Jul 23, 2011

The New Architects

If architecture is a river which follows its way along the contours of landscape of human history, we left the broad, turbulent water of Modernity long ago, and today we find ourselves drifting down a stagnant tributary from which there may be no end.

There was once the idea that architects could improve society and create a new and better way of life. These waters were deep and dangerous as the river charted the new course, charged by the floodwater of human progress, which swept away the old ways of the world. But much was destroyed, and many began to think that progress itself was a sham- the river would never run to a future city that was more equitable, healthier, happier, or more just. The flood stage dropped and the architects steered away from its center, vowing to never work so closely to the essence of humanity and society.

The architect abandoned its role of changing society directly, and began to play elaborate games with it instead. In the shadow of failed cities built by faith in human progress, court jesters joked, pricked, and prodded the world. The architect's primary tool of change became the typewriter and the exhibition. After all, if you can't change the world, you can subvert its meaning.

And when the patience of the world ran out for this kind of game shortly thereafter, we found ourselves floating along in another tributary entirely. Form was a new game, one that appealed to architects because it was aesthetic, could make vague associations to meaning, and most importantly, harnessed the power of imagination that the computer could unleash. The river became crammed with a floatilla of speedboats, hovercraft, hydroplanes. A gaudy parade with no idea of where it was going, caught up in the heady whirl of Catila, Rhino, 3Dmax, Maya. Even mere human imagination of form is too limited- parametric software calculates and interprets various irrelevant factors and generates even more irrelevant forms.

But the day grew long and the parade had to end; the organizations who had financed and propelled the float kings were as flimsy and reckless as the parade itself, and if your boat is simply a brand, there's not much to float on when your sponsor goes under.

We have even abandoned the helm; the wheel spins idly, floating where the eddies of commerce push, while we drool happily over our card games on the sun deck. Why have we settled for so little?

To the untrained ear architect is still loaded and mythic- a power to shape the world, a noble responsibility to humankind, a profession from the joy of designing and making, membership in an elite class of designers to whom the masters of the world turn. It is an image easily maintained by a profession that has no visible presence to the masses. No one ever actually sees an architect; the majority of the members of the profession are like any other office worker, working on computers behind tinted glass. One might catch a glimpse of a person in office dress and a hard hat on a construction site, but even this heightens the contrast of the immaculate architect over the mud-splattered construction crew. It's an invisibility that even makes Hollywood uncomfortable- if they want to portray an architect, its invariably to the same stereotypes: either the super-sleek futuristic bond-villain type who independently designs the world, or the bumbling local junior architect (who works for the first type) clutching a small drafting T-square.

The new social media

Today I joined Spotify, which I think will be the streaming media player to kill all other streaming media players. Last semester was all about grooveshark, which is great because you can run it from any web browser, but the downside of course, is that it operates on a takedown basis- that they put everything up until the copyright owner tells them to take it down. So that does limit things somewhat, but at least you get really new or really obscure bands able to post their stuff so its great for discovery- what myspace aspired to become. 

I also recently joined Google+ which doesn't seem like a facebook killer to me, but is interesting and better thought out. We'll see what direction it goes in. I hope that it becomes much more of a website/experience sharing site more than a "saw a funny sign today LOL" kind of posting site. Cache will carry it for a little while, as its still on an invitational basis only, and its more sophisticated than FB, but we'll see how it goes. If no one uses it, it will be betamax all over again.

This summer is draining away. I still hate mom's car, but now Saori's driving stick (and she's actually better at it than I am) so at least I'm not driving all the time. I can't believe we're all on our way out of town in less than three weeks. 

Today was a busy day. After I dropped mom off at school to study early in the morning, I picked up Saori and we went to get some coffee with Tay and Brit where we strategized over moving logistics. Afterwards, we went to Ikea and had a meatball lunch and looked around for furniture. Then, I had to pick mom up, so we drove back to Tempe and I dropped Saori so she could take the light rail up to downtown Phoenix. I dropped mom off at her house and drove up to George & Dragon in downtown. We met up there with two of Saori's friends from one of her old workplaces, and we spent a cheerful few hours drinking beer and gossiping about the industry. Architecture is a small world, and the people who socialize with other architects is an even smaller world. 

Jul 9, 2011

Apartment for rent in St.Louis

I'm looking for a roommate this fall semester for an amazing 2 bedroom apartment in University City, St.Louis. Wood floors, gas appliances, large windows, and our personal washer and dryer in the spacious basement.

