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Career Change Alert

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I've written before about how useful I've found drones to be. Since becoming a commercially licensed drone operator I've done some work-for-hire but mostly it's been done as favors for colleagues. In other words, although it's helps with my architecture work, it's not something I intend to make money from by itself.

Then I got this flyer in the mail. Now I am very tempted to go sit at the feet of "THE DRONE BOSS" and learn how to become a "TRUE DRONE ENTREPRENEUR."

Or I could just keep on being an architect.

 

The Changing Face of Community Theatre

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So we've been working on a new theater for Fort Stockton for the better part of three years now. We just released a progress drawing set (see above) and if all goes according to plan we'll have everything ready to go for construction to begin this fall.

Although the basic organization of the building has remained consistent, if you've been paying attention you'll notice the face of the building has changed considerably over time. At first the taller mass of the theatre itself was clad in weathered metal while the marquee was a more traditional back-lit affair where physical letters could be attached to it:

FSCT A.jpg

Later the color of the theatre was changed to green and the form of the marquee became more streamlined with its underside becoming a backlit plane of light. A LED sign provided information about coming attractions:

After the design was released to the public it was pointed out that green is the color of Fort Stockton's main football rivals and so its color was changed. Currently the marquee's form and material matches that of the buildings around it while a constellation of small LED lights illuminates the entry underneath it:

FSCT C.jpg

In all probability the design will continue to evolve. It's all part of the process and with a project like this there is always a delicate balance between civic aspirations and budget realities. Of course the goal is to make a great new performance space for For Stockton. We're doing that but we also know it's important for the building that houses that space to be a landmark for the city.

And Then There Were Four...

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This past Saturday Alan Bean passed away after a brief illness. He was one of only twelve men to have walked on the moon. All of those moonwalks occurred in the late 60s and early 70s and all of the moonwalkers who are still alive are now well into their eighties. With the passing of Al Bean there are now only four men on Earth who have walked on another world.

What made Bean particularly unique (within an already incredibly unique category of men) was what he did after he walked on the moon. He became a painter. His work focused on spaceflight and his experience seeing things so few of us will ever be able to see for ourselves.

Bean's abrupt career change always reminded me of that line from the 1997 film Contact where Jodie Foster, finding herself unable to describe the overpowering beauty of the cosmos, says that rather than a scientist like herself they "Should have sent a poet." 

Even thought it's been almost fifty years since we first landed on the moon we are still in the infancy of space exploration. We aren't yet to the point where we can send poets into space. But it is somehow comforting to know that some of the test pilots, engineers and scientists we have sent come back so changed that they decided to become poets.

 

 

The Tricentennial App That Wasn't

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At the end of 2016 the San Antonio Chapter of the American Institute of Architecture put together a task force to look into what we as an organization could do to contribute to San Antonio's Tricentennial Celebration. Several ambitious ideas were considered (A building! A book! A symposium!) but an early suggestion that gained a surprising amount of traction was to create a smartphone app.

The idea was that we could tell the story of San Antonio through its buildings. Using geolocation technology a user would receive a notification when they happened to walk or drive by a place that played a significant role in the history of San Antonio. It would be like Pokémon GO except with architecture as opposed to fictional creatures of vaguely Japanese origin.

By early 2017 we had reached out to developers and crafted a list of 100 buildings to tell San Antonio's story. When we learned that the "official" Tricentennial Commission was producing an app of their own we decided to parter with them. Whereas their app was only going to include a handful of historic locations, we would provide the descriptions, photos and even a short quiz for a hundred or more significant sites. A contract was written and I personally spent the better part of July researching and writing the information required by the developer to integrate into the new app. By the end of the summer our contribution was done and we happily handed the baton off to our partners.

Unfortunately that's when things began to fall apart.

The Tricentennial planning effort became embroiled in controversy. The CEO of the Tricentennial Commission resigned. Committee chairs were forced out. By year's end management of the app had been handed off to the City of San Antonio's Department of Arts & Culture and we lost control of its content.

