Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Evan Troxel: My twitter bio is constantly changing, but I like how we are limited to 160 characters to keep our story concise. I feel compelled to do that here too as we all know that as busy professionals there isn't a lot of time to read blog posts about others for fun very often. One could learn a lot more about me at my website, but here is my twitter bio in bullet points with a little further explanation:
- Designer - I am an architectural designer working both on my own and at HMC Architects in southern California on K-12 schools, higher education, civic/government facilities, and residential projects.
- Dad - My beautiful wife and I have four, young impressionable children between the ages of 7 and 11, and one adult offspring. I drive a large car because of it. We love adventure and try to explore the world and learn and experience as much as possible together. I am confident they will become amazing citizens because we expect nothing less.
- Podcaster - I cohost the one and only Archispeak Podcast where we have a casual conversation about all things architecture. This is super fun.
- Maker - Unless I'm outside experiencing nature, I'm happiest in my workshop. I love making things with my hands and could tinker all day. I work in steel and wood; I love to build bikes and fix cars. I currently have a '69 Datsun Roadster that I'm restoring between other projects.
On the path to becoming a real/better architect, trying to change the profession for the better - I am in the process of becoming a licensed architect which is no simple task, and am working on some very big projects with some other key people in the industry. I think the profession is pretty much broken and am very engaged in redesigning it for the future.
I teach everything I know - I do video tutorials for architectural designers at Method. This is where I show everyone how to use my favorite 2D and 3D digital design tools and workflows so they can go out and unleash their creativity when designing what the world needs a lot more of - great architecture. I'm working on a huge new thing here (yes, this is a teaser) so stay tuned.
Novedge: I love your artwork, in particular the Desolation Series. How does architecture inform your photography and vice versa?
Evan Troxel: I have learned a lot when it comes to both of these disciplines, and they inform each other every day when I'm creating a story about the projects I'm working on. The Desolation Series is very much a marriage of the two. I believe architecture should be like cinema, and I've written about this in an article I published on my website about the late architect John Lautner's work. When I was designing the Desolation Series of images, I wanted to evoke a cinematic feel for the viewer using previously crafted digital models of my architectural projects in a new way. I was using my photography knowledge when planning the scenes and designing the perspectives.
It may be interesting to note why I chose the rendering tool I did for the series. Maxwell Render is a physically accurate rendering engine, meaning it produces the exact behavior of real light and materials to produce extremely realistic images. With it you control a virtual camera that is based on real world camera controls, so it helps to have experience in photography, but it isn't required. You control things like focal length, film size, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to create effects like vignetting, grain and depth of field to make virtual photographs using different combinations of these settings. I've even done tutorials on Method that go over the basics of these techniques, so check them out if this interests you.
The Desolation project was all about creating mood and a feeling of - you guessed it - desolation. I wanted the images to be stark compositions so I experimented with lighting, camera angles and environments to achieve a feeling of loneliness. There are lots of images of architecture that are cartoony, in-your-face, or bright and happy. I felt it would be an interesting project to see if I could evoke another feeling that we don't often see in the imagery of our projects. Ultimately they were printed out on large format plotters at ten feet long and put up in our studio. They have much more of an impact at that size than they do on a computer screen to say the least.
Photography is one of my hobbies and I now publish (what I consider) my best images on my site. I have a weekly photography series (https://evantroxel.com/blog?category=Weekly%20Photo) and a gallery of other images as well. I absolutely fell in love with photography a few years ago after I forced myself to learn how to use SLR cameras. It ties right into how I see the world and how I design buildings so that they are experiences. My family sees it differently - I am often left behind wandering around making images as they venture ahead and then I have to run to keep up.
Novedge: What drew you to design educational spaces?
Evan Troxel: We must never forget that the projects we do are about the people that use them, and in most instances for me, those are kids. I love having the ability to inform and delight so many people about architecture as I can in public projects. There are huge problems that need to be solved and further resolved for each of the entities we work with. The world needs better design, and the people that pay for what we do need to be given as many examples of good design as possible to their successors as they are growing up. Making places for kids is probably the most rewarding project typology I can think of because we are making better places for them to experience learning in.
