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Still inspired by Jersey Devil after all these years
by Katy Purviance on 02/07/09 @ 10:35:21 am
Categories: Books | 429 words | 1719 views

For our first studio project of the spring semester here at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, we’re to design a structure that relies on compression. It should include a portal and a place for two people to sit. And it should be made completely out of brick.

Michael Meredith, who is leading studio this semester, supplied us with copious pdfs of precedents.

But I find myself turning to Jersey Devil for inspiration.

I checked out both books on Jersey Devil from our library, and in each I was struck by how well their ethos resonated with me.

This is how Michael Crosbie, author of Jersey Devil: Design/Build Book describes it:

Much of early America was built by architects who operated similarly to Jersey Devil. They were called “architect/builders” and often traveled through a region designing and building houses, churches, stores, and schools. They too would begin with some basic assumptions about the building required, develop designs, and then execute them, making adjustments to meet the demands of the site, materials, program, and climate.

It was during the Industrial Revolution that this relationship between architect and architecture began to disintegrate. Mechanized production, the division of labor, and the sheer demand to build more structures faster affected architecture by forcing a wedge between designer and builder. Architects set themselves apart as a professional class that was quite different than mere tradesmen. Buildings were (and still are) designed in their entirety down tot he last detail before ground was broken. Then drawn and written instructions were given to the people who would assemble the structure – the builders – who were required by law not to deviate from the plans in any way without express permission from the architect. Any changes necessary were communicated back from the building site to the architect in the office.

This divorce was ultimately institutionalized by the American Institute of Architects, which, in 1909, adopted a code of ethics that explicitly forbade architects from engaging in building construction. Thus the hand and the mind were severed in the creation of the built environment. Certain trends in architecture today reflect the malignancy of this separation. Technological advancements is bittersweet: it often makes our lives easier by placing buffers between us and the real world of raw experience. The fabrication of built reality fir the architect is not unlike eating synthetic food or engaging in telephone sex. Meanwhile, the ethics of architects who chose to build their own designs are suspect while others receive public acclaim for their unbuilt (if not unbuildable) designs. We live in strange times.

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places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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