Nov 30, 2006

Hot Buenos Aires

On a lighter note, we were all vastly amused by the fact that the Bush girls have been in Buenos Aires for the past three weeks, and are in all probability, still here. They were spotted in San Telmo, off of Plaza Dorrego, an area we're all very familiar with since it's less than two blocks from our architecture project site. The other sighting of the Jenna and Barbara was at a Boca game, so they must really be getting into the local culture.

Speaking of local culture, one thing I still cannot understand is Porteno obsession with the 80's. From the ubiquitous mullet, to the clothes, to the 80's music everywhere, these people are crazy about that decade for reasons unknown. Maybe its just vouge, but Aldo was telling me that other south American countries are also into the 80s music from the US.

The Traveling Studio

I apologize to those of who sent me emails and comments in the last few days, as I've been working constantly on our group's final semester project.

To catch up, for thanksgiving we all went to Janette's apartment, the biggest and nicest one. We all brought something to share, so there was a wide assortment of food. My cornbread was interesting story- as I didn't have any measuring cups or spoons, I had to eyeball everything, and as a consequence, I think I used half the amount of baking powder I needed (hey I was impressed I was able to find baking powder on my own!). It smelled great coming out of the oven, it was nicely browned, but my happiness turned to dismay when I realized that it was only about half an inch thick. I'd created cornboard, the densest, but still edible, cornbread I'd ever seen. It was still good though. Ben made an incredible double decker pizza, someone brought some turkey, and Chris made mashed potatos, mashed by hand since no one has any appliances. There was wine and beer, and we ended up the night playing charades. A good thanksgiving, but we were all missing our relatives and family.

After that night, I got about six hours of sleep for one day, and then it dropped down to an average of three hours a day for the next five days. I stopped all work on everything else and we all settled down for the final crunch period. My group would meet alternatively at studio, Joe's house, and my apartment for extended working periods. We slept in shifts of a few hours each, taking time to only go home and shower and eat before coming back for more work. Since our project was purely digital, our final charette was totally portable. Whenever we needed to move, we'd pack our laptops up, and walk to the next place to work where'd we'd take over the kitchen table, monopolize an outlet, and start crunching again, occationally swapping data on USB sticks. Dan was working the 3D model in AutoCad and VIZ, Adam cut sections in AutoCad, and I worked on details in sketchup and photoshop, while also working on the powerpoint presentation. We worked this way from friday night to wednesday morning. Typically I would grab an hour or two sleep during the afternoon, and work until around 3-4 AM, when I would be too tired to think anymore. The last two nights, I knew it was time to take a nap by my chills and shaking.

Anyway, we got to studio Wednesday morning and Adam went to go print all of our presentation materials. An hour and half before presentations were supposed to begin, Claudio sent an email out with the order of presentations, which were split into two days. Our group was going today. First. At least we'd get it over with early.

Nov 22, 2006

Tales from Argentina

Got three hours of sleep last night, working late on trying to figure out a secondary steel structure for our concrete superstructure.

Monday, Dan was telling us something that happened on the way to school. He was standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus when he saw an overweight woman get out of the rear side door of one of the public buses here. Her pants got caught on something as she was getting out, and the bus moved on, flipping her on her back, and dragging the poor woman over 50 feet before Dan and another pedestrian managed to stop the bus. She was pretty badly beat up with a bloody nose and probably a broken bone.

Yesterday, we finally got to see Nicolas, our systems teacher, present his competition winning project. His firm won the international competition to design a bicentennial park/plaza area with a complete renovation and intervention in an existing building to create the Buenos Aires Cultural Center. The scale and nature and prestige of this project is comparable to that of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.The extent of the project includes the Plaza de Mayo, and a huge strip of land running directly behind the Casa Rosada. The actual cultural center is a renovation and redesign of the interior of the old Palace of Mail building, a huge Beaux Arts structure with lifted collumns and a massive mansard dome.

Nicholas's plan has three main conceptual pieces which fit inside a massive interior courtyard. The courtyard itself is a cube approximately 160 feet on each side. There is a metal cage structure which will be built first, to reinforce the aging structure of the existing building and to provide structural support for the other pieces of his intervention. On the main floor, the cage will support a giant free-form philharmonic orchestra hall. This hall will be enclosed in a giant blue sculptural shell which was designed by acoustic engineers, and sit in the center of the main central courtyard. It looks very much like an abstracted sperm whale. Above the philharmonic whale, a cubical 3 story museum structure like an inverted wedding cake will be hung from the roof of the cage, and will house exhibition spaces. The roof will be almost constantly occupyable, with a restaurant, bar, and the tiles of the massive dome replaced with glass, creating a lantern and observation space akin to the Reichstag dome redesign in Berlin.

