Sep 30, 2010

that Flirt

Last night, we went to Dew's apartment for a study party. We picked up a couple of pizzas and popped open our laptops, and jumped in to a celebration of solar angles and shading strategies for various latitudes. Such strenuous partying left me kind of tired, so I whipped out my dog-eared copy of The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique, and Invention and read that for awhile until I realized I was reading the same paragraph over and over again, at which point I passed out. My hardcore friends kept the party going until about 2 am, when they were heavily involved with the transformation of pineapple contours and gecko eyes into rationalized  three-dimensional surfaces.

Fall, that flirt, is teasing us again. A flash of red and yellow leaves, cool air brushing past us in the square, a sudden scent in the air. We stop and say, ah, Fall is here, but she is not here, and there is only the old Indian slowly roasting us on the fire. It is still nice, because we know that sooner or later we will catch her, and Fall will be all ours for a short, exhilarating time.
At least, until she becomes that Bitch, winter.

Sep 27, 2010

Suddenly, Fall.

All of a sudden, it's fall here.

Saori really missed her mom yesterday, as we dropped Yoshiko-san off at the airport pretty early in the morning. She's flying on to visit her other daughter in New Orleans.

Sunday was cold and rainy, and we wore our Peruvian bufandas to school. Picked up some rasberry and lemon and ginger scones at Winslow's Home on the way to school, and they were really, really expensive. But also incredibly delicious. The day flew by mostly due to the ambigously gray skies, but also because we were working on the site model, milling and gluing and cutting MDF to make 1/32" scale buildings.

At 1/32", 1 inch is equal to 32 feet. A matchbox would be about the size of a one-story commercial building.

I've really gotten to enjoy using the wood shop. There's something really fun and involved about using tools to shape wood. The whole thing about "making" and the feedback loop. We needed a partial cylinder for a building, and we didn't have a compass, but I was able to mark points to approximate the curve, used the band saw to rough out the curves, and belt sand the whole thing down to the curve I drew. I was pretty proud of that.

Today was clear and cool and sunny, and I biked down to the project site I'm studying. This is located in northern central west end, a little less than a 30 minute bike ride down Delmar from where I live. I biked down and hung around the site for about two hours, making observations, taking photos, and listening in on conversations. Here's the site- on the corner of Delmar and Euclid:

View Larger Map

The site is really the most busy out of all of the sites our studio is considering. As Delmar divides our area of study like a broad river, the site really belongs to the neighborhood to the north rather than to the south, which is the gateway to more upscale and revitalized and commercial central west end. To the east of the site is a large ugly Missouri career center. To the southwest and northwest, two massive brick buildings, one residential, one commercial, both over 6 stories high and really creating a gateway on either side of Delmar.

There were two guys at the bus stop across the street from my site. One was an elderly pensioner who came out to watch the birds and get some sunshine, the other not as old, but graying. The conversation ranged in areas I didn't expect- at one moment they were discussing $5000 water-cooled gaming computers. Also of interest was their commentary on this Friday's dispersement of welfare checks- apparently the area goes crazy, with people buying up cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol, and how 'five days later' those people are broke again and asking for money. Apparently, in light of the economic depression, area pawn shops are booming and a new one opened up near my site. Something that also caught my ear was that many landlords won't rent to people with drug convictions. I don't blame them, but it makes me wonder where those people go- if it actually drives them to worse conditions and deeper into drug culture and poverty. It suggests to me that extremely strong drug laws would then actually exacerbate the societal problems that come with with drug abuse.

At any rate, I wonder if this kind of information should come into my considerations for architecture at all- after all, people are people, and I've always believed strongly that architecture should be egalitarian, regardless of income level. I was going to say "lifestyle" but housing is so intimately tied to lifestyle, is should in some way acknowledge people's lifesyles (either indirectly, but creating spaces that allow the user to configure and use as they like or deliberate and specifically designing places for activities). But as architecture is inherently ideological, I'm not going to deliberately design the ideal drug warren. Or maybe I should, and do it so deliberately as to expose it architecturally in order to spark conflict. Modernists might take the former approach, or even take it beyond, claiming architectural determinism of space would discourage drug use. Postmodernists would take the latter approach.

I'm not trying to associate poverty and drug use here; I'm just saying these are two conditions which exist which I may need to address in this project. In either case, security and the perception of defensible space is a much more relevant design principle. (By defensible space and security, I mean to say, do the people who live there feel secure?)

