We’re hopping on the train and starting a blog. We’ve spoken about it internally for many months: “Why? What? How? For whom? From what perspective?“ There are already so many out there.
However, it was in reading reading Michael Crosbie’s remembrance of Cesar Pelli last summer that I felt inspired to commit to the purpose. There is no obvious thread or reason here, but I felt inspired. It wasn’t his projects or resume that spoke to me; it was his person, philosophy and process. While I never worked with him and only met him once, his documented approach and the anecdotes of his process resonated deeply, describing the spirit in which we approach the process of design and the built environment.
Nature and our evolving world:
I loved reading of Pelli’s analogy comparing an architect’s task to that of a gardener. In his 1999 book, Observations for Young Architects, Pelli described his approach as one that sprung directly from a project’s geographic and social context. “The gardener understands the nature of a particular site, its climate, soil, shade, and nurtures each plant so that it can become the best possible example of its species.” An architect, Pelli felt, should do the same for their buildings. “Buildings, with their changing needs and their attachment to site, are more like living trees than inert blocks of stone.”
Such sensitivity to a project’s context and occupants is perhaps the greatest ambition of our work. At AFA, we embrace a site’s complexities and users’ specificities, and design with an understanding that our work is not static. We strive to design buildings and spaces that are not just flexible, but capable of evolving, as a fluid participant in their environment.
I was struck again by this:
Pelli was anything but an island. He noted that, “I never come with sketches from home, or do them alone in my office. I make sure that the first time I put them on paper I do so with my team around me. From the beginning, the design is informed by the intelligence of everyone participating, and by their research.” He sought the participation of all team members, encouraging critique from the youngest. He noted that, “I appreciate the ideas that young architects can propose, making it a more sensitive, richer response to the site and the city we are building in.”
Collaboration like this takes humility, but it also takes curiosity and openness. Fostering a culture of design that values observation and inquisitiveness is ever-more important to our office. We understand that the strength of our work grows entirely from our ability to listen and communicate with one another – as well as with engineers, builders, artisans, and clients. In AFA’s best projects, authorship is hard to pin down. To use another analogy – this time my own – the architect is a conductor, bringing together the disparate strands of violins and flutes and horns and drums to make music that no one player owns.
There was more about Pelli that moved me, more about his evolution as an educator and his leadership of an office with a familiar culture and employees with 25-year tenures. There was more to respect and admire about him, but his commitment to relationships and learning was what stuck. For us, the relationships developed through close collaboration are what makes architecture thrilling, and they are just as rewarding as a project’s built result. Architecture is a team event. We all have a part to play. And we are all gardeners.
Our blog will focus on this approach to design and the built environment, the importance of nature in our work, and most of all our belief that collaboration is the critical ingredient for developing high performing buildings and spaces.
The blog will share information that educates or inspires us and will provide insight into our take on the process, technologies, materials and players, in order to improve how we work together.
In that spirit, our intention is that the blog be interactive, responding to questions or hypotheses and engaging with industry peers, clients, and friends old and new. Here’s hoping that you’ll join us.