Localogy: An Architect’s Perspective

[‘Weiss/Manfredi concept is the best of four options’: a response]

by Matt Teismann


On January 26th the architecture critic for the Plain Dealer wrote a piece about the Kent State Architecture Building Competition. I, as a practicing architect, would like to offer an architect’s perspective. First and foremost I am not affiliated in any way with any of the four finalists, and have no motive nor intention of altering a decision by the committee, nor could I.

It is true that there are many factors that go into the design and production of a building, however, sometimes in the practice of design, architects and critics alike get distracted from what is, and has always been, the most important aspect of architecture: spatial experience.

I am reminded of my fourth year in architecture school. I was in a lecture hall and the professor had asked ‘what are the components of the perfect chair – a three-legged stool?’ At first the obvious answers came pouring in from the students: legs, a seat, and so on. I, however, offered an alternative answer: the empty space for the person to sit. After all, a chair is nothing more than an opportunity to sit. And what about the person to sit in the chair? Without the occupant the chair would be useless, it would have no actual purpose and thus would not be a chair (it would only exist as pieces of wood).

It was clear to me that the architecture of the chair would not exist without the space to experience the chair, or the person who sits in it. This is similar to buildings. While experiencing architecture a person is in the real time and space; it is literally happening. The viewer is actually touching the walls and feeling the warmth of the light, rather than merely observing it from the outside. Architecture is our vessel for real experience. Somewhere over the course of the last 100 years, architecture has transformed itself to merely an art of formal expression, losing sight of what is actually the purpose of experiential habitation. Architecture now is talked about more with the plastic arts, such as painting and sculpture, than possibly at any other time in its history. This is not to say that the visual impact of architecture hasn’t been a focus of the past, even during the 19th century the unending debate within architecture circles was about what style to apply to a building, rather than how it should unfold experientially.

I, thus, propose we review the competition entries also on their interior spatial merit. While each of the proposals treated communal space differently, each proposal includes large gathering spaces for formal and informal meetings. These ‘break-away’ spaces are located near major circulation paths and the primary studio spaces. Crucial to academic discourse, these spaces function not only for group discussions, but more importantly they are places where students, faculty, and administrators alike can bump into each other and have a quick and informal discussion outside of the standard class environment.

Similar to the prestigious Yale School of Architecture, designed by Paul Rudolph, at least three of the entries have a large center space used for exhibitions, pin-ups, and of course the dreadful jury. In particular, the entries from Weiss/Manfredi and Westlake Reed Leskosky showcase a central space surrounded with unique seating, architectural stairs, and studio spaces. With light pouring in from above, these spaces are airy and open, representing the change in educational design over the last 30 years. They are rewarding spaces to inhabit.

Whether or not these building are ‘glassy’ or monumental is relatively insignificant, as is the affect of transparency on public perception of the profession in the 21st century. These are esoteric and psychoanalytical guesses. What is truly the most important aspect of a university building, or any piece of architecture for that matter, is the quality of the human experience throughout the building. That is after all how we enjoy architecture, from the inside. This is especially important for the students of the architecture building.

Architecture students require a diverse, stimulating, and yet comfortable space to spend the late nights working in studio. In fact, if Kent State is going to ‘regret’ something in the long run, their regret may be not choosing the building that satisfies the core architectural experience for the students and faculty alike. One that not only functions well but is beautiful and pleasant to be in.

I think we all should remember that the College of Architecture and Environmental Design is not moving from Taylor Hall because the building is ‘brutalist,’ ‘ugly,’ or opaque. CAED is moving because they have outgrown Taylor with enrollment, and the building no longer functions efficiently as an architecture building in the 21st century. As a former professor at CAED, I know first hand the experience of walking through, and teaching in, Taylor Hall. I am convinced that the selection committee will consider all aspects of the architecture, not just the public perception of a facade.

For the original article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer please visit: http://blog.cleveland.com/architecture/2013/01/the_weissmanfredi_concept_is_t.html


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