The lead architect on this project is our teacher who has been teaching us a bit about sustainable architecture. Nicolas in person almost seems to nice to be able to pull off a project of this scale. However, to his credit, he DOES run his own office, and he has been successful with the Argentine bureaucrats so far. In truth, he put the entire project together with a 35-person team including outside consultants, in just three months. He is thrilled to death to have this once in a lifetime opportunity, but he's also extremely nervous at the same time. The scale of the project is too big for one firm to handle, so he's going to have to hold further contests, delegate, and organize other architecture firms and teams to handle the individual pieces. One team will get the philharmonic hall, one for the museum, one for restoring the old building, at least one, if not more for the bicentennial plazas. Nicholas will act as master coordinator and overall architect for the project, assuredly a daunting prospect.

Some minor details I found highly interesting: The project is mostly being funded by the Spanish government, which has some kind of agreement of goodwill with Argentina. This is doubly interesting as the project is a celebration of the anniversary of the INDEPENDENCE from Spain. Only some of the assistance is financial- a lot of assistance will come in the form of donated technologies and building material. Apparently Spain produces something like 30 percent of all construction material in Europe, and this construction industry funds entirely the architectural periodical Croquis.

Last night, Aldo, Saori, and I went to get coffee. Out on the street, we watched as a guy's car refused to start as he was struggling to push it while his female compainion was trying to start the engine. A passerby unhesitatingly hopped off the sidewalk and helped the guy push the car until it started, and then continued on his way without a second glance. Portenos (forgive me, my keyboard doesn't have a tilde key) are fascinating people. They'll really help strangers without a second thought, they will never admit that they're wrong to others, and they check themselves out in mirrors mounted in public transportation. I'll miss them.

But finish studio first.

Nov 20, 2006

Polo Pictures!

We went to the Polo match sunday at the Buenos Aires polo grounds. Here's a link to a small album of pictures.

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Nov 18, 2006

Dia de los Arquitectos

Got three hours of sleep Thursday night. We presented our work in a mock review to a panel of architects. We've been in good company of architects down here.

Eugenio Xaus: laid out the master plan of Puerto Madero. He traveled with us to Sao Paolo and Rio. Known as "El Loco" to his staff, for his eccentricity and enthusiasm. With his grizzled beard, grin, and perpetually partially unbuttoned shirt, he reminds me of a cheerful pirate.

Sergio Foster: engaged with the municipality to develop a means of connecting the river with the city with a series of park. Heavily into diagrammatic design and diagram theory of architecture, similiar to but much more rigorous than, for instance, Eisenmann's diagrammatic designing.

Claudio Vekstien: Has had a huge amount of work in the past four years, including a monument to the argentine arquitecto Amancio Williams, an emergency room and hospital redesign, and an amazing rehabilitation clinic for which he just won an award. Extremely principled in architecture, and unfaltering in his fight to get work built in the city, to push through the politics and bureaucracy and economic crises and government changes.

Angelo Bucci: Perioically visits us down here in Buenos Aires, as he is the head of school of architecture at FAU in Sao Paolo. Definately Brazillian modern architect, you can see some of his built work >>here<<. After he reviewed our work, he showed us some of his. He's got some phenomenal projects that made me want to go visit all of them.

The two architects that I still want to meet down here, but have as yet been unable, are Paolo Mendes da Rocha, a Brazillian , and Clorindo Testa an Argentine whose works we have visited as a class, and actually whose work I now write in, a renovation of the waterwork labs.

To come to think of it, life sometimes grabs me and shakes me with its surreality. Today after I got up (at noon, I needed the sleep), I walked to a bakery and picked up some medialunas stuffed with dulce de leche. The woman working there complemented my good Spanish. Stopped on the way back home at a kiosk and bought a box of orange juice. I took a bus which was absolutely packed with people and stood all the way to Libertator, where I passed a massive street market along the main street of Chinatown. The main entrances to school were locked so I had to go around to the back to get in.

The school we're exchanged with is the private Universidad Torcuato di Tella, (UTDT). Compared with UBA which is free, UTDT is extemely expensive and exclusive. The main campus is actually much smaller than my high school, occupying only one building. The feel is like a small town high school. The campus we're at was recently acquired from the city. It actually used to be the municipal water laboratory and the complex was partially renovated by Clorindo Testa. The main massive building is still untouched, but there are plans to renovate it and shift the entire UTDT to this location. Our architecture program is actually a tester, as next semester, UTDT will begin offering architecture as an undergraduate program for the first time, in the studio spaces we're currently using.