Picture windows overlook a tree-canopy shaded residential street in the safe and upscale neighborhood northwest of Washington University of St.Louis. Families live here. Walking distance to the famous Delmar Loop and ten minutes walk to the wonderful Winslow's Home. Easy access to Washington University, five minutes by car or bike, 30 minutes by bus or metrolink.

Rent is $450 a month, plus 1/2 of the utilities. Come live with me for a semester!

4th of July

This year, Tay and Brit came over to mom's house and made fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and let me tell you, they are becoming excellent at both. Saori and I made Earl Grey ice cream, which turned out very nice and was actually pretty simple to prepare. We all sipped white sangria mom made a few days before.

After dinner, Tay, Brit, Saori and I headed to downtown Tempe for the fireworks display. Brit circled with her car while we picked up the tickets in advance. $7.50 admission fee to the beach park which had the best viewing and vendor and food booths. To kill some time, we stopped for a beer and some snacks at Mellow Mushroom, a relatively new pizza place on Mill, which has the advantage of having a relatively quiet and low key bar with a great selection of draft beer. We actually killed too much time, since we ended up leaving the bar about ten minutes before the fireworks were about to start.

So we quickly made our way down to the park, squeezed through the security line, and found a spot on the sidewalk to watch the fireworks. The display lasted about 45 minutes, and it was pretty, but it was pretty typical for a small city fireworks display. If the local high school fireworks are a 1, and New Years in London are a 10, Tempe 4th of July is about a 5. We were all kind of jaded actually. Brit actually left us for awhile and hunted down some chocolate covered strawberries for us to munch on while we watched, which was very sweet of her. Anyway, after the fireworks ended, we joined the streams of people leaving and went back to the bar for another few rounds of drinks. At the end of the night, Tay and Brit caught the light rail back to thier respective apartments, and Saori and I solicited the services of a pedicab.

It was a little spendy, but a very nice way to get to the Tempe condo our friend let us borrow for the night.

It's amazing to me that its only been a year since last years 4th, when Saori couldn't make it to dinner with us because she was working, and it was really before any of the moving really got started.

Jul 1, 2011

Bicycling Aland

Aland is not really an easy place to get to, despite the 3 ferry lines which pull into port. We decided the cheapest way to go was by Viking line, which is kind of like the Silja line, but cheaper. It's a bit like comparing royal caribbean with carnival. Anyway, the catch was that the ferry arrives in Mariehamn at 4:30 am and on the return trip, leaves at 11:45 at night. Everything in Mariehamn, as we discovered, opens around 10 am and closes around 6pm. Anyway.

Boarding at the Helsinki pier was a breeze. Easy to pick up our ticket, which is also our door card, really no visible security check. The cruise over was fun. We grabbed a beer and from our high vantage point on the deck (remember most of Helsinki is only around six stories tall) enjoyeda nice view of the city and harbour as we cruised out in the late afternoon. Of course as the night ot later, the hordes of drunk Scandinavians and Russians shouted and sang in the halls well into the AM. Interestingly, I read that it is the ability of the ferry lines to sell duty free goods (read: super cheap booze) which allow the lines to operate profitably. We were woken up by the staff at 4 am and made our way to the exit door. There were about five other people getting off the boat at this early hour, so they decided it was too much trouble to extend the boat dock bridge so they took us down to the car deck and we threaded our way along the parked cars and cargo trucks in the lower deck. They dropped open the back of the boat, the massive driving hatch and we walked down and jumped out to the concrete pier.

It was pretty cool, like jumping out of the military boat or something. It was early morning light, and everything was still and blue. The other passengers dispersed, most of them had rides. I think they get many tourists disembarking this late at night/early in the morning. We walked along the empty streets for awhile. It's a small town, quiet, mostly residential. The town of Mariehamm is stretched the full width of the narrow peninsula, which is about a twenty minute walk from shore to shore. We walked towards the center of town, carrying our luggage with us. The main drag had a large median/park lined with huge shade trees and we walked along, getting odd stares from the very few cars out at that time of the morning. One of them pulled over and the guy inside asked us where we were going. I told him we were heading up to a hotel up the road. I didn't really know if they would be open or have anyone at the desk this early, so we were just killing time. He offered to give us a ride and took us up to the Hotel Arkipelag, the swanky hotel of the island.

