Thursday, December 11, 2014

101. Diller Scofidio + Renfro and The Star-Architect Staffers Club - Part 2 - Inside the Machine

...Continued from part one Conrad and Scofidio enters "The Portfolio Construct", a division of the sophisticated project acquisition machinery behind the Diller Scofidio + Renfero Website.  In this adventure Scofidio gives Conrad a tour of the world inside the elaborate machine and reveals some of its inner workings.
 






















100. Diller Scofidio + Renfro and The Star-Architect Staffers Club

This is a loose working outline for the business model of the star-architect office:

  1. Create spectacular head turning projects and publicize them like crazy to get attention and attract clients, but most importantly to attract talented apprentices/interns to work for free.
  2. When the resumes start pouring in, negotiate for free labor: make offers along these lines:
    • “Help us on this competition and if we win, we will hire you” or...
    • “Work for us for free and we will help you get a job at another star-architect firm where we have good contacts”
  3. As you will experience high turnover rate on your interns, maintain a small group of partners or loyal employees as the core of the company and use intern help to become the major production drivers.
  4. Produce more head turning pieces of architecture to attract more attention, and more interns.
  5. With more interns at your disposal, use this resource to increase the volume of competitions that you can enter.
  6. At this rate you are almost certain to start winning some of those competitions and your company's star will begin to rise
  7. With better name recognition and more experience, you can make better quality competition entries and attract even better talent (preferably from other star-architect offices). This is the tipping point where the table turns. At a certain point you will only look at resumes from people who have worked at other star-architect offices. And if you are really good, you can set the bar even higher.
Here we can see an example of an incredibly high bar: Diller Scofidio + Renfro will not consider your resume unless you have worked on at least 4 museums, or equivalent. This effectively means that if you have not worked for another star-architect then do not apply. Why? There are virtually no non-starchitecture firms in the world today that can offer an employee the opportunity to work on the design of a major museum or cultural projects, let alone 4.


Even more... Lets say you have worked for another star-architect firm and you only did residential work, according to this template you need not apply.

So who should apply then?



Most of the employees of the star-architects in this film are eligible to apply to Diller Scofidio+Renfero and likewise DS+R employees are also eligible to work at any of these offices.
 
So what we effectively have here is a kind of a Schengen Zone within the architecture world: a group of elite starchitecture firms that functions almost like a single firm with an interoffice employee exchange.  While most other star-architect offices are less explicit than DS+R about their prejudices and discriminations, they mostly operate with a fairly similar set of qualification criteria.  I like to think of it as the establishment of a Star-Architect Staffers Club©.  By screening resumes in the way that DS+R does, they forge an effective way to identify members of this club and create a kind of inter-office-network with other starchitecture firms, while simultaneously creating a protective buffer against applicants from non-starchitecture firms.
 
The chart below shows a survey of 16 employees selected randomly from the firm. The primary question of the survey was: Where did you last work before being hired at DS+R?
 
 

As you can see almost every last one of them worked at a starchitecture firm or an up-and-coming one.

So what are the implications of a Star-Architect Staffers Club?
 
Luca Silenzi wrote a very interesting article Know your [archi-]meme (published in the March 2012 issue of  Domus) where he describes some of the implications and consequences that results when you have an inbred culture within the architecture world. (Incidentally he references note #73 of this blog Work for Rem in his arguments.) He argues that "Global architecture, is becoming more and more similar to itself." Among other reasons for this, he cites "global network" and "same background" in describing the staffers of these firms. He details how the staff of OMA are directly or indirectly inoculated with encyclopedic amounts of information; approaches, working methods, etc. simply by working in that environment. These ideas or memes move with these staffers when they move on from the parent firm ( in this case OMA) and are replicated elsewhere around the globe.
I would also add that it spreads a certain culture with its own set of values, procedures and norms that are accepted globally within these firms. This is not dissimilar to the codes of conduct and corporate culture you may find across both Wall street and the London stock exchange-  the main visual difference here is that the formal corporate garb of the suit and tie are replaced by black or hipster clothing. The values are similar;

-to become a lean well oiled machine for making the most money in the case of wall street and
-to become a lean well oiled machine for winning the most competitions in the case of DS+R and others.


