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Optimistic Contingencies // Margaret Gagglioli


During most of our education in our traditional architecture studios we are in a fantasy of pure design. For the purpose of this essay I will say that in school we are merely ‘designers’ (at least more designers than architects) as we are in total control and have complete authority over the situation.  We have not yet been exposed to the truth that architecture is a messy subject shaped by contingencies.


As Jeremy Till argues in his novel Architecture Depends, ‘contingency should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.’ Some fear that contingencies rid our work of purity and integrity of design.  I propose that contingencies allow the full definition of an architect to be realized; designer, problem solver, juggler, advocate, and innovator. Contingencies place us in situations where we are forced to seek other avenues and opportunities that we might not have explored before; new opportunities to produce innovative solutions, to expand beyond the periphery of design and engage other practitioners, and to expand our roles within society.


In the real world, our work and our designs are no longer simply for ourselves.  Programming is no longer a neat 8.5”x11” piece of paper that our studio professor hand us at the start of the semester and remains the same until the project’s completion. Budgets are no longer endless.  Everything starts to get messy.  Every line we draw is an act of social responsibility to our clients and their vision and society as whole. And, it is in this manner that every line assumes a new significance and meaning that was not present within the design studio.


After being a part of Design+Make Studio, Billie Tsien’s word’s ‘Architecture is a profound act of optimism’ have fully resonated with me.  Against all odds and contingencies we must continue to persevere to provide meaningful and beautiful design.  Unique contingencies such as budget, material availability, politics, codes, and site, are challenges that force us as designers to make the best out of the situation.  That is the challenge and the fun of the game where we exhibit the entirety of our roles; how do we as architects produce aesthetic, appropriate, transformative, and enduring architecture in spite of the uncertainty, ambiguity, and contingencies that are inevitable in this paradigm? Those of us, who choose to persevere with an optimistic and determined philosophy of service to our clients and the large community, have the ability to do just this.  This is what Design+Make has taught us.  Removed from the fantasy of traditional studios, we have learned that in the midst of chaos architecture is a profound act of optimism, perseverance, and service.  And now, fostered by the Design+Make experience we embrace contingencies with optimism allowing the transformation from designers to architects to begin.    


Written by Margaret Gagglioli

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