Who wants to be relevant?

January 14, 2010 — 16 Comments

Technology is cool.

I am sitting at my desk looking at the treasured relics of my architectural ancestors – rolls of sketch paper, at least 15 scales (or rulers), and a stack of orange triangles. These items share the precious real estate of my work area with more modern architectural tools – computers (hardware and software), 24″ monitor and at least 5 music speakers.

This is my desk – it’s not so much a desk rather than a work surface made up of medium density fiberboard attached along the entire length of two walls of my office but it’s really good at taking all sorts of abuse and it contains items that I use all the time. The thing is, some of these things are from my father’s generation and some are the beta versions of things that are coming. I’m not sure what I should be keeping and what to replace.

We have discussed the need to be relevant in our office on several occasions. This can be related to current design trends but in our case it has more to do with how we go about doing our jobs. Do we keep doing things the same way and can we expect similar results if we do? I don’t think so but the speed at which the technology of my profession is changing, I’m finding it hard to keep up. I already work a lot of overtime (and not always because I have to) and the thought that I need to learn another type of drafting software, build a web site, to blog or not to blog and how (in progress), evaluate rendering software…..it’s an endless stream of new technology, most of which will most likely need to be updated to a newer version by the time I finish typing this sentence. Meanwhile, I still need to call 5 different contractor’s, schedule the meeting with the MEP engineers, get an interpretation from the planning and zoning department, and figure out how I am going to put together a design competition on children’s playhouses for the CASA Parade of Playhouses. When am I going to learn how to weld?

Soon I will pull out a roll of tracing paper, a stack of my favorite sketching pens and pencils, and retreat into solving design problems the old fashion way by drawing by hand. For now I will ignore the way the younger architectural interns look at me with a look of befuddled amusement because I can’t discard the “technology” of the past. That’s okay, I think I see them checking some door hardware schedules in the very near future.

Maybe this is more about evolution than simply leaving the past behind.

the desk of architect Bob Borson

the desk of architect Bob Borson

the desk of architect Bob Borson

Finding a place that is somewhere in the middle is exactly where I think I’m most comfortable, not very exciting but I’m happy to think I have a place in what was and what will be.


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  • Bill

    I’m 46 and about to enter Architecture school…again. My
    first attempt was in 1985 and lasted three years, but before I knew it my
    summer job as a carpenter’s helper lead to a career as a carpenter. Drafting
    was a hobby from the time I was ten years old so, when I entered the school in
    1985, I had the advantage of already being able to construct perspective
    drawings. I used wooden pencils and ruling pens; archaic tools even then. Since
    my craftsmanship was far beyond my fellow students, I enjoyed helping them when
    they wanted it. But now I will be relying heavily on their knowledge of design
    software. While I see great advantages in not having to re-draw with every
    design change, I am both terrified and excited about the challenge.

  • Marissa

    I am SO glad our university only allows us to draw and draft by hand in our first year, I am only just learning CAD software now in my second year – so we still are using hand drawings for our project work. I’m enjoying it but I will be sad to leave university and never use my Grandfather’s Rotring pens and his set square etc again. It makes things so much simpler when complex geometry is involved. But doesn’t that take away half of the stress and fun of designing something?? Besides the actual design side, drawing is the thing I have loved the most.
    It really is upsetting that this is not the way to design anymore – that I know many other university students who have never touched a drawing board and probably never will. It makes the design so much more personal in my opinion. The design shows your personality but so does every line you draw…

  • hyperme:D

    Love it… Keepin it OLD SCHOOL(:

  • Ken

    where’d you get that wall shelving is that custom? me want..

  • I love it.  I’m a firm believer in “whatever works for you works.”  And there is a seemingly mystical, if not scientific, connection between the movement of hands and the thought activity in our brains.  I’m sure sketching manually is a fabulous problem-solving technique.

  • Jeremiah

    Don’t EVER get rid of the “yester-tech”. I’m only 30 and I still try and sketch EVERY day with good ole pen/paper/chalk/crayon/sketchpad/whatever-will-make-a-mark. It is a necessary skill that is being lost on the upcoming generation that is all about the computer. There is a primordial intimacy in architecture between your brain, your hand, your favorite pen and a piece of paper that the computer will never replace….at least I hope not. Keep on keeping on, brother!

    • I still sketch, not everyday as an exercise but enough for me to still convey my thoughts onto paper. This relevancy issue is working both ways though – young people who can’t sketch, older people who don’t don’t know the technology.

      Both are issues

      • Jeremiah

        very true. perhaps the simple answer is both should develop parallel to each other – as our knowledge of technology increases so must our ability to adapt the old with the new.
        I personally have fallen behind the curve on modern arch tech (namely BIM), but I’m slowly getting there. When technology doubles every 18 months it’s nearly a full time job to stay WITH the curve, and nearly impossible to stay ahead of it. Though, I’ll never give up my drafting table and all associated accouterments. If technology completely goes to hell at least I’ll still be able to design pretty buildings. 🙂

  • Wow! This article is really cool as the technology. Probably, the life of an architect is not that easy but it is simply amazing. How I wish I can be like you. Keep up the good work! =)

  • amr

    Lucky for me I learnt how to weld before becoming an architect.

  • Chris Nannig

    From what I see coming out of MIT and other avant guarde technology centers, architects will increasingly use their old tools, but be able to link them to databases and other management / reproduction digital tools. Hang in there, hybrid-tech is only 10 years away.

    Also, as one architect to another, it takes about a day to learn to weld, so don’t fret and spark up.

  • Relevant, schmelevant. What does “relevant” even mean? I’m a trash (roll) paper user, myself. I find it faster & easier to mix & match ideas & trace. It also gives me a tactile satisfaction that no mouse or keyboard has ever given me. I’m a huge advocate of using tools that work for you, not the other way around.

    And good for you on passing along the hardware schedules to check! Maybe you should throw in some shop drawings, too. LOL

  • Raul

    the pictures may seem messy, but are at least authentic…

  • Raul

    the pictures may seem messy, but are at least authentic…

  • I just realized that these pictures are like I-Spy; as in “I spy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol” or “I spy 3 little liquor bottles”. Maybe I should have cleaned my desk up beforehand after all…

  • I just realized that these pictures are like I-Spy; as in “I spy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol” or “I spy 3 little liquor bottles”. Maybe I should have cleaned my desk up beforehand after all…