Rice Solar Decathlon House on National Mall. Photo by Eric Hester
The third session of “Spotlight on the Rice School of Architecture” featured Nonya Grenader and Danny Samuels who co-teach introductory courses at the Rice School of Architecture and lead the Rice Building Workshop. (See all posts in the series here.) The workshop is an advanced practicum for undergraduates and graduate students that produces buildings from design to completion. In other words, students donate their labor to a building project and experience first-hand all the logistical, practical, and budgetary challenges that builders face when attempting to execute an architect’s plans. The result is that Rice’s architecture students gain a sure sense of how plans and ideas actually manifest in the real world.
Samuels and Grenader attribute just 15 percent of total effort in any given architectural project to the design process. The other 85 percent goes into actual construction “outside the studio”: meeting budgets, adapting to weather conditions, complying with municipal permitting, communicating with contractors, and collecting and deploying available resources, including materials and labor. “Design is a continual process,” said Samuels, “with problems that have to have design solutions throughout the building process.”
A general assembly of Occupy Houston at Tranquility Park
Such is the call-and-response that kicks off every General Assembly at Occupy Houston. Organizers have chosen to forego the permitting process which would allow for amplified sound in favor of this technique, where speakers talk slowly, one short phrase at a time, and the crowd repeats those snippets of sentences to amplify that voice using “the people’s microphone.” It makes communication a little slower, a lot more painstaking, but that’s part of the point—democracy is a slow process.
Detail from Ana Serrano's Salon of Beauty, all photos by Nash Baker
“Vibrancy” — the first and too often the last word that comes up when considering Ana Serrano’s Salon of Beauty, installed at Rice University Art Gallery. The brightly-colored buildings that make up the slightly-smaller-than-life-size cityscape are indeed at first glance “playfully vibrant” as one reviewer writes. The installation, a (re)created blue collar neighborhood from Los Angeles, is comprised of a flower shop, strip club, beauty salon, liquor store, bakery, and the like. Each building is made from wooden frames enclosed in painted cardboard that bring to mind a fantastical, “vibrant,” Disneyland-like aesthetic. It is in this contradiction, between the working class roots of this neighborhood and its aestheticization, that I am interested.
Fernando Brave, Pablo Ferro, and Craig Minor
Apparently, a whole army of people in Houston know who Pablo Ferro is and love his work. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston event (co-sponsored by the Rice Design Alliance and AIGA) was packed for the sold-out presentation of the title designer, movie director, animator and all around Renaissance Man. The crowd was a heady mix befitting of the presenter himself: a slew of hipsterfied young graphic designer nerds mixed with older film buffs, advertising professionals, architects, and typography geeks. The eclectic audience was an indication that Pablo Ferro has been fully rediscovered (if he was ever really forgotten).
Love of Pablo Ferro, the cult figure, has been growing for some time now. The rebirth of interest in him has been driven by a large, impressive and always surprising body of work (and its recent appearance in easily searchable YouTube videos): the skinny, sexy film titles of Dr. Strangelove, the boxy split screens of The Thomas Crown Affair, the flipped Я of The Russians are Coming, and the quick-cut, psychedelic weirdness of the Clockwork Orange trailer. Ferro created an aesthetic for an era and laid out an array of visual techniques that would be copied and reworked for decades. In recent years, he’s received a series of well-deserved awards from prestigious organizations, including the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum. There’s also a documentary film in the works that combines animated sequences with celebrity interviews (e.g. Anjelica Houston and Jeff Bridges) to tell the story of Pablo’s unconventional life: his road from Cuba to working with Stan Lee and Disney in New York to Hollywood studio work and finally to a humble garage in L.A. where he lives and works to this day.