The Sawyer Report



Sawyer Report

Los Angeles architect Robert Sawyer, is the founder of Architectural Business Magazine, which is the first desktop publication to be printed commercially (Garner News, 1986.)  The publication, which originated in Garner, NC is a member of Cision Media, now permanently online to a global audience.


Get A Load of This


Recently, I had the opportunity to bid a job in the Los Angeles area. It was a fairly big job and it was drawn by a local architect, who was not the architect, and the architect who was the architect moved out of town. I was referred by another architect who saw my work and thought it would be a good idea to add a fourth architect to the mix.

After reviewing the plans as is usual and customary, I found my way to the job-site. Where, upon arrival I found a 1 year-old wreckage of a project. This did not look good. Generally, when this happens I take a look at the plans. The structural layout is a little perplexing. There are 7 different types of floor joists on no less than 10 moment frames. Some of the moment frames are interconnected at their mid-points to act like balance beams. Someone had the good idea to install these frames per plan but missed the part about priming the raw steel before it arrived on the site. Since the site is less than 10-15 blocks from the ocean you can imagine what the rusted hulk looks like. I’m afraid to ask for steel certs. Deputy? Maybe tomorrow!

To make matters worse somebody, anybody but the architect please, allowed the constructor to pad the steel webs with OSB. I called the architect who does live here and asked to have a job-walk inspection. The architect’s response was, “we don’t do job-walk inspections because our liability insurance carrier does not allow us to participate in construction activities.” This was going to be a long and arduous process. I’ve heard of hiding behind the badge of professionalism but not the exculpatory clause of General Liability. Who wins?

This is the classic coupe de grave´, where everyone stands around firing blanks at each other to prevent Liability. “I’m a professional, you’re a professional, so who gets anything done? Not me, I did my job, and I’m getting out while I still can.” Granted, I’m new to this game. I can still see the architect in shining armor coming to my clients’ fiduciary rescue. It is inevitable to find providers pointing fingers at un-professionals and the owner – who generally knows little or nothing – ends up with the bill. My impetus if there was one for starting my own firm was to be of more service and wade through these types of client-over-the-falls colossal shortcomings.

The young practitioner must provide a wide range of services to be of service where service is required. An old builder friend of mine, whom I ADMIRE GREATLY once yelled at me from across a Kitchen that I had to develop a relationship with my materials. He was talking about metal corner bead which I had apparently not installed perfectly enough. How can you be an architect and not have a relationship with the materials you’re specifying and working with? It is an essential dialogue. You have to be able to touch and feel the materials. You have to be one with the elements these materials are made with. You have to have an internal dialogue with yourself and admit you know nothing about materials and construction. Any General Contractor worth their salt would be more than willing to discuss these topics and may even show you something. But, definitely first print out a copy of your General Liability Insurance Certificate.


The Nature of Architecture



Frank Lloyd Wright used to say that his religion was nature or Nature with a capitol N. He observed it causally for its diorama of physical properties and kinetic wisdom. In Nature he found a road map of connections, relationships and “organic” principles. From it, I believe, he derived a great vision for architecture which was limitless. And, in this limitlessness he found that the great question about architecture isn’t what it is, but rather what it isn’t.

What you put in isn’t the right question, and what you leave out is more often the right answer.

Today, we see great works with refreshing details proliferating everywhere. Thanks to the Trump economy there appears to be a lot of work for architects and the commissions are seemingly endless. Cool details are picked up almost immediately and proliferated through the intra-sphere without regard to localization or vernacular. This means one cool building in San Francisco can be replicated, or parts of it, in any location around the world. This is neat from an aesthetic view but really idiotic when it comes to organic architecture. It’s like those ridiculous homes across the street from Taliesin West. Uncool as can be, literally and for good reason.

How often do architects observe the site prior to schematic design? What’s your takeaway from the program? How do you assimilate between the real and the unreal? How far do you go with the implementation? How much will the interpretation cost your client? Do you discuss innovation or do you follow it at all? These are just some questions that come to my mind about architecture.

Today with all of the opportunity that exists it’s too easy to forget about innovation, real innovation and proceed with the diatribe. Digital technology has brought modeling to our fingertips, but is this really a good thing? Only if that ability is handled with the respect that power deserves. Respect of conditions like wind, sun, air and water. All of these elements exist in kind everywhere in the world. However each of these are different for every site in every latitude and longitude. Much like the USGS publishes seismic response coefficients for each site, so there should be a study, officially or unofficial study of the site prior to design.

Camping out on the site? Great idea. Indigenous plant study? Yes. Solar and wind angles? Of course. What’s better than truly knowing your site? What’s better than creating a work of architecture on your own over copying some other details from some other project with zero relevance? The infusion of possibilities delivered to your screen via digital technology shouldn’t interrupt the practice of observation. It is the nature of architecture to observe and to have a relevance to the site. Creating that relevance is architecture. An architecture whose god may be Nature, or just nature. But, it’s organic and it’s of the site and not on it.

There are key inferences one could draw upon to make the paradigm shift to creative intellect versus cut and paste sobriety. It’s all still possible and just like the old days – all you have to do is look up.

It also seems clear that when the vernacular sense of architecture is derived – from whatever inspiration – there exists a predisposition of builders, owners and property managers to subscribe to that function and bring that vision to a collective whole. That collective soul of a project lends itself well to a better sense of place, time and execution. Identity is alive and well in architecture and shouldn’t be forgotten when planning each new project. It is possible to continue to push the bounds of architecture. When you find it let me know. I’ll be glad to feature it here in ABMonline.



Robert Sawyer is the Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Business Magazine.  He is the principal partner at Robert Sawyer Architects & Construction. The Sawyer Report is copyrighted and may not be quoted or used without written permission from ARCHITECTURAL BUSINESS MAGAZINE. © 2020 ABM