Re: community design
From: Graham Meltzer (
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 94 16:54 CST
I feel someone needs to defend architects here. There probably are not too
many who subscribe to the list ... and I think Rob's criticism calls for a
response. Not that I am a practicing architect ... I teach it ...  and
design AND build the occassional house. I have a background in what we call
bush-carpentry ie. self-taught building of our own houses and those of
friends and fellow communards. 

Rob ... it's difficult to repsond without knowing more of the specifics of
your house design. But I would say that architects often work with ideas
that are abstract or with qualities of spaces such as your living room. It's
not easy to quantify in dollar terms, the effect your architect might have
intended with his non-standard wall height. Perhaps it was simply to induce
a greater sense of refuge around a cosy hearth or social space. I don't
know. But I think it's a mistake to think that your contractor appreciated
the consequences of the change in spatial terms. I know that $500 at the
time seemed like a good saving, but spread over the life of the building,
would it compare with the added psychological comfort that the original
scheme offered all who sit in that space? 

As I said, I have experience of both building and architectural design. As a
result I always design with buildibility in mind. That doesn't mean however,
that the most expedient, cost-effective design strategies are the best.
Again, it's qualities and subtleties that architects work with ... and
sometimes, not always, that incurs a cost premium. This does not mean that
the process of architectural design need be mysterious. If your architect
deserves any criticism, it's that he failed to communicate to you the value
of having the walls at 6 foot 6, so that you could better decide if it was
worth the $500.

And that's where the title of this thread comes in. Community design where
architects are involved, is about demystification of the design process and
a debunking of the traditional architect's role as artist-genius ... remote
and unchallenged. In a cohousing context, it's an empowering of the group
... both by the architect and the group itself ... such that members feel
involved in the design process and in a position to make critical decisions
WITH the architect. Not many architects are prepared to step down from there
pedestals in this way, nor incur the loss of income that such time consuming
processes incur. But they are around and it seems to me, almost essential
for cohousers to seek them out or forever feel that they don't own the
design of their physical environment. 

On the other hand, if a group doesn't want that responsibility, the
consequences for the architect are either lauding or scapegoating depending
on whether the project is completed on time and within budget and little
appreciation of their contribution beyond that expected of a draftsperson or
building contractor.

Graham Meltzer

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