The other main program at this annex is the business masters, regarded as one of the best in South America. The cafe downstairs always lays out coffee, tea, and medialunas for their classroom breaks, and the students (all older people) all have their suits, cars, and briefcases. Our mix is strange. We try to scavenge the occasional coffee and cookie from the tables, looking scruffy after a night without sleep, shuffling through their chatting groups to the hot water machine or vending machines for more alfajors.

Nov 16, 2006

Daily Dose of Photos

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by archalec

Here's link to seven shots I took today, including two of how our architecture studio project is shaping up. Follow the thumbnail above to jump to my album. Gorgeous clouds this evening.

Today I finally bought a pair of shorts and a pair of linen pants for the heat and humidity creeping upon Buenos Aires. I'm still looking for the striped blue linen pants popular here.

Tonight will be a late night with a powerpoint presentation due tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM.

Nov 13, 2006

mas photos

I was walking back from UBA today when a peice of American architecture finally clicked for me. Adam and I were talking, and he told me that he'd read somewhere that ASU's Gammage Auditorium was originally intended to be built in Baghdad, Iraq. Suddenly, it all fit. Frank Lloyd Wright wasn't completely ignoring the context of Tempe and ASU, its just completely misplaced. Having visited Abu Dhabi, I could easily see that building in the city, or one of the desert islands or ajoining the Sheik's palaces. The absolute determinism of the circular geometry, the repeteated collumns, and even the stylized curtains in the arches, it remains now even more of a tragedy of a building as I think a Wright building really needs the wright place. It would have been interesting to see if Wright's building would have galvanized and modernized Islamic desert architecture in the same way Le Corbusier did with Latin American architecture.

I have one month left before I head back to the United States. I can't believe the time has gone like this. One thing I won't miss, however, is the sidewalks. The sidewalks are all maintained and constructed by the plot owner, so no two adjacent sidewalks are alike without a great deal of coordination or luck. Typically, concrete tiles of various sizes are laid on top of rough concrete or dirt base, and occationally, they'll cement it down. Every morning, I see all the shop and house domestics lazily hosing off the sidewalk in front of thier properties, probably to remove whatever the dogs have left from the day before. Most of this water runs into the street but some of it floods the spaces under loose pavers. When you step on these pavers, they shoot a mini geyser of nasty water all over your feet and your pants. Which is why I rarely see Portenos in sandals.

Anyway, we were over at UBA FADU(architecture school) printing plans and sections for our project. It's about a quarter of the price I'd pay to plot at ASU. While we were waiting to print, I wandered downstairs. On the mezzanine level, they stuck in a small cafeterria. Below that on the bottom floor was a series of massive spaces crammed with classrooms, vehicles, chairs, models, more kiosks selling candy cigarettes, cokes, etc. The building with the students never ceases to amaze me. Something about the combination of thousands of design students, politically charged, rushing around to get stuff printed, exchanging besitos rapidos, every surface covered with political posters and banners, the grit, the enthusiasm, and the air of innovation and design, all crammed within a tower with its own economy of cafes, cafeterias, kiosks, and booksellers, is like a William Gibson novel all in itself.

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Above, a picture of the main central atrium at UBA FADU.
Also, added some new pictures from daily life here in Buenos Aires, just skip ahead to the back of the album after you click on the picture above.

Nov 12, 2006

sickness

Bleh, Friday afternoon started feeling ill, and I was sick all friday night, only getting to bed around 7 AM. At first I thought it was some kind of food poisoning, but as I heard about another classmate down with the same thing, I can only conclude it was some kind of stomach flu. All day yesterday I spent at home, resting, and Saori made me some vegetable congee. Feel a lot better today, no more nausea although I still have a headache from the fever and muscle aches.

I usually get a family phone call every Sunday morning my time, but today is kind of a unique situation for my family. I think we're all on a different continent. I'm in South America, Taylor is in the Middle East, Dad is either in the Middle East or Europe (I think he's actually in Belgium right now) and Mom is in Asia.

I can't believe how quickly my time here is coming to an end. I have a little over a month left, and I still have so much I want to do. I guess I'll just have to prioritize and work my list. Top of the list, of course, is a Boca Juniors football match. But for now, back to work. We have our final project due at the end of the month and our 15 page theory paper due shortly after that.

Nov 8, 2006

Puntos

It's appallingly gorgeous here in Buenos Aires right now. I've never seen a city so overrun by massive trees. Especially here in Palermo where the trees are frequently as tall at the seventh story apartment buildings. Spent the entire day in studio working with my group. We're still waiting for that miraculous eureaka! moment. It's not going to happen at the rate we're progressing, and that's not how Claudio is teaching the studio anyhow. So we're just throwing all of our conceptual ideas and diagrams togather and trying to make it all work.

