The Art in Craft

I wanted to be an artist for almost as long as I could remember- way before it ever occurred to me to be an architect.  And, while I found the process of building models to be rather hateful (not to mention somewhat perilous), I made my peace with it during those hours spent in studio, learning the zen of making several light, carefully precise scores instead of trying to rip through a material in one slice.  My love of art made preparing presentation drawings for a crit as much fun as design, and I experimented with a different style and even different media for each project.

However, we no longer practice architecture as a craft, but as a concept. From my very first internship, I was drawing on a computer, except for those rare moments when I could do a hand rendering for a presentation.  I found myself expressing my creative side more digitally too, migrating from drawing and painting to photography and quickly on to digital images that I could manipulate on the computer.  I still valued the handmade, though, and would export these images to craft items large and small, but now for more utilitarian instead of purely artistic purposes.  It was kind of fun to be able to meld the 3-D world with the added capabilities of digital. Then I had kids and sick parents and barely had time to keep up with life.  Handmade cards morphed into store-bought ones and if I couldn’t find it off the shelf, I didn’t bother with it.

This year, I have decided to make a commitment to art and craft as a means of reclaiming my own identity.  I made a painting for the first time in more years than I care to think about with my husband as part of a fun exercise (he needs to get back in touch with his inner artist too).  Then I decided to design and make our Christmas cards this year.  While I love to dabble in graphic design, what makes these cards special is the fact that the artwork is a painting I commissioned from myself.  High art, it’s not.  Craft and artistic expression it is.  Best of all, I had a lot of fun making it.  It is a digital painting, but created using painterly techniques one stroke at a time. Once the cards were designed and printed 3 up on a page, it was time to cut them out.  I used an X-acto blade for the first time in way too long and found it surprisingly satisfying.  This tool, one the bane of my existence, then a secret weapon for all kinds of crafty undertakings, had lain at the bottom of my art bin for years.  Scissors, while nowhere near as precise, had become the lazy substitute.  I took an odd pleasure out of having to get out my cutting mat, precisely line up an edge with a steel ruler, and once again make the series of scores that result in a precise cut.  It was mindless yet mindful all at the same time and I realized how much I missed this kind of work. 

Challenge yourself to a greater expression of your creativity and to bring out your inner artisan in the coming year.  Not just for your life as an architect but for your whole creative person.  The art of craft is something not to be lost, even if we move seamlessly between digital and 3-D life to invent new processes. We are not virtual beings, but physical ones who do our best work when we don’t forget how to translate the ephemeral and conceptual back to the tactile. 

I wish all of you a happy and wonderful Christmas and a 2012 filled with possibilities.  Please leave a comment to share your aspirations for cultivating more creativity in your life in the upcoming year.

The Architecture of Wellness

As architects, we seek to inspire those who move through the environments we create.  It’s also our job to understand how the space will be used and create elements that support that use.  The last leg of the stool, a part we often overlook, is the need to make buildings that support wellness.  Even architects who design healthcare buildings often forget about this one as they work to meet many other challenges related to budget, program, operational  and code requirements.  Maybe it’s because wellness is such a slippery term.  Much like the term “green,” “wellness” is often bandied about, a buzzword that makes some aspect of a product, design or organization sound like it’s good for us. So how do we know if it really is- much less translate that into design elements?  I have been thinking about this issue for a while and even found an interesting website devoted to defining wellness complete with helpful questionnaires. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that true wellness is multidimensional and positively impacts our physical, mental and social state of being.  With that in mind, I have also observed that, as a profession, we kind of, sort of, dip our toe in the waters of designing for wellness.  We embrace sustainable building standards, evidence-based design, lean design, even socially conscious strategies.  However, these are just quantifiers.  Building blocks of the wellness leg of the architecture stool, but not enough as stand-alones.  True architecture of wellness must incorporate all of these measures, but spring from a much deeper intent.  I have listed below some additional more global considerations:
Design for the whole person

I have been in some buildings that gave me a headache.  Not in sick building syndrome terms but in the quality of lighting, colors used and claustrophobic environment.  Some work spaces are so dreary, my heart goes out to those who have to toil there daily.  It might not seem like an obvious connection, but many studies across various industries confirm that the way someone feels in a space, can affect their performance.  Quality of life should never have to be suspended by any building user.  I like to ask  myself as I work on a design: ”how will this make people better?”  Thinking about small details that contribute to wellness like the degree of control someone has over their physical environment, ease of wayfinding, ergonomics and proximities that facilitate their activities pays rich dividends.

Wellness is a journey not a destination
We never stop having to actively cultivate wellness.  As architects, we need to respect the fact that wellness is a process and support through behavioral cues things that will help those who live work and play in our buildings to make life-enhancing choices.  What if there were walking paths and outdoor areas of respite?  Stairs could be prominently located while elevators are tucked away.  Interior finishes could provide a marker of distances traveled during the day, break or relaxation rooms could feature relaxing color and material choices and subdued lighting.  Nature could be introduced through atria, patios, roof gardens or outdoor landscaping.  Acoustics could be appropriate to the setting and activities.  These al seem pretty obvious, I’m sure you’ve read countless articles on the subjects, but what have you done to actively introduce these issues as design concepts in the predesign phase of your project?

Design for diversity
We all know that building types have different types of users, but within each user group, there is also diversity.  Create a profile of likely building occupant and work with your clients and colleagues to “test run” your design ideas using  a scenario based on each profile.  For example, how is the experience of your building different for a 30 year old nurse vs. a 55 year old nurse?  What do different demographic groups need from the spaces?  You might be surprised at what you learn.