Saturday, April 25, 2015

Be Inspired

Jenna Fribley, AIA, LEED AP
Guest Viewpoint by Jenna Fribley, AIA, LEED AP
The following is a reprint of an article written by Jenna Fribley from the Spring 2015 edition of the Oregon Architect newsletter. Jenna is the current president of AIA-Southwestern Oregon and owner of her own firm, envelōp design

With Jenna’s permission, I’m republishing her article here on SW Oregon Architect for the benefit of those who read my blog but do not receive Oregon Architect. I’ve always been impressed by Jenna’s energy and outlook, which shines through in her writing. Read what she has to say and you’ll see what I mean: 

Setting foot on campus to participate in student design reviews is always a treat. I savor the opportunity to get out from behind the computer and stroll leisurely to campus, to take a mental break from the demands and concerns of my projects, and to let my mind wander with a bit of nostalgia as I return to the all-too-familiar setting of Lawrence Hall. My top priority upon arrival is to head to the Hearth Café for a treat to fuel me through the mental-energy demands of reviews. Although the goal of reviews is to provide useful feedback to the students about their projects, I like to think of the activity as a fun exercise to keep the design side of my brain nimble, like a series of fast-paced, 15- to 30-minute charettes. 

My favorite reviews to do are mid-terms. Students are still early enough in the term and in the design process that your feedback actually helps them to reconsider and refine their projects. Typically they are at the point in the process where they have zoomed in and puzzle-pieced the program elements into the project, but often at the expense of their initial big ideas. I like to brainstorm with them about how to re-infuse the project with the conceptual inspiration and organizational ideas that they started with, while reassuring them that the design process is cyclical and this is to be expected. 

Often as we get into this dialogue, you can see the transition from “presentation mode” to an unscripted, passionate, lively discussion. What inspired them about the project when they first started brainstorming about it? What do they envision as the experiential sequence through space? What priorities are guiding their design? Daylighting? Sustainability? Relation to physical context? Cultural context? Structural or material innovation? And what attracted them  to architecture school in the first place? 

When I was in school, one of my studio instructors challenged us to think, as designers, “What do YOU bring to the project?” A draftsperson can draw plans, an engineer can stamp drawings, but as a designer you bring the “poetry” to the project. In my mind, the idea of “poetry” is a higher-level set of priorities and organizational concepts that, when overlaid with the program, give the project deeper meaning, clarity and/or purpose. 

It’s easy to lose the poetry of a project once you start fussing with square footages and ADA clearances and electrical receptacle placement. It’s important to keep orbiting the design process through cycles of conceptual review, to keep sight of the big ideas. However, this type of exercise is also remarkably applicable to life and career priorities beyond the project. 

Architecture isn’t a job you just fall into, and I hesitate to even describe it as a “career path” due to its (often) nonlinear trajectory. It’s more of a career “journey” that you have to put a lot of time, energy, passion, and dedication into. Just like the design process, you can keep tweaking and shifting and reworking your approach indefinitely. Without clear priorities it’s easy to second-guess yourself or get discouraged, especially when project deadlines and daily tasks push aside your long-term goals and dreams.

I often reflect on what brought me here and assess whether my current path is accomplishing or on the trajectory towards achieving my life goals and career vision. Some goals are personal (like teaching), while others might be better accomplished through collaboration with others (like entering a design competition). However, there are often even bigger, more altruistic visions—perhaps the ones that enticed you into the field of architecture—that are most impactful when shared with a larger group.

This is the main impetus for participation with AIA. I feel that, as a group of like-minded creative problem-solvers, we can accomplish great things—important, game-changing, make-the-world-a-better place types of things. So let's do this. Let's show the world the value of design in the built environment. Let's offer new ways of thinking about age-old problems like homelessness, disaster relieve, and resource management. Let's be an asset and available resource to our communities. Let's make a difference. Be inspired.

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