ruminations about architecture and design

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

the purpose of the architect--#34

I went to a good talk by Dr. John Straube of the Building Science Corporation last night. He described some basic issues with highly glazed buildings and the state of modern curtain wall design. The room was mostly full of old, male architects.
The issue with glass buildings is that they can be hard to keep warm--or cool, because glass, and more importantly, the aluminum frames that typically support the glass, is not a very good insulator. This basic fact of physics is something that an architect may forget in the ecstasy of the design process. I find myself frustrated at the slow pace of improvements to this commonly used building system. What can I do about it? Not very much, but if I was ever confronted with a situation where a client was considering a curtain wall I hope that I have the courage to advocate something that is better than average.

So, what is the purpose of the architect? Well, an architect is someone who goes into the office on a Monday and makes a decision on behalf of a client that can have significant effects, in terms of time, money and impact on the well-being of quite a few fellow human beings. This decision is made with confidence and presented with confidence to the client and contractors. On Monday night, the architect should lie awake in bed and wonder if that decision was really the best possible decision. With this seed of doubt planted, the architect can go to sleep, and on Tuesday make a slightly different decision in an effort to improve on the course of action made the previous day.

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