Dec 31, 2011

Lists from 2011

Lessons for next semester

  1. Spend the right amount of time in studio. I've realized the risk of not putting enough time in studio, but I'm overcompensating, spending all my surplus time in studio. Studio becomes home, the socialization place, rather than the working place. 'Come in, work, leave' is the way it needs to go. My productivity slid last semester and went straight to hell this semester.
  2. Make models. My craft is good, I'm most intuitive working with physical models, and it ultimately moves me to where I need to be. People relate to reality much more intuitively. I need to be making models from the beginning through the end. Model making as a methodology.
  3. Abandon Revit. It's a great production tool and is one of the industry standards, but its a production tool, not a design tool. You try to design a shark, you end up with a refrigerator. It has its uses, but not in the first 2/3rds of the semester.
  4. Embrace Rhino. This is the software I should be blazing fast with by now, a software flexible enough and graphically sophisticated enough to design. 
  5. Embrace Everything. Studio is the time to learn all new software, techniques, methods, ideas. Forget your snobby elitism about bullshit formalism. Grasshopper can do more than just make cool looking objects.
  6. Find your passion. Studio instructors don't really care about what position you take architecturally as long as you can defend it and are passionate about it, because in the real world, passions really do take you where you want to be. 2012 might not bring the end of the world, but I'm not as hopeful for 2112. There's no time to not do what you care about the most.
  7. Exercise. 2012 is feeling like the year my metabolism seriously turns the corner. I need to bring back walking, eating healthier, socializing, and sleeping.
  8. Take action early. This was one of the years I was most disappointed in myself. I let myself down in studio (see above), I let the student body down in my office in the graduate architecture council, and I failed so secure the international internship I'd sought. All of these failures are attributable primarily to my failure to make a plan early and act early.
I can do better than 2011. 

But there were bright spots too in 2011, as well as other key moments in my life.
  • Two consecutive semesters without Saori, which is like living without sunlight, taught me how to live with myself again, and moreover, how to be happy with myself, how to go out with friends, how to be sociable. Made a lot of friends.
  • I helped mom and Tay move out of Phoenix and road tripped with Tay and Saori and Suki from Phoenix, Arizona to Bloomington, Indiana.
  • I traveled to amazing new destinations including New Orleans, Shanghai, Helsinki, Aland, Edinburgh, Orlando, and three separate trips to London (new years 2011, summer, new years 2012).
  • I had a great spring studio with a very rigorous professor, who was very difficult to work with, but who pushed me to do a lot of good work and I finished with a really great project.
  • Despite living as frugally as possible (with the notable exception of travels, see above), I ended up spending everything I'd saved for college during my three years of working. The bright spot is that I'm actually feeling better about the future since I've worked out a way to survive, pay bills, and tuition without increasing my student loans. No, it doesn't involve selling vital organs, bodily fluids, or standing on corners downtown.
  • I learned a new craft of bookmaking. Really enjoyed it and it feels like it will bring me great rewards as I develop this skill and combine it with my love of writing and design.
  • 2011 was really the year of family- I spent every holiday with local and extended family, and summer helping family, and winter with both sides of the family. 
  • I tried hot yoga. It was ok but I got dizzy and had to sit down for awhile.
  • Fundamentally, I'm still doing what I set out to do- I'm going to architecture school in one of the top schools in the country, I'm making the grades, and finding time to travel while living in a place almost to myself. If I were Christian, I would say that I was exceptionally blessed- my intention matches my reality, which is a lot more than can be said for the vast majority of mankind. 

You're UK, We're UK

Yesterday was our first whole day in the UK. We slept in pretty late, like 11 hours. We were both pretty wiped out from traveling and I built in some tiredness so I'd be able to sleep on the plane, so there was some serious catching up to do.

We started the afternoon with a stop by a pub- Withies- for a pint. (Trivia: Pub stands for Public House). The weather was stereotypically British- gray, overcast, with the kind of miserable, annoying rain which is between a mist and a real rain- a light splattering as if someone is peeing nearby. I hate it because you feel like an umbrella is overkill but the droplets build up on your hair and clothes.

We drove on to Guildford (Trivia: Home of Ford Prefect) and found the city was packed with holiday shoppers. The parking lots near the high streets were full with up to ten cars lined up in the middle of the street waiting to get in. Tons of pedestrians everywhere. We ended up parking a short distance from the base of the high street, and hiked it in.

Guildford has two main shopping streets which run parallel to each other, and are connected by narrow pedestrian passages lined with more shops. Lots of people out and about. Sales in all the stores. Even with sales, the prices in the shops were still ridiculously expensive. First, the exchange rate is you basically multiply British Pounds by 1.5 to get USD, so there's that built-in expense. And then, there's the overall higher prices of the UK. Looking at the prices of even heavily discounted cashmere, its no wonder that we saw so many internationals flocking to Orlando's outlet malls.

After we threaded our way back and forth between both streets, we stopped for another drink and then went on to dinner at an Italian place. It's kind of amazing for me to stop and think about the age of the buildings over here. I mean, everything is relative. In Phoenix, Arizona, if a building is 100 years old, it's a museum or protected as a historic site and there's usually a giant bronze plaque. In St.Louis, that age gets pushed back by about 50-100 additional years. In the UK, those are the buildings that get the Walgreens put into them. Old for England is at least 300+ years old. We were in a pub yesterday that went back to 1700. The oldest pubs in England are over 500 years old.

The other thing that is kind of strange for me is that the ethnic food places are usually staffed by ethnic people. So the Italian restaurant is staffed by Italians. It shouldn't be weird, but for most of my life, Italian is so American, it never seemed out of place that at Delhi Palace I'd be served by Amit Gupta, but at the Zio's Cuchina It'd be Peter Schwartz. And when the waiters say "grazie" I can't help but think of the SNL sketch with Adam Sandler and Dana Carvey as the Italian restaurant pepper boys. ("Fresh-a-pepper?") Anyway, my sausage and mushroom risotto was pretty good, and the tiramisu was quite good.

Drove home through more fog and mist in the darkness.
London is actually quite far north, so it gets dark around 4pm here. For sake of comparison, the UK is situated on a latitude north of Maine, and London is only 300 miles south of Moscow. The US is a very southern country in comparison with the rest of Europe.

Played the card game daihimen (Japan) for about three hours when we got back to the house in the village. It's a really good game. (AKA President, Scum, Asshole (US), Plow the Big Two (China)).

Dec 29, 2011

Fanboats and Airplanes

Once we realized we just needed to get the hell out of Gainesville, it was a simple matter of trying to trying to figure out to go. Tay and I both wanted to try out some fanboats on the swamps, so Tay found us  a tour near the everglades in an preserve, where we would stand a better chance of seeing some wildlife. The kicker was, it was out past Orlando, so its about two and a half hours away.

We were a bit concerned about the weather, but when we arrived, we were seeing bands of clouds and sun. On a stretch of raised freeway, we took a small exit and pulled into a small parking lot with the swamps stretching on either side. We were more concerned about the two huge tour busses. We'd made reservations, but we were about an hour and a half early. They bumped us up 30 minutes, so we had less time to kill comparing gator heads, talking to the birds, and petting the pig. The pig in question was a massive, sleepy, white-bristled pig which was so fat, I never did see its eyes. It was napping, and when we got close, it would emit a drawn out quiet squeal. And would when I touched it, it would squeal some more. This was a very vocal pig. And huge.

Fan boats are essentially flat bottom boats with big, powerful, fans mounted on the back for propulsion. Because they don't have rotors which stick in the water, they don't get bogged down in the aquatic plants, and they can skim over 6" of water. The boats we took sat four across, and four deep, plus the pilot. I got the front seat. We were provided with sound isolating headphones and microphones which blocked the noise of the fan yet still allowed us to talk to each other and to the pilot. I wasn't prepared for how fast these things could go. We took off down the channel, and it was like we were flying just above the surface of the water, water spraying off to the side, wind in our faces, with ducks and great blue heron taking off to get out of the way of the boat.

It was amazingly fun. The fan boat can ride over pretty much any part of the swamp, and with the storm fronts moving in and out, we were flying through a landscape of water, plants, land, and sky.

The pilot took us into a quiet glad and turned off the fan so we could appreciate the silence and peace of the place. It was the heart of a dense salt cypress mangrove swamp, with the trees rising out of the water and towering above us. Green and gray with the ghosts of white cranes quietly stepping through the trees in the depths. It was an amazing place.

The ride back was miserable. The rain picked up, and flying along, the rain stung my face like a thousand needles. My jeans were quickly soaked, and I couldn't see anything out of my glasses, but at least they were keeping the rain out of my eyes. All in all, well worth the first half.

Tay urbanspooned us a new place to try, a fast foody kind of place well known for its seafood. I got a basket of fried scallops which were delicious, although Tay's Ipswich clams were not my favorite.

I drove the three hours back home, we played some cards, packed.

The following morning, we breakfasted, and mom dropped us off at the Gainesville airport, which had all of four gates. When Tay and I refused the milimeter scanners and asked for a pat down, it was the most exciting event of the day. They actually used us to train other TSA officers with a senior TSA guy supervising.

