[ArchVoices] Essay Competition Honorees

"The profession is in need of vision in order to chart a course forward.
We do not always achieve our visions. We do not always share the same
vision. Yet, if there are no visions to consider, we risk stagnation."
--Louis B. Smith, Jr., AIA, Vice-Chair of the Small Project
Practitioners Advisory Group and member of the 2006 ArchVoices Essay
Competition Jury

Today's newsletter presents a series of such visions to consider, in the
form of the honorees of the fourth annual ArchVoices Essay Competition.
Challenged with the task of envisioning “an architectural practice of
the 21st century" each of this year's six honorees represents a
different snapshot of what the future might hold. Like the collaborative
nature of design, each individual essay contributes important ideas, but
is even stronger when viewed as a collection. No one essay represents a
perfect or complete vision, rather, together, they form a mosaic of
possibilities and perspectives, providing different pieces of a
complicated yet intriguing puzzle that is the future of architectural
practice.

This year's essays are but the latest installment in an ongoing dialogue
that the ArchVoices Essay Competition has hosted--from issues facing
young professionals, to the role of architecture in the public realm, to
the nature of architectural practice. If the essay responses are any
indication, we know that these issues are on the minds of young
professionals (and older) and being discussed--from classrooms to
offices to community gatherings. This year's topic was perhaps our most
ambitious to date. And while it might be difficult for any of us to
imagine “the future" at the very least this year's essays offer an
honest appraisal of where we are today--a necessary evaluation as the
profession moves forward.

Nine months ago when the planning committee first started discussions
for this year's competition, the group had two primary goals: to develop
a topic that would follow the continuum of the previous essay
competition discussions, and two, to formulate a question that would
allow a broad range of experiences and perspectives to be represented in
the responses. And as in all the previous competitions, we here at
ArchVoices were once again amazed at the global participation and the
insightful and sophisticated responses.

The ArchVoices Essay Competition is a cumulative effort and it owes its
success to the many people who have helped organize and plan, to those
who have participated, to those who have read and reviewed essays, to
the jury, to the sponsors, and to the general audience at large. To all
of you we say thank you. Think, read and write on.

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First Prize: “Research, Invention, and Collaboration"

First prize includes $1,356 cash and The Complete ARE Learning System,
compliments of Kaplan AEC Education. The cash prize was recently
increased to reflect the cost of NCARB's ARE+IDP.

“Research, Invention, and Collaboration" Erik Kath | New York, NY

Excerpt: “Let me tell you about our firm.

We are primarily concerned with the continuous advancement of the field
of architecture, and inherently, the enhanced quality of the built
environment. As lofty as it sounds, we want to improve the world. We do
this through research, invention, and collaboration.

Before I begin, I should tell you why we started this practice in the
first place. You see, we were not satisfied with the status quo. We
asked ourselves why we continued to see costs escalate in making
buildings at a rate exceeding the cost of living. We were constantly
forced to make design decisions on the basis of cost that result in less
choice, less customization, more standardization, and less quality. We
were faced with numerous quality issues at the end of the construction
process, solved only by reams of paper and countless hours of time.
Compounding our frustration was the drive of our industry professional
organizations to limit our involvement with the means and methods of
construction.

We understood that we had reached a critical point where, unless we
acted, our profession would face extinction. We knew we had to do three
things: stay at the cutting edge of research and in turn share newfound
knowledge with the entire architectural community, remain open to the
possibility of new paradigms and allow invention to be a catalyst for
its own necessity, and to utilize IT enabling software to collaborate
seamlessly with our clients and the other fields involved in the design,
fabrication, and assembly processes."

Jury comments: "[This essay] struck me as a great vision for the future
of architecture. Architecture has always been about relationships.
Usually these are spatial and deal with volumes and materials. This
vision talks about creating closer relationship with universities,
contractors, clients, developers, subcontractors, and others. All the
parties that have a vested interest in the construction process would
establish or enhance mutual relationships that provide for continual
process improvements. By implication there would be aesthetic
improvements as well. These relationships function on an essentially
political level. The recognition of this essay is encouragement to put
petty politics aside and to create a politics of collective
advancement." -Louis B. Smith, Jr., AIA, Vice-Chair of the Small Project
Practitioners Advisory Group

About the author: Erik Kath is an intern architect with Hillier
Architecture in New York. He is currently working toward completion of
IDP and hopes to begin taking the ARE in 2007. He received his Bachelor
of Architecture from Kent State in 2004.

