Dec 26, 2010

Driven to Air travel

Today, mom and I drove off from Ponca City, leaving Suki behind with Grandma. It's slightly less than two hours to Tulsa, where I dropped my car off at the long term parking at the airport. Unfortunately, the lots were busier than I expected. When we pulled up, I asked the gate attendent about the $6 per day parking I was expecting. "oh, that's across the railroad tracks, but its full anyway." So, I ended up opting for the last spot in the $7.50 lot. The service was really nice though. The airport shuttle guided me to the spot, the driver gave me a card with my exact location on it, and whisked mom and I away to the terminal.

After driving to Ponca City, and finding a $250 RT flight to St.Louis, I decided to book it. Now I'm kind of questioning my decision. Driving back to St.Louis would have taken about $40 for gas and munchies, and about six to seven hours. So total cost is around $80 plus the risk of driving for 7 hours alone two times in chancy winter weather. I already have to make a return trip when I pick up Suki, and I was not looking forward to making the 8 hour journey four times. On the flip side, tickets cost me about $250, plus I'm looking at over $100 for parking, plus I'm getting in to St.Louis several hours later than if I had actually just dropped mom at the airport and driven. So its not really a time savings or a cost savings by any stretch of the imagination. It's more convenient, but I hate airports and airline travel. Not sure I would do this again.

Anyway, in Tulsa, mom and I went through the TSA security (theater) checkpoint separately, and we when we met up on the other side, we realized that we had both declined to go through the backscatter "naked" xray scanners. My TSA agent was very professional, and explained what he was going to do and exactly where his hands were going to be. Overall, less intrusive than I was expecting. Probably doubled the amount of time it took to get me through security though.

I object to the use of the backscatter Xray scanner specifically, and the knee-jerk idiocy of the overall TSA security policies in general.  I don't approve of the shady connections and deals that went on between the single manufacturer of the machienes and the director of the TSA, I don't approve of how the TSA lied about the machine's capabilities to store images and transmit them online, and I don't approve of this new intrusion into my personal privacy. All of this was ok to the other passengers checking in, however. I think mom and I were the only ones I saw getting a pat down.

::steps down from soap box::

So, I transferred at Atlanta, and my flight was delayed an hour. (It was snowing in Atlanta and the airport was dealing with the chaos of a raft of cancellations in the NE). But, now I'm on the flight to St.Louis, we're about 40 minutes behind schedule, sitting in an aisle seat with an empty middle, and connected to the internet on a plane! So that is pretty cool. :) Here we go decending....

Dec 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to all

Just watched some home video shot by grandpa Case of Christmas 1989. Over 20 years ago, seventh month old baby Taylor was the star of the show, followed closely by six year old Alec and eight-year-old Casey. Grandkids get all the attention. The extended Case family was as yet still unjoined by David, Danny, Jenny, and Carrie.

Surrounded by family as I am on this Christmas eve, there's more than a few people missing; those whom I am lucky enough to see again, and those whom I will never see again. I am, as ever, forcibly reminded by how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family. I'm sitting at the bar in Grandma's house, which grandma has started calling "the computer lab" as we all have our netbooks set up here, while Uncle David and Aunt Brenda make a salad and attempt to find out from grandma Case where salad ingredients and implements are. Mom's in the study on the phone skyping with Tay, and Saori is hopefully having a wonderful time with her family in Yokohama where it is already Christmas day.

Today was a pretty lazy day too. Took a walk through the woods and scrub with Uncle David and we had a good discussion of architecture. Grandma pulled out a pair of ostrich boots that used to belong to my grandfather and they fit pretty nice as well as looking pretty nice. We're going to go the candle light ceremony at the church tonight, followed by a Christmas eve dinner.

To all my friends and family, spread as they are across this tiny planet, Merry Christmas.

Still in Oklahoma

Got a lazy start today. Us guys went to the late showing of Tron:Legacy last night. It was the second time I saw it. Still pretty fun. After Karsten got up, we drove down to wander around the Marland Mansion for a bit. They always decorate it pretty nicely for Christmas, so its kind of fun. Afterwards, we went back to the movie theater to rescue Karsten's hat.

Back at Grandma's house, we ate some more Head country BBQ, which, by the way, is the best BBQ I've ever eaten, and played some cards. There's this card game that I learned from Saori and her friends, which is pretty simple to learn and understand, but is surprisingly fun and strategic. They called it "asshole" and described it as a drinking game, but I don't really see how it could be a good drinking game as it would difficult to win while drinking, and also, there's no real good points to drink. The game is played in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, as far as I know, where they call it "Daihimen" which roughly translates to "rich man." For the sake of polite conversation around relatives, we've been calling it "kings and losers" although "kings and peons" might be more appropriate.

Anyway, Grandma Loretta came back from visiting with her friend, and she picked up Karsten and drove back to Oklahoma city. Danny and Uncle Tracy also headed out about then too, catching a flight to Louisiana to spend Christmas with Kim's relatives. So now its just me, mom, grandma, David, Brenda, and Carrie. (and Suki, who is becoming so comfortable with her temporary home, she is jumping up on the tables).

Brenda gave her new book on urban planning to Grandma, and it looks pretty good. I'll probably pick up a copy from the publisher. It's called The Evolution of Urban Form: Typology for Planners and Architects.

Dec 22, 2010

Final presentation images

The project is apartments in St.Louis, a mix of studios, one and two bedrooms, and living-working units.

Dec 20, 2010

Long days

It's been a very long two days. We cleaned the apartment to make it as spotless as possible, re-arranged some of the furniture, and packed for our trips. We stopped cleaning at midnight, slept for two hours, and then got up at three am to take our friend Sam to the airport. Sam is going to Helsinki for the semester after visiting her family in Japan, so its going to be a very long trip away from St.Louis. We are really going to miss her. Once we got back home, we finished cleaning, loaded up the car, drugged Suki and headed out for Oklahoma around a quarter to eight in the morning. It takes a long time to get out of St.Louis.

It's a long drive to Ponca City, especially if one goes by way of Tulsa, as that was where mom's flight was coming in. It's about six hours to Tulsa, driving. I had to stop every two hours, as the road begins to get blurry, and it becomes extremely difficult to focus on driving.

Driving conditions were great, it was a beautiful, clear day except for some odd segments where I was driving through valleys of light smoke past signs warning drivers not to drive into smoke. Suki protested a little bit at the beginning of the drive, but calmed down and shut up for the rest of the ride. A heavy blanket over the carrier to block all light seemed to help.

Mom called me to pick her up at the Tulsa airport as soon as I'd pulled into their cell phone lot. I liked the airport curbside pick up area, but I thought the rest of Tulsa was abysmally ugly, lacking either the older city charm of Oklahoma City or the small town charm of Ponca.

From there it was a slightly less than two hour drive into Ponca. Met Tracy and Danny there, and Bob and Velma joined us for dinner. Apparently tonight (monday) was the big dinner night out for Ponca. The first place we went was closed. The second place, Enriques, was jam packed with a 45 minute wait. We finally settled on Chili's which also had a 45 minute wait.

Now I'm pretty wiped out- its been pretty much the first time this semester that I'm actually going to be able to take a break. 

Dec 18, 2010


Around 11:40 at night thursday (still in studio), I was having an online discussion with my project mates, making last minute adjustments to our project, when I remembered that Tron:Legacy was opening the next day, I quickly found out that it was opening at midnight at a nearby movie theater, so I dashed over to Saori's desk and asked her if she wanted to go, and she jumped up and said definately yes, so we rushed around to shut down and lock up our computers (of course, Saori's computer decided that that moment was the ideal time to install updates) so we had to wait around for that. We rushed downstairs and sped off to the movie theater, reportedly one of the oldest in St.Louis, a twin screen affair. I dropped Saori off and went to hunt down parking.