Hour flight to Miami on a flight so small it was three seats across. Four hour layover in Miami international. What a difference from Orlando and northern Florida. From what I saw, the areas we were in had little endemic culture. Downtown Orlando, at least when viewed from the freeway, looked like a sterile combination of postmodern and postmodern inspired towers. Other than that, my experience of Orlando is theme parks, freeways, and outlet malls. Slick, international, anonymous.

Beyond Orlando, the state seems to be an apathetic contest between the midwest and the south- the sleepy towns and southern lifestyle of Georgia, and the the suburbs, strip malls, and fern bars of the midwest. They war to contain the encroaching lush landscape of palm trees and pines.

Miami international airport, as sterile as it was architecturally, seemed to be a lot more culturally vibrant than the north. There was a sense of rootedness to place, the Hispanic community was engaged, and we actually had some pretty good Cuban food at a restaurant in the airport surrounded by Hispanic patrons. I think the next time I come to Florida, I'm going to need to spend some time in Miami.

Our flight to London was full, except for the seat beside mine, which was pretty cool, since I was able to lay down and get a few hours of uncomfortable sleep. Overall, the flight was quick, only about seven hours, and at this point, I've mastered the art of stretching time out to the point I can get half an hour of entertainment out of the emergency landing procedures card.

Dad picked us up when we landed at Heathrow. Crowds better than expected, and the weather was much more mild than I was anticipating. I think St.Louis and Bloomington are probably the coldest places we'll see this winter. So far we've been taking it easy, doing a little grocery shopping, watching some TV, just relaxing as we all are fighting jet lag. Flying east is a bitch.

Dec 26, 2011

Chirstmas and St.Augustine

Christmas day we played it cool, opened presents around 9, leisurely breakfast, and a leisurely dinner. I cooked a little ham, mom threw some sweet potatoes in the oven and cooked some biscuits, and tay made us a salad. Served with a little champagne, very nice, very simple Christmas dinner. After dinner, we ended up going to see Arthur Christmas which was actually really good. Best movie I've seen in awhile, in fact.

Day after Christmas, we drove up to St.Augustine, which, according to the tram guides we encountered, is most fabulous, famous, highest rated place in the United States. In fact, they expressed shock and dismay that it had not already been declared the nation's capitol, despite the fact that it has the oldest masonry fort in the US AND the original Ripley's Believe it...or Not! Frankly, we were as shocked as they were, as we rode the tram along the street which the driver assured us was rated in the top 10 most beautiful streets in America by National Geographic. Since, you know, National Geographic is always coming out with top 10 lists.

There are apparently three competing tram companies in the touristy area of St. Augustine (Ripley's runs one of them). We parked at the "Old Jail" gift shop and boarded one of them, and a small tractor pulling cars of seats (think Disneyland parking trolleys), pulled up and we piled on. The guy driving the tram narrates the tour while driving since there's so little traffic in the historic downtown and because Florida has such conscientious and safe drivers:

If you look left...uhh.....come on...come can see the third oldest house in.....dammit turn already...... America, which was also ranked the most historic by National Geographic...aannnd we're gonna wait here awhile while someone learns to parallel park......and was constructed! nearly got me!....HEY SAME TO YOU!
 And so on and so on. It was fortunately, a hop on, hop off bus, so we hopped off because our idea of seeing a place is more than just riding the tourist tram.

We walked through the historic Georges street, which was entirely reconstructions, except for the content of the buildings, which consisted largely of bars, restaurants, and novelty tee shirt stores, just like the Spanish colonial settlers had.

We wandered over to Flagler college, ("One of the best private universities in the US!") which used to be a grand hotel, built over a hundred years ago. Architecturally, its quite interesting.

Flagler was a seriously wealthy rounder (one of the founding partners of Standard Oil) who decided to try his hand at hospitality, and he wanted to turn this little seaside town in Florida into the "Newport of the South." So he bought a big plot of land and about a hundred million dollars and gave the design to two architects fresh out of school. I think this was pure genius- if only there were other patrons of the arts who would learn from this wise and sagacious decision, and hire more freshly graduated architects, who have their eyes unclouded from the harshness and grit of the wearing road of professional practice.

The place though, is seriously cool. It was made from board-formed concrete using new processes from the time, and was fully wired for electricity and hot and cold running water in the guestrooms, which, for 1888, was kind of like having wifi in 2000. Flagler also hired a young decorative glass maker to do the window glazings. So now the dining hall has something like 1.3 million dollars in original Tiffany glass, plus the dozen or so chandeliers spread through the hotel.

After the hotel tour, we walked over to the fort. (By the way, this was apparently the busiest day of the year for tourists for St.Augustine, and the city was just packed.) The fort was very interesting- low, stony, built for an age of siege and artillery. We wandered around inside for awhile, watched the firing of the cannon, shuffled through some exhibits and called it a day. We ended up hopping on the tram where we got off, and then rode it around the historic city while waiting for it to return to the "old jail" tourist center. Turned out to be a good deal. Tickets were $20, but parking in the historic city would have been $10 anyway.

Tay Urbanspooned a place for us to eat outside of St.Augustine- a local place called Ned's (?) which kind of looked like the place that would serve limp fish and chips, but actually had a delicious and sophisticated menu. I got the fried trigger (fish) with linguine and vegetables, and it was excellent. Tay and I split Key lime pie for dessert ( creme brulee and tiramisu were also on the menu) since that was one thing he'd been hunting for awhile while in Florida.

Dec 24, 2011


It's Christmas eve- do you know where your family is?

I live in St.Louis, but I'm in Florida.
My girlfriend lives in St.Louis, and she's there now.
My brother lives in Indiana, but he's here with me in Florida.
My mom lives in Florida, and she's sleeping nearby.
My dad lives in the UK, but he's in Oklahoma tonight.
My grandmother lives in Oklahoma, but she's in Utah tonight.
My other grandmother lives in Oklahoma and she's there now.
My grandfathers live in my memories.
My friends are scattered far and wide across the entire world.

But there are all, actually, here with me.
Merry Christmas


In the quiet hours before the dawn, they came.

In silent lines, streaming from the guestroom buildings, from the hotel lobbies, from the overpriced cappuchino cafes, in hundreds, they came.

They traveled lightly, with only what provisions they could carry. Families, mothers carrying the smallest children, larger children close at the side in order not to get lost in the mass migration. Faces set in a mixture of grim determination of the refugee and the hope and expectation of the pilgrim at the end of the journey.

In long lines, they traveled. The boats could only carry so many, and the rest walked. As the sun rose in the distance, they traveled along the resort walks, the shuttered shopping and entertainment districts, the murmur of the crowds growing and swelling as they approached the place they had sought. Many had come from far, many had crossed oceans and seas to be here. The pace quickened as the masses surged passed the gates, the excited murmuring growing to a rapturous roar.

They were the chosen people, gifted above all others by what had been given unto them: an early pass to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

We, too, were pilgrims. Striding past the slower families in our quest to attain a favorable position in line for the castle ride, we had only 30 minutes to wait before we could ride. It was a pretty good ride, but I think I actually enjoyed the ambiance of everything, the castle and the village more than the ride itself.

There was one other thing we brought, that made the day at the park much more enjoyable. The other benefit of being a guest at one of the three Universal Studios resorts, apart from the ability to get into the park an hour earlier than the regular visitors, is that you get an ExpressPass, which lets you cut at least 2/3rds of the lines at nearly all the rides. It was awesome. We probably saved at least four hours of waiting in line over the course of the day.

Anyway, after we finished the first ride, we wandered around the Hogsmeade street for awhile, enjoying the scene before we headed over to Spider Man adventure. Mom and tay had been diligently tracking wait times since a few days before with their iphone apps, and apparently this ride was one of the longest wait times, so we jumped on it second.

Actually, we had to stop for breakfast first since mom was getting punchy, and nothing was open that early, so we ended up munching on $4.99 salted pretzels. Gotta push through.

Spider Man was probably the biggest disappointment in the park. You have to wear ill-fitting 3D glasses for the unbelievably bad CGI elements of the ride, which turned out to be a lot. The ride is basically you get into a cart which rolls around in front of a screen, where bad CGI 3D characters from the spider man universe jump on the front of the cart and point various weapons at us before being dispatched by Spider Man. It was really quite bad, and we could not for the life of us figure out why wait times could get up to an hour for such a terrible ride.

The rest of the morning was a blur. We hit the park hard. I got drenched in the Jurassic Park river ride, we rode the Hulk which has a fun bit at the start but actually is pretty tame in comparison to the "Dragon Challenge" in Potterland. It's just a big, noisy ride.

We even did the train ride above Suessland, which is actually a great way to get a good view of the rest of the park. The ExpressPass made such quick work of lines, it was easy to say, hey that looks kind of fun, lets try it! without worrying about a huge time commitment.

Anyway, around lunchtime, we'd been at the park for five hours, moving pretty fast, so we were pretty burned out, so we left the park and took the water taxi back to the resort. Back at the resort harbor piazza, we split a pizza at the 'deli', and went back to our room for a nap. We slept for about three hours.

After we woke up, we grabbed gelatto downstairs for our ride back to the park. It was a great time to go back in the late afternoon. It was cooler, the sun was going down, and the hordes of people were thining out slightly.

