Mar 29, 2011

The $5 Hon. Brewmaster

A quick recap of the past week or so:

Spring break in Phoenix was far to short to spend the time I wanted to spend with friends and family, and far to short to get the amount of work done that I should have gotten done for school. Still, I had a great time, fattened up a bit more to get me thro ugh the long months of studio, ate some good Mexican food and had a mai tai at the Trader Vic's in Scottsdale. I forgot what it was like to be hot so I had to buy a pair of shorts and flip flops while I was there, while it snowed in St.Louis.

The weather has been a mess- absolutely all over the place. In Phoenix, the spring is already consistantly cool then hot, but in the wintertime, you have four seasons compressed into a day in a predictable way- its winter when you wake up, spring by the time you get out the door, summer at lunchtime, and fall when you get back home. St.Louis weather is also seasonal, but apparently in several day chunks at a time. We go from a few days in the 70s to a few days of a blanket of snow with everything in between. On any given day I don't know whether to wear my canvas sneakers, shoes for rain, or snow boots.

Studio is feeling more progressive. After no studio desk crits for 2 weeks, I was really sweating the monday after the week after classes resumed. But the professor liked what I was doing an encouraged me to continue and to really push the boundaries of the project, and work between the scale of a planner and architect and civil engineer. So that was good.

Despite being introduced to a wealth of great source material of which contemporary architecture is built on, I wrote an abysmal paper and turned it in as a rough draft for my history and theory of the AA class. But its embarrassingly bad.  I'm beginning to worry about my GPA. (but not too much as I've pretty much got to get below a B- in every class to really threaten my scholarship)

At the forefront is structures, which has a test this friday for which I have not yet begun the homework. I would have had the test tomorrow night, but things as they are, there is another option to take it friday instead.

The graduate architecture council (GAC) is like the student council in high school, except in this one we can organize events with booze. I humbly submit that I was nominated to be a VP of Professional in the GAC, ran, and won in a schoolwide election. Actually, I asked to be nominated, and I ran uncontested. As did all the other nominees. But its really not a popularity contest, it really means that people who want to do something, get to do something.

As VP of Professional, one of my duties is be the guy architects who attend lectures go to after the lecture to make sure they get AIA continuing education credits. I'm also given the mantle of organizing a firm crawl, which I think I wrote about in this blog previously, which is no small task in itself.

Speaking of the GAC, we are acting as student representatives when the school has its open house this weekend, really starting thursday, so I volunteered to drive students from the airport to the hotel in Clayton. I can't believe its been a year already since I came as a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed youngster of only 25.

And so on. Oh well, structures awaits.

Mar 13, 2011

Arizona light

There is something special about the sunlight in Arizona. At the Rick Joy lecture, he was struggling to put it into words "the light in Arizona isn't yellowish, like you see in Arizona Highways magazine, it's pure white," or something along those lines. He's right. It's this phenomenally pure, brilliant white light. Driving from the airport, I was transfixed, drunk on the shadows cast on the freeway walls, by how the sunlight shaded the various faces of passes into nearly graphic elements. Coming from St.Louis, if light is like media, the light in St.Louis is like an old VHS tape- filtered, grainy, hesitant, uncertain. Phoenix light is like a HD-DVD or BluRay. There's this leap of clarity and rendering. Architecture looks great in Arizona light because it renders everything so cleanly and purely, and everything stands in sharp relief against the deep blue sky.

Mid Review, Recovery

Last week was a rough week. Saori decided to spend next semester in Buenos Aires, there was the triple disaster to strike Japan, and I had a mid review Friday.

Mid-review is a juried review of work done up that point in the semester. Some people think that its actually more important than the final review as there is still a chance to develop the project based on the feedback you receive.

The work flow of this studio has been a bit atypical- we began with several weeks of studying the city from an infrastructural and topographic standpoint, trying to understand New Orleans in relation to water that comes from the sky, from the river, and catastrophically from the sea. There was a week-long site visit where we went to New Orleans, listened to lectures, and visited critical sites in the city infrastructure. After we returned, we embarked on a further study of a particular area of the city which lasted about two weeks, which culminated in the creation of an analytical model and a conceptual model of the area of study. This gave us 13 days in which to individually select our own sites and programs and begin work to present to the mid-review. So there was a lot of work you could say embedded but perhaps not apparent in the works we presented friday.

I got about two hours of sleep wednesday night, and four hours thursday night. I sacrificed my other schoolwork. I gave up on trying to organize my board and instead focused on the creation of 1/8" scale concrete and wood sculpted sectional models of my proposal, in addition to a physical model at 1/32" scale.

