June 05, 2013

A studio project is like a good greasy burger.

Last weekend, I went with a friend from architecture school to check out a Burger Festival in Toronto. It was Burger Day last Sunday at Toronto’s Artscape Wychwood Barns. Since it was architecture and food – I am all up for this any day! Wychwood Barns used to be a Streetcar repair facility just north of downtown Toronto and was recently converted to a beautiful community hub that by local design firm DTAH. Along the lines of the Underdog Architecture Student’s blog for wanting to make the analogous link between Architecture and the Culinary Arts, I have always wanted to talk about the burger in one of my posts. I just was not sure if I wanted to take a high school approach and apply the burger concept that we use in essays for the way you present your projects and convey the narrative of your design. I thought I would after seeing some design reviews that needed improvement (I have entries on them – click here and here) NO – now that I think about it, the design of a crafted burger is like a studio project. Both can teeter between falling face down to a pedestrian state or rise to a state of elegance and sophistication.

If you think about it, burgers are like buildings. Anyone can grill a patty and slap it together with two buns nowadays and it was only of recent when burgers around my city became au courant in the culinary world with the rise of boutique burger joints. Chefs have worked towards crafting their idea of what a good burger entails. Likewise, buildings are ubiquitous. Anyone can build and put up a building but when does a building transcend from its utilitarian state to becoming worthy to be considered as Architecture? 

In essence, it comes down to what makes a design good? What makes a design stand out from the ranks of other designs? I think it comes down to what many of your professors call “the big idea” or the overarching concept of your design. For this entry I’m going to use some of my burger eating experiences to share some tips you might need to consider when a designer designs something. These are some loose guidelines. Loose as in, you can follow or not and these rules sometimes apply and sometimes not it depends on where your design process takes you. Here is what makes a design concept strong:

Careful editing/selection of elements
As much as I love guacamole, nachos, ketchup, relish, bacon, pulled pork, lettuce, tomatoes, onion rings, pineapple, on the mini burgers I had that weekend. It doesn’t mean that I want to have it all in one giant burger. Likewise, throughout the design process you will have to pick your battles and choose the few that will strengthen your design concept. You can’t have your cake and eat it too all the time. So maybe those cool ideas you came up throughout your design process might not make it for the final design but you need to realize that some ideas need to be severed just because it does not contribute to the big idea or theme. They might make its way into another project in the future. Sometimes it’s better to choose a few good ideas that contribute to the overarching narrative and theme of your studio project than getting your big idea muddled up and convoluted with too many design gestures.  What made each slider good was the careful selection of toppings to put into the burger – items that beautifully married with other flavours to create a memorable taste. Look at some of the works done by famous architects – they carefully considered what design ideas they wanted in their buildings to convey a powerful story and experience.

Challenging the norm/Thinking outside the box

Some of the best (and risky) design ideas is thinking outside of the box and challenge the conventional ideas and ways of doing. I was offered a Taco instead of a slider. Would a taco be a burger? Might not be the “typical” notion one would expect, but theoretically it’s meat slapped together with a bread. Theoretically, philosophically one might dare argue that it is a burger in it’s own right. I had these delicious cupcakes that looked like a burger – the vanilla cupcake was split and filled with a moist red velvet “patty” and with a piece of fondant “cheese.” It looks like a burger, it’s not made out actual burger ingredients, but this surreal play of a cupcake was a creative way to celebrate burger day. Likewise, some of the best designs challenge what we think and associate with a conventional notion or idea. These design challenge the norm.

Presentation is everything 

I remember from my high school cooking class when my teacher told us “you eat with your eyes first.” And it is quite true that presentation is everything – your work has to be visually appealing. This is your selling point – you have to encourage and pitch your work to people why your design is good and is worthy. In the real world, it’s about impressing a client and encouraging and pitching them to go through with building the design. You as a designer will be known by the quality of work you present so ensure that it looks good and it is thoughtful when you show it off. The same goes for chefs, you have to entice the customer to want to eat the food – it is just as important as the taste of the end product. Put care into your studio projects – I’ve made this mistake as a student in college and I had to learn the hard way on the importance of making sure I am satisfied with the work I present (i.e. getting figuratively raped during reviews and desk crits)

Sensibilities and Taste comes with experience and practice
None of these burger ideas came from just randomly mixing stuff together. I’d like to think that many chefs, cooks, and foodies acquire a palette from the countless times cooking and thoughtfully experimenting different flavour combinations and registering different food items in memory. Likewise in architecture school, we look and study different buildings of the past, present, and the future. We analyze building precedents to gain a sensibility of what makes good design so that we can learn from those ideas when we design for studio. This comes with time and patience, but it comes with the willingness to get your hands dirty and work, experiment, and be engaged thoroughly from the design process to learn. 

So there you have it. The architecture of a burger can be compared to the architecture of a studio project. It's about conveying a strong design concept and figuring out the right components to evoke your design intent. Experiment, have fun, play, and enjoy the design process at school - you'll end up in a better result than just being in a stand still.

Chopped vs. Charette: Culinary Arts and Architecture
Lunch inside the crystal
Process! Process! Process!
Know your precedents

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