Defining Architectural Design Excellence: an AIA Committee on Design Conference, Columbus, Indiana, April, 2012 By John Morris Dixon, FAIA
March 2, 2013
The Committee on Design visited Columbus, Indiana in April, 2012. Click here to read the conference report written by John Morris Dixon, FAIA. Photos courtesy of Jim Childress, FAIA, Ann Thompson and Aaron Trahan.
February 3, 2013
In April, 2012, about 120 members of the Committee on Design went to Columbus, Indiana for our spring conference. Together we explored the architecture of the community, talked with many of the architects who designed the projects, and met with citizens who have been active in championing modern architecture. We also discussed and considered how to measure design excellence. The following film was created by Boaz Ashkenazy and his crew at Studio216 as an overview of what we saw and experienced.
For a guide of the projects we saw, and the people we met, please see the Committee on Design to Columbus, Indiana here.
May 10, 2012
By Aaron Trahan, COD Spring Conference Knowledge Scholar
The AIA Committee On Design Spring Conference began with an opening symposium, hosted by the Indiana University Center for Art + Design. The speakers began discussions during this symposium that became the theme for the rest of the conference: What Is Architectural Design Excellence? Throughout, I made a point of writing down memorable quotes that I felt captured the theme of a moderated discussion or a point that our invited panelists were trying to make.
The conference featured moderated and informal discussions with Susan Szenasy of Metropolis, Will Bruder, architect from Phoenix, Ed Feiner, FAIA of Perkins+Will, formerly with the GSA Design Excellence Program, and Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA of Leers Weinzapfel in Boston. We were also honored to hear from Gunnar Birkerts as well as Ben And Cynthia Weese. In noting these quotes, I chose not to credit a specific person to each one. Throughout the conference, we came to a general agreement that design excellence is not about personal style, trends, or celebrity. So I thought it fitting to consider these quotes a product of our discussions, and credit them to everyone who attended the Spring Conference.
It is interesting to note the progression of our theme through these quotes; they are listed chronologically.
Please feel free to comment on these, choose your favorite, or post one that resonated with you from the conference!
“Pragmatism doesn’t quite raise the hair on the back of your neck”
“Excellence in design makes you want to be there alone and together, at all times of the day”
“What is a building but a series of interior spaces?”
“When the human face is missing, that is not excellence”
“[Excellence] is probably the most overused word after professional”
“[Excellence] is clearly identifiable as an exemplary advancement for its time”
“Architecture is creating the membrane of space”
“An architect takes something circumstantial in our lives and makes it meaningful”
“Architects seem to think that they are the only ones asking the question of excellence”
“Cities are made more of background buildings than foreground buildings”
“Excellence is lyricism through complexity of situations”
“[Excellence in architecture] is not built, it’s born”
“[Design excellence] is harmony through juxtaposition; you understand the old and you understand the new.”
“When the style is a representation of the larger ideas within that building, then it becomes important”
“Style is a term that we apply retroactively”
“If anyone today sets out to create a style, they probably shouldn’t be practicing architecture”
“Maybe as architects we think we are more important than we really are”
“Having core principles about the way you work is essential”
“The cross disciplinary intent of [the younger] generation is powerful”
“Architecture in Columbus is a visual expression of community values”
May 3, 2012
By Sheena V. Enriquez,
COD Spring Conference Knowledge Scholar
This April, I spent four days in Columbus, Indiana for the 2012 Spring AIA Committee on Design Conference. This was my first AIA Conference and the second time I have travelled to see the built works in Columbus. The conference’s theme was “Defining Architectural Design Excellence.” From the various informal and formal discussions that occurred during the conference, at least one definition of architectural design excellence stood out to me:
“Architectural design excellence is the constant search for excellence.”
Always strive for something better. Stay curious. Keep trying to find the joy in work. Throughout the conference, I was surrounded by professionals who had accomplished many great things in their long careers. Yet, they were just as awestruck as I when first entering the chapel inside of Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church, just as eager to crowd around Gunnar Birkerts and Ben and Cynthia Weese at the Hotel Indigo to hear them chat, and more than willing to run across a busy street just to look at Fire Station No. 4 up close!
I have been out of architecture school for one year now, and there were some things that I thought I would have to leave to behind when I graduated. My experience during those four days in Columbus taught me that the journey ahead can still be full of rich and fulfilling experiences – just as long as you are constantly searching for excellence.
