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Trinity University

Demolition is cooler

The school my daughters go to is located next to the Trinity University campus. Trinity, in case you don't already know, is a private liberal arts college in San Antonio that occupies an amazing campus initially planned by (and populated with several buildings by) O'Neil Ford, the father of Texas modernism. 

The story behind why Trinity's campus is modern is a long and compelling but to make a long story short, many of the buildings were designed to be constructed using the lift-slab construction technique. The idea is that the floors and roof of a multi-story building are cast on the ground (as opposed to in place) and then lifted into place. At the time this was a cutting-edge technology and allowed the Trinity campus to be built quickly and inexpensively. The technique is not longer commonly practiced after several high-profile collapses occurred during construction of buildings elsewhere.

At any rate, the buildings that resulted at Trinity are amazing. They are clear, rational and their open floor plans have proven to be quite flexible. Demolishing interior partitions is as easy as driving a Bobcat through a floor. My daughter was been enjoying watching the work occurring when I drop her off and now ants to do that for a living.

Construction can be cool but demolition - at least to a 5-year-old - is much, much cooler.

Journalistic non-ojectivity

early sketch of Trinity University tower and chapel courtesy Ford, Powell & Carson

So when I was asked to write an article for the Rivard Report about an upcoming exhibition at Trinity University, I initially expressed some hesitation. I certainly felt the story needed to be told - the unearthing of a collection of design drawings by O'Neil Ford of some of his most important projects certainly seemed newsworthy.  However, I was worried I couldn't really approach the story from a place of objective neutrality.

First of all, I have taught at Trinity.  The student who discovered the drawings, Jason Azar, was in fact a student of mine.  The office where the drawings were discovered, Ford, Powell & Carson, is an office with whom I have collaborated and I am friends with several of its partners.  Kathryn O'Rourke, the professor who helped organize the exhibition, gave a guest lecture for the class I taught and I have asked her to speak again at next year's Design Conference sponsored by the Texas Society of Architects.

In other words, I have a some degree of relationship with all of the key players in the article.  Luckily there really isn't anything particularly controversial about the story so perhaps it is no big deal that I displayed questionable journalistic standards.

Why teach

Trinity students presenting in the HiWorks office

Ever since I came back to Texas from grad school I wanted to teach.  Indeed, one of the reasons I went back to school in the first place was to earn the piece of paper that said I was smart enough to teach.  Lake|Flato was very generous in allowing me the freedom to pursue this goal when I worked for them and it is something I've continued to do after creating HiWorks.

As an means of supplementing my income, teaching is not an effective strategy.  As an adjunct, I don't get paid much and so from purely economic standpoint the transaction make no sense whatsoever.  But some pursuits have value beyond what is printed on a pay stub and I would make the argument that teaching is one of those endeavors.

I have found one of the chief advantages of teaching is having the opportunity to operate in the world of ideas.  After a long day of dealing with budgets, codes and other realities of practice, it's helpful to take an hour and a half to talk about bigger ideas and concepts.  Standing up in front of a group of students is also helps clarify my own beliefs and theories about the built environment while at the same time giving me practice is communicating those ideas effectively.

This semester I'm teaching at Trinity University with Margaret Sledge, a friend and former colleague from my days at Lake|Flato.  It's great to be able to work with her again, but we've found that teaching at Trinity represents a unique opportunity.  Trinity does not have a dedicated architecture program and so our students are not architecture students per se.  They instead come from a variety of different academic backgrounds and bring that diversity to the studio.  Although their graphic abilities might not be as developed as students who have been studying architecture for years, Margaret and I have found that their ideas are incredibly  sophisticated.

At the end of the day, our goal is not to turn these students in to architects.  Although a few might go on to study architecture or urban design at the graduate level, we see our charge as bigger than that.  As these students go on to become doctors, lawyers and CEOs, they will take with them a better understanding of the role that architecture plays in our daily lives.  Our hope is that we have instilled in them an appreciation of the importance of the built environment and in doing so they have become better consumers of it.  Although good architects play a critical role in making the world a better place, so too do good clients.