Having grown up in small-town Northwest Indiana and having once taught at a high school in that area, I understood concepts related to utility long before I understood aesthetic concepts related to art. It only made sense to do so. In Northwest Indiana farmers faced having their crops wiped out by drought, disease, or too much rain, and winter winds whipping across the plains could freeze diesel fuel in school buses and children waiting at the bus stops in no time at all.
This emphasis on utility drove education in the area. I grew up north of Purdue University (a school that focuses on applied education) and South of Chicago. When the private and public schools in our small town sent us on field trips, we headed to Chicago, home of numerous wonderful museums and a great zoo. It would be nice to think that visits to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum of Natural History were balanced with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, but if that happened, I don’t remember it. I do, however, remember the Coal Mine and German Submarine exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry in vivid detail considering my last visit to this museum happened over thirty years ago.
You would think that playing clarinet for high school band and reading every book that made its way into my hands would have gotten me started on thinking about the Arts, but I didn’t pay much attention to “art” as a concept when I was young. I played in the band so I could go to football and basketball games for miss school for band tours, and I read because it was fun.
It wasn’t until I was in college at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio that I began to think seriously about the Arts. Given that I was an English major and that my sister worked at the Dayton Art Institute, it would have been hard to continue to escape examination of what humans consider their more creative impulses, especially those that were thought not to have “utility.”
Ideas concerning “art for art’s sake” and utility came to mind recently as I was interviewing two women (Aaron Michelle Baker, a graduate student, and Kris Peterson, an undergraduate student) who are studying architecture on the Marietta campus of Kennesaw State University. Having played tourist across the United States and in Canada, Italy, and Greece, I have gawked at architecture not as prime examples of utility, but as prime examples of “art.” However, in talking with Aaron and Kris, I was reminded that both art and utility play their roles in architecture.
Architecture, unlike a painting or a great work of literature or music, has a utilitarian prpose. However, if architecture was only meant to shelter us, it might be designed more like an anthill and exhibit no features that make one shelter look different from another, other than its size. Instead, I (and many others) do gawk at architecture—we do look at its aesthetics. In talking with both women, I realized how important balance between art and utility is in their field of study.
Not only is there a balance between utility and aesthetics, but there is a balance between design and construction; process and product; the visual, the felt, and the acoustics; the creative and the analytical; the need to work individually and the need to work collaboratively; the natural world surrounding the structure and the culture in which the structure is placed; and finally the blending of the past with the new.
Aaron Michelle Baker
Aaron claims that her love of architecture occurred almost by osmosis. Her father, Robert Platt, was (and still is) an architect, and she often saw him at his drafting table. Her own interest was sparked. Soon Aaron found herself beginning her undergraduate studies at the Art Institute of Atlanta where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts in the Interior Design field. According to Aaron, a lot of the interior design field has been born out of interior architecture, which examines issues related to space and boundaries within the interior of a building.
While at the Art Institute Aaron met her husband, Jeff Baker, who is now an animator. She talked of the two of them doing homework together and how they were often on opposing sides of artistic endeavors. Most of his work was comprised of creating freehand drawings and most of her work required measurements. That’s not to say that her work didn’t also come with options for sketching something freehand. However, AutoCAD, a software program which does require measurements, has become important to the drafting process since it allows those creating designs to move items in the design plan without having to redraw the plans several times.
Aaron admits she has a love-hate relationship with AutoCAD. She likes how easily it helps her to revise her work, but she feels that she sometimes loses the hands-on feel she gets from drawing it herself. That said, Aaron does like the nitty-gritty detail work necessary for what she calls the middle state of the design process. She told me that this stage is a lot like completing a jigsaw puzzle and seeing how each piece helps to create the whole picture in the end. She likes finding the right balance of materials, and she enjoys the “aha moment” she experiences when everything begins to come together.
Currently Aaron is working on her thesis for her graduate work in the Architecture Department. Her interest concerns materiality and acoustics. While I think all of us realize that some rooms are quite noisy, I think a lot of us simply respond to the noise level by thinking that it is created by a large number of people speaking loudly. We think of architecture as visual or felt, not as sound. Aaron is actually quite interested in ideas concerning optimal noise levels for rooms.
Aaron’s thesis focuses on the Architecture studio as a case study. She is considering material alterations to the partitions, ceiling, and floor in addition to alterations to the workstation layout as a means to control noise and distractions in high traffic areas of the studio. She has submitted a paper based on her thesis to the Architectural Research Consortium 2015 conference.
