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.

Nov 16, 2011


After yesterdays warm, 70 degree weather, I awoke to find it clear and cold. Actually, Suki woke me up to find and rectify the emptiness of her food dish. Every day, she howls and cries starting around 6:30AM, and on the one hand, I can either throw her into the bathroom and close the door in an attempt to break her of the habit,  but on the other hand, I wonder if she's even capable of learning anything anymore, and if I'm just being cruel to elderly animal.

Anyway, today I visited my site for my urban books class because the light was good for more photographs. The site is in way north St.Louis, where the land falls away to the river, which I guess was once the natural levees of the Mississippi, around the point where 270 crosses into into Illinois. I stumbled across the area while bicycling because part of the old roads have been incorporated into the Riverfront trail which ends nearby, starting from the base of the Arch.

It's a network of roads which looks like it linked riverview, the low road beside the river, and lookaway drive, which runs up on top of the hill and serves a small residential community. The roads are all there: concrete bollards and chains, asphalt paving, concrete curbs, gutters, and light poles. But it looks like its been several decades since the last car was there. The street is covered with leaves and patches of thin soil. The vegetation has grown into the street, and in some areas, is so dense as to make passage along the former street impossible. The curbs and gutters are hidden among the bushes and dirt and leaves, and really, the only thing that stands out are the light poles, which emerge from the underground and disappear into the tree canopy. All in various stages of disrepair. It's a strange and eerie place. In the deepest part, where the road is totally covered by trees and undergrowth, sometimes I have to dig down an inch or so to see if there really is asphalt under everything.

I think I am coming down with a cold. There is the nasal congestion and the headaches, stuffed ears and nose, burning eyes, and fatigue that comes with it. So I'm drinking lots of fluids, and getting a lot of sleep. I really don't need this right now. Tonight I stopped by Schnucks to pick up some DayQuil, so I feel marginally less crappy.

Actually, I had a really good night. For our advanced building class group meeting, we decided to have a dinner meeting so we made steamed chicken and I sauteed some zucchini, had a little wine, and talked about our project. Good times.

Nov 15, 2011

Another post about Korea

And I even had a Shin bowl for lunch.

Stopped by Shnucks this morning on the way to school to pick up some donuts and honey. The donuts were for breakfast, to get me through the last round of student movies. The honey was for my throat, which has gotten slightly worse over the last few days. Hope I'm not getting sick. I'm sure averaging five hours of sleep a night isn't at all related. I've actually made myself get 8 hours these last few days just to try to stay healthy, as nothing kills productivity like illness.

Speaking of productivity, I went to a lecture tonight that was almost entirely Koreans and almost entirely management students. The speaker, who was also Korean, looked at us and joked, 'you all could be my children.' The lecture was at the architecture school and the information was passed around because it might have some interest for architecture:

Mr Moon Kook-Hyun has recently lead the UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification) and he will be giving a lecture at WashU this coming Tuesday, the 15th, in Steinberg at 7:30pm. The title of the lecture is "Korea: New Challenges and New Leaders" but he will be addressing issues in environment, social responsibilities of corporations, and global competitiveness.
I think I might have been the only architecture student there. I was mostly interested in the environmental aspects and how one approaches it from a business perspective. The guy is, after all, a CEO.

Actually, most of the presentation was about business and management technique, how he was able to attempt to meet the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental sustainability, and wildly succeed doing it.

It was interesting to listen to non-architecture lectures because we do, actually, have to interface with the real world of business once we get out of here. Moon talked about the importance of speed- how quickly can innovations be vetted and brought to market, and he began to tie this economic narrative with another narrative- about quality, trust, distributed empowerment, and morality. For example, if you want speed, you need parts from your suppliers quickly and the fastest way to get it is for them to send it to you as you need it, or just-in-time logistics. But it requires a level of trust between the supplier and the company, as there isn't time to inventory or run checks on whatever it is.

Another interesting point he made was that if you ever need to fire 20% of your company, it's far better to simply cut everyone's hours back 20%. And he's also all about education, and developing innovation in everyone in the company, etc.

I did learn that I know almost nothing about business budgeting. Moon polled the audience as to what they thought Samsung spent on its employees. I ventured first: 70%? The rest of the crowd was too polite to laugh. I was partly confusing the value of productivity of the employee, and partly thinking about about how much money must be spent on salaries and wages and benefits. Turns out the answer is 15%. That's it. The car division is even lower, closer to 5%. Medical workers tend to get a higher percentage, like 25%. I still don't really understand how that works.

