Jan 30, 2011

How to export a GIS file to autoCAD

Here's the situation: you have a bunch of GIS data with extensions like .shp and .xml and you know that its got to have elevations and topography in it because the damn file is labeled new_york_contours. But you're an architect, and you don't really know GIS that well, and you want to convert the GIS file to something you can take into autoCAD. Here's what you do.


  1. First of all, you'll need arcMAP, which is a program. There are other programs for handling GIS data, but this is what I'm using. Start with a blank template.
  2. Add your data. Click on the icon that looks like a bold black cross superimposed over a yellow diamond. This will give you a directory that none of your stuff is in, so you need to find the icon in that window that says "add folder location." Click on that to find your folder which contains the data you need. Open up the data. I usually use the shapefile, which has a .shp extension.
  3. This data will come in as a layer by name ( "new_york_contours") on the left layer window of the screen and you should be able to see it. If you don't see anything in the main window, like a topographic map of new york, make sure you're zoomed to the extents by clicking on the globe icon at the toolbar on the top.  
  4. Right click on the layer in the layer window on the left, and say "open table attributes" or something like that. A giant spreadsheet will pop open.
  5. Look for a column that has elevation data in it. Usually it will be called "ELEVATIONS" or "HEIGHTS" or something like that. If you don't see any columns with data that makes sense for elevations, you're out of luck since it means the file doesn't have elevation data as part of it. Once you locate the column you're looking for, go ahead to step 6.
  6. What you are looking for now is a table column called "LAYER." if it has it, you can skip down to 10 If not, continue to 7. It's almost like a "Choose your own adventure" book.
  7. Up in the top left corner of the spreadsheet thing there's a button called "add field." click it. You're going to basically create a new column for your spreadsheet. Give it the name LAYER and use "short integer" as the drop down menu. Click ok.
  8. You should now see the new column. Mouse over the word LAYER until it turns into a down arrow and click to select the entire column. It will be empty. Right click on the word LAYER and select "Field calculator" which will add values to this column. In field calculator, the left hand pane will show the columns of the spreadsheet. Double click on the one that has the elevation values, and it will appear in the panel below. Make sure "number" is also selected, although it should be by default. Click ok. 
  9. It may take a few minutes but then the LAYER column should have numbers in it, and if you did everything right, the numbers should be the same as the ones in the elevations column. Click ok.
  10. Open up the arcMAP tool box. Its icon has a tiny red tool box. Open up "conversions" and click on "convert to CAD". It will give you a new window. Drag the named layer (new_york_contours) from the left handed panel with the layers into the new window to add it to the layers for export. Specify where you want the file to be saved and what version of CAD.
  11. Click ok. It may take awhile to export the data. If it works, you will see the same layer of data overlaid in a new color over the old data, so you'd see a green new york contour map over a red new york contour map, for example. 
  12. Open the CAD file and the check the layers. If everything worked, each topographic level should now be on its own layer. 

Jan 26, 2011

The walls that bind

Sakuya sounds like she's sort of settled in. Apparently they were surprised to find out that their apartment is also a storage repository for 22 chairs, a half-blind old cat, and several pianos. For their two bedroom flat, they are paying about 1400 Euros, so she and her roommates are apparently not real happy. (However, cursory checking around for alternative Helsinki apartments comes up with a similar or higher cost). Outside of her apartment, it sounds like she is having a lot of fun, making new friends with the locals, and  trying to keep up with the American program director who apparently speed walks through the city. It still feels awkward here, I'm still stumbling along like I've lost a phantom limb, this gaping hole in my life.

My AA class, thats the Architectural Association in London, the world-renowned school of architecture, has ten students. Seven out of the ten, that's 70%, are Chinese. There are a lot of elective credits, and there are a significant population of Chinese students here, but it seems statistically odd. I can think of several reasons for this- students may get into a certain class and suggest it to their friends, there could be a wider interest in the AA in China compared to the US as the US is less willing to acknowledge that there are good or better schools outside of its borders, it could be that by the time these students who have a harder time with English, got their classes arranged, that it was the best of the classes that were left over. Anyway, at any rate, I applaud their dedication to the art and theory of architecture, and if I'm struggling to finish the hundred pages a week of reading, I can only imagine what they must be going through.