 
It is interesting to look at the values professed by the founding partners as late as 2009 in contrast to the values they have absorbed up till now. The statements below are taken from an interview that they did with Charlie Rose that year (the full video and partial transcript can be found in note # 59 of this blog Take a Lesson from Diller+Scofidio+Renfero:

Scofidio: Before Elizabeth and I started working together, I had been at another practice, and I had been really sour with the way the profession of architecture was approaching jobs, work and getting commissions. It had nothing to do with issues of architecture. It had to with: I have to produce an income, I have to get work, I have to stay alive.

Diller: We were always a research studio. We were always interested in research whether the outcome was in the form of an installation, in the form of a book, or ultimately in the from of a building. They were just iterations of different forms of the same ideas.

By hiring only people who can demonstrate that they have designed museums and cultural buildings says more about what DS+R has become than any of the two statements above. For one thing it says:

"we are an organization that is about getting museums and cultural building commissions"
or 
"We are a machine for doing that and there is no place for you here if you can not be a gear in this engine".
 
I hate to point out the obvious, but isn't that exactly what Scofidio claimed to have been soured by in the statement above?

Secondly, if you are a research studio and you are interested in research whether the outcome is in the form of an installation, a book or ultimately in the from of a building, then why are people that are particularly skilled in the design of museums and cultural buildings better qualified for these diverse outcomes?

The best explanation here is that DS+R are in the latter stages (stage 7 ) in the star-architect business model that I described in the opening statement of this note. Gone are the days of crazy experiments, exploring the boundaries between art and architecture, high employee turnover, etc.  This has become a firm almost entirely dedicated to one highly specific commercial purpose: winning starchitecture competitions.

Now don't get me wrong, winning competitions is not a bad thing and being efficient at it by hiring people that are experienced and proficient at it is certainly a good idea. Who doesn't want to work with good experienced people?

My critique of this practice is the exclusivity, not in quality, but in the lack of diversity. Here is another statement they made in that same interview:

Diller: Sometimes we were thought of as just wanting to be on the periphery; a decision to want to lob grenades from the periphery at architecture critically...
when we had a chance to do this building, (the ICA Boston) for many people it was a kind of a wake up... for us it was a kind of validation.

Scofidio: Before that we did theater, performance, installations, and a lot of architects accused us of not being able to deal with compromise, not being able to deal with difficult issues of construction. They thought we were taking the easy way out. They kept saying "wait till you do a building... you will see".

Charlie Rose: And what did you find out when you did a building?

Scofidio: The problems are there in everything you do whether you do a drinking glass (which we have done for water), there are complex problems.

Do you see the perplexity and contradictions in their hiring practice?
It becomes even more pronounced in contrast to statements like the ones above. If the problems are the same from a drinking glass to something as complex as a museum why not hire a diversity of quality people. It would follow that your website would say something like:

 "we are interested in quality people from all disciplines; industrial designers, architects, costume designers, artists, etc"

Where is the compromise? Where is the middle ground between being a critical practice and being an established firm? Shouldn't your hiring and staff constitution reflect that?
To me the ominous voice of your critics saying "wait till you do a building... you will see" seems to be particularly prophetic. The validation here seems to be now a validation for the critics not the other way around.



Conrad Newel
Liberating Minds Since August 2007


Sunday, March 30, 2014

99. Take a course in Critical Thinking

In my previous post that responded to Patrik Schumacher's backhanded congratulations message to Shigeru Ban's nomination for the Pritzker, an anonymous person came to Patrik's defense. This is what he/she wrote:


Anonymous said...

I think this is a very simplistic answer to what Patrik is trying to argue for in his recent facebook "provocations". As an architect your power is limited. Koolhaas also worked in china, dubai, libya and many other places, engaging with dictatorships which do not respect human rights etc. I can add many other famous architects to the list. Probably many migrant workers died while constructing his buildings. I dont think its a problem architects can solve, its not in our power to change a regime. As Foucault said, its not the parlaiment building that makes the democracy - the political agency of architecture is limited.

Casa del fascio in Como was also constructed under a fascist regime - you can like it or not, but it is widely recognized as a contribution to humanity, visited and studied by hundreds of scholars and students every year.