Education changes so fast. Quite often it moves faster than the institution itself. But the kind of design that architects can offer these institutions is so important because it can solve problems on so many levels. To quote a book I read last year called Designing the Design Firm by James O. Jonassen, "Design is ...a moving human experience, a performance improvement, and better yet, transformation for the enterprise involved, and to achieve this with the least consumption of resources including money and time." The part that really resonates with me is the transformation of the enterprise involved. Often they are trying to just solve a single problem - their current facilities no longer work and they need a new one. I like to approach a project knowing that we have the opportunity to change their entire organization for the better. If they partner with us, that's what they get, and it's probably going to be something they couldn't have ever dreamed of.
Novedge: You are the co host of a podcast called Archispeak and are really active on social media, blogging, etc. What do you like about these different mediums and why are they important?
Evan Troxel: Archispeak is the podcast that Neal Pann (@npann), Cormac Phalen (@archy_type) and I (@etroxel) started this year. We all met on Twitter (thus the Twitter handles) and gravitated together because we talk about all the things that most architects don't talk about, which is to say both the good and the bad things we deal with on a daily basis working in architecture. We started the podcast as an experiment and here we are still doing it after 6 months. It's a core value of mine to actually make things, and this podcast is a result of that mantra. We all talked about it for a couple of months but then agreed that we had talked enough. We had to actually make a commitment and put our creation out there. It's not easy coordinating schedules for three guys busy with jobs, families, hobbies and professions, but it's important for us share our thoughts and what we know.
The reason we started the podcast was twofold: first, recording a conversation and posting it for the entire world to hear is a lot like blogging, only it's easier than doing all that writing, not to mention it's great for all those people who commute to work every day. During our conversations, we figure things out together and bounce ideas off each other just like a team working on a project in a design studio, even though we're thousands of miles apart. We want to get those already in the profession excited and reinvigorated about fixing some of the big problems in the industry. It's a great way to get these conversations started and out in the blogosphere and social media where they continue after the episodes are published.
Second, it gives us the ability to make that conversation available to a very large audience that for the most part has no idea what architecture is or what architects do beyond what they've seen on TV. We do preach to the choir quite a bit, but a goal of ours is to let everyone, not just architects, see behind the scenes of why we do what we do. We do disagree internally occasionally, but it's satisfyingly strange how often our experiences line up with each other even though we do pretty different things. We even get a lot of comments from students in architecture school saying 'thanks' for showing them what it's really like working in a firm. For the most part studio professors are completely disconnected from professional offices so they steer clear of those conversations with the students which is a disservice to them. These students are people getting ready to embark into an unknown world they have already pretty much devoted their lives to, because that is typically what architecture requires, and they deserve better.
The ability to have an audience that interacts with us is the best part and a big driver behind why we do it in the first place. Some conversations start on Twitter or our Facebook page and continue into the podcast, and some go the other way around. All of the mediums work together to create a continuous stream to enable involvement by as many people as possible. It's no secret that our industry has suffered because of a lack of communication over the years. We want to put a stop to that and just talk about everything, air our grievances and celebrate our victories together.
I ultimately think that social media (blogs, Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, LinkedIn and podcasting) will all help facilitate a revolution in the architectural profession. A version where everyone is invited and included in the conversation. All of these channels are important and architects should be getting involved. It's a lot of work, but one of my favorite quotes (unattributed) is "The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty." I love getting my hands dirty and I hope everyone reading this will join me.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Evan Troxel: A project that I've recently worked on at HMC Architects is about to start construction. It is a community center where half of the facility will be occupied by a nonprofit youth counseling program, and the other half will be used by the local community it serves. The design process took over two years and included many committees from various entities in LA county coordinating and collaborating throughout the entire process. My team was responsible for the architecture and above all making sure everyone's needs were being integrated and interpreted into a design that did all of those things I wrote about earlier - a moving human experience, a performance improvement, and better yet, transformation for the enterprise involved, and to achieve this with the least consumption of resources including money and time.