Long Days: Reprise

Well it looks like I've gone a week without blogging. It's been a pretty busy week.

Studio is different from the typical studio, but then, its all typical. As I might have mentioned, the focus of this studio is on the transformational power of infrastructure, particularly water infrastructure, in New Orleans. So we're really being asked to look at infrastructure as architecture, or architecture through the lens of infrastructure. We're at the tail end of a larger effort called "gutter to gulf" which is a series of studios studying the problems of New Orleans and particularly why Katrina was so devastating, and how architectural interventions can help the city. This is, at least, going beyond the proverbial "Katrina Studio" designing disaster relief housing. This studio is in conjunction with the "Dutch Dialogues" which were a series of workshops in the years after Katrina which brought in Dutch experts and representatives to present how the Netherlands have dealt with issues of flooding, subsidence, and living productively with the same water that could quite literally wipe them off the map. There have been six studios leading up to this, so believe you me that there is a serious quantity of work already done for us. We are the studio that supposedly are going to be the ones to tie everything up.

As an interesting side note, post Katrina, the US didn't stoop to actually ask anyone for help or advice from any nation who had successfully dealt with the same issues. However, the Dutch Ambassador immediately came knocking and offered assistance and expertise in the days after the disaster struck. It was it seems, in repayment of an old debt: the invention of the screw pumps by a New Orleans civil engineer which made the lake swamps drain-able and habitable were sent to Amsterdam and Rotterdam and essentially created the physical ground of much of the Netherlands.

Anyway, our studio is also working in conjunction with some architects in New Orleans and also a masters of Landscape architecture from the University of Toronto. One of those students, a woman, is apparently very skilled at working with GIS, or global information systems, a sophisticated mapping technology. When her name was brought up in studio in the discussions of accomodations in New Orleans, I commented to the group including the instructor, "oh, she must be the GIS wizard." Of course, when you pronounce the acronym, it came out sounding something completely different, and I believe I turned bright red after I realized what I had just said. The instructor waved it off.

Anyway, that was part of today. My wednesday classes begin at 9 am and pretty much run until 9 pm. Let's just say its a pretty long day. A very theory intensive 3 hour session on the AA followed by that light and fancy-free class called architectural studio, followed by structures II, which ran over today. So by the end of the day today, I was ready for a little pizza and beer. No classes tomorrow.

I'm actually already a little behind, which is not the best way to end the second week of school. I didn't finish my structures homework, and I didn't finish my studio readings either. My excuse of having a hundred pages of AA theory to read notwithstanding, so I'll get the overdue stuff done tomorrow.

Last weekend, or last friday I should say, we went out with some friends to an ok mexican restaurant on Cherokee Street, which is an interesting old part of St.Louis called Soulard. Afterwards, a much smaller group of us had a pint at Stable, which is a brewhouse in the old stables of the closed Lemp brewery, which was right across the street. 

Jan 20, 2011

Snow and Studio

Today was very different from yesterday. With the waiver of my HAL class, I am "free" all day thursday. "Free" in the sense that I don't have any scheduled classes, although I'll still be working all day. Sounds like thursday could be my studio production day. Tuesday will be busy working on stuff for my other wednesday classes, it seems like. Anyway, today when I got up, I was treated to a world covered in seven inches of snow. It was still snowing from the night before, and the snow didn't really let up until around four pm, so it was a very wintery day.

Anyway, I'd been wanting to go visit Forest Park, the "central park" of St.Louis, in the wintertime, and I figured under the snow would be the best time to see it. So I set out a bit after nine, with my boots on, the waterproof, insulated boots I picked up at the beginning of last semester. It a slow but surreal tromp to the metro station, the neighborhood transformed by the thick cover of the dry powdery snow. There is something special both in the beauty of the black stark trees against the white snowy field, and also in the delight that I get from appreciating that beauty.