At the very least, this dictatorships will leave a masterpiece of architecture behind in history, instead of the generic crap we see all around us. One contribution to humanity from an inhumane regime.

I respect Patrik for having the courage to explain the reality of the world we live in to a seemingly innocent and naive audience who believe in "charity" - read some Zizek to discover what is wrong with the concept.

Architects without borders should indeed never win a pritzker price - because it's not about how "good" you are, but how good your architecture is. 

If you are really so politically engaged, then be consequent and also dismiss Frank Gehry, Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel, Reiser Umemoto, SOM, KPF, etc... And maybe dismiss Zumthor as well because he is not a vegetarian or doesnt donate to a charity.
 

Yet no one is taking about peter eisenman and wolf prix, which if you think about it, is Patrols point. Too easily some would prefer to defend humanitarianism to feel good about themselves, rather than discussing innovation. Shigeru's work is ok, but innovative? No.

March 27, 2014 at 5:20 AM
Delete



 

Dear Anonymous defender(s) of Patrik Schumacher,
 

Both you and Patrik have a very limited understanding of some basic principles of argumentation and simple logic. I would recommend you both take a course in critical thinking.

Patrik made an argument that was embarrassingly ill-structured and ill-informed (especially considering his stature and academic positions). I unraveled it and demonstrated how it would work if I were to use the same false arguments against him and Zaha. My response was simple, but far from simplistic, but still neither you nor Patrik seem to get it.
 

To make matters worse you introduce even more absurd and implausible argumentation on top of Patrik’s catastrophe of a statement: So now I will have to first unravel your illogical assumptions and faulty line of reasoning before I can even begin to respond.

So, here goes:

Firstly you made the following statements:

 

Koolhaas also worked in china, dubai, libya and many other places, engaging with dictatorships which do not respect human rights etc. I can add many other famous architects to the list. Probably many migrant workers died while constructing his buildings.
 

and
 

If you are really so politically engaged, then be consequent and also dismiss Frank Gehry, Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel, Reiser Umemoto, SOM, KPF, etc... And maybe dismiss Zumthor as well because he is not a vegetarian or doesn't donate to a charity.


When you point out the ills of other architects as your defense, your argument comes down to this:
 

“Hey you should not criticize Patrik, because he is not the only one doing it”
 

That's not a defense! Doing something wrong because everyone else is doing it does not make it OK! it is morally reprehensible!
 

If every crook that was caught red handed was let off the hook because they pointed their bloody fingers at the other guy, then no one would ever be held accountable for anything.


Your implication is also that I am being unfair to Patrik / Zaha  because I should be consistent and "dismiss" the others. Well, I do not dismiss people - that would be arrogant, I criticize architects who are doing morally reprehensible things as evidenced here in note 56. Listen to the little Devil on your shoulder and here again in note 57. More from the Little Devil on your shoulder (and this includes some to the names you had on your list). And just in case you think I have a special exempt-from-criticism-card for Peter Zumthor as you implied, you might want to see notes 60. Play Peter, the Pritzker Peddling Hermit Genius , note 90. The deceptive paradox that is the Zumthor brand and note 93. An Open Call for the De-Jesus-ification of Peter Zumthor.

 

Of course the vegetarian thing I took as a joke (although I would have gone with vegan). But seriously though, Patrik uses that same schtick (of jumping to extremes) so often that I have to address it in a serious way too. His arguments often take the form:
 


“its either you work for murderous dictators or you are a charity worker” (or in your case vegetarian)
...as if those are the only two choices one has as a starving sarchitect in this world.  If you say to Patrik


“Hey working for Qaddafi is wrong!...”


His standard reply to such questions sounds something like this:

Enough with all that politically correct crap!!...What!!!... So you want me to be Mother Theresa now?
This guy is a fucking genius... he should be teaching at Harvard. Oh wait a minute...he is teaching at Harvard (sic)
 
This brings me to the other falsehood that Patrik and his mindless defenders use. He often blends humanitarian architecture with charity or with political correctness. Another falsehood that can be simply refuted with a dictionary.

Politically Correct is defined as agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people

Charity is defined as generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless

Humanitarian means having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people.



