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revisiting my younger designer

Just revisited a building I designed for the Forest Service 35 years ago. It is a visitor center for the Angeles National Forest 20 miles outside of Pasadena, California. The vision for the visitor center was to serve the educational and recreational needs of the more than 13 million residents of the greater Los Angeles area. It was designed to assist residents of an urban environment to transition into a wild lands environment through formal educational programs and hands on experiential activities.

I designed the building at the same time I had finished my Ph.D. in Social Systems Design at UC Berkeley. As an Accidental Vagrant that is not as disconnected as it may first appear. The building is a physical representation of the influences from my residence in the 'Berkeley Bubble'—an integration of thinking and doing.

The purpose of my visit was to give a presentation to the FS staff and volunteers who had just reopened the visitor center after an extended period of closure due to reduced funding in regional school districts (in the beginning an average of six school buses a day were showing up at the visitor center),  the Federal budget and the effects of a large forest fire that nearly burned the visitor center down.

I was asked to explain the design reasoning for the visitor center, a building that has become a favorite among diverse groups of individuals over time and use. The building is not in an 'architectural style' of the times, then (late 70's early 80's) or now, and people are keenly interested in the thinking that went into the building's genesis. It was an opportunity for me to revisit my younger design self and to rediscover the threads still present in my ongoing design adventures in other systemic design domains.

I used a 'deep design' schema to explain my design process to everyone at my presentation. The point of this schema is to show the relationships of the invisible aspects of a design to the visible aspects of a design—the things we see and experience as reality.

Deep Design

I told them that architecture can be practiced nowadays as a science (people inhabit environmental machines) or an art (people dwell in sculptures) or as a systemic design approach (meaningful design) without penalty. This building, I explained, was an example of the systemic design approach to architecture.

Chilao Visitor Center Deep Design

With all the concern expressed for sustainability, green design, environmentalism and education, I wonder why the Forest Service and regional school districts don't utilize this resource more? Why is this kind of educational experience, especially for children, so low on everyones priority list? This is a means for the young as well as adults to experience the analog, real world in deep and meaningful ways. There are no apps that can substitute for this type of learning experience. So why is it not valued more?


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