Signal to Noise

Posted: November 1, 2013 in Fridge Note, Shovels

In my Klark Kent life, there are several points in the process of providing architectural services where I get to exercise my creative bone.  Interspersed with long boring meetings, arguing the finer points of construction codes with dimwitted inspectors, and threatening engineers with physical violence.

The peculiar thing is that when facing a creative task in college, I relied on the visits of a muse of some sort.  Many times, this meant during the design phase, I would screw around, get drunk, watch punk bands, and just generally ignore it until the night before, then pull something magical out of my ass.  One of my professors, as appreciative as he was of my ability to do this, often encouraged me to develop habits that would work a problem in various ways prior to the drop dead point; he assured me the time would come when I would not be able to produce under deadline, and then it would be valuable to be productive in more mundane, workmanlike ways.

He was, of course, right.

In my first job out of college, there was no tolerance for magical thinking in providing design.  What I finally learned, under direct fire of the partners in the firm, was to be able to develop designs using logic and programming and a slew of other tools that helped to break the logjam of possibilities and resulted in some kind of progress.  It wasn’t always capital-A Architecture, but it wasn’t bad, either, and it was effective.

On my own, I have kind of combined those approaches.  Figuring out plans is still very much a pragmatic exercise, balancing site and building programs, circulation, vehicles and such like into a cohesive logical building use pattern  But when working on building images, as I am right now, I often attack it from various angles; sketching or computer, elevations of perspectives; aerial or ground level views.  Color or black and white, markers or pencils.  When one doesn’t work, switch to another.

As now.  I seem to be experiencing a design block on a current project.  Good one, too, for a good client.  And I can’t seem to find a way into the design.  Somehow, I have to find a way from this:

4021 shorewood block design

through this:

4021 shorewood block 4021 shorewood block section

And hopefully, somehow get to something like this:


I have discovered that sometimes it helps  if I do a little blogging to get the creaky mechanism moving.  So here’s a damn blogpost, and now back to the lighttable for some marker work.  Fortunately, I have several shovels.

  1. I got nothin’ — this is why I write software. Software is much easier to fuck with than real material things.

  2. mikey says:

    You guys have always fascinated me, and made me more than a little jealous. You guys who could think in images, or music, or math. You guys who could see something in your own mind, and then reproduce it on some kind of visual or aural media.

    I never could do that. Some poor schmuck has, at times, tried to teach me to read music or draw or paint. It’s not within me. I only have one interface-words. I think in words, I see in words, I dream in words – the English language is the only connection I have from the inner to the outer, or even vice versa.

    I don’t see images, I think description. I don’t sense time, I think narrative. You see a movie, I could never get past the screenplay.

    So I have faith that you’ll figure it out, just as I have faith that they’ll invent a fully functional artificial heart and a robot that can sell enterprise software and finally, mercifully put me out of work once and for all. It’s a process I not only don’t understand, I don’t understand how one might understand it, but you guys who can do it can usually find a way.

    Meanwhile, there’s always this:

  3. Famous architects piss me off, because they never have to meet budgets or design with practicality in mind. From mikey’s link:

    The concept was to be as physically challenging as possible so kids learn for themselves as fast as possible.

    ..or die trying, apparently.

  4. mikey says:

    I gotta think about quitting this napping after work. Dinner gets pretty late n shit…

  5. herr doktor bimler says:

    You guys have always fascinated me, and made me more than a little jealous.

    Doesn’t it make you want to take the top off his head and see how the machinery works?

  6. M. Bouffant says:

    Put that saw back where you found it, & right now!!

  7. UPDATE. everything sucks. All the hedgehogs I’ve been able to come up with are meager and gasping. One of my best internet friends went lost. Entropy rules. All of y’all will be happy to see a zombie fall, yet again.

  8. also, I, apparently, suck. Please feel free to notify N__B so he can exult at the failures of an architect. He does it when things go well, he ought to be inordinately cheerful in this case.

  9. Jager very much bad so. Heartburn and vomit? Bleccch.

  10. James Starks for 30+ – But still, bring on Cassel.

  11. There is no architectural problem that can’t be solved by upping the service. Even if the space is completely inadequate, 4000A is much better.

  12. I feel like we should have started a separate post.

  13. mikey says:

    Have any of you seen my trousers?

  14. Jennifer says:

    Blogging does tend to grease the wheels at times.

    Your commentary about your approach to a deadline reminded me of an Eddie Vedder interview I read about a month ago:

    Has being a parent changed you as a songwriter?
    I think there are many answers to that question, and I’m not sure which is the best one. It changes you. There’s no way to avoid that. My patterns as a human were fairly established. I thought that parenting would be a sidecar to everything I was doing. If anything, I was in the sidecar. In a myriad of ways, it’s going to change everything. Being a parent could take your focus away, but it could also add focus. It takes your focus away because you have a constant responsibility and beautiful distraction. It can add to your focus, though, because you know you don’t have three days to yourself to become a mad scientist and lock yourself in a room with three cases of beer and a carton of smokes and come out with a song. You’re going to do it in an hour, with a six-pack and one pack of smokes. So, it’s really healthy.

    You don’t have the luxury of insanity anymore. You’re not really allowed to be insane. I resented that for a little bit. I was like, “No, it’s important to be the mad scientist crazy person and to dig down deep and get to some place you haven’t been before.” Then you realize that it’s not fair to your kids to have a psycho dad. That’s just not the way it’s going to work. You figure out other ways to generate the same results, but you do it in a way that’s less insane. I think in that way it’s a positive thing and it’s probably added years to my life.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Because it was there…

  16. mikey says:

    See, here’s where I’d like to be a kool kat and paste in a youtube link to Local H’s “Eddie Vedder”, but all the versions I can find have “shit” bleeped out and it total ruins the line
    That’s it
    I quit
    I don’t…Give a shit

    So I I can’t do that to you, but more than that, I can’t do that to me…

  17. OK, we solved the design problem. We needed to rip the head off of one of my hedgehogs and tape it into the body of one of the others, but the result looks better than that sounds.

  18. mikey says:

    Hedgehog Head is an acquired taste, it turns out…

  19. fish says:

    Hedgehog Head is an acquired taste, it turns out…

    There is a prickly prick and accidentally pierced lips joke there somewhere.

Go ahead, tell me how I fucked up this time.

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