So humanitarian architecture can be seen as socially responsive. It is one that takes into consideration the socio-political conditions of the building's context into consideration before, during and after the design process much in the same way parametric architecture takes the sun’s position, the views etc into consideration as design parameters in creating a form or shape.
 
Humanitarian architecture takes the premise that architecture is first and foremost something that is in the service of greater society and the people that use it. It is conscious that architecture has the capacity to be a weapon and propaganda tool in the service of oppressive regimes and avoids such scenarios.
This kind of thinking and approach to architecture has nothing to do with charity. Not that charity is a demeaning thing or beneath the dignity architecture as Patrik implies. So whether Zumthor or any architects donate to charity or not is besides the point.

Sure, much of humanitarian thinking in architecture is politically correct, but one does not think and act this way to be politically correct. Not killing babies is also politically correct, but one does not refrain from killing babies just to be politically correct...At least I hope so. Patrik carelessly throwing around the term politically correct is just the baseless name calling of an inconsiderate man who seriously needs to go to the Wizard of OZ and find his conscience.

 


You can tell a lot about the way a person thinks by they kind of questions they ask. For instance, when Partik asks:


"does this mean that those who aspire to win the Pritzker - or the nobel prize in physics - have to add humanitarian charity work into the mix?"



You can clearly see he has got his morals all backwards! You don't think in a humanitarian way or give to charity in order to get an award. An award is something that is given as a recognition for the things that you do out of your passion. If you add humanitarian or charity work into the mix for the purposes of getting any award, then you don't deserve it.
 
 
You (the mindless defenders of Patrik) seem to just repeat every stupid blurb he says without filtering it through your noodles:

Patrik often blurts out phrases like “innovation over political correctness” and subsequently you come out like Neanderthal-yes-men echoing the same thing  “Oh ahh umm… yeah...  innovation over political correctness... uuuh..yeah…” without questioning what it means for even a second.

He makes it sound as though socially responsible thinking and innovation are antithetical to each other or that their combination were against some immutable laws of physics: that if you make socially responsible architecture it would create some kind of black hole and suck all the innovation out of the universe and vise versa.  This is another example of Patrik’s jumping to extremes (another variation of the slippery slope fallacy).

Socially responsible design and thinking is the motor behind most of the technology and innovation that we enjoy today and is continuing to drive innovation in and outside of architecture. It was the need to create better quality housing and alleviate the health hazards that were prevalent in old tenements and slums that lead to inventions like the use of steel in building, the elevator, zoning restrictions to allow light and air into apartments and requirements for public spaces in dense urban situations. It is the motor behind the sustainable movement, wind and solar energies, and much more. Outside of architecture, it is what is leading to innovative cures for disease like cancer and diabetes. Digital technologies are simply tools that aid the motor that is called humanitarian thinking - not the other way around. I could go on and on but my fingers would be sore.

Its just confounding that anyone could argue that humanitarianism equals a rejection of innovation or that one would have to choose between one or the other. Its like arguing that you can't have water and wetness at the same time. How could you ever let him convince you of such a thing?... What a mind job!!!

Patrik and Zaha hang their hats on the idea that architects are powerless in changing dictators. Sure we have limited powers as architects, no one ever asked any stararchitect to use their Jedi powers that they seem to have over architecture students to stop dictators. Never-the-less Patrik and Zaha constantly defend themselves from hallucinatory detractors by saying “it is not in our power to stop dictators”.

No one is asking them to do that!!!

As architects we may not be able to stop the atrocities that dictators do, but we always have the power to decline being willing and participating agents in their propaganda machines that spills the blood of innocents.

Qaddafi did not put a gun to their head and say design for me or else. He offered them a lot of money and they graciously accepted it. Zaha and Patrik stand to gain financially by taking the inhumane and unremorseful stand that they are taking, so I can understand the motive behind their arguments, but it boggles my mind why anyone else would defend them.


Moving on to the next set of baseless and wild assumption:

Architects without borders should indeed never win a pritzker prize - because it's not about how "good" you are, but how good your architecture is.

I did not suggest Architects without borders be given the prize for their good deeds or to feel good about myself. I suggested them because the Pritzker mandates that the prize:

honor a living architect/s whose built work demonstrates ( among other things) consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. (do yourself a favor and take 20 seconds and read the whole thing at the Pritzker website here)

Architects without borders and Architecture for humanity are among the fewest architectural organizations in the world that makes it their mission to consistently make significant contributions to humanity through architecture.

