, this beacon becomes particularly dramatic as the reflectance and transparency of adjacent material applications becomes more palpable. Red and pink light splashes the streetside façade and both sides of the central circulation canyon.

The difficulty of its structural realization is also more apparent at night. Heavy steel tube sections frame the bridge in a manner reminiscent of infrastructure, creating a shadowy texture that articulates the complexity of its enterprise. Bridging two independent buildings is never a simple proposition, and Predock complicates things by continuing the bridge overtop a workout room on its west end. The aforementioned tube sections figure prominently within this space, providing a visual disconnect that alleviates the feeling of being watched for those on elliptical trainers and treadmills below. This space is canyon-like, but it’s a canyon with an infrastructural element slicing through it. The canyon is a common device in Predock’s work, but typically his color palette is as subdued as the geographic phenomena it mimics. Color—at least any color that is not an earth tone—is uncommon in his buildings. The red thing is an extraordinary circumstance.

Informed by a love for the geography of the American southwest—stone outcrops, steep gorges and the like—Predock’s formal vocabulary is peculiarly attuned to complex programs such as that of the RPAC. It is common to be able to walk on or over his buildings, and he has even used the “red thing” strategy before: in his Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College [RECORD, May 2001] and the Nelson Fine Arts Center at Arizona State, pedestrian passages are deployed in a similar fashion. At Arizona State, the thing is even red! But these previous deployments weren’t as essential to the success of their designs. The ensembles at Skidmore and ASU are less tenuous and more pile- or mountain-like. The RPAC has neither the material nor formal consistency of these other buildings; it almost requires such a dramatic gesture.

So let’s say you’ve got a problem. You’ve won a commission for a building with an intimidatingly complex program in which needs and wants are contradictory. You want a building that feels like a totality, but the client keeps telling you that they need this or that to be separate or different. At Ohio State, Predock has provided an example for how to efficiently and inexpensively produce unity within such an ensemble. The red thing is a strategy. A concept. And it works.


by mike turk, third year

As the Fall semester comes to a close, many of us within the College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) may wonder if anything has improved for us within the past semester. The answer to this question can be addressed by many people in many ways, but that really doesn't matter, the response that matters is yours. For myself, the answer is a simple clean no. But the next question I have is why?

CASU, which stands for College of Architecture Student Union, was originally established to address the issues presented by us students; however, the numerous and conflicting tasks require much more than one organization "fighting the system" can accomplish. This in fact has been proven over the lifecycle of CASU. But what is being done? Does anyone really care what we students think? Well, the answer to this question is yet to be determined.

With the radically changing format of programs and faculty and requirements of each division of the CAED, with us students at the brink of it all, is there anything we can do to make our voices heard within this system? What CASU exists for is conveying the information, complaints, and concerns of students to the faculty. This set-up has sadly been proven insufficient, and new measures are to be taken for the Spring semester. Speculation, speculation, lets see some facts.

The two architecture-related organizations and an Undergraduate Student Government Senator, representing CAED are the only forms of student government we have. But, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) Kent State University chapter is limited by their national chapter by-laws to function in certain manners. So this leaves us students with CASU and the Undergraduate Student Government Senator. These forces are all that connect us with the faculty, their heavily-guarded system of decision making. But what can we do to contribute to the decision making process?

CASU has been doing some reformatting of its own. The executive board has revised the organization's constitution so that the power of the involved faculty member is limited to advisement only. The revisions insist involving the organization in the decision making of the Undergraduate Student Senator while limiting his or her power within the group and enhancing their vow never to merge with any other organization. This is to prevent monopolizing student representation within CAED. But most importantly, CASU has devised a way to engage directly with the faculty groups established in the decision making process for our college. CASU executives have been informed that student representatives at faculty meetings for various types of decisions are encouraged and welcomed. The nice part of this arrangement is that more than one student will be representing the ideas of CASU, which are a collaboration of the ideas of every student within CAED at each of these different faculty meetings. But so what?

Well the existing system simply doesn't work. CASU will not allow its members, which by the way are all CAED members, Interior Design, BA Architecture and BS Architecture students, to go unheard. The beauty in this existing system is that we as students are all way too busy to do anything about our complaints, but CASU will prove this to be false. We only ask that students within the college contribute their input at the meetings, talk amongst their peers and establish opinions about their environment here in the CAED. We put enough blood, sweat and tears into our work; CASU is here to make sure we're getting heard and changing things for the greater good.


by hallie delvillian, cudc graduate student

Immediately, “class” may trigger us to organize in our minds nice even dollar amount brackets; where we slice the spectrum into clean equal thirds and assign the lower, middle, and upper. Then, we tend to put them on a ladder, of who is on top, and who is on bottom. Easy.

Class is much more complex than that. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu gave an interesting visual of class: a flat plane where our spot on this 2 dimensional surface are factors of not only economics, but also of cultural, capital, academics, networks, attitudes, prestige, and tastes. All these things combined form how we act, how we interpret the world, and how we regulate the acts in that world. Class directly tells us “who we think we are, how we behave, and how we expect to be treated”.


