Civil Engineers produce better erections?

Whether produced by computer or traditional methods, the drawings of any civil engineer, or an Architect, are “His Ambassadors.” The drawings have to ensure successfull fabrication and erection of any structural structures. They have to stand, erect, or fall upon their merits. Very often this relies upon the fact that the originator will not even present them. This might be reliant upon others — or open to the full (and sometimes invidious interpretation), of his client.

Over recent years there has become an over-reliance upon the computer, and its concomitant aids. The term itself, “Computer Aided Design” is a complete misnomer. “Computer Assisted Draughting or Drawing” would be a more applicable term! Computers do not “Design,” and it is unlikely that they will ever “Design.” Design is a somewhat ethereal, yet primarily intellectual process that goes on within the head of the Architect. It cannot be timed, or demanded; it is a spontaneous process that can happen at the most inopportune time — such as sitting in the bath, or doing the washing-up! It does not happen when you “Clock-In” at your, “Feudally Regulated,” work environment!

In short; the computer, the drawing board, the notepad, or the back of a cigarette packet are merely the vehicles for the designer to communicate with his client, or his contractor.

Recently, I was afforded a visit to an Architect’s Office. The Principal Partner, was almost boastful with regard to the practice’s investment in Computer Aided Design; yet, moreover, he was satisfied that the “Drawing Board” had been banished from the office completely. At this point my heart sank, and I felt quite sad for the aspiring designers working within such a régime. I was then taken to the ‘Sewing Room!’ This is my title for a large office space, where draughtsmen were arranged in lines and rows, with a Chief Draughtsman sat on a podium at the end of the room. I honestly thought that this type of office was only found in Dickens! Needless to say this will be an office where I shall not place commissions in the future.

Architects, Interior Designers, and Industrial Designers (as a group), are practitioners of a “Unique Three Dimensional Skill.” The “Dexterity” of this art form varies from one practitioner to another; just in the same way as surgical skills will vary from one doctor to another. We are though, on a course intent on promoting a “Monoculture,” where designs are merely “Rolled-Off” the computer, in the same drab style, merely to oblige a “Fee” that has been negotiated.

Another recent analogous story happened recently, over a few drinks with a colleague from the field of Graphic Design. He had recently taken-on a Graduate Designer, only to find that he could not design without the aid of a computer, and was reliant upon his computer to determine Leading, Kerning, and Typeface Geometry. Although the computer can help, there are times when the “Designer’s Eye” is required!

I had a similar (yet more indictable) tale to exchange; having to accommodate the “Political Appointment” (with salary) of my Sponsor’s Daughter. I had the ideal project for a Graduate Interior Designer, the complete Branding, Design, and Packaging of a small retail optical store — I can even remember preparing a complete project at University, which was based on remodelling a Dental Surgery, complete with attendance in the surgery! She arrived, and I briefed her on what was required.

Then she disappeared for three days, not answering telephone calls or making contact with the office. On the fourth day, she arrived with her Macintosh Laptop, complete with Software that no one had ever heard of, and was completely incompatible with our own. She presented a plan of the store, which could only be described as “Amorphous!” — It reached beyond the plot boundaries, and did not have any concept of scale or proportion, let alone the requirement to display over 2,000 pairs of spectacle frames!

I spent time coaching her in measuring items we use everyday — Basic Ergonomics; however, this fell on “Stony Ground!” The relationship between the Patient and the Practitioner, is a difficult matter to resolve — akin to the Dental Surgery. The Designer has to be particularly sensitive to this — Merely relate this to your own experience of “The Dentist from Hell!”

In the end, I hid her computer and made her use a drawing board. Rather than taking a couple days, several weeks rolled around. However, the production of a “Design” was evolving — Even though it was like “Pulling Teeth!” — Please pardon the pun!

The production of a realistic sketch design took some four weeks to prepare, however, my “Protégée” had learned “Volumes” and could finally draw (without the aid of a safety net). During a conversation one evening she told me of her course (which had taken four years). On Day One of Year One, she was given a Macintosh Laptop Computer (for which her parents had already paid). Then the Software was loaded (for which her parents had again paid). It also “Timed-Out,” at the end of each term.  (Or “Semester,” as we now have to call them.) Thus requiring an additional payment to be made.) Her disappearance for three days, was required for yet another additional fee to be paid (again by her parents) for using the machine in a “Fee Earning Environment.” It made me think, “What was this course about? Interior Design, or flogging unknown and incompatible software to the unsuspecting parents of the students?”

Although “Commercial Decisions” had to be taken (I got one of my more experienced designers to the do the work within two days), the “Point” was nonetheless made!

Enter Stage Left “Her” Tutor (a few days later to check on progress). At first she complained that I had confiscated the Student’s Computer — My reasoning was that it was for her own good, and to instil the belief, that unless she was equipped with basic “Design Skills” she would not be able to earn a salary, or charge fees for commissions. “She must use the computer in a Workplace Environment!” I was told. I asked of the Tutor’s qualifications and experience, however, I did not receive an acceptable answer. It was full of “Woolly Ideas” such as we like to let our students “Envision!” — In my day we used to “Envisage” where our first salary cheque was coming from, let alone “Envision for four years!”

Over the next few months my “Charge” was given “Real Projects” to deal with, which she accomplished with aplomb. My own training took many years, and I relish the opportunity of “Putting Something Back,” however, in this instance, the Workplace Experience becomes “Remedial Education!” After more than twenty-five years in the Architectural Profession, I only hope that “One-Day” I might aspire to the salary levels, and other benefits that “University Design Tutors” enjoy! I would also question whether or not they have had to earn a living from their own “Design Efforts?”

In conclusion “The Computer” must be regarded as merely an “Aid to Design” and not a “Replacement!” The moral of this tale is that the student concerned will now be able, (after four years of University, and only one year of Experience), to earn a living! Her parting comment was that “I have learned more from this office in less than a year, than all my time at University. I hated you, and the job for the first month — But I now know that it has all been worthwhile!” QED!

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