Our first stop was GrinchMas, a 30 minute long live song and dance show based on "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." I've read the book, seen the Tex Avery cartoon, seen the Jim Carey movie, but I havn't seen the staged version. I'd rank GrinchMas just above the Jim Carey movie. Like the staged verision and the live action movie, this thing spent way too much time in Whoville, dealing with the least interesting characters in the entire story. The Grinch was kind of fun, and so was the more involved reparate with the narrator, but Whoville seriously needs to be buried in an avalanche.

The park is so much more enjoyable in the dark- the dinosaurs look more real, the Hogwarts castle looks more real and dramatic, everything is a little more exciting and fun and fantastic without the critical light of day. We rode the Dr.Suess tram again at dusk, and it was really pretty to see the park in the afterglow of the sunset. They lit the torches at the gates of the Jurassic Park land, and the river ride itself was a lot more enjoyable. (although we still got drenched in the flume drop at the end.)

Around 8 o'clock, we got into Mythos, billed as "the best restaurant in a theme park" which is kind of like "the best chairs in a department of motor vehicles", but we'll take what we can get. The food was good. The Mahi Mahi was cooked through (not seared), but overall the food was much better than say, Olive Garden. I liked the inside decor, which was made to look like a soaring grotto, and we got more cheap, bad drinks (whiskey whip - $5).

We spent the last hour in Potterland, riding the castle ride one more time, and the Dragon Challenge another three times. Seriously the most under-rated ride in the park. Fast, exciting, almost no lines. We rode the front of the coasters (there's two of them on parallel tracks) one right after another. We were out-riding the teenage kids riding alone.

Before we left, we stopped for a cold butterbeer, which tastes about as a good as it sounds, but we decided to grab one anyway. It's kind of like a mild rootbeer with a butter flavor. Not fantastic.

But the park finally closed at ten, and we joined the mass exodus of people out of the park, and hopped on the boat back to the hotel, our pilgrimage at an end.

Dec 23, 2011

Let's Play with Letters

Just got my grades back

A is for Urban Books, for my three handmade books
B+ is for Studio, more for effort than my project's looks.
B+ is for Advanced Building Systems, our final poster kind of flopped*
A- is for Urban Development Seminar, where my renderings popped.
A is for landforming workshop, worth only one credit hour,
.10 is the value which my semesterly GPA goes sour.

It's not an overall terrible report card, and its not like anyone really cares what your grades are when you graduate from architecture grad school. I'm actually most upset about studio, regardless of my letter grade. This B+ says to me "I thought your project was not very good or even complete, but I know you put in a lot of effort, and so I'll put you in about the middle of the pack, gradewise."

Its not like I wanted to fail or have to retake, but I wish I could do this semester over again.

*The final poster was a group effort and if it was not carried out to the expectation of our instructor, I take a heavy share of the blame. My group mates were all awesome and contributed greatly. 

Orlando- first day

Busy busy busy.

We left Oklahoma a few morning ago, bright and early as Tay dragged me out of bed at 6 am so we could  get into St.Louis early for a few things. Driving back was pretty quick thanks to both Tay's new GPS and his driving.

Got back to STL, repacked a bit, cleaned a bit. Called my friend at school who was working at the lasercut lab and picked him up since nobody is cutting anything on account of the final presentations going on. Bumped into my studio professor briefly in the hall, just long enough for him to utter a surprised hello and hurry down the hall. (He later gave me a B+ for studio, which is probably generous).

We ended up going to Dewey's for pizza. Good. Actually, really good. Decent prices too, and apparently we arrived the night they were training the staff so we got great service. Gave the car and my house keys to my friend who's going to look after Suki. Cab came to pick us up the next morning at 6 AM for our ride to the airport.

Flight to Orlando was quick- two hours. Mom picked us up at the airport in the rental car and we drove straight to the massive city of outlet stores.


Actually, she put us up for two nights in the Loews Portofino hotel in the Universal Studios resort, so we went there first. It was actually pretty nice. I could make some really sarcastic comments about the artifice of a fake Italian seaside town on an artificial lake, but you know, it kind of works you know? If the gelatteria on the harborside piazza isn't Italian and the bueno sera has a southern twang, really, who cares? Fundamentally, you have people living in high density residential low-rise apartments with some shops and restaurants and cafes surrounding the piazza. The wine and gelatto is still good, and even though the small boats floating around the harbor are permanently anchored, a real water taxi is there to ferry guests.

You can talk about artifice all you want, but the truth is that the Paris, France we see today was totally contrived and scripted since the days of Hausmann. The Paris that existed prior to that was almost completely eradicated and was then effectively frozen in time.

The one thing, however, is that the resort circulation is a real pain in the ass.

  1. Park your car at the handy self-park.
  2. Navigate your way through the parking garage where there are two sign one above the other pointing to the elevator lobby in opposite directions. (The elevator lobby is actually straight ahead).
  3. Take the elevator up to the lobby. Walk across the lobby to the other elevator.
  4. Take the elevator down to the harbor level.
  5. Stroll across the harbor around the lake to the guestroom building elevator lobby.
  6. Take the elevator up to your floor.
  7. Walk the 200 meters through the double-loaded corridor to your guestroom.

We got settled and then took the water taxi to the main park. Universal Studios Orlando really consists of two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, which are accessed via the hinge of the complex, CityWalk, the shopping center. Then there are three satellite hotels, including the Portfoino, which send boats back and forth to the CityWalk dock. CityWalk is a heavily, heavily themed shopping and dining center. You can't just have a bar and grill, it has to be the "Official Restaurant of NASCAR Bar and Grill." 

We worked our way over through CityWalk to the blue man group box office and got student tickets for 9pm. We had some hours to kill so we had a drink at the Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Not the main Margaritaville restaurant, not the patio, but the satellite cantina bar. They had some $4 margaritas so we signed up for three of them. We had a lot of really bad, cheap drinks this trip. And really really bad music. At this cantina, it was we were listening to a record made by terrorists who had had kidnapped and drugged Jimmy Buffet and forced him into making terrible covers, tripping balls and at gunpoint. 

After the drinks, we wandered through the rest of CityWalk. Apparently the vast majority of people there were transitory, moving from and to the parks, and the place was actually really dead. 
So we hightailed it to the outlet mall.

Traffic was terrible all the way there, and the place was packed. Close by, however. Actually, the whole operation was very slick, very international. People from all over the world coming to get some screaming deals on luxury merch. Tay set the itinerary since we had limited time before our Blue Man Group engagement. We actually ended spending most of our time at JCrew which was having a 30% off everything sale, on top of the current sales on top of the discounted prices. Since we hit it last, we were racing the clock, and combined with the cheap prices, it was difficult to not run through the store throwing random items into the cart like we were contestants on Shopping Spree

Grabbed Subway on our way out and rushed back to the hotel room (see steps 1-7) and then after slamming down our sandwiches, rushed back to the Blue Man Group theater in CityWalk.

The show was really good. None of us were sure of what to expect, but I really enjoyed it. The humor was kind of Dadaist and strange, the music was good, and they gave us some really interesting and unique experiences. The blue guys were really talented and the highlight of the show was this very funny and strange sketch where they had an audience member come up on the stage and share a dinner of twinkies.

After the show, we took the boat back and enjoyed a midnight drink at the harbor-side bar on the piazza. They even served draft Peroni beirra. 

Dec 18, 2011

Mission Impossible IIII: Hug Protocol

Today after another slow morning, Tay, Dad, and Neri went shopping and I stayed behind with Grandma. I'd already been far too tempted at the mall already, and I knew that today, the last weekend before Christmas, was going to be a royal mess so I opted out.

Grandma and Id drove out and met them at the mall where we watched Mission Impossible:IIII Ghost Protocol. While this was superior to the Mi2 and Mi3, it was still way too long, and oddly, way too cuddly. Everyone was all about talking about their feelings, and working as a team. It wasn't The Muppet Movie but it was close. Best thing about it was the opening prison break scene.

It was gratifying to see all the Burj Khalifa shots- I spent about two months working on a team for my building systems class on that building, studying its structural systems, environmental systems, enclosure, curtain wall, etc. etc. so it was fun to see the building showcased in an action setting even though there were substantial problems with reality. (hint #1: the Burj uses an insulated glass unit- which means it's got two panes of glass, not one, which means you can't just laser cut through it so easily, and you definitely can't kick through it).

After the movie we went to Cattleman's restaurant in the old stockyards district of Oklahoma city. Lots of steakhouses and western attire. Real deal kind of place. More than a few people wearing cowboy hats at the restaurant and several waiters had eye patches. Real Oklahoma conservative kind of place- the drawings of famous cowboys/actors on the wall featured Ronald Reagan, the menu cover proclaimed that even a republican president had eaten there, and it was the first restaurant with a smoking section I've seen in maybe ten years. Half the menu was steak. I ordered the catfish and 'lamb fries'. If you don't know what they are, time to look them up. Also known as 'Rocky Mountain oysters.' Pretty good. I couldn't bring myself to order the steak. I know its probably excellent, but the peak of steak perfection has come and gone- I will likely never again find a steak as good as the one I had in Buenos Aires at Lomo on my birthday so many years ago. I just can't bring myself to spend $30 on a third-tier steak. All that "USDA Prime" label says to me is "this cow was not grass fed on the Argentine pampas."

If I go to Brasil or Argentina again, I'll reopen that quest for the best steak, but I'm just going to get close here. I am, however, open to finding the best BBQ, the best pizza, the best Mexican food, the best beer, and the best donuts. These are challenges, but it is conceivable I may find them in my travels in the US, so I'm a bit more optimistic.