A short metro ride later, I was tromping into the heart of the park, where there is a vast, Versailles-inspired bowl, with a massive art museum at the crest of the bowl, and a series of interconnected picturesque lakes and bridges at the bottom. It is a massive public space used periodically for concerts, but today, it was filled with kids, free on a snow day, tobogganing down the slope. It seems the use of the bowl as a sledding park is supported by the city; a low hay wall had been erected at the bottom of the bowl to prevent sledders from careening into the lake, and several fires were burning in fire rings up at the top for parents and kids to warm up.

For a Phoenix native, there is a real pleasure to wade through calf-deep virgin snow in vast fields and woods. I trekked through the park like this all the way to the westernmost edge of the park, which is the doorstep of my college. Caught a bus back home, picking up more Suki food along the way. Check out Facebook for photos- find me and friend me if you're interested.

For the rest of the afternoon, I lounged a bit, printed out the readings for my AA studies class, realized I had about a hundred pages to read, assimilate, correlate, and analyze by next tuesday, and lounged no further. I shoved the snow out of the driveway and sidewalk, and cautiously moved my snow-covered car to the garage after carefully salting the driveway.

Drove to school again around six to do more reading, and then wandered upstairs for the Moste Ancient and Sacred Drawinge of ye Deskes. Actually, they first started the lottery system last semester. I lucked out- in my studio of 13, I was the first one drawn, and thus got the first pick of desks. I picked a desk with a great big window, and good access to the aisle. As it turned out, Chuck got the desk next to mine, so we'll be seeing rather a lot of each other. Still not sure why we have to wait until 9pm for these shenanigans. There are no noon classes, so why not do this at noon?

Jan 19, 2011

A Long Day At School

Today was a tumultuous day of ups and downs. Even the weather, which began cool, turned brilliantly sunny, and then to a heavy snowfall in the evening.

My day started at 9AM, with my class which covers the AA in London. This class covers the pedagogy of the AA, its notable faculty, and notable students, and investigates how theory and practice and student work contributed to the production of some of the biggest architectural names of the 1990s and beyond. (Hopefully the answer isn't: "they had a trendy pub").

That class was short in deference to me and a classmate who had a conflicting class at 10:30 in the form of that HAL class I was mentioning earlier. This I suffered through, all the while thinking "no way, no way, no way." After that class let out at noon, I checked the balance of my student card, bought a cup of chili for lunch, and was pleasantly surprised to find ASU had emailed me the syllabus I needed. I quickly printed it out, photocopied my transcript (which I had on me on the chance I could waive out) and dashed to the madam professor's office. She looked it over, almost cursorily, and allowed me to waive.

It felt like a prison reprieve. I tried not to dance out of her office on my way to a celebratory coffee drink. It was a good drink to have, because at 1:30, we entered the great lecture hall for the studio presentations. This three-hour affair sees all the professors of each of the 12 option studios present the work their studio will be undertaking. (After taking two fundamental studios, grad students of any year get to pick and choose the studio they want to take each semester, hence the term option studio.)

I'd pretty much made up my mind of the top six choices. Really there was one and two, which looked really really cool, and everything else, which looked ok to not so interesting. My first choice was an adaptive reuse studio which would take an industrial site in St.Louis, an old brewery, and turn it into a data center and digital arts museum. Just because this studio was not cool enough, there was also a week long field trip to the netherlands to work at the Delft, which is some institute that I've never heard of but has a cool name. Of course I didn't get in to this one.

My second choice studio was a project in central Florence involving the creation of a monestary and a contemporary art museum, considering the religious texts for traditional monestaries, contemporary arts museums, vertical typologies, and contextual issues in dense, ancient cities. And a week in Florence, as well. By now you may have guessed I didn't get into this one either.