Unfortunately, I hit two red lights on back streets which each light had a five minute wait. I couldn't believe it. I was dying. No traffic, the clock reading 12:01, and the light stubbornly red. But I finally found parking, dashed and slid to the theater, and it wasn't even that crowded. There was a crowd, but it was a big theater, tons of seating. We grabbed a fat tire beer (!) at the concessions and sat down for the show.

The movie was everything I was hoping for after reading lukewarm reviews. Not so great acting or story, but unbelievable graphics, design,  and music. Really cool. The bar scene alone is worth the price of admission, and you can tell Jeff Bridges is  having a great time. Runs a little long, but never really dragged.

For me, it was wonderful to share the experience of a really cool movie opening, middle of the night, at an old funky theater, with my saorichan.


Yesterday around 4pm, I handed in my last project, and I was done with my first semester of graduate school.  Even though I was done with my reviews wednesday, it took me until friday to finish the work for my other classes.

In undergraduate school, elective courses were relatively light; in graduate school, they were much more intense than I was expecting. They're no longer cranberry sauce for the turkey- they're their own courses.

Anyway, the turkey, studio, was served up tuesday and wednesday. I went ahead and printed friday evening, which turned out to be a good move as the printing situation got to be a little crazy as pretty much everyone in the school needs to print something for this week's reviews.

The format of the review was relatively simple. We reviewed in Stienberg Hall, which is a terrible place acoustically since all the noise gets bounced around. They had partitioned it into three review alleys where students could pin up. All 72 of us reviewed over two days, with three reviews going on simultaneously. This was kind of fun, since students could hop around to see projects they were interested in, or see friends presenting.

I presented the first day. I had four 3'x6' boards, a 1/32" scale model, and one 1/16" scale model. My reviewers included Don Koster and Andrew Cruse (who were our studio instructors), Donnie Schmidt (of Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects of LA), Bruce Lindsay (the dean of the architecture school),  Gia Daskalakis (another associate professor at Wash U), and another woman visiting critic whose name currently escapes me.

My verbal presentation went pretty poorly. I was visibly nervous and uncomfortable, and I don't think I set up my project well for defense. Let me clarify: my project does not look very exciting. I would say its very well designed, but by no means is it a landmark, iconic building. The successes of the building is less grand gestural, and I didn't really put that out there as a statement. Because of this, the first round of critque was essentially getting at "this is kind of a boring building." There was talk about "competence," and they did appreciate the full realization and believability of the floor plans, but they still described the building as "tired." They said it was too rigid, that the window patterns showed potential that hadn't been fully fleshed out, and that the pool was "whimsical" in a way that I had perhaps not intended- further that they would have liked to see more of those same kind of whimsical gestures in my project. So that was not good. I argued a bit with Donnie over the necessity of an iconic gestural building (its a housing project, where people come home) which is good, but I perhaps went a bit too far with it.

On the plus side, they liked my drawings, they said my plans were extremely clear and readable, and they were entranced with the character and vitality that my photoshopped renderings conveyed. Dean Lindsay said he really liked the project and was particularly impressed (although this could have been due to his happiness at seeing the success of a student presenting high levels of clarity and readability in documents).

So that was that, and I was done. We had another day of reviews where Saori presented (and her review went fabulously well, the kind of review where she had fun and her reviewers had fun), and then at the end of the second day they served everyone egg nog spiked with various quantities of spiced rum. That was a sweet gesture. There are a few perks to going to a private school, and alcohol on campus and at school events is definitely one of them.

The next two days I worked on both documenting my work over the semester, finishing a project for my Reconsidering the Margins project, and finishing up a project for Metabolic Cities where I made a suit filled with Archigram images. The suit was kind of fun although it came out kind of muddy. I was using an acetone transfer process. This is a pretty old-school technique and it requires some practice, but it can be pretty effective. These are the steps:

  1. Print out your image that you want to transfer.
  2. Find the oldest, crappiest, photocopier you can, and make a mirrored photocopy. (or you can print out a mirrored copy in the first place, if your photocopier doesn't mirror).
  3. Place the photocopy face down on the material you want to transfer the image to. 
  4. Splash or spray acetone (nail polish remover) on the sheet to make it really wet. You'll have to work fast as acetone evaporates and dries quickly.
  5. As soon as it is wet, quickly use a firm edged tool, like the side of a ruler or a hard rubber screen printing tool, and scrape the back of the paper the full length of the image. The idea is to push the image onto the material. 
  6. Immediately peel the photocopy sheet off the transfer material.
Just be careful spraying that stuff. I picked up a spray bottle and was using it to get an even wetness to the sheet, but the bottle warned against inhaling the spray or mist of the acetone. The material I was transferring it to was basically tyvek, or a kind of paper coverall used by people who need to spray paint or remove asbestos. Unfortunately, the transfer process does not lend itself well to varying shades of gray. Anyway, I finished the suit and turned it in, and that was that.

Dec 12, 2010

This building is protected by Batman

Its 11:08 pm and I'm in studio along with about half of the studio, and we're crunching for the final presentation coming up tuesday and wednesday (I go tuesday). My boards are printed and my 1/32" scale model is done, and I'm 75% done with a 1/16 scale model. So I'm in pretty good shape overall.

It started snowing last night, cold, hard, dry crystals. When we woke up this morning, the snow was still coming down and several inches deep. We elected to take mass transit to school instead of learning to drive on ice by the school of hard knocks. One of my studio mates spun out on her way here and did a 180, so I'm happy that we walked. Still a few inches of snow on the ground although it stopped about midday. Really cold weather next few days. 

The thesis students presented today and yesterday. The big name guest reviewers were Juhani Palasmaa, the Finnish architect and author, and (surprise!) Kenneth Frampton. No, not that one. The one who is among the most famous architecture critics in the world.

Anyway, here's a quick demo of how I do my renderings:

I started with this photo of the site: (the parking lot is my site, not the brick building).

and I used Revit software to model my building and make a rendered image of what it would look like at night from the same angle:

And then I combined the two, changing the day photo to a night image with lighting, added people, an overlaid image of falling snow at night, and snow on the ground to get this final image:

Dec 8, 2010

Tea and Cookies

My hands are red, chapped, and cracked. I don't know if this is from general tiredness, the dryness of the studio, or the relentless cold of this corner desk by the window.

It's been so cold lately, although I think my tolerance for it is increasing. Yesterday, I walked around in weather in the 20. Of course, I'm wearing a down coat and long underwear, while I was informed that I'm a bit premature for long underwear by Midwestern standards.

I'm pretty much done with my boards, which is good as I was planning on printing them tomorrow. The other students are just disgusted with me for being so far ahead. We have our review next Tuesday, which means I have about five days to build my two models. So I should be in pretty good shape.

When I say "boards," I'm really talking about posters. These will have our drawings, renderings, diagrams, plans, sections, all the flat stuff. The thing is, our boards are huge. Each board is three feet wide and about six feet long, and I have four of them. That's 72 square feet. That's about the same size as a small kitchen. I think that I will also need to print two of them in color, which at $1.50 a square foot, will run me $54, plus $36 for the black and white boards. Printing is expensive. On the flip side of that equation, I didn't have to buy a single textbook this semester. Architecture students tend to spend on materials and printing.

Christmas has definitely come to the studio. Several of our desks, including mine, are decked out with holiday lights, and a friend of ours brought in a dozen poinsettas which he gave out through the studio. (incidently, poinsettas are not toxic. Not to people, not to pets. I wouldn't make a salad out of them though.)

The GAC (graduate architecture council) hosted tea and cookies for everyone in studio at 9pm. They did it last night, tonight, and will do it tomorrow too. They will also provide us with lunch on the day of the review.

On to more work! Or perhaps home.

Dec 4, 2010

On Diplomacy

This whole Assange thing has been very interesting to watch unfold.

