The Gibbs Spotlight: Dave Boeck

GCA Communications intern Kali Curtis (K) spoke with Dave Boeck (B), an associate professor of architecture here at Gibbs! We sat down with Boeck to learn about how the use of technology and design methods have changed throughout his career in architecture. Boeck received his Master of Architecture (1979) degree from the University of Oklahoma. Read on for highlights or click the link below to access the full podcast.   

K: Hello everyone, welcome to the Gibbs Spotlight. My name is Kali Curtis, and I’m a web development and professional writing intern at the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today, we are talking to Dave Boeck. He has been an associate professor of architecture at Gibbs College since 2003 and he graduated with a master’s degree in architecture in 1979. So, the first question we have today, is how have design methods changed since you were a student at Gibbs College? 

B: Well, the simplest answer and the most complete is when I came to the School of Architecture, everything was done by hand. Computers were being tested, but everything was done with a parallel bar, or triangles and circle templates, pens, and pencils. So, all our drawings were done by hand. There was no use of computers for the first three years that I was here. and I took a computer class, but it was called Fortran. And I know you don’t know anything about Fortran because it hasn’t been around for a while. But that was a very crude system, where we experimented with drawing plans on a computer. So, it’s the difference between digital and analog. 

K: Would you say that it’s easier doing it digitally? Or do you prefer the old way? 

B: Well, you know, Kali, like I said, I’m 68. I know how to use computers. Obviously, we’re on Zoom. I use Soft Plan, which is a computer software system, to do all my projects. Because I still do projects. I start out with hand drawing sketches and meeting with my clients, that’s the quickest way to get my ideas across. So, I would have to say that still, the simplest thing for me is hand drawing. But I also know the importance of technology, and that’s what people have come to expect.

One of the issues is now our students and architects can do photorealistic renderings of buildings, of their ideas. And so, we look at those in our studio presentations all the time. And the students do great work and architects use SketchUp, Revit, AutoCAD, 3d max. That’s just what people have come to expect when you’re designing a project for them. And so, in my world, I still prefer hand-sketching, and drawing. And that’s what I teach to my classes. And I think the two most popular classes are my rendering class, which is in the spring, and in the fall, I have creativity through sketching. But I developed both those classes just as a method to keep teaching what I know how to do because I do a lot of drawings, I sell my artwork, I have my artwork hanging around my house, people buy some of the stuff I have. I do Airbnb and people that come and stay at my house like my drawings, and I’ll sell them my sketches every once in a while. But I came to architecture through art. I was an artist before I became an architect. So free-hand art is still my favorite way of projecting my work.  

Artwork by Dave Boeck from his soon-to-be-published book “Creativity Through the Covid.” 

K: Okay, thank you. So, it sounds like the new norm is [drawing] digitally, but you still have to start off learning the hand drawing before you can start doing digital. 

B: You know, like I said, computers have been used in school as long as I’ve been here and for a lot longer. It started out with AutoCAD, which is fairly simple. It’s gotten more design and graphic-oriented. But one of the things that I did, say 15 years ago, a couple of firms asked me to come and teach their employees how to draw because they were graduating from here only knowing computers. The architect that they were working for would take them to a meeting with a client and ask them to put down ideas as they were talking on paper, and they couldn’t do it. They just couldn’t do it. They wanted to take it back and put it on the computer. So, the architects were pretty distressed, because I think everybody would agree that is still the quickest way to get your initial ideas out is by hand.

Our brain is neurologically connected to our hands and so we can get our ideas out on paper more easily. Computers do wonderful drawings, but it takes time. So, hand drawing and hand sketching are considered the quickest ways to get your ideas out. And then what you do with those, to expand on and present them, that’s another issue. I’ll tell you another story, this isn’t architecture, but in the auto industry, when I actually wanted to be a car designer, I got accepted to General Motors Institute in Detroit (which is an engineering school), but you have to work six weeks in an internship position. I wanted to work at the tech center where they design cars, and they wanted a portfolio of my car sketches. 