The "Go See SA!" app was eventually released about a third of the way through the Tricentennial year. As far as apps go it's fine. I'm sure plenty of effort went into creating it. Of course I also know how much work was wasted and how much better the app could have been.

Attempts were made to do something with the unused content. There was talk of producing a short, two-minute bi-weekly podcast featuring all the buildings that were to have been included in the the original app. A proof-of-concept episode was produced but that's as far as it went:

If you really want to listen to a tricentennial podcast Brandon Seale is releasing a weekly series about the history of San Antonio (or at least the first half of it). In the meantime, though, hopefully we'll have our act together better when we celebrate San Antonio's 400th birthday in 2118.

 

Returning to the Eames House

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Even if you don’t know who Charles and Ray Eames were you’ve probably sat on something they designed. Their iconic mid-century chairs have never really fallen out of style. They also made films and created exhibitions and in general lived a life that was about the observation of and the creation of beauty in the world.

They also built themselves a house. Also known as Case Study House #8, the Eames House a place for living and working but it was also a mechanism for living a particular type of modern life. Although homes built of steel and glass can often feel cold and uninviting, theirs somehow does not. It is animated with art and found objects that make it feel warm and intimate both inside and out.

I had first visited the Eames house in 2002 but at the time the interior wasn’t open to the public. They have since started offering interior tours and when I was in town I leapt at the opportunity to experience it for myself. It did not disappoint.

The house itself is quite simple: essentially it’s two steel-framed boxes. There are no structural gymnastics or exotic materials. But as with any good home, the architecture is merely a frame. And if it’s a good frame it accommodates living and people and things that make life worth living. Even though the design of the house may be straight-forward it is by no means simplistic. Great care is given to how the house is sited, how the steel frame is in-filled with solid panels or glass, and how space flows form one area to another.

My favorite part of the tour occurred at the end when the guide and I sat on the floor of the living room and talked about the life Charles and Ray lived.  Their life - like their work - remains as inspirational as ever: simple enclosures can hold greatness inside.

Architects of Music

 image courtesy weirdal.com

image courtesy weirdal.com

Last week "Weird Al" Yankovic dropped a new single: a polk medley featuring several selections from the musical, Hamilton. It turns out that the creator of HamiltonLin-Manuel Miranda, is a fan of Mr. Yankovic and in an interview from a few years ago he told the story of the first time he met the singer/songwriter/satirist. He also revealed a fact about Mr. Yankovic I did not known before:

Alfred Matthew Yankovic graduated from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo with a bachelor's degree in architecture. 

It turns out  Mr. Yankovick is not the only artist to have first studied architecture before pursuing a career in popular music. In fact the list is remarkably long:

Art Garfunkel studied architecture at Columbia University where he ultimately graduated with a degree in art history. By then he had already met his musical collaborator, Paul Simon, years earlier in elementary school.

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (a.k.a. John Denver) studied Architecture at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He joined a folk-music band while there and ultimately pursued that career path.

Jerry Harrison of The Talking Heads dropped out of Harvard's Graduate School of Design to join his fellow band mates who had met while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Three of the founding members of Pink Floyd (Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright) all met while studying architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster).

Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel (a.k.a. Seal) also studied architecture in London and earned a two year diploma in architecture before becoming a singer/songwriter and marrying Heidi Klum.

The rapper O'Shea Jackson Sr. (a.k.a. Ice Cube) was interested in architecture as well as rap and earned a diploma in draughtsmanship from the Phoenix Institute of Technology the same year Straight Outta Compton was released.

It was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who famously said "architecture is frozen music" and the two mediums are more similar than they might at first appear. Both architecture and music play with rhythm and structure. Both architecture and music communicate emotion and meaning. Both architecture and music can transcend their rigid rules and history to create art of endearing beauty.

Perhaps the creative problem solving taught in an architectural education provides a useful approach to those who go on to create music. Perhaps this is all just a coincidence. Perhaps I'm just too white and nerdy.

The Architecture of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

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Last week was the 50th anniversary the first national broadcast of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I grew up watching the show and hearing the soft, comforting intonations of Mr. Rogers' voice in a recently rebroadcast interview transported me back to my early childhood. I may have been just as much of a Sesame Street kid, but Mr. Rogers always had a special place in my heart.