There is the smear campaign orchestrated by the world's governments to switch the attention from WikiLeaks to the founder, Assange. People are much easier to villianize than institutions or organizations.
The world's media were quick to splash "Rape" at first and "Sexual Assault" later in connection with Assange, but now they are toning it back without ever explicitly stating what he is wanted for.
What is Assage wanted for in Sweden? It's not rape. From what I've read, the two women in Sweden felt like he should have used a condom, and didn't take an STD test. Obviously this is a bad thing to do and I think he should be held accountable by those women if he really did wrong them. However, for this crime he was added to Interpol's Most Wanted list? How many Al-qaida operatives are still out there? How many traffickers in people or drugs? Point being, Assange exposed a lot of governments in their underwear, and this really pissed them off.

The funny thing is that the documents are not shocking at all. I actually found them encouraging as they actually sound like the US kind of has an awareness of what is going on in the world and not this blandly optimistic "US has productive talks with Pakistan" message common to the media covering international diplomacy.

I don't think this was a particularly useful cache of leaked documents- it basically amounted to the publishing of notes passed in class ("Ahamenajad has smelly feet"). I don't think the relationships between nations will be harmed- its like an ambassador farting loudly in a meeting with a national leader. Embarrassing and unprofessional, but both parties had an understanding of people as biological organisms. Of course after the leaks, some foreign government mouthpieces have to get up and bluster and do some podium pounding, but at the end of the day, they want to have normal relationships with the US. They already knew of what the US thinks about them, and everyone will be encouraged to quickly forget this gaffe. So I don't think the US is really concerned about this leak harming relationships or diplomacy.

It does definitely harm the capabilities of the US diplomatic intelligence gathering agencies, in all shades of gray. Sources were exposed. People will be more unwilling to speak as the trust of anonymenity is broken. Right now I would be there are secret witch-hunts going on in governments around the world to find the people who talked who were exposed. I could see this really angering the US.

But I think what made the US really angry is that it exposed government workings in a way that could not be controlled and was not intended for the public view. It is the suggestion that governments should be watched and should not consider themselves to be the be-all, end-all. The US government cannot abide WikiLeaks because it suggests that they can be held accountable.

Dec 3, 2010

17 days

Today is December third.

There are 6 days until I need to print my final presentation boards.
There are 11 days until my final studio presentation.
There are 16 days until all my projects from all my other classes are due.
There are 17 days until Suki and I go southwest a few hundred miles, and Saori goes northeast about six thousand miles.
There are 23 days until I drive back to St.Louis alone.
There are 24 days until I catch a flight for London.

Time is going to fly by. Which is why I'm glad we took time tonight to go grab a bite of good Mexican food in a tiny taqueria not too far from school in a former Taco Bell. Afterwards, we listened to Christmas music and drove to the grocery store where we picked up some $2 Christmas lights for our studio desks and some Christmas candy. It's 9:38 pm on a Friday night, and we'll probably be here for another few hours.

Nov 30, 2010

Arizona Blues

Snow flurries today- tiny bits of ice floating down almost like grains of sand. Tomorrow there's supposed to be more snow. Today's high was in the mid 30s.

One of the worst things about coming from Phoenix, Arizona is this thin blood. This whole "cold" thing gets real old real quick. A little cold is nice, but this persistent wet cold is just miserable. When I'm freezing getting ready to shower, and freezing in the morning, or freezing waiting for the bus, I wonder why do people live this way? And this is the middle of the US, totally discounting the worse weather farther north and east. And its November. That Icy Bitch is just getting started.

On the plus side, we have our heat back. Sunday evening, our handyman came over, took a part of the furnace away to test it and see if it was the problem. Monday, when we came back from school, we came back to a warm apartment. It was a nice surprise. He left the space heater which actually does a nice job on a per-room basis, so we might start leaving the thermostat around 60-62 and using the space heater for the room in which we're working. Probably works better for our gas bill at any rate, which was $80 in October, double what it was in September.

Other adaptations to the cold- breaking out the long underwear. I've also got a nice pair of waterproof, insulated leather boots that look a bit like Timberlands, and I just picked up a pair of winter slip-on shoes from Sorel that are also insulated and water resistant. Hot showers and hot tea. Baking warms up the kitchen nicely- we made blondies the other day. Blondies are apparently a midwestern thing- imagine crossing a butterscotch chip cookie with a brownie and you get a blondie.

Nov 28, 2010

Passing the Critical Desalinization Point

This morning, I awoke to find our apartment around 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Our thermostat was set ten degrees higher. I called our landlord's dad/handyman and he came over and brought a space heater. When I saw that I expected the worst. He thinks its the igniter heating element so he took it with him and he's going to try to buy a new one to replace it. So, it's still about 55 in here. I'm happy this is getting fixed now rather than in the dead of winter, but Wednesday the forecast is going to be a high of 40, low of 29. Brr...

Nov 27, 2010

Settling into Ubuntu

A month ago or so, I switched over to the unix based Ubuntu operating system.
Ubuntu definately has its advanatges and disadvantages. A quick rundown of positives and negatives as I've seen them.

  • Free. Did I mention Ubuntu is free? As is most of the software that runs on it? It's all open source so people make software for it in a variety of categories. I can use Google docs with it when I am online, and it also comes with Sun microsystems OpenOffice, which is a free office suite which is backwards and forwards compatable with Microsoft's office documents.
  • Simplicity with customization. The graphic user interface is pretty clean with Ubuntu, and you can move things around, add buttons to make the computer do different things, change how it shows windows. You can create numerous desktop views to switch between or use the typical minimize to the taskbar option as well. Because the software is open source, I can actually go in and edit the source code with little difficulty (if I know what I'm doing, and if not, there's the next point).
  • Online community. I guess this is similar to the early Mac user groups, but there's a ton of resources online about how to use Ubuntu and getting it to do what you want to do. Its very simple to simply google a question like "how do I install SketchUp in Ubuntu" and get some useful answers. 
  • Security. I am not running a firewall or virus scanning software because basically there are no viruses or malware that target ubuntu in the wild. 
  • Native printer setup. You can pretty much plug any printer into a computer running Ubuntu and print from it immediately without having to load drivers. This is kind of a nice feature, and I don't really understand why other operating systems can't do this.
The two main disadvantages that I've come across are basically unfamiliarity- you have to learn new operating system (albeit a simple one), and program compatability. Some software you're used to using is available for Ubuntu, some of it is not. 

Thanksgiving Wednesday

Wednesday morning, while Tay slept in, and Saori ran some errands, mom and I went to the grocery store to pick up some last minute thanksgiving groceries. She really liked our Schnucks although she made the same comments I was making when I first arrived about how terrible all the names are here. Dierbergs. Shnucks. Skinker. Delmar. Grocery store wasn't too crazy.

After grocery shopping we meet Saori, Tay, and Brit back at home and we went out shopping as Saori wanted to get a head start shopping for cold weather clothing. She tried on a bunch of boots at REI. Some of them were more typical, some of them had furry fringes that looked like there were a few squirrels in there. The difficulty is trying to find boots that will be good for walking around Helsinki in the wintertime, which will very cold and urban, and also for going way up north to well inside the arctic circle, which will be Hoth cold and wild.

Anyway, after shopping, we all went to see the latest Harry Potter movie. Considering how bad the last book was, the movie was a lot better, and it was still not a good movie. At least the acting is somewhat better although you kind of need a plot to hang the whole thing on, helicopter sweep shots of a tent in the wilderness notwithstanding.

We came out of the theater into night and heavy fog, which was our first real fog here too. Kind of scary driving around as our visibility was so reduced. By dinner time, though, the fog had thinned and we drove down to Delmar for dinner at Blueberry Hill, where Chuck Berry is doing the occasional show. Hickory smoked burgers and beer.

Nov 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Tuesday

This was a thanksgiving for a lot of firsts. It was the first time that someone came to stay with us in St.Louis (apart from Sal, who moved us in), it was the first time we ever hosted a holiday, it was the first time for Brit to see snow, and it was the first time that we've seen it snow in St.Louis.