The building is situated prominently on the corner of an open site that is currently used as a sheriff's cadet training grounds. It was placed in a prominent way that expresses itself as a valuable community resource while at the same time allowing passers-by the ability to see through the building to a new park on the other side, exposing the entire utility of the new facility to the neighborhood. Transparency, way finding, indoor/outdoor space, massing and materiality are all part of the parti of the design. These themes are dominant in the project where large spaces on the interior have direct connections (through line-of-sight, transparency, and materials running continuously from inside to outside) to exterior adjacent spaces. While having meetings with the local community members during the design process, a big goal was to create a facility that they were going to become the proud stewards of in the future. Their ownership of the process was a key part of the success of the project up to that point, and will continue to be in respect to the the maintainability of the building in the future. I have no doubt it will be treated like a jewel, but also used to its full capabilities by a community in need of such a place.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Evan Troxel: Software is a tool that allows me to be creative, so I'm always on the lookout for tools that can help me push my boundaries because I want to be as creative as possible. I'm blown away by what software developers have come up with in the last 10 years. We no longer have to use so-called industry standard tools that are stuck in the past and continue to be bandaged up to continue to function. My current toolbox is made up of a few tools that work very well together and compliment each other. I firmly believe in using the best tool for the job, and I take pride in knowing a decent amount about a lot of various tools. I don't care for tools that try to do too much, or for those that try to do it all. I like the programs that have made choices about what problems they are trying to solve and do those things extremely well.
For CAD, I use DraftSight by Dassault Systèmes only when I have to, because I couldn't care less about CAD anymore. I much prefer to be working in a parametric environment à la BIM, or what I call "BIM-light" because I don't use full-on BIM apps as much as other people in my world on a daily basis. My favorite 3D modeling program, by far, is formZ by AutoDesSys. With their complete rebirth at version 7, it is truly an intuitive and extremely efficient modeling powerhouse. It also has a 2D environment that is BIM-light where it live-references 3D models for the production drawing side of projects. Can you tell I like it?
In the BIM category, I have used both Revit and ArchiCad heavily. HMC uses Revit so that is what I'm currently using. I taught ArchiCad and Revit for years at Cal Poly Pomona in the architecture department and my experience is they both do basically the same thing. They have different strengths and weaknesses that create a religious-like tension amongst their users, but I don't have time for that. I'd rather be designing great buildings. You don't have to tell me that BIM is great. I already know. But if I had to choose on my own, I'd pick ArchiCad because it runs natively on the Mac. Maybe Revit will one day as well, but I currently run it in Boot Camp at the office (I am one of the few people with a Mac on my desk).
There are so many other great programs I use daily. I love Maxwell Render and Artlantis for rendering. They are so enjoyable to use! I use Pixelmator as a Photoshop replacement and Sketch as an Illustrator replacement on my Mac. Up in the clouds I use Evernote to store almost everything along with Dropbox. I live by OmniFocus, TextExpander, LaunchBar and Fantastical for getting things done. I edit the Archispeak podcast in Logic Pro. I use Adobe Lightroom to manage and edit the thousands of photos I make. I couldn't live without Camtasia and Keynote for making my screencasts at Method. There are literally hundreds of apps (mostly photography) on my iPhone and iPad that I can't live without but I'll spare you from my continued ramblings. Basically software on the Mac and iPhone/iPad platforms is a playground that I visit daily and am continually impressed by.
Novedge: As a teacher, what are some of the most important things you would like your students to take with them once they graduate?
Evan Troxel: The beauty of an education in architecture is the flexibility of the skills students acquire to do almost anything design-related. It teaches people how to solve problems from a huge array of perspectives. Physically, graphically, collaboratively… the list goes on and on. They could go into furniture, retail, technology, fashion, footwear, print, online, or a myriad of other opportunities. But it's my true hope that they go into architecture, and that they make it better. The profession needs them. It needs them to to keep it relevant and at the same time recreate it and see it from a new perspective.
The world needs better architecture, and as the stewards of the built environment, we as architects will only continue to do so if we seize it. This starts with the students. They are the life-blood of the future of the industry, and it is my hope they are ready to take it on. I will do everything I can to be a leader, do my part and help them achieve their dreams. It sounds a little cheesy, but it's true.