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Seeing through the Eyes of an Architect

If you’ve ever known an architect, chances are he or she has some really cool and funky designer glasses. Let me give you some examples:

Left to Right: Architects Le Corbusier, I.M. Pei, Gordon Kipping, Daniel Libeskind

Left to Right: Architects Le Corbusier, I.M. Pei, Gordon Kipping, Daniel Libeskind

So what makes an architect? Awesome glasses? Definitely. A slick bow-tie or black turtleneck? Check.

But being an architect goes beyond the standard issue eye wear. Architects are put through a rigorous course of study which includes design and tectonics (the relationship of building parts). Students are trained to see buildings with a critical, examining eye and represent concepts and ideas through architecture. Recently, I had the opportunity to see this training in action, when I was asked to jury a presentation by the second year architecture students at the College of the Sequoias. The COS architecture program is run by the Chair of Industry and Technology at COS, architect Rolando Gonzalez, AIA.

This was a perfect opportunity to explore the typical architectural design process for the readers. Gonzalez invited me to sit in on a presentation for the design of a hypothetical Martial Arts Dojo sited in Visalia. Also sitting on the critique jury were architect Jamie Steinmetz, AIA and 1st Dan Black Belt in Aikido, Sensei John Cruz. Each student was tasked with selecting a particular martial arts fighting style. Next the students were to research the style, and then design a martial arts dojo informed by the conclusions drawn from the research. The jury was then to offer a critique based upon knowledge of architecture, or in the case of Sensei John Cruz, martial arts.

This process is typical of the process that architects go through when designing a unique building. This image, from the architecture studio at COS, demonstrates how beginning students are taught to convey concepts through architecture.

The Language of Architecture

Parti diagrams from the architecture studio at College of the Sequoias

These diagrams are called “partis” (pronounced par-tees) by architects. Each parti displays a simple, singular concept. Partis are used to explore concepts that will be expressed in a building. From the upper left to lower right, the 3-d diagrams represent concepts such as whole, addition, axis, interlock, frame, repetition, layering, offset, solid/void, etc. Students learn to create these simple diagrams before moving on to complex building forms.

It was this basic framework of architectural language that the students then applied to the dojo project. Below, 3 images from the students are representative of the great range of solutions that were explored.

First is an image by student David Hupp, who explored the martial art of Pak Mei, a rare form of Kung Fu combining Shaolin and Taoist practices. The project has the privacy of an ancient temple and the projecting balcony is reminiscent of a stabbing fist.

David Hupp

Image credit: David Hupp, Project: Pak Mei Dojo

This image by Michael Leyva explores Wing Chun, another form of martial arts originating in ancient China. The symmetrically opposing buildings suggest two fighters squaring off for combat, while the projecting elements remind one of the fighter’s arms and legs.

Michael Leyva

Image credit: Michael Leyva, Project: Wing Chun Dojo

This image is the project of Sergio Perez, who explored the martial art Jeet Kune Do, the fighting style originated by Bruce Lee. This building is shifted down the middle, suggesting the opposing yet unified forces of this marital art.

Sergio Perez

Image credit: Sergio Perez, Project Jeet Kune Do Dojo

Each of the projects presented by the 2nd year COS architecture students was a creative and unique response to the stated project problem. A great deal of passion and hard work was evident based on the quality of the projects presented and the nature of the architecture studio at COS.

The studio at COS fosters camaraderie between the students. Design involves collaboration and a lot of back and forth dialog, a process which is evident in the studio at COS. Below, student Rolando Coria (right) collaborates with student Ivan Venegas (left).


Rolando Coria (right) collaborates with Ivan Venegas (left)

It is good to know that we have a rigorous architecture program in Visalia because it heightens awareness of good architectural design. Also, it fosters future architects who may someday return and add their contribution to the built environment of the Valley. A special thanks goes out to architect Rolando Gonzalez, AIA for championing this program and for inviting me to be part of the Jury.

This post was written by:

Enoch Sears - who has written 4 posts on archop.

Enoch is an architect, designer and entrepreneur. He blogs on business topics and web design for architects. You can find him on twitter @EnukSears and LinkedIn.

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5 Responses to “Seeing through the Eyes of an Architect”

  1. Enoch, this is a great piece, I have printed it and will use it as a discussion starter in my Architecture class @ WUHS. Thanks for the effort it takes to produce this kind of article. WDT

  2. Enoch Sears says:

    Thanks Warren for the compliment.

  3. Chris says:

    Porterville, Coalinga, Visalia, Lemoore, Hanford, all the south valley cities have terrific examples of period architectural work. Porterville is loaded with mid-century modern commercial and residential. For the adventurous, find and visit Woodville in Tulare County. Time stopped in 1966 there.

  4. Chris says:

    (accidentally hit submit.. continued…)

    In fact, a stroll through College of the Sequoias is like a history lesson in Central California architecture.

    As a valley native, to see these great new styles develop and evolve from that environment and this great new valley talent is inspiring. Keep up the excellent work.

  5. Paul Miller says:

    Great article. Rolando “Ro” is doing an excellent job at COS.


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