Sunday, August 2, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness

I was rather hoping to move onto some other projects, both imaginary like this

and less-imaginary like this,

but it seems that I am still not quite done with that project that has dominated so many of my posts here.

Dear Colleague -
The jurors in the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) Unbuilt Architecture Design Awards Program (to which you submitted your entry or entries earlier this year) have completed their work and have selected the following submissions for recognition this year.

"Republic of Trinidad & Tobago Primary Schools"
designed by Morris Architects, Houston TX

"ecoFLEX" designed by Shepley Bulfinch, Boston MA

"Urban Rack" designed by Moskow Linn Architects, Boston MA

"Pop Up Café" designed by XChange Architects, Boston MA

"Nordhaven": The City Regenerative" by FXFOWLE Architects, New York City

"Wadi" designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, New York City

"Crook/Cup/Bow/Twist" designed by Schwartz and Architecture, San Francisco CA

"Stormhouse, Deception Island, Antarctica" designed by Lewis E. Wadsworth IV, Assoc. AIA, Boston MA

"Lockgrid - city after the periodic blackout" designed by W. Y. Frank Chen, New York City

"Tulang Tower" designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, New York City

For registration and other details on this forum, which begins at 6: 00 pm on November 18, visit (click on event #SB4) after August 20.

The award-winning projects will also be included in a special gallery exhibit during Build Boston and the same exhibit will be in The Architects Building in Boston in 2010 and will be included in the BSA's annual design award publication.

Copies of the jurors' written comments on the honored projects will be available at Build Boston and thereafter on the BSA website (

So I am a winner. Not to be ungrateful, of course, for any kudos coming my way, but I have to ask: what does this really mean, besides the fact that I will presumably have to do a bit more work on this project in order to make some publishable images and that I may have to make some presumably-awkward small talk about it at the awards ceremony and the ensuing "informal discussion"?

After receiving the note from the BSA, I remarked to my wife, "So, now that I am a famous architect, what do I do?"

Of course I am being facetious: a single win for a single project does not a famous architect make (assuming one wants to be a famous architect, which seems to be a dubious proposition in my view. Among other considerations, I have met and studied with several famous architects, and the more famous they have been the more I have wished I had never met them).

My fellow honorees, in no particular order, include four large corporate firms (one of which won twice, for different projects) which presumably would not enter a competition unless it was worth-their-very-expensive-while; two single practitioners of which I know very little (except that single practitioners are always a bit on the desperate side); an aspiring intern at a well-known but aging "boutique design firm" (that's apparently something of a compliment) which produced some interesting Deconstructivist projects ages ago, and who would presumably like most interns want enough recognition to break out on his own; and a small local firm (run by someone I should but don't know, as we were in the same undergraduate institution in the same "Visual Studies" department at the same time) that seemingly enters every competition that comes up, obviously as part of a deliberate and successful marketing scheme.

If "90+ projects" really means that nearly 90 projects were entered, one tenth of the entrants were honored. Which is not "bad odds." Or did I do that math right?

What were my own motivations for entering? Merely self-advertisement and publicity-seeking, a legitimate agenda in any competitive commercial field where the opportunities for wider distinction and employment are quite limited? A quest for clients or "real" projects?

I sense a contradiction here, for a self-proclaimed fantasist.

Presumably, the award presentation and "discussion forum" noted above will be populated by architects who happen to be at the building show and perhaps media proxies for a more general audience: for instance, an audience that might include non-architects who would be interested in or capable of commissioning a project.

But I am under no illusion that my Stormhouse is anything more than a potentially-buildable pastiche of my memories of the decades-old Deconstructivist projects that I one admired, awkardly paired, metatextually, with an old horror story and some modern neuroses. It's a fantasy. Did I "cross the line" here?

(my poster for the competition, originally 30" x 30")

Would I really want to see a project like this realized, or spend much time with someone who would want such a building? The Stormhouse has already lost most of its charm for me...what would the seemingly-endless elaboration required to create construction documents for something like this do to my regard for my own work?

(The cash prize for this competition, incidentally, will not send me to Antarctica after all. It will only adequately compensate me for the entry fee, the roll of special paper I bought for plotting my poster, and perhaps lunch somewhere.)