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Good Design: by Richard M. Pospula, AIA

Remember my closing theme from my January 2020 letter, Maintaining a Sustainable Future and a Healthy Community’?

So, here we are again. Eleven months since that letter to you and eight months of uncertainty and unprecedented angst behind us. Eight months of vitriol spewed from the mouths of those from both parties we elected. Sadly tiring. Numerous friends and family members lost to a vicious virus…..

And yet, here we are, the region’s absolute finest quintessential problem solvers standing proud. And perhaps, in all the state of New York most deservingly so, and standing proud. (Yes, I said it again.) Never shirking away from our professional and ethical responsibilities by responding to a society screaming for leadership.

Please walk with me for a bit……

Simple leadership is such a multi-faceted concept -- rooted in providing us with great comfort and a sense of stability. Pragmatically, it is perhaps nothing more than achieving your objectives through the collaboration of others.

For architects, leadership is about one’s ability to synthesize a vision into an altruistic reality. To that point, Jane Frederick, AIA (2020 AIA National President) provided an interesting invitation to all members of our profession by stating, “This may be the most pivotal and defining moment in our lifetime for design. Architects are needed in this crisis to help safely transition back to offices, schools, and the many places that are important in shaping our daily lives.”

The pandemic is redefining the very matrix of our built environment, and architects are on the forefront eagerly ready to provide design leadership.

I have always held each member of AIAROC in the highest regard. Your design skills, civic engagement, collective intelligence, and incubators of well-thought, deeply meaningful discourse define our profession. But I am here today to write about ‘Good Design’ and its importance to society.

“OH, NO! Not again you scream…. We already understand what constitutes good design and the positive impact it has on our community,” comes the bellowing, chastising response from my colleagues.

“Yes, we do.” I add.

But I believe we need to be more effective in the communication of that understanding to the public. So, let us talk about good design.

In my view, good design is like a well-prepared breakfast shake. Start with a healthy understanding of the problem to be solved, add a little context, a few mathematical rules of the universe, a bit of Divine Proportion, a dash of lessons from history, a healthy squeeze of design theory, and equal measures of vision and passion, and oh my! Do not forget the science. After all, the regulations dictating the performance of our profession (except for zoning regulations, etc.) tend to be mathematically or scientifically proven. Something along the lines of ‘protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the general public.’

And if you are a design student at the moment, forget the regs, and substitute a very generous scoop of the sharp, supportive constructive criticism continually offered by your design professor. The regs will come soon enough.

Next step. Blend thoroughly, season to taste by adjusting the rhythm and proportions of the façade, benchmark the planimetric syntax against the program, sit back, and ask yourself. Does this answer the question? Does this solve the problem? Can it be modified to address future problems or program changes? Does it accurately reflect your client’s vision? Does it serve a greater good beyond its own limits? Is it pleasing to the eye? If the answers to these questions are yes, Then I think we are on the right track.

But seriously, good design is really the solution to an extremely complex equation replete with an assortment of domineering and conflicting variables, societal norms and ‘industry pressured’ flavors of the day. And so, enters the dragon.

“This may be the most pivotal and defining moment in our lifetime for design…..”

Events throughout all of history have shaped our thinking and have provided us with many useful tools, technologies, and new avenues of creative thought. Hopefully, the global position we now painfully enjoy may yet provide our profession with a blank canvas on which we will smartly and creatively redesign our built environment and perhaps life as we currently know it. Virtually every human activity we engage in has been touched. Every aspect of daily life is affected. We have no ethical choice other than to provide leadership to our community through our collective design efforts.

As architects, let us treat the pandemic like our thesis project. Dissect it. Evaluate it. Research and understand how it forces us to reshape society and those most basic human functions and interpersonal interactions we have almost taken for granted. Become educated on the best ways to modify and redesign our built environment in response to this heinous societal variable. And most importantly, by your efforts educate the public on the value your design leadership brings to this community.

The Architectural Foundation of Greater Rochester (AFGR) will do everything possible to support your individual and collective efforts to enhance and promote the practice of architecture in our community, and will strive to, “support and encourage a most diverse group of young practitioners and students.”

Stay safe and stay healthy. And please help us help you by continuing to be generous with your financial support of the mission of your Foundation.

Richard M. Pospula, NCARB, Emeritus AIA


Architectural Foundation of Greater Rochester


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