haiku for the book "Think like an architect" by Hal Box

machines for living

and god is in the details.

form follows function…

Bought this book as a consolation prize after a small hike to BookPeople in (a failed) search of a tome on Richard Meier’s houses. Written by a long-time UT architecture dean and published by UT Press, it’s truly a gem. Covering the totality of architecture, from its history to its practice, this book gives a great overview of it all with a lot of practical pointers. The book is somewhat autobiographical and includes Box’s views and opinions on this and that. It’s organized as a series of hypothetical letters, which is a little cheesy and unnecessary (and almost caused me not to buy it). But after the initial Dear Johns and Dear Janes that start the chapters, the goofiness fades quickly.

Box’s professorial pedigree shines in how he organizes the essence of his message in well-worded and thoroughly-explained lists. The writing is clear and concise and slides across the palate like a fine wine (or a cold glass of Dublin Dr Pepper). Although Box is a professor, he started out as a practicing architect (and practiced while proffing) and keeps his feet solidly on a practical foundation. In fact, he states that the primary job of the architect is to “…satisfy the client’s program within the budget in a timely manner.” Amen, brother! He goes on to say “[t]he budget is a prime reality of the project. It is value. When your project is finished, no matter how good the architecture, it will be only real estate to much of the world.” And furthermore: “You begin the design process by exploring three worlds that are about to meet: One world is the site, a place in the community or landscape; another world is the program, the owner’s list of needs and desires; and the third world is the budget.” It’s good to know that some architects actually take budget (and the owner’s needs and desires) into consideration with their work…

For the most part, Box keeps his architectural ego in place, indirectly noting (by omission) that he is not one of the geniuses. However, the arch-ego slips out for a little sunshine and mooning when he writes that “…architecture is the most comprehensive of all visual arts and has a right to claim a superiority over the others.” Take that, Ansel Adams…

The chapters of most interest to me were those on the design process and making design decisions, chapters I’ve already read a few times (and will surely read a few times more). Box notes that these chapters are his ideas and thoughts on the design process; nonetheless, it’s neat to get an inside view into the architectural magic.

Box is not a fan of undiluted modernism (pointing out that it’s been around for over a hundred years now) and instead trumpets regionalism that fits in with the neighborhood, local climate, and local materials. He shudders at architectural interventions, where the architecture stands out from the crowd like Lady Gaga at a Catholic sisters retreat in Abilene (Gehry is a gaga interventionist, I reckon…). My inner punkrocker doesn’t agree with this, but I understand the motivation and concern.

Finally, Box provides a substantial reading list to learn more about the history and process of architecture. All in all a worthy book for anyone thinking about becoming an architect, looking to hire an architect, or simply wants to know more about the built world about us.

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