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Second Prize: “Expert Generalist"

Second prize includes a 30gb Apple iPod (choice of black or white),
compliments of Architosh and two ARE Learning Systems of the winner's
choice, compliments of Kaplan AEC Education.

“Expert Generalist" Will Hall | Atlanta, GA

Excerpt: “Conditions of the 21st century have delivered Architecture to
an unprecedented opportunity- the opportunity to radically alter the
general health of our global environment through our daily architectural
actions. This paradigm shift, which is already in action, will be a
critical change of mental perspective from one of living by convenience
to one of living harmoniously and sustainably without natural ecological
systems. It is not simply a matter of running out of petroleum, we will
have to fundamentally change the way we conceptualize our relationship
to the Earth. One of the most direct ways to make this impact is through
our methods of practice and methods of building. These methods, which
have remained virtually unchanged for many years, cannot fulfill this
new impulse to save the earth. Architects will step forward to accept
the challenge to lead our clients, consultants, collaborators and the
construction industry toward this refined way of thinking.

Green building and sustainability are not new concepts, yet for some
reason we have avoided some of the very basic concepts that could reduce
waste, save resources and allow building to perform in a way that many
are not aware can be accomplished. Green building has become more than a
facet of good public relations or a new marketing strategy for
corporations. It is now becoming, and will evolve to be, the next
massive economic and humanitarian boom for the world. . . . This
revolution needs leadership, and architecture is poised to take the reigns."

Jury comments: "The essay seized on a critical issue of our time,
setting out ambitious goals for creating a built environment that is
lasting, enduring, and healthy, while also identifying the unique
opportunity faced by the architecture profession, which is to be a
leader in the movement towards green design and sustainable practice."
-Katie Swenson, Executive Director of the Charlottesville Community
Design Center

About the author: Will Hall is an intern architect at Lord Aeck Sargent
in Atlanta.

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Honorable Mentions

The following four Honorable Mentions will each receive two ARE Learning
Systems of their choice, compliments of Kaplan AEC Education. “Not Just
A Day at the Office: The Architecture Principal in 2020" Scott Cryer |
Chicago, IL

Excerpt: “Because of the advanced software, interactions with the
contractors on site were efficient and productive. Instead of a roll of
drawings, monitors on site were connected to a network and the full
building model. Details were just a toggle away. One monitor on each
site had an interactive function, so the contractor could sketch in the
model, using a stylus and electronic touch pad, and have it viewed by
the architect or any other consultants remotely. In addition the
architects could sketch recommendations and clarifications during field
visits, leading to constant evolution of the construction documents.

On this day, she had chosen to visit a project in which the firm was a
financial stakeholder. ‘This kind of investment transforms the
owner-architect relationship,' she explained. ‘Sharing in a project's
risk and potential reward gives us instant credibility. It is one of the
core values of our firm.'"

About the author: Scott Cryer is an intern architect with Nagle Hartray
Danker Kagen McKay Penney in Chicago. He is currently working toward
completion of IDP and licensure. He received a Bachelor of Science in
Business from Indiana University and his Master of Architecture from the
University of North Carolina, Charlotte in 2003.

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“Taco Bell: A Teaching Firm Treasure" Robin Pohl | Phoenix, AZ

Excerpt: “It's Monday morning and I walk through my office, sipping my
cup of ambition, the ceremonious ritual of starting a new week. I see
earphones on a blonde head above the monitor, bobbing to the beats. His
nimble fingers are pounding another hip rhythm on the keyboard. The
steady clicking of AutoCAD commands, a beautiful and gentle sound
perfected and tuned over time, but he's almost gone. Next Monday morning
that keyboard will be silent. ... Such is my mission: to provide a
halfway house for young architectural graduates, a first step in the
direction of learning and licensure, today commonly called a teaching
firm. In my younger days, this was called a ‘sweatshop', a practice
instituted by my parents' generation of architects, which consisted
mainly of minimum wage drafting work in a physically and emotionally
unhealthy environment. Over time this 'trial by fire' method has failed
to meet the financial and organizational needs of the architectural
community because it discourages interns and turns them away from
pursuing architectural careers. Today many firms are looking overseas
for the answer to their “talent shortage" caused by the recent exodus,
but together the “kids" and I are looking to fill the void. Teaching
firms, such as ours, are not a re-definition of architectural practice,
but instead a support group to a broader, evolving practice."