I had never drawn cars before, but I took them in and they said, “really, you’re wasting your time going to General Motors Institute. If you really want to be a car designer, you need to go to an art school and learn how to do presentations.” And cars at that time were designed by making clay models and hand sketches. Then they got into computers and realized that the computers didn’t allow them to make last-minute quick sketch changes. And so, after they eliminated all the model makers and the hand sketches, they realized they were in trouble. So now, again, it’s hybrid. But they’ve seen the importance of the initial design concepts done by hand, done by model, and then putting it into computers. So, it’s like that in a lot of the design industry. 

K: Thank you. That makes a lot of sense. To move on to our next question, how have the changes in design methods and technology personally affected your own projects and career? 

B: I’d have to say they haven’t really changed them at all. Other than like I said, people expect to see computer models, 3D or digital modeling, photorealistic kind of drawings. But in the residential work that I do, people aren’t quite that influenced by technology or expecting it. But that’s the biggest change is in most commercial design work, people just expect to see digital models. And so, there have been some instances where I’ve actually hired a student to do some digital modeling for me, and I’m slowly learning how to do that myself. But yeah. 

K: Okay, thank you. So, it sounds like it’s probably just a bit of a learning curve with all that stuff. 

B: Oh, yeah. You know, I’ve tried to learn SketchUp. I’ve tried to learn Photoshop. And I can work in them very rudimentarily, and I keep working away at it to get better and better at it. And then I’ve learned to work around those things that I can’t learn. And that’s when I ask students to help me out. Like, right now I’ve got a student working for me. I’m putting together three books of my sketches, and she’s working in InDesign. I tried to learn InDesign and, you know, it’s fairly simple, a lot simpler than Photoshop, but she’s a lot quicker at it than I am. And so, she’s doing an internship for me, I’m helping her with her AXP hours. But she’s doing it through working with me and putting my books together in InDesign. So digital modeling again. 

K: Okay, that’ll be interesting to see how that turns out. 

B: In fact, I just had a meeting with her before I met with you. I took students to Africa, and have developed over the last eight years, a bunch of sketches of life in Zambia. And then also through the pandemic and being at my desk doing online classes. I have a friend that’s been sending me pictures from Istanbul. And she’s actually in town right now and I’m trying to get my Istanbul book at least to a point where I could have her look at it while she’s here to see what she thinks. I’m learning to work with the people I know that can help me with my deficiencies to get things done the way I need to get them done. 

K: Yeah, I mean, working through teams and with other people…

B: That’s what it’s about. Yep. 

Dave Boeck (back row, fourth from the left) with some of his students in the studio in 2008.

K: So, our next question here is, what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned at Gibbs College?  

B: The most valuable thing I’ve learned at the Gibbs College of Architecture is that collaboration and teamwork is the most successful way to address the sophisticated issues in the design world that we have today. 

K: Okay, what is the most notable difference in the division of architecture at Gibbs now as a faculty member, compared to when you were a student? 

B: Well, when I was in school, we didn’t have air conditioning. We had to open the windows in order to cool down. We didn’t have carpet. We just had drafting tables, but it didn’t stop creativity. The importance of what I think the Gibbs College has done through all the different evolutions of building technology is that they focus on the importance of open-minded creativity and understanding what the specific needs are on any given project, studio project, or real project.

What’s most important is being able to listen, and then be able to learn what the issues are and address the issues, whether they’re environmental or sustainability, or technology, or time framing. That doesn’t change what goes into being a good architect or interior designer, there’s one, understanding the issues, two, understanding your client, and three being able to address those intelligently. And then for taking all that information in developing a project that actually works that’s successful. 

K: Okay, so perhaps a better question would be what hasn’t changed. And that would be you know, the importance of creativity in the process. 

B: Creativity and listening, openness for change. Not getting stuck on one idea. That’s one of the things we talk to our students about now. And I remember my faculty, my professors talking to me about flexibility and being able to look at different ideas and connect those ideas. So, you’re not stuck in one place, but always open to change and metamorphosis, and how to make the design process evolve. 

K: Thank you. So, our next question is, what thoughts did you have about the field when joining? And how did those thoughts differ from reality? 

