UnderCover: Inspiration: Joshua Prince-Ramus on "hyper-rational" design process

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Inspiration: Joshua Prince-Ramus on "hyper-rational" design process

This is a fascinating peek into the "hyper-rational" design process of the NYC firm REX Architecture. Presenter Joshua Prince-Ramus succinctly outlines the design thinking behind three REX projects—the Seattle Public Library, the Wyly Theater in Dallas, and the Museum Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky.

I found several parts of Prince-Ramus's presentation intriguing. The first was that architects—unlike most graphic designers—produce really long-lived products (Duh! I know.). Architects are charged with not only creating flexible multi-purpose spaces, but also spaces that anticipate future uses that cannot be yet known. How do you develop a structure for media that has yet to be invented?

Another was that (in the Seattle Library's case) the role of the designer is not just to involve the client and reflect their needs but also to interpret and re-present those needs back to the client in ways they could not even perceive or articulate. Seattle's librarians saw themselves primarily as media providers, but REX showed them that in fact the majority of their resources were spent on community events.

Seattle Public Library

And a third was Prince-Ramus's emphasis on a team approach. Although architecture suffers more from the perception of a single creative genius than graphic design—both disciplines are realizing that creative teams are not only a growing reality but in many cases preferable to the design auter. To solve increasingly complex problems, we need more smart teams and fewer solitary geniuses.

And finally, Joshua's presentation indirectly supports this idea about storytelling that has been bouncing around in my head lately... Despite a growing trend toward design teams—a single master communicator, an articulate and charismatic individual is more crucial than ever to explain the process and to present/sell its results (especially in 20 minutes or less!).

Wyly Theater in Dallas

Much of Prince-Ramus's presentation is spent debunking the commonly held belief that remarkable buildings are the product of a single master architect's inflexible and ego-driven aesthetic vision. Prince-Ramus insists that spectacular buildings can be the result of a hyper-rational process—a process that involves stakeholders at every stage; focuses on function, flexibility, and other critical parameters; balances different costs; and is team-based and devoid of ego as much as possible. While the design process is the same for all three structures, I feel that the aesthetic results vary widely—I love the Library, am mixed about the Theatre, and absolutely hate the Plaza. Is REX's hyper-rational design superior to ego-driven design even when it produces ugly buildings?

Museum Plaza, Louisville, KY

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