This may be because his neighborhood was so familiar.

Whereas Sesame Street took place in an urban setting Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was unambiguously suburban. You can see this in the program's iconic opening sequence where the camera explores a scale model of the titular neighborhood. It wasn't exactly like the suburb where I grew up but it looked a lot like the postwar neighborhood where my grandparents lived.  Even though my grandfather and Mr. Rogers were quite different there was a comforting calmness they both shared.

It may be an overstatement to claim the scale model at the beginning of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was the inspiration for me to build models and design neighborhoods as an architect but it's most assuredly not an overstatement to claim that the testimony Mr. Rogers gave in front of Congress in 1969 remains an inspiration for speaking truth to power. The seven minute clip is worth watching: seeing a gruff Senator straight from Central Casting melt under the overpowering kindness of Mr. Rogers is incredibly cinematic and I'm sure a version of it will appear in the upcoming biopic starring Tom Hanks.

In the meantime, though, PBS will be airing its own documentary about Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood. The program airs on March 6 at 7PM on KLRN here in San Antonio.

 

 

 

Happy Holidays from "The Works" (and HiWorks)

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Two new episodes of "The Works" in two weeks? What's going on? It must be Christmas...

On this special holiday edition of the podcast we tell the story of an empty lot that once a year turns into something very special. As always, please talk a moment to listen to the story and if you like what you hear, feel listen to the other episodes or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

Oh, and Happy Holidays.

A Valentine from Valentine

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As I mentioned in the last post I recently attended a radio storytelling workshop in Marfa. It was a great week in which I had the opportunity to meet and work with some great people. Over the course of the workshop each of us students produced a profile of a person doing something interesting in the area. As my subject I chose the postmaster of Valentine, Texas.

The story aired last night on Marfa Public Radio but since it's tangentially related to architecture (the postmaster works in a post office building) I've integrated into the feed for The Works podcast. You can listen to it by clicking the play button below or learn more about the episode on its show page.

As always, feel free to listen to other episodes or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

Happy Valentines Day.

The Architecture of the Justice League

 image courtesy Hanna-Barbera Productions

image courtesy Hanna-Barbera Productions

Justice League opens this weekend and to be perfectly honest, I don't care. The reviews haven't been great and when it comes to movies that pander to my childhood nostalgia I'm much more of a Star Wars man.

But the marketing barrage that has accompanied the release of the film did remind me of a Saturday morning cartoon I would occasionally watch as a kid.

I don't remember much about the plot of individual episodes of Super Friends beyond the fact it featured the adventures of a group of superheroes. That said I do remember something about the architecture of the show. It seams this team of costumed vigilantes hung out in a headquarters called the "Hall of Justice". This was no subterranean Batcave but a monumental piece of civic architecture that would have been a prominent landmark regardless of if it was located in Gotham, Metropolis or Cincinnati.

I mention the third-largest city in Ohio because it is the real life home of Union Terminal, a train station that clearly acted as an architectural precedent for the hall portrayed in the cartoon.

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Not being a superfan of DC superheroes I don't know much about the Hall of Justice or how it came to be built. But as an architectural supernerd I do know a few things about Cincinnati's Union Terminal.

It was designed by a team of superarchitects that included Paul Cret, a French architect who immigrated to the United States and became a successful and influential designer of public buildings. He helped design much of the campus of the University of Texas, including its iconic main tower building.

Around the same time he was working on the UT campus he was also working on an art deco train station for Cincinnati. It was completed in 1933 but because of the great Depression, World War II and the subsequent decline of rail transportation, it never served the capacity it was designed to accommodate. It was eventually abandoned but in the 1980s it was repurposed as a multi-use cultural facility that contains museums, theaters, and a library.

Cincinnati, it turns out, was the home of the broadcasting company that owned Hanna-Barbera Productions, the animation studio responsible for the creation of Super Friends. I'm certainly not the first one to point out the relationship between the fictional Hall of Justice and the real Union Terminal and the latter has actually been used as a set for several live-action portrayals of DC Comics superheroes.

