Committee On Design And Life-long Learning by Mike Mense, FAIA


An article in Connection Magazine’s Edification issue published in December, 2016 highlighted thoughts from a selection of active COD members on the relationship between COD and life-long learning. The magazine’s space limitations wouldn’t allow for the full text of each contributor so we’re presenting them here in their totality.

COD and Life-long Learning

Learning is important to me.  My practice has often been more about my education than anything else.  In my mind, there are three areas in which I wish to continue to learn.  The first might be called “keeping up with the times”.  This involves staying abreast of new technologies, products and regulations.  My clients and our projects tend to force me to “keep up.”

The second is more about personal and professional growth.  As an architect, I want to learn more and more about the effects of geometries, materials, textures and colors.  The Committee on Design (COD) has provided the majority of this for me over the last 10-15 years.  COD conferences are an opportunity to focus on design and architecture without the immediate constraints of practice.  Photographs and text can only approximate the characteristics of architecture.  A carefully composed photograph can be misleading.  “Being there” is the real test of what will remain after the photographs, criticism and theory are forgotten.  I was surprised by the movable walls at the Rietveld Schroder house, inspired by the straightforward wisdom of Borre Skodvin in Norway, and quietly awed by the majesty of the Salk Institute.  COD experience is enriched because one is traveling with friends and colleagues who share an interest in design and are thus enthusiastic about discussing the places we visit.  We are often accompanied by the original designers, hear about their intentions, and introduced to new ways of reading architecture.  Having heard about and been put off by the politics of the WTC reconstruction, David Childs’ explanation of the form of WTC1was happily elegant.  Coming home from COD conferences with many specific ideas, Venetian plaster seen in Japan and Minneapolis, and the surprising Dutch skill at building new suburbs are two examples; nonetheless many of the lessons learned are not immediately obvious or explainable in English.  Often, I think, increased wisdom is reflected by renewed enthusiasm rather than a need to pass on a new lesson.

The third is just another way of describing the fruitful practice of architecture.  The underlying principle of my work has evolved to become “legitimate individuation.”  Every project is an exercise in making a particular environment more specific by reinforcing and accentuating tendencies already present.  Such an exercise contributes to the variety and richness of our world.  Thus, the essential activity of architectural practice is discovering the specifics of the case.  Learning!  The habit of learning then is the most important trait to be nurtured, more important even than the substance of the learning.

Mike Mense FAIA July 6, 2016

The COD article appears on pages 28-31.


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