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October 16, 2007

Kalb on Alexander

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Jim Kalb is having an appreciative wrestle with volume one of Christopher Alexander's "The Nature of Order": here, here, here, here, here. Since Alexander is, for my money, one of the really important thinkers of our time -- hint: It ain't just about architecture -- and since I find Jim to be one of the most substantial and thoughtful of bloggers, I'm one happy reader. Jim's verdict on the book: "I can't think of another book on any topic published since the Second World War that strikes me as equally valuable." I'll second him on that.

The Alexander-Kalb matchup is one made in 2Blowhards heaven for another reason too. Early on we did a long interview with Nikos Salingaros, a mathematician, architect, and architectural theorist who has worked closely with Christopher Alexander. You can get to all five parts of the interview via this posting. Nikos' own very generous website is here. We also ran a three-part interview with Jim Kalb, in which Jim explains the nature of real conservatism: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Please do treat yourself to both of these interviews. They're real brain-openers.



posted by Michael at October 16, 2007


Thanks for the link to the distinguished professor of mathematics' site.
It has a valuable link to his CV, where I wasn't able to find any mention of his education in Architecture. Bachelor in Physics - yes. Doctorate and PhD - again in Physics - yes. Not in Architecture. Nor there are any architerctural projects completed - you know, actual buildings that he designed. (Doubt he can do that, given his lack of training.)

Which doesn't prevent him from calling himself an Architect, and even announcing, at the upper left corner, "Designing a major project in collaboration with two other world-known architects" (bold is mine - T) on his site.

Mr. Salingarios lists numerous interviews with him as separate scientific works. He also gives separate entries on the list for translations of his earlier articles into various languages - was he the one translating? In either case, such article can not be listed as separate research work.

The title of Architect is legally binding. It has certain obligations under the Law - in many countries. In fact, to put "Architect" after your name on business cards in this country requires going thru extensive, multi-layered registration exams, which you can't even be eligible to take without completing set of requirements determined by AIA - including of years of actual practice under supervision of rgistered Architect.

As far as I can see from the CV, the only concrete subject paper pertaining to architectural/design subjects written by Mr. Salingaros (and even that - in cooperation with co-author) is on Oriental Carpets. It's unclear, ewhat makes a professor of mathematics and physics an expert in textiles. People are studying theis subject for a minimum 4 years in college, you know!

I wonder if anybody ever asked Mr.Salingaros for his credentials while he gives talks on Urbanism on international conferences. Or gets to be a board member in places like Board of Advisors, Institute for Studies in Sacred Architecture (ISSA)(!) or Senior Member at
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. By what magic word Mr. Salingaros became an Electric and Electronic Engineer, overnight?

Count Kaliostro in his resting place is getting green with envy to Mr. Salingarios.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 16, 2007 2:14 PM

Dear Michael;

Oh well... it seems that if someone just doesn't like you, then you can do nothing right. So Tatyana considers it her duty to cut me up in little pieces... small enough to feed her goldfish, I presume.

But, honestly, I thought that this post had to do with my friends Christopher Alexander and James Kalb, the latter writing a brilliant review of the former's equally brilliant four-volume book.

How did my name become mixed up in this post? Please clarify with your usual wisdom. You are providing a forum for all of us to comment on important contemporary events -- and I imagine that also includes exposing impostors! There are so many architectural impostors out there, but instead of being exposed as frauds, they are awarded prestigious prizes, lucrative faculty appointments, and all of the choice commissions. And then I am the one who gets picked upon! What an unjust world...

Best wishes,

Posted by: nikos salingaros on October 16, 2007 5:54 PM

To clear up the possible misunderstanding, it looks like Michael may have 'liberally' (mistakenly?) applied the title of architect to Dr. Salingaros' credentials, I don't believe Nikos makes this claim, professionally, or on his website.
Maybe Michael should have phrased his introduction as "a mathematician, urban design and architectural theorist"?
Michael should consider correcting this post on that account…
I myself am currently working towards my architectural registration and understand the importance of this professional title and its inherent responsibilities. That system doesn’t exclude those outside of the “professional title holders” from making observations and developing theories to be debated and tested related to the field of urban design or architecture. Do you think so? Better not criticize any politicians unless you have a degree in political science or pass the bar... Personally, I highly welcome insights and challenges from others outside of the self-ordained elite – comments from the street, not from the towers.