I picked up Brit, mom, and Tay monday night, and they basically entertained themselves tuesday morning while we were at school and I was giving my Revit workshop.

The deal with the workshop, was, word got around studio that I knew Revit pretty well, and one of my studio mates is responsible for coordinating hour long workshops in different softwares, so he approached me and asked me if I wanted to lead a revit workshop. For my prep time, handout, and workshop, I would be paid $50. Not bad. So I put my presentation together and attempted to lead the workshop. I think I was a tad bit ambitious as my agenda item "quick and dirty curtain walls- 5 mins" ended up taking about half the workshop. But I was happy that I introduced people to some useful tools such as the section box in 3D, and how to set up and export a walkthrough. Saori said that I did go too fast, but that it was still a useful presentation.

Anyway, afterwards Saori went back to work (she had a class that finished at 8) and I went back home to pick up mom & Co. for sightseeing. 

We started off at the big Cathedral which reportedly has one of the largest collection of mosaics in the world. It takes your breath away when you step inside and look up. Also some really bad paintings in the side domes. 

Next stop was the St.Louis arch. I was going to just drive by, but since Tay really wanted to see it up close, we parked and walked over to it. Once we got there, mom really wanted to go up inside, so we went inside, submitted to the obligatory security scan, and got tickets to the top. Had to wait about 45 minutes in line to get to the 3 minute ride to the top in the tiny pods we crammed ourselves into.

At the top, we threw ourselves down and looked through the tiny windows. It was actually a nice time to be up there as the sun was touching the horizon.

Afterwards, we went back to Washington University and I showed them my studio and where I lived, and we walked around campus together. After we visited the Harry Potter Library, the Grand Hall, and the Disneyland where the freshmen live, we had some hot drinks at Kayak while we waited for Saori. After we picked her up, we drove to Pi Pizza for dinner and wrapped up our evening playing a few hours of Kings and Losers.

Nov 21, 2010

transportation options

There are several ways to get to school from my apartment which is 2.2 miles away. Organized by minimal impact and speed.
  1. Bicycle | 15 | this is the second fastest way to get to school, no energy use, gives me exercise. The bad is that you have to overcome the psychological and physical hurdle of getting the bike out and then humping over the hills to get to school. Plus cold, rain, wind, and traffic.
  2. Walking | 50 | no matter the route, it always takes about 50 minutes on foot. It's not bad, really, and the walking is very beautiful for the most part, but the time cost is huge. So is the risk of walking back late at night. 
  3. Light Rail | 30 | Combines roughly a twenty minute walk down to the station with an additional ten to fifteen minutes of waiting, riding, and walking to school. Lots of walking involved, but there's two steep hills to climb up and down. Lower environmental impact, cleaner, shorter, and overall a better experience than with the buses. Also a really shady long walk home at night along a pretty deserted street.
  4. Bus | 30 | The bus picks up in front of the grocery store about a ten minute walk away (with little elevation change) and drops me in front of the architecture building. The downside is spending 20 minutes on a public bus. 
  5. Car | 5 | Well, maybe closer to ten minutes after factoring in pulling out of the garage, parking, etc. But still the fastest and easiest by far, as well as being the least environmentally friendly.
So far we've been mostly hitting the car option, although I'd really like to get more into walking. I guess the ideal would be the light rail in the morning and the bus back at night. A longer AM walk, and a shorter PM walk. 

Nov 19, 2010

What is architecture?

One thing about architecture, good and bad, is that what it is exactly, keeps evolving.

I used to think that architecture was a thing- a nice house was architecture, a garden shed was not architecture, but after awhile I got hung up about whether or not really cool looking, nice garden sheds could be architecture.

Then I thought, ok, maybe architecture is actually an attempt to define some kind of quality of space, in the same way "flavor" describes the quality of a taste. This is pretty broad as it you could now easily talk about the architecture of the garden shed, or the architecture of the house. But this is still a pretty poor definition because you could also talk about the architecture of a coffin or the architecture of a hat, as they both create certain experiential qualities of space.

Later, I found a somewhat useful negative statement about architecture- one cannot say "architecture is not" because architecture is ultimately inclusive.

I was most intrigued by a definition of architecture I read while reading about the production of space. The author of the text was arguing that our society puts too much emphasis on the author/creator at the expense of the reader. Huckleberry Finn is not a great book unless it is read and constructed by an astute reader. There's a conversation about text going on between the author and the reader by the means of the document. In the same way, spaces are not created by architects, nor are they created by users experiencing that space- it is a joint collaboration. The architect uses his/her craft to delineate space, to attempt to give qualities to it, but ultimately, it will be 'read' and constructed by the individual user. No two people experience spaces in exactly the same way, so why should the architect be any different? Here, architecture is defined as "spatial text," which I think is a pretty useful definition of architecture as it deals with space framed by "text" which is the framework on which people build their personal conceptions of the world.

Nov 18, 2010

Crock Pot Days

Our daily life centers around leaving home in the morning and getting home very late at night when we really don't have much energy for cooking. Or we (and by 'we', I mean, 'mostly Saori') end up spending time to cook that we would rather be showering, sleeping, working, etc.

So we bought a crock pot. Just a small, simple model that holds about four servings of whatever. Yesterday morning before leaving for school, I prepared the beef stew recipe which was one of the few recipes included in the tiny 'manual' pamphlet. Whole onion, two potatoes, some frozen stew beef, a garlic clove, and beef broth (although we used consumme and a splash of soy sauce). Cooked it for about ten hours. Not bad, a little bland. A little salt and pepper goes a long way. Very hearty and filling though, especially as today turned drastically colder (at least, for now).

I want to do beans next. I have very fond childhood memories of eating beans that have been cooking all day with bits of ham. Ladle that on top of some fresh cornbread and add a little chow chow. That's some pretty good stuff. They sell ham hocks at the grocery store, so time to pick up some dried pinto beans too.

Yesterday night, there was actually a dinner with faculty. Actually, it was more like three or four faculty and a bunch of students. I sat down with them since there was nowhere else to sit, and I feel like I'm not doing enough to reach outside of studio for contacts and resources. Got into a brief discussion with a professor about Wright's role in the design of the Arizona Biltmore, and it turns out the professor had actually written several books about him.

There's so much to do still. I can't even think. There's less than four weeks to the final review, and I really need to be mostly done in about three weeks.

Nov 16, 2010

Firm Crawl- First blush

I should probably be working on school stuff, but since I decided to take the time to do this, I should get my thoughts down while they are still fresh.

The graduate architecture council organized a "firm crawl" which is basically an event where students travel from design firm to design firm where beers and canapes are served. We had to basically pitch in $15 for the charter bus, which is nothing in comparison with the four and a half hours of prime working time we were sacrificing. However, in graduate school, I've really worked hard on going outside of studio as thats where the really interesting stuff happens. I already know whats going to happen in studio: I've been there for the past eight hours, straight. So, I signed up, along with another 20-odd graduate students.

This tour is actually the B-side of St.Louis architecture firms. The heaviest hitters are, of course, Cannon Design (no connection to the camera makers), and HOK architects, which has its global headquarters here. Both are among the biggest international architecture firms in the world.

