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, ...it 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.

Oct 11, 2010

Small things

There are small things I'm discovering living in a place with a seasonal climate. There's a huge difference between going to someplace in the middle of fall, and experiencing the change of seasons firsthand.

For one thing, I never knew how the leaves changed. I always kind of thought they changed at the same time, entire trees turning from green to yellow to red. I was pleasantly surprised by how I was wrong. The trees here change, but not all together. The extents of the tree, the topmost boughs and outside fringes begin to turn first, and it slowly migrates through the tree, following an unseen path, never exactly top-down. The trees are swirls of color.

The squirrels are running around like crazy these days. I don't actually go to school at a college campus, its a squirrel reserve. Especially the main quad areas.

We had to toss our pumpkin today. The one we bought together that was intended to be our halloween pumpkin was partially eaten by bunnies and then started attracting flies and ants. Jack be nibbled makes Jack go quick.

Oct 10, 2010

Adios Comida Buena

Time passes by so quickly its too cliche. Where did this weekend go?

Friday studio review was ok. I've felt really frustrated lately. My anger in general surprises me. I'm sure part of it is the frustration of wanting to do a really thorough job on research and design work that really interests me, but not having enough time to do it, or work that proceeds way to slowly or doesn't take me anywhere. Part of it is my conflict towards form- my projects look really boring because I'm focusing on other things, but not really successfully on other things. I'm curious to see what an architecture school experience would be like that is not founded on representational drawings.

Friday night was kind of fun- we wanted some Mexican food, so I did some research online until I found one of the top contenders in a thread on Chowhound.com I was following. Arcelia's. Cheezy decor ok. Bad tortilla chips and weak salsa, alarm bells going off. What is the deal that you can't get decent tortilla chips in this town? The chile colorado I had was not bad, but overall pretty mediocre experience. The tamales were good, but the bottle of Tecate I had while I was there set me back nearly $4 which is pretty ridiculous. We agreed that we need to find the Mexican neighborhood of St.Louis and find someplace that offers tacos de lengua and menudo on sundays. 

The neighborhood the mexican restaurant was in was pretty cool though- Lafayette square. Lots of upscale boutiques, bars, wine bars, art galleries, and what looked like some pretty happening nightlife. Beautiful old architecture. Really one of the prettiest areas of St.Louis I've seen so far. 

Studio pretty much all day saturday and sunday. Saturday night we had Dew (a mutual japanese friend of ours) over for dinner, and he and Saori whipped up some shabu-shabu and soups and rice that was pretty good, plus a grape cake they found in a magazine. That was pretty much our weekend entertainment. 

Oct 7, 2010


Here's an example of how my process flow works.
I have three types of apartment units, each a different size, that I put together in a somewhat rational or potentially interesting way. I'm using Revit to do all of this work at this point. Each unit is actually an identical component so that later on, I can edit that component and all of the units of the same type will change. Once I had the basic unit blocks, in Revit it's simple to put them together and move them around. The purple blocks are two bedrooms, the light blue blocks are one bedrooms, and the green blocks are studios.
I've also created a site model in Revit, which I link this file into to let me see how my massing works in the site- that is, how it relates to buildings nearby, how it looks at the corner, scale, etc.
I have a corner site with two massive buildings to the west and southwest of me, and a big ugly postmodern governmental building directly to the east which creates an ugly triangle of parking. From a bird's eye view, it would look something like this:

I've actually set this image up in a very deliberate way, since I have an image taken from Microsoft Bing maps that has almost identical point of view in relation to the site. As masses, these don't really tell me that much, and its better to look at the building in more detail. So I take this image into photoshop with the Bing aerial photography, and in about two minutes I have this:
Using the same techniques from different perspectives within my Revit model, I take snapshots of my digital model that correspond to actual photos I've taken of the site.
And with the same process in photoshop, bring this image into the photograph. There is a bit of set up work where I have to trace out the tree and the light pole and the traffic light, but once you set up the foreground as a layer, I can quickly swap in buildings to test them out. This lets me really get a feel for how the building might feel in the site. I've set up about three or four of these kinds of images from different places around the site, so it really streamlines the process. 

Week in Review

It's been a busy week. Work in studio progresses- yesterday, I was commended for my good work ethic in producing stuff (although I'm not sold on how well I'm designing or looking at the site context on many different layers). A large part of that is the tools I've learned over my four years of college plus the three years of working.  It lets me get a lot of stuff done in a very short amount of time- or rather, it lets me test concepts and prototype very quickly.

This week we're talking about issues of race in the urban context- I'm doing a lot of readings on the historical, cultural, and political backgrounds, especially on the phenomenon of persistent poverty in inner-city black neighborhoods. Lots of theories out there- racial segregation causes a concentration of low incomes in small area, the loss of community leaders and role models as the working middle class black population moved to better neighborhoods or suburbia, most interesting is the idea that civil rights activism gave the black communities civic representation, which shifted the issues surrounding poverty over to bureaucratized government agencies which view problems in isolation instead of community organizations which view issues more holistically. It's interesting readings.

I'm working with another guy on a research paper on biological models as inspiration for the Japanese metabolists, Constant, and Archigram, and the research material is looking very thin right now, definitely need to dig a little deeper into the struggle to actually find reference materials.

And then there's environmental systems, which feels like its taking up way too much of my time for a pretty simple, technical course in site planning and climate.

Oct 3, 2010

Gringo Jones and Mr. Wizard

This morning we stayed at home, drank tea, watched the trees and squirrels outside, and did three loads of laundry while working our way through some readings on the Japanese metabolists. The readings are due monday, the trees are turning yellow at the edges, and the laundry was on its way to overtaking our bedroom. It is so nice to be able to do laundry without quarters and to do it in the comfort of one's own home. Luxury. 

This afternoon around 3, I put one of our large Mexican blankets on the futon, which made the futon mesh a lot more with our other stuff- that is to say, textured, warm, woody, and eclectic. We both liked it so much it made me wonder if there is a Mexican blanket futon out there. Turns out, no. Or at least, not readily found on the internet. So I started thinking about where we could find a large Mexican blanket, which led me to Gringo Jones Imports. The reviews were intriguing, so we drove down and checked it out. Interesting, no blankets to speak of, but fun nonetheless. Cultural artifacts of a different kind from an older city. 

After browsing that we, headed to Mr. Wizards Frozen Custard on Big Bend, south of Manchester. Good stuff. We got a mix of frozen custard with pumpkin pie. They called it a "concrete" because I suppose "freeze" "blizzard" et al are taken. Anyway, it was delicious and we bought a pumpkin at the temporary pumpkin patch they'd set up in the parking lot. We put the pumpkin on the porch and we're both feeling happy and excited for october.

It has been colder though. The floors are getting to the point where I have to wear slippers or socks to stay warm. Today was around a high in the mid 60s, although next week we'll get back up to the 70s again.

Site Night

I'm noticing that I'm starting to forget when my last postings are. The workload is just picking up to the point where we're pretty much working until we can no longer keep our heads upright and then crashing in bed.

Friday we had desk crits in studio. (Desk crits are where instructors come around to your desk and you talk about your work). After the critique, we all went down for a happy hour beer. We met Richard, a friend of ours from ASU, who is also a recent graduate from Wash U. He gave us a bunch of foam and basswood and acrylic since he's leaving town for Seattle tomorrow. We hauled it all upstairs and then we went to grab some Pho at a place near our home. Afterwards, it was still relatively early, so we browsed the E&J shoes across the street before going to Target to look at drafting chairs.

The school provides us with wood stools which are comfortable for about ten minutes, two if you've happened to be bicycling to school that day. So I picked up a $40 desk chair from Target that is unfortunately about 2-3 inches too low.

Saturday we went into studio as soon as woke up (sleeping in a bit I admit) and started working on our section of the site model, building tiny wooden buildings at 1/32" scale, and trying to make them fit into the CNC'd MDF base. The problem with the CNC machine is that it uses a router bit to cut, so you always get rounded corners in the indentations. We started chisling the corners out with a very tiny chisel, until one of the shop minders showed us a very small, unlikely tool- its basically a punch that does exactly what we needed- you hit the top with a hammer, and it punches a clean corner. So that sped things up. Tons of sawdust in the air though from all the people sanding roof pitches down though.

That took actually a lot of time. We didn't finish until about 3pm. Afterwards, I got a little bit of studio work done and then we decided it would be good to go home and read about the 60 pages of reading we have to do for monday morning and do some laundry. So we did that, not so much reading, not so much laundry, but definately some kitchen and house policing.

Around 8 o'clock at night, we went to pick up Chuck (aka ZhuLi) and we drove to the site to see what it was like at night. This may not have been the safest idea in the world considering that the larger area we are going to (CWE) has one of the highest crime rates in the city of St.Louis itself. But we left our valuables at home, took a stripped down wallet, no cameras, and with a group of three people, we were much more defensible than one person. We parked on Euclid, south of Delmar, and had trouble finding parking. This is a good sign because people definately come to the area at night for the upscale restaurants, bars, etc. We walked by a rental ballroom in an old mansion where the smokers and drinkers had spilled out into the port-cochere. My site, on the corner north of Delmar, was pretty dead and deserted. Badly lit, uninviting. Interestingly, the parking lot was still a quarter full. Up the street, in the northern Fountain Park neighborhood, which is the area with a lot of crime, there were some people having a loud conversation basically shouting at each other from the street to the porch.

Chuck's site next to Bowood Farms was pretty quiet, but felt a lot more safe. We were all amazed at the levels of site lighting in that neighborhood south of Delmar. At all time it was entirely well lit, even with thick tree canopies overhead. The streets could have been in Disneyland at night it was so bright. Not many people walking around through, more towards the Euclid street bars/restaurants, although there was some kind of Freemason event that was attracting people on Olive towards Taylor, and there was a live outdoor benefit concert on Taylor and another street I forget the name.

We could hear the music from a few blocks away and took an alley up to find out where it was coming from. The alley was about as well lit as the street, significantly. It turned out to be a blues concert put on by one of the local community groups who were raising money for children's education. There was a pretty decent turn out. The whole thing was taking place on a grassy lot outside of a large old brick building which might be a school of some kind. What was interesting was that by use of a spotlight, the side of the building was basically appropriated as a backdrop. It made me think about how my site in terms of using what is around it not as relational context of height or shape, but as a potential backdrop for my project.

Anyway, we ran into a few bike police as well. I was kind of intrigued since you don't see bike police much. They were patrolling the neighborhood. Apparently, they were off duty police officers employed by a private security firm which is paid by the neighborhood. They said that their 'beat' was an area bounded by Olive on the north, Taylor on the east, and a few streets beyond Euclid to the west. Essentially, they were patrolling the nicer, upscale area of CWE. I have a feeling that my site was not under anyone's patrol.

We did stop by a pretty cool bookstore, Left Bank Books, on the corner of MacPhereson and Euclid. Upstairs new books, downstairs used. I could see myself spending a lot of time there. We did actually spend about 30-40 minutes browsing the selection. Apparently its a spot on the book tour itenteraries too as they had a lot of autographed copies of books. Even though I've read it about a dozen times, I still couldn't resist picking up an autographed copy of William Gibson's Neuromancer, especially when it was on sale for the jacket price. My inner geek celebrated.

Afterwards, we went grocery shopping since Chuck doesn't have a car and then dropped him off and went home with our groceries. Got a little reading done before passing out.

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...