Apr 30, 2010

Suki's Big Day Out

Today started great for Suki, who didn't have to choke down another one of those wretched pills. However, she was stuffed into a small box and then things generally went downhill from there. At least she was able to lose those mats all over her fur. Click the images for larger sizes. 

Pecha-Kucha Night Phoenix

Last night, Saori, some of our friends, and I went to the first official Phoenix Pecha-Kucha night. I say unofficial, because Saori and I both attended the GreenBuild Pecha-Kucha night that was hosted by the Young Green Builders association, but that was a national event rather than a local, so it doesn't really count.

For the uninitiated, Pecha-Kucha is a series of presentations in an informal setting. The format is very rigidly defined. Each presenter has 20 slides which are shown for 20 seconds each. That's it. The topic and contents vary wildly from presentation to presentation, but its historically and typically related to design. This way, it forces designers who tend to be either very expansive or circuitous in describing their work to limit themselves to explaining their projects in a very concise and clear way. It originated in Japan in early 2000's as two Europeans hosted the first Pecha-Kucha night in a Tokyo nightclub.

Anyway, the event was hosted at the Irish cultural center in downtown (which was odd, since I actually once danced the Ceilidh in the same building). It was $8, but the ticket included a free beer, and about 150 people showed up. The presentations varied a lot. There was one on creation of fonts, one presented by Nan Ellin about Canalscape and Phoenix, decorating with 50s memorabilia, sustainable architecture, and even one about focus group testing. There was a very nervous ASU grad student from Taiwan who presented her work on interfaces. This tiny girl hacked the Wii hardware to make her own interface tools and then designed software to interpret it in different ways. Then she also had this screensaver which would generate bubbles showing what program/websites she had been browsing by use, such that if you're spending a lot of time on facebook, when you return to your computer, there's a huge facebook bubble reminding you of how much time you're wasting.

Anyway, it was pretty interestng and at the end, they gave every single person there a copy of PHX 21st Century City, which usually retails for about $50. The next pecha-kucha is in July, so mark your calenders!

Apr 29, 2010

Financial aid

I finally stopped avoiding it and sat down to work on my financial aid package. While I was lucky enough to receive a generous scholarship, there is still the plain and simple fact that even a generous scholarship is not going to cover an annual tuition of $39,000 plus living expenses.

As part of the loan/aid package, the school requires you to take an online "council" course, which is basically a crash course on federal student loans with questions after each section. It had some reassuring points- there are a variety of options for repaying your loan that all involve giving the government back the money with 6.8% interest. Less reassuringly, you don't have to repay your loan if you die. It also had some handy calculators for getting a rough idea of how much you would have to pay back monthly for x amount of loans.

It's a pretty heady exercise. It's a lot of money, and it makes me pause to consider the impact on the future. A standard way of calculating the loan payments is over ten years. That's a pretty long time to be paying not an insignificant amount of money.

It's an investment. Graduate school is something that I need to do to become an architect. Beyond pure NAAB certification, I'm taking a risk on Washington University providing me with opportunities, knowledge, and experience that will take me to the next level of architecture, a level that I want to be at to take me where I want to be. A top graduate school also keeps the door open to teaching positions and professorships, something that sits quietly at the back of my mind, biding its time. I'm not convinced that the salary I would make graduating from Wash U compared to graduating from a not as highly ranked school would make the tuition differences equitable. To be honest, however, graduate school is expensive no matter where you go. What I will have to cover at Wash U after my scholarship is about the same cost as an out of state grad student at ASU.

Money. Money.Money makes the world go around, the world go around...

Apr 27, 2010

Stamp collecting

For our new positions as graduate students, Saori and I both wanted to have business cards to distribute to professors, industry people, students, etc. Saori came up with the idea of getting a stamp done, so that we could stamp blank cards of our own, or stamp whatever people had handy at the moment when we needed to exchange information.

So we went to OfficeMax and spent a good hour looking through the stamp size options, text options, clip art etc etc. It was about $25 to make, but in theory, these self-inking stamps should last through well over ten thousand inkings. And here they are:

I really like the way Saori's came out. It leaps off the page at you. Mine is a little understated, although I'm learning to like it a little more. I also threw on my issuu page which has portfolio, etc. on it.

We've been having a lot of fun making cards out of whatever cardstock we have lying around. This card was made from a jumbalaya box. Flip it over, and there's a giant fork in rice.

Apr 25, 2010

Instant Constitution

I'm currently reading this book about Japan in the immediate aftermath of WWII, which focuses heavily on the relationship between the Japanese Government, the people of Japan, Emperor Hirohito, and the General Headquarters (GHQ). It's pretty heavy reading, and almost feels like I'm taking a class, but its really facinating stuff. Among the more interesting points I've found so far:

  • Gen. MacArthur assumed the position of "Supreme Commander" over Japan, and assumed the most power over it ever wielded by a single person, essentially accountable to no one but the US President and Allied Command, whom he found convenient to keep out of the loop. He approached Japan with an almost missionary and paternalistic approach- he wanted to completely remake Japan as one would reform a wayward son.
  • Emperor Hirohito, who, at the very least, was informed of the decision to strike Pearl Harbor, and who had at least some role in the wartime aggression, was kept protected along with the Imperial throne in Allied decision-making even before the end of the war. War planners saw his use as a stabilizing influence pre-surrender, and MacArthur saw him as an avenue for institutionalizing reform. GHQ discouraged him from abdication, which he considered several times as a means to apologize to the people.
  • High-ranking officers under Hirohito and other military leaders tried for War Crimes were coached in their testimony to deflect blame for war away from Hirohito. They took the blame for themselves and were executed, giving their lives to the security of the Emperor's position. GHQ spread word to the prosecution that no suspicion would be allowed to be cast on Hirohito.
  • GHQ deliberately ended a fast rising tide of popular socialism that grew in Japan as a result of freedoms of the press, to strike, and political dissent. On the eve of the largest general strike, GHQ denied permission and then took action to secure the place of political conservatives, all the while promoting democracy.
  • Most astounding to me, the Constitution of Japan was essentially written in six intense days by a group of idealistic young Americans working for the GHQ, roughly based on a bullet list scribbled out by MacArthur. No consultation with the Japanese (although it coincided closely with a draft presented by a grassroots political group.) What balls.
  • The conservative government were understandably stunned when presented with the "model" constitution, but eventually accepted it with the understanding that if they rejected it, the GHQ would take it directly to the people. 
The whole constitution thing really blows me away. The US constitution took nearly four months of work by founding patriots who had fought for the right of popular sovereignty. The Japanese Constitution was written in six days by an occupational force in secrecy and without the input of the Japanese. Ultimately, the conservatives in power were able to shape the final document sightly by tweaking the verbiage and terminology as it was translated back and forth from English to Japanese. 

I'm still working my way through it.

Apr 23, 2010

Everlasting Marks

Sometimes I post items on facebook or here about 'working on the farm' or more often, 'pounding tires.' These are actually slang terms for illicit drug use. No, not really. These are things related to a nonprofit group I joined called Everlasting Marks. This is an relatively new organization with the stated intent:
To promote cultural understanding and environmental awareness through service learning programs involving teens in the hands on construction of sustainable projects that benefit the community.
But the ultimate vision of the nonprofit goes beyond community boundaries:
While Everlasting marks is currently working locally in Arizona, the long term vision is to create international youth camps in which teens will work for and with a community to construct a sustainable build for the community.

By bringing teens of different cultures together through kids’ camps we offer them the opportunity to experience what other parts of the world are actually like. By doing so, we hope to create more compassionate, understanding and confident youth, who in turn will leave a positive mark on our world.
I got involved with it through its founder, Jaime Collins, one of my classmates from ASU architecture. When we were all in Buenos Aires, I shared an apartment with her and another classmate. The focus of our semester long studio was the street children and the deplorable urban conditions in which they lived, and this in turn, inspired her to develop this nonprofit.

I got involved because I think that sustainability and community working with teens are both vital causes. Additionally, for purely selfish reasons, I wanted to learn more in a physical way about different types of building sustainably, and also to develop my ability to coordinate and lead groups.

What this really means is that about every other week, I make the trek out to Superstition Farms, who donated the land for the project, and I lead small groups of kids in building a tire wall. This is pretty intense work, although I am slowly getting better at it. I work from morning until early afternoon, pick up some fresh dairy from the farm store, and head home to a shower.

Making a tire wall is a lot of work. The basic concept is pretty simple, pack, pound, and level. You start by laying a piece of cardboard in the center to keep the dirt inside the tire, and then fill the tire with dirt. Then, you pull up the inside rim of the tire and start packing dirt in as much as you can. When the tire is so full, you can't push any more dirt into the rims, you pick up a sledgehammer and start pounding, striking at an angle to compact the dirt into the rims. When the entire tire looks overstuffed and ready to burst, then you level it.

By level it, I mean you take a level and turn the level around at various positions across the tire to make sure the top of the tire is as level as possible, and that it matches the level of the tire next to it. It's tricky, frustrating work, since the tire sends to take on a sagging donut shape which makes the top of it a geometric saddle. To raise up the height, just takes more pounding. When its finally done, these tires weigh about 200 pounds each and become structural elements. I can tell you, that's a lot of pounding and a lot of dirt.


It's been a fast week. One of Saori's high school friends whom she hasn't seen since high school, was touring the US on vacation with her boyfriend. They are both Japanese and spent a few days in NY before deciding to come visit Saori in Phoenix over going to LA. They brought me a surprising amount of stationary/office items from Muji, which was really nice of them.
Their first night here, Saori took them to Filibertos for dinner. Then the next day, she took them up to the top of south mountain where they were astounded by the raw desert beauty and exposed rock. Afterwards, Scottsdale fashion square and old town Scottsdale before finishing the evening at Malee's on Main. Yesterday, she drove them up to Sedona where they wanted to know where the Big Mountain Thunder Railroad was. Apparently, Sedona is a very hot destination to the Japanese. Last night, was their last night here before flying back to Japan, and so I made foccacia and ravioli dinner. Saori's friend's boyfriend, Yamada, traded me his hoodie, which had a really cool print, for my ASU tee shirt. Apparently, both of them are fans of American Football, and Yamada used to play as a linebacker in a Japanese club team.

