Stretching the Mold // Lauren Harness

5/6/2015

There is a prescribed image of a typical architect and when I began as a new student it initially seemed as if there was a specific mold I must fit to be successful in the field. As college has progressed, experience has helped me realize that although many architects strive to encompass and strengthen specific traits there is still room for a variety of thinking and working styles. Integrating and capitalizing on the individual strengths of team members is what helps projects and firms function fluidly. This year our studio dynamic has continually highlighted a variety of strategies and opportunities to work with our teammates in creating productive problem solving environments.

 

As our Alma pavilion design has progressed from concept to creation, the overall group size has grown to encompass nearly two-thirds of the studio. It has been essential that we gain appreciation of the diversity of thinking and working styles in an effort to collaborate most effectively. In an effort to realize the Alma concept design most students in the studio have highlighted a tendency to think in details or big picture as well as thrive on strategic planning or learning through trial and error. This type of self-discovery is typical of most work places/learning environments however, one thing that is unique about the Design + Make Studio is the amount of situations we have encountered that force group members to stretch their own working styles. For this project successfully working together has meant embracing and celebrating individual strengths, but also pushing ourselves and others to fill needed voids in the group dynamic in order to complete the infinite list of tasks.

First semester was almost entirely abstract and design based. The studio was working towards furthering concepts developed in groups of three. During this portion students were tasked with thinking as visionaries and conceptualizing and interacting with clients. Problem solving was highly based on synthesizing content and taking initiative. Despite work in the uncommon situation where there was no design hierarchy, all of the teams put forth successful schemes leading to the successive selection of the two front-runners and a final choice. This process was similar to our previous studios with the exception of presenting to real clients and the new experience of working in assigned small groups. The interaction and design process really pushed everyone to be reflective and take time to listen to client feedback. Developing trust amongst group members as well as on a client basis also really proved to be a central task in the first few months. Personally, I enjoyed this schematic process and the holistic, big idea focus. 

Second semester is when things got real, literally. As we got back into the grind after winter break we were no longer divided into small groups and instead came together to create one large crew to begin the process of bringing the pavilion into fruition. Thinking through the pragmatics of structure, budget, scheduling, and materiality put a heavy focus on strategic thinking and procedure. The initial planning led successively to shop drawings, mock ups, and final fabrication (where we are now). During this phase every detail needs to be accounted for, down to the smallest piece of hardware. Additionally, tasks have changed to be highly specific and our large group is now in constant communication in order to insure that nothing is forgotten. Due to a tight schedule and budget constraints no one has had the luxury of sticking to one task. Each group member has “gotten their hands dirty” in regards to spending time working on site or in the shop. Personally, I have gained a great deal of experience in what it takes to fully realize a project through fabrication. I have furthered my appreciation for procedures and the value of experience after working with concrete, steel, and lumber. Slowing down and finding a deeper respect for the details is something that I believe adds notable depth to my design education. During this process I have come to find that I also enjoy designing at all scales and I have gained tremendous respect for construction and craft.

Spending a year as part of the Design + Make Studio at Kansas State alongside fifteen architecture students working towards communal goals has really highlighted the balancing act that successful collaboration entails. While it is important to recognize and celebrate what ideas, skills, and talents we are bringing to the table it is also important to push these boundaries. Possessing certain ability or working towards a specialty is important in the field of architecture, but I also believe that the best design practices are successful in part because they don’t allow anyone to get boxed in. Striving to be a generalist and pushing our boundaries as an architect is equally important as understanding and strengthening personal learning and working styles. 

Written by Lauren Harness