Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sam Jacob and Damon Rich: designing public spaces in an era of “no do-overs”

An interesting Graham Foundation event occurred on Thursday evening, March 29, 2012. The event was a two-person presentation titled “No Do-Overs: Compromise and Complicity in Architecture.” Pictured right to left are Sarah Herda, director, Graham Foundation; Sam Jacob and Damon Rich.

Sam Jacob is a director of London-based architecture office, FAT. With Charles Jencks, Sean Griffiths, and Charles Holland, Jacob co-edited the recent Architectural Design issue, “Radical Post Modernism.” Jacob also writes and edits strangeharvest.

Damon Rich currently serves as urban designer for the City of Newark, New Jersey, where he leads design efforts with public and private players to improve the city’s public spaces. Sam Jacob and Damon Rich revealed their own complicities and compromises, and discussed how these conditions can become grounds for creative and engaged forms of architecture and urban planning. The title of their presentation plays on Robert Venturi’s important book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in which he advocates for an amalgamation of traditional and modern architectural idioms.

Regarding the presentation topic this is what the Graham Foundation promotional information states:
While grand visions are often considered the currency of contemporary architecture, the truth is that compromise—rather, the uncomfortable sensation of being compromised—is the natural state of the architect, and the condition under which architecture is made. For architecture, context is never pure or abstract; it is a site physically, economically, and socially inscribed by competing interests. These compromised positions and scoured surfaces are where architecture’s political and ideological subtexts are revealed. Yet from these cloudy waters, the most innovative, relevant, and unexpected forms can emerge. 
In the design process both designers seem to ask the same question: “who does architecture respond to?” Both Damon and Sam take seriously all contextual aspects into account (postmodernism). As they explain it, “we are weaving our work into the social fabric that’s already there.” This is design based on understanding the context.

Working with all the participants and constituents in a project requires that these designers develop a compromise or negotiation strategy, which involves “working the system” to some extent. In this way compromise as a smart strategy then becomes a synergy as a combined design and problem-solving effort—something all designers can learn from.

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