By Mike Farley
Those of you who've followed this column for any length of time know that it's all about my hunt for resources that will help me become better at what I do. As I see it, my job here is to share what I discover in the hope that my own information-seeking journey will help lots of you become more informed and inspired as well.
Every once in a while, I run into a dead end and just can't find what I'm after. That's long been the case, for example, with a great text on hydraulics — a topic I see as being critical to the performance of any watershaper. So far, the best source I've found isn't a book at all: It's the Genesis 3 course on fluid engineering taught by Dave Peterson, one of WaterShapes' three "Currents" columnists.
Seizing the opportunity, I once asked him to recommend a book on hydraulics, but even he came up short. He did, however, mention another book he liked: 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick (MIT Press, 2007). It's decidedly not about hydraulics, but it's a wonderful little book just the same.
In fact, like hydraulics and a couple of other topics, architecture is one of those core subject areas with which all watershapers, landscape architects and designers should be familiar. So even though my conversation with Dave didn't yield exactly what I was after, I jumped at his recommendation and immediately purchased a copy of the pocket- sized, 200-page book. As Dave suggested, it's compact enough that you can keep in it your briefcase or leave it on your nightstand and open it when you have a moment free to pick up an idea or two.
As I immediately learned, the book's title is ironic: The author rolls through 101 ideas he did not learn in architecture school, but wished he had. The result is a collection of often profound insights he picked up after leaving school in his long years of experience as a practicing architect.
The text is organized as a series of brief entries, some no more than a sentence, others not longer than a paragraph or two, often with accompanying illustrations. Almost without exception, these brief ideas apply to all forms of design, and I found them both inspiring and informative.
One of the ideas, for example, is about framing views and how we as designers can dictate the way people see things — not just through windows, but also by using objects in the landscape to create physical and visual frames. Another of my favorites starts by noting that the Chinese symbol for crisis is a combination of the symbols for danger and opportunity — which, he explains, is why what we sometimes perceive as insurmountable project challenges often turn into our best designs. Another simply points out that most architects don't really hit their strides before age 50, a note I found particularly encouraging as I advance through my 40s.
Now you can purchase this book — and other books reviewed by Mike Farley — through our online WaterShapes Store! Click here.
I offer these comments not only as a direct and strong recommendation of Frederick's book, but also as an example of the process I've always tried to explore in these pages. This seeking of resources is a wonderful, ongoing challenge that requires me to keep an open mind. Certainly bookstores and libraries are great places to start, but there's also much to be found in taking seminars or in simply chatting with others who've also spent time working with or seeking useful information.
In my experience, almost all of these encounters yield something of value and utility. It gives me hope that there seems to be so much out there that's worth finding — and that when I keep my eyes and my mind open, I'll run into something new and inspiring just about every day. Here's hoping you do, too.
Mike Farley is a landscape architect with more than 20 years of experience and is currently a designer/project manager for Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas. A graduate of Genesis 3's Level I Design School, he holds a degree in landscape architecture from Texas Tech University and has worked as a watershaper in both California and Texas.