By this point, I began to figure out that Aland was more popular with older, wealthier Scandinavians as the principal activities were sailing, yachting, and fishing. As such, the typical tourist flew into town from the airport and stayed at hotel Arkipelag. Our kind driver chatted with us a bit and suggested we wait in the "beautiful lobby" of Hotel Arkipelag, have some free coffee, and rest until the town began to wake up. He dropped us off and waited while we went to the front door of the hotel. Locked. The driver parked his car in the middle of the road and walked over to the front door. He rang the buzzer impatiently and waited for the sleepy looking night clerk to open the door. He explained in rapid Swedish our general situation (or so I assume, it could have been "let these suckers stay here, maybe they'll decide to get a room"), and then said to us in English that it was ok, we could go in. We thanked him again, this really odd guy, and he drove off. We parked ourselves on one of the couches and broke out our reading material.

The front of the lobby was all glass, and the hotel was on the coast, so we could see across to the pier. There were a small group of mostly drunk revelers milling around and giving their farewells to one another. Remember that in Europe partying until 4 am is typical, and that less than five hours ago it was friday night, so it should not be surprising. After the group dispersed, however, there was a figure who remained.

This young gentleman was fashionably dressed, and was so drunk he was basically heel-toeing it along the street in front of the hotel. Apparently he didn't have anywhere else to go either, or was too drunk to get there. It was like watching one Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. He would take a hesitant step forward or two, and then one back, visibly trying to keep his balance. At one point, he openly relieved himself in middle of the street. (That was one of the really surprising things, when Finns get drunk, they tend to pee anywhere and everywhere).

Anyway, we had some vending machine coffee, and finally around 7 am we wandered out. We spent about two hours wandering around. The hotel we were supposed to stay at looked frankly abandoned. No one answered doors, and the lobby looked like it was being renovated. I called them with my cell phone a few times before I finally got connected. It's a bit complicated- there are several hotels on the island owned by the same group, and apparently the hotel I booked gets combined with the other hotel for certain months of the year. The website, however, did not mention this fact, nor did the hotel booking staff I spoke to on the phone. The hotel I thought we were staying at would not open for another month. Thank God I had my phone.

We spent about an hour in front of a famous church in the middle of the town, sitting on a park bench, napping and watching the birds fight in the bird bath. Finally, we found the hotel, about a five minute walk from where we got off the boat in the first place about five hours prior. Tired and hungry, we ate a huge breakfast at the hotel restaurant.

They were open all night. They felt bad, so they gave us an upgraded room with a view of the harbor. It was a nice seaside hotel. Thick red drapes to keep out the sunlight, Scandinavian design. Lots of motorcycles and middle age Europeans. That's the other thing people do here, they bring their motorcycles and tool around the scenic roads around the archipelago.

We walked to the bike rental shop, stopping for a quick visit by the tourist information center. We wanted to do some bicycling, which was highly recommended in the guide book, and they suggested some places nearby we could bicycle. Easy trips, in other words. We went on to the bike rental place, Ro-No, and picked up two bikes for about 15 bucks a day each. We talked to the rental guy, a young guy who probably did this as a summer job. We asked him about biking up to the ruins of Kastelholm castle, and he said it was very possible to make it there and back in a single day. That sounded pretty cool, so we set out, Saori leading.

Biking in Aland is incredibly easy, there are well-marked biking trails, its relatively flat riding, and incredibly beautiful. We happened to be there at just the right time as all the wildflowers were in bloom, and they were blooming everywhere. We alternated riding through forests of pine and birch, and meadows of grasses of wildflowers. The weather was beautiful and sunny. We stopped at an old church and took some photos before passing on. Saori's bike tire was flat, so we stopped at sporting goods shop and the shopkeeper generously let me use their bathroom and then helped Saori fill up her tires with air from her car's compressor pump. She recommended we fill up at the gas station at the tiny village up ahead which had some gas stations and a large general store like a kmart. We biked on. We stopped for snacks and water at the store, which was kind of fun to poke through. One of the only stores in that part of the archipelago, it was basically a wal-mart. What they sold told of a hard lifestyle, especially in the wintertime. After about four hours of riding and breaks we finally crested the hill and saw the ruined castle.

The historic ruins were pictureesque against the stream and water around it, and there was a small group of people lunching in the green park in front of it. We spent about an hour exploring the ruins and resting. It was not that exciting, and the renovation work made the experience much more Disneyland. It was beautiful and pastoral, however, and the journey made the trip well worth it.

