What Goes Into It

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Before I came to the Felt Hat, I think I took a lot for granted about how things get made. I would see something cool — a neat piece of architecture or a great exhibit at a museum — and just assume some magician had whisked it out of a top hat. Okay, well, maybe not really, but I did assume it was out of the realm of possibility for a mere mortal to create something so vast. And I may not have been entirely wrong, because one mere mortal couldn’t do any of that. It takes a team of mortals, a group of people committed to creating something awesome and working together to make it happen.

In the last year or so I’ve been slowly learning just how much goes into everything that gets made and how many smart people have to get together, talk to each other, and help each other to make something great come together. How very appropriate that I learned a lot of these lessons while working on the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center at Stanford University, a project that is all about the social nature of engineering and the great things that can be created when people from different disciplines talk to each other.

The less obvious part of this lesson is that even when you have all those smart, dedicated people working together to make it great, there are still a lot of details to be considered. Things that are easily taken for granted (what are the corners of this vitrine going to look like?) suddenly become significant topics for consideration. Nothing good is likely to happen by accident, so every bolt, every line of text, every gap between panels has to be carefully considered and planned and communicated.

This project, already a complex and substantial undertaking, was further complicated by the timeline: originally planned as a two year project, for various reasons the schedule was compressed to five months. Suddenly all of those bolt, text, and gap decisions had to be made a lot more quickly but with no less accuracy or attention. Thankfully, with a good team you can make it happen anyway, and we had passionate and invaluable partners both at Stanford and at Gallagher Designs.

For most of this project I’ve been behind the scenes, working up in Portland while others were on the ground in California, but in June I finally got to go walk through the Huang Engineering Center myself. It’s exciting to look at the final result and think, “I was part of that.” But it’s almost more exciting to look at the final result and think about all the people who played a part, all of the obstacles we overcame, and all of the little details that somehow came together to be more than just the sum of their parts.