Writings

Looking Forward to Monday Mornings
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
“Wite-Out”
by Daniel Frisch
Posted November 14th, 2018

From Wikipedia:

Wite-Out dates to 1966, when Edwin Johanknecht an insurance-company clerk, sought to address a problem he observed in correction fluid available at the time: a tendency to smudge ink on photostatic copies when it was applied. Johanknecht enlisted the help of his associate George Kloosterhouse, a basement waterproofer who experimented with chemicals, and together they developed their own correction fluid, introduced as “Wite-Out WO-1 Erasing Liquid”.

In 1971, they incorporated as Wite-Out Products, Inc. The trademark “Wite-Out” was registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on February 5, 1974. (The application listed the date of “first use in commerce” as January 27, 1966.)

Early forms of Wite-Out sold through 1981 were water-based and hence water-soluble. While this allowed simple cleaning, it also had the problem of long drying times. The formula also did not work well on non-photostatic media such as typewritten copy.

The company was bought in 1981 by Archibald Douglas. Douglas, as chairman, led the company toward solvent-based formulas with faster drying times. Three different formulas were created, each optimized for different media. New problems arose: a separate bottle of thinner was required, and the solvent used was known to contribute to ozone depletion. The company addressed these problems in July 1990 with the introduction of a reformulated “For Everything” correction fluid.

In June 1992, Wite-Out Products was bought by the BIC Corporation. BIC released a number of new products under its newly acquired brand, including a Wite-Out ballpoint pen (November 1996) and dry correction tape (1998).

Where would we be without “Wite-Out”?

In our practice, old-fashioned “Wite-Out” has survived, outlasting the T-Square, the Mayline, the typewriter, the fax machine, the Rolodex, the Fil-o-Fax, the beeper, the Palm Pilot, the Blackberry, and a baker’s dozen Macintosh i-Launches. Around 1992, soon after putting out our shingle, we were given a Mac SE – replacing our typewriter for proposals and correspondence. We were hooked, and we became Apple acolytes, unaware that this gift would contribute so much over the years to our culture and identity. As we grew and evolved, computers became more and more integral and essential to our communication, and to our work product – we switched from hand drafting to CAD (Computer-Aided-Design) in 1997. The transition was challenging. Not due to lack of interest, I decided against subjecting myself to retraining, and did not learn CAD; as drafting and being a member of our production team would hamstring the performance of my other duties. Many graduates who interview with DFA are intrigued by my lack of CAD fluency, not fully understanding the timing of CAD’s emergence allowed me to focus on my role as helmsman of DFA, while simultaneously affording staff more autonomy and responsibility.

Along the way, one of the decisions we made was to stay with Apple and not switch to the Windows-based AutoCad platform, even though software for the Mac platform was lagging terribly behind. For years, we had trouble sharing files with engineers, and even our professional association, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) did not offer contract templates formatted for Mac. We purchased a lone PC machine to access these forms and to run other Windows-exclusive software. Yet, there was no denying the Apple products were cooler and hipper, and we were pot-committed (my first poker reference of these chapters). Only in the last few years has the interaction between platforms become more seamless, and our decision to stay with Apple no longer a practical concern.

I remember with ambivalent fondness the following catalog: our initial Mac SE, Mac Classic II, Mac Quadra, original iMac in “Bondi Blue” (the paint color we chose for our powder room in 1997), Power Mac G3, G4, and G5 (they were insanely heavy when brought to TekServe to repair), Mac Mini, Mac Pro, and now, finally, our 27” iMac’s, which I know will become obsolete some day, but I just can’t see how.

We now all have iPhones and iPads, and many of us have laptops – I recently purchased my first ever, a light and seductive MacBook number – to write these essays. Jamie’s office features a veritable technology museum of older Apple computers and I have a bar cart displaying a collection of flip phones, Blackberries, and early-generation iPhones. The young associates in our office, who use technology with such great facility (having known nothing else), probably find our nostalgia odd, or at best, amusing. Which brings me back to “Wite-Out”.

Every week, we receive inquiries about potential projects, most frequently concerning potential apartment renovations or combinations of multiple apartments into one. Three or four questions are invariably asked: 1) Can renovations be performed to satisfy our needs?; 2) How much work is necessary?; 3) Can we live in the apartment(s) while renovations are performed?; and of course, 4) how much will it cost? Whenever tasked with evaluating a new project, I print a copy of the floor plan and take out the “Wite-Out” and study the possibilities. Although it takes a long time for a project to go from the idea stage to move-in, many of DFA’s completed projects are the direct product of these preliminary “Wite-Out” sketches.

“Wite-Out” remains an indispensable tool in our creative process. It’s not easy to use. It dries slowly, and because of its water content, pen strokes bleed on top of it, which means everything smears. Too often I find myself at dinner with a mixture of ink and “Wite-Out” covering my hands. For me, though, this very low-tech process is how I respond to the challenge of designing a home. Patiently waiting for a composition to dry, my mind sees the problem before me more clearly, and fixing a smudged drawing usually results in meaningful refinement.

I believe and teach that hand-drawing remains a primary creative tool, in spite of the technological capability of CAD. Clarity of thought is often obscured by the intellectual distance between the designer and the CAD drawing being produced. While it takes training and proficiency to draw using a computer, the emphasis often seems to shift from the creative idea to the production of an image. With pen and paper, our thoughts flow more freely, whereas I have rarely met someone who successfully synchronizes original thought through keystrokes.

I (obsessively) dwell on technology, and not just as it relates to architectural design. While I am known to be a resistant and plodding adopter, I wholly endorse the indisputable benefits of going digital, and that our future is (or should be) brighter due to universal access to and adoption of technology. Like most parents, I worry about screen time and social media. How much is too much, both for our youngest generation, and for ourselves? Reconciling the allure and opportunities presented by the tech revolution with the social and spiritual needs of people is extremely important

One of my favorite responsibilities at DFA (and at home) is to demonstrate that human touch – including my smeared hand drawings – is more compelling than machine alternatives. To accomplish this, I seek to inspire a love of non-technology-based endeavors, rather than to less affirmatively advocate for technology deprivation. Not only would an attempt to deprive fail in the face of the very seductive technology products, it would also be quite hypocritical. We promote our business on Instagram, Alexa shuffles our music at home and keeps the timer on the kids’ baking, our 3-D renderings explain and inspire, and Candy Crush is my go-to escape on the subway. We are plugged-in 24/7 and our dependence on, and enthusiasm for technology will only grow over time.

Notwithstanding, nothing compares to happy hour, team sports, Main Street and shopping local, band practice, dinner table conversation and heated argument, hand drawing, making models, board games, and reading hardcover books (and yes, even book clubs). We’ll continue to embrace email, Wikipedia, social media, and CAD, taking every advantage of each new technology. Along the way, here’s hoping Papermate continues to make Flair pens, and that Bic continues to make “Wite-Out.” We’re loyal customers.

 

DF, 1-18-2017