Anyway, some other questions the site brings up- how will the building relate to the neighborhood to the north, which is primarily single family row housing? How will it relate to the 8 story residential tower block to the immediate west? Will the building belong to the high speed of Delmar or the slow speed of Euclid? Where do you build if you're surrounded by streets and parking lots?

Sep 26, 2010

Tom and Becky my Mark Twain

Yesterday we had a sleepy morning since we were recovering from the long day before. We each got about 9 hours of sleep and then went to lunch at Osage Cafe at the Bowood farms close to our project site in CWE. It was a spectacularly beautiful day, cool, breezy, and sunny, and we sat by a window in front  of a planter in the giant greenhouse/warehouse while we ate. Saori ordered a delicious tomato risotto with shrimp and andouille sausage, and Yoshiko-san and I both got the 'Brie L.T." which was essentially an open sandwich with smoked canadian bacon, melted brie, and covered with arugula. Pretty good potato salad too, with a mix of red potatoes and dijon mustard.

Afterwards, we picked up Zhuli, a friend of ours from studio and drove out to Hannibal, about a 2 hour journey by car. Hannibal, birthplace of Mark Twain, is a small town with a few walkable streets in the old main street, and nearly every store and restaurant makes a reference to the author. There's a massive "Hotel Mark Twain," several musuems, dozens of stores selling books, rotating figures, and everywhere are placards and posters for Tom and Becky competitions, Mark Twain Live, Tom Sawyer steamboat adventures, and lantern tours of Mark Twain cave. We did actually want to take a lantern tour, but unfortunately we came too late in the season: the bats were already beginning their hibernation for the winter. We were able to do the regular tour of the Mark Twain cave, however.

I was kind of expecting a cave cave, like the amazing caves they have in Arizona and New Mexico, with phenomenal caverns, stalactites and stalagmites everywhere. This was a pretty staid cave. Only a few stalactites, basically a crisscrossing network of slots through the limestone. It was more of a historic cave rather than a geologic cave. Supposedly, the adventures of Tom Sawyer was semi-autobiographical and that the cave described towards the climax of the book was this actual cave, and references landmarks within the cave. Apparently, parents in the town let their kids play in the caves all the time- when the kids would go in, they would write thier name on a slate at a certain point of the cave, and when they left, they would erase it to let the rest of the people know that they got out safely. It would have been a lot of fun to run around with my friends in the darkness of the cave with nothing but a candle.

Anyway, after the cave, we drove the 2 hours back to St.Louis in the drizzling rain and enjoyed dinner at LuLu's Chinese food, which was actually pretty good.

Sep 24, 2010


Wednesday night, Saori, Yoshiko, and I went to the first meeting of SEED. This is a nascent organization that a few idealistic architects in St.Louis are attempting to form a local branch. SEED is patterned off of LEED, and is essentially a certification system for issues of social as well as environmental sustainability. While I applaud the effort and certainly think that designers should consider the local socioeconomic implications of their projects, I wonder how appropriate the "certification" model works towards the aim of fostering social equity.

Yesterday was a long day. We started the day off early, getting to school around 8 am, and I immediately jumped into finishing my climate homework which was due at 2:30. When that was reasonably in shape, I headed over the library and re-photocopied a Jane Jacobs essay on the politics of difference and started working on that. I really love my Reconsidering the Margins class, but we do get an absolute bucketload of reading each week, and every week I fall a little farther behind in the readings. The material is dense, tightly packed, jargon heavy. The vocabularly list I've started keeping of unfamilar terms and people is already several pages long. Words like
ascriptive, astheticization, Benthamite, carceral, derieve, Gemeinschaft, and irredentism, for example.

This weeks topic was rather complicated and wide ranging as it covered the difficulties in reconciling democracy and diversity, especially as it applies to the control of urban space. There was an interesting example about some developers who wanted to transform a run-down industrial area into a "lifestyle center" (outdoor shopping mall/entertainment district). Between the time of the industrial area's decline and this proposal, there was a movement/agenda to recognize Aboriginal rights, officially sanctioned by the government, which involved the mapping of sites sacred to the Aborigines. This industrial site, it emerged, was the resting place of the Waugal, the dreaming snake. Interesting, efforts on behalf of the developers to placate the Aborigines only served to increase the racial and cultural tensions. The developers first attempted to precisely map where the Waugal was sleeping so they could perhaps develop around it. Unsurprising, the results were inconclusive.