I am unable to go into more detail about how the real life Union Terminal is incorporated into theses shows (or even if the building makes an appearance in the new movie) because as I've mentioned before, I really don't care.

I Read It For The Articles

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A few weeks ago Hugh Hefner died. His passing caused me to think about the one issue of Playboy I own.

I've talked before about Albert Speer and how his style of architecture became so closely associated with Nazism that it fell out of favor after the end of the Second World War. Speer is himself a fascinating character. Of the 24 high-ranking officials of the Third Reich on trial in Nuremberg, Speer alone expressed remorse and responsibility. This is probably why he did not receive the death penalty as did most of his fellow codefendants.

At any rate, last year I learned of an interview Speer gave to Playboy magazine in 1971 after completing his prison sentence. Obtaining a copy through Amazon was surprisingly easy (and cheap) so I finally got around to buying my first Playboy.

The lengthy article about Speer was fascinating and worth the $3 it had cost me. Although I was reading Playboy just for the article (no, really) I naturally flipped through the rest of the magazine as well.

Browsing any forty-five-year-old publication is an interesting anthropological experience. If nothing else it's fun to see ads for 8-track stereo systems, American Motors station wagons and Schlitz beer. It's also fun to see the Marlboro Man still selling filtered cigarettes and Orson Wells selling bourbon whiskey.

And then, of course, there were the naked women.

To be perfectly honest the photos contained in the magazine were relatively tame (especially in comparison to what any reasonably resourceful 12-year-old buy can find online today). But what was far more objectionable were the cartoons dispersed throughout the pages of the periodical. It wasn't that the cartoons were particularly explicit, it's that they were incredibly sexist. The nonchalant chauvinism implied a cultural pervasiveness that apparently was much more accepted back then. But even if that overt sexism has been driven underground it's clearly still here today

I would like to think that the battle against sexism was won long ago. I would like to think the battle against Nazism has been won as well but apparently that battle somehow continues to be fought as well. We still have work to do.

 

 

Still Under The Bridge

Fiesta is underway in San Antonio.

For a transplant like myself the seventeen-day-lang series of events initially baffled me. Although it was originally a celebration that commemorated the defeat of Mexico by the Texan Armies, it has ballooned into something much larger and more complex. For the record, the Texas Revolution wasn't just a battle between Texas vs, Mexicans: it too was something larger and more complex than (just ask this guy).

At any rate, the celebration as it exists today consists of many seemingly unrelated events. There's an oyster bake, a carnival and lots of concerts. Fiesta has its own acronyms. NIOSA (Night in Old San Antonio) is a block party in historic La Villita. And of course it has its own parades. 

Lots of parades.

In addition to river parades and dog parades, Fiesta has some major street parades. The Battle of Flowers and Flambeau Parades are arguably the crowning events of the Fiesta Celebration. Even though they occur in late April, it can be pretty hot in San Antonio by then (this this year it's already humid and in the 90s). The parade route travels under the U.S. Highway 281 / Interstate 35 interchange and the shade provided by these elevated roadways have become popular places to watch the parades. They are so popular, in fact, that people started camping out days ahead of the actual parades in order to secure a good spot for themselves and their families. 

It's basically a temporary city that forms under the bridge with its own, rules, culture and yes, it's own architecture. This was supposed to be the last year that families were allowed to camp there but the city seems to have backed away from their decision to prohibit it moving forward.

I couple of years ago I produced an episode of The Works that talked about this unique San Antonio phenomenon. It's still one of my favorite podcast episodes and it's worth a listen if you haven't heard it in a while.

So have a listen, have a good laugh and have a happy Fiesta.

Tequila Sunrise

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As I've mentioned before I'm not a sports guy. I don't watch sports and with the exception of a few unremarkable seasons growing up, I don't play them either. And yet I live in a culture where sports are culturally important and so I absorb some of that excitement simply due to proximity. When I lived in Chicago, for example, I would pass by Wrigley Field on my commute. As such I would claim to be a Chicago Cubs "fan" even if I only went to a couple of games and couldn't name a single player. I wore my Cubs hat for over fifteen years before it became cool to do so.

