Isn’t it interesting, how when you first encounter an unknown subject, there is always something magic about it?

As Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his 1973 revision of “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination”, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. It really is, isn’t it? For example, that is exactly how I related to computers before I embarked on my thesis journey: computers and the internet were anything but obvious; they worked (or not) depending on their own will, and their inside workings were, well – magical – to me. Once I embarked on my thesis effort, though, they started losing that magical ambiance. I got to know the nuts and bolts of those machines, why they worked and why they didn’t. I became much more informed about how one went about fixing (or crashing) them. They became machines – controllable, understandable, banal – something they have actually been from the start. (I wonder if the same realization would have helped Garry Kasparov during his match against Deep Blue back in 1997..?)

But it’s not just technology in it’s hardware guise I am talking about. For example, right now I am standing in front of the magical technology of human relations and, specifically, business success. Starting one’s company is weird: from one point of view, it’s all clear – “You just start a company and if you’re good enough, you succeed! What’s so difficult about that, anyway?” But once you step a little closer, you are suddenly blown away by the complexity and, here we go – magic – of the thing’s workings. People magically start successful companies, find themselves on the cover of WIRED and FastCompany, magically make their zillions. They must be lucky, hyper-smart or in some other way radically different. I find myself staring like an ape at the monolith of the business world (think “2001: A Space Odyssey”), not sure what to make of it: is it good, is it bad, should I even approach, is it going to kill me? The way it works is indistinguishable from magic.

Feeling curious to know what the thing is, I take an in-depth entrepreneurship course, which includes developing a business plan for my future business as a part of the graduation requirements. In the middle of Market Research, Marketing Strategies and Financial Planning, all my architectural schooling is rendered useless and my own ignorance is, once again, revealed to me. But what is even more fascinating, is that while doing all of this, I am terrified – not of whether the monolith will kill me – but rather that once I start truly examining it, there’s no going back: as things before it, it will start loosing it’s magic-ness… And it will inevitably become a machine.

Maybe, the secret to (worldly) success is realizing from the start that everything is a machine, and all you need to do is to decrypt it? There is no magic, no Santa, no architects reaching fame by the virtue of their talents alone. It’s plain mechanics. The sooner one realizes that, the better. And I am doing it with different things every day, learning more and more about the world around. But I won’t lie: somewhere inside I am a little sad… Why couldn’t it just be magic?

“…and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the “well-rounded man.” This isn’t just an epigram — life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.” – The Great Gatsby (Chapter I). F. Scott Fitzgerald

I like how he’s saying “more successfully”, not “better”..

Alright, it’s official: I will be speaking at TEDx SurreyUniversity on March 14th.

11021107_945768132108679_4857752207363837659_n

The theme of the event is “Fast and Curious”. Tickets are available here, and more information about the event itself can be found here. Check back in for more details later, and hope to see you there!

I.

It’s weird, how I keep re-discovering architecture. Why haven’t I gotten it straight yet?

When I got into architecture school, all I knew of it were the housing blocks of post-soviet Estonia, the mysterious (“does it really exist?”) Flatiron building and the (“I guess it’s like a thousand years old!”) Sagrada Familia. A few years in, I got convinced architecture was an “art”, taking it one step further at Tech by buying into the slogan “Architecture will save the world!” Talking to some of my ex-classmates, I got introduced to the idea of “architecture as a business”, while realizing after OMA that it was more of an “industry”. Working at Alver’s place, I discovered it was what got actually built, while after visiting the exhibition of work by Nieto Sobejano at the Estonian Museum of Architecture today, I am kind of swaying towards “art” again.

Go figure.

Here’s a little piece of pro-bono work I did recently for CoffeeBar 10133 in Tallinn.

CoffeeBar 10133 has been the place that I’ve been going to for my after-lunch-coffee-and-a-cigarette breaks ever since I returned to Estonia. Liking their coffee and atmosphere, I talked to one of the co-owners, Kaspar, to see if I could be helpful. This is what came out of it – their customer cards:

Ivan-Sergejev_CoffeeBar-10133_01

CoffeeBar is located in Old Town Tallinn, and has a pretty distinct facade. That facade served as an inspiration for the design of their customer cards.

Ivan-Sergejev_CoffeeBar-10133_02

After a few discussions with Kaspar, we figured a technical-drawing-like front accommodating the stamps and the holder’s name, and a very minimal back with CoffeeBar’s logo and contact information would work best for their card. The deal was that if you got 14 coffees at the Bar, you got stamps for each of those, and then got your 15th coffee for free. The facade of the Bar accommodated the idea perfectly, given there are a total of 14 glass panes on it. Because the individual “windows” on the card ended up being pretty small, we decided that the stamp was going to be a single coffee bean from their logo – an elegant and clear solution to the “stamp problem”.

