When architecture students ask for advice early in their career, I usually tell them to join the Peace Corps, travel, work in construction…..in short, gain non-architecture experiences that will later make them a better architect. Architecture as a profession requires multiple perspectives on how people live and a breadth of knowledge about the innumerable factors that impact their lives and the spaces in which they live. Personal experience, I believe, is the best way for architects to gain those deeply insightful perspectives.
As we prepare for RAW Oaxaca 2013 this year, I was reminded that even though our personal experience – of place, people, weather, etc – is critical for designing meaningful buildings, architects are almost always required to design for circumstances or conditions beyond their own experience base. This year’s project will bring this dichotomy to life for the RAW team.
RAW Oaxaca 2013 will focus on water – water collection, water storage, and shelter from water. Water in San Pablo Etla, and especially in the La Mesita Eco-reclamation Project, is a precious commodity that needs careful management. During the rainy months of the year, San Pablo Etla receives over 5 inches of rain per month, similar to the average monthly rainfall in Miami and Juneau (and a whole lot more than Seattle or Portland). That’s a lot of water! During the workshop in March, however, when RAW students will be there gaining a first hand understanding of the site, water will be scarce. Rainfall accumulation in March is less than 1/2 inch per month, on par with Phoenix or San Diego. This presents a challenge to our team. How do they design a water focused project for conditions similar to Miami, based on personal experiences gained in a climate similar to Phoenix? It’s a real design challenge – gaining an understanding about the site conditions in real time, while using their personal experience gained elsewhere to anticipate other site conditions. This is a critical skill for designers to learn and one that will serve them well in their career.