I got my third choice (half-full, some people got their seventh choice out of 12) which seems like it deals with designing stuff for post-Katrina New Orleans. I did put it third, but honestly, in the field of architecture, the post-Katrina New Orleans project is almost mandatory. It's almost as bad as shipping container architecture. The spin on this one is that it seems to involve political boundaries and infrastructural systems like water drainage networks. Downside- we're basically picking up where the first two studios to take this course, and another university left off. Upside- I get a trip to New Orleans out of it, and to be honest Ive been wanting to reconnect with my birthplace a bit more.

At the very least, I can have benets and chicory coffee at cafe du monde, and really, what more can you ask from a studio?

Anyway, that was fun times from about 1:30 until 4:30, and so I wandered around, checked emails, and did some stuff online until my 6:30 class, structures II. This class made me nervous since I'd waived out of structures I, since I took it over 4 years ago at ASU, and I hadn't taken any structures classes in over 4 years. The professor of this class is really fun. The licence plate of his convertible actually spells out "structures" and he explained things a very clear way that made me confident that I could figure this stuff out. But it was a long class, that goes until 9pm.

By then, there was an inch of white stuff on the ground, with much more white stuff coming out of the sky, so it was "alec learns to drive...On Ice!" all the way home. I did ok. Some swerving coming around corners, but I took it reall slow, and I took the less hilly way home, and instead of attempting to slide down the ramp to my garage, I parked it on the street. I'll shovel, sweep, and salt tomorrow morning I think (since I dont have to go to the HAL class workshop tomorrow!!!).

Also waiting for us when we got home (besides a hungry and irritable cat) was a hot crock pot full of oxtail stew I'd been cooking for over 24 hours. Good stuff. Extremely filling. Nice dish for a cold winter's night.

Jan 18, 2011

Half-full days of school

I've come to believe that you live in the world you choose- it really is a case of choosing to see the glass as half empty or half full. Right now, though its difficult to see anything but a dingy, cracked glass with coffee stains and a few cloudy drops hugging the bottom corner. Even if it is on top of an ocean of water. 

The weather isn't helping. It's a few degrees above freezing today, and the piss-mist of rain splattering the gray city forecasters are warning will freeze tonight. I'm irritated about my class schedule. I'm not looking forward to Structures II, I think that will be a tough class as its been awhile since I've taken structures, but that's not the main thing. There's this class we'll call HAL that deals with HVAC, acoustics, and light. This sounds absolutely identical to a class I took at ASU. I have the binder for the class every single day's presentations in it, and I have one of the two syllabi, as the class was taught by two professors at ASU. 

However, the professor here, let's call her rigorous, (glass is half full, remember?) is apparently unwilling to accept anything other than both syllabi in order to waive me from the class, and so I'm not happy with the current situation. Additionally, the HAL class overlaps with the class that I really wanted to take, the one class that has any appeal to me at all this semester (we'll see about studio). I called ASU and they told me who I needed to email, so my sincere hope is that they're currently working on getting me that syllabus and sending it to me in the next few days. Today or tomorrow would be nice.

However, I can't be in both classes simultaneously, so I will probably attend the start of each class. I hate it, but the madam professor also acts personally  and has an excellent memory. If I don't get anything from ASU within the next week, I'm pretty much screwed into taking the HAL class since I will either be dropped from the class I want to take from my not being there for the full class or already have too much of a workload to catch up to it. 

The third option is to simply say "screw it," and only attend the class I want to take. If ASU comes through in the two weeks, then I can take it to madam professor, and if she refuses to accept it, I can take it up with the head of the department who will hopefully intercede on my behalf. There are, of course, obvious risks. If ASU doesn't come through in two weeks, and if I continue to skip the HAL class, I'll fail, possibly lose my scholarship (if it drops my GPA enough), etc. etc. so I'm not going to do that. I could drop the class entirely, but I'm not sure of the ramifications as it still infuriatingly has to go through madam professor. 