Participating in the Committee on Design Spring Conference was deeply enriching, and I hope to share more memorable lessons learned in the blog posts to come. I also hope to encourage those of us newer to the profession to see the value in participating in events organized by the AIA Committee on Design. Nowhere else have I encountered such a large, enthusiastic group of people who are eager to support the next generation of architects.
May 1, 2012
One of our first stops on Day 2 of the 2012 AIA Committee on Design Spring Conference in Columbus, Indiana was a tour of the interior of Lincoln Elementary School. We were privileged to have Gunnar Birkerts himself lead us through the spaces of the school. It was clear that Mr. Birkerts was moved when he discovered this handmade sign during the tour, which reads, “We LOVE our building! Thank you Mr. Birkerts.” Soon after finding the sign, he popped into the adjacent classroom to chat with the young students and their teacher. He received a warm reception and I found it very heartwarming how starstruck some of the students appeared (a handful approached Mr. Birkerts later to ask him for his autograph).
Throughout the conference, we discussed how to define architectural design excellence. I think the experience we had at Lincoln Elementary School that day is one good addition to the discussion. I learned later, during the parlor chat with Gunnar Birkerts, that when working toward design excellence, you are not necessarily searching for affirmation or praise. “They are after the fact,” Mr. Birkerts says of design awards. On the other hand, I cannot think of a more rewarding experience for an architect than to revisit a building he created and see people enjoying the space 40 years after its completion.
April 5, 2012
The Committee On Design is holding its Spring Conference in Columbus, Indiana April 12 – 15, 2012. COD Chair Mike Mense selected Columbus as part of his year’s theme: Defining Architectural Design Excellence.
Why, after so many years of excellent public and commercial architecture in Columbus, Indiana, are there almost no modern houses?
Why, when you drive north from Florida’s South Beach passing miles and miles of waterfront houses, less than one percent are anything we would call architecture?
Why do Americans drive designer cars and drink designer coffee but live, most all of them, in a house or apartment that is pretending to be the home of some wealthy ancestors long deceased?
Are we determined as a profession to continue to define ourselves in ways that isolate us from the greater part of the society in which we practice?
Can we find some definitions of architectural excellence upon which we can agree and that we can explain successfully to the silent majority? Is it even something we want to do?
The exclusive opportunities for attendees to the Columbus Conference Include:
- The opportunity to meet and converse with many of the national and local architects who have worked in Columbus, Indiana, including Gunnar Birkerts, Ben and Cynthia Weese (representing Harry Weese), Daniel McCoubrey and Nancy Rogo Trainer (representing Robert Venturi), Ralph Johnson of Perkins+Will, Jane Weinzapfel, Kevin Kennon, Carlos Jimenez, Fred Koetter and Susie Kim.
- An open house tour, with personal photography allowed, of the Miller House and Gardens, “America’s most significant modernist house” per Travel+Leisure. The house showcases the collaborative design of leading 20th-century architects and designer: Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard and Dan Kiley. You will be allowed to wander the house and gardens on your own, with docents available for information, instead of the limited guided tours. Personal photography is permitted, not allowed on public tours.
- Meet Will Miller, patron of modern architecture, son of J. Irwin Miller who commissioned the Miller House and started the renowned Cummins Foundation architectural program.
- The Cummins’ Friday evening reception and dinner at the Cummins Corporate Headquarters, designed by Kevin Roche, including tours of the workplace. Dinner provided by Cummins’ executive chef. You will also have the opportunity to meet and dine with Cummins executives and community leaders. Cummins Corporate Headquarters is a secured building and typically not open to the public except for the lobby.
- Tour Cummins midrange engine plant in Walesboro, an innovative sustainable design by Kevin Roche completed in 1973. Cummins facilities are not typically open to the public without special arrangements.
- If you have never been to Columbus, Indiana before, we will visit many of it’s unique collection of over 80 modern buildings, designed by nationally and internationally noted architects, including Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, I.M Pei, Harry Weese, Robert Venturi, Richard Meier, SOM and many more. Columbus was ranked 6th in the nation for innovation and architectural design by AIA members. It was ranked 11th by National Geographic Traveler’s on a list of 109 historic locations to visit worldwide.
- If you have previously visited Columbus, but not been back in the last 5-10 years, we will visit many new buildings and experience the ongoing redevelopment of the downtown, designed by noted architects Carlos Jimenez, Ralph Johnson, Deborah Berke, William Rawn, Cesar Pelli, Fred Koetter and Susie Kim.