“There’s two types of music. Good music and bad music. You want to know the difference?...
You can dance to good music.” – Louis Armstrong

Posted by: chris d. on October 16, 2007 11:26 PM

Ah, I see that Mr. Salingaros hastily removed the word "other" (which was definitely there yesterday) from this sentence on his site Designing a major project in collaboration with [other]two world-known architects
-- $82 million budget; 55,000 m2

How exactly you're participating in "designing", Mr. Salingaros? Please tell us, that must be interesting. In what phase - SD, DD, CD? "Conceptual direction"?

You talk about architectural impostors and unjust world, Mr. Salingaros, but avoid not answering my points. So, please, besides hiding behind your friends Mr. Alexander and Mr.Kalb - tell us instead, did you ever had a training as an architect? Or you just completed an 8-year professional program on your own, like 18th century British lords on a Grand Tour? How many years you practiced? What gives you the right to instruct professionals, other than your over-inflated ego, ability to regurgitate thoughtful writings of others and well-developed marketing skills?

*chris: Michael can answer to himself, my questions were not adressed to him, but to Mr. Salingaros and based entirely on information the latter gentleman listed on his own site.
He presents himself not just as an architect, but someone qualify to direct and instruct architects and urban planners. In addition to being called a Senior Member at Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. And an co-author of the brochure on Oriental Carpets.

Tell me frankly, would you like to have a guy like that on a 82mln project, were you're an architect-of-record, telling you what to do and "collaborating in design"? Have you ever had a client's secretary telling you that in her educated opinion fucsia color will nicely enliven the reception room - and expect you to follow up on that insight?

Posted by: Tatyana on October 17, 2007 2:17 AM

OMG, this is even better than I thought.
Listen, let me quote - and tell me you didn't fell on the floor, laughing your guts out:

"By establishing a link between the design of textiles and both the structure of subatomic particles, and the complexity of computer programs, I make it clear that we are talking about the vanguard of contemporary science.
[bold is mine-T]

No, not Caliostro. Rather Franz Mesmer.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 17, 2007 2:49 AM

who cares whether he is trained as an architect or not? he is just sharing his theorical input in the design process, thats why there are two official "architects" on the project who stamp their names on the drawings and design the overall building. i doubt salingaros is designing trusses and laying out the electric hook ups in the building. plus i'd say he certainly has more groundbreaking and enlightening things to say about architecture than almost anyone in the field with the label "architect."

Posted by: J on October 17, 2007 2:55 AM

The original wording that Tatyana objected to was, in fact, a bit injudicious, but it hardly amounted to putting Registered Architect on his business card. Now that he's corrected it, instead of a "thank you", get he gets another blast of invective, as if this was compounding the crime.

He calls himself an Architectural Theorist, and he had the creds (memberships, publications, invites to conferences) to back it up.

Sheesh, Tatyana, if you can't do better than ad hominem, just forget it, OK?

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on October 17, 2007 1:55 PM

Pariah: he was caught and he stealthily removed traces of his lie from his site. Who should thank whom?

I'm not going to "forget it". Mr. Salingaros is not worth mentioning as authoritative source. If you want to be a respectful blogger, that is...

J, who are you and why I have to listen to your opinion re: whose impact on the project is weightier, two real architects' who actually conceptualise and design the building (trusses included) - or a self-made "theorist" w/o any training but lots of self-perpetrated buzz?

But I shouldn't jump to conclusions, should I? Maybe Mr. Salingaros IS, in fact, have something concrete to recommend him in the field of architecture? Besides references to my [non-existent] goldfish?

Posted by: Tatyana on October 17, 2007 2:16 PM

Tat - Chill, girl. Nikos is brilliant, has numerous publications in prestigious places, addresses fancy and distinguished audiences ... It's hard to believe that even his ideological opponents don't consider him an impressive addition to the architecture scene. And, given how much ego-trumpeting and showmanship is standard-issue in the architecture world, Nikos is one modest, scrupulous, and lowkey participant by comparison.

