Revolution Lullabye

February 23, 2009

Phelps, Administration as Design Art

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Administration as Design Art.”

Writing program administrators should see themselves as designers, the programs and institutions they work in as designs and sites of design, and their work as WPAs as design art. Phelps draws on the work of the New London Group, Gunther Kress, and architects Karl Weith and Stewart Brand to offer a new lens to administrative work to not just see their work as design but to also challenge them to think of their programs as always designable, never concluding in a final design. Writing programs can be sites of institutional change if they continue designing and re-desigining after their initial structure is put into place, and writing programs have the unique complex, contradictory, and improvisational place in the academy to which enact change because they are a managable size with connections, like a sprawling network, across the campus. Phelps shows how crucial it is to reach out beyond one’s own discipline to find design inspiration in all different fields. Phelps also argues that a WPA does much more than design curriculum: the teaching staff, the physical space of the institution, the relationships with different deans and other departments and faculty – these all must be designed.

Quotable Quotes

Object: “to locate administration as design art at the juncture of the practical and productive arts” (7)

“This is the road I advocate for writing programs as transformers: design things that work, but are below the radar, friendly and sprawling, messy and temporary, constantly learning” (26)

“I suggest that it is a mistake to set up a writing program primarily as an instrument to critique or change an institution. It will do that as a consequence of your designing the program to meet the intrinsic goals of its situated design, because writing programs require institutional redesign to locate, support, and implement their characteristic purposes. But theprocess, or rather consequences, should be indirect and ordinary, not grandiose, direct, and instrumentalist.” (26)

Notable Notes

high road/low road of use

designs should not be fixed, they should never end

the challenge of administration is that you cannot design in a bubble: you must jump in and design something that you can’t have complete control, management, or knowledge of. That’s the downfall of the theories presented by Kress and the New London Group

the importance of the feedback loop: remaining sensitive to context, unpredictable, in the moment, temporary – like jazz improv

the importance of construction and building over analysis and critique

Questions: Why is this the way it is? Can it be designed better? Does it have to be this way?

January 12, 2009

Alexander, Ishikawa, & Silverstein, A Pattern Language

Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

This architectural guide is the second book of a larger work that attempts to define a theory and language for constructing spaces that allow for optimal human happiness and well-being. Alexander et al wrote this book in response to the increasingly unpoetic architectural decisions of the mid-twentieth century, which resulted in large, sprawling buildings and cities that had no elegance or life. The authors present 253 patterns, design problems and their solutions, in the book’s three different sections: towns, buildings, and construction. “Towns” describes how larger, global spaces of cities, countryside, communities, and neighborhoods can be organized; “Buildings” details the attributes that should be considered when constructing spaces and places of work, life, and recreation; “Construction” explains the type of materials and structures that should be used in buildings. Alexander’s patterns contain similiar themes that on the surface might seem contradictorary: harmonious but heterogeneous, complicated and compressed but simple and open. All the patterns are shaped around the rhythm of human life and call for balance, diversity, and specific boundaries. The patterns are further organized by asterisk marks: those that are followed by two are patterns that Alexander believes are universally deep, true, and sound; those with one he is less sure of their universaility, and those with none suggest at patterns that seems to make sense but is not engrained in the soul of human existence. These patterns are not supposed to be the foundation of some master society plan; rather, a society based on this pattern language can only emerge organically from the bottom up, as each individual designer follows the patterns to design their own space, big or small (3).

Quotable Quotes

“No pattern is an isolated entity” – a whole theme about the problem of isolation (of old people, of homes, of workplaces, of shopping areas, of little kid sleeping areas. Human beings, it seems, should be in communication with each other and interact with one another. Human life is a network.)

“This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing, you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it” (xiii).

“Many of the patterns here are archetypal – so deep, so deeply rooted in the nature of tihngs, that it seems likely that they will be a part of human nature, and human action, as much in five hundred years, as they are today” (xvii)

It is a language “which can make people feel alive and human” (xvii)

Compressing patterns is “the only way of using a pattern language to make buildings which are poems” (xliv)

“The suburb is an obsolete and contradictory form of human settlement” (30).

“The full cycle of life [needs to be] represented and balanced in each community” (145).

“People need an identifiable spatial unit to belong to” (81)

“No one stage in the life cycle is self-sufficient” (189)

Notable Notes

Each of the patterns works in concert with the others. They are organized by general magnitude -the large ones are completed by the smaller ones, the smaller ones compliment the larger ones. (xii)

There are many pattern languages; every society and culture will form its own

It is a network: create structure, embellish structures, embellish embellishments.

The goal is to make a space that resonates a poem: put together the patterns so they are dense, overlapping, and compressed, so that the space becomes meaningful, illuminated, economical, and profound.

Importance of the life cycle and interaction with all people: the old, the young, men, women

Patterns like child caves, four-story limit, row houses, still water, grave sites, roof garden, old age cottage, fruit trees, etc.

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