Aaron’s current work as a Junior Designer at Coyle-Thompson-Jones revolves around a number of tasks. She assists with the measurements and documentation of as-built conditions, such as utility and lighting locations. She requests samples of tiles, carpets, ceiling tiles, catalogues, and acoustic properties for the company’s resource library or material library, and she is learning more about soft surfaces. Aaron actually has a background in the hard surface world due to a sales representative position she held in her past. In fact, her background as a sales representative has helped her to realize that they are a designer’s best friends since they know a lot about a small, significant piece while the designer knows a lot about the big picture, but a little about each detail.
Aaron has come to appreciate the ways in which a lot of her past work informs her as a designer. For example working as a sales representative not only helped her to understand materials but also to understand the day-to-day limitations a representative has in acquiring samples or quotes. In the end she has learned that there is a flow to projects that customers don’t always understand, and that it’s important to keep your ego in check while you work on projects. A good architect not only needs to understand design, materials, and so on, but she must also listen to clients and to be willing to make changes.
While Kris Peterson wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with an art degree, she did know that she wanted the big college experience. She chose the University of Georgia. The school has a great art program and it is most definitely a large school. What she realized after studying at UGA (with a bit of guidance from her parents) is that maybe the big college experience wasn’t that important and that maybe she wanted to use her art background for a more substantial purpose, say like getting an Architecture degree.
When she first heard of Southern Polytechnic State University (now the Marietta campus of Kennesaw State University), Kris wasn’t sure exactly where the school was located in Georgia. She soon found out that it was in Marietta and that the program balanced the creative side of the architecture process with a focus on the technical side as well. She has thrived on this formula. Kris especially likes that she has learned to create her designs and then to step back in order to reflect and critique them as well. She has learned to question all decisions in order to better understand her practice.
Kris has taken full advantage of what the Architecture program and the Marietta campus of KSU have to offer. For example, she has balanced her design work with travel, an important key she has found to opening new insights into architecture. Trips Kris has taken to Paris, France and Barcelona, Spain were part of travel offerings by the Architecture Department. To explore the influence of travel more fully, Kris has traveled to Italy with an Italian friend, who helped her to explore the country.
Such travel has helped Kris realize how much architecture is embedded within a culture. She told me that it has changed her worldview. Cities are designed in ways that help a society to function even for simple life style decisions. Kris especially likes the ways in which European cities have blended the old and the new. As she has traveled she has looked for the ways in which the two intersect and touch at a certain point—her goal has become finding the opposing buildings and analyzing how they work together and the ways in which the combination of old an new are a great space for interaction. On a more personal note, while in Italy Kris enjoyed finding the pockets of “true” Romans and seeing their “space” and interactions.
Kris’s active participation in the Architecture Department has benefited her in other ways. Sitou Akolly, Lucy Herrera, and Kris recently won Honorable Mention in the Young Architects 48-hour Design Competition. In 48 hours they needed to complete a project for a Vine City park near the Georgia Dome. At its peak the park had been famous for being part of an agricultural district. It had then been neglected. Their assignment was to design a new park with a monument to commemorate Chief Tomochichi, a Creek leader who worked with James Oglethorpe to peacefully come to an agreement on the makeup of the British colony of Georgia.
Kris loved the collaborative process as each member of the team drew upon the others in order to create the design, which ended up connecting the Vine City site to its past history as an agricultural district. Kris believes that this collaborative model will be true to what she will do once she graduates and enters the work world.
Kris has also taken on other projects such as creating a technical guide for using the 3-D printer in the Architecture Department, Polybloggin’ for the Undergraduate Admissions Blog, and helping with the design and construction of an eco-container as part of a green roof project on top of the Architecture Building’s gallery roof. This project will help her and future students working with the project to actively learn about sustainability and design-build ideas.
Kris knows that she is interested in the future of the Design-Build method of serving customers. This is not surprising given her interest in both the design and construction aspects of a project. In the meanwhile she is focusing on taking leadership roles on campus. She likes to incorporate learning and teaching in her life, and Kris has done this as a Residential Assistant, a teacher of Yoga, and within architecture’s professional fraternity on campus. Kris finds that the campus has provided room to grow and develop on many levels.
In the end, Aaron and Kris are finding great ways to create the balance between creative design and function. The projects on which they have worked have kept them mindful concerning the aesthetics of a building even as they have designed in order to consider acoustics, sustainability, and construction issues. It seems they seek this type of balance in other aspects of their lives as well. Aaron has learned detailed information about one aspect of materials as a sales representative and even as she learns about the bigger picture in her studies while Kris has used opportunities inside and outside of the classroom to learn and to teach others.