If you want to call that politically correct crap, go ahead, but don't blame me. Direct that to the founders of the Pritzker Prize. They are the one’s who wrote it!

If you want to blame me for anything, blame me for reminding the Pritzker director Martha Thorne that the clause existed. I reminded her about this back in 2012 and urged her to honor this part of the prize (See my letter to her in note 91. Pritzker Talk). Now 2 years later we are seeing a movement in that direction. As I said back then, they are making baby steps, but never the less in the right direction. Perhaps in 20 years we may see an organization like Architecture for Humanity or Architects without Borders being recognized for their humanitarian contribution to the world through architecture.

"dictatorships will leave a masterpiece of architecture behind in history, instead of the generic crap we see all around us?"

Are you seriously advocating a dictatorship based model for the future of architecture?

Architecture is a concretization and a confirmation of who we are as a society, our hopes, our dreams, how we see ourselves, what we value most, how we live and how we treat each other. It is a physical manifestation of our social and political condition.

What does architecture that was created in an oppressive society represent?

What does the architecture that was created in a free society represent?

If you live in a free and democratic society, then of course it is easy to dismiss the freedoms that we have as politically correct crap. But lets put you in Qatar to work under the conditions of the builders of Zaha's stadium and see what kind of tune you would be singing then.
 
Sure a lot of the buildings we point to in the history books as great architecture were done by oppressive empires. But are you really saying that such architecture is worth the cost of human life and suffering?

Would you yourself undergo great suffering or volunteer your own life in the cause building a great looking or technologically innovative building?

Do you think Casa del fascio (as you mentioned) was worth the human sacrifice and suffering that it took to make it possible?

If you could, would you yourself live under a fascist regime to make that building a reality?

 
I-don’t-think-you-would!!!

 
Architecture that was designed and built under cruel and inhumane conditions is an expression of injustice and can never be truly great architecture no matter how innovative or flashy looking. If you think otherwise then you must be kidding yourself or you have been reading too much of that damn stupid book you mentioned.
 

I would suggest that you take a basic course on Critical Thinking or at minimum familiarize yourself with this list of common argumentative fallacies and re-read that book. Be sure to get a case of yellow highlighters and highlight every false arguments you find. And if you still value it after that, be sure to keep it a safe distance from anyone looking for the yellow pages.
 
I apologize for the tone, but please understand, it is coming from a place of deep caring. Even though I do not know you or haven't met you, I can interpret a lot about you from your writing. I can tell that you are most likely a student or recent graduate that is taken up by the ideas of Patrik and the seductive forms of Zaha’s architecture. My real ire is not with you but mostly with Patrik and Zaha’s behavior and at the architecture schools that entertain them. Firstly for letting people like Patrik Schumacher come in contact with you just because he is famous. You (anonymous defender of Patrik) are among our most precious resources (As students you are our future). Secondly, I am disappointed with your school for not teaching critical thinking. This should be prerequisite course for all incoming freshman. Thirdly, I am perpetually bemused at the culture prevalent in architecture schools for creating an environment where students are forcefully discouraged from questioning their professors.

Anyway, I don’t expect to convince you with this note, but I do hope that I have planted a seed of reason in your head that will help you to question some of the jargon that is coming your way. This blog will always be here for you should you ever wake up from that dreadful cult and decide to come over from the dark side.

 
Why don't you consider it? Shoot me an email and I will personally lend you a helping hand.

Meanwhile, below this note are some references that will help you get acquainted with some of the basics of critical thinking.


Best Regards,

Conrad Newel

NOTES ON BECOMING A FAMOUS ARCHITECT
Liberating Minds Since August 2007
 
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Below is the first video in a series by Aaron Dewald called Critical Thinking



If you enjoyed it, this is a link to the rest of the course.
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLpbtRdN7xWUcPT0qWBfC52FubQxcgdgjk


Another nice explanation of Critical Thinking:




This one should look familiar to you. The false argument you opened with is clearly identified here.



Some other resources:
https://www.youtube.com/user/CriticalThinkingOrg
http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/