The review went badly. I presented so poorly my studio professor felt compelled to jump in and "rescue" me and my project, which is actually pretty humiliating when you think about it. It is either an indication that my presentation is failing my project, or that the teacher has suggested so much that became manifest in the project that he feels himself vested in the work.

Actually, it really doesn't matter as there is very little original in my project, which is kind of how I've situated the project. Here's the abstract:
New Orleans was founded at the navigable juncture of the gulf and the Mississippi river. People and trade would float up St.John’s bayou from lake Ponchartrain, down the 30’ wide Carondelet canal to the turning basin at the edge of the French Quarter, and move through the city overland to reach the banks of the Mississippi river. This was the conduit of the city. Since, this conduit has been broken, replaced by the industrial canal which serves as an urban bypass, and the Carondelet canal filled in. This urban canal was the home of a wide promenade, the Carondelet Walk, which is one of the few water edges of the city where water was an amenity instead of a threat or nuisance.

This project’s goal is to re-establish the historic conduit that linked lake (and gulf), city, and river in a way that brings the urban fabric to water at a human scale.  The method I propose to do this is to tie together several urban projects in various stages of actualization in New Orleans with an infrastructural architecture at the locus of these projects- where the Broad St. community revitalization efforts intersects the Lafitte Greenway project, in immediate adjacency to the Lafitte Housing project.

Waggoner & Ball’s Lafitte greenway proposal includes a recommendation by the Dutch Dialogue’s workshop to extend Bayou St.John to pump station 2 and pump it back out the river via the under used Orleans canal. This proposal builds on all of the above projects: building housing along the extended bayou, and providing a navigable channel in the bayou to allow boat traffic to reach a dock at the end of the bayou where it meets Broad st. at pump station 2. The dock then becomes a node, where pedestrians and bicyclists from the green belt can transfer to the water and vice versa. Additionally, this project proposes widening the median along Broad st. beween Canal and the pump station, which would tie into community redevelopment projects along Broad st such as the conversion of an abandoned grocery store into a new grocery store and urban farm and convey people to the the streetcar line and thus connect to the rest of the city of New Orleans.
 Anyway, I got some good comments and a lot of negative comments, but it is a very complicated moment in time and in the city where I'm proposing my project. In this sense, its very satisfying as I feel like I'm proposing something with a much higher level of sophistication that simply creating a new type of raised house.

After the review, Chuck and I grabbed a beer and a burger at Blueberry Hill restaurant/bar and I crashed pretty hard when I got home. Ended up sleeping about 11 hours. Saturday became a day for recovery and cleaning as I prepared for my spring break trip to Phoenix.

This morning, I got up at what would have been 3 am to catch public transit to the airport for an early flight to Phoenix. I forgot how hot Phoenix is, even in spring break. It was a high in the 80s today, and I didn't even pack shorts or sandals.

Mar 4, 2011

The Crusader

Another friday posting...

We had desk crits today and we were in general torn apart, debased, and lambasted for both the lack of work and its low quality. I must commend my studio professor for his dedication to the craft and the studio-the energy and frustration with us he brings to tear us down at every single class would not be sustained by someone who didn't care as much. I myself have grown such a thick skin to it, that I don't even feel the difference between a good and a bad review. There are no good reviews, although today, I got a desk critique which was essentially, "you're proposing something architectural, which is commendable, but you're still lazy, sloppy, and have no sense of color or graphic design." I also took the last spot on the sign up sheet, with my review well beyond the normal "studio" hours, so I got my professor at the end of the day. By the time I got down to happy hour downstairs, they'd sold out (here's a tip: they're buying less beer) but one of my studio mates, Sam, had bought me a beer and saved it for taking the last spot on the list. And really, at the end of the day, its not like we're going to be fired. We could all get C's which would require us to retake a studio and would kill our GPAs and financial aid situations, but that's besides the point.

Actually, its kind of nice to be part of a studio which is not the typical "post katrina New Orleans design a raised house" kind of studio. It's not a "make it right" project- its really a studio that awkwardly stumbles between infrastructure/civil engineering, planning, and architecture. The project I'm proposing has my own programming, but could be a fairly sophisticated insertion linking several previous proposals and developments for the site area.

Anyway, got a long week ahead of me, with a mid-review friday, and the sound of falling rain is making it hard to stay awake.

