November 8, 2011

I saw an ad today that basically said that someday people will respect the construction industry, but until then make sure you have a good lawyer. I know that it was just an attempt at drumming up some business but it also made me even more upset than usual about the current state of affairs. I don’t how we got to the point where it is OK for the construction business to be some kind of a professional laughing stock but I think it would be better for all of us if it wasn’t. I believe that a lot of this comes from a couple of basic misconceptions; it’s just buildings and it doesn’t matter as much as some other industries, people in construction are uneducated so we can’t expect too much, and I don’t know enough about it to change it anyway.
Let’s set the record straight on this one quickly. Buildings do matter in a number of different ways. Construction is generally the number one industry in our country. That means that every other thing we make or do is second in line to construction. It is huge! It is bigger than you can imagine and then some. It normally employs more people than any other industry, doesn’t matter where you are. Secondly, buildings are the biggest users of energy in our country. Gas for cars is a far distant second. 60% of the energy used in this country is used to heat, cool, and power buildings. If we could make every building energy independent then you could be paying $1.50 for gas right now, and have no heating or electric bills. That seems like a worthwhile goal to me.
Many of the people in the construction business are very well educated and many of them are actually very sophisticated at separating you from your money. In addition, they often rely upon our third point, which is that most people don’t really know any better. It is true that buildings can be very complicated but it is also true that the best ones tend to be very simple. A big part of consumer empowerment is to demand more for your money and there never seems to be a big push for better service and quality from the construction industry. There is a running joke about all the super uptight engineers and all the quality problems that they allow. Don’t take it from them. Don’t pay for their mistakes.
Lastly, you can change it. Demand better from everyone in the construction industry. We are actually begging consumers to require more from us. We want you to bust our chops on building performance and operating costs. We need you to take a real interest in life cycle costs and energy independent buildings and a whole list of other things. If you don’t demand it then we won’t do it, and we can see a world in the near future where fossil fuels begin to run out, and we don’t have a back up plan. It is possible now to save you from a lifetime of utility bills so please ask me how and demand that it get done right. There are many ways that we can do better and we need you to make sure it does. If you don’t know how we will tell you, free of charge, because it is the right thing to do.

October 15, 2010

The overall building design and passing through the wall
When I was first given the opportunity to design this museum I was of course slightly stunned by the scale of such a project. The concept that is to be embraced here is very, very large indeed and not only deals with the complex relationships and stories of African Americans in this country but also the people and history of Africa itself. I was fortunate enough to be fairly well versed in African art, from ancient history to now, and know that it has often been sheathed with complex symbolism and double meanings so my first design goal is to make each part of the building represent something important. I believe that there has also been a misleading tendency to think of Africa as having a dual nature itself, one that is more civilized, symbolized by the Egyptian empires, and one that is more harsh and symbolized by the jungles and deserts. The truth of course is much more complex but it seemed to me that I could at least attempt to portray some kind of duality in the building itself and I chose to split the building in two with the large stone wall. That worked out well as a memorial wall as well so I continued by placing the light glass arboretum on the one side, with the obvious symbolism of the jungle, and the museum display areas representing civilization and cultural on the other side of the wall. I wanted to make the planting area bright and airy to shine a metaphorical light on a region that is often misunderstood. Because of this dual nature of the building the transitions from one side of the building to the other became very important and I wanted to create dramatic openings in the large stone wall that would definitely make the visitor feel that they were passing from one significant place to another. These passageways are intended to be symbolic in their own way, as if entering a great monument, and I have used the form of a massive and thick stone wall to give the appearance of great weight and great importance. The variation in floor materials lets people know that they are entering a separate space and the use of dimmer lights and lowered ceilings forces people to slow down and pay attention to where they are going rather than just strolling through.