Sunday, March 11, 2007

God help me, I think I wanna teach.

It seems like a good idea, though I'm sure I can hear Miss Kitty warning me like an academic Cassandra from across the miles, "noooooo!", but sometimes I think I want to teach architecture in college. What would I teach?, I have to ask myself. Studio is the obvious answer, but it's one from which I shy away. Despite the fact that it's the most time intensive and in some ways most important class you take in college, it's not necessarily the one I was best at. Indeed, I was functional in Studio; one A, one C, and every other quarter and semester I took it in six years, I earned a B or B+. My strengths in Studio lay in space planning, buildability, meeting a program, and having all the required drawings and models ready when pin-up time came. Design, however, was not my strong suit. My stuff was a bit on the prosaic side. However, I wish at times I could go back and tell my sad little self at the time not to worry--the strengths that earned me scant Bs in college would earn me accolades and promotions and respect in the workplace. Pixie can make you a hospital, y'all. Or, as my big boss Alex once supposedly said in a partners and associates meeting, "Pixie rocks!"

Nay, I think I'd be better suited to teach a Materials & Methods course, which is the year-long or more class where the kids learn how buildings go together. I'd be even better suited perhaps to teach a more focused design studio in which the kids understand how spaces go together. But most of all, my soul cries out to teach architectural psychology--the hows and whys of the ways a space can make you feel. Architect Richard Neutra used to proclaim that he could design a house such that any couple that moved into it would be divorced in a month, and I don't doubt it. Frank Lloyd Wright understood more so that the Internationalists (Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and later Phillip Johnson) did that the built environment deeply affected the mind and soul of a person. We've only in the last 25-30 years or so began to understand ergonomics, but when will we really understand and take to heart how a building affects those who use it as well as those who see it?

I take my interiors to heart, perhaps too much. When I was wroking on Wheatlands, my coworker Derek joined the design team in order to do the exterior of the building. "Thank God you are," I told him. "I forgot this building needed an outside." It's not that I don't care how a building looks from the outside, but...well, given that I'm a limited energy system, I kinda don't. I care more how the inside spaces are arranged, will be used, will be perceived. Perception is reality, Howie once said to me, and I believe it. It doesn't matter if you gave someone the most expensive carpet available; if it looks cheap and reminds them of a cheap carpet, they'll be unhappy. If you gave someone the best facility with a great design, if they aren't happy with it or feel like they got left out of that design process, then they'll never be able to accept the "reality" of what you've given them.

What I'd love to do with those students early on is hold up a copy of Domus or Architectural Record in one hand and a copy of Hustler in the other and say, "As far as I'm concerned, these magazines are the same thing: they're porn. They're purely for your masturbatory enjoyment."

I'd then throw both magazines in a trash can and proclaim, "You're not designing your masterpiece, your building; it's their building. It's your client's building. And while you'll have to step in occasionally and save them from themselves, you must never forget that when it's built, you can walk away, but they have to live in what you make them. So make it right."

Then I'd burn the contents of the trash can and move on to the first lesson: learn to listen. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. It's the hallmark of any good professional, regardless of one's field.

Class dismissed.


BaxterWatch said...

so you want to teach feng shui.

i'm cool wid dat.

The Wandering Author said...

Pixie, sounds like you'd be a great teacher. I know I've found your little mini "lessons" on this blog interesting and informative. If I were even in need of an architect, I think I'd like to hire one of your students; one you gave that introductory lesson to. No, change that: I know I'd want to hire one of them.

faded said...

YES, YES, YES, preach it girl. I love your line "You're not designing your masterpiece, your building; it's their building. It's your client's building."

I was taught exactly the opposite of that. I was taught the client is a canvas for the architect to design on. If the client objected, you needed to force them or get a new client. The sheer arrogance of that position is one of the things that made me leave the field.

Your appreciation of the the psychology of space is very important. The best architects have a strong grasp of this.

Would you believe that when I was in school there was no methods and materials course? We were expected to gather that information on our own. When there was a question about methods or materials we were told, "You have consultants for that." I remember thinking, this is nuts. You want me to design a building and then not tell me anything about the underlying processes required to design a building.

Your view of architecture is radical. Be careful, someone may offer to show you the Cask of Amontillado and you may get bricked up in a wall.

Miss Kitty said...

Just be sure they let you sign your teaching contract BEFORE the semester begins, and that they pay you the going rate for colleges out West. Make sure they know you have a day job and can leave them high and dry when you want to. Maybe the admin people will be nicer to you that way. English adjuncts are a dime a dozen; probably not so with arch studio instructors.

Miss Kitty said...

And I thank Faded for his reference to Edgar Allan Poe's best short story EVER.