The Burden of Problem Solving // Jason Barker
Architecture is like a puzzle. But more challenging than the typical one where all of the pieces are predetermined to fit in a specific way to complete an image; sometimes, the pieces of an architectural problem have yet to be formed. This is why understanding the problem, so that it can be well defined, is vital to a successful end. Architecture can only begin to be the solution after the problem has been fully defined. Every piece must be considered and thoroughly investigated because leaving an element untouched can result in a new set of problems down the road. Think about a finished puzzle with a single piece missing: you would lose your mind trying to find that last piece in order to complete it, and you have worked too long and hard to start a new one. This is the way we should approach problem solving and why it is the first step to successful architecture.
This is the first time that the members of our studio have worked as a collective group with the amount of people involved. It’s not common for 13 students to work on a single project along with input from several architects, our project general contractor, two clients and several other consultants. When problem solving as a team, initially, it is difficult for one to realize that everyone is different when it comes to the way we think about concepts, approach the problem and perceive information. This adds another layer of complexity to the iterative process of problem solving. Everyone comes into the team with diverse backgrounds and vastly different life experiences which influence our interactions and decisions. Everyone has different expectations on what the project is ultimately about and what they plan on learning from the process. Everyone has different desires and aspirations of what is beautiful and successful design. It is difficult to get everyone involved on the same page, with full understanding of the goals of a project, especially when each individual is used to going through the iterative process of design all on their own.
Our design process has been diverse. We've worked out details and assemblies through drawing and through full-scale mock-ups. Through these methods, we've gained greater insight into what the problem really is.
We have experienced a change from triplex to duplex designs with the intention of making efficient use of the project site but at the same time, efficiency of building material. We’ve gone from movable spaces to fixed spaces to attempt to give the future tenants a means of using their space in the way that best suites them, for their own wellbeing. The porch has changed from complex to simple, with elements on the outside of structure, to the inside of structure; between light permeable to enclosed. We have designed using the idea of shipping containers as an affordable means of structuring, both in the since that it would be the load carrying element of our build as well as the underlying design idea of organizing different functional spaces. We have considered the relationship between the different units and how they can elicit a feeling of community by way of directing the tenants to converge with one another in passing, to providing the most privacy by facing the units away from one another and give each its own approach. Regarding the overall scope of the project, what is the problem of homelessness and how can affordable housing and architectural design solve, or aid in solving it for good?
This has caused much frustration among our members. In our aim to try and solve the problem of affordable housing, our group has had to ask many questions and make decisions on possible answers only to chalk it up as an exercise in better understanding of a fraction of the overall project. Much has had to be sacrificed for the sake of the best ideas for a final design, the client’s desires and ultimately, affordability. Some ideas have shifted back and forth, between ambitious goals of creating something unique and desirable and the realization that the complexities and luxuries of those ideas effect the overall value of the final build. In all of this, it has been easy to loose site of the underlying question: how can we create good architecture and still maintain a model for affordability?
How many times can you ask a question and continue to get a better answer? It is only through the iterative process of gathering information, making sense of it, rearranging and categorizing in order to build something up, then tear it back down again to start fresh that you begin to scratch the surface of a problem. Then through the gained experience you must go through the process again with a better understanding, but each time requires more energy and more pushing of boundaries; more expanding and broadening but without losing focus on the fundamentals of the question. This takes great self-motivation and a passion for the problem to be understood so that it may be solved. I have learned that, regardless of how good you are at design or how long you have been in architecture, everyone must go through the iterative process.
Written by Jason Barker