Even though this event happened in April 2008, I hesitate to publish this for a variety of reasons which I’ll get to later.

First, a little background about the event.  The AIA Committee on Design was founded to “promote design excellence among members of the AIA, the broader design community, and the public at large, both nationally and internationally.”  In keeping with their goals, the committee held a debate in Detroit from April 3rd thru April 6th to debate parallels between architecture and other forms of design including automotive, landscape, furniture, and crafts.

John Gallagher put together a nice little article [updated] which amounts to a daily journal of the days events.

The committee toured various examples of architecture for design forms being debated:

  • Landscape – Belle Isle, Cranbrook, Kresge Foundation
  • Automotive – Ford Rouge Plant, GM Technical Center
  • Crafts – Cranbrook, Affleck House
  • Furniture – Cranbrook, Affleck House

They also visited many other significant buildings in Metro Detroit.

Unfortunately, the article provides little insight to the debate.  Apparently, outside of Detroit there is little love among architects for automotive design and no consensus was reached regarding design parallels.  We”ll have to wait until after September 4th to see if the committee really does reach a consensus, as agreed, in Copenhagen.

You can read through the article and draw your own conclusions.  I’ll share my own to get the ball rolling and the reason I hesitated to publish this.

First, this article provides little insight into the debate.  Where is an depth discussion to compare design methodology, technological impact, and target audience between these forms of design?  Does each field even define design the same way?  Does each field share certain traits or even generate responses between industries?  (I am grateful that MGM wasn’t completed so they could see the “consummate” result of combining automotive and architectural design.)

Second, the buildings visited are mostly from a very specific time period.  They visited some of Detroit’s most prominent historical buildings.  How can you compare contemporary compartmentalized automotive design with the all encompassing design of Saarinen’s Cranbrook?  Why not compare Cranbrook with automotive design at the time?

Third, there is no mention of design professionals from other fields being engaged or even present at this debate.  This one point alone really makes me question how productive this debate really was and wonder what it could have been.

Finally, some of the published comments really make me cringe.  As an architect, I’m embarrassed by these comments, but I’ll publish them anyway.  A few of my favorites:

  • “…automotive design ‘is really packaging.'”
  • “My impression is that they’re really decorators.”(referring to an automotive designer)
  • “They all read the same comic books.”
  • “…it is so much more about marketing, so much more about fashion.”
  • “It’s like nobody really designs a car. It’s all these little pieces, and that’s totally different.”

These are some pretty ignorant statements by some Fellows of the AIA (which means they’ve been recognized by the AIA for their contributions to the field) and really exposes their misunderstanding of how automotive and architectural design are related.  Substitute “building” for “car” or “automotive” and these statements would be just as relevant to architectural design. One could substitute any of the debated design forms and it still makes sense.

I realize this is a feature article, not a final white paper, and it’s intended to promote the committee and raise awareness.  However, the lack of insightful debate and participation from other design fields make this out to be nothing more than a site seeing trip for the committee.

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