Inviting Consultants to the Design Table

The Museum of Modern Art and The Buell Center invited a series of team participants and observers who attended workshops for MoMA’s exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream—which opens in February—to reflect on the project. Here are thoughts from Zak Kostura, a member of Visible Weather’s team.

Sketch of some structural considerations. Drawing courtesy of Zak Kostura

When it comes to the delivery of a truly integrated, modern building design, timing is crucial. Often, experts knowledgeable in fields such as sustainability, environmental comfort, structure, and infrastructure are brought into a design team only after a client and an architect have grown enamored with a visionary concept that may not, in fact, intrinsically embody the characteristics necessary for optimal performance in these areas. Yet bringing on consultants too early threatens to create a cacophony of specialized interests and stifle any chance for an elegant base design. It is a rare instance when those whose modus operandi is the optimization of a specific building performance characteristic can be brought together to address a particular problem under leadership that can find harmony amongst those characteristics and develop from them a holistic solution.

A study of the de-evolution of structural stiffness. Drawing courtesy of Zak Kostura. (Click to view full size)

Although I was fortunate to have an opportunity to interact with all of the teams who participated in the Foreclosed exhibition, virtually all of my experience is pulled from the Visible Weather team, with whom I worked exclusively. Yet of all the elements of the design process that could be controlled, timing certainly was not one of them. For starters, the teams had a scant four months to reimagine the prototypical dwellings of American suburbia and create a world-class exhibition for the public. Moreover, weekly deadlines and interim exhibitions imposed by the curatorial leadership kept the teams’ minds trained on deliverables (and reinforced the old adage that one should never reveal unfinished work). All of this notwithstanding, the architects needed to remain flexible to the submission schedules of invited experts. (When consultants work for free, their deadlines are often written in pencil.)

Study of comfort layers. Drawing courtesy of Zak Kostura

Yet despite the impracticality of setting a rigorous design schedule, the timing worked out extremely well. The kick-off event, which brought the teams together for an insightful panel session, motivated everyone on the team to begin contributing immediately. On the Visible Weather team, discussion quickly turned to an examination of the role of structure and environment within the suburban home. A language comprised almost exclusively of hand-drawn sketches resulted. At first, these sketches conveyed only general physical principles and technical strategies, such as the de-evolution of structural stiffness or the compartmentalization of a domicile into “comfort zones.” They were received by the core team, led by Michael Bell and Eunjeong Seong, who chose to grow enamored with the performative characteristics laid out by those sketches. Through myriad study models, the Visible Weather team experimented with their implementation at a time when they were not limited by preexisting base schemes. Rather, they were nurtured alongside considerations of form, landscape, and aesthetics.


Illustration of energy savings potential. Image courtesy of Zak Kostura. (Click to view full size)

What resulted was a housing concept that embodies innovative perspectives on structure, comfort, environment, and materiality, and conveys the value of embracing a design process that fosters the integration of these crucial characteristics to truly enhance its architecture.

The impressive, if unsurprising, variety in the work produced by the five design teams (who worked independently and, in some cases, thousands of miles apart) is probably indicative to some extent of differences in the way in which disciplines such as structure and building environment were represented. What struck me during the workshop phase of Foreclosed is the extent to which this exhibition explores the process of designing homes, in contrast to the designs themselves. I am hopeful that the work done by these five teams will demonstrate the true value of introducing and seriously considering the needs of intrinsic building characteristics such as structure, infrastructure, and the mechanics of an optimized internal environment.



pour moi une table a dessins est un cercueil,connaissez vous l’expression” un bon peintre est un peintre mort”

For A Regular Guy
(Written after reading the story in L.A. Times of a dead man found in a foreclosed home in Westchester, CA on 7/20/2009 by a real estate agent preparing to show the house to a prospect.)

Three bedroom 2 bath
garage backyard lawn
rambling family style
home for kids pets. 1957.
Needs work
refinancing available
forbearance provided
for small fee.

A sunny southern Cal
kind of Monday
in Westchester.
Realty Modern
shows same home
once bestowed
with bank notes
loans interest rates
credit-default swaps.
Brokered down by
adjustable rates
pre-payment penalties.
Now liberated by the
free market.
Lien holders
mean holders
of bankrupt dreams.

Ready to buy
best terms
and cheap!
But oh dear!
What’s a 45-year-old
dead man doing here?
Didn’t we clean this
property up?

Who could
miss the odor
of late payments ?
The gruesome smell
of maxed out credit?
The stench of the
What’s an agent to do?
Come back later.

This regular guy
Laid off. Laid out cold
in the family room.
Second mortgage borrower
ravaged by pyramid
schemes. No modification
no public offering
for him. No gold man of stocks
no Fed unreserved no inside track
no parachute for this everyday chump.
Lien holders
mean holders
of bankrupt dreams.

But not foresworn.
Anticipate more dead folks
in foreclosed homes. Should
they perish in vain? Wall Street speculates:
How many dead regular guys
can we bundle together
securitize and insure
sell to city suckers and old timers
and bet those regular guys
will rise and leverage eternity?
Lien holders
mean holders
of bankrupt dreams.

Siobhán Ó Mócháin Breathnach
July 20, 2009
Sic nos sic sacra tuemur

Most of the exhibit is not well-balanced. There were more images than text and video. The scale of the descriptions within the renderings is too small to read.

Is this Art or propaganda? I left apartment living for the suburbs and have no intention of moving back to high density.

Leave a Comment

* required information

E-mail address*

Your comments*

Spam check*
Cri_151170 Please enter the text in the image.