A Very Quelf Christmas

Yesterday we picked up my brother from the airport in Oklahoma city. One would think that getting from Bloomington, Indiana to Oklahoma city, OK, a trip that would take less than 12 hours by car, would be less than an Odysseus ordeal. After Tay finished his last final Friday night, he caught the last shuttle to Indianapolis and spent an uncomfortable night at the airport. The next morning, he flew to Chicago where his flight was canceled due to mechanical issues and then his next flight was delayed by several hours. So. Tay finally arrived in Oklahoma pretty tired around 3 o clock in the afternoon. 

We took him home, hosed him off and dragged him out to Jeff's house for the Perkins pre-Christmas reunion. My uncle Jeff and Aunt Ashley decided that we fragmented Perkins clan should at least see each other often enough to remember faces, so we were all invited. Jordan, Lauren, and Olivia were all invited, but couldn't make it, coming from Kentucky. But we did get to see a lot of other Perkins- Jeff's family, Josh and his fiancee Andera, Dustin, and his family (I havn't seen Dustin in maybe fifteen years) and dad's cousin and his family (I forget his name.) Lots of little ones running around. 

Jeff's house was filled with Christmas decorations- two trees, several manger scenes, scent of cinnamon and pine in the air. They baked two giant lasagnas and chicken strips for the kids, and lots of wine and beer. We all exchanged small gifts in front of the tree and the giant screen with the Call of Duty 3 playing on it.

As the party wound down, Karsten demanded that we all play Quelf. As Tay shot me panicked looks, I took in the way-too-contemporary "fun" graphics on the box, like it was from a hot new cereal brand. Not good. My first impression of Quelf was that the game designers liked Cranium but found it way too cerebral and structured and productive and creative. It's basically a party game. My brother tells me that its bears a suspiciously close resemblance to a drinking game called "Kings Cup" where playing cards have certain rules or tasks associated with them. Sounds like some game designers decided to turn a cheap buck with some flashy graphics. 

I was not impressed- the game seems to be made for people who feel like they need permission in order to "get a little wacky." Cards assign rules such as "place your shoe on your head" and "place your car keys on your head." Oh, how wacky and unpredictable! The bane of dad's night was a card that ruled he had to play peek-a-boo with anyone who asked him a question. At least we got through the card with Karsten shouting at the playing pieces over with quickly. Overall though everyone seemed to really enjoy playing it, and I'm sure it was most people's highlight of the week. I was advised going in that its much better with a beer- I think the next time I play I'm going to need a six pack, and definitely something stronger than the 3.2 beer available in Oklahoma. 

It was fantastic to see everyone though, and to reconnect with relatives I never knew I had and ones that I've not seen in over a decade. I'm really lucky to have them. 

Dec 16, 2011

Burj Bubba

Old habits die hard, apparently. I was tired but couldn't bring myself to sleep last night so I read until I started to pass out around 11:30. Then, around 7 AM, I was wide awake and panicked. Totally unsettled for some reason. I had to check emails and phone messages to begin to calm down. It's probably just my body is so used to leaping out of bed and running on adrenaline.

You can't run full speed for three months and then suddenly stop into relaxing mode.

Anyway, yesterday we had a leisurely morning and headed into town. Met Uncle Jeff and Aunt Ashley for lunch at a Mexican place in bricktown. The food was about how you think it would be, although they served us Tecate in giant frosted glass goblets.

There's a giant tower going up in downtown, which will be the tallest in Oklahoma. It's a Meisian wet dream- concrete columns and slabs and the whole thing wrapped in glass which is way too transparent, the whole thing 50 floors, about 250 meters tall, which soars above the surrounding towers. I jokingly called it the "Burj Bubba" (the burj Dubai is by contrast, four times as tall)

Kudos to the city for getting an iconic tower and optimistic symbol of a urban renaissance, however, the use of all that glass and treating every side of the tower the same means that its going to bake in the brutal Oklahoman summers.

Spent the rest of the day shopping, hitting the mall to wrap up Christmas shopping. Amazing day to be there, and really really hard to stay focused on buying for other people when J Crew, Gap, and Banana Republic are all 40% off everything.

Dad spotted a restaurant in the mall that looked familiar- Cantina Laredo, which is their favorite spot to dine when going into the West End in London when they catch a show. Same menu.

We stopped at the tri-county Wal-Mart in Grandma's area to pick up a few things, and on my way out, I saw the new cell phones with the 3D screen. It's pretty amazing, and I don't know how it works except its 3D without glasses. I'm amazed that I'm seeing this technology for the first time in a rural wal-mart in Oklahoma.

Dec 15, 2011

American Heartland

My goal was to leave town around 9 am. It ended up being noon.

There were a few leftover tasks that needed to get done, such as packing, handing in final documentation, books, and models, and a quick cleaning of the apartment. And then I bought some new shoes. I needed something low for days that are kind of cold, kind of wet, but not necessarily insulated and waterproofed, so I took a trip to Nordstrom's rack and found a pair in the clearance section of the shoes. So that took awhile.

The drive to Oklahoma city from St.Louis took about nine hours, including two stops for gas and a break for McDonalds somewhere outside of Springfield. I brought my road atlas with me (I'm a MAP!) and realized I had no idea what town I was in.

Interesting radio selection. I tuned to this religious channel for awhile and listened to the risk factors for Satanic possession, followed by a tirade about how all Muslims want to take over the world, impose Sharia law and outlaw all other religions. Welcome to the American Heartland. Also drove underneath the world's largest McDonalds, which actually spans the freeway, floating about twenty feet above the road surface. It was quite a beautiful drive, actually. There's something really poetic and epic about the landscape, with the masses of dense bare trees, the rolling topography, and the huge horizon.

I got through the fatigue of driving and my general exhaustion from the past week through a combination of sweet tea, coffee, singing, and dancing in my seat. My car became a one-person dance club as I roared through rural Oklahoma in the dark at 80 miles an hour.

Uncle Jeff navigated me to the house, so I'm here now, safe, fed, and tired.

misc. work

It's 1:30 AM. I got six hours of sleep last night, which really isnt recovery sleep (although strictly speaking you never really "recover" from sleep loss) and I'm driving the 9 hours to Oklahoma tomorrow. I really hate this part of studio. Documentation of my work which will never see the publication they're collecting it for because it's just not good work. Cleaning out my desk is probably the biggest weight off my chest as I get rid of months of accumulated models and printouts and sketches- I wish that instead of throwing them away I could burn them. 

Throwing all my permanent studio tools in the car- chair, chest of drawers, tea box and boiler, widescreen monitor that no longer works with my computer because my laptop graphics card is shot. 

Oh yeah, I'm gonna need a new laptop next semester. 

The apartment is still a mess although I think I have the suki situation worked out. Instead of driving my elderly cat for 9 hours down to Oklahoma and making my grandma deal with her for four weeks, I'm having a network of friends look after her here. The other serious upside of this situation is that I wont' need to make a return trip to Oklahoma to rescue Suki after I get back. I'm also wanting Suki to be home to greet Saori when she gets back from her travels. 

Yesterday, in the middle of my studio's reviews, I got two consecutive phone calls, one right after another. One was from my roommate and the other was from my downstairs neighbor. Whatever it was, was probably not good. I excused myself from the room and got the lowdown. Our apartment was flooding- or at least flooding from our bathroom. We got some water on the floor in the kitchen and bathroom, but our downstairs neighbor was getting a torrential downpour from his ceiling light in the bathroom. 

My roommate thinking quickly shut off the water main to the house and we called our maintence guy who came right out. Apparently one of the bathroom pipes had rusted through and burst, and another was also leaking through the rust. By the time I got home, the situation was cleared up enough that I could take a shower and do laundry.

I suppose I must get around to talking about reviews. Our reviewers were much too nice. Instead of saying that my project was terrible and inhumane and incomplete, they suggested that it had a lot of potential and had I considered changing the backside and reconsidered the urban strategy. It's was a polite review for a half-baked project. Depressing. At least I opened it with a short introduction totally in Chinese which impressed the hell out of everybody. It's too bad my project was such a lousy follow up act.

Dec 14, 2011

Le Dinner Final

Went out to dinner tonight with Dew, Chuck, Ian, and Kenny at Brassiere by Niche in CWE. Really good food, good atmosphere, and the prices weren't ridiculous either. Great service. It was nice to celebrate the end of the semester with friends, even though I looked like a homeless guy the rest of the group invited off the street. I ordered the Herb gnocchi pariseine, zucchini, squash, corn, tomato, basil and tasted everyone else's dishes. The chicken was amazing.

Also treated myself to the first beer in two weeks. A wonderful and unpretentious draught Saison 'farmhouse ale.' Good times.

Dec 13, 2011


The hours of sleep I got a night over the past few days looked like this:
3, 3, 2, 2, 1.5, 5. That's slightly over two normal nights of sleep over six days. 

