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  • Writer's pictureLeonardo Agrelo

Is Philosophy dead? First time in an office.

As we approach the end of this tedious (and I say tedious only because of the place my stubborn head picked to continue my career) and long journey, we started our second to last semester, fall of 2022, with a few courses, 1 of them, a very important one. Seminar. Some of my peers call it, pre-thesis. So yes, it seems like a very important one.

Florida International University approached this as a lottery. All the professors teaching this course have a presentation, an overall introduction to the course, the objectives and specificities and particularities of the course if you decide to take it with them. So, you sit there for a long while and watch all the presentations and then you write down in order the name of those professors, after that they will assign you whatever professor they want. (Hey! It has to look organized!)

We gathered at the auditorium, and watched a few professors present what they thought it would be important for us to learn and experiment 2 semesters short from graduation. Some of them think that right before graduation we should be experimenting with coding to create cool useless forms. Others want us experimenting with apps that who knows how many times will be updated to fix infinite issues before they become obsolete and forgotten. Others want us to live in the sea, under some rock, which is why we should design coral reefs, because architecture is no longer for humans, we now must shelter all kind of species because evolution was in vain and they need us. Others want to find new purpose in discarded objects and materials. Very few, want us to have the real life experience, of working with a real site, real conditions, challenges, regulations and actual methods of construction. Only one, offered a REAL office environment that would provide us the experience of such practices and the company, advice and participation of true experienced professionals in the field of architecture, design and services.

Some of the faces were familiar, some others completely new, tension was high, dense the air, and I still don't know how the choice wasn't obvious for most people.

As the presentations progressed of course, we took notes. I only did it with the purpose of writing this, because I wanted to share them. I struggled to keep my eyes open and not fall asleep during almost the entire time we were there.

I struggled even more to understand more than half the things that some of them said.


Obviously, I wanted that only professor who offered something useful and helpful, so I only wrote down the number one next to his name and ignored the rest. Only to find out later that week that I was assigned to a class that would have been my last choice.

Same thing happened for my Design 10 class and now I'm stuck in a class where AI is making decisions for me. But that's another topic.

After couple of weeks the day came when we had to meet at the office. We were all excited, the experience of being in an environment where you see people working on detail drawings, meeting, talking about design, producing actual and real work is amazing.

The mission that day was to introduce our project, watch a couple of presentations that the office had prepared and make our own presentations on our first assignment. For our first assignment we had to select a precedent for our project, and this is where it gets interesting.

Let's define what a precedent should be and do first.

In Architecture school when you are asked to find a precedent most people usually go to Pinterest and find one cool thing to reproduce, and they go for it. Ideally your precedent should be a case study. Something already done and built. Not a dream, not an idea. A project with similar characteristics to yours. So, you can study it, while getting information useful to develop your own.

So based on this idea I selected my precedent:

(Image obtained from Archdaily)

The urban renewal of Chiado neighborhood by Alvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira.

The proportions of this development compared to our actual site were off. This one was smaller. The topography of the site was also completely different, the variations in elevation were of up to 60 feet (approximately 18 meters). And of course, the aesthetic of this project had a great impact on those present, because of the Mediterranean colonial style. Someone even mentioned that this would be only good to sit and chill for hours drinking wine. (You can't simply ignore everything else if you look at it with the eyes of a designer envisioning what could be).

(Image obtained from Archdaily)

Yes, this project was relatively small compared to our site, but this project had almost the same objectives. Cutting off traffic and revitalizing an area (in this case historical) so that it would be more pedestrian friendly, creating plazas, and public areas almost as in the Corbu promenade. An experience, along these same public areas, with different levels, allowing for different views.

Yes, the topography was considerably different, that is why these systems of elevations along the public spaces worked out so well. But this does not mean that you can't apply this in your project. In fact, it is already part of it.

This bridge extends over the street, reaching out to the lot across, connecting the park of the Government Center in Miami to the Library and Museum. So, it is possible to create larger areas for the public, using the same idea, so the walk in the sidewalk does not feel so claustrophobic.

This precedent presented the neighborhood the opportunity to repair areas and improve some others, such is the case of public transportation. The first phase of the project began in 1991-92 and the subterranean train station opened for the first time in 1998 I believe. Connecting even further the neighborhood to many other cities and towns.

In the case of our site, we are in the presence of a transportation hub. The most important element in the site is the Metro Station, that serves as one of the most important stops along the Metrorail, and the most important one in the entire area of Downtown Miami, where we also have the presence of the Metro Mover, both public transportation systems, that should be taken into account when planning for the city of the future, a city "without cars".

Then it makes even more sense to have platforms, or some kind of elevated spaces since all these elements already exist in the site, including the Metro station that has many different access points at different levels.

And yes, the style was nothing like Miami, but since the beginning I always knew I wanted to work on the Museum, even more after I visited it. It becomes clear that the language used in these historical buildings, or at least, these buildings that have the purpose of sheltering and carrying history on its shoulders, have to present the public with this language.

Rather than listening to all presentations, the whys and hows of these selections, the rambling about differences and money continued. That word made its appearance again and again and again, MONEY.

How much money you think the city will make with this?

How much money you think they will invest on this?

How much money will it cost?

How much money we can save?

Etc, etc, etc.

When approaching a project, I always try to reflect on the spaces I create. Its qualities, like Kahn would say: "what does this building wants to be?" Then finding relationships between what you see and what you feel, the battle between perception and reality. It is comforting to imagine that you are affecting someone else experience inside that space. That you can persuade them to reflect on their lives, purpose on this earth, longing for company, for a memory that was left behind because maybe it hurts or maybe the complete opposite, hate, disgust, violence, or sadness like Daniel Libeskind portrayed so well in his Jewish Museum in Berlin.

It clearly was not a matter of your thinking, your reasoning, your position as a designer, future architect or your purpose. The word MONEY controlled every aspect of the decision-making process. SHOCKING. The real deal, the real world, taking its toll on me. What an experience.

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