But my Cubs hat was not my first baseball cap. No, the first hat I ever owned was for the Houston Astros.

It should be noted that I grew up about 250 miles from Houston and have still never attended an Astros game. Growing up in Arlington I should have been a Texas Rangers fan. I attended several games at Arlington Stadium as well as the often renamed Ballpark in Arlington / Ameriquest Field in Arlington / Rangers Ballpark in Arlington / Globe Life Park in Arlington. What is more I can still name at least three former players (Buddy Bell, Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez and of course Nolan Ryan).

But being something of a contrarian I couldn't have a Rangers cap like everyone else and so I chose to wear a Houston Astros cap. Although I didn't know it at the time I was wearing part of a uniform that was "arguably the most radical uniform redesign in major league history". The orange hat with it's blue star and white "H" was the least outlandish part of an ensemble that featured a pull-over jersey with bold stripes of red, orange and yellow stripes encircling the player's abdomen. A navy star offset to the left of the player's chest was counterbalanced by the player's number which was displayed on the player's right thigh. There was a lot going on with this uniform, nicknamed the "tequila sunrise" for the drink it resembled.

For a sport as heavily based in tradition as baseball, it was insane.

But the uniform was also iconic and memorable: two characteristics that one might argue every uniform should have (the team's current uniforms are mostly forgettable). Even though many considered the "tequila sunrise" ugly, the uniforms were a bold choice for the team and in many ways a perfect match for the city of Houston.

As architects we sometimes design buildings that are considered to be ugly. Any creative act runs the risk of being disliked. The difference is architecture can't be ignored as easily as an ugly painting, a bad song or a nonsensical movie. But it is important that those bold choices get made. It's how we as a culture moves forward and it's how the places we live are defined. Don't forget, the Eiffel Tower was initially considered to be just as ugly as the uniforms the Houston Astros wore between 1975 and 1986.

Jennifer In Paradise

In 1987 two employees of Industrial Light & Magic had just completed work on major project. As they were also dating one another they decided to take some time off and go on a vacation together to Bora Bora. It was there that John Knoll took a snapshot of his girlfriend, Jennifer, as she sunbathed on the beach. Later that day, John would propose to Jennifer.

Later that year John and his brother were working on a new piece of software that could manipulate digital images. When they finally were able to make use of a digital scanner (a hard-to-come-by piece of technology in the 1980s), the vacation photo of his now-fiancée was the only image John had on hand. It was scanned and the image would be used to further develop the software and ultimately demonstrate its capabilities to Adobe, the software company that purchased the distribution license for the software in 1988.

The name of the software they developed was Photoshop. The image that has often been called the first "photoshopped" image has come to be known as "Jennifer in Paradise."

Photoshop revolutionized how we understand photography. Whereas once we could believe something if we "saw it with our own two eyes", Photoshop changed that. Although it has always been possible to manipulate images, until the development of Photoshop it was a labor intensive process that required a great amount of skill. Photoshop democratized the process so that anyone with a computer could enhance (or depending on your point of view, fake) photographic imagery.

A photo ceased to always be believable. It ceased to be always truthful.

Of course, photography was never completely objective. How the photographer frames the image and the exact instant he or she decides to capture by definition eliminates physical and temporal context. We all know this to be true but a issue arrises when a supposedly objective and truthful photograph has been surreptitiously manipulated. Fashion photography has become so notorious for making already beautiful people look even more impossibly perfect that there is now an organized backlash against it. The same is true of architectural photography. For any given image of a building (including some on my website) it is not uncommon for multiple exposures to be compiled and for various "imperfections" (fire alarms, Knox-boxes, humans, etc.) to have been "photoshopped out". As in fashion photography, this sort of image manipulation can be taken too far.