Sleep deprivation in architecture students is an interesting thing. A little can act as a stimulant- when you're tired, you're less critical, acting less rationally and more intuitively/erratically. For me, there's four stages to serious sleep deprivation, say, on 3 hours of sleep a night or less:
  1. Tired - Maybe after the first night of 3 hours of sleep. You feel a little haggard, a little worn, and a little tired. You feel about the same as usual, just thinking idly about how it would have been nicer to have been able to sleep in another hour.
  2. Punchy - A short phase- you feel oddly light and awake. Everything strikes you as kind of funny, and you feel lightly drunk. You work and think you're actually being super productive because you're feeling so good. This whole lack of sleep thing isn't really a concern, maybe I can live my whole life on 3 hours a night! But then you realize how quickly you're zoning out, and how you always have to keep moving your eyes around to keep from being hypnotized by everyday objects. 
  3. Painful - The fun time is over. Your body hurts. You go to bed tired and wake up feeling ten times more tired. Your eyes burn, your face is greasy, and your hair is a fire hazard. Your stomach is always borderline nauseous. You've lost all sense of humor, and actually, you find yourself often in extremes of emotion- you're quick to fly into irrational rage or abject misery. You write incendiary a irrationally hostile messages about print labs. Your neck is stiff, and you frequently have to walk around to keep from falling asleep at your desk. You feel thin, immaterial, spread way to thin. You fantasize about sleep.
  4. Undead- You've lost all emotion and your face is as wooden as the work table. You can barely move your body. People stop you and tell you that you terrible and you just stare back at them expressionless with empty eyes. Your thoughts and motions are slow, and your mind works like a telegraph operator typing out S.O.S. while freezing to death, one ping coming down the line after another. Beyond this point, there are hallucinations, illness. Your own body force-quits you to get some sleep in an automatic override and I've known people who have missed their own final reviews because of it. Just today, someone told me that they have no memory of getting up, walking across thier house, shutting off the alarm, and walking back to bed. 
And this is the slow version, if you don't sleep at all, you'll reach phase 4 by the third night. 

The Russian KGB used sleep deprivation extensively as a means of torture. Solzthenitzyn writes extensively about it in The Gulag Archepelago, how it was used because its so incredibly effective at destroying the will, eliciting signed confessions, and it leaves no bruises or visual scarring for the Red Cross or Amnesty International to photograph. 

The US government uses it too to torture terrorism suspects, really no different from the KGB. 

Supposedly, a night without sleep is supposed to take days off your lifespan. 

But, my review is done. And I'm going to bed.

Dec 12, 2011

See? Low on Green

Dear Sam Fox print lab:

In a school which is otherwise fine Champagne, the printing lab is the piss-scum on a shantytown toilet. 

Fuck you.

Fuck your inane policy which gives unique windows profiles for every single student on every single computer and all the attendant time required to load software and printers every time you change computers.

Fuck your refund policy too, and your staff's general attitude that students only go to a $20,000 a semester school to steal paper. 

Fuck your sleaze-ball move of employing students as full time print lab monitors- sure they're not really trained, but hey, they're great as human shields preventing complaints and issues from reaching the staff. 

Fuck your smarmy, smart-assed PaperCut comments. I don't need your condescending, paternalistic, "ohh Good job! you printed something!!!"when I print something, and I really don't need a "Nothing in life is free" when I run out of funds because the prints don't go to the printers because your shitty system fucked it up.

Fuck you for taking extended vacations when a quarter of school computers are unusable in the middle of mid-reviews. 

Fuck your lack of both professionalism and a professional to guide students through their printing issues. 

Fuck your 'fuck you' attitude to students.

Dec 8, 2011

Shouldn't you be working?

To help with my productivity, I downloaded an extension for my Google Chrome browser called StayFocused. Simple to use and effective- you tell it the sites you want to restrict your access to, and it defaults to 10 minutes on those sites a day. I tried to up the time to 20 minutes, but it gave me a pop up window advising me not to do it, and then when I ignored it, it gave me another pop up about about "seriously, why are you doing this?" and something about giving electric shocks to kittens.

It's actually pretty effective. Once you run out of time, you can't change any of the settings and if I try to go to facebook or regretsy or xkcd, and I'm out of minutes, this is the screen I get:

Of course, it doesn't prevent me from using IE ;)

Inspirational quote

To people who are losing their sleep, health, perspective, and sanity, and especially to myself: 

To borrow a quote from a friend's post currently who is currently studying in Korea:
At one part of the meal I was chatting with Junsung, our korean professor, and he was reminiscing about his time with Alvaro Siza. He said that Siza was asked, "Do you love architecture?", to which he responded with a reaction like "Love? Love is a strong word. I don't Love architecture. I like architecture sometimes...Man doesn't exist for architecture. Architecture exists for man."

Junsung said it meant that architecture shouldn't be your life -- it shouldn't be the all-consuming, end-all THING that is the only thing that matters. How then can we even enjoy what we are pouring our efforts in for our entire lives? How can we enjoy our life? So, in order to enjoy architecture (or anything you have a passion for really) you need to not have it be your LIFE.

This is expecially true now that I am in Seoul; it's been clearer to be since I am geographically away from St. Louis. If I constantly remind myself this everyday, I think it would be a great, constantly humbling thing that brings be back to earth. I think we all get caught up in this academic bubble of working nonstop for some convoluted goal of "finishing" a project without even enjoying the process itself.
 The complete post here:


Well the Thurspocalypse came and went with mixed results.

At 8:30AM we had our presentation for advanced building systems. The night before, I'd roughly assembled the final board based on the "minimum of 2'x3' " size that was given to us. I made it closer to 3' x 5' since that really, that size is quite small. Around 2 AM, I called it a night since I was really sleep deprived and I wanted to get some rest for today's presentations. The last thing I sleepily mumbled to Dew on my way out was "if you don't get around to fixing the boards, don't worry about it- I think its good enough to print."

Cut to 6:30AM this morning, when I awoke in a panic. What the hell was I thinking? Those boards weren't ready to go! Why did I tell Dew that it was good? We're going to fail as a group and its going to be my fault. I skipped breakfast, dressed, and went straight to school intending to spend the hour or so before the pin up to fix the boards and add some things to make it at least presentable.

Dew was already there. He'd slept there that night. He sleepily held up the printed, finished board. Looked great. This has been my semester to really let people down. Especially since for this project I've been not doing that much for the group, which is the main reason I'd volunteered to take lead on the board. Balls.

Anyway, I'd heard rumors that the final format would be informal- our work pinned up, we'd wander around and look at each other's work, responding to questions and criticism from the two guest critics. To try to get through 16 formal reviews in less than two hours would be crazy.

Guess what we ended up doing? Formal reviews. Drag-the-chairs-up, everyone-in-the-group-talks, questions-and-comments kind of reviews. The commentary and question time alone for our project took ten minutes.

I think we disappointed our professor with our representation. He was really really excited about our project because it was like nothing else that had ever been presented or pushed into the real world of fitting in mechanical systems and structural systems. After we explained our project, he got up and with dramatic body language explained it again. But he was unhappy with our boards. To be fair, we didn't do a really good job of making it clear the linkages between our sections, elevations, renderings, and plans. But this project is really hard to document.

Seriously, the formal genesis of this project was modeling what happens to static-charged hair in 3D, none of the walls were straight, and most of them rose and fell off the landscape. We actually spent the first three sessions with our professor just trying to convey the building form. We got very high marks conceptually, (or at least I assume so) and probably so-so marks for our project itself. If I had to give our group a grade for the semester, I'd say a solid A- (especially after our fantastic Burj Dubai project). We'll see.

Before the presentations were over, I had to go immediately to my last urban books class.

Oh! I made a hardcover book! First in my life! It's kind of fun, actually.

Anyway, the urban book class was presenting the final books (although actually, none of them were in "final" form, although all of them were bound and worked pretty well as books). The instructors put out sparkling apple juice and some baked goodies for us to have a small party before looking at our books. That was kind of nice.

After books, I went straight home and took a 45 minute power nap before getting up, changing into nicer clothes and heading back to school. I met my community development group at 3 at the library to go over our presentation one last time in the hour before class.  The presentation itself was anticlimactic. Not that many students showed up, and neither did our actual clients. If I didn't speak that well, overall it went well, people responded really well to my renderings, plans, and video fly-through. I do admire the experience that the social work and business students have in getting up and speaking to groups. We talk in studio reviews, but its to a very specific audience with a very specific goal. So I think we'll be in pretty good shape for that class. Tonight I'll finish up my contributions to the paper and just get it the hell done so I can focus on studio the next four days.

If you noticed, dear reader, that I missed eating anything other than a few baked goodies today, so did my stomach, so I went to Chipotle after the presentation and gave it something to digest.

Dec 6, 2011

Tea and Panic

Tonight, I went home and fed Suki, ate dinner, and tried to sleep. I got about an hour of fitful sleep, and then lay in bed, my heart pounding and breathing unusually hard. I'd been unable to get my thoughts of the upcoming deadlines out of my head, and so my body was responding by freaking out.

I ended up getting up and driving back to school to get back to work as it seems to be the only thing that can settle me down. On the plus side, they were having the finals tea break when I arrived, so I was able to brew myself a cup of chamomile tea, and sit down with some people who are taking studio a with a lot more lighthearted attitude.

Still alive

Still on the 3-3 sleep diet. I dont even remember days anymore, since I'm experiencing time in irregular 9 hour slices.

Sad to throw out the leftover mashed potatoes my brother made for thanksgiving, those were really good and I ate them for awhile after everyone left. Tonight I ate a Trader Joes brand Carrot and Ginger soup. I've had soups that were more bland, but I can't remember when.