B: Like I said, I came from an art background. I enjoyed painting, I enjoyed drawing. Architecture was not my first choice in thinking of a career. Like I said, I wanted to do car design, but design and art all work together. One thing I’ve learned is music is frozen notes and architecture is music. It’s literature. It’s art, in a very concrete pattern. You know, the buildings that we design, the materials that we use, are all part of a vocabulary that’s connected to the field of music in the field of art. So, I did a lot of painting, I did a lot of drawing.

I wanted to be an artist, you know. That’s what I told my dad, I think when I was in high school, “I’m going to be an artist.” He goes, “Well, you know, you can’t make money as an artist. Artists are always starving. They’re always looking for other things to do. You need to find a career that can help you survive and make a living.” And when I started looking at the careers that were out there that could, I had an uncle who graduated, who actually studied under Bruce Goff. He never practiced architecture, he actually ended up getting a Regional and City Planning degree and then worked for HUD his whole career. But when I asked him what the best school of architecture would be to go to, he said, “you’d have to go to OU because Bruce Goff developed the school and created the environment that makes OU one of the most well-respected architecture schools in the country.” 

Huh. That’s interesting. And now that we’ve done the research on the Bruce Goff period and the Bruce Goff legacy, I had some of the faculty that he actually hired to teach architecture here. So, Stephanie and I have talked about this. I’m, I guess, the last person around that has a link in one respect (at least one generational or two-generational relationships away) from Bruce Goff and the way that he taught architecture. And that’s what Gibbs College is trying to do is to focus on how we can maintain and develop that kind of creativity in the students that we graduate. 

The OU Student Union Food Court was designed by Dave Boeck. Image Source.

K: Okay, thank you. Lastly, did you have a project that you wanted to share today? 

B: Well, the Charlie Cole Golf Team Learning Center, down by the Jimmy Austin golf course, I designed. And the golf team, both men’s and women’s, used this. It was, at the time, leading-edge technology for golf practice facilities. I think that put OU as one of the only one or two schools that had an indoor driving range where they could practice golf in bad weather. It’s still one of the leading facilities in the country. I don’t think Sbarro is there anymore, but the food court, the Student Union food court, I designed. It used to be a cafeteria and the only people that went to the cafeteria were like all the retired faculty and staff from OU that were in their 80s and 90s. And there would be five or six people for breakfast and eight or ten people for lunch. 

The director of the Union hired me to put together a food court idea to make it 21st century and ready for kids to come in and make it a place they wanted to hang out. It’s obviously been a very successful project. And then, of course, the Barry Switzer Center. Very few architects live long enough to see projects that they’ve done disappear, like get torn down. But the same year I did the Charlie Cole Golf Team Facility, I also designed the first Barry Switzer Center, and then it was torn down about four or five years ago, and the new bigger Barry Switzer Center was built. I guess those are the projects I’d show you that have the most significant input on the University of Oklahoma.

Of course, there’s my house. It’s a house that I live in. It was designed to be Age-Friendly, so it’s accessible. It’s about eight years old. I do Airbnb, and my guests love my house because it’s accessible. It’s easy to use. It’s easy to get around in. It’s very light because it was designed for me and my ex-wife to get old in and to stay in and support living because what I do is design houses that support people’s aging process. And I teach that. Like the studio I had this last semester, my students actually designed an intergenerational mixed-use housing project in downtown Norman. 

K: That’s really interesting that you designed the union [food court]. And now it’s super busy all the time. 

B: Oh, obviously I’m in architecture because I want to design environments that people can enjoy. I went into the Student Union on the first day of school, and the place was packed. I mean, there were thousands and thousands of students there and they were all excited about [the food court] being there and I was going “this is why I’m an architect.” I’m designing spaces that can be used and enjoyed. Not just once, but every day. 

K: Yeah. Thank you so much for interviewing with me today. 

B: Well, thank you for inviting me to get interviewed. I like to talk. 

K: Thanks again for listening to Gibbs Spotlight. Tune in next time to hear more stories from the Gibbs College of Architecture. 

Editor’s note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.