But buildings do exist as physical objects in the world beyond the photographs taken of them. A photo of a building can "lie" but the truth can be revealed when the building is visited in person. Architecture, I believe, possess an inherent "truth" that exists regardless of the quality of the architecture. The story behind their design and construction can be fictionalized and the photos taken of them can be altered, but at the end of the day we experience a buildings as facts.

We suddenly find ourselves in an unprecedented situation where discerning what is real and what is true is considerably challenging. Just as anyone with Photoshop can now create "fake" imagery, now anyone with a Facebook account can spread "fake" news. Powerful people are making statements that obfuscate the truth. Complex histories are being rewritten in 140 characters.

But truth is something, like architecture, that exists in the world. It can be experienced. It can verified. I hope we all take the time to do that. If we do - if we listen to the better angles of our nature and seek out the truth even if it conflicts with the beliefs we may hold - we can together move this country forward.

We can make this world a better place that is just a little closer paradise.

 

 

Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most iconic science fiction films of all time. The 1968 movie is visually stunning and thought-provoking even if its last ten minutes are completely unintelligible. The film's art design is particularly memorable. It saw the constructed a thirty-eight-foot-diameter rotating set to make shots such as this possible and also predicted iPads thirty-two years before they were actually created.

And then there's the iconic glowing red eye of the film's HAL 9000 computer.

I watched a video the other day that described how the iconic glowing red eye of the computer was actually an off-the-shelf Nikon 8mm fish-eye lens (the lens isn't manufactured anymore but you can still occasionally find one on eBay). As someone who uses Nikon cameras myself, I couldn't help but feel unearned pride in the fact that a component of my brand of choice was used in the film. I also got a kick out of the fact that the filmmakers basically used a found object to create the one of the most memorable fictional computers.

Of course, computer "eyes" turned out to be not so cinematic. For example the camera on the iMac I am using to write this post is basically invisible. At less than a quarter of an inch in diameter it sits behind the glass bezel of my display. Rather than perceiving it as a nefarious entity watching my every move, I tend to forget my computer even has a camera (which maybe I shouldn't do).

If science fiction films tell us anything it is that technology tends to be much less architectural when it finally comes to exist. Computers, for example, are integrated into small everyday objects rather than existing as separate objects with glowing red eyes. As architects we still have to design around machines, of course. It's just that those machines are more mundane things like dishwashers and refrigerators rather than heuristically programmed algorithmic computers.

On The Importance of Safety Railing

 image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently faced the dilemma of whether or not to admit to my daughters that the Star Wars prequels exist. I decided to go ahead and show them The Phantom Menace and felt more than a little bit of pride when they found it to be dull and not all that entertaining. My kids have good taste.

As I watched it with them over the course of several days (it took more than one sitting to get thorough all of it), my mind would wander from time to time. One question I began to ask was this: why in a universe that has sophisticated laser weaponry and hyperspace technology do they not enforce basic life safety building codes?

It turns out the plot of all seven movies would be very different if the Republic / Empire had required basic safety railing.

Take the climactic lightsaber duel at the end of the Phantom Menace. I have no idea where it is they are fighting or why this place needs so many levels of suspended catwalks but installing some guardrails would have probably been worthwhile:

 image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

The lightsaber battle at the end of Revenge of the Sith takes place on the volcanic planet which, granted, is probably not the safest place to be in the first place. But even though it is a mining outpost, safety railing should have been installed. OSHA certainly would have required it:

 image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke foolishly climbs over existing (albeit minimal) safety railing after ignoring his father's repeated warnings to join him on the proper side of the railing. The moral of the story is clear. Don't climb over guardrails - they are there for your safety:

 image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

A major design flaw of the Emperor's Throne Room in Return of the Jedi is that its floor has several large chasms that open to bottomless abysses. Again, guardrails would have made this a much safer place from which to rule the galaxy:

 image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

image courtesy 20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

By now a pattern has clearly begun to emerge. In The Force Awakens it should have been abundantly clear that if you are about to face someone with a lightsaber, you should avoid walking out on catwalks that lack proper safety railing. It's not going to end well:

 image courtesy Disney / Lucasfilm

image courtesy Disney / Lucasfilm

I'll admit that as a practicing architect building codes can be frustrating. The requirements are many, they at times conflict with one another and can be interpreted in different ways. Still, they are there for the safety of the public, be they human, ewok or wookie.

