Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I've been having a helluva time figuring out what to post on these days, the whole anonymity thing notwithstanding. I think what's making it harder to post is that what I do for a living is so all-consuming that I can't get out of it. I can't turn it off, I can't stop thinking about it, and it's so big and all-encompassing that I can't even figure out how to explain it anymore. Just as Morpheus told Neo that it was easier to show him what The Matrix is rather than explain it, I have a hard time explaining how anything and everything going on in the world affects and is affected by architecture.
Today at work, some of us were discussing the repercussions of bariatric design. Bariatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with treating weight management issues, usually those who are overweight or obese. Because more and more Americans are becoming overweight and obese, everything in the buildings we build (or remodel) have to be designed to hold heavier people--beds that are five feet wide and hold 800 lbs, steel toilets that are two feet wide in order to keep flab from falling over the sides of the can, chairs that are the size of small sofas made with steel frames. We hear about wall-mounted toilets getting ripped off of walls in existing facilities because extra-large people sit down on them. Here's the thing: the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) design guidelines require that the centerline of toilets be 18" from the sidewall with grab bars, but you can't locate a bariatric toilet that closely to a wall, and frankly no grab bar will hold someone who is pushing six bills. But, ADA is a federal law--so who wins when I build a patient floor that treats bariatric patients? Reality or federal codes?
I don't mean to pick on the super-obese; this just happens to be a conversation that I had today with a few fellow healthcare architects. But you see my point: everything that happens in the world affects architecture, and the things I do affect how people live their everyday lives. Modern architect Richard Neutra used to say that he could design a house that would cause a couple to get divorced within a month of moving into it. If that sounds far-fetched to you, try getting ready for work every morning while sharing a single sink and vanity in a cramped bathroom with poor air circulation and no humidity control. It'll have you thinking "Divorce, hell--bullets are cheaper."
My job entails looking at my drawings and understanding all the pros and cons of actually building what I just drew. Because I spend my day troubleshooting and understanding what does into a space or a building, it's a skill that I find I can't turn off. Everywhere I look, I know what's in the walls, what's making the water go through the espresso machine, how much that glass window costs, what that stain is on the ceiling, why the flooring is bubbling, and so on. Even sitting on my balcony at night, just resting, I can look into the apartments across the way from us and watch people fumble over poor ergonomics in their kitchens, adjust the furniture in their living rooms, wrestle with computer cords at a desk placed for some ungodly reason in front of a west-facing window. The world is a never-ending barrage of built flotsam and jetsam, put together in endless combinations that make sense in their efficiency as well as their inefficiency.
Being an architect is like being able to see The Matrix. And when you can't just shut it off, it makes you want to drink. Pass the Riesling.