Monday, June 22, 2009

Three Great Architectural Father's Day Gifts

No dreaded tie for me! Three architecturally-related Father's Day gifts made this the best one ever: The Sims 3, a book on Frank Lloyd Wright, and a 2008 Kia Rondo. But what do these have to do with architecture? Trust me, my friends, and read on:

Okay, so the book was probably pretty easy to guess as to how it was architecturally related. If there is a single architect in the world who hasn't heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, it would be like finding a Physicist that never heard of Einstein. "Frank Lloyd Wright", by Spencer Hart, reads in landscape, like many of its kind.

The book is divided into a short biography of Wright, followed by an extensive series of plates that feature photos from many of his greatest works, as well as some of the actual plans, sketches, briefs, and so forth.

Wright's sketches are perhaps the greatest treasure to be found in this book. The notes along the sides, the details put into each and every inch of the place, the immaculate penmanship--each is a glimpse inside the mind of the man who revolutionized the entire industry.

Also are several panoramic shots that spread across both pages, giving an expanded view of the environment surrounding the structures that Wright designed. It becomes increasingly obvious with these photos that Wright not only understood the environment surrounding his works, but loved it, and wanted to frame it, as much as it would frame his works. Neither ever appears to work against the other. A perfect tandem like this should be the goal of any architect. This book makes a fantastic addition to any collector's library. (You can buy it here).

So what does the Kia Rondo have to do with architecture?

Well, as it turns out, my little Echo that I've been driving and loving for the last 8 years needs a new transmission, and rather than spend the thousands to get it replaced, the wife and I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get a new car. The problem is that I needed something that will last me for years and years, get acceptable gas mileage, has good passenger capacity, and can carry large architectural models around in an enclosed environment with easy loading and unloading. It also needed to be capable of long road trips and movement around construction sites, camp sites, etc. This pretty much left me with choosing from SUVs, station wagons, covered wagon pickups, and vans. None of which typically get very good mileage (usually less than 20mpg here in the USA). Then my wife pointed out the Kia Rondo. It gets acceptable mileage (23+ avg), seats up to 7, and has an enormous back cargo area capable.

I mean look at the insane amount of space in this thing. You could fit a model of an entire neighborhood in here plus the presentation materials and still have room for the donuts. And that's BEFORE you fold down the second row seats! With the second-row seats folded down you could go ahead and throw in all your folding tables and folding chairs, and several Vanna White clones to smile and point at your model as you describe the parti. After reading the review from Edmunds and seeing their only cons to the vehicle were "lack of pizzazz," and "questionable resale value," I knew this vehicle was probably perfect. I am not rich enough to need or care about pizzazz, and since this will probably be the car my 2 year old son will be one day driving, I don't particularly care about resale value either. All I had to do was test-drive it to make sure. We found a 2008 for $12,000 at CarMax, I drove it, and that was that. And I mention CarMax because of how incredibly painless the experience was. No haggle. No hassle. No pressure. It was the most pleasant Car Buying experience ever, so I don't mind giving them a nod.

Anyway, that's what the Rondo has to do with Architecture. It's basically a great, inexpensive student car for those who plan on having to haul large delicate models to school and back, and also plan on using the car for the first few years of your career. So what about The Sims 3? What does that have to do with Architecture?

Old-school gamers may realize that the Sim-Franchise did not start with The Sims, it was merely popularized by it. The original game that started it all was Sim City which is now up to Sim City 4 (I don't count Societies). As the name implies, it is a computer simulation game where you plan out a city, and the tiny simulated inhabitants immigrate, emigrate, get and lose jobs, commit crimes, deal with problems like earthquakes, fires, flood plains, etc. It is--believe it or not--actually used by many civil engineers and city managers to help test modern city infrastructure solutions before designing the infrastructure to address them. It's even used by contestants to design a city for the annual IEEE Future Cities Competition. It's also quite a bit of fun.

The Sims, likewise, is a family simulator, that places focuses on one family at a time while they are still in the context of a larger city. By now, at The Sims 3, that environment of city context, people, houses, views, and local community is quite well developed, and houses have become incredibly intricate and varied in their possibilities. So it stands to reason that by now, at Sims 3, one can put certain architectural solutions in place. Though in the first Sims, houses were little more than boxes you could stick furniture in and let your inhabitants walk around, the shape, form, and function of the houses are more important and diverse than ever, and the possibilities are near endless. You can quite literally create a house from the ground up, landscape around it, have incredible arrays of gardens, and what they've done with lighting is incredible. You can actually watch how the shadow of a tree plays across the house through day and night as the sun passes overhead. Rotating around the house gives a view of the entire neighborhood and landscape around it, and with the exchange and creation tools already provided, one can create nearly any texture or look to a house one desires.

Of course the entire point and prefix of architecture is the division of space. How traffic flows into, through, around, and out of the house is of paramount importance in real life, and even more so in Sims 3. You can quite fully recreate just about any house you wish to in here, provided you have the necessary textures and walls. Some of the more extraordinary features might be difficult to pull off. I'm not entirely certain if "Falling Water" could be recreated in Sims 3, but considering the quality and success of this franchise, I don't believe it will take long.

Now, that said, obviously you couldn't build a house purely based off of Sims 3 any more than you could build a city purely based off of Sim City 4. But if you wanted to test a concept, and get a quick view of how something might look, how a family might interact within it, how it fits within the surrounding environment, and how the parti for a house might work, Sims 3 makes a useful (and fun) tool to do so with. Before you dig out the materials manuals, the math books, and fire up the CAD and plotter, try out Sims 3 to test drive your house idea. You might be surprised how well art imitates life.

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