Opacity This Point in Time book on a table

33.3 This Point In Time: An Opacity Monograph 

In Pursuit of Design Excellence

The title of our first Opacity monograph: 33.3 This Point In Time, marks the completion of our first Opacity cycle. It is a sweeping publication rich with content, from beautiful imagery and compelling infographics to thought-provoking essays by esteemed writers and critics: Mimi Zeiger on Context; Alissa Walker on Form; Susan Szenasy on Materials; Aaron Betsky on Program; Katie Gerfen on Space; and Chrysanthe Broikos on Sustainability.

Edited by Jenna M. McKnight, this monograph looks to both the past and the future; it also looks inward by exploring the people who make up the firm’s vast architectural practice. As this book makes evident, we are composed of many distinct threads that are woven together to form a powerful collective. The Opacity program celebrates the diversity of this collective, while underscoring the shared goal of design excellence.

Opacity 33.3 Cover

What is Opacity?

Our Opacity initiative was conceived with a singular purpose: to foster design excellence in our work by inviting respected outside critics to review work submitted by our design studios around the world. From jury deliberations, we glean critical insights regarding our past work in order to best inform our design intent in the future.

Officially launched in 2016, Opacity is a 12-year initiative, divided into four-year cycles. During a single cycle, three annual design reviews are chronicled in a book featuring noted projects and jury input. The final year is reserved for deep reflection and the development of a monograph.

Opacity and the Importance of Listening presentation

The Importance of Listening

In her foreword to 33.3, guest editor Jenna M. McKnight reflects on the importance and difficulty of true listening. It requires, she writes, “time, focus, and patience. Most importantly, it requires an open mind.” It’s this “open mind” and the ability to be receptive to and learn from critique that is a hallmark of the Opacity initiative. Read more about Jenna’s thoughts about Opacity and the role that critical discourse plays in helping HDR and other design firms from becoming complacent and falling in step with the status quo. 

Opacity 2017

Why Opacity Matters

Measuring Opacity’s influence may be difficult in quantitative terms, but Doug Wignall, president of Architecture, notes that its effects are real and long-lasting. Most important, he says, is how it relates to our own sense of purpose and impact in the world and its influence on ensuring our practice stays relevant in a changing world.

“Jury deliberations provide an abundance of sometimes uncomfortable moments of insight and introspection—along with moments that are joyfully validating,” he writes. “It takes a lot of work to frame and articulate meaningful constructive criticism, and it is equally difficult to keep an open mind to listen, process, and be inspired by it.”

33.3 This Point in Time / Essays

Esteemed critic Mimi Zeiger interrogates the notion of context and its relevance in the modern age in the essay “A View from 35,000 ft.”

“These changes in how spaces are used prove that context can no longer be thought of as an aesthetic or architectural style. Debates about “fitting in” or Mission Revival design covenants mean little in the face of recognizing that context is a bundle of socio-cultural factors, political and economic policies large and small that shape cities and suburbs.”

Journalist Alissa Walker critiques the car-centric nature of U.S. cities and calls for planning strategies that are more sustainable, humane, and forward-thinking in her essay, “The Future City: No Parking Allowed.”

Reorienting cities away from cars is an opportunity to design places with less pollution and fewer crashes, but it’s also a chance to finally create spaces that are truly accessible to all.”

In “A New Age of Material Invention is Dawning,” renowned writer and educator Susan Szenasy explores how environmental concerns are driving significant advancements in the design and use of materials.

“What will it take for the stewards of the built environment to organize and create - as only the design and architecture commu­nity can - materials, processes, and built spaces that are beautiful, systemic, and safe?”

Noted critic Aaron Betsky reveals the dangers of traditional programmatic thinking and proposes new ways of approaching the functional dimension of architecture in his essay, “Toward the Post-Programmatic.”

So it is time for architects to stop worrying about programs, or at least to stop using them as excuses. Instead, they should use them as opportunities, ruins on which to build, or preconceptions their designs will waylay.”

In her essay titled “Building Connections in a Digital World,” journalist Katie Gerfen discusses the importance of physical space in our increasingly digitized world.

If anything, the design of the built environment, and public space in particular, is more critical than ever. It’s more than an opportunity for digital detox; it’s critical for maintaining our connections with society, and reinforcing the in-person connec­tions that dwindle as we retreat to our digital ones.”

Exhibit curator Chrysanthe B. Broikos traces the evolution of the sustainability movement and its intersection with the National Building Museum in her essay “Charting the Ascent of the Sustainability Paradigm.”

The notion of sustainability has expanded consid­erably in the 21st century. It is now interwoven into design topics such as resiliency, health and well­ness, and even social justice — and it has become entrenched within the architectural profession.”

Opacity Series Books

Buildings require immense capital investment—investment more readily made when there’s some assurance of outcome. This narrow focus, however, can make a casualty of creativity, of exploration—of risk. This first Opacity book reflects the intended mission of the Opacity initiative itself: to balance the scales, reinvigorating a culture of discourse and exploration within everyday practice. Interestingly, the 46 projects featured ultimately exemplified the jury’s notion of risk: incremental changes in concept, design, and/or production that allowed a pedestrian typology to touch on new ground.

The title of this second Opacity book captures the spirit of the 17 honored projects, all of which display a heightened level of discernment and care. Last off, and perhaps most importantly, it speaks to the practice of architecture and the essence of great buildings and considered landscapes. Creating spaces and places that inspire and endure requires passion and discipline. The shaping of our built environment should always be a rigorous undertaking.

The title of Opacity’s third volume stems from recurring comments made during the 2018 jury deliberations: HDR is on the verge of realizing its full potential and reaching a heightened level of design mastery. A new era awaits for our global architecture practice, but how do we get there? This book explores the 20 projects the jury selected that best demonstrate how we must work with conviction to define, strengthen, and promote our “ethos”—the values, aspirations, and practices that constitute our character.

Purchase a Copy

Interested in purchasing a print copy of 33.3: This Point in Time? Reach out to Tom Trenolone, Design Director, for more info.