The first firm, let's call them WowZebra. The firm is actually very niche, specializing in 'destinations'. This means anywhere you might expect to see fake rocks, pirate ships, three story aquariums, etc. Clients include theme parks, aquariums, natural parks. They are heavy into branding, demographics, placemaking/theming, pretty much going into any destination to make it more destinationable, by which I mean they (A) make it more engaging, and (B) try to get more money out of people going there. I am all for destinations, especially local ones. I think cities and communities should have exciting places for people to go that spark their interest in wildlife, nature, science, etc. Those are real assets that give life to communities. On the other hand, I don't think that adding a log themed roller coaster to a natural park is adding much to the natural park. It's the whole IMAX at the Grand Canyon kind of thing. The office was nice, the people there were a little stiff. There was a hint of an odd vibe, which is probably more of a reflection of the niche firm they are. Lots of artistic backgrounds, zoologists, industrial designers, illustrators, model makers. They actually had an art gallery, not just a designated wall, but a whole separated room specifically for showcasing artwork of their employees, and it was pretty good stuff. WowZebra ushered us into a conference room and showed us a presentation of their work, afterwards, we were split into groups and led  on walking tours of the office. They served cheese plates (good artichoke heart dip), soda, and water. No beer. Its ok, its the first stop of three.

At the second stop, the employees came down to open the door already carrying open beer bottles, and I thought, this is more of my kind of place. This firm, shall we call them The Allinone Company, was a large firm with about a hundred employees in a few branch offices plus the headquarters in St.Louis. They occupy about four floors of a 1890's office building that Charles Lindbergh came to seek financial backers for his trans-atlantic flight. They have the best floors, obviously, nicely renovating the spaces. Great views of the Mississippi and the arch. Seems like the work was at a variety of scales from local bars to urban scale projects in China. They have their own development company and construction company in house. Not quite what to make of the work. Not quite great design from what I saw, but the heart in the right spot. I got a good vibe from these guys. I could see myself working there. Also some renovation and adaptive re-use, which is something that I'm very interested in. They had ok beer. I grabbed what was the last of the shock top wheat beer and all they had left was Bud Light. Good canapes though. Bacon covered fruit skewers. Nice. No presentation show, no narrated tour, people just allowed to wander around, talk to whom they wanted to and look at what they wanted.

Last stop was a firm I shall call Archeon, which has a striking resemblence in feel and mission to Gensler. Apparently they started as an interior design firm and gradually rolled architecture into the scope of work. Still smacked heavily of a national corporation, interior design-y-ness, and that kind of corporate feel good-y-ness. There's a company 'green team,' there's signage and chalk writing on walls and products to trumpet how sustainable they are. They donate time and money to United Way, assemble teams for baseball, cancer awareness, fundraising, etc. They had a RockBand game console set up in next to the bar style kitchen/break area. The work they do is absolutely mediocre. The kind of corporate headquarters for accounting and hedge funds in the bland conservative modernism that can be placed anywhere in the world and look distinctly mediocre in every spot, where you know you'll walk into a glass walled three story atrium and immediately feel unwelcome. They did offer the best beer. However, they made us watch a homemade video of a slideshow of photos of "fun times at the company events" accompanied by Lady Gaga music.

What work do I want to do? I don't really know. I'm still not seeing the right spot of where I can fit in. I would like to think that with my experience and my Revit knowlege, I could get into wherever I want. The question is, where and what.

Nov 13, 2010

Welcome to the real fall

It's been a pretty busy time- I havn't even felt like I've had time to blog. Been working on a lot of stuff for school. Looking at my calender, we're into the academic accelerator of november. We have a practice pin up next friday, and the week after that is mostly taken up with Thanksgiving holiday stuff. After Thanksgiving week, we have one more week to get our stuff together, and then the following thursday our projects start becoming due, and we have our final review the following tuesday and wednesday.

Projects due this semester- here we go!

  1. Pagedale intervention- this is a project that is somehow intended to improve the community in Pagedale; planned, enacted, documented. We're still trying to figure out exactly how we do what we want to do. At least we have the option of failing miserably and then documenting what went wrong/difficulties with implementation of community change.
  2. Studio project- the biggie. Needs lots of drawings, renderings, and most of all, models. Lots of models. And a coherant presentation. My goal is to print a week before the presentation and then spend the last few days model making and preparing the presentation aspect.
  3. Metabolic Book- for my metabolic city class, we need to craft our research on Archigram into a book format. My partner and I really wanted to do something creative and unusual like a book you wear as a suit, but I'm getting the feeling we really need to sell our professor on it. Also, running out of time for this one. 
The weather over the last week was beautiful, warm, sunny, breezy, and miserable to read about sitting at my studio desk for 14 hours a day. I finally made myself walk to school yesterday because it was the only way I could justify spending any time outside, and especially as it was slated to be the last nice day, with highs in the high 70s. Today's high is 58. Its windy and gray outside. Pretty much a slide to Midwestern winter misery from here on in.

I've got my winter travel plans figured out. I'm going to drive down to Ponca with Suki and celebrate Christmas in Oklahoma. Then, early the 26th, I'm going to drive back up to St.Louis and the next day I fly out to London to meet up with Dad, Tay, and Brit. We'll celebrate New Years in London, and then later Tay, Brit, and I are taking a short side trip to Edinburgh. Then I fly back to St.Louis and drive down to pick up Suki again. 

Sadly, Penguin-chan will not be coming to Christmas with me as she's flying back to Japan to spend time with her family. Afterwards, she'll be continuing on to Helsinki for a semester abroad. She's really excited about it; I hadn't even heard of Wash U before when she proposed going there for graduate school, and in the same breath gushed about the Helsinki program there.

Nov 7, 2010

Hello Ubuntu

For some reason or another, my netbook decided that it was going to refuse to start. When I would try to boot it up, it would endlessly cycle into the MUP.sys hangup and anything I tried to do to shake it up or resolve the error in the boot setup menu only made things worse.

More drastic measures were required. I recalled that it was possible to boot from a jump drive if there was a bootable OS loaded onto it, so at school I downloaded Ubuntu, which is one of the operating systsems based off of Linux. I'd always been kind of curious about Linux and other free open source software, so following a clear how-to online, I downloaded the Ubuntu OS and got it to save into jump drive that would boot whenever it was plugged in on startup. 

I was hoping to partition my hard drive and save whatever I had on my netbook before the crash, but it didn't let me do it, so I ended up letting Ubuntu take over the entire drive, pretty much erasing whatever data I had on the netbook before. I dont think I really lost anything of importance.

I like the graphic interface of Ubuntu so far, the only thing that has bugged me has been the fonts that strike me as a little weird. Chrome browser and Skype downloaded fine, although after the fact, I'm wondering how my printers will work if I don't have the driers for them...

About a month or two ago, I helped out the landlord's dad who is playing the role of the handyman. Basically I figured out how to fix the dishwasher. Yesterday, he was here to set some traps in the attic and he gave us some money for dinner in thanks for the assistance. So tonight, Saori and I went to India Palace at the Airport. Yes, "at the Airport" is part of the restauranrt's name. Getting there is very much like being part of a shady espionage plot- one must drive out past the airport, taking a series of back roads to get to an isolated office tower next to the "Jacuzzi Suites" Best Western. In the small, empty building lobby, take the elevator up to the 11th floor. And step out into a tiki bar. Actually, the whole thing looks like it used to be a Trader Vic's with lava rock walls, woven bamboo ceilings, and palm fronds everywhere. But its an Indian food restaurant that has a nice overlook of the St.Louis Airport runway. 

Nov 1, 2010

On collaboration

Halloween weekend was fun; we ended up going to two parties. Friday night, we went to the party hosted by the joint graduate councils of the fine arts and architecture schools. The stated vision of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts centers on an idea of (Kemper art) museum, art, and architecture supporting and building on each other. So far by my experience, this is the only time I've seen art and architecture graduates interacting, let alone collaborating or sharing experience or whatever it is that the websites vision says we should do.
I must admit they did put on a great party. A grotesque severed head hung on a rack spewed forth rum punch, the ground was full of chalk outlines splattered with blood and odd missing parts, and the bathrooms were marked by a curtian of creepy mangled toy dolls hanging by thief necks. Better than that were the costumes as each tried either for obscure cinematic references, minutely detailed costumery, or absurd humor. The art students really liked our painted masks I have to say.

