• mbaran7

Architectural Glitches

Updated: Oct 28

The process of making is not typically linear. Direction can be reversed and lateral moves made as various directions fail to prove satisfactory and new paths are discovered. But each revision, and sometimes a drawing or modeling accident, are the layers of process that provide substance to an idea.

A glitch is defined as:


1. a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or irregularity of equipment.

verb 1. suffer a sudden malfunction or irregularity.

Allowing for the inevitable glitch – embracing it rather than attempting to prevent it or repair it, provides for a richer and more diverse architecture than a pure and uncontaminated one.

There is a detail that I still remember from my early education (and that was a long time ago so it’s a fuzzy one). As I recall, it was attributed to Frank Gehry, and pre-dated his highly precise, Catia generated forms. The detail had an angle called out, and it was labeled to be built at somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees. It was a degree of imprecision and design flexibility that still stands out in my mind today. It provided the opportunity to account for a certain amount of construction ‘tolerance’ and allowed an openness to possibilities.


Air and Space Museum by Frank

This manner of thinking also brings to mind Duchamp’s Large Glass, or ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’. The work is sandwiched between two panels of glass, and was at one point dropped and broken. Duchamp embraced the cracks and kept them as part of the work. It appears that chance finished the project for him. His commitment to the process of art as part of the art is further evidenced in The Green Box, which consists of various documentation of the Large Glass.


Large Glass by Marcel

To many architects, the idea of a design being completed outside of total control would amount to a terrible transgression. To me, allowing for variation and even accident, is exciting. In this space, discovery occurs and design emerges. It happens when a line goes astray, or a vertex is pulled in the wrong direction. It also happens when a contractor doesn’t look carefully at a drawing, and something unintended gets built. You can demand it be redone, but this is not always possible (time and other constrains intervene). Then there is an Exquisite Corpse to deal with. How can you build on what you now have in front of you. What you end up with may be surprising, and is often more complex and contains a richness that may not be present in the original.

Shifts in direction, accidental or not, provide feedback to the designer(s). They produce information on what works and what doesn’t. The relationship between parts are explored in this manner; how the site relates to larger context, the concept to the form, the form to the space. New ideas occur as the hand moves and the eye witnesses the results. Design results from an iterive process, not from conceiving a single vision and smashing it into reality.

Of course the process doesn’t end when the drawings are complete. Once the design is finalized, we develop drawings that are instructions to the contractor. There is little room for error at this stage, and we work to be sure costly mistakes are avoided. And we handle the inevitable surprises we encounter during construction with the same eye toward creative problem solving.

Architecture continues to evolve after the last brick is laid. Time takes hold and transforms buildings in unexpected ways. This is what makes stories so fascinating; their twists and turns. Likewise, what makes much architecture great is it’s history and the tales it can tell. Not all architects insist that they write every page of the story, and that is wise. The ultimate fate of most buildings is in the end, dust.

I was looking at a new structure in our neighborhood that was recently completed. My thought, as I passed by, was that it was just going to sit there now. Likely for a long time. Part of me wants to see movement. To see it transform itself on a daily basis. But the transformation will happen slowly. Still, time is relative. I suppose what draws me to reflect on time and transformation is the beauty that exists in the messy process. It forms a complex and multi-layered story, rich with complication and contradiction. It is this richness that draws us in.

In this sense, the ‘design’ process never stops. And it never has a singular voice. And some of the voices, like that of time, are silent.

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