If I was running a bakery, for example, and I'm paying Enzo the baker my employee $10 an hour, this means that every hour I'm spending about $67 total, or $57 which I'm not spending on Enzo. That's seems kind of high for an hourly cost of raw materials, energy, rent, advertising, logistics. 

Spring classes

Towards the end of every semester, the school sends out information on registration for the next semester's classes. They listed the date of registration to be a day later than it actually was, an easily forgiven mistake considering our laid-back attitudes about what classes we want to take, our wide open schedules, and the huge availability of seats in classes.

Actually, I lost the paper with that information on it, so I checked online at the registration website and so I was able to log on at 7:30 am on the correct day and secure the classes I wanted. (Why are schools so terrible communicating with students? Actually, Arizona State was a lot worse.)

Next semester, I'm enrolling in Design Thinking, a precursor to degree project (it's really a thesis, but they don't want students to get sweaty palmed about it), a mystery studio, and two electives. I've shifted professional practice to my final semester, when I take degree project. The two electives I've enrolled in concern architecture in post WWII Japan with a new professor here who is very highly regarded (actually, I'm pretty much taking the class just have this professor) and also a landscape class about the integration of landscape and structure, which I think is really interesting and exciting.

Four mondays

There's four mondays remaining to our final review. When I said this aloud in studio, people shushed me and got this terrified look like I'd mentioned "you-know-who." Actually, it scares the crap out of me, especially given that the week before the final monday needs to be totally production of final materials. Which gives me effectively three weeks, including this one to nail my building down to furniture layouts. Right now, I have some paper massing models, although I can use a lot of the same ideas and concepts from my mid-review model. And I will need to, as well, since this thing is going to take a lot of work.

Last night in studio, Andrew jumped up and said "Rico's on in five minutes!" Rico, Andrew's roommate, is one of the students in our studio, a Puerto Rican from UF, who also, it appears, sings and plays guitar. Every monday night, Ally's restuarant in the DUC building has an open mic night, and tonight, Rico was going to play a song. The other three of us in studio jump up and join Andrew as we run downstairs, sprint across the parking lot and pile into Andrews car. We speed off across campus to the DUC center parking, and sprint inside. "Where's Ally's?" we shout at sleepy looking undergrad. We're too late. The open mike is still going on, but its winding down. We've missed Rico by 15 minutes. Still, there's free coffee and tea, so we each grab a cup, take a seat, and listen to one girl stagger through a a keyboard set.

While waiting for the next player to show up and get ready, we are surprised by Chris who gets up and plays some piano jazz and the theme from Snoopy.

Nov 13, 2011


Kpop is something that's caught my attention recently. Kpop, which I'd never heard of before this semester, is a genre of completely over the top korean pop music, heavily electronic and influenced by R&B. Extremely sugary, bubblegummy music by teen idol bands of young attractive women or men. What I find so interesting about it is that is seems like a cultural product of globalization. While it is uniquely Korean, it is a heavy export to the pacific rim and is attempting to make inroads in the US and UK. The  producers of the music run everything, from the production of teen idol signers to songwriting to marketing. Everything is totally in-house. It's like the Monkees, but no one really cares if the performers are actually playing their instruments. One production company actually keeps a staff of primarily British and Scandinavian songwriters, and often, the same song will be recorded in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese as the bands have presence in each of those countries.

There's a huge commercial aspect as well. The producers of one band, Girl's Generation, made a song for LG celebrating the release of a new phone. The video shows them smiling and dancing around with the phone. That song went to the #1 spot on Korean charts.

I think that what gets a lot of airplay in the US is for the most part overproduced and probably part of the marketing strategy for one company or another (luxury cars in rap tunes, every iPod commercial ever made), but I don't think we're quite at the point where the main point of the song is to sell something. Also, its very likely that major brand companies don't want to come in too heavily. If they have a popular singer sing about their brand or product, there is a risk that the artist will be perceived as selling out, and the that company somehow corrupted them. I get the impression that because the K-pop groups are so manufactured and created, people don't really care if they're selling something.