It was just amazing and wonderful bicycling, the island flying by around you, the wind in your hair, sun on your back, and surrounded by picture perfect pastoral nordic landscape. Playing tag with Saori on our bikes, and signaling to each other with our cheerful bike bells. Bicycling in Aland was the standout highlight of my time in Finland. On the way back, we stopped at a cafe on top of rock knob overlooking one of the narrow straits and inlets between the islands. Absolutely amazing view, great little cafe, we got a piece of cake and split it, sitting outside in the sun, high above the archipelago which spread out far below us. We got back to Mariehamm too late to return the bikes. So we pedaled our way to the hotel and locked our bikes up there.

The bike locks are very interesting. They are small locks that basically prevent the rear wheel from turning by putting a piece of metal between the spokes. And that's it. There's really nothing but propriety from preventing people from picking up the bike and stealing it. But it's convention, just like people used to leave their cars and houses unlocked. Anyway, we were both absolutely beat from our marathon ride. We were on bike for probably six hours, and I was chafing like a motherf***er. My knees were in bad shape too, so we opted to walk to dinner. By then, most of the restaurants had either closed or were closing, (by the way, Aland's hours pretty much are 9am to 6pm, good luck finding anything open at any other time) but we were able to get a takeout pizza and calzone which ended up being pretty good. (and pretty expensive; other than the bikes, everything was spendy). After dinner we went back to the hotel and passed out from exhaustion.

Day in the life

Today played out pretty typically with how my life is this summer.

Alarm went off at 5:50 AM and I rolled out of bed, trying not to disturb Saorichan. With all of three pairs of pants and about five shirts that look more or less decent for work, it doesn't take a lot of time to get dressed in the morning. A quick check in the mirror- hmmmmm. I picked up a beard trimmer to keep my ragged facial hair from getting to long (as I start to look like a 19 year old trying to prove something) but I need to clean up my neck, so, shave. 

Feed both the cats, slam down some off-brand honey nut cheerios ("its a bagged cereal in a box disguise!"), and mom rolls out of her room and we dive into the microconvertable for the five-minute drive to the RAPID bus stop. The RAPID bus goes straight to downtown from this park and ride on the edge of Phoenix, and for a limited window, it runs about every ten minutes. What makes it annoying is that to get a ticket on the bus you have to pay the exact fare, which is $2.75. So I had to go to the bank and get a ton of $1 bills and a fat roll of quarters since I pay that one way fare about five times a week. The ride is quick, a little over half an hour in the fast lane, and I read or listen to music. It's a commuter bus.

I jumped off before the main station- its faster to walk than to take light rail in. It's about a 20 minute walk to the office, and I meander through side streets, parks, and parking lots. I arrive about two minutes before 7:30. Right on time.

I've been working on two projects- one of them is a large multi-specialty clinic that will be going up in Illinois, and the other is a willed body storage and processing building. This one is going up in Arizona. This is a really interesting facility as it where cadavers and animals will be stored and embalmed (and possibly plasticized a la  bodyworlds) for use as teaching devices for medical students. Its a building that the client wants to be very quiet and subdued, as discreet as possible, and I also want to make sure that its form is suitably understated and distinguished for the human dead. Especially as body doners may potentially come and visit the facility. So its the more fun design project. 

Saorichan met me for lunch, and we took the light rail up to eat at Pane Bianco, of the Pizzaria Bianco fame. They make their own bread and serve up a caprese sandwich with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil. It's expensive, but its one of the best sandwiches in Phoenix. 

Normally, I catch a ride back to Ahwatukee with my coworker David, and we make great time in the carpool lane. Today, though, he was back in Mexico for his birthday, so I had to leave early and make a mad dash in 110 heat to catch the RAPID bus back. It was standing room only, but it was a unique experience to stand at the front of the bus while zipping along the freeway. 

Mom picked me up at the park and ride and drove me straight to hot yoga. Saori was already there waiting for us. She had packed my yoga bag for me and we got dressed (or undressed or whatever) and went into the hot room.

Yoga was miserable. It was their special "flow" class, just an hour instead of the normal 90 minutes, and more intense workout. They also cranked up the heat. It was noticeably hotter than the typical temperature, and I made the mistake of sitting in the hotter side of the room. It was a grueling workout and the heat and humidity made me nauseous and lightheaded. It's something that can be overcome with better preparation and more practice, but I think I like my workouts better without the artificial heat and humidity. Like running. At least there's a cool breeze of the moving air over by body when I run. So I'm going to do that instead. Saori is pretty hooked on Yoga. This class was her favorite.

After yoga, mom dropped me off at home first and went back to pick up Saori. After everyone showered, Saori and I grabbed a snack of leftover pork on some leftover rice. We watched some TV and went to bed around 11. 

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...