About the author: Robin Pohl is an architectural intern based in
Phoenix, AZ. She holds several degrees including a Bachelor of Arts and
Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Master of
Architecture from Arizona State. She is currently working towards
completion of a Master of Business Administration also at Arizona State.

Jury comments: "Although not a vision for the future, this essay is
refreshingly frank in its discussion of an aspect of architectural
practice that exists today. Rarely do you find someone who speaks so
clearly about this aspect of the profession--a worthwhile read for
anyone entertaining the possibility of entering architecture." -John
Peterson, principal of Peterson Architects and founder and chair of
Public Architecture

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“The Price of Relevance" Jonathan Powers | Montreal, Quebec

Excerpt: “For the discipline of architecture, great dreams have always
coincided with public spirit. Such dreams make of great architectural
works the talismans of an epoch and of great architects the soothsayers
of a whole people. The current movements in green design, affordable
housing, and university design point in the right direction, but they
are insufficient in themselves. Beyond energy efficiency, social
justice, and simple compassion, architecture must come to grips with the
culture it participates in, and it must express that culture's great
myths and animating ideals. 21st century architectural practice will
pursue its ambitious agenda by cultivating an intense curiosity about
the public it serves. It will launch journals which survey everyday
building users about their experiences and opinions. It will publish
beautifully composed, glossy photographs of people using buildings. It
will invite, evaluate, and reflect upon narratives which grapple with
the meaning of architecture from a human point of view. And it will
worry incessantly at the ethical issues associated with public service
(e.g., who counts as the public in a given situation, and how private
interests interface with public goods). At the bottom, the great
question facing architects as they enter the 21st century is whether
their dreams are adequate to their heritage, their responsibility, and
their calling."

About the author: Jonathan Powers is a doctoral student at the McGill
University School of Architecture in Montreal, Quebec. Jonathan has an
undergraduate degree in philosophy from Amherst University and a Master
of Philosophy from Boston College. He previously worked for HUD in
affordable housing before moving to Montreal to begin pursuing a
doctorate in architectural history and theory.

***

“Cultural Consulting in the 21st Century 'Experience Economy'" Steve
Schwenk | Arlington, VA

Excerpt: “The mission statement of the architectural practice in the
21st century experience economy is to become cultural consultants, hired
to analyze the cultural uniqueness of a client, and create a place that
facilitates the translation of this uniqueness into memorable events.
James P. Cramer of Design Intelligence explains: ‘Each individual's
experience in a building, space, or environment includes an emotional
reaction. It's the experience that counts, not the building.' In the
world of cultural consulting, the program could be as varied as a
church, a riot, or a first date. The site could be a freeway, forest, or
castle.

This vast range of potential work requires the cultural consulting
practice to embody an unprecedented adaptability and versatility. To
this end, a successful cultural consulting practice will differ from a
traditional architectural practice in three distinct ways. First, in
order to have the ability to explore design solutions differing in scale
and methodology, the practice will employ an interdisciplinary staff
with a diversity of design backgrounds. Second, the practice will
operate as a number of mobile project teams, able to be physically
dispersed around the world while staying virtually connected. Third, the
practice will embrace a flexible design methodology, constantly
redefining its design process as it searches for the means to design and
communicate experiences more effectively."

About the author: Steve Schwenk is an intern architect at Envision
Design in Washington, DC, where he is enrolled in IDP and is pursuing
licensure. Steve will be returning to school later this year to begin
work towards a Master in Architecture at Cornell University.