Next, the developers attempted to compromise with some rather insulting and token efforts to 'bridge the difference' by creating a on site gallery for showcasing a permanent collection of Aboriginal artwork, and also by creating a serpentine walkway that lead from the parking lot to the shopping center. Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, these efforts at compromise actually strengthened the resolve of the Aborigines to prevent the development from proceeding. The end result was not surprising, the courts sided with the developers, the area was cleared and construction proceeded.

Anyway, we had our climate workshop yesterday, and then I scrambled to finish writing my response paper, which turned out to be absolutely terrible. Thankfully, they are only one page minimum. These response papers are not supposed to be summaries of what we have read. Rather, they are analytical, where we are expected to argue readings against each other, or discuss overall themes in the lens of personal experience. This paper was worse than a summary, as it failed to even summarize the position I was writing from. Hmm. Not so great.

What was good was Thursday was a lecture night, where a famous architect who happened to be in town gave a lecture. His firm had recently won the professional industry firm of the year award, which was ironic as the firm split almost immediately afterwards. I liked this architect much more than the previous one. He's a person who saw architectural in very sculptural terms, in the cumulative effects of small gestures and materials, like filling a window up with ping pong balls to filter the light and remove glare. Very sculptural. Apparently, he pays a person in his office to essentially screw around with materials and forms. At any rate, we got some free cheese and melon and we missed the first 2/3 of our Reconsidering the Margins class.

After the class, I went back up to studio and worked until 3 AM. Saori and I drove home, and I took a quick shower and crashed for three hours. We were back at school at 7 AM to keep working. It's not even a project, it's simply researching and very basic analysis of housing projects. There's just been so much else going on that's been demanding attention we havn't had suffienient time to make a deep impact on it. Saori hit the library over the last week, accumulating massive towers of books on housing, while I tended to focus way to much on what I could find on

Anyway, the school food services put on another BBQ this afternoon, so picked up a locally made grilled sausage on a roll. mmmmmmm....

Our presentations went well. I got good comments on my program analysis, and my instructor liked the clarity of my graphics depicting the changes in kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms over the past 100 years. Afterwards, happy hour down in the plaza where I drank the first hard cider of the season. Also mmmmm.

Saori's mom made us a great dinner, and now we're wiped so I'm going to bed.

Sep 22, 2010

Harry Potter and the Flaming Wok

The design hive of the Sam Fox school of design and art is an interlocking collection of buildings with numerous studios, auditoriums, workshops, classrooms, and computer labs. However, if you just want a nice place to read or study, you find yourself a bit hard pressed. The coffee shop/snack bar which one would think might have some nice spaces to sit and read while you sip your coffee has the misfortune of being located in Steinberg hall. Japanese Metabolist Fumihiko Maki's first commission, the spaces are cold, angular, pristine white circulation spaces full of light and uncompromising hard planar forms. Even the coffee bar is white. The scattering of a few standing height tables in the corner of the large terrazzo covered space has the feeling of an international airport. It's a very cosmopolitain space, but it is just to transitory for focused study.

The architecture library is the other possibility, and is actually Saori's preferred place of study. There is apparently two chairs along a wall near the stacks that she is fond of. I'm not a huge fan of that library for studying - I don't like sitting and reading in subterranean large spaces. Sitting in the main reading room feels like being in the bottom of a large square white pit. There is daylight provided by large high windows, but the scale makes me feel small, and exposed. There's no wood, no color, and a bare minimum of texture. I like reading spaces to be comfortable, and I'm just not comfortable in those spaces.

Yesterday, I discovered the the East Asian library in January hall, which was the former law school. This is less than a five minute walk from the architecture building, but completely removed in atmosphere and feel. The building was built in 1922, and like other buildings around the campus, is done in collegiate Gothic style. The interior spaces are primerily offices with a large lecture hall at one end, but on the second floor, there is a double height interior space which houses the library. When I found it, the HongKongese librarian aide welcomed me to the "Harry Potter Library." It does bear a resemblance to the dining hall at Hogwarts actually. Bookshelves line the walls with high windows above them along the sides of the hall, rising up to interior wooden buttresses to a gothic arched ceiling. At the end of the library, there is a huge bay window with two easy chairs. It feels like the place hasn't changed much from the 1920, although it looks like there was some addional work done in the 60's-70's. One of the bookcases had a "No Smoking" sign attached to it. Surreally, this gothic space is full of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese books, but there is still that wonderful "old book" smell to it. This is where I like to read.

Sep 20, 2010

Studio at the Crossroads

Saori and I watched The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly over a period of about a week where we could find the time to sit down. I was surprised by how much I liked it. The hokey spaghetti western-ness of it belied its surprisingly rich story and complex themes and characters. And the flashy style and music was a lot of fun too. Great opening titles.

In studio, our group is at a bit of a crossroads. We have only two deliverables- a 3D digital model of the site with relatively accurate buildings, and a physical model with simplified buildings. The models must show topography, streets, and buildings. Since we already have the plans via GIS data, its actually a relatively simple matter of dividing up the map and extruding buildings. The base (topography) is going to be several layers of MDF that we're actually going to mill down in a CNC machine. This means that we're going to feed a computer file of topography to a 3D routing machine that will carve the site. Saves us a lot of work. (In theory at any rate, although new technologies/techniques always have an additional learning curve before they become more efficient than the older way).

The issue is these site buildings, a collection of about a hundred small residences, businesses, and community buildings that inhabit the squared half mile of the site. We are currently divided on the appropriate direction of how to represent them. We can use a laser cutting machine to score and cut tiny houses out of chipboard and simply fold them into little boxes, or we can trim down boards and chop them up and sand them to approximate the shapes. Either way, it says there's going be a lot of work for wednesday, when this is all due.

Also due for studio, parallel to all of this, is a project of research and housing. We are asked to pick three categories of housing (or really, aspects that interest us) and find examples of each for an analysis and reduction of the formal gesture to a parti sketch. I've been mining ArchDaily a lot for examples, although I've been told I should really look to more historical precedent in that book I picked up from Amazon. Anyway, there's more analysis of space and of scale thats also due Friday, but in general, it feels like a light studio week.

Today, Saori's mom came to school and went to classes. Not with us, she took the light rail down and went into a class discussing classical Japanese texts. Then she went to another class the professor of the first one recommended and after that, she walked through the art museum on campus before returning back to the apartment. The last two nights, she's made us delicious Japanese dinners.

But before we could have dinner, we went to the monday night lecture series. Tonights lecture was rather underwhelming. Perhaps it was the disadvantage of following such a charismatic and dynamic previous lecturer, but his work was just kind of uninspiring. Although there were some interesting moments, for the most part his work seemed to be merely the development of conservative projects one might do at a level of architecture school. There appeared to me to be a lack of theoretical cohesion, an over-reliance on "tips and tricks", a hesitancy of either making a bold statement or wanting too do too much with other spaces.

To his credit, he gets his work built (a marked achievement), and it doesn't look like typical buildings (another marked achievement). By putting work out there that challenges the public conception of what is architecture, he is, at the very least, elevating the cause and role of architecture in people's lives. However, I sense that he falls into the belief, common to certain Modernists, that the role of the architect is to convince the public that a certain 'style' is beautiful.

And perhaps I'm projecting here too, to a certain extent- possibly my own latent fears of merely being a competent architect, but never really making that great leap in the field in the way that some architects seem to be able to do. Either way, its good to be self-critical- I recently realized that I'm making huge assumptions about housing that reveal clear stances on the way people ought to be living, without ever really examining those theories and the values behind them.

Architecture is an inherently political act, but it is also an expression of values. Values underpin theory, which directs all design, whether or not the acting theory is acknowledged.

Sep 19, 2010

Books + Balloons, Family + Futons

Amazon Prime for students is dangerously coming close to instant gratification. In studio Friday afternoon, a book was being discussed that was in high demand among the students, a reference of key works of housing projects that looked very helpful. I jumped on Amazon and ordered a copy for $28 (list price $45). Instead of the two day shipping, I spent an additional $4 for the overnight. It was at my door by 9 AM the next day. Nice.

This weekend, STL is host to a balloon festival. Friday night, Saori and I were both burned out from studio, and from our previous weekend of housing workshop, so we decided that it would be a nice break to go see the "balloon glow." This is an event where all the hot air balloons are inflated in the middle of the giant fields in forest park at dusk/evening and are periodically lit up from inside by their flamers, turning into giant glowing lanterns.

