Expanded Partnerships Revisited // Nick Kratz

3/3/2014

Professionals don’t work in a vacuum. They (the good ones, at least) work in a rich, symbiotic web of other professionals, organizations, causes, mentors, and clients. The idea that students (especially those studying to become Architectural professionals) would be educated in a vacuum is therefore absurd. The college experience is often flouted as a major and required step toward entrance into the “real world”. But upon arrival, we are greeted with a protective bubble of grade school rituals, lists of dos and don’ts, and projects that often result in the development of a god-complex in ambitious 20-somethings. Inevitably there must be a beginning; a foundation of usable tools has to be laid—but educators and students alike should be wary of prolonging the facade of independence. Skills learned at an individual level must be honed and practiced, but we are constantly compared to and learning from our peers. As we progress through the studios, bigger and more complex individual projects are the norm. The god-complex has set in by this time, and it is increasingly hard to let go of the ubiquitous autonomy that grips even the most humble of us. With no real consequences, we design 30,000 square foot art galleries in exotic locations, applauding each other for such talented feats of architecture. Studio move-in day in the Fall of Fifth Year is fraught with mild anxiety because rumors are spreading that “group work” will be a required item on the agenda—hopefully that doesn’t last long. The young demigods are forced into groups, and told to “collaborate” on a architectural project that will be a capstone to their educational careers. To some this is an exciting prospect, to others, terrifying. Left to our own devices we are often petty, competitive, bickering children that find it hard to agree on door knobs let alone building typologies.

Enter design + make. Cultivating the idea of “expanded partnerships”, el dorado inc set out on a crusade against the standard studio model. Doing what just a firm, just a client, or just a studio cannot do alone, here lies a chance for architecture students to dive head first into the world of professionals, hand holding optional. Scrutinize the output of the studio as you will, there is no arguing with how these months of working with non-profits, lighting designers, architects, artists, landscape architects, boards of directors, and committees has changed the way we see architecture and (perhaps more importantly) each other. Groupwork is not a burden anymore, an uphill battle at times, yes, but that’s part of the learning curve—we simply cannot pull this off alone. Ideas in this studio don’t exist in a vacuum for long, there is a constant “prove it” attitude by which everything must hold water. Being in an environment where everyone involved has skin in the game validates what we’re doing. Not only do we have to get past authorship debates, we must take pride in the pieces we work on to deliver what the client needs—the project very literally has to be completed on time and to a high level of excellence. The final result is much better when experts have a say in things— we worked with Parson’s School of Design’s lighting students on a mobile office proposal. The design for a viewing portal was returned to us with a failure warning based on how the light would react with it. Panic ensued, but luckily we had Parson’s to fall back on for advice to avoid catastrophe. Outsiders bring up the issues we normally ignore or sweep under the trace paper rug.

The mutual entrapment of professionals, students, and organizations creates a unique learning experience for everyone involved. Collaboration is infectious when there are ambitious, boundary pushing thinkers trapped, as it were, in the room. Partnerships snowball as time goes on, more and more input is needed and offered from all manner of sources. A storm water consultant and a lighting designer 2,000 miles away could end up working together because of a student project somewhere in between. During the final week of preparation for a competition entry, we invited a landscape architect to come give us feedback on our progress. She not only did that, but also changed the way we thought about the project in some ways—we had become too comfortable in our own architectural circle. Students offer clients and projects a certain freedom to explore ideas that is sometimes clogged by pragmatism. The learning opportunity is that students are pushed into a gray area between academic and the professional—how do design ideas translate into blood, sweat, and steel? The 5th and final year of school is meant to do this for everyone, our model is only one medium for the transformation to take place. Others will collaborate on skyscraper competition, perform research on sustainable envelopes, or re-evaluating city planning. Time will tell what lessons design + make 2014 learns, but hopes are high that we will continue to push limits, collaborate better, and produce something(s) to be proud of.

Written by Nick Kratz