Thursday, February 16, 2006

Revisiting My Inner Architect

By the time I entered high school, I had given up on becoming an astronaut. We had already been to the moon anyway, and Mars seemed a bit too far off. Besides, there's that thing that happens to a boy during the onset of puberty, I believe, that often shifts his focus to the core.

So I decided I wanted to be... an architect.

I could be creative, build stuff, and live in a big house on the hill in the middle of town, just like "Ron" my classmate, whose dad was an architect. Then there was "Sam" in my boy scout patrol. His dad had this great modern split-level set back in the woods on a hillside, that felt like living in a ski lodge. Yesiree, I could make a killing (which is Midwestern for "living large"), like an engineer, only more artistic. I even took a class in "mechanical drawing" during my junior year.

But one day, while talking to my Dad about my plans, he suggested that my lack of familiarity with building materials might prove a limitation, and suggested the related field of what was then known as "commercial art." At the time, I found it hard to argue with that kind of reasoning.

And so it was. In the fall of 1973, I began my freshman year at the University of Cincinnati, majoring in Graphic Design. My home ground on campus was the College of Design, Architecture, and Art, tucked away on the northwest corner of the main campus. There I would remain for five years.

Even so, I envied the Architecture students. As in similar settings elsewhere, you learn soon enough that when someone is an architect, they think they can design anything, not just buildlings. A certain academic chauvinism prevailed at the College, that appeared to carry over into the professional realm.

Plus, in my heart, I was still an architect. I poured over books on experimental and alternative housing, an interest that graces my bookshelves to this very day. My doodlings during meetings over the years have consisted of housing floor plans, and village site plans.

I thought of this manner of muse lately, as a multimedia/web design student at the Art Institute of Washington. No, they don't have an architecture program there. But I am currently enrolled in a course entitled "information architecture." Its description reads thus: "This course introduces students to the concepts and processes of developing interactive projects that address and solve user needs. During the course, students will carry out research of users, goals, competition and content and develop the navigation structure, process flow, and labeling systems that best address these needs. Students presentations [sic] and defend their decisions."

It sounds a lot like what an architect must do as a prelude to laying out any building plans.

And you, the viewer surfing the Internet, can appreciate the need for this whenever you are confused by what you view on a web page. Some are better looking than others, yes. But it's more than that, isn't it? Sometimes you just need to find something right away, and when it's all hitting you at once, it becomes rather daunting. You tell yourself you never were much for this new technology. But you're not the problem; the technology is.

Ten years ago, a company would put up a website, if for no other reason, than that "everyone else is doing it." This wasn't always sufficient cause, and that same company was eventually left with a site that was outdated, dysfunctional, or just plain useless.

And so, in addition to web programmers, designers, developers, and managers, there is presently emerging a place for an architect.

Hopefully, one that can make a killing.


N. Trandem said...

If you don't have it, I recommend the O'Reilly book on the subject.

David L Alexander said...

Which one? There are a number of books published by O'Reilly Media. If you have the title, I'd be interested.