Nov 12, 2011

Lookaway dr

Up at 8 today, still a little hung over from the two beers I had last night. Had a leisurely breakfast of buscuits and gravy- I ended up just making my own gravy from scratch, which actually wasn't terrible. Could have used some sausage or meat drippings, but oh well.

Drove out to the chain of rocks park in way north St.Louis for some more photography, fighting time and the clear sunny skies that were becoming increasingly cloudy. I'm shooting up there for my book project, which contrasts images of the old road completely overtaken by nature with images of fantasy and horror from the fine and illustrative arts. It's a fantastic place. What used to be a series of long switchbacks up the hills which slope down to the Mississippi flood plain has been blocked off and abandoned. All that was there, remains: the asphalt road, gutter, curbs, concrete bollards with chains and steel safety cables, and the light posts. I don't know when the last car drove on it, but there are trees at least 20 years old protruding from the leaf covered asphalt street. The gutter is lost on the ground, and the streetlights are difficult to spot in the trees. It's a very surreal place.

Spent the second half of the day in studio, working on finding images that would pair well with the photography for the book. Black beans and rice for dinner, and Last of the Mohicans. I'm a sucker for beautiful cinematography. I'll give a lot of leeway to acting and plot, but it'd better be a gorgeous movie.

Seasonal check

Most of the leaves have fallen, although there are trees which are still beautifully attired in their reds, greens, and golds.

The coolness which ranges up to the 70s some days has yet to give way to serious cold, but there are times in the day when the not screwing around anymore seriously cold brushes by. Two days ago, in the early morning hours when I left studio, there was light layer of frost on my car.

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and last year, it was the occasion of the first snowfall.

Nov 11, 2011


If I have come across as whiny, I apologize. Architecture and studio, while it may hold little joy due to my own attitude deficiencies, has potential for great joy. For example, architecture took me to Shanghai where I had an absolute blast experiencing the city for the sole purpose of experiencing the city. Molecular biologists may go to the city of Shanghai for conferences on genomics, but architecture/urbanists, we go to see the city. It's great. I would not change my course of study for any other. Perhaps we do 'study' longer than law school students, but we have the privilege of working from our own imaginations, in a nearly purely creative/intellectual endeavor. It's challenging, but it should be fun. The fact I'm not having fun means my architecture is boring and dis-invested, which is an academic problem, so really, I should be focusing on having more fun because it ultimately makes for a better project.

FAR to go

We had our mid-review presentations last Friday. It was an embarrassment. I would say that the work I presented would be marginally passable for my studio two semesters ago. I'm on a creek and I didn't address flooding. I mean, inexcusably bad. The design is uninspiring, uninteresting, totalitarian, and bland.

FAR, or Floor/Area Ratio, is the ratio of the usable lot size to the floor area. So if you have 1000 square foot site, and you build a 500 square foot, one story building on it, you have an FAR of 0.5. If you built two stories, you would have an FAR of 1. We are trying to attain an FAR around 6, and have justification for not having a high FAR. If developers took over the site, they would in point towers, and generally reach an FAR of about 8. That's pretty tall/dense.

The FAR of the building I presented at midreview had an FAR of slightly more than 1.5. I'm not even sure how its possible to get that low of an FAR.

So: to recap, my project this far this semester, per my own evaluation.

  • Not an interesting form
  • Not an interesting concept
  • Not really engaging the creek or the landscape in a passable way
  • Not contributing to defining the skyline of Shanghai
  • About as dense as a suburban subdivision in the most prime real-estate of Shanghai.
So, unfortunately, when I am struck, repeatedly, by how bad my studio project is this semester, it is not an momentary thing. This is, fundamentally, undergraduate level work. So let's just say that I was not exactly traipsing downstairs for our one-on-one midterm evaluation. 

"Alec," my professor said earnestly "I believe you have talent. No question. But I'm not seeing that level brought to studio. Your ideas and concepts are interesting and compelling. But there's a disconnect that I'm seeing between what you say and what you show me."

Actually, it's all true, except for my compelling ideas and talent. It's beside the point as we're role playing the oldest conversation in education.

"How have you done in your other classes?"
I tell him about my high marks in other studios.
"I see your dedication, and I know you're an A student. This is where you should be:" (indicates with his hands up in the air) 
"and here is where you are." (with other hand, much lower.)
"I believe you are capable of so much more than what you have demonstrated so far."