Mar 3, 2011

On phones

I got a new cell phone battery in the mail today. It cost me about $6, delivered. But then again, my cell phone is about three or four years old now, and its not an iPhone. I can actually change my cell phone battery. I remember a time from about six or seven years ago up until really the last two years, when the first iPhone sparked the first real shift to smartphones, when phones were really cool. They slid, they opened in strange new ways, there was this emphasis on the object, on hinges, screens, buttons, form. How it felt in your hand and how you interacted with it. Now it seems the world of cell phones are coming down to two types and each year, the phones look more and more like either an iPhone or a blackberry. One is a hideous banal slab, brutal. Rectangular. There's no fun, no play, no humanism. It has a form that suggests it fell out of a computer, or that it slots into something. Remote controls are more interesting and human. The RIM blackberry is a monster, a wide, flat freak of tiny buttons. 

I like my phone. It's a Sony-Ericsson, a joint venture between the Scandinavian and Japanese brands. It's not a crappy motorola or an unknown Chinese or Korean brand with the AT&T or Verizon logo on it. I liked Nokia phones too. Well built, logical, intuitive. I had a Nokia cell that had an LED flashlight built into it. And they work nearly anywhere in the world. I want a quad band phone because I want to use my phone when I travel. But I'm getting technical here. I really want to talk about form and anthropometrics and ergonomics. 

This phone is a slider. The top half slides open to reveal the keyboard in the front, and a camera in the back, which is protected by the slider when its closed. When my phone rings, I snap it open with a flick of my thumb and that answers the call. To hang up, I snap the phone shut. There's something about that physical connection, that gesture that connects me a lot more to what the phone is doing.  I just don't get that tapping a glass surface.  There's no feedback to tell me that the phone is doing anything.

What really annoys me is that some phones are still being designed and made that aren't clumsily aping the slab or the monster, but they are not for sale at network stores. They almost all sell slabs and monsters because (gasp) they make more money when you buy the overpriced data plan.

Tinga Alejandro- casi tinga, pero no

Tinga is a Mexican dish, I think northern or central, which I somehow managed to almost miss in nearly twenty years of living in Arizona. It's a kind of shredded, slow cooked chicken or beef with peppers and chilis and some other ingrediants. I had it the first time prepared by a friend of mine's grandparents, who are Mexican, down south of Tucson. It is fantastic stuff. So I tried to make it.

My tinga was made from ingredients that I tried to remember in a grocery store, based on my memory of a crock pot variation of the recipe in a comment thread of a recipe I found online. So its pretty far removed from the tinga I remember. I ended up using chorizo and pork neck bone meat, instead of beef or chicken, and poblano peppers instead of chipotle. And I probably messed up the ratios too somewhere along the way.

  Tinga Alejandro is made with two cans of green chilis, one roasted, a half of a poblano pepper, a half of a yellow onion diced and sauteed with two cloves of garlic, and two tomatoes, charred on the stove and then smashed. Plus the 2 pounds of bone meat and the pound or so of chorizo.

I let it all cook for about 12 hours. The end result was really quite soupy, much more soupy or stew-y than I remember. I slapped it on some corn torillas and a dollop of sour cream, and it was so runny it ate through the torilla and most of the meat fell out onto my plate. It was still pretty good. Really really rich flavor. I put away my plate and got out a bowl, and threw some tortilla chips instead and ladled out some more of Tinga Alejandro. Pretty good, actually. Not quite as spicy as I wanted it. Up the chilis next time maybe. I think I was supposed to have some adobo sauce and chipotle pepper somewhere in there too. Next time.

Anyway, the main lesson here was: don't use pork neck bones. It makes a delicious and rich meat that falls off the bone, but then you've got to pick the bones out. I spent about fifteen minutes with a fork fishing out bones and bone fragments. Pulled out a few dozen, some about the size of a fingernail.

After dinner, after I pulled out the meat trying to separate it as muhc from the liquid as possible, I poured the liquid into my bowl and ate it as a soup. Unbelievably rich. It probably has about half of the rendered fat from the chroizo and pork. Quite tasty.

Mar 2, 2011


Today was the easiest wednesday of my semester so far. Two classes were cancelled for unrelated reasons, so I had an unproductive morning and finally decided to do something and so I drove down to see Tadao Ando's Pulitzer museum.
It's a very simple building, what makes it really compelling is the craftsmanship and detail. The spaces created are really not so sublime, but I spent ten minutes staring at the connection of how a framed wall meets a concrete wall and how they meet the floor. Astoundingly meticulous craftsmanship of the workers (Ando actually brought some Japanese construction workers to help) and the crispness of the detailing. It's nice if you can get away with it- the construction cost for the museum has supposedly never been released. Really, there are only a few simple materials in construction. There's wood, concrete, brick, steel, gypsum board, paint, and a variety of "surface treatments" like stone or tile or whatever. The Ando building is made of probably the same materials you have in your home. But its like a master chef with a lot more deliberation. There must be an Ando, but there also must be the craftmen, not just contractors, but real craftsmen, to translate the fine detailing into reality, and also of course, the wealthy client, without which there would be no Ando or craftsmen. 

