How to make gravy, Ep. 6

Creative ideas come in two forms; they’re either completely & totally original, inventive if you will, or they’re born from inspiration be it from an experience, a memory, a conversation, an image, etc. Like most Designers / Architects / Creatives, my own creative process walks a thin line between the two. Designing within the built environment you want to bring something new or unexpected to every design challenge and at the same time to be sensitive to the programmatic brief, the location, context, climate, community, etc.

An example of my process is illustrated in the simple graphic below, let me explain – on the left is a photo I took of an office building in Shanghai, China in 2003. After graduating from the University of New South Wales with my Bachelor of Architecture in tow, (which was the only school in Sydney at the time with an Architectural program that was internationally recognized, allowing me to transfer to the US without any credential challenges, not a coincidence I assure you) I was hired at MPI Architects in Sydney and after three short months I was awarded (along with three others) a one-week study trip to Shanghai. We toured a lot of culturally significant places, their City’s version of a Development Services Department, the Jin Mao tower by SOM & the Oriental Pearl Tower which was the tallest tower in China at the time. Throughout the week we took hundreds of photos of buildings while searching out location dive bars & back-alley markets.

Two years later I was partnered with one of my favorite people of all time, a close friend and mentor, Italian Architect Paolo Salotto, now a partner at MPI Architects, to design a new multi-family tower development in San Diego. At the time neither Paolo or I had visited San Diego, but we were told two things – it’s got a gorgeous bay-front and it has the best climate in the world – make sure the design has an enormous amount of balcony spaces for out-door living. The final piece of direction was that we had 36-hrs to design the concept as our Principal of the firm was travelling and needed to take our presentation with him. So, for 36hrs straight Paolo & I sat across the table from each other swapping ideas, searching for inspiration for this new tower concept we had been tasked to design, and I remembered this office tower in Shanghai that had a soft wave-like form. The elegance of the overlapping wavy lines stayed with me and I presented to Paolo the idea of having an expressive modernist tower concept that used wavy balconies to create large (300sf) balconies for every unit. An idea that embraced the link to San Diego’s bayfront while celebrating the climate that I’ve since come to know & love for the last 16 years.

Throughout my Shanghai trip I was simply photographing as much as I could, soaking in the experience and just looking. No real reason, I wasn’t specifically thinking about future projects, I was just documenting a new place, new experiences and new buildings, to me anyway. But there it was, two years later an idea that became the very essence of our first design in San Diego which was approved later that year (2005) but unfortunately never built as you know, the recession rocked out our entire industry shortly after.

Since Covid hit the ability to travel (my preferred process for idea gathering) has been limited, but the curiosity for inspiration and ideas doesn’t just stop. So, like so much else these days the search has gone virtual. I spend at least 15-30mins a day looking through some really inspiring websites for new projects, ideas, inspiration & creativity. Anything to bring a different view on a design challenge. I realize as I type this that I am (again) waffling off longer than is necessary & you’re probably thinking this is for the industry folks, but here is the connection – while SDAF is layered with industry folks, volunteers committed to our programming, our mission is to inspire YOU, San Diegans, the general public, to explore & be inspired by our region, it’s built environment, but also its natural environment. The more we learn, the better we know, so in this week’s blog I want to pitch two tasks that will, safe & virtually, broaden your connection to our region and inspire you to value design in every aspect.

Firstly, starting this week, SDAF proudly commences our annual OH! San Diego program, joining a world-wide community of 45 cities around the globe that are dedicated to educating and engaging the public about the best in urban design and architecture, and the critical challenges facing our cities. Simply visit our website to get a complete rundown of the many online panel discussions, virtual BEEP ‘Kid-sketch’ sessions, virtual tours and even a community Bike Tour through Barrio Logan. This year we highlight seven wonderful communities across the county and invite you to participate in a photo contest.

Secondly, I encourage you to take a few minutes each week to visit the following sites for your own inspiration. Ideas from every creative corner of the globe all available while we continue to be relatively stuck at home while we ride this thing out. Enjoy.

Archdaily – Broadcasting Architecture Worldwide: Architecture news, competitions and projects updated every hour for the architecture professional

Dezeen – The world’s most influential architecture, interiors and design magazine.

Treehugger – Green design & living news covering technology, architecture, transportation and more.

The Design Files – Australia’s most popular design blog.

Design Addicts Platform – Another great Australian blog. What? I’m an Aussie, these are my peep’s.

Yellowtrace – Last Australian blog, I swear.

Life of an Architect – Bob Borson is a straight up legend.

The Sartorialist – Global (street) fashion photography.

Sub note:
But like many I tend to avoid the start of the design process – the reason for looking through all these websites is merely another distraction technique before starting any design, avoidance at its finest. In fact, one of the biggest names in the industry, Frank Gehry, in Sydney Pollack’s documentary ‘Sketches of Frank Gehry‘ shares the same sentiment. One of the most prolific Architects of all time (I know, amongst industry folks I just started a rigorous debate on Gehry’s contributions but as I say to all young designers aspiring to make their way in our industry – when you have accomplished 2% of what Gehry has, then you can begin to think about your criticisms of his work) at least of the last 30+yrs still avoids starting his creative process. The void of not yet having an idea for a project, a starting point. Nothing but a pen and blank trace paper. He does the same. Cleans his desk, makes some calls, is everything in order, anything to avoid drawing that first line. So you go right ahead and surf that web, visit our OH! San Diego happenings, check out those websites, it’s all there to get you inspired to get your creative on.

Thank YOU’s:
I can’t thank enough our team of volunteers as well as all of our panel guests, program sponsors & SDAF partners for their generous and AMAZING contributions to this years OH! San Diego program. None of this happens without all of you!


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