 He slides a piece of paper over to me: my evaluation: "It seems to me your talent far exceeds what you are giving to this studio." Low marks in every category. Well not low, but ranging from above average to below average. In other words, low. I nod and agree with everything he's saying and fold up my evaluation to slip into my pocket.

I trudge back upstairs. It's late, I'm the second last person to get reviewed. Back over to my desk and plop into my chair. Dew points at me and says:

"Alec! I believe you have talent! You really do have talent!" 

And I can't help cracking a grin because it quickly dawns on me that we've been largely getting the same spiel. Everyone, it seems, has talent. Talent he believes in. But he's just not seeing it.

We are all 'A' students not bringing that talent to bear in studio.

It's actually a huge relief. I'm not designing anything of any real value or purpose. This is an exploratory project for my interest, and my enjoyment. Why have I taken myself so seriously for so long and done such mediocre work? 

Nov 8, 2011

Wrap party

To celebrate the successful screening of our movie, we all went to the Hound and Fox Tavern for drinks. Unfortunately, Silvino couldn't make it as he was cramming on another deadline. There's two great things going for the Hound and Fox: the food is really good, and the place makes you feel like you're in London. I've spent some time in a few pubs, and this place captures the feel pretty well. A little over the top, actually, but I love the atmosphere. Complete with fireplace and mounted animal heads on the walls. Unfortunately, there's not much of a selection of beer on tap (although they have Schlafly Pale Ale and Wingnut) and they're also on the pricey side.

But it was a very enjoyable evening to lift a pint with friends, chow down on some fish and chips, banger and mash, and other pub grub, and a game of chess played with Dew (which ended in a well-fought draw). I can't wait until there's snow on the ground and I need an escape place.

Let's Get High

In the end, I bugged out around 5AM, and grabbed eabout two and a half glorious hours of sleep at home. My group mates, Dew and Chuck, worked on it for another hour or so before hitting an IHOP and taking a keyboard siesta back in studio.

We were the first group to go of the day, and overall it went really well. Because we were throwing it all together so late, there were some errors and omissions that just got left in, like I'd read a paragraph twice in a row. Actually, the unevenness of the editing I think made it a little more interesting, like you never knew what was going to happen. I think I did a good job narrating the whole thing, although I'm sure Dew got sick of my voice reading everything over and over and over as he edited the whole thing.

We got a few chuckles out of the class- some intentional, some not, but that's never a bad thing. Our professors commended us on a very through presentation, they told us publicly and in a group session that it was really good, so it was nice to know that our late night efforts were not unappreciated.

Dew in particular, deserves a lot of credit for taking on the unenviable task of editing the whole thing, and downloaded iMovie and figured it out for us to assemble the movie.

Our movie, by the way, was an architectural systems analysis of the Burj Khalifa and the Pearl River Tower, both designed by SOM's Chicago office. The buildings were totally different, with totally different design goals.

 We did incorporate part of this six minute movie, which is actually a really interesting and short animation of how the tallest structure in the world works structurally, and how it was built. Unfortunately, the text is in Korean, because it was a movie likely made by Samsung, who built the tower.
Actually, the clip is way over the top with the hardcore remix of the Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet's soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream. I also got a kick out of the short segment with the two architects or engineers drawing or looking at drawings etched on verical blue-lit glass panes, because, you know that's how you work as an architect.


Sunday was spent working on a movie presentation for our advanced building systems class. I excused myself at six for a meeting at Meshuggah coffee shop, a really worn and bohemian place, where I met my fellow classmates from the community development class. I do really enjoy getting out of architecture a bit sometimes. They were all really impressed with my fifteen minute illustrator diagram map overlays. It's kind of a pleasant headiness to bring a little "flashiness" to a group, in the way that the really valuable stuff, like locating funding, understanding community needs, etc. doesn't have. Social work students are also just a really fun bunch in my own experience. Actually, I like my entire group, which includes a 2L law school student, and an urban planner. I even got a compliment on my J Crew trench coat. I'll take what I can get. 

Fed Suki and went back to studio to keep working on the video presentation. I'd had a large coffee at Meshuggah and with a meager dinner, I was really wired back at studio. Actually, it made my stomach hurt and my hands shake. I worked until about two am. 

