Learning From Failure

Question: Which of your projects most exemplifies your philosophy?

Nader Tehrani: I mean there was an important moment I think in our background about 10, 15 years ago when we designed Casa La Roca in Caracas and why I like that project still out of all of the work that I don’t like is that it expands on a very simple principle that was laid out you know centuries ago by Jefferson in the Serpentine Wall in Virginia, the idea that through a certain economy of folding or bending you can bring structural stability to a wall that is only one width thick, something that was later radicalized by Eladio DiEste.  Our contribution to this lineage was very simple.  If you don’t think of the wall as a brick wall, but start to think of it as a wall within which the mortar sets the agenda of the wall, the mortar not as a fixed entity, but as a variable entity, through the renovation of a bonding system that is not fixed like a running bond or a Flemish bond, but rather a variable bond you can bring different densities of structure into this wall that has lateral bracing, but in that moment you bring to the space behind it the possibility of controlling light and air.  The idea that a structural proposition acquires an environmental gain or if you like a social, the division of the inhabitants of that house from their in-laws next door, to me that is a moment where problems of materiality, culture, technology and the environment coulees in a very specific design move and what I like about that also it’s not so much interested in the design of a wall.  It’s interested in the design of the parameters that gauge that wall, so that once you understand that I can give it to you as another person to redesign it for me or to cultivate a relationship with it, which is much more intimate.

Question: Are there projects that you would alter?

Nader Tehrani: You know our work is constantly about failures.  You test things so that they fail.  That is the way engineer’s progress.  They build arches, test them to their yield point and I hope somehow to be able to that, not in the technical realm so much, but rather in the realm of synthesis.  Yes, we have learned a lot about those… from those failures.  Maybe if I can say the biggest lesson I’ve learned from ourselves is in the quest for determination and specification we probably have focused too much on the role of a single detail in its ability to proliferate and control an entire design and the transition from let’s say the design of an object to the design of parameters that engage objects has been our most successful lesson.  Now when I sit down to design and I design much more collectively now with other discipline groups I am still invested in the peculiarity and the specificity of an architectural object, but I’m much more interested in what the other discipline groups can bring to it and the degree to which my engagement with them can specify the parameter that propel the design process and in turn the object, but it gives us more lateral freedom to produce new forms of knowledge, to incorporate others in it and to make it smarter.

Engineers progress in their work by testing things so that they fail.

Live on Thursday: Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

New Hubble images add to the dark matter puzzle

The images and our best computer models don't agree.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists can detect the gravitational effects of invisible dark matter.
  • Dark matter causes visual distortions of what's behind it.
  • The greater the distortion, the greater the amount of dark matter. Maybe.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Did our early ancestors boil their food in hot springs?

    Scientists have found evidence of hot springs near sites where ancient hominids settled, long before the control of fire.

    Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
    Culture & Religion
    Some of the oldest remains of early human ancestors have been unearthed in Olduvai Gorge, a rift valley setting in northern Tanzania where anthropologists have discovered fossils of hominids that existed 1.8 million years ago.
    Keep reading Show less

    A new minimoon is headed towards Earth, and it’s not natural

    Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.

    Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Paitoon Pornsuksomboon/Shutterstock/Big Think
    Surprising Science
  • Small objects such as asteroids get trapped for a time in Earth orbit, becoming "minimoons."
  • Minimoons are typically asteroids, but this one is something else.
  • The new minimoon may be part of an old rocket from the 1960s.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Personal finance: How to save, spend, and think rationally about money

    Finances can be a stressor, regardless of tax bracket. Here are tips for making better money decisions.

    • Whether you have a lot of money or a lot of debt, it matters how you handle your personal finances. A crucial step when it comes to saving is to reassess your relationship with money and to learn to adopt a broader, more logical point of view.
    • In this video, social innovator and activist Vicki Robin, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, and author Bruce Feiler offer advice on achieving financial independence, learning to control your emotions, spending smarter, and teaching children about money.
    • It all starts with education and understanding. The more you know about how money works, the better you will be at avoiding mistakes and the easier it will be to take control of your financial circumstances.
    Keep reading Show less