Saturday we drove to CWE, where there was a huge block party occupying a long stretch of street, comparable in scale and density to Tempe's Mill Ave. Lots of fun costumes, the most creative which took four actors to convey a hidden red light camera capturing a motorist. There were a few Nav'i who must have been cold, and the usual armies of captain Jack Sparrow. Our costumes attracted a lot of attention, and we posed for pictures several times.

Party at Dew's afterwards, which is always a wonderful mix of Asian food and students, guitars, social workers, booze, and architecture. Got into an interesting conversation with one of my Chinese studio mates who was decrying the state of the practice in China. There, the professional demand is so great that architects command a salary comparable to a lawyer or doctor. This has created an overwhelming majority of students who simply go to architecture for the money without any of the passion for the field. The schools, for thier part, are techical institutions where architectural theory and conceptual experimentation is ridiculed. I've actually heard this from other Chinese students.

It does impress on me a deeper respect for these students who are sacrificing easy positions and paying outrageous tuition to study architecture in a foriegn language, out of thier love of architecture and thier desire to study with students who share their passion.

Speaking of the school, and based on the comments of a few teachers as well as the work i have been doing, it would appear that there is a concerted push by the faculty to encourage group work. Actually, thus far, I have had group projects in every class, including studio, but only as far as site research goes. I am not opposed to group work; I do think the school is going abou it in the wrong way. First, in the professional environment, group work is hierarchical- there is an understood taskmaster or final arbiter. Without this hierarchy in an academic setting, group work is characterized by the leader who makes all the decisions and does a lot of the work, the student who would like to contribute but is marginalized by the over dominating leader, and the student who doesn't give a plying puck.

Some groups actually fall back on overly rigorous democracy, holding mini competitions and consensus based decision making to advance design. There is possibly a time and place for this, but if you are trying to teach students to work collaboratively, they need more teaching. It wouldn't take more than a few hours workshop to teach some basic principals and organizational strategies. The most helpful thing any teacher has said regarding group work is that group work doesn't make less work per person, it actually creates more work, but that the value lay in the collision of ideas and viewpoints.

Studio is definately taking it's toll on my weight- I've lost about 5-10 pounds, bringing me back to my undergraduate weight. On the plus side, I have a really nice pair of D&G jeans that fit me perfectly now.

Oct 31, 2010

DIY de Los Muertos

Here are our Halloween costumes for this year. Saori wanted to reprise her Frida Khalo costume with an skeletal twist to this year, and missing Arizona and encouraged by my Calavera pumpkin last year, I decided to be one of those dia de los muertos hombres. This was a pretty cheap costume, actually.
Hat- $8 pressed felt hat from costume store. You could get more elaborate with a fancy mariachi sombrero.
Skeleton gloves- $10 splurge. I figure I can use them in the wintertime too since I don't really have any gloves yet. It's a nice touch that reads well.
Jacket- $4 Goodwill. Has to be a lean cut to emphasize skeletal nature. Black or dark navy with pinstripes is great.
Flowers- $4 Goodwill. You can find all kinds of ugly fake stuff at Goodwill.
Bowtie- $2 at costume store.
Mask- $5 for a blank mask that we painted with acrylics. A lot of fun, actually. Really made the costume. I was going for the handcrafted figurine look.

Throw that on over some jeans and boots and you've got a pretty good ensemble outfit. We walked around central west end last night and got a lot of attention.

Oct 29, 2010

Show me Juhani

Hmmm it's been one of those frenetic times that completely overwhelms, especially as I have been adamant about getting a minimum of four hours of sleep at night, eating, bathing, and other extravagant luxuries. What have I been up to?

Frost Warning
Last night, the temp dropped down to the low 30s and we turned on the heater for the first time in awhile. This morning, there was frost on the ground, the skies were clear and cold, and it felt like fall was preparing for its last dance while that cold bitch winter waits in the wings. It was nice to wear my black coat again.

Sound of Space/Spaces of Sound
This was a workshop I went to last saturday with Finnish Architect Juhani Pallasmaa and composer Kalevi Aho. It was basically a two hour lecture by Aho, who played samples of music he created for particular venues including the side of a mountain, along with a discussion of the spaces and the creative design process he followed. We then broke into teams for two hours with a loosely define task of mapping and composing the sonic landscape of the architecture school campus. This was a lot of fun. We grabbed a camera and headed out to document unusual and characteristic sounds (squeaky taps, sounds of feet running down stairs, thrums of air conditioners, buzz saws of the workshop, fallen leaves, wind, etc.) and then we all made interpretive sketches attempting to document the character of the sounds. At the end of two hours, we all went around and presented our findings and documentation to Pallasmaa and Aho who criticized and commented on our work and process. It was a fun and interesting break from the studio work I probably should have been doing, and at any rate, it highlighted an oft-neglected part of architecture school by focusing on the phenomenology of sound of spaces. I'm really enjoying the 'workshops' model of architecture school (as long as they're not mandatory!).

Long Week (and still in it)
Undergraduate school was all about studio, and the other classes were interesting side dishes. In graduate school, the other classes become their own dinner courses and you're being served them all at once. Monday, even before I knew I wasn't going to pin-up, I gave a 20 minute presentation with my partner for our Metabolic city class. The topic we are developing is looking at the British group Archigram as primarily interpreting biology instead of technology in their development of cities of the future. This was actually kind of fun, as Archigram is a really fun group to study, and I have a great partner who, even if we have different ideas, really want to push those ideas and argue about them. It's kind of nice to pass each other in the hall and have a five minute discussion of whether or not the internet more closely resembles a biological model or a technological model. Tuesday was mostly spent reading and preparing for Thursday's deadlines, Wednesday I presented, and thursday was taken up in the morning of presenting our site grading project and afternoon was taken up with the presentation of ideas of radical alternative architectural practice. It's been a long week.

Two worst things to hear in a review
In my opinion, my review basically told me nothing new, which is the worst thing to hear in a review, as well as the second worst thing, I was told I had a boring project. (Which I also knew). It's very frustrating. I'm a very systematic designer and professional work made me realize that one of my really strong suits is spatial optimization. But architecture is not an optimization problem. This was the lesson of the Modernist's failure. Le Corbusier once said that the problems people face would be resolved if their homes and families were as efficiently designed and organized as their workplaces. "The house is a machine for living in." But it is actually so much more.
I have a strong rationalist tendency that tends towards that direction. I get sucked into finding elegant solutions to mechanical or programmatic constraints. Essentially, it is an hard mindset for soft problems. Maddeningly, everything I see, read, and experience tells me how vital it is to embrace the soft problems- phenomenology, text, context, etc., and I came into this studio aware of my own tendencies to ignore the other issues in favor of clean rationalism. I am convinced that the value of architectural studio lies in experimentation, but at the end of the day, despite all that, I ended up with a hyper-rationalist project. Symmetrical, every apartment with 3 sides exposed to the outside for maximum daylight and ventilation, with only 5 repeated unit types. Cleanly diagrammable, clear circulation, and self-suggestive of how it could be structurally supportive.
And its boring. Its so boring. There is a subtle interplay of openings and variation of the surface, but ultimately the project is an eroded cube. There are some spaces like a series of 10' wide bridges 36' off the ground, but I cannot explain what they might be used for other what the community decides.
I hate how it looks boring, I hate how the reviewers called it boring, and I especially hate my own view of it as boring because I'm defaulting to formal interpretations of architecture as opposed to the all the other aspects. Partially its because studio is restricted to the primacy of form, partially because of my own mistrust of formal interest for its own sake. (Why make it look like a ball of crumbled paper vs a pile of penne vs a stack of paper cups, where is the critical difference or thought behind them?)
In short, I'm like Marvin the robot sans one leg, making furious circles in the mud. I want to engage in praxis, put theory into practice, but I feel a little like this studio is not looking wide enough at the project and context to be effective. But something tells me this is less the case of studio putting constraints on what we can do rather than my own unwillingness to look outside of the studio environment. Perhaps its a bit of stubborn arrogance; look at me, I can design this perfect thing. By creating this project that has pushed the boundary of optimization, I've painted myself into a perfect corner. Hence, the reviewers telling me to "break it down" and to "mix it up."
Perhaps by eschewing formal irrationality, I've been missing opportunities to exercise creativity within the confines of the formal studio. Why not excrete some wacky shape, and then try to rationalize it into a building? That is one way I could work in this framework. We shall see.