Anyway, we dropped them off at the airport around 4 AM and then I was up again at 8 to go help Jaime with another volunteering thing at the superstition farms. We pounded tires, mixed mortar, and laid a few rows of cans in the can walls, and then I picked up some fresh milk and cheese and ice cream for the ride home.

Earth Day

How am I doing this Earth day? Let's take a look at ways I'm trying to save the Earth:
The Good:
  • I live in a high-density neighborhood, where I can walk to work and food, and only drive a short distance to a grocery store.
  • I live in a 1 bedroom apartment. I think this has a huge impact since I'm saving energy, and I'm using less resources that would have gone into furnishing and maintaining a larger space. I'm not anti-materialist; I just think the less stuff you can get away with, the better. It puts pressure on stores to carry less stuff, and ultimately for businesses to produce less stuff. 
  • I use a low flow shower head. Yeah, yeah. 
  • Sustainable design intent. I'd like to do more sustainable design, and I occasionally advocate for more sustainable design. Our client is not adverse to sustainable design but spending money on it. Ultimately, I think this will be a very sustainable building as regards to longevity. If your building is LEED Platinum Card Plus, and it gets replaced in 50 years, it's far, far less sustainable than a joe blow building that lasts 100 years. 
  • Advocacy- I try to engage people about what sustainability is and means. My volunteering with Everlasting Marks is part of this. I intrude on my great-uncle's facebook threads.
  • I drive a Prius, which is ok. Uses less gas, great; but it still has a huge environmental impact in the amount of rare metals that go into the battery. It's a step in the right direction though.
  • I participate in recycled goods cycle. I go to used clothing stores, used bookstores, and donated items stores. I bring stuff to these places instead of throwing it away when possible.
  • I don't eat a lot of meat. Our diet tends to be more grains and veg with a little meat in there. Meat, especially beef, has a huge environmental cost. It's a huge suck on water, and it contributes to atmospheric gases.
The Bad
  • I love to travel, which means I fly. Aircraft are huge polluters. The amount of CO2 saved by planes not after the volcano eruption in Iceland far outweighed the amount of CO2 introduced to the atmosphere by the volcano.
  • I like Sushi. I eat it often. The highest quality fish are usually wild caught, and the fish trade for sushi is driving some fish stocks into the ground.
  • I'm a bit of a technophile, although I'm working hard to fight it now that I know the heavy environmental costs of disposable high tech gadgetry. 
  • I shop at companies with questionable practices, and generally I'm reluctant to pay a large margin for a more sustainable product over a less sustainable one.
  • I own a car and live with someone who also owns a car. Two cars is probably overkill considering I walk to work. 
So that's not so bad. Hope everyone else had a good earth day

Apr 21, 2010

The Kwizach Architect

I really enjoyed watching Dune, and it's such a cheesy movie, it made me wonder why I enjoyed it so much. I think what set it apart for me was the architectural look and feel of the film design. It's a really contrived way to put it, calling something "architectural", but I'll qualify it- I used to consider architecture as a designation, Architecture with a capital A, that designated built spaces/structures that transcended utilitarianism, buildings that combined form and function, with an aesthetic component. A garden shed was not "architecture," say, unless it was a distinctively Zaha Hadid shed, or Gerhy shed. Such was my conception of architecture even after my first year of study. Now, though, I see architecture as a way of lumping various ways of describing aspects of a space. Architecture is a quality, not a badge. You can discuss the architecture of a common garden shed, just as you can discuss the architecture of a table, although at that scale, the conversation is more about anthropometrics, and ergonomics.

I will not be the first to point out the similarities between architecture and cinematography. Both deal with the relationship between a person and their surroundings, and some have compared how a person moves through a space to scenes and shots from a movie. For me, movies that tend to linger on that relationship between a person and a space are therefore more architectural. However, many movies use setting either as metaphor, or to boost the emotional impact of the characters. The Overlook hotel in The Shining for example, is not so much perceived as a hotel in the architectural sense (how old, how functional, how beautiful, etc.) as much as it is a reflection of the insanity and evil of the spirits that inhabit it.

Some movies take a common building and by way of editing and filming, make you acutely aware of it as a building. Delicatessin, for example, is almost exlusively filmed inside and on top of a block of apartments. The details of the building lend themselves to major plot points, such as the flooded basement, the creaky stairs, and the ventilation piping. There's an underlying claustrophobia of cramped quarters. You're very much aware of the architecture, which begins to pique my interest as a designer, but the spaces themselves are quite mundane.

Which brings me back to Dune. The settings are fantastic- the architecture of the buildings and spacecraft and caves show how much time and money were spent on them, and they're really cool to imagine yourself in these spaces.

The cinematography also plays to the settings, giving sweeping views of the stark landscapes with tiny human figures, or capturing how the characters move around or fill the interior spaces. So I'll put up with the cheesy dialog and imagine myself in spaces that are quite literally impossible to build.

Apr 19, 2010

IDP: The Six Month Rule

July 1st is coming. For those of you fortunate enough not to have to log hours of your IDP experience, July 1st is the deadline to report hours accumulated through work done before January of this year.