Mar 1, 2011

Show me the Moneo

Monday night, I went to the jam-packed lecture by the world renowned architect Raphael Moneo, where there were so many people crammed into the hall, they sat in the aisles and had to be cleared away from sitting in front of the doors. I was underwhelmed by the lecture at first- Moneo at his age has a weak voice and a heavy accent, not improved by our stellar sound system. It was an odd selection of works he presented, three laboratory science buildings recently completed in three Ivy League schools. I gradually got into the lecture, less taken by the architecture of the work as much as I was by the enthusiasm and passion Moneo brought to it. It was also personally interesting to me in that I'd spent two years working on a similarly programed building. Student's reactions were underwhelmed and the aisles gradually cleared before the two hour lecture ended.

Last friday, we had our first real review for studio. How does one rate critiques? Was it instructive? Perhaps. Was it fun? By absolutely no means. There are a few teachers in this school who seem to have a certain view of architecture that is so meticulous and distilled that there is no room for personal enjoyment. It is architecture of space shuttle construction, without the space shuttle. It is an understandable reaction for a compromised and weak profession which has nearly given everything away to consultants and contractors, but this more often than not comes across as bitterness which leads to the piss-on-everything attitude I find so frustrating and deadening.
For this review, I created ten scale models of various edge conditions of water meeting land in New Orleans (natural bayou, Mississippi river pier, drainage canals, underground culverts, etc) with the intent of then taking these pieces and somehow with their juxtapositions, create a new language for how water meets land. New Orleans, for those who have never considered it, is a city in a delta between a lake and a major river, and yet there is more richness in the relationship between urban context and water in downtown San Antonio, Texas. At any rate, I ended up with just the pieces and not the wider idea, so we were justifiably criticized for having a "conceptual" model that was less conceptual than our abstracted "literal" model.
I was commended for the physical models I made. The most praise I got out of that review was for the level of craft. I bought a douglass fir 4x4 post and sliced it up and sawed it up in the band saw to create the various "natural" or pervious landscape. It was then sanded to perfection. The hard, impervious parts of the sections I cast out of Rockite, which is a kind of anchoring cement, in formwork made of styrene. These bits and pieces were played with by all the reviewers during our presentation. If you want to engage the reviewers, make toylike models.

A note about casting- In my undergraduate at ASU, in our first semester of studio, we were introduced to pourstone, another brand of anchoring cement, which I practiced into a skill mostly using foamcore formwork. Creating a mold out of styrene requires lots of patience, craft with the cutting and welding of the styrene, and a ton of toxic weld-on, which chemically melts the styrene, is cancer causing, and does lots of other nasty stuff. The formwork was easier with the foamcore, but the product far inferior- if you want beautiful cast concrete architectural models, you have to go with the styrene-rockite method. I tested both for this project. The generic anchoring cement came out looking like a rusty steel plate. The rockite came out looking like polished granite. Absolutely beautiful and crisp. 

Saturday night, Chuck and I took the bus to a themed party at a friend's apartment. People in my studio have a hard time understanding why I take the bus when I have a perfectly good car and a parking permit. Anyway, the theme of the party was the twentieth century. Come as any decade, kind of thing. The vast majority of guys, myself included, went with the 30s-60's professional male. White shirt, black pants, narrow dark tie, fedora, and optional suspenders. Fun. There are still Chinese students who come up to me and tell me that they've heard I've lived in China, and I flash my rusty "I speak a little chinese" back for their amusement.

I was dismayed to learn so late that the study abroad programs here are free. There is the regular tuition, and whatever it costs to get there plus living expenses. Early my first semester, I attended a lecture by the study abroad program coordinator who never made this clear. The massive numbers thrown up on the screen for the program cost were inclusive of tuition that we were already going to have to pay. If I had known this, I would actually considered more strongly going to Helsinki. It would leave me a little bitter if there were any bitterness left.

Got a fun book in the mail today: Kitch: an Anthology of Bad Taste which happily enough is for school. My final paper for the AA class concerns populism and architecture and so it seemed an appropriate source material. Should architecture submit to the public's taste or challenge it and make taste?

Medium is the message

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