This morning, I was back in studio before 8. Worked on various projects all day, and started working with my group on this movie for my building systems class after studio around 6. It's 2:40am, and we're still here. We're close to the end though. And we have to present it in about five hours. 

I'm so tired.

Nov 6, 2011

Wild Country

I make it a personal policy to try everything once, because you never know it could be my new favorite thing. This was my mom's advice to try to get us to eat new foods when we were kids. Actually, it was never our new favorite thing, and often it was terrible. "It's not my favorite" was the coached reply.

Anyway, a friend invited me to go line dancing with a group and since I'm always interested in new places and new things, I said yes. To my credit, I have, in fact, line danced once before- at the wedding party of my cousins who threw an absolutely fantastic reception which resulted with the entire family being summarily ejected from the hotel ballroom, but that's another story.

The line dancing was at country dance hall "Wild Country" in Collinsville, Indiana, which is about a 30 minute drive out of St.Louis. I arranged a ride from a friend and actually wasted a lot of time trying to figure out if I wanted to wear the nice cowboy boots or my everyday cowboy boots, if I wanted to go with the slim, fitted white shirt or keep it grungy with the thin country style shirt. To bolo or not to bolo, hat is the question.

Turns out anything would have been fine. Most guy there had untucked button down shirts, and everyone had jeans. Many wore caps and fewer wore cowboy boots. A lot of western plaid. Lots of short skirts on the ladies. The place was really in the middle of nowhere, next to the tri-county walmart, in a garishly painted concrete box with a huge, mostly full parking lot out front. Through the security wanding, through the ID check, through the cashier for the cover. It was a $15 cover, which is kind of ridiculous- apparently a B list country music performer was doing a show, someone who, gasp, had been on American Idol.

The inside was great. Neon, lasers,black lights, a giant disco ball, a huge dance floor surrounded by wooden railings, NASCAR playing on the flatscreens, shot stands and small bars distributed around, and a second floor balcony which ran around the entire interior. In lieu of smoke, there was a constant wafting in of fog from a smoke machine high above the floor. I'd broken my $20 I'd brought as spending money mostly on the expensive cover, so I picked up a pitcher of Miller High Life to share with some of the people I was with. $4.50 for a pitcher of beer isn't bad- it's too bad the beer sucked so much.

I danced some. Line dancing isn't really my thing. It might as well be step aerobics. I like dancing that is a little more personal. The vast majority of people there were pretty good. Some of the dances were really fast and complicated. There were a few people who were fantastic dancers, although most of them were pretty competent. A few, like our group, stumbled and flailed around, stomping at inappropriate times, and generally trying not to run into other people. We pretty much danced from 10 until 2, when the floor started to clear out a bit.

The musical selection was really strange. Some people say, 'oh I like anything but country and rap' and that was about all they played. I noticed they got real urban after midnight, and I heard everything from George Strait to Michael Jackson to Flo Rida. I was kind of surprised. If country is your thing, I wouldn't expect you to be a fan of rap.

Overall, fun. But I still can't get studio out of my head. At this point, there's very little than can be done for it, and I expect that if I work hard an produce a lot, then I can salvage a B- out of the ruins. School is an unpleasant and unhealthy obsession. 

Nov 5, 2011

Three kinds of fools

There are three kinds of fools in this world:

There is is fast fool, who makes mistakes and fails quickly, repeatedly, over and over and over. This fool, in attempting to add 3 to 7, will come up with 3, 19, 5, 8, 11, 34, 12, 10. This moderately observant fool will realize that 10 works out to 3+7, and so makes some progress in the world.

There is the blind fool, who also fails quickly. But this fool is truly to be pitied because this fool lacks the ability to see approximations of success in his failures. In attempting to add 3 to 7, this fool will come up with 25, 12, 5, 2, 52, 10, 25, 23, 67, 12, 15, 10, 6, 3, 7. This fool will stumble all of his life.

Then there is the true fool, who is different from the other two fools because he fails much more slowly. This most foolish of fools deludes himself into thinking he is not a fool, and scorns the other two types of fools for their many foolish failures. The laborious endeavors of this fool are neither abject failures nor successes. This fool, in adding 3 to 7, will consider 4 for awhile, and then 8. Then much time will be spent arguing for 8 because 3 is a small number and 7 is a larger number and 8 is a smaller number plus 7. This fool fools himself into thinking his stubbornness and patience is a virtue. If there is some help for these kind of fools, then they must abandon their foolish methodology and recognize their foolish attitudes to foolishness.