I'll disagree with you a lot on whether the professionalization of architecture has been a good or a bad thing. I certainly want my structural engineers and electricians to have diplomas and certifications. But designers? Anyone can contribute to the design process, IMHO. People don't need Juilliard degrees to be able to create good music, and people don't need pieces of stamped paper to design buildings either. The amateur architect and the gentleman architect (and the no-name, lost-to-time builder-architect) have all made big and valuable contributions to architectural history. Meanwhile today's official academic-architecture world keeps pumping out new, officially-certified architects fully qualified to create buildings of a kind no one wants ... I'd like to see far more participation by the non-certified, and far more modesty on the part of the official set.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 17, 2007 3:16 PM

Chill yourself, boy.

Let me remind you - there was nothing in my comments about content of Mr. Salingaros' publications, only about his actual credentials, based on concrete knowledge of subjects he's busy lecturing on.

"Anyone can contribute to the design process, IMHO". Contribute, yes (as listing their wishes/requirements in conference with architect/designer).
Build, no.

I suggest you educate yourself on what is that a contemporary architect does on the job, day-to-day, then tell me that an uneducated "gentleman architect" or even better, a builder can substitute for a professional architect.

You're the one advocating for skill on this blog. In literature, graphic design, cinematography, what not. Why not in architecture? It is a common knowledge that "Those who can't paint, teach" - or "those who can't build, lecture on international conferences".

And, by the way, I still didn't get any answers to my points.


Posted by: Tatyana on October 17, 2007 4:13 PM

Tat -- I think you're doing a disservice to a lot of great buildings and neighborhoods: bungalows, Queen Annes, pueblos, Spanish colonial, New England towns ... Many of these were built by builders and civilians without the aid of official architects (except sometimes in the form of "pattern books" -- probably where C. Alexander got the idea for the title of his "A Pattern Language"). How about such "architects" as Thomas Jefferson? The U. of Virginia ain't half-bad, no thanks to architecture schools.

Anyway, so far as skills and schools go ... I've linked to blues, country, and rock videos -- these artists are skillful and talented, but the only school most of them have attended is the School of Giving an Audience a Good Time. Professionalization and academicization don't have to be awful, I guess. But they certainly can be. The academicization of "creative writing," for instance, has been a cpmplete disaster, except for the teachers. And it *is* mighty weird that only a couple of architecture schools train their students to work competently in the styles that most Americans prefer. Most of our architecture schools turn out professionals who are determined to inflict styles on the public that the public detests. A current example is Bernard Tschumi, former Dean of Columbia's Grad School of Architecture, whose "Blue" condo on the LES was recently voted New York's Ugliest Building. I've got a link for that somewhere and will put it in some future posting ... Anyway, it seems to me that today's academic-professional architecture class doesn't have a lot to brag about.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 17, 2007 9:36 PM

Michael, don't change the subject.

I don't do disservice to any of the buildings you list or the building practices of the past. Nor do I say a word about academic architects. Or Modernism. Or blues, country, rock and videos.

My comment concerns Mr. Salingaros misrepresenting himself as an architect (in fact, as the "other world-known architect"). Saying he's designing something in collaboration with said architects. Not giving a single concrete example of architectural object of his own design during 12 years (since 1995, as I learned from his CV) he spent since switched from mathematics to lecturing on Urbanism, Planning and Architecture (incidentally, he's still officially Professor of mathematics, not of Architecture or Urban Studies; I wonder why is that the actual architectural professionals didn't endow him with that position? They must be hateful Modernists, unable to recognize a self-taught genius when they see it, no doubt.)

I talk about competence, training, experience, skills. Craft. Things you seem to value - with exception to Mr. Salingaros. Nick, as you say.

Would you trust Mr. Salingaros (a Senior Member of Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, remember?) to instruct your electrician? What about a certified electrical engineer - would you feel safe inside a building knowing Mr. Salingaros, with no special training but lots of decorative membership titles and interviews in various languages behind his belt - lectured electrical engineers who designed the building's elec. systems on "know-how"? Architects aren't electricians, you say - no, they supervise electrical engineers. And structural engineers. And landscape architects. And plumbing/mechanical/HVAC engineers. And lighting engineers.
Legally, architect's opinion supersedes any consultant's. He/she assumes responsibility on the project from all of those trades. By Law.

If any outsider - say, an academic philologist - writes a paper on how to run a book business - I'm sure you'd be the first to say: Buddy, I've been in publishing for 30 years, it's a specific profession, you can't just "wish" yourself into publishing. As you did, in the past, on this blog - or something very similar.

And now I've gotta go - need to pack the suitcase; leaving on vacation tomorrow.

All the best.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 17, 2007 10:30 PM

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