Feb 27, 2012

Sewer Tours

Using various leaps of design thinking that I won't go into here, I found it necessary to understand where St. Louis gets its water, and where that wastewater ends up. It turns out to be the same place, actually: the Mississippi river.

The Mississippi river is actually a fascinating object of study. It has no more claim to the romance of southern rafting. It is a filthy, dangerous, industrial river.  According to one professor, somebody dies ever year trying to swim across it. The waters are fast and turbulent, and the whole thing is huge. It's basically a continuous lake.

Anyway, where it passes through St.Louis, it has picked up the wastewater from seven major American cities, including Denver, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois, which apparently sends a lot of wastewater our way. And we drink it. Or at least, we filter it first and then drink it.

It's surprising that I've not been able to find one source for the inflow and outflow of water in St.Louis, so, to the best of my research: The City of St.Louis has two draw points- one in far north St.Louis on the Mississippi, and one across the county line, which draws water from the Missouri river. Interestingly enough, upriver from that draw point is what appears to be a County draw point, and then a county waste treatment plant which dumps into the river, a scant five miles before it's sucked up by the city draw.

My design thinking project (at this point anyway) has a lot to do with water flow, so the site of the project I wanted to be close to major treated wastewater outfalls. I went to two of them today. As far as I can tell, all the waste in St.Louis city is fed to a plant north of the downtown, treated and dumped in the Mississippi. I climbed down the embankment and found the outfall pipe, which goes into the river and dumps underwater. Standing on the shore, I was hypnotized by the plumes of blatantly different water color reach the surface. It was a lot more red, like a maroonish chocolate color.

Beautiful day to go waste treatment plant hopping too. Sunny, breezy, warm. I also drove way down to the confluence of the Des Peres river and the Mississippi, because there's a major county water treatment plant that dumps right into the Des Peres just before the confluence. The water level was so low, I can only assume that the majority of the water flowing in the Des Peres was from the treatment plant. It was an adventure and some luck that I found the spot overlooking the confluence.

You have to drive and park at the River City Casino, best near the northwest corner of the parking lots. There's a perimeter trail inside the fence which runs around the property, and at the farthest northwest corner, there's an opening, where there is a well-worn trail. If you follow it, it takes you to an overlook over the reinforced confluence, and from there you could walk down to the shoreline.

Images from the Mississippi river outfall:

Feb 24, 2012

A short post

The withdrawal from Facebook is going well. I've been tempted once or twice, but the hassle of trying to reset my password makes me check myself.

Unfortunately, I've channeled that distractability into Pinterest, which probably means I should block that site too. At least pinterest has a semblance of use- I'm looking at architecture and informational graphic design which could influence my work and my diagrams.

The weather has been all over the place. Yesterday we had highs in the 60s. Today, it snowed. Not much, but enough to make everyone puzzled.

Feb 22, 2012

Design Thinking

I think that a little self denial is not a bad thing, so I'm giving up Facebook for Lent. I'm not Catholic, but I think its healthy to keep things in perspective, and considering I was checking FB upwards of ten times a day, I feel like I'm wasting a lot of time. So, I logged out, changed my email to an account I never use, deleted my normal email account from the site, and changed both the password of my facebook account and the mail account to something I'll probably forget in the fullness of time. So we'll see how well this works.

It's been a week of reviews for me- talking about ideas for Design Thinking and ideas for studio. I spent a lot of time working on a physical model which paid off really well- I got a lot of feedback and criticism on the design, and its much more fluid and intuitive way of working for me. I'm finally figuring out my architectural method. I did mess around with some sketchup first though, I do admit. 

Here's my revised design thinking book, updated and expanded from last time:

Feb 19, 2012

Driving St.Louis County

Design thinking has three objectives- the establishment of a concept, program, and site. To that end, we are all required to go on two 5 hour bus tours, one in St.Louis city, and one in the St.Louis county. I went on the county tour yesterday. It was fun to be on a bus with a bunch of friends, but five hours touring the county is about two hours too long. The last two hours of riding around, I was totally fried. It's amazing how just looking out of a bus window can be so exhausting.

