Michael E. Pipkins, Architect
Michael is one of the few remaining Architects who was educated in Architecture the old fashioned way, through mentoring and hard work. As a graduate of the Phoenix Institute of Technology in 1987, Michael immediately found himself as the protege of renowned Architect, Fred Doriot. Doriot mentored Michael in all aspects of architecture including business & project management as well as design & construction. And it was Doriot, more than any other person or influence which has led Michael to his ultimate conclusion that in architecture, Function must always come First.
This “Function First” philosophy likely stems from the fact that under the direction of Fred Doriot, Michael was not permitted to work on a project until he had demonstrated that he was familiar with the needs of the people who will actually use the facility.
For example: In order to work on the design of a bank building, this meant that Michael was required to work at a bank, in order to learn the process of banking transactions; equipment; procedures; customer relations and even employee habits and customs. This process also allowed Michael to find out what the employees liked about their job; what they didn’t like; and even how they would do things differently to make their job easier and foster a better working environment.
Likewise, this same “hands on” approach to design was required of Michael for every project type. For Restaurants and Bars, Michael had to work as a waiter, bartender & kitchen assistant. For Hotels, Michael had to work in housekeeping as well as registration. For Casinos, Michael worked in the cashiers’ booth; security office; rewards club; stage hand; janitorial office as well as the corporate center.
Even though many times the work in each of these occupations lasted only for a day or two, it provided Michael with the opportunity to know how and why people work the way they do and how they actually use the space. It’s the difference between “assuming” (ie: guessing) what is important and “knowing” what is important. This then becomes the foundation of the design. In architecture, it really is necessary to “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” to be able to design a building that truly meets the needs of the occupants.
Of course, learning “what to design” is only half the education one needs to be a exceptional architect. The other half is, “how it’s built”. So with each project, Michael would be furloughed to assist the contractor with the actual construction. As it turns out, contractors are all too happy to teach an Architect a thing or two. Pushing heavy wheelbarrows doesn’t just build mussels, it also makes one appreciate the need to plan out a construction site and move materials once, and only once. Dangling from a steel girder thirty feet above the ground makes one understand the need for prefabrication, as well as on-site safety protocols. The education that Michael received from actually building the project could only be described as, priceless.
Understanding how and why things are done as well as how to construct within real world building tolerances is a fundamental element of Architectural Design. Any first year Architecture student can mold play-dough into an interesting form or sketch an impossible design that blows a projects budget. But in the real world, Architecture is about getting the project done right, on budget, and helping people live, work and play a little easier.
This is what is meant by putting “Function First”. It would be a misconception to think that “Function” is not a part of the design. Indeed, it is the most critical part of a design. Louis Sullivan, the father of the modern skyscraper once said that, “Form Follows Function”. Indeed, Sullivan was right and this is a true law of nature. But whereas “Form Follows Function” is a law, “Function First” is an action plan.