A brief update on our teachers: Our systems teacher Nicolas Bares just won a huge competition for the redesign of the Palacio Correo, one of the biggest architectural competitions in the city. So Grande Kudos to him. Claudio is lecturing tonight on his urban spaces at the tiny museum of architecture here in Buenos Aires, although if you want my opinion, the best place to understand architecture is the faculty of arqitectura at UBA. Our other studio professor, Sergio, went to see Daft Punk and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the same BUE concert we went to, and additionally saw Patti Smith and the Beastie Boys the night before.

Que mas? Just the calm rush as the semester winds down. Our final review in architecture at the end of this month, so thats a lot of work to do, and our final 15 page paper for theory is due shortly after that. The strange thing is there's almost no tension in the air, no great sense of urgency or panic here or in studio. There's a great quote: "If you remain calm and collected while everyone around you is panicking, then you probably don't understand the full extent of the situation."

Nov 6, 2006

How I lost a Sandal

Saturday I went into studio and was working there all afternoon when Saori emailed me to ask if I still wanted to go to the BUE concert. I really was looking forward to the concert, so I arranged to get a ticket from one of my friends who was working in studio and had decided not to go, and left around seven to get another ticket at the gate. This was my first real band concert, ever. We missed the Beastie Boys friday night, but tonights headliners on the main stage were TV on the Radio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Daft Punk. In general, punk and electronica describe the bands. Fittingly, everyone came in their finest punk or techno black. I was wearing my comfortable studio wear, which was flip flops, cordorouy pants, and a light blue polo shirt. The people were everywhere, it was absolutely packed with teens and 20 somethings. Imagine a typical rock concert density, and then consider that these were Argentines, who have a much reduced concept of personal space. TV on the Radio was good, we stood in about the middle for those guys, very fun to watch. Took a break and grabbed a 5 peso coke waiting for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and watched those from more distance to avoid the crowds. After the Yeah Yeah Yeah crowd dispersed, we pushed up to the very front, about five feet from the main barricade, center stage. We waited, standing, for an hour up there with about a hundred other people. I had misgivings about being so close to the front up at an techno concert, especially since I hate being trapped in a crowd ( I rushed through the Sistine chapel it was so bad), but I really wanted to experience a really intense mosh pit at least once. The bad decision was to wear flip flops. Ten minutes before curtain, the people around us were already smashing us and yelling at the band. When curtain opened, there was an incredible rush to the front so that we were literally swept off our feet. You can't push back or hold ground in these cases, you can only try to remain upright. When the music started, Robot Rock, everyone started singing and jumping. Let me tell you, when you are so crammed in with people, and they are jumping, you have no choice but are actually lifted off your feet like a library book wedged between two others. It was fun for about two minutes, in which time my feet were stepped on abut eight times, but then the girl in front of me started jumping on my toes, and the crowd was really surging and crushing me, and one of my sandals came off. I fought my way out, literally pushing people aside until I reached the beach of the sea of people and stood gasping for air.

The rest of the set was really cool, Daft Punk puts on a mean electronic light show. I was amazed by what they could do, and the music was awesome. They were remixing all of their best stuff. I wore an empty beer cup on the other foot. After the show was over, I picked my way through the crowd and recovered my sandal at the barrier. I was absolutely drained of all energy and ready to get out of there.

Nov 3, 2006

Halloween in the BA

Fun Halloween party last night. Hosted by Janette, Helen, and Caroline at their amazing two level apartment. Everybody in the program came, and everyone really worked on their costumes which was great. A quick rundown:

Janette: Tried to be a sailor, but ended up looking more like Gwen Stefanie
Caroline: Bee
Helen: Matador
Alexis: ? cartoon character
Joanne: Chinese lady
Dan: Chinese guy
T-Cody: Adam (of the garden)
Emily (T Cody's friend): Eve
Puff, Ben, Brian, Adam: The Power Rangers
Dusty: Tom Sellek circa Magnum PI
Chris: Lucha Libre Wrestler
Jamie: Greek Goddess Athena
Noah: Argentina football legend Diego Maradona
Aldo: Screaming Ghost
Jacob: Chuck Norris
Leah: bare bottomed Le Corbusier (because he painted in the nude)
Other Brian: The Riddler (with notecards of riddles to ask partygoers)
Saori, Emily, Molly: their Apartment (all about flowers and flowery decoration)

As for myself, I went as a punk rocker. No one in particular, although I was compared to Elvis Costello, the guitarist from the Killers, or the lead singer from Wheezer. At any rate, Saori did an amazing job with my hair.

Check out the pictures



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Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...