Nov 2, 2011


I don't normally comment on news articles or magazines, but I'll make an exception tonight. Not that magazine rankings really matter when it comes to architecture and design, but the DesignIntelligence Magazine just released it's annual rankings of Graduate architecture programs in the US, and
above such venerable programs like MIT and Cornell. 

I suddenly feel like my work is a lot more important and my studio projects just jumped from 'ok' to 'exceptionally brilliant.' Actually this is good news because the polls are based on practictioner's rankings- which means that professional architects think that the people they're getting from Wash U are pretty darn good.

Actually, its not too surprising. From my understanding, the architecture program was coming up in the world and the past three years of enrollment have seen record numbers with steadily rising enrollment standards. 

(Although when Saori applied here was the first time I'd even heard of the school. I think it's mostly because its still best known in east coast and midwest circles.)

Nov 1, 2011

Shanghai: highlights roundup

Every morning in Shanghai, I'd be up around 6am with the jet lag the newly risen sun. I'd quietly dress and slip out the door as quickly as I could, strolling through the hotel lobby and out the door to the morning streets of Shanghai before the crowds of tourists. It's a different place, even the Bund, in the early morning. There are large groups of elderly walking, and doing group tai chi exercise on the Bund, some even with traditional wushu weapons. There were a large number of gentlemen flying kites too, high above the river. I walk along, several blocks past the hotel to the narrow but bustling market street. At 7am, its packed. Parents walking little kids to school, older kids going to school, workers of all kinds going to work, and everyone is grabbing a bite to eat for breakfast. I sampled as much as I could from the various carts, stalls, and small restaurants along the street.

Two to three steamed buns with pork filling, also called baozi, hot corn juice, which tastes exactly how it sounds, pork fried rice with egg and green peppers, and even what I called a Shanghai crepe, which seemed to be a very popular option. There's a big round frying plate, about the same size as the crepe makers in France have, and they ladle on a batter, spoon it around until its very thin and flexible, and then scramble an egg or two on top of it, followed by two sticks of crunchy fried dough, a ladle of a spicy sauce, and large sprinkling of green peppers, and then the whole thing is folded up in the crepe. Pretty good stuff.

Walking Nanjing road to the Bund at night is a totally different experience. You come up from the metro stop into the cool night air filled with neon and people. Shanghai moves so fast and with so much energy you get swept up in it. On East Nanjing road, one is constantly accosted for watches, clothes, girls. But you brush them off, and more turn up, one after another, and you take it in stride- after all, they're the chorus line of East Nanjing Road. The push of the people, the bounding music from the stores on either side, the tourist shops, the knockoff clothing shops, the high end boutiques all rub shoulders on this street which one classmate called "ten blocks of Times Square." There's a thrum of life here, the tourists, foreign and Chinese, excited to see Nanjing road, the Bund and the lights of Pudong across the river, and the locals, excited to see the tourists and the money and attention they're bringing. Once across the boulevard, you climb the steps up to the bund, and you're awash in the electric lights of Pudong, and the thousands of people who are taking bad flash photos of themselves in front of it.

City god temple, part of the Yu Yuan gardens complex, was an old temple in the heart of the old Chinese city downriver from the Bund. The wood is still laquered red with the upturned eaves and tiled roof, but it is now a temple to Commerce and Tourism. The streets leading to it are lined with tourist crap souvenirs, and the place itself is nothing more than a beautiful and historic mall. Dairy Queen and Starbucks take center stage, alongside the cafes and restaurants famous for their steamed dumplings. In the center courtyards, tourists from all over China and all over the world jostle with monks, shopkeepers, performers. Our student guides, friends of one of our Chinese students here, are convinced to take an older gentleman up on an offer to see a rooftop terrace. We're suspicious and on our guard, but the two girls leading us around seem comfortable. We file into the small store where you can have your picture taken with a rickshaw against an 'old' backdrop. "I wonder what they're going to sell us" we mutter, crammed into the tiny elevator.

It turns out to be the suggestion that we stop into their pearl store at the top, where we get out, and the invitation to try their tea house. We decline and check out the terrace. It's a great view of the temple and the city surrounding, and the huge towers of Pudong loom in grey silhouettes in the grey late afternoon.

Medium is the message

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