This Is A Design Problem

I was born in 1976 just a few months before the 1977 release of the original Star WarsThe Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980 and it was the first film I remember seeing in the theater. By the time Return of the Jedi was released in 1983 I was fully immersed in the holy Star Wars trinity. I had more than my fair share of action figures and would play with them alongside my brother Carlton (now a respected business manager) and my cousin Jon (now a respected attorney). 

Two decades later I eagerly awaited the prequels when they were rereleased beginning in 1999. Like most other members of my generation I was sorely disappointed.

To be perfectly honest I didn't think much about the franchise in the decade that followed the unfortunate Revenge of the Sith in 2005. Still I dutifully went to see The Force Awakens when it was released in 2015 and thought that even though it was a bit derivative, it was a welcomed return to the spirit of the first three films. And this year when Sammy started expressing interest in the movies we together watched the original trilogy over the course of several weekends. When pressed if there were more Star Wars movies, we watched The Force Awakens and as a result we are now scrambling to put together a Rey costume in time for Halloween. 

But Sammy has heard rumors of other characters and other movies. And so now I must make that most difficult decision as a parent: what to do about the Star Wars prequels? We're already struggling over nomenclature. When she asks about something in the "second movie" are we talking about The Empire Strikes Back (the second movie we watched) or Attack of the Clones (episode II)? It's so confusing.

I suppose I could use my skills as a designer to make some sort of diagram that illustrates the films in such a way that rectifies the order we watched them with their actual episode number. I suppose I could continue to be vague about the existence of emails just as I remain vague about the existence of the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and Taylor Swift.

Or I could just recognize all this as a truly first-world problem and simply move on.

La Charreada

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You probably know about the rodeo - the bull riding, the bronc busting and everything else. But what you may not know is that there is another rodeo - a Mexican Rodeo - that predates the version we are familiar with here.

In this month's episode of The Works we talk about charreadas and rodeos; vaqueros and cowboys. We also talk about how the differences between the Mexican and American versions of the sport are reflected in the buildings designed to showcase them.

As always, please talk a moment to listen to the story and if you like what you hear, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

Learning By Doing

One of the hardest things about being an adult is that I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do. The older I get it seem the less time I have to read. One work-around I've used to address this is that I'll often listen to an audiobook while working. I still feel like this is cheating a little bit but it does expose me to material that I wouldn't have access to otherwise.

For example I listened the Walter Isaacson biography, Steve Jobs, right after it came out in 2011. At 656 pages it is a sizable tome and yet I was underwhelmed. I understood the chronology of the man's life, but not the man himself. I thought 2015's Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli did a much better job of explaining - as the title might suggest - how Steve Jobs became Steve Jobs.

It also contained a quote that I find I keep coming back to:

There's the object, the actual product itself, and then there's all that you learned. What you learned is as tangible as the product itself, but much more valuable because that's your future.

-John Ive, Chief Design Officer, Apple Computer

I don't know all that much about designing personal electronics, but my guess is it's a process much like architecture is a process. It involves a series of deliberate steps whereby information is gathered, a concept is divined, a design is developed, and documented, and ultimately that design is built. At the end of the day there is the building, yes, but there is also all that is learned while creating it.

Many times our house clients come away from the experience with a better understanding of how they live and as a result they live in their new house in a new way. Many times our commercial and institutional clients come away from the experience with a better understanding of how their organization functions. As a result they do their work in their new space in a new way.

And of course as architects we are always learning as well. Each project we do represents a learning opportunity that we try to take advantage of to its fullest potential. What we learn could be about how we design. We learn something about our process and how we could tweak it to be more efficient. Or it could be something to do with what we design. Although we can model and simulate and visualize our projects before they are built, there are always some surprises - some happy accidents - that we try and understand so that we can recreate them with intention on future projects.

At the end of the day I'm no Steve Jobs or John Ive. But I can still learn from them - even while I'm working.