Oct 26, 2010

The Old Switcheroo

The weekend passed in a blur. For about the past week, I've been averaging about four hours of sleep a night. Saori's been getting even less. Last week, Saori's instructor told her that she would be presenting on Wednesday, so Saori prepared for that in mind, and I got ready to present on Monday, since that was also kind of the word that was spread around. So monday morning I shaved, fussed over what to wear, and Saori just kind of rolled into studio wearing basically studio working clothes. Bet you can guess what happened. 

The way we are presenting is two people who share the same site present one right after another, and then there is a combined question session, which is actually a really neat idea since you get to see two different takes on the same site and considerations, plus theres a synergistic effect of critiquing two ideas side by side. Makes the reviews go faster anyway. Anyway, attempting to achieve this across the entire studio meant that basically the schedules got flipped and half of Saori's studio was basically informed they were pinning up in an hour instead of two days later. This is a big deal, especially as the idea of a "pens down" was not going to be enforced and many of the students, including Saori, were not prepared to pin up. Shock, disbelief, anger and depression followed in quick sucession followed by a scramble to print and complete whatever they had. I ran down to the print lab and printed a giant banner for Saori while she took care of smaller boards. 

Her review went fantastically well. The reviewers loved her project. So she was very happy in the end. Personally, now I'm concerned because there's going to be a higher expectation perhaps for the Wednesday presentations. 

Oct 22, 2010

Take your V-ray and Rhino it up your Render

There are several things disturbing me right now. 
First, there is the fact that it is 11:15 at night, and frankly, I'd rather be getting ready for bed. Which brings me to the fact that I'm at campus, which is expected, given that we have a review monday. What really irritates me is this pissant v-ray rendering workshop which is technically mandatory for us studio 419 students.

This workshop is essentially how to use a very sophisticated and difficult to use rendering engine, V-Ray, to create photorealistic images of computer models created in Rhino. First of all, it's childish and ridiculous to make this kind of digital masturbation mandatory. If people want to learn this kind of thing, fantastic, knock your lights out. I'm curious about it myself, honestly, but its an insult to graduate students to jam V-ray down our throats. 

Secondly, I just don't like photorealistic renderings. What is the point of representation? To convey a quality of a space, especially where perspectives are concerned, especially to non-architectural people who will have difficulty understanding the drier standard forms of architectural representation. However, the 'reality' of 'photorealism' is bullshit. You can bounce light a thousand times, and spend years rendering a single scene, but when that space is finally built, it will be nothing like the rendering. Buildings aren't built like the computer model, its always different, especially as the built environment is a mediated and negotiated thing, evolving in its own construction. 

Additionally, what is the point? If you are attempting to sell a design to a client, showing everything down to the style of the doorknob closes more doors than it opens. Either the client will love it and then blame you when it doesn't come out exactly like the rendering, or more likely, the client will fixate on the tiny details that are required in photorealistic renderings, and nitpick it apart before you can even get to the discussion of the spaces and the quality of the spaces created. You'll be trying to get a buy off on the atrium stairs, and it will get rejected because the client doesn't like the color of the drapes. A photorealistic rendering is a yes or no proposition, with no potential for negotiation or change. 

Third, this workshop takes place on a weekend, which I'm assuming because they don't want to interfere with studio or other classes. Why do students need weekends, anyway? St.Louis is dead right? We all are here to study 24/7 right? The other sad bit is that I've got a saturday workshop, and Saori has sunday workshops, so between us, we never get a weekend daytrip.

(Pauses to wipe foam off of computer screen)

Anyway, monday is a big day for presentations. I have a midterm review monday at noon, and before that, I have to give a 20 minute presentation for my Metabolic City class. Saturday, I elected to do a workshop in the middle of the day with Juhani Pallasmaa, the Finnish author and architect, instead of this pathetic, useless class, but I still need to turn in the homework, which is to take a scene and render it.

Oct 21, 2010

The Fun Factory

It's been a busy week and its going to stay busy for awhile. Big items, midterm review next monday. This is the midpoint of the semester requiring a presentation of ideas in the form of models, diagrams, plans, etc. to a panel of architects and designers. This is a pretty big deal, second only to the final presentation.

Also monday, me and my partner are giving a 20 minute presentation on Archigram's use of biological models in their design.

And, I should add, a week from today, next thursday, I and two other people will be leading a class discussion on some readings that not only have I not read, not only that our group hasn't met to talk about this, but also that I don't even really know what the topic is. It's written down somewhere.

So yeah, busy weekend, don't expect much blogwise.

Oct 16, 2010

How to make a Dia de Los Muertos Costume

Today was a reasonably productive day. I got some readings done, started noting up some research ideas on Google documents that my partner commented on, and I got my halloween costume mostly worked out. I won't spoil what Saori is going as, but I chose a costume in the similar vein, one of the dia de los Muertos hombres, which is essentially a stylized skeleton in fancy dress and a sombrero.

The easiest way to do this is to combine a 1920's gangster costume with pin-stripe suit, lose the gun, replace the hat with a big black mexican Sombrero and throw on a skull mask. Actually they sell calavara masks like this one.

But all these together would probably add up to around $50-70, so not quite my price range. So I picked up a cheap sombero and a blank male face mask at the costume store, and found a tight pin-striped blazer and a bunch of fake flowers at Goodwill. At home, I painted the mask to be more like a Meixcan calavera using Saori's acrylic paint. A lot of fun actually. Pictures to follow on Halloween!

Oct 15, 2010

Fall break!

Well, we definitely got our money's worth out of fall break.

We started with a sleepy morning, followed by a wonderful walk to Winslow's home to pick up coffee, scones, and a slice of quiche which we took to the small park nearby for a picnic. Highlight of the day.
Afterwards, we picked up our friend Dew, and drove to the mall. Lots to see and lots to almost buy, but I limited myself to picking up three basic thermal long sleeve tops to wear as base layers as the weather continues to get colder in St.Louis. We shopped for a long time, and then went by the art store to pick up some more studio supplies. We dropped Dew off at his place, and went on to Soulard, a neighborhood directly south of downtown St.Louis, probably the closest thing to what the city was like after it was constructed in brick following a series of cataclysmic fires early in its history. All the buildings are brick, beautiful narrow apartments and homes. It fell into disuse and decline and was largely abandoned until the 1970s or 80s when it was redeveloped and became a cultural hub and bar and entertainment district. We ate dinner at a great Irish bar and garden patio, sitting outside and drinking a beer and eating Irish stew. That was pretty nice. Walked around a bit afterwards before heading back to our neck of the woods and Walmart to stock up on necessities.

The rest of the weekend plans: Back to Studio

Studio and Authentic Mexican food at the Taco Bell

The architectural studio I am in is the last of the core studios as part of the graduate track program. This is also what I call a 'confluence' studio, which is made up of entering students, such as myself, and continuing students. The continuing students have for the most part, never designed habitable structures before. These students who entered the program a year ago, came in largely as non-architecture majors, and so their first year is a hellish boot camp focused on principles of design, the iterative design process, and modular transformation. How hellish? Today is the one day of Fall break we are granted, and the students currently in that program have a pin-up review. Last week, one student thought he was having a heart attack and called EMS but it turned out to be an anxiety attack. They have to work at least twice as hard as we do. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing- I think a large part of architectural education is that crucible test- if you don't love architecture and design enough, when you're professionally, its never going to be worth it.

