My brother is an architect. Now, I’ll be honest, I've never quite understood everything he does. And for much of my life, his interest in architecture frustrated me because it meant taking side trips on family vacations to famous buildings I didn't care about (thought probably should have) or sitting around bored while he took 240 pictures of the St. Louis Arch. I think most people think of architects as people who design buildings. And sure, that’s part of it. But the more I learn about what my brother--and architects like him--does, the more I realize that my brother isn't just an architect; he’s a cool architect. It turns out that some architecture is not just about designing buildings, even really cool (or weird depending on your personal opinion) buildings, it’s about designing systems.
What I mean is this: an architect can be someone who simply designs a building, or he can be someone who designs a building and figures out how that building fits into the space around it. He can design a building or a park and he can design a way for that building or park to enhance the environment where it is located, not detract from it.
The firm my brother works for, SWA, is committed to this type of architecture. Their website states that they “have a deep appreciation for nature and natural systems” and they “have a strong commitment to design that synthesizes aesthetics and sustainability.” They recently held an internal contest for their associates that dealt with the issue of the recent droughts in California. The challenge? Imagine a way to help mitigate the effects of the continuing drought. The initial contest announcement asked that instead of turning to the traditional solutions of shutting off sprinklers and taking shorter showers, how can “Landscape Architects and Stewards of the Environment design our way out of this? Make no mistake about it, this drought is serious for the entire Southwest including Texas and California and it will affect the entire US economy in 2014/15.” Entrants were to submit a one minute video outlining their idea for an innovative solution to the drought. Interestingly enough, both winners had solutions relating to the beer and wine industry. Take a look at the winning videos and let me know what you think. I, for one, wish there more architects like this; that is, more architects like my brother.