Finished a rough 'final' hardbound book copy for urban books tonight, and also got a very small thing done for my Advanced Building Systems class.

I'm working on roughing in the boards- I'm very worried about the quality of the work that's going to go up on the board. My optimism meter is dipping down towards the B-.

Last semester was pretty miserable, but at least it felt like I was accomplishing things. This has been the worst semester of grad school so far, and is also a strong contender for worst semester of higher education.

This semester has had a few highlights however, which I should be mindful of: the phenomenal trip to Shanghai, learning the art of making books, a deep plunge into the politics, economics, and social implications of community development, and new methods of getting more out of landscape design. Pretty much everything but studio, which is the kicker considering how vital studio is to the entire grad school architecture experience.

Dec 3, 2011


My three hour nap schedule keeps slipping, so at this point, its more like two three hour naps every 36 hours. I'm pretty fried right now so I'm going home.

Architecture school has made me bipolar.
My mood swings wildly from total abject depression where I think I'm one of the most obstinately stupid people in the school and wasting everyone's time and that I should drop out and never design again, to this incredible euphoric optimism of a wonderful bright future riding the crest of the sustainable and integrated infrastructural design along with my shiny brilliant peers where the the silhouette of the bare tree limbs against the brilliant blue sky is the most jaw dropping double rainbow experience. Especially after coffee.

Lots of coffee.

I need to get a grip and some perspective. The combination of sleep deprivation, especially cumulative deprivation, too much trance music and 18 hour stretches in front of the computer can be seductive in their own way, but is ultimately counter to my goals. Lets just say that I can't wait until this semester is over.

Dec 2, 2011

High Fi and High Finance

Busy day today. Skipped studio because I had an appointment at an investment company. It turns out that I'll be able to do all kinds of things next semester like eat, bathe, and go to school. So that's good.

Studio is fantastic, by the way. Smooth sailing for the rest of the week, all problems resolved. No panicking, all my drawings are done, and both models are made. It's going to be a wonderfully relaxing transition to the winter break as my other classes gracefully wrap up. Might even get some reading in.

Actually, tonight I started feeling pretty good because I have the massing mostly worked out. For a point of comparison, this is kind of like Noah figuring out where he might get some wood when the water is mid-thigh height.

According to the university-wide graduate council, school is already over. They hosted the holiday party tonight at a swanky bar downtown. I decided to go for an hour because (1) There's free food and beer. (2) There are fewer things more depressing to me in the semester than spending friday night in studio, and (3) my massing is almost done.

Half of the student population at Wash U is graduate students, and there was probably half of that crammed into the bar. Apparently there are a ton of social work students, and they are quite a gregarious bunch. Actually, they're a lot of fun to hang out with. Saw a few architecture kids, mostly out on the dance floor. Got my free beer (Franzia or Bud Light? Can I have the blow over the head?), and wandered to the food line, glanced at the food, and wandered back towards the bar.

I left shortly after. I do like the clubs and bars, but I have to be in a certain frame of mind (read: inebriated) (Just kidding. Mostly.)

Back to studio.

Dew had three girls working for him this time.

The New Sleep Diet

Architecture students in the final crunch have their own sleeping strategies. So far I've seen these types, although please add more in the comments:

The Oracle - these students will work for four days straight, with no sleep. On the morning of the third day, they look borderline insane, and they're hallucinating wildly by the fourth night. Frequently, these students miss their final reviews due to illness or the fact that no alarm in the world will wake them up when they finally crash for a nap. 

The Minimalist- Four hours of sleep a night, every night. Some people just need less. I don't happen to be one of them. They say they feel fine, generally they look about 80%.

The Cat- Twenty minutes of sleep every four hours. Supposedly at this point, the body sinks directly to REM sleep since the level of exhaustion is so high. Not sure about how this affects one's ability to design.

The Teenager - These people need eight hours of sleep a night, and really can't function with anything less. I'm kind of in this category.

The Shift Worker - Three hours of sleep, twice a day. Supposedly the body has a natural sleep cycle of 90 minutes, so its supposed to be less disruptive to rest and recovery. The strategy I'm currently pursuing. Seems to be working so far.

The Marathoner - 48 hours of work followed by 10 hours of sleep. Repeated.

Last night, the highlight of my evening was sharing pizza with my ABS team members over at my studio desk. It was great to munch of pizza, chat, and not worry about studio. Other friends dropped by to buy a slice for a buck and chat.

When I came back from my nap, Dew had invited two young Japanese girls over to help him build his model. The girls were studying at Fontbonne, the university next door, and since they're only here for one semester, and only studying English, they're really bored, so they were happy to come over and work and chat with Dew. I thought it was pretty funny.

Anyway, photos from the late shift.

Dec 1, 2011

Apocalypse Thursday

I have three main final projects/presentations other than studio this semester.
For urban books, I need to make three (3) final copies of my book, which must be well crafted including making covers and binding it. For my urban issues class, we have a final presentation which the client will be invited to attend and review our recommendations. For my advanced building systems class, we have to put together a final board of drawings, diagrams, essentially a final project. While the last two projects are group endeavors, which helps, there is one glaring, evil, monster of an issue.

They're all on the same day. In one week from today.

I've started changing my sleeping habits- in my undergrad for the serious crunch times, I would take two three-hour naps every day. My problem is that if I'm in studio 18 hours a day, and sleeping for 6, the 18 hours kills me. My productivity just drops to nothing and I feel like crap, so I'm testing this nap method.

A friend of mine gets by with an average of four hours of sleep a night, but then he nearly sliced his finger off the other day, so I'm sticking with a minimum of six hours.

Studio is going ok. I still feel like my project is Cadillac ranch, but oh well. Had a good discussion with my studio professor today. The issue is I have a very modular project, and the question is, how does one terminate the modules in a way that meets the city? He described it as a problem that Mies van der Rohe spent most of his life investigating. The fact that I need to solve this issue last week is not encouraging. He also informed me, surprise surprise, that is 'concerned' about whether my project will be developed enough to finish in time.

He's been 'concerned' about the entire class since the beginning of the semester as far as I can tell, and that really hasn't changed.

I got into a discussion with my roommate yesterday as I was beginning to worry about grades. He told me that actually there is an unofficial curving system in place for studios. Typically, in a studio of 12-13 students, there will be only 2-3 A's, maybe 2-3 A-, 2-3 B+, 2-3 B, and 2-3 B-. There may be a few students who get C's, which are passing but may hold you back from degree project studio. It's not great but its not the end of the world.

Looking around the room, I feel like I'm most likely to fall into the A- range if I'm feeling really optimistic, B range if I'm feeling pessimistic. My gut instinct and the conversations I've had with my professor makes me think I'm looking at a B+, depending on how my final project comes out.

Other interesting bits- not one, but two Chinese classmates got married within the last two weeks. They got dressed up and went before a US judge with their Chinese brides to officially tie the knot. I'm not sure if it has to do with the 11th month, (11 being an auspicious number for long marriages in Chinese numerology) or what, but if I was getting married, you can bet its not going to be in the most stressful part of a semester in the middle of grad school.

Nov 28, 2011

Lucky Leaf

Another lecture tonight, given by Sam Bower, which is technically one of the artist's lecture series, but since the topic is about art, culture, and sustainability, I decided to go for it. Sparse attendance. A handful of people I knew, all of them from the landscape studio so they might have have been heavily encouraged. I also went because this semester seems to be themed "cross-disciplinary", as I've never taken so many classes and workshops with non-architects before.

Anyway, Bower talked about his website,, and a lot about the role art can play in developing sustainable culture. He reiterated a point about systems, which I think has everything to do with architecture, in that culture and economy and lifestyle are interwoven and integrated elements. There was the typical highlighting of "first nation" cultures, which over hundreds of years developed primarily self-contained economic/cultural symbioses. For example, if you do a dance and song before you head out to hunt salmon in a traditional, low-technology way, you're highly unlikely to destroy the salmon population or throw the natural ecosystem out of whack since (A) you're creating a very high reverence for the fish and (B) you just can't catch that much spear-fishing with a sharp stick.

Or, to use a more contemporary example, many modern wildlife hunters- sport hunters, fishermen- are actually very dedicated conservationists. Because they find their lives are enriched through participating in this activity, even though it involves blowing away wildlife, they are canny enough to realize that the deer need a forest and the fish need lakes, and all of the various elements which support that ecosystem.

Hunting itself takes the form of ritual, since they're probably not sustaining themselves on their hunting activity. There are other rituals too.

When I was a kid, we had crock pot dinners a lot, and dad would throw in a bay leaf. Ever since I could remember, it was known as the 'lucky leaf' and whenever one of us found it, we'd triumphantly proclaim, "hey I found the lucky leaf!" When I was old enough to wonder about this tradition's origin, I found out that my parents had made it up to keep us from getting upset about finding leaves in our food. It's brilliant- it takes a perceived negative, and through the application of ritual, it becomes a positive.

BLDGBLOG, the design blog, had a post about Chernobyl and other nuclear disaster sites. The reality is that these are places that will be lethal and toxic to people for a very. long. time. The post talked about the potential benefits of establishing cults around the site, so that when/if dominant civilization fails, or we go through another dark ages where people don't really understand nuclear physics and radiation, there will be embedded safeguards- a folklore of the demons that lurk in the reactor core, or oral traditions that warn of evil places.