Point- blank, it has to do with success.

Garry Stevens, an architectural sociologist best known for his controversial 1998 book The Favored Circle, believes that ultimately social background wieghs more on our success than our creative aptitude. He told us that a select few architects become successful (and famous) not out of sheer genius, or even dumb luck, but because of who they studied with; by extension, those “lucky breaks”—college acceptance, contacts, internships, first jobs, career advancement—depend to a significant degree on class and taste.

While Stevens doesn’t say that class is the only influence that gets us to the top, evidently pure talent doesn’t get us there either.

Is Steven’s right? Is the history of our pasts, our mothers and fathers, the way we learned to write, what dolls we played with, what music we’ve come to enjoy, all sum into the leading influence of our success as designers? I agree, it is a huge part, bigger than anyone likes to admit, but if it is the leading cause is debatable, as it was in 1998.

Take notice at juries of the students to most likely mingle with the stars that come to critique us; often it is those with a good amount of social class standing (remember class is not only money, but manners, taste, culture, academics and networks).


Sure, our class has a hand in our success, our networks, what firms we end up in, but success is more complex than just social class plus talent. It may be seen by now that class is really broad, and especially today, very vague. Class, although in my opinion not a factor alone that determines our success in design, influences all factors.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, studier of happiness and creativity, in his rsearch has found these factors that aid for success in any creative field, like design.

• access to the domain (the set of symbolic rules and procedures)
• access to the field (the individuals who act as the gatekeepers to the domain)
• the individual him/herself.

As mentioned before, class has an effect on all these pieces to our success. Our access to certain schools is certainly influenced by class and status, the firms that are “in our league” are dictated by our status, even access to professors/ mentors rely on a status of academics and one’s network-pool.

The factor we can control most is our individualism. Because of this, our individualism should be our most prized weapon to get to the top. Uniqueness can be channeled to grab the attention of the gatekeepers, and curb our chances and routes for success. While typically those of the upper class get noticed the most (recieve the most attention), the design field is such an incredible exception because of the individual element that defines our work and our image that we are in control of. While social background propels or retards movement in every profession, the design field is a different playing field, where announcing our personalities and attitudes about the world influence how far we make it.


A Phoenix from the Ashes: The Rebirth of t r a c e
by julie whyte, co-editor, third year

As the first issue of t r a c e: volume 3 is coming out in December, in the middle of studio finals, some of you may be wondering: what on earth is t r a c e? For those of you who have never seen an issue of t r a c e placed on your desk before, allow me to fill you in. t r a c e was created a few years ago as Kent State’s one and only Architecture publication with the goal in mind of encouraging and increasing levels of communication within the Architecture program as well as throughout the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

Although t r a c e held steadfast and strong for two years, a change in leadership occurred as well as a decline in staff membership. It seems that the common mentality within the student body in Architecture is “I don’t have time for anything else besides studio and classes.” Although this is a valid point, especially amidst the frenzy of studio finals, the concept of a publication that can resolve communication issues within the college is one that is vital to the college’s success.

I have noticed throughout my two and a half years in the Architecture program that communication has been a serious problem. I do not just mean communication between faculty and students, but students to students as well. With us third years holed up in the Gym Annex, fourth years on the other side of campus in Tri-Towers, and freshmen and sophomores in Taylor, miscommunication, or a complete lack of communication, is frequent as well as inevitable. Although Interior Design students share studio space with the third year and graduate Architecture students, there seems to be a divide in communication between the two groups. There may as well be a line drawn between where Architecture and Interior Design students are divided. This lack of inter-collegiate communication is frustrating and wholly counter-productive.

Fortunately, though, this is where t r a c e comes in. Anyone involved in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design can submit to t r a c e, students and faculty alike. Here is the perfect opportunity for all of you to have your voice heard. Any concerns, questions, or comments you have are welcomed to be submitted to t r a c e so that something can be done about them.

This year, t r a c e is making some changes in order to help to breach this communication gap. As well as distributing hard copies of the publication, all of our issues will be posted here on our new online home. This blog will not only serve as a means to access t r a c e electronically, but we hope that it will allow for additional input as well as ongoing discussion. Because, that’s what t r a c e should ideally be: a continual discussion in which many students give their opinions and input. We would love for t r a c e to become a catalyst for this tête-à-tête rather than a paper for people to simply read and then dispose of.
So, to all of you students out there who are working hard to endure finals: let us know what you are thinking. Share your opinion; voice your concerns. Let t r a c e become a means for you to accomplish all of this and more. Submittals may be turned in to our e-mail [tracekent@gmail.com], the aforementioned blog, as well as our facebook group. Despite t r a c e’s lack of activity in the recent past, we are back and better than ever. So, join us and become a part of this effort in breaching the great divide between members of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.