For those of you who are in the profession, IDP is the Intern Development Program, part of the steps to becoming an licensed architect. The typical track is trifold- Degree, Experience, Tests. You get a masters degree in architecture, you log experience in the field (in my case IDP), and you sit for five nasty tests in categories of architectural experience (e.g. structures, schematic design, systems, etc).

Architects are licensed by state, although most states tend to share the same requirements which is pretty handy if you want to work across state lines. You still have to pay your annual licence fee in each state, but its not too hard to get a licence in a different state once you have one. That is, if you have an NCARB certificate. NCARB is an organization that accredits architecture schools and also does something with the certificates that let you get other state licences easily. To get the NCARB certificate, you have to go through IDP. You need to have 3 years of IDP experience recorded to get the certificate after you've passed all the architecture tests. But it can't be just any architectural experience. You can't, for example, take a bus tour of Rome and call it good. There are very strict parameters and conditions under which you can claim hours of experience. Working outside the US apparently like pulling teeth when it comes to NCARB giving you credit. It doesn't matter if you're working directly with Sir Norman Foster, I hear its a real bitch (getting the credit, not working with Foster).

I've got about a third of my hours reported, and I anticipate getting at least another third recorded before July1st. It's just wearing.

Apr 17, 2010

Pilling the Cat

Saori and I live in a 1 bedroom apartment about 700 square feet. It's small, but to be honest, its one of the most spacious apartments I've ever lived in. The kitchen is a little tight, but two people can work at the same time, and we have a large walk-in closet in addition to a spacious hallway closet/linen cabinet.

Lately, we've started the lengthy process of paring down our stuff in preparation for the move. It's not so much that we're going to be limited in room with our transportation vehicle- at the least I think I am going to have to rent a van or trailer (can a Prius haul a trailer?)- but its a good chance to consolidate. Yesterday, I went through my big metal file cabinet, pulling old manuals, bank statements from year ago, etc. etc. Found some old Chinese class tests, copies of a Russian visa, a detailed packing list for a 50 mile hike, and a bunch of old drawings.

Yesterday, also, we took Suki to the vet. Lately, she's been spotting the sheets- leaking a little bit of urine tinted slightly pink/orange with blood. She was not a happy cat on the drive over, and she was even less thrilled to be at the vet. Fortunately, they were able to see her pretty quickly, and the vet confirmed my suspicion that it was probably a urinary tract infection. He gave her two antibiotic shots, and a prescription for some kitty antibiotic tabs.

He also said she was officially obese, tipping the scale at 17 pounds, up a pound from a year ago. He told me to halve the food I was giving her. We don't feed her much, but I guess such a sofa cat doesn't burn a lot of calories. Suki meowed her disapproval from the cage after the vet's pronouncement.

I picked up some treat pouches and tried getting Suki to eat one with a pill enclosed inside. Suki's a pretty timid eater, and I was thinking is was probably going to be a long shot. She licked it a few times, even put it in her mouth for some exploratory nibbles, but rejected it. "There appears," she seemed to say, "to be some hard object in the middle of this thing. I'll just have the kitty chow." Unfortunately, this is not the Waldorf-Astoria, so stripped the tasty shell and wrestled the pill into her mouth and forced her to swallow it.

This is a tricky business. I got behind her, tilted her head up, and forced her mouth open with my finger. I then inserted the pill, and attempted to close her mouth while tilting her head forward and blowing on her nose to make her lick her nose and swallow the pill. Suki's plan of attack is to repeatedly wriggle like a fish in a desperate attempt to escape, and to rapidly stick her tongue in and out of her mouth to shoot out the pill. It takes a few tries to get this right, and I'm sad to say that I didn't even get the advantage of surprise as it usually takes Suki a few days to figure out how to counter my pilling.

Apr 16, 2010

Beer and Light Rail

Last night, in the name of brotherly duty, I took my little brother to FourPeaks for the first time. He turned 21 last week, and to his credit, he was too busy with his classes to really cut loose and party hard. FourPeaks is one of my favorite places to drink in Arizona, especially during hot summer days and evenings. They've got a range of great beers brewed right there, and the food is fantastic. Modest but well done and delicious and everything beer battered.

Actually, being all responsible adults, we took the light rail there so we could all drink. Tay met us at the Dorsey and Apache station and we walked up. To be honest, we didn't drink that much. I'm at the point where I just like to drink to a point just beyond mellowness, and as my grandmothers can both attest, the beer at FourPeaks is pretty strong. We ordered a beer sampler, which had all the beers they make plus a beer they're testing out. Good stuff. Actually makes me want to have a beer right now, and wonder where I can pick up a six pack of 8th street ale at this time of night. Most places, probably.

We took the light rail back home, a 45 minute journey from Tempe. I saw in the newspaper that they're going to expand the light rail potentially over the next few years (once they figure out how to fund it) and my second thought was that if they build it out as much as the planned routes show, how long it would take to get from place to place. While it would be fantastic to have a comprehensive light rail network, its less than effective if it means it takes several hours to get from one part of the city to the other. At its current speed, and factoring in wait times, I'm about equally fast riding a bicycle from Tempe to Phoenix as taking light rail. That's pretty pathetic.