Anyway, I was also interested when the talk turned to the issue of working for currency. Currently, green is a totally gift-economy, volunteer-run organization. Several people he knows actually are off the economic grid- and sometimes they sleep under the stars because of this decision. As an example of how it could work, he talked about the need to go to the airport. He could ask a friend for a ride, or he could walk, and if walking, if we saw him walking the long road to the airport we could offer him a ride. We all feel good about ourselves and he gets to the airport. The problem is that at the end of the day, one of us has to have a car. And the fewer people who have cars, the less likely they are to share access to that resource.

Anyway, it was an interesting lecture.

Nov 25, 2011

Black Friday

Today, we declined to participate in Black Friday shopping. Not that we're opposed to grotesque orgies of wolfish consumerism (or least, two out of three in my group weren't), it's just that we don't want to be pepper-sprayed, trampled, or shot.

Instead, we took it slow this morning, with a leisurely breakfast of fried eggs, sausage, and fresh orange juice.

We went to my studio and worked there in the late morning until the early afternoon. It was quiet, well-lit, and it was generally a good place to study and get some work done. Lunch today at Pappy's Smokehouse where we split a pound of pulled pork, hot links, and a slab of ribs. Really really reallly good ribs. Amazing, tender, fall of the bone, juicy ribs. Line was less than half an hour this time. It was nice to take my family someplace that had good food in St.Louis.

Afterwards, we took a driving tour of East St.Louis, crossing the Eads bridge and driving up to my project site for the community development class, which is also a local HIV/AIDS clinic. Drove back to studio and worked for another few hours before calling it a night.

All the people in studio kind of took it in stride that my mom and brother were both working up there with me. Dew, who had dropped by the night before, chatted with them for a bit, but for the most part, they were furniture. And that suited them fine so they could continue to work. Headed back home after ten.

Nov 24, 2011

Thanksgiving day

Tay drove up yesterday, and we picked mom up from the airport last night. We went to the Schlafly tap room downtown for dinner, straight from the airport. Beer was good, everything else was pretty so-so. We ended up driving through the empty, abandoned quarters north of downtown until we could figure out via tay's phone how to get back on the freeway. 

I dragged mom and Tay to the grocery store next. Coming from small college towns with "Kroghetto"s, they oohed an ahhed at my nice neighborhood Schnucks. We were shopping for our last minute thanksgiving supplies. Mom had a recipe that she'd gotten from a friend, which involved brining the turkey with ingredients like "candied ginger." I'd already bought the bird, a fresh 18 pounder which was incidently way huge. Mom asks me: "do you have a five gallon bucket?" Me: Nope. The only thing at the grocery store that is that big is a plastic trash can. We are, however, forgetting a very crucial ingredient of tay's mashed potatoes, which would lead to complications the following morning. (Hint: the ingredient is also in the name of the dish)

We drag our groceries and trash can home and mom gets to work on the brine. We pour it into the trash can when its cooled, and then all the ice and freezer packs in the freezer, and more water. Then we lower in the turkey. It does not look very appealing, a white bird jammed into a plastic trash can filled with muddy brown water and a scattering of peppercorns. I hauled it downstairs to spend the night in the slightly cooler basement.

In the morning, we realized that if we're going to have mashed potatoes, we'd probably need some actual potatoes. The regular grocery stores were closed, so this Thanksgiving, I'm also thankful for Chinese grocery stores. They had the bag of potatoes Tay needed, and also the fresh oysters in a jar that I needed. And then because mom was sure they were going to cancel Thanksgiving if we didn't have enough butter, we made a special trip to Wal-Mart to pick up another box.

The turkey was a big pain. Nobody in our group had ever made turkey before, and the turkey was probably too big by eight pounds. We didn't have plates big enough for it, it was a huge mess and pain to cut up, turkey juice and fat flying everywhere. Next Thanksgiving maybe I'll just do a ham, and maybe a smoked turkey drumstick for the hardline traditionalists.

Suffice it to say, the company was incomparably wonderful, the fare, much less so. The dinner menu:
  • Turkey a la Bucket
  • Oyster stuffing which was more like a bread pudding.
  • Tay's famous mashed potatoes which won 'best dish' handily.
  • Flat rolls
  • White giblet gravy
  • Salad
  • and storebought cookies for desert
The wine was really good, a Malbec I inherited from mom when she moved.

After dinner, we sat around, chatting, and watching youtube videos, and debating which movie we wanted to see in theaters.  My friend Dew dropped by to chat and have some tea and cookies, which was fun, and then we all took off. Mom and I ended up forcing Tay to see The Muppets by colluding on which movies we were taking off the table. It was a really entertaining movie, but its the same old rehash of Muppets struggling to put on some kind of production. Some great musical numbers though, including a song entirely covered by chickens clucking which was actually a riot. 

Nov 23, 2011


I used to think that I was here, in architecture and living my own life, by the virtue of my hard work, intellect, and ethos- a self-made man. I've had a lot of really stupid beliefs over the course of my life- it's the best way to find out the real ones.

In truth, the way I've lived my life has seasoned the outcome, but I am able to live my life the way I wish to live it because of everyone who has shaped me and lifted me along the way, and I am ever thankful to all of you. 

From my love, who sees me most clearly and intimately, and loves me for who I am, who has given such light to my life, to my parents who gave me far to many things to list here and little of which are material things, to teachers who challenged me, and friends who supported me and surprised me with their gifts, to even the kindness and guidance of strangers in foreign lands.

And I'm thankful for the systems of society which make my life possible and enjoyable, to democracy, to the individuals who were motivated and held in check by their devotion to ideals. The fact that I can get a public trail by a jury of my peers, and enjoy the exercise of rights, including representation of an elected government. I  am thankful that change is possible without bloodshed. I am thankful for those who stood up for natural conservation, for civil rights, for clean air, food, and water. 

I am thankful that I have been gifted with a vast safety net- that generally, a single bad decision will not condemn me to a life of poverty, misery, torture, or death- a safety net that most of the world lacks.

And I'm still gifted by all of your love and challenges and support. What has been given to me is too great to repay with kind words. I cannot give my thanks in any other way other than returning the favor- which I must do, and happily, for as long as I live.

Nov 22, 2011

On crap

Yesterday in studio around 5pm, Silvino drops by our desk. "Hey guys, what are we going to talk to Paul [our architecture systems professor] about in tomorrows meeting?"

Me: "What?" Followed by a pause where my brain catches up with reality and a series of expletives.
Silvino: "So when do you guys want to meet before?"

We decide to meet up after the architecture lecture that night, around 8.

I end up getting sidetracked talking to some AIA Young Architects members after the lecture. I'm a little concerned about the time so I excuse myself and begin to run upstairs. One my teammates, Kenny, waves at me from where he is standing in the food line. "I'll be up in maybe ten minutes," he says. Pappy's BBQ.  Upstairs I find a wiped out Dew and tired but cheerfully enduring Chuck. Trying to hold my panic, I print off the schedule for the rest of the semester and clutch it without reading it as a way to try to figure out what we're doing through osmosis. Tomorrows meeting is around 3, its not 9 pm, and I have to make a book for another class that happens at 11:30 tomorrow morning. I'm seriously freaking out. Kenny finally wanders back up with a plate of BBQ and I throw out some plans for how to proceed.

What I suggest: that each of us in a very loose way, sketch structural sections over the sections cut from the volumetric massing model, with perhaps the reference projects we were given in the last meeting as a basis of the structural system. Everyone agrees to take a shot at it.

What we actually end up doing: I make a clay model showing the domes and valleys in a wildly inaccurate way on a flat plane (the actual project is nestled into a hilly landscape). Kenny looks up some different case studies and collaborates with me to watch a youtube video of architect Peter Eisenman being a dick in a review of a student's work. (see below) Dew works on other classes, Silvino recovers from an all nighter, and Chuck comes up with a 3D model of a potential structural system that looks great. Yay teamwork.

My clay model is a mildly interesting and short lived distraction. Chuck's 3D model and structural idea becomes developed into what will be the core of the architecture. He definitely saved us this time. I've assumed a sort of leadership role in the group, but for this phase I feel like I'm really slacking. It's not like I'm the only one with outside classes, but my unfamiliarity with Rhino really makes it diffiucult to dive in and work directly with the crazy model.

Nov 21, 2011


As I may have mentioned previously, I'm an officer of the graduate architecture council (GAC), a VP of Professional. My most basic job is to go to lectures and collect signatures of professionals seeking AIA continuing education credits. I missed a lecture two weeks ago. Completely off my radar. So I pretty much stiffed a bunch of AIA members.

At tonight's lecture, they announced to a standing room only auditorium (this is the really popular lecture of the season), that I would be taking signatures for the previous lecture which I'd missed. There were probably a few high ranking faculty who made a mental note about the lacking professional VP. My lack of appearances at meetings which I should be attending but havn't been because my email wasn't registered is also probably not building up a case of the most excellent VP of professional the school has ever seen. And then I dumped an entire cup of tea on tonight's lecture sign up sheet, so I was able to professionally hand AIA members a crumpled, slightly damp, slightly stained sheet of paper.

But actually, nobody really cares and it doesn't really matter.

Tonight's lecture, which is the exciting bit, was Gregg Pasquarelli, of SHoP architects out of New York.

