The very best New York design firms would frequently require my unique skill as a freelance model builder. I would be running all over Manhattan meeting world class design leaders, getting to know their design staff, becoming acquainted with varied very upscale offices, building models of visionary new designs in order to complete their amazingly short deadlines on time.
It was a moment like this when I worked for two very different architectural firms: Cooper, Eckstut, and, EPR CRS-Sirrine.
At EPR CRS-SIrrine I was welcomed into an environment that felt cutting edge. Everyone was extremely nice, one project head in particular was charming and personable. They had a corporate interior design that needed to be built as a very finished scale model in just a few days. My working / dining area was a spare desk and a back stairwell where I accomplished my spray painting.
This was the very first firm where I saw all of the architectural drawings being drawn on computers. My dad had been an architect. He was a good friend of Frank Lloyd Wright. Both men loved to draw. I’d seen b&w films of Le Corbusier sitting at his designers’ desks assisting on their drawings using pencils, erasers and rulers. Standing inside a NY firm that expressed a youthful feeling, that used only computers to create all of their sets of working drawings, was a bit of a shock.
I felt like I was seeing the future. Computers replacing humans doing all the work.
EPR CRS-Sirrine’s two computers sat side by side. Two computer draftspersons would sit next to each other and be in constant communication with each other, literally looking over each others shoulders. Two would work the day shift. Two others would arrive in the evening and work through the night. Only four people doing all of their many drawings. I know this to be true, because I was working on their scale model day and night.
I asked, how did working on computers compare to the more traditional way of having ‘people’ actually doing all of the drawing. Their simple answer was that when a tiny detail needed to be accomplished on a single floor of a multi story building, that then needed to be repeated on every single floor, it only took a single key stroke to make it happen. And hours and hours of work was done – in seconds.
By contrast, I was working simultaneously on a number of beautiful scale models for the firm Cooper Eckstut. From what I observed, they were the firm that made it possible for all of the other New York firms to get their buildings built. Whenever a new design was envisioned by any other firm, it was Cooper Eckstut that made building their new design build-able. I liked them. They felt like the engine room of the star ship, Manhattan. I don’t know where New York would be without them.
Cooper Eckstut had rooms and rooms filled with people working on their drawings. Many working at their desks were young, many were foreign. All were excellent and very friendly to this model builder. But I couldn’t help but notice the contrast of one firm having two computers sitting next to each other in a tiny twin desk area with the completion of drawings being accomplished quickly, accurately and by only a small handful of people. As opposed to numerous rooms that were filled with people drafting ‘the old fashioned way’ at desk after desk after desk. Turning their drawings over, sharpening their pencils, the smell of a blueprint machine running. Was I seeing both the past and the future at the same time? Were many of these nice people sitting at their many desks soon facing losing their jobs?
Cooper Eckstut did beautiful work. I truly enjoyed meeting the people who worked there, and respected the partners who ran this firm. But at Sirrine I believed I was being given a glimpse into what songwriters, television shows and movies poetically described as the beginning of the end: ‘design by the machine’.
Cooper Eckstut did have a computer in their office. It was used by a father & son team that did all of the firms accounting. The father would occasionally step into the room where I was working just to chat. His thoughts occupied with numbers, he would share how he was going to request that the firm purchase an even more powerful computer. One that had more than the mere 2 megabytes of memory he was currently being forced to work with. His dream was to have a computer with 4 megabytes. 4 was cutting edge at that time. To imagine 6 megabytes, or even 8 mb, that would have been unimaginable capacity for inconceivable achievement. Mind blowing.
Recently, near to where I work now, I visited a printing office in order to have a pdf I downloaded from a client hundreds of miles away enlarged, all in a matter of seconds. While waiting, only a few minutes, I stepped over to their store display. They had just a few small shelves that offered drafting pencils, plastic triangles, rulers, erasers. I instinctively started to reach toward a shelf, already feeling the sensation in my hand of a pencil sliding between my fingers as I imagined this pencil spinning in my grasp in order to create a consistent even line across a large velum paper. But I stopped. Those pencil and ruler days are now long gone.
“Hans Carl Clausen work is meticulous and of the highest quality, ready without correction for presentation to clients and public agencies or for use in photography. We highly recommend him for your consideration.”
David McGregor / Cooper, Eckstut Associates / NYC
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