Apr 15, 2010

The Studio Effect & Revit

Last weekend, Saori and I went to St. Louis to visit the architecture school's open house. With a week of reflection, its occurred to me that this was actually a pretty slick piece of marketing on the school's part. Any architecture student can tell you that they learned the most from their classmates- more than the professors whom they see perhaps for a few hours a few times a week, and more than from the lectures and other classwork. As a student, your primary source of inspiration, debate, new skills, and new ideas comes from the people with whom you spend 80% of your waking hours, the other students.

WashU encouraged all admitted students to attend the open house. This included many people who are also looking at other top schools in the country. One open house brings together some of the best and brightest students in the pool. The school provides ample opportunities for socialization, including encouraging a bar group the first night, all meals together, a happy hour with free beer, wine with a lavish dinner of small tables, and an open bar at a local club/bar. Hell, even I made friends and talked with a bunch of different people. You start to think, hey I could get along with these people.

It's illusory and a little misleading as not all of them will end up attending. However, it was very effective with me, and I do hope that most of them do attend, as I would like to get to know all of them better, and what they can bring to the collective table.

One other thing I thought was interesting was the software encouraged by the school. It sounds like most of the students are working in SketchUp, AutoCAD and Rhino, Rhino being the 3d modeling software (replacing the useless and painful FormZ of my graduating class). I'd really like to continue using Revit, as I'm really fast at it now and it can do so much so quickly. Build one model and boom boom boom, plan, sections, elevations, renderings, flythroughs, etc. We'll see. I almost want to get a new minitower to run revit exclusively- dell outlet sells some 3.0+ Ghz processors for less than a grand, but I'm debating how much more performance I'd get out of it compared to my souped up laptop I bought over a year ago. I'm sure I'll figure it all out.

Apr 13, 2010

Book of Lists

I've started keeping a notebook just for items related to transitioning my life from a corporate worker in Phoenix to a graduate student in St.Louis. I'm cannibalizing a really ugly hardcover notebook I once started as a book of poetry and prose. I ripped all the crap out and broke the first spread into four categories of general tasks: Leaving DWL, Leaving Phoenix, Moving to St.Louis, University Items. So far, leaving Phoenix has the most number of tasks associated with it, especially as it is a catch-all for random items that have accumulated and never gotten done. Like filling out my IDP hours. Today, I got one item done on the list, writing thank you notes to the people who wrote me recommendation letters for school.

As someone once told me, make a list and work the list. Sounds like an architect.

Apr 12, 2010

Phone a friend

I got a call today from the University of Utah. One of the faculty members or program directors wanted to know what my thoughts were about attending. I told him that I had decided not to attend University of Utah, and when he asked where I was going instead, I told him Wash U. "That's a good school," he told me. "Some of my friends teach there." He thanked me for considering the school and that was that.

Some of the things I will miss going to Utah- a more laid back lifestyle, the mountain lifestyle, very close family and some very interesting architects, the design build at the Bluff, and some of the best winter sports in the world.

Apr 11, 2010

Open house day

I was understandbly bleary-eyed and hungover, and as I got ready to go, I was regretting the last round at the bar, fortunately, I was feeling much better after an hour or two. Outside the lobby, we were met by the student driven SUVs which shuttled us over to the campus. WashU is not a large campus, and occupies a rough rectangle perhaps half a mile long by a quarter mile wide. The architecture campus sticks out of the rectangle, towards the river.

Looking at maps of the area, I was surprised by the scale of St.Louis. The city itself is quite small, perhaps five miles wide and six to seven miles deep, but it is ringed by about 90 smaller municipalies and suburbs, which give it the sprawl. It is interesting in comparison to Phoenix, which basically annexed every small community that grew into it. WashU sits on the boundary of the city, technically in a part of town called University City. I think the term city is being used fairly liberally here, as University City looks like it would be dwarfed by even Ponca City.

Anyway, the university is fairly surrounded by parkland and residential neighborhoods. The main campus looks very prestigious, with castleated battlements, and a general tudor/gothic style, despite being constructed at the turn of the last century. The architecture campus mostly comprises of two buildings mated together, a 1960s modern with a folded plate roof, and a modernized beaux arts style, which is an older building. It's a quirky combination. There's a small library and a warren of computer labs, 3 laser cutters, and various 3D printers and CNC machines. Definately capable of handling digital fabriction.

A continental breakfast had been laid out for us and we ate and mingled with the other arriving students. A very large contingent of University of Florida students showed up. Actually, of the students who would be entering the 2+ program, literally HALF are Gators. This is a little disconcerting to me, especially after overhearing a conversation about what a great convenience laser cutters are and how relieved they are that WashU has three of them. The whole thing conveyed such dislike of craft it made me wonder how they would be as studio mates. I should not judge the entire group though, and I have to admit that as admitted students, they must have been held to the same rigid academic and design standards, so we'll see. Most of the visiting students I talked to at the open house seemed pretty sure that Wash U was going to be their top choice of schools.

Breakfast was followed by a day of short rotating lectures across several rooms. There were a series of half hour sessions that students rotated around to check out sessions that most interested them. Sessions dealt with various aspects such as study abroad, digital media, representation, introduction to professors, thesis projects, etc. etc. A lot of information, but clearly presented.