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Jury Comments Regarding the Competition

“These essays are a fascinating snapshot of current positions on
professional futures." -Leon van Schaik, Innovation Professor of
Architecture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

"The essays challenged us to balance creatively exceptional visions of
future design practices, against examples of today's non-traditional
practices that might evolve into models of public service through
design. In these essays, technology, research, greater involvement with
real estate development and ownership, and greater sensitivity for
client and cultural needs, will shape practices of the future. These are
positive portents for a move away from debates about pure design theory
and narcissistic sculpturing, toward a greater understanding of the
substantial roles architects can play in improving, and adding value to
the quality of built environments for the very real and underserved
clients who need our services." -Ted Landsmark, MevD, JD, PhD, President
of the Boston Architectural College

"The profession is in need of vision in order to chart a course forward.
We do not always achieve our visions. We do not always share the same
vision. Yet, if there are no visions to consider, we risk stagnation.
Growth of the profession, whether in quantity or quality, should be an
increase not in the burden we place on the world but in the intellectual
resources we have to preserve and enhance the world. The competition
entrants have shared visions of breadth and detail that make the growth
of the profession a promising prospect. In the discourse of multiple
visions, we shall all be enriched by these contributions." -Louis B.
Smith, Jr., AIA, Vice-Chair of the Small Project Practitioners Advisory
Group

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Readers' Choice Award Winners

Earlier this spring, ArchVoices readers were invited to take a turn as a
jury member and cast their own votes for up to three essays out of the
140 initial submissions that they found to be the most intriguing,
provocative, or well-written. The authors of the eleven essays with the
most votes have been identified and will be rewarded with a book trio of
The Ethical Architect, Good Deeds, Good Design, and Proceed and Be Bold:
Rural Studio After Samuel Mockbee, all compliments of Princeton
Architectural Press.

Untitled Ian Baldwin | Philadelphia, PA

"Sustainable Design: Cultivating Architectural Design" Ana Batista | New
Orleans, LA

"Architecture Practice 21st Century" Jesse Beacom | Salt Lake City, UT

"Snow White and the Solution" Zachary Benedict | Fort Wayne, IN

"I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had writing it" Norman
Blogster | Australia

"Bridging the Great Divide" Lisette Boosooboy | Miami, FL

"Wake Up - It's Time to Be An Architect" Jane Decker | Miami, FL

"Make Architecture Relevant" Christopher Mulvey | Jamaica Plain, MA

“The Price of Relevance" Jonathan Powers | Montreal, Quebec

"Born Late" Dwight Yee | London, UK

"Forgotten Evolution" Radoslaw Zubrycki | Belfast, UK

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Competition Recap

For Stage One, young professionals were challenged to write a 500-word
proposal for a longer essay on the following statement and multi-part
question:

As the opportunities and demands of architectural practice evolve,
entrants are asked to propose a mission statement and an action plan for
an architectural practice of the 21st century. Will such an endeavor
maintain current methods or redefine practice, as we have known it? What
will be the key challenges? Will it be a singular entity or comprised of
multiple components? Who will this practice serve and how will it
sustain itself? How might the skill set acquired through architectural
education and training, technology and material developments, and
collaboration with related fields play a role in such a 21st century
architectural practice, if at all?

The essay competition committee identified 30 of the 140 entrants as
semifinalists. The semifinalists were then challenged to expand their
original 500-word essays to approximately 2,000 words. Finalists were
chosen by the contestants' peers and the competition planning committee,
and from this group a distinguished jury conferred six honors, including
First Prize, Second Prize, and four Honorable Mentions.

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Sponsors

ArchVoices extends its sincere thanks to the dozens of publications,
websites, firms, schools, AIA components, and many others that have
helped to publicize the competition. In particular, we thank the
following entities for their generous financial and in-kind support,
without which the competition would not have been possible:

Architosh Autodesk Design Intelligence Dougherty+Dougherty indesign
Kaplan AEC Education Princeton Architectural Press

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ArchVoices is an independent, nonprofit organization and think tank on
architectural education, internship, and licensure.

Comments? We welcome your thoughts by email at [email protected]

 

As always, we welcome your thoughts by email at [email protected]