For now, I will wait. And send polite email reminders to ASU if I hear nothing by thursday. So you can see why I'm less than exuberant about the beginning of this semester. And don't even get me started about how much I miss Saori.

Half-full. Half-full.

Jan 17, 2011

Highlights from the UK pt II

Best moments from traveling the UK continued:
  • Strolling down Brighton Pier in the seaside city of Brighton, from which you can see the white cliffs of dover. Amusement park piers are the same the world over. Tacky arcades, cheap amusement park rides, a profusion of fried stuff and ice cream for sale. In sum, great stuff, especially with the sun beginning to set over the channel. I bought a few fresh hot donuts only to have one snatched out of my hand by the most aggressive seagulls I've ever seen.
  • After strolling through the fields around the small village of Haslemere, enjoying a traditional country breakfast in one of the small coffee shops on the small high street. Tea service, baked beans, grilled tomato, ham, sausage, and toast. Reading the Haslemere Herald which headlined the local community theater and the possible fate of Sir Author Conan Doyle's home nearby. 
  • Wandering through the oddly eclectic home/museum of Sir John Soane. Soane was the most famous British architect of his time, in the early 19th century. He was a fervent neo-classicist, and quite literally filled his home with greek, roman, and egyptian fragments of architecture, sculpture, busts, and curios. Lots of architectural experimentation too with skylights, tiny galleries and courtyards, mirrors, and niches.

A Wee Bit o Haggis and Treacle Tart

While in the UK I attempted to sample the local, traditional fare as much as possible. This meant I ate fish and chips a few times, and a ton of meat pies. If there is one word to sum up British cuisine, I would say it is heavy. Steak and kidney pie. Mushroom and steak pie. Sausages and mashed potatoes. The vegetables are always steamed or boiled, mostly potatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts. Heavy gravies, thick and flaky crusts. The tastes were always good, but its pretty much "stick to your ribs" every meal. 

I stuck with local ales as much as possible, which gave me mixed results. Some of the ales were so stout they could be confused with Guinness, while others were much pale. Almost all of them were served at a cool but not cold temperature, which was a little different for me. I did really like an extra bitter beer we got in one of the villages in Surrey, and while in Scotland, I drank a lot of 80/- (eighty shilling) beer. 

At one of the Edinburgh pubs, the last day we were there, I got the "wee taste of haggis" (cater to tourists much?), which was a very small portion of the infamous dish served with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes). Served with a wheat cracker, but no traditional prunes. It was actually not bad. If you made a slightly runny meatloaf with liver and kidneys, then you'd get a pretty close idea of what haggis tastes like. Of course, this is the tourist version, so instead of boiling everything in a sheep's stomach, they probably just added a few dashes of sheep's stomach extract. 

The last night in the UK, we went to a country pub/restaurant. This was in an old house, and it had low wooden ceiling beams we had to duck under as we walked back to our table. Actually, first we sat in easy chairs by a small fireplace and drank our pre-dinner tipples. I had my typical local Enlgish ale, Tay got his usual Kronenbourg, and Brit got her usual hard apple cider, although it was unusually unfiltered which gave it a really nice flavor. For dinner, we hit all the British countryside favorites like were a group of feasting young lords. Roast pheasant, roasted potatoes, ales, treacle tart, bread-and-butter pudding. Treacle tart is pretty good stuff actually. Reminded me a bit of the gooey butter cake of midwest fame.

Overall, I would say that British food is unfairly maligned, perhaps because it is contrasted with French and Italian cuisine. It's not bad, some of it is quite good, but it is more of a particular character.

Jan 14, 2011

Highlights from the UK pt. I

I'm finally back stateside, in Ponca city, Oklahoma, after nearly two weeks in the UK. So far I've been through no less than eight airports, and I can tell you that I am so incredibly happy to be driving the eight hour trip to St.Louis tomorrow morning.