Anyway, I digress, but my main point is that up until this studio I'm in now, this will be the first studio where they are designing actual buildings, and thinking about how people really use space, and the leap to creating habitable forms. And it seems like a real challenge. I see a lot of really frustrated people who pin up, and it looks like they haven't done much work, but really they've been throwing a lot of effort into it. 

As for me, I feel like I'm this kind of odd space with this studio. The main goals of this studio are threefold: 
  1. Bridge the gap between the entering students and the continuing students
  2. Develop an understanding of how habitable spaces can be created at multiple scales- the room, the apartment, the common spaces, the public spaces created between buildings in the urban landscape.
  3. Provide an introduction to the complete design process- including issues of accessibility, egress, structure, and systems. 
And I'm not sure where I'm going with this.... so.... 


One of the electives I'm taking is a seminar on the city/suburbia, not from a design standpoint, but more from a standpoint of trying to understand the factors that shape movements of people and money within metropolitan regions, especially through the lens of socioeconomic and political implications. One of the issues which is the focus of this seminar is the rising problem of inner-suburban decline, as it is a relatively new issue that we will have to deal with more and more upon entering the workforce.

The main deal with the inner-suburbs is they are losing jobs and investment to the outer suburbs or back to the cities, and they have little infrastructure or economic power to deal with falling revenues and rising social services expenditures. Pagedale is an example of one of these inner-ring suburbs, which is the object of our study. They are typical of some midwestern metropolises which have dozens of tiny municipalities. The area around Pagedale in north St.Louis county is called "the Balkans" for the several dozen tiny municipalities that exist and compete in that space. Pagedale, for example, is only a few square miles in size, with a population of around 4,000. It was started as a streetcar suburb, but transitioned to industrial suburb, and now like many places, the manufacturing plants have been closing and the neighborhood entered a period of 'decline'.

Last evening, we took a group tour to visit it. Our first stop was a visit with the Mayor of Pagedale at the small city hall. She was a wonderful, friendly, grandmotherly person, who talked about her aspirations for Pagedale, and the recent developments to the town including the recently opened grocery store. It's funny to think about a small thing like that, a local grocery store, that most of us take for granted with our cars or local grocery. Many Pagedale residents don't own cars, and before the Save A Lot opened, were reliant on bus service to get to more distant grocery stores.

Anyway, she also talked about the city's relationship with Beyond Housing, a nonprofit corporation that started in St.Louis, spread, and then consolodated in Pagedale to look at the effects of concentrated effort on improving a small city. This seems like a great outfit- they got grants and funding for senior housing, purchased  and rehabbed vacant housing, built new single family homes, and secured funding for repairs and improvements all over the city of Pagedale. They were instrumental in the construction of the grocery store, which according to the mayor, was a dream come true in a city with a serious lack of retail and services.

Anyway, afterwards we had a kind of odd driving tour of Pagedale, which didn't really give us any kind of clear indication of the city landscape as (A) It was around 8pm at night, (B) Pagedale is not particularly well lit at night, and (C) the car I was in had its windows tinted to questionable legality. Anyway, the highlight was that we went to a place where I could finally get some decent Mexican food, a taqueria in a building which used to be a Taco Bell. The irony was good, and so was the food, although the agua horchata could have used a little cinnamon. It made me feel really far from Arizona.

Oct 13, 2010

Los 33

I've been really moved by the ordeal of 'los 33' Chilean (and one Bolivian) miners who were trapped underground for 69 days. The entire ordeal has been amazing. The resolve and discipline of the miners, who long surpassed records of time spent underground. The engineering prowess and coordinated effort of the rescuers. Even the role of instant communication- I think this will mark the first rescue to have live streaming feeds from both ends of the rescue.

I'm staggered by the social discipline of the miners- to not only survive the initial 17 days of not even knowing if the surface knows you're alive, but to stay focused and motivated, and cohesive as a group. It makes me wonder about other professions and the personality types they have. For example, if it were 33 architecture students trapped in an architecture building for two months, would just be about time for a midterm review, so bad example. But anyway.

There has also been much of the disturbing. Lots of political capitalizing on an emotional moment. For example, the first person to embrace the Bolivian to the surface was none other than Evo Morales, the Bolivian president. (His family, who was waiting right there, had to wait). Three drills were set up simultaneously to drill down to rescue the miners at considerable expense and effort. These 33 miners survived, but 443 Chileans died in workplace accidents in 2009 alone. How does the cost of rescuing the miners compare to improving the workplace conditions or safety that would have saved the lives of the 443? 

It's also an interesting study in the psychology of numbers. If there were 300 miners who were killed or stranded, would there be this much attention? Or 3,000? Numbers have a tendency to numb, as people lose their ability to comprehend and empathize with large numbers of missing, injured, or killed. For example, 5,875 Americans were killed distracted driving (read: cellphones) car accidents in 2008. That's a staggering number- too staggering. It's horrible, but it doesn't have the impact of 'los 33.' There might be 33 people riding a city bus. 5, 875 might be a small town. 

A Dungeon for Nanoscience

Yesterday I walked through the length of the campus. It's generally a very pretty school, although I have some questions about the architecture.

Almost every building on campus, no matter the date of construction, is based on English Gothic style. This ranges from the obscenely Gothic campus chapel, complete with buttresses and covered with flying spires, to the most recent buildings which are all precast or cast in place concrete with concrete quoining at the corners and applied brick facia. These are the sorts of buildings that look like the windows are made of up of lots of small rectangular panes of glass, but are actually just giant pieces of float glass with fake mullions behind them.

The science buildings are the worst suited for this kind of English Gothic style. You know what kind of science went on in original English Gothic buildings? Medieval science. There's one building with a fairly convincing facade that meticulously follows the original campus buildings, but then when you look up at the roof, you realize that its a giant metal screen in the shape of a mansard roof that's feebly attempting to hide the ducting and roof mounted equipment that almost necessarily overtakes the roofs of science buildings.

The new engineering building, still under construction, and for a cutting-edge engineering department, will also look like it was stolen from an ancient British university, despite the fact that they're currently pouring the entire building from concrete. 

It's completely ridiculous to shoehorn advanced scientific and engineering programs into Gothic buildings, which is why the whole English Gothic element comes off as a badly-fitting Halloween costume. This is why it is an extremely powerful lesson in the role image and identity play in architecture. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to Wash U was the atmosphere of a small private school, which of course, was influenced by the architecture modeled after the old universities on the East Coast. Of course, even they were trying to capitalize on the image of those ancient British universities that I mentioned before.

And then it also raises the question of why the architecture and art buildings look so different. In a campus that largely attempts to fit in, the buildings associated with art and design deliberately stick out with their designs that are attempts at iconic or contemporary architecture. It seems a bit contradictory. The art/design buildings tell us- this is what is supposed to attract you here, this is what is supposed to inspire you to design.

The message here is that there are two kinds of architecture- architecture for architects and architecture for everyone else. The reality of the situation is that for the vast majority of architects, the most radical design they will ever do is in school (iconic, theoretical architecture in iconic, theoretical buildings) and the vast majority of architecture they will produce in their careers is the architecture for everyone else (gimme a retail box, and make it look like a Spanish hacienda!). But hey, its already a given that architecture school is not about the real world- I've accepted and eventually welcomed the fact that it is not a professional prep school. 

Oct 12, 2010


Some images from our collective housing studio....
What I am attempting is to create an open corner by essentially creating a very lattice like structure with an large open middle space. Currently, the corner is dark and deserted and I wanted to create a mini neighborhood that felt both defensible and visible at the same time. I'm actually thinking about putting a glass roof over the whole structure and hanging a chandelier in the middle, as if to create essentially a porch light for the entire neighborhood.

There's a saying that every architect, sometime in their career, will design a 'lantern' project.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to, a more writing-centric website.