I'd vaguely heard of SHoP but honestly it could have been any of the times that they announced the lecture series. Many people had heard of it. My fellow students were very excited and the auditorium was, as I said before, packed to the point of people standing in the back. Maybe its an east cost thing.
Aside- when I came here, my conception of the relationship between St.Louis and the Southwest was of this dying rustbelt city in the middle of nowhere. The southwest was where people were going, where there was new opportunity for business, culture, industry, and design and St.Louis is the decaying city they're coming from. Since living here, and surrounded mostly by east coasters, I've been picking up this new reference of St.Louis as the frontier hick country boondocks of the east coast, which is the only culturally significant place in America. So, the only architects people lionize out here are the east coasters, predominantly New York architects. And the idolization flows both ways. I'd never even heard of Wash U before I applied here.
The lecture was really good. Nobody in SHoP came to architecture with a background in architecture. One of the biggest ideas that Pasquarelli repeated was the notion that contemporary architecture practice has given away entire fields as we strive to specialize, and that we've not only marginalized ourselves as a profession, but also necessarily set ourselves up in opposition to clients and contractors, which has led to a profession paralyzed and terrified of legal repercussion, risk taking, leadership, or expansion out of a very, very tiny box.

His point was that, as architects, we need to embrace all aspects of what goes into a building, to make it part of what we do: finance, politics, fabrication, construction, ownership. He made it a point to say that architecture is the last of the great generalists professions- and that ability to work across fields and synthesize is the asset that we bring to the table, and that we should not be limiting ourselves to just what he called "creating the image of the object".

Accordingly, I was less impressed with the images of the architecture he put up and more enamored with the methodology- SHoP was essentially doing building information modeling before the term was even coined. As young architects without much experience realizing that they would only be given limited funding, they reasoned that their architecture would have to be based on prefabrication. Accordingly, their work is largely prefabricated, and a lot of the prefabrication they do themselves. The construction drawings have no dimensions because every part fits together and arrives on the site in a prefabricated or modular form. Pasquarelli described it as assembling the most kick-ass piece of Ikea furniture ever. Really beautiful pictoral drawings of assemblies. Unstated was the reality that labor is the largest cost in America, and that field labor is extra expensive, and filled with mistakes, errors, and simply crappy construction. The people who build in the US are not craftsmen, and while I was working, we were encouraged to make our details as graphically explicit as possible. This drove the push to prefabrication, which can be controlled by computers and carried out in cheaper, safer, controlled indoor conditions.

Anyway the other thing I really admired about the company is their say, horizontal and vertical expansions. SHoP is really six companies- one designs BIM software, one is a fabricator, one is a construction company, one does sustainable adaptive reuse, one is a developer.

Pasquarelli exhibited restrained exasperation at the US construction industry, to suppliers, and even the AIA. I have a feeling the AIA got his ire from its antiquated and adversarial standards of practice. He showed one slide with three touching circles- client, architect, general contractor, and said that this is the worst architectural drawing in the world. He then told us that it was the only drawing in the AIA forms and manuals of practice. The way that SHoP works varies considerably- sometimes they are their own client, often they share a financial stake with the client, and take on substantial portions historically in the realm of the general contractor.

My favorite illustration of this methodology of practice occurred realtively early in SHoP's career. They wanted to use zinc as an rain screen and approached some US manufacturers. They were told that the zinc would cost 40% more than something more standard, like painted metal. When SHoP asked why it should cost more based on the nearly same cost of raw material and labor, it sounded like the US manufacturers simply shrugged and said it cost 40% more. So, they went to France, bought the material themselves to bring back, found workshops that could mill and cut and bend the material, financed it, insured it, and produced their own exterior cladding. The pieces were so precisely milled and installed that when they wrapped all the way around the building, the two final pieces were within 1/32".

Anyway, it was the best lecture I'd heard really in two semesters. I mean, sure, you can slap some pretty pictures up on the wall and everyone can marvel at what an interesting form it is, but at the end of the day, you're a talented trained monkey on a chain, and really, we're only talking about how long your chain is. SHoP, at least how it was presented to us, presents itself as a way to get beyond the chains.

A Seriously Jaded Blogger

I was reading some old blog posts I wrote about Thanksgiving in 2004. In comparison with the posts I write now, I sounded so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I wonder what happened to that earnest and sweet blogger.

Actually, I remember being pretty unhappy my freshman year of college. I think I just heavily self-edited a lot more when I wrote. I do feel happier and more 'self-actualized' than my early undergrad to be honest. If this blog has developed a tendency towards cynicism over time, it's because that's what I'm fighting daily.

Nov 20, 2011

Roads Gone Wild

The final project for the urban books class I'm taking is three editions of a handmade book. The class is basically an introduction to bookmaking (technical fabrication, narrative, everything about a book) and the book is a means to explore the city of St.Louis.

My original idea was to do a book of St.Louis taboos. "North of Delmar" would have been the title. But then I realized I don't know the city well enough to be fluent in the unspoken. Plus, after riding the metro a few times, and walking around East St.Louis, I don't think I'd have much material for my book.

So I went back to a place I'd discovered while biking in way north St.Louis, in the Chain of Rocks park. I've blogged about it before. The first pass of the book I based on what I saw out there was basically natural reclaimation porn. I mean, I literally made a porn mag. Roads Gone Wild.

There was something perverse about the abandonment of the street, and the relationship between the pieces of urban infrastructure and the surrounding trees, leaves, and earth. The way the trees twined with the lamp posts, and how the concrete and steel bollards penetrated the soil. I picked up on the sensual aspects of it and took it to extremes.

It was a little awkward to present to my female professor. More awkward later to present it to the other foreign professor of the class. I started off by saying "well, its based on the idea of a girlie magazine..." and then had to awkwardly explain what a girlie mag was because he'd never heard the term before for porn magazines.

And then we had a guest critic, a bookmaker who came from Italy, and as I slid my battered copy of The Street Next Door over, I decided I needed to move on and do something different.

Something a little more staid. Too staid actually, but more sublime. The problem with the 'infrastructure porn' was that it was too much of a one-liner. It was funny and slightly acid in its commentary, but it didn't really capture the place. I wanted to get a sense of the fantastic potential, while still keeping the underlying text. We'll see how it turns out.

Nov 18, 2011

hot hot hot laundry!

Busy day today. There's so little time left in the semester, its near academic suicide to not be busy. 

For my community development class, I'm proposing redesigning the interior of an empty building for basically a community fitness center for a low-income community. This is the class where my team has social workers, a 2L law school student, and an urban planner. The 2L law student, by coincidence, works part time for a local construction company. (How she is able to go to law school and work 20 hours a week, I don't know). Anyway, she was able to set up a meeting with one of her coworkers who has 18 years of experience in building cost estimates. Because this project is real in that we're going to deliver our recommendations to a real client who intends to carry it out, it is useful to know how much my interventions would cost, and where we can get the most 'bang for our buck'.

I took the metrolink down and walked the mile to the offices in the Locust neighborhood of downtown. Mostly industrial, lots of abandoned warehouses. Really beautiful with grass filled empty lots and tons of the beautiful St.Louis brick. It's almost to the downtown, but not that intense yet. There's something amazing about St.Louis, something evocative and ethereal that makes me wonder why St.Louis doesn't have a larger artist's community, or at least is known for its artists communities. Needless to say, I enjoyed my walk.

Lunch was nice, my classmate treated us to burgers at Dooley's. Good burgers, reasonably priced. About the right size, too, not an absolute mountain of bread and meat. Over fries, we talked out the building, the areas of concern, potential places to save money, things I'd missed from code, constructability issues. Really helpful. As I'd drawn it, it would be about $150 to $200 a square foot. With serious changes to my proposed roof design, it could come down to about $90. Very useful information to have. 

Tonight's happy hour was extra happy with a dual celebration: the release of Approach and the celebration of the schools #4 rankings for graduate architecture. Approach is a concise catalog of student work from the past year. In every studio of approximately 12 to 15 students, perhaps four or five will get their work included.  I got a page to myself, showing three images I put together for my 419 housing project. The project, and the images, were really not that great compared to the really incredible work in the rest of the school. I shouldn't complain actually, it's a credit to just be included.

Bruce gave a very short speech from the top of the steps and basically said he was confident that when we go into the workplaces upon graduation we will reflect strongly towards the school. The sparkling wine they served wasn't quite Korbel, but would not be many found many shelves above it. 

I've actually had a pretty good friday night. I decided to avoid the alone-in-studio-friday-night depression and went grocery shopping at Trader Joes, and then, because I'm just that wild-and-crazy kind of a guy, I went to Target and bought a new hat. Yes, I have a lot of hats. But this one looked really good with my Colors of Benetton wool coat which I wear all the time in the winter. And it was pretty cheap. 

Home, fed suki, then cranked the tunes to get in the mood, and GOT IT STARTED. That's right, readers, sometimes, I get a little dirty. And when I'm feeling dirty, its time to do laundry. Whites. Colors. Lights AND Darks. I wash both ways. My clothes were flying all over the place, water was flying all over the place, and my world was rocked by this machine that spins me around, around. 

Made pasta for dinner from the supplies I picked up at the grocery store. I'll probably wash some dishes, take a shower, and hit the sack early tonight to get an early start tomorrow.

Medium is the message

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