Wash U has a very large program- about 300 architecture graduates. There is essentially one program, roughly a three year cirriculum, and students enter at one of three points based on their undergraduate degree and transcripts. Saori and I would enter the 2+ program, which is five semesters in length. The first semester 'core studio' is required, and then the next four semesters have option studios, where we pick out of a dozen studios which we want to take. It's an interesting vertical studio where 2nd year students will mix and work with 3rd year students. The last semester is the studio project/thesis.

Lunch was sandwiches, laid out in the main lobby, followed by more sessions. Saori and I had signed up to talk to a financial aid advisor and we ditched a few classes to walk around the campus a bit beforehand. It looks like a prestigious private school, with its Tudor architecture and castled battlements, although not as old as it looks (only early 1900s). The financial aid advisor talked us through our questions, didn't hurry us along, and was genuinely intent on making sure all of our questions were answered. Saori and I both were awarded scholarships to the school, and the rest of the financial aid comes in the form of different loans, which we go completely through the school.

Afterwards, we ditched more sessions to walk around the studios and see what students were working on. I liked the studio space- although individual stations are smaller than ASU's, the rooms had high ceilings and lots of natural light. The studio looked a lot like ASU's, with paper, drawings, cardboard, and foamcore everywhere, and students working on laptops. We talked to a few students at work and they were happy to explain what they were working on. We showed up just as a student led tour was ending, and then the student gave us a personal quick tour, hitting the major places of the rest of the architecture buildings.

The two major buildings are directly connected, but they are also connected underground to other buildings which house the library, art museum, computer labs, and fabrication shops. I've always liked expansive labyrinthine buildings, and it looked like there was a lot to explore.

After a final few sessions, we were released to a happy hour in the courtyard. A collection had been taken up to get clean glassware/cups for visiting students for beer. Apparently, they hold the $1 happy hour every friday afternoon. We talked more with the local students, waited in the terrifically long beer/re-beer line, and generally enjoyed the late afternoon.

At six we were shuffled into the main auditorium to listen to a lecture by Wiel Arets, a famous European architect (although I confess I'd never heard of him). The lecture was surprisingly fun. Arets is a lucky architect who gets to work with people who own castles and 7 aston-martins. The introduction by one of the faculty members was thorough and contextual, but damned near as long as the lecture and put some of the already tired and beer-befuddled audience members to sleep.

After the lecture, we were shepherded over to the main campus building, where we went into one of the grand halls with paintings and chandeliers, a la Hogwarts. We were served dinner, more wine, and more speeches and toasts with dessert and coffee.

Apparently Revit is not widely used on the campus- Rhino is standard for 3d modeling, a step up from FormZ. I sincerely hope that I'll be able to use Revit (and learn Rhino meanwhile) in studio.

When dinner was over, we were shooed out the door into waiting yellow school busses, which took us to Blueberry Hill, a massive bar with many rooms dedicated to Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, where surprise, there was more free beer. We hung out there for one drink, chatted with some former ASU students, and called it a night, catching a bus back to the hotel at 11:30.

Blog headings

Please excuse the various blog headers, as I've been having too much fun coming up with new banners. I should really take the time I'm screwing around with the graphics and work on the content.

Apr 10, 2010

A few snapshots from St.Louis

St. Louis, first night

Saori and I are on our way to St. Louis Missouri to attend an open house event. This is a pretty much chapperoned trip which will be pretty new for both of us. Once we arrive at the airport, we will be whisked away and shuttled, lectured, wined, dined, and toured. My hope is that it will be more illustrative of the school, and less marketing event.

We dropped Suki off at mom's house yesterday, cleaned up the apartment and packed last night, and this morning walked to light rail to take us to the airport. Door to Airport was about 50 minutes. The light rail takes about 25 minutes from the Encanto to Sky Harbor, but then there's waiting on both sides of that for the train to arrive and for the bus to leave and travel. So everything's pretty much moving on schedule.

Sky Harbor was more of a mess than usual- lots of people with small dogs, which is odd since I almost never see dogs at Sky Harbor. Made me wonder if there's some big weekend event that's attracting people to town. Or could just be the flow of snowbirds. I've just got a small duffle and my Freitag bag, and my duffel is feeling really empty. Room for cool souveniers I guess.

The flight is totaly full. There's just something dingy about domestic flights, like a public restroom. The plane was a little late, and the crew make no attempt to cover thier desire that they would much rather be anywhere else doing anything other than yelling at passengers to turn thier carry on luggage to fit more bags in the overhead bins. The captain welcomed us all on board once we reached cruising altitude, and welcomed us to move around the cabin. However, he added that we should all stay in our seats and keep our seat belts fastened. We're basically welcome to move around the cabin, provided we move directly the restrooms and directly back to our seats in the fastest possible way. We were futher welcomed to spend more money on depressing sandwiches and sacks of snacks, but we declined.

Flying into St. Louis, looking at the sprawl of the suburbs, my first thought was "Phoenix with trees."

