Architecture and IA


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My portion closing the "More than a Metaphor" panel at IA Summit 2011 in Denver CO.

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Architecture and IA

  1. 1. A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUTARCHITECTUREAND IA PRACTICEFor the IASummit 2011 Panel “More than a Metaphor”Andrew Hinton /
  2. 2. Julia Morgan ArchitectIt was the early 1900s and Julia Morgan was already an established architect on the west coast. She’d designed banks, schools, hospitalsand homes;>>she’d redesigned the historic Fairmont Hotel after the San Francisco fire in 1906;>>and had a client named William Randolph Hearst who kept her busy with ongoing additions to his sprawling castle.>> she had even designed a number of buildings for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and was essentially the officialarchitect for that organization on the west coast.An interesting thing to note about these examples -- Morgan generally didn’t work within a single architectural style or mode. Sheemployed whatever styles and modes were appropriate for her client and for the needs of the job.In 1913 a woman from the Hearst family asked Ms Morgan to design a conference center on about 30 acres of land she had donated nearMonterey, California.fairmont: alamedainfo.comhearst: listsoplenty.comywca:
  3. 3. “Lone Genius” Architects 1880s - 1930sThe world Morgan was working in was one dominated by the ego-driven architecture you heard about from Jorge.
  4. 4. patersonymca.orgThere were also examples of YMCA architecture ... which had an established approach for the architecture of its buildings.>>In fact, there’s a book on the subject, called Manhood Factories … and that’s how they were seen: machines for the processing ofChristian American manhood. There was an efficient, linear, industrial approach fitting the 19th century worldview.Typically they were big square Georgian Revival or Neo-Romanesque building where everything is contained in one factory-like edifice.>> And every room has a purpose, designed for processing a particular aspect of manly character.
  5. 5. Julia Morgan: Architect of Dreams - G. WadsworthBut with the conference center, she took a different approach.She visited the site walked along the beach and among the dunes, and thought about what the conference center was for, and what the landit was on could mean. She sketched some thoughts about how the space could be best shaped to support restful, reflective community, andthought the natural setting was an important part of that context.She decided it should be made up of multiple lodge buildings set among the low sandy rises, because the setting itself was meditative andinspirational.Text from “Julia Morgan: Architect of Dreams” Ginger WadsworthPictures from:
  6. 6. Asilomar Conference CenterShe designed the buildings so they would accommodate and enhance the natural patterns of a human community in such a setting.Constructed largely of redwood and native stone, the lodges feel like part of the landscape.They have casual rooms, many with fireplaces, designed as much for encouraging gathering behavior as producing warmth.The center is flexible, organic and open, but it also nudges residents toward communal cloister and gathering together, without forcing theissue.It gives people the room to be people, to have private moments and public ones, and to understand which is which and why. It establishesappropriate contexts for the varieties of human behavior intended.Why do I bring up this example?asilomar aerial & walkway: chimney picture: Neovenator.combuilding under tree:
  7. 7. Asilomar Conference CenterOne reason I bring it up is because this conference center has a history in the information architecture community -- it was the meetingplace for the founding of the IA Institute; originally called the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture, largely because of theexample set by Julia Morgan’s work in that place.
  8. 8. Asilomar Conference Center It doesn’t engineer the behavior of its inhabitants, it encourages & accommodates their behavior.Another reason for bringing this example up is that I think it’s especially appropriate for how we design networked places today ... it’s agreat example of ...>> a design that doesn’t engineer the behavior of its inhabitants, it encourages and accommodates their behavior. She didn’t design theexperience, she designed the conditions within which people can have the experiences on their own, to make their own meaning.asilomar aerial & walkway: chimney picture: Neovenator.combuilding under tree:
  9. 9. BEHAVIOR CONTEXT INHABITANCEMorgan was a pioneer, prefiguring later architectural thinkers like Christopher Alexander,>>in designing for natural patterns of human behavior,>> in understanding the context within which the work is done,>> and in raising the importance remembering that people have to live with and within the design.So how are you practicing IA? Personally, I don’t hear these issues discussed nearly enough in the day to day work of people doing thework in the trenches. All too often I see practitioners either choosing or being bullied into going straight from a requirements document towireframes. Or going straight into a site-map of linear, static structure, without considering the organic, behavioral context of the peoplewho will have to live in the thing that’s being made.The semantic structures we create are just as architectural as anything Morgan made ... they’re dwellings.As a community, we need to aim higher -- and always be remembering that we’re creating dwellings ... places where people live, talk, learn,fall in love, and do their work.
  10. 10. WHAT PLACES WILL YOU MAKE?So what can you learn from people like Julia Morgan? And what places will you make?