This article originally appeared on The UT San Diego.
Five architects and a developer, colleagues all, duked it out Thursday in a make-believe Fight Club boxing ring, all to prove a point:
It’s not all about design.
Sponsored by the alumni board of the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, the two-hour slugfest before an audience of nearly 150 students and professionals had veteran designers doff their traditional, good-guy personas and debate the pros and cons of the real world.
“What we really wanted to do was get the students out of the studio and expose them to a broad range of people in creative design industries,” said Peter Soutowood, a NewSchool alum who oversaw “Alley Rounds” at the Space 4 Art gallery in East Village for the second time. “A lot of licensed architects would say that real design…is about 5 percent of the job and wish it was 95 percent.”
The majority of the time involves working with clients and building officials, marketing for new business and managing the office.
The first round between NewSchool professors Robin Brisebois and Jeff Kennedy addressed the worth of an architect in improving the lives of people.
“It’s all very self-centered to say it’s all about us,” Brisebois said, half tongue-in-cheek. “We simply are not in charge. We simply aid and abet the project of human habitation on the planet and serve other people who have other agendas than we architects do.”
Kennedy, who specializes in sustainable design, replied, “We’re not bad animals. We’re good animals — we just have bad habits. We need to change our habits and if I can give up carbs for a month, I think we can do this.”
Round 2 pitted urban architect Frank Wolden against artist-architect James Enos.
“We need to be agents for the humanization of modern architecture in the cities on all levels,” Wolden said.
Enos playfully ridiculed some of Wolden’s work and said the fundamental basis of civilization is the “pursuit of beauty and truth.”
But it was the third round that raised the most serious issue: the conflict between good design and government regulation.
Developer Russ Murfey recounted the slogging necessary to get approval for a 36-unit apartment project, now under construction on Eighth Avenue in Hillcrest.
“I truly believe in good design and creating an urban environment that’s pedestrian friendly and can last for the ages, beyond five, 10, 15 years, a thing that’s true architecture,” Murfey said.
But he complained that city building officials fall short in offering the proper guidance when it comes to complying with the rules.
“They should know better than us,” he said of city plan checkers, “but that’s not always the case.”
Mike Stepner, the former city architect and currently a NewSchool professor, had his own run-ins with the city bureaucracy when he was in the Planning Department. His message to the students was that as architects they need to think beyond just their obligations to their clients.
“It’s the community that has to live with what’s been done,” he said.
He recommended architecture graduates consider jobs in local permit and planning departments and help improve project review.
Lisa Ganem, who heads the school’s career services and alumni office, said Alley Rounds provides a reality check for students.
“It helps if you have a sense of humor,” she said. “If you don’t you’ll go mad.”