“many interests and powerful personalities”

I’m in Las vegas this week at a professional conference. I was reading Gunter Behnisch by Peter Blunder Jones on the plane and ran across this passage regarding the growth of the firm following the award for the design of the 1972 Munich Olympic Park:

“The many interests and powerful personalities involved could have been overwhelming, leading to dilution or compromise, but Behnisch guided it through, persuading all to pull together. The experience proved the worth of acting as critic and manager rather than making designs directly, a method which, if successful, allows greater creative range. Many architects fail to manage this transition and lose their way, the work becoming dull and bureaucratic. The key to Behnisch’s success is his gift to harness and focus the creativity of others. It requires open-mindedness and imaginative insight to see where an idea might go. It also presumes that architecture is team-work to which many may contribute.”

Designing For Ourselves

workstation

Currently, Cogent Studio is working in borrowed space as we negotiate for one of a couple of permanent spaces. Without a fixed location to plant our flag we haven’t been able to design our “perfect office.” I’m coming around to the idea that this is a good thing. After all, it would be terrible to spend a lot of money outfitting an office only to discover that it doesn’t work well for the way we want to practice. Instead, I’ve been thinking through some of the principles that we might apply to any space when we finally move in. In no particular order, here are some of the ideas I’m working with:

Keep the “Front of the House” small and let the “Back of the House” see it and use it too.

A big fancy lobby, reception, and conference room may be great for impressing clients but they use a lot of real estate and they don’t work very hard when you don’t have company. Instead of a waiting area for clients, we’re thinking of the entry space as a different kind of meeting space. With a couch, a low table, and a pair of upholstered chairs it can function as wait space when it has too, but it can work for casual meetings too. And, if it’s visible from the studio then hopefully we’ll all use it more.

Do It Now, Do It Cheap, and Keep Changing It Until We’re Happy With It

Sounds a lot like “fail early and often” doesn’t it? The important idea here is that we’re going to be trying a lot of different ways to work and participate. Some will work, some won’t. Each method may require a slightly different stage set or collection of props. Making the physical infrastructure distinctly un-precious will help communicate to everyone that it’s OK to change it if it isn’t working.

Make A Place to Display Work and Ideas In Progress

Drawings, ideas, and information that remain visible don’t get overlooked or forgotten. And if they are visible to everyone then they become a part of the group memory. The challenge here is going to be balancing high visibility and a shared project information system with the need to maintain privacy for some clients.

A Corridor is not just a Corridor

Any function that is intermittent and doesn’t require complete privacy could conceivably occur in space that otherwise serves as circulation. Break Areas, Libraries, and Copy Stations can all occur along the pathway connecting other workspaces and can be open to that pathway. Hopefully, this will help to promote interaction.

Nobody Owns a Window

Windows are inevitably going to be a scarce resource. We’ll design the layout of the space so that windows are a part of shared meeting spaces, libraries, and circulation routes and position the individual workspaces so that everyone can see a window but no one owns one.

Everybody Needs Some Individual Space

As much as we want to be collaborative, there is still a lot of head down concentration required in this business and every person needs a modicum of space that they can control — a “safe” place for work and study where they can minimize distractions for thinking, drawing, or researching. In this business, a coffee house style office just isn’t going to cut it. My partner and I are still discussing how much space is enough and how much might be too much. At a minimum this space will require a computer workstation, space to draw or lay down a set of prints, good light, some storage, and enough visual privacy that you can ignore others when you need to.

So that’s it so far, our working principles for laying out an architectural studio. Not a hard and fast set of rules really, just ideas to keep in mind as we consider how to arrange our permanent quarters.

Beginning in the Middle All Over Again

I bet you thought it was over. That this space had gone the way of so many others like it — another nascent blog died a bornin’. But you would be wrong. There are things happening. Forces moving. And change. Lots of change.

Click on over to the About Me page. It’ll only take a second; I’ll wait right here. How about that?

A new company doing what we hope will be a new kind of business. Cogent Studio, LLC started operations on June 9 of this year in borrowed space with two people, a couple of laptops, some folding tables, and some old kitchen chairs. There have been plenty of headaches and complications but they’ve been our headaches. And we’ve been having fun, finally, working the way we always thought we should.

Writing my first proposal was practically a Shakespearean comedy. First I needed to download and sign the Non-disclosure Agreement because there’s proprietary business information involved; but the printer is still in the box and the drivers aren’t installed. Then I needed to write a cover letter, but there’s no letterhead so I have to create that. Finally I realized I needed General Agreement Terms to cover all the basics of payment, termination, etc. Well, those didn’t exist so I had to write them. All in all what should have taken about 1 ½ hours took about 6. Of course I haven’t had to repeat that exercise every time and later proposals went together much more smoothly.

Why call it Cogent Studio? Several reasons. First, we’re done with names on the door and titles on the business cards. Second, Cogent means a compelling or convincing argument. The latin root means push together and that is what we intend to do. This is a company where the best idea and not the loudest voice wins. And third? Well, it’s also true that Cogent was the one word that stuck to the wall during a manic textfest on a Friday night with a couple of stiff drinks under our belts.

So please continue to watch this space. I’ll continue to write about what I’m working on and thinking about and soon, I expect, I’ll move this blog into a new company website where you’ll be able to see our work, both on the boards and in the field.

Cogent Logo Small

Smaller is Better. Really.

Image

There is an old saw in the mountain biking world. Attributed to Keith Bontrager it goes something like this: “Light, strong, cheap – Pick any two.” This is actually an expression of a much more universal law of design and it is nowhere more true than it in construction.

For instance, if the size of a building is determined by its function and the cost is determined by the available budget, then the quality of the construction is already established. Conversely, if a project is seen as being too expensive and the program can’t be reduced then it can only be brought into budget by reducing the quality.

There’s another arrangement of this rule that is often overlooked and it’s the one that a good architect will always try to encourage a client to pursue. So please: “Let’s make your project as small as we can make it so that we can make it as nice as we can make it.”

Oh, and the sketch is entirely unrelated to this post.

 

All I want to be…

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I haven’t posted in a week. Sorry about that. I kind of went down the rabbit hole with the treehouse. It’ll be worth it eventually, I promise, but until then there’s this:

The picture above hangs over my desk at work. My wife purchased it for me as a birthday gift (thanks honey!). The haiku was written by a guy named John Maeda in 2007. The original blog post with the haiku appears to be gone but you can learn more about him here: http://www.maedastudio.com/index.php and here: http://designandventure.org/ John was President at RISD before becoming part of a venture capital firm.

All I have been able to find out about the image is here: http://makezine.com/2008/11/15/all-i-want-to-be-is-someo/