We were met at the airport by members of the graduate architecture council, and they piled us all into rental vans. We were met by Jonathan and Sam. Jonathan was wearing a Skagen watch identical to mine. We piled into a rental SUV with three other students and two graduate architecture volunteers. The driver, Bloom, was a huge friendly guy who talked us through the areas of the city we were passing through. In the rented SUV's we went through the usual routine- where are you from? where did you graduate? what program would you be entering?

The graduate student voluneteers were all part of a student council of the archiecture graduates- the GAC. While Kathleen O'Donnel did most of the coordination for the event for the university, the students did all the legwork, which really made a strong impression on me. Here were architecture graduate students, some of them thesis candidates four weeks away from thier presentations, taking many hours of thier thursday, friday, and saturday to chaperone, give guided tours, chat, and drive potential students around.

Bloom dropped us off at the hotel, the Clayton buisness district Sheraton, where there was a table staffed by more students, all GAC members/volunteers, who gave us folders with information about the school, maps, and an itenerary of the next day and a half. Bloom had been talking up a woman blues singer downtown and said that, whether we choose WashU or not, for the Love of God, we had to go hear this woman sing. Saori and I liked the sound of that, so we decided to be around whenever Bloom and co was leaving, which was an indefinate time between nine and midnight. Saori asked about right hand on red turns, and whether they were legal here. Bloom told us they were totally legal. In addition, he told us that car passengers can drink, and that you can drink in public as long as the container isn't glass.

Our hotel room as nice, standard, two queen beds, nice glass shower. We dropped our luggage and went back down to take a walk. We left the hotel and walked around outside around in the late afternoon. Where we were at in Clayton was kind of odd- the hotel was in a very vertical and dense financial district with lots of towers, and then it transitioned immediately into upscale restraunts and bars, and then abruptly to woody neighborhoods. It was pretty deserted, actually, being after business hours. We strolled through neighborhoods that reminded me of nice towns in Oklahoma, or parts of Salt Lake City, and the squirrels scampered everywhere.

We were actually hunting for a convenience or grocery store to buy a gallon of water, as we've found its the best way to refill our bottles of water we take on the road. We finally came across a gourmet grocery store that reminded me strongly of AJ's ( fitting for the upscale neighborhood, I guess) and we wandered back to the hotel. We met up with some of the other students, Weng and Cord(elia) and walked to a tapas bar that had been recomended, BARcelona. Thier white sangria was pretty pathetic, but the tapas were pretty good, especially the grilled spanish sausages that reminded us of the choripan of Buenos Aires. We actually got two plates, they were so good.

After dinner, we waked back to the hotel and hung around the lobby, chatting and looking at the other architecture students, who are all immediately recognizable to each other. Most of them looked younger than we were. Around 11, Bloom returned from dinner with some other open house visitiors and whipped out his cell phone, trying to figure out rides for the small group of people who wanted to go hear his singer. It was going to be tight. He had asked but been expressly forbidden to touch the keys of the rented SUVs used to shuttle students around, and had to squeeze us into two cars. Saori and I and three others crammed ourselves into Bloom's Honda Element, we took off. On the road, he told us that his friend, the head of the GAC, had begged him to just get the visitors back to the hotel safely, and that his friend was going to have to write an apology letter. The school director was apparently less than thrilled to hear potential students were hitting a blues bar downtown for a late night before a busy day.

I forget the name of the bar. It was in a grungy district of downtown, about 300 yards from the river, next to a railway trestle bridge and a baseball stadium. Bloom generously paid the $7 cover charge for all of us, and we went in the bar. The blues band on the tiny stage by the door was fantastic- Kim Massie, a mountain of a woman, sat in a chair next to a tip jar, belting and crooning and barking the blues dominated the stage, which was bathed in red light. A lean stick of a man accompanied on sax along with a bass guitarist and a moon-faced gap-toothed painist pounding away in the corner. It was fantastic. What a voice! The small bar was packed to standing capacity, and we all stood behind the patrons sitting at the bar. Silvano, another open house visitor from Dallas, bought us a round of drinks, and I picked up a round later. The band took a break around 12:30 AM and we went outside to sit on the patio to give our legs and ears a break. We sat for awhile, talking and drinking, and finally piled back into Bloom's car around 1 AM. He took us on an impromtu tour of the St. Louis area, driving through residential neighborhoods, nightlife centers, by churches and museums pointing out a Tadao Ando crafted museum, and finally dropped us all off at the hotel again. We all staggered our way to bed around 2 AM. Our wake up call came precisely five hours later.

Apr 7, 2010


The WashU architecture program is hosting an open house over the next few days and Saori and I are going. We both paid a $300 event fee, for which WashU will fly us out, put us up in a decent hotel, feed us, transport us, and take us around to various presentations, tours, cocktail hours, etc etc. It's a pretty good deal considering $300 would just about cover airfare if we were going on our own. All we have to do tomorrow is hop on the plane.

We're both working on lists of questions. So far-
  • where's a good place to live?
  • what's studio culture like?
  • are there any good places to eat around campus?
  • are the studios more digital or handcraft oriented?
  • what's the typical credit load?
  • what studios are available?
  • when do we have the option for a semester abroad?
On the flight over, I'll brainstorm some more. Our trip will be pretty jam packed, and we get back Saturday. This should be fun- its just occurred to me that I've never even been to St.Louis, so at the very least, its a new pin in the map.