Ivan-Sergejev_CoffeeBar-10133_03

Nothing too special – I admit – but I was glad to help out a CoffeeBar with “Probably the best coffee in Old Town” Tallinn. If you ever find yourself in Tallinn, Estonia, I highly recommend paying them a visit. If you’re interested, you can also find out more about them here.

Ehituskunst_2015_Ivan-Sergejev

Recently, I got invited to submit an article to “Ehituskunst” – an annual bilingual Estonian magazine, investigating architecture and theory. The topic, this time, was materiality. If you are interested, you can see a short abstract and download the PDF of the article below.

“What is architecture’s stance on materiality in the context of our modern digitized world? Featuring both personal reflections of the author and a general philosophical discussion, “Embracing materiality” takes a conservative approach, calling materiality the lifeblood of the profession of architecture, and arguing that it is capable of serving as an idea for architecture in the world obsessed with ephemeral concepts. The article is published in both Estonian and English.”

Sergejev, I. (2015). “Embracing Materiality”. Ehituskunst, #57. pp 30-37

In one of my recent posts I referred to an article in the Guardian, called “The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’” by Scott Poole. A great article overall, this one quote chained my attention:

As the tech companies bid for contracts, Haque observed, the real target of their advertising is clear: “The people it really speaks to are the city managers who can say, ‘It wasn’t me who made the decision, it was the data.’”

This “it wasn’t me, it was the data” attracted my attention not only because it referred to a potentially large topic in the future of city policy and planning, but also because it is directly related to architecture.

I have a feeling that us, architects (and yes, me included), often have a hard time deciding on our designs. It is not surprising, considering the complexity of our profession, responsibilities it implies (as, for example, for whatever reason designing something people will abhor, but which will stay to “pollute” the face of the Earth for years to come as a reminder of our failure [dramatic music here, and an image of a failed architect, please], not to mention all the health-and-safety stuff), and the fact that a lot of times it seems like we are forced to draw a design out of pure ether. Thus, we invent excuses, allowing for, and justifying, our designs. I wrote about this a little bit earlier, but it still seems to me that sometimes we invent strategies for design that we hope will lead us to a design without making decisions. For example:

– “It wasn’t me, it was the random generator in Grasshopper”, or

– “It wasn’t me – the site ‘spoke’ of it”, or

– “It wasn’t me – it was the program…”

And so on. The reality is – architecture is a decision game. And it is largely irrational – at least the formal part of it – whether we like it or not. You need to make decisions, and then face the consequences. And the faster you make those decisions – the better.

tumblr_l1xfq3qfqz1qz6pqio1_500

Ultimately, I think, the trouble with making decisions has to do with risk – we want to avoid it at all cost. So we delay making decisions that may ruin us. In the end, though, that “waiting” ruins us anyway. I’ve experienced this a lot of times while doing competitions at various offices, or in my own academic work – most painfully while doing my thesis, for example. But here’s a surprise for you (and all of us) – we can’t avoid risk – it is going to be there regardless. So, the only thing we can do – is change our attitude towards it.

I like the way Michael Ellsberg puts it in his “The Education of Millionaires”, when he is describing the successful people he interviewed for the book:

“I don’t believe the people I feature in this book simply took a bigger bet than everyone else and happened to get lucky and win. Rather, I’ve seen that they have systematically and intentionally developed a style of working that allows them to take lots of small bets – bet after bet after bet after bet – all the while making sure that they don’t get wiped out of the game if one or many of them go south” (p.53). “People who have been successful are still as likely to get it wrong as right going forward. They just try more things” (p.55).

How does this apply to architecture? Very directly: do more stuff, faster! Do that model right now, in 15 minutes! Photoshop that collage now and show it to your professor tomorrow, not in a week. Look at alternative scenarios and designs now, because you do want to know if your great idea doesn’t actually work earlier than that final push 48 hours before the deadline, when it’s to late and you will have to accept the silent defeat of “could have done better” deep in your gut. I think, a student (or professional) of architecture needs to give up the attitude of “holiness” that he/she oftentimes has towards his/her ideas, and regard all of them as little bets.

And guess what: no amount of analysis or benevolent considerations will save you from a bad design. Architecture in a lot of cases is not a rational thing – it is based on gut feeling. Nothing will happen – and you will not know the truth – until you actually run that algorithm, make that line on paper, or cut through that foam. So do it NOW!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers