Nov 30, 2010

Arizona Blues

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

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

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

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

Nov 28, 2010

Passing the Critical Desalinization Point

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

Nov 27, 2010

Settling into Ubuntu

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

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

Thanksgiving Wednesday

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

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

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

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

Nov 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 21, 2010

transportation options

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

Nov 19, 2010

What is architecture?

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 18, 2010

Crock Pot Days

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 16, 2010

Firm Crawl- First blush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 13, 2010

Welcome to the real fall

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

Projects due this semester- here we go!

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

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

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

Nov 7, 2010

Hello Ubuntu

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

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

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

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


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

Nov 1, 2010

On collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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...