Continuing construction

This is the building I've spent the better part of three years working on, so it's pretty exciting to see the photos that trickle in every few weeks of the progress. This is either the fourth or fifth floor, and you can see how high we are by looking at the relationship to the treeline. The topping out ceremony is supposed to be next week sometime, where they celebrate the last beam being put in place. Ironically, I will be much closer to this project in Missouri than I am here in Phoenix.
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Apr 6, 2010

Ins and Outs

This is a short post about stuff I'm getting and stuff I'm getting rid of.

This week, I got a memory foam mattress topper. Our mattress sucks. We got it used off a friend who warned us about how bad it was. It sagged and gave us both backaches. On Amazon, I bought a 2" pad for about $90 which included shipping. (OnTrac, the shipping company, made UPS look good, so if you have a chance to use them, remember there's a reason they're a discount shipping company.) The new pad is great, really added a new level of comfort to an old mattress.

The other fun thing I bought was this deck of cards. It's a special deck where every card is unique, designed by one of the resident graphic artists at Black Rock Collective. Although its a little death heavy, its still a really cool and fun deck to play with.

I've made my first pass through my books, getting rid of about a third of them. Bookman's bought a sixth of that, and the rest I'm going to donate to a convenient book drop. Next: clothes.

Apr 3, 2010


The short backstory: When I graduated with my undergraduate degree in architecture, I was burned out of school. My penultimate semester was fantastic- up until that point, the highlight of my life, so for obvious reasons, my last semester was a bit of a letdown after that. I did some good work but I was beat, and in no mood to apply for graduate schools. I was anxious to work and in fact didn't even take a month off before launching myself into a full-time job.

I had intended to work for a year and go back to school, but after working six months, I was finally learning to relax and I didn't get my act together to apply in the winter of '07. Didn't even really think about it too hard. It just kind of happened that I did nothing. I worked some more. I figured two years is a good amount of time to work, and started working on applying late in year of '08. I made lists, created a portfolio, did some preliminary research, and ultimately did nothing towards applying. I sincerely wanted to find a school that would emphasise the direction I wanted my future career to take, and that internal debate crippled my action. The window of applications passed again. In 2009, it started to feel like "now or never" and I figured I'd almost rather go to ASU than not go to any graduate school.

I shot really really high. Enlisting the aid of my teachers and business associates, I applied at some of the best schools in the country. Saori and I drafted dream lists that closely resembled one anothers, although our preferences for top schools differed. At any rate, we applied for all the same schools, and Saori applied at two additional schools. Washington University was one of her suggestions, and after doing some research, I added it to my list as well.

Fast forward four months- Utah and WashU both accepted us, and none of the other schools did. It was kind of a blow for me, but not as bad as when I didn't get into Rice for my woefully clueless undergraduate application. If I had not applied to WashU, I would have gone to Utah, which has its own advantages, but to have been rejected from Rice and Berkeley, where I thought my chances had been fair, that felt like misjudgement on my part. Definite misjudgement on Rice, which only offers 12 seats anyway.

Washington University in St.Louis is a great school- its probably one of the top 10 programs in the country. It's private, looks a lot like one of those old prestigious universities, and St. Louis will let us keep a quality of life comparable to what we have here in Phoenix. Everyone I've talked who graduated from the school or currently attending has nothing but rave things to say about it. But I'm not excited. I don't mean it as a snub- I'm incredibly lucky to have been selected. It just doesn't make my heart sing.

Maybe it's the silver medal effect- my own latent superiority complex that tells me I'm a genius architect that needs to go the best school in the world. It's totally ridiculous and egotistical, but nagging nonetheless.

Maybe part of it is my own inertia and fear of change. I've been living the life of a salaryman, paid vacations, walking to work, Saori making lunch for me every day, and its a little scary going back into an environment where our daily patterns get shot to hell, my sleep is cut in half, and I have to kick my brain back into high gear. Three years of professional work has a way of smothering the brain, and I'm worried about my levels of creativity and commitment to design, knowing what's waiting on the "real world." Part of my mental preparation is going to be building up that motivation by focusing on that core, that nugget upon which all else rests, that will be the only thing to carry me through studio.

At the same time, part of it may be fear of more of the same. That my life will not really change at all, at the heart of things, and that this move to St. Louis is simply the next step in a slide to mediocrity. To be honest, for the past few years, I've let myself be content to slide. Not really working hard on getting my experience logged, getting experience here and there, getting LEED certified, but not pushing myself on my own standards.

I'm nervous about money too. I've never been a starving student- I've watched my expenses, but my tuition was covered through scholarship at ASU, and I've always had a safety net. I don't know what this school is going to set me back ultimately, and how long it will take for me to get out of it's debt. Architecture graduate schools is not as expensive as law or medicine, almost, but not quite, but then architects don't make nearly as much as lawyers of doctors. So it's really down to what you make of it. When I started this search, as well, I looked at program- not at cost.

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm is really one of reflection- consideration of the epic task of rising to the challenge of graduate school, to work at the level that I need be working at, and with a further eye to the future. A mountaineer who has just won a spot on the Everest ascent team does not exactly hop around.

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