We walked to the light rail station by the school and took it one stop to the middle of the edge of forest park. It was still about a mile walk, but it was fun to be surrounded by other StLouisians, wandering through a giant dark forest park. It made me really feel like a local for the first time. When we finally crested the hill, we were greeted by the glare of arc lamps, illuminating a dusty field of people milling around in line for various food stalls and tents, and beyond were the great balloons. We walked through the throngs of people, trying not to step on encamped families, darkness punctuated by waving LED swords and wands, and the occational flare from a balloon flame. Every five minutes or so, air horns would sound, and all the balloons would flame together, filling the field with an orange glow. It was really cool and surreal, wandering around. There was a giant beer bottle, an energizer bunny, a building block sized bag of popcorn and cyclopean can of Pepsi in addition to the other regular balloon shapes. 

Saturday was actually kind of nice since we pretty much dedicated the day to cleaning the apartment and doing laundry. There's something so nice about walking on clean, grit free, wood floors. Late saturday afternoon, we picked up Saori's mom at the airport and took her back to our apartment, where she'll be staying for the next week. 

And here are some photos of Suki and our cheap but reasonably looking futon in situ.

Sep 18, 2010

Fall Fashion Week!

It's Fall Fashion Day at the Blazing Sun, that time at the end of summer when school starts, and we look at current trends and fashions among the graduate architecture school community.

Watchword for the season: sustainability! But not just the green kind anymore! From recycled materials to welfare-commerce, we architecture students can't get enough of expensive accessories that subtly highlight our commitment to the environment/social equity.

The Messenger Bag 
Chrome has supplanted Freitag as the new it bag. As some of my long term readers may be aware, when I was in Paris, I picked up a Freitag bag. Freitag bags have been very popular with gen-y yuppies, because (A) no two bags are alike (B) there's a heavy graphic component to the bag (C) its a messenger bag, which is the only approved way to carry things among the gen-yY, and (D) its made of recycled materials and more importantly, it highlights the fact you care about sustainability. In all honesty, they are good bags, overpriced, but simple good design, and weatherproof.

However, some enterprising people in San Fran, the epicenter of gen-yY culture, said hey, if you're going to blow $140 on a messenger bag, make it damned near indestructible and waterproof, and at lets at least give people an extra strap so it doesn't slide around their backs while bicycling, which is really the biggest fault with messenger bags. They also hold a lot of stuff, like a large backpack worth of stuff. Saori has one and its funny how many people come up to her in studio and ask her how she likes it and how they're thinking about getting one too, but that they're really expensive. Expect to see rising numbers of these across graduate and undergraduate schools across the country, especially in fields sensitive to design and cultural trends.

The Watch
We're seeing a lot of old favorites floating around this year- the stainless steel Skagen watch is still a perennial classic- incredibly thin, understated, and the brushed stainless steel or titanium case and woven mesh band fall in the category of watches that at first glance look like a mid-priced watch, but then you look closer and it seems more expensive, but in actuality, they're not that expensive, but a little more expensive than a mid-priced watch.
Also in that same category is the simple black Swatch watch, plastic band and case, with clean Swiss graphics and design. Utilitarian, rugged, goes with anything. (coincidently, I have both of these watches). We're also seeing a little more exuberance with the introduction of Alessi watches. 

The Metal Water Bottle 
A standard item now for everyone, undergraduate, graduate, and faculty alike, these metal cannisters, either aluminum or stainless steel, come in all price points and graphics. Setting the standard is still the Sigg bottle. Leave your beat up Nalgene bottles at home, and if you're drinking from a throw-away PETE or PET bottle, you might as well be drowning endangered species in an oil spill.

The Travel Mug
The defining mark of the graduate architecture student is the spill-resistant insulated mug, either in brushed stainless steel or neutral recycled plastic. These mugs travel everywhere with the students, keeping their coffee (or yerba mate) warm for those three hour seminars and long nights in studio.

The Casual Shoe
With all the recycled products on the market today, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability is as easy as  taking the light rail to Target. But one problem that has traditionally plagued the design community is the difficulty in conveying a sense of social consciousness. There are work arounds, like the Habitat for Humanity tee shirt, but its difficult to pull off a casual and subtle sign that you Care. Well, no longer! Peek under your studio desk and you'll be confronted with a wide array of Toms peasant shoes. This retailer donates one pair of shoes a child in need with every pair sold, and come in materials ranging from organic cotton to hand painted vegan burlap. They actually look pretty comfortable for hanging around in studio, although we wonder how they would hold up outside.

No surprises here- black, chunky plastic frames keep the spotlight this year. Whether you need them or not, ever since Le Corbusier, nothing says "Architect" more than thick black frames.

Medium is the message

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