Broadly, I spent a few days in the villages around London, a few days in London, a few more days of villages and towns, a few days in Edinburgh, and a few more days in London. My favorite moments from the trip:

  • Wandering the cobblestone streets and alleys of Oxford, which were dark, misty, and severe with the gothic architecture of the ancient campus spires looming overhead.
  • Christ Church College in Oxford, which was an amazing campus which was the inspiration for Hogwarts with a dining hall lined with with the glowering portraits of the famous graduates including Kings and Queens of England. We were one of the last people admitted to see it, and we got trapped in a loop for awhile looking for the exit. Wandering around the giant courtyards, cathedrals, halls, and arcades in the dark punctuated by sparse lanterns was really wonderful.
  • Buttermarket square in Canterbury is where three narrow streets lined with old shops and pubs come together at the gate to Canterbury cathedral. It felt right out of the middle ages.
  • Canterbury Cathedral was is a phenomenal piece of architecture, a unique cathedral split into three levels, with the nave two flights of stone stairs up to the apse. Not one, but two crossings, and cavernous crypts. An extremely contentious site in the history of Christianity in England.
  • The Tower of London: taking the tour, wandering the grounds, walking the battlements, the Crown Jewels.
  • Starting the new years eve early with several pints with Tay and Brit at the Albion Pub in downtown London, not far from St.Pauls Cathedral.
  • New Years Eve in Central London.
    • Brit got us a hotel about two minutes from the embankment on the Thames, right across from the London Eye, which is where they shot off the fireworks. Walking back to the hotel after drinks at the pub, there were already huge patrols getting set up to handle the crowds, errecting barricades at various street junctures. The deal was that there were several areas along the Thames that were designated firework viewing areas, and later that night, at a selected time or when a viewing area reached a certain population, the barricades would go up and no one else would be allowed inside. Our hotel gave us a pass that allowed us passage through the barricade like a VIP.
    • We got to our hotel fine, where there was already a huge line for the Sherlock Holmes pub next door. We hung out in our hotel room for awhile and then Tay and I set out for food around 9pm. By then, all road traffic had been blocked off, and the streets were absolutely filled with people. It was scary and exhilerating. We fought our way along the streets, looking for food with no luck.
    •  First, as the heart of London is mostly government and ministry buildings (think parlement and big ben) there were limited options to begin with. The line at McDonalds stretched out the door, across the sidewalk, and across the street. Tay and I walked for awhile before calling it quits and hitting a pub for a pint so Tay could use the bathroom. By the time we got back, the viewing areas were totally full, so we had to use our pass and explain to several police that we had our hotel in there before we were allowed in.
    • We picked up Brit and headed out to the Embankment at 11:40PM. The policy of crowd control was effective. It was just the right amount of people, so we could see and weren't squeezed to death. There was a DJ working the crowds and broadcasting music, and we had a great view of the London Eye and the south bank. At one minute till, a massive countdown clock was projected on a tower next to the eye and started ticking down.
    • At 12:00, the biggest, best fireworks I've ever seen commenced. It was fifteen minutes of finale, huge. Disneyland times ten. They shot off fireworks from the eye and from nearby. It was fantastic. You couldn't help but be blown away. Afterwards, they played Auld Land Syne (which is Scottish, incidently) and everyone sang. Finally, we got the supreme value from the hotel by simply walking five minutes to get to our beds, where the rest of London faced a long difficult trek through congested tube and buses.
  • Ghost town walk through London. I got up with Tay and Brit and after they took off, I wandered the empty streets of London at 9 am. There was not a soul in Picadilly Circus. The streets were as desolate and errily silent as 28 days later as London slept off its revelry from the night before.
  • Westminister Abbey is pretty amazing mostly for its history and the dead entombed there. It is the amazon.com of notable British dead. Handel, Issac Newton, Charles Darwin. Ancient Kings and Queens including the tomb of Edward the Confessor, Elizabeth, and Mary, Queen of the Scots. More impressive than the slick St.Pauls.
  • Visiting the Tate Modern which struck me more powerful as architectural space rather than art gallery.
More to come....

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...