Highlights of the tour

  • Driving through Kinloch, which is a decimated neighborhood with one or two houses in the entire municipality. It strongly reminded me of the post-Katrina lower 9th ward of New Orleans near the breach. Nothing standing but trees, concrete rubble, bad streets, and jersey barriers.
  • Historic downtown St.Charles was really picturesque and looked very interesting. I may head back for a beer or a bite to eat sometime. 
  • Stopping for bathroom break and lunch at the longest strip mall in America in chesterfield. What a depressing place. A four-lane road separating endless fields of parking and the most suburban and banal big box chains. Baby's-R-Us next to Best Buy next to Bed Bath and Beyond next to TJ Maxx next to The Container Store next to Ad Infinitum next to Ad Nauseum with chain restaurants sprinkled in the parking lot to the tune of Burgers, Mexican, Italian, Grill, Burgers, Mexican, Italian, Grill.
  • Circumnavigating the Northwest Plaza, an abandoned mall built back in the 1960s. It must have been a magnificent piece of contemporary '60s architecture when it was built, but it's an empty and forlorn hulk now.
  • Phillip passing me a beer from his stash he picked up at the gas station. 
Anyway, after the tour, I was burnt out but dutifully went up to studio and got some work done. 
Also some distractions in the form of Pinterest. (http://pinterest.com

Pinterest is the hot new social media thing, kind of like StumbleUpon meets Flickr. Basically, if you're on some website and you see an image you like, you click your "Pin It" bookmark, and pinterest puts the image on your "board" which is something visible to anyone and anyone who is following you. You have to add some kind of comment to successfully "pin it" but its very quick and easy and doesn't disturb the flow of surfing at all. Then, you can come back to your board and see what you've saved, and because they're basically links, clicking on the image will take you back to the page where you found it. 

People make multiple boards, most commonly categories of photography, cute things, clothing, products. The creative class has jumped on it in a big way with boards for architecture, design, graphics, etc. My pinterest boards are here: http://pinterest.com/desertcrow/

Feb 16, 2012


A follow-up to my blog post about ordering glasses online.

I used Zennioptical.com to buy prescription eyeglasses and they just came in the mail. They arrived in a padded mailer, inside a hard shell case wrapped in a microfiber lens cleaner cloth. They actually look better in person than they do online, which I was very relieved about. Several people have commented about how different I look with them on, and its so much better than my really scratched up glasses. The fit is fine, didn't have to make any adjustments at all to the plastic frame. 

When you buy glasses online at Zenni, you get one 1/4 turn view of them, and you can "try them on" on one of five heads. This was my reference head:

It looks just like me, right?

So I have to make a decision based on two views, some dimensions, any my own imagination.

On the flip side, the stakes are relatively low: These glasses were about $50, and that's frames, lenses, and delivery. I'm used to spending $300 for prescription eye wear. That's kind of like instead of buying a new car for $12,000, getting a very similar car for $2,000 without test driving it. It's kind of unreal and exciting.

Anyway, I was very happy to see the glasses on my own head today looked better than they did on this guy.
They are kind of caramel brown on the outside, with a laminated white layer inside and then orange translucent inside. A classmate commented that it reminded him of a 1940's surfboard. Most people's comments have been pretty positive. I'm pretty happy with them. My gamble paid off.

Driving Ms. Shim

Last night, we had another architecture lecture, this time by Bridget Shim of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects. Apparently, she had also reviewed Saori's work in studio earlier that day. Anyway, before the lectures there is a small reception just outside. Cubes of four different types of cheeses are served, as is goat cheese spread, and sliced cantaloupe, red grapes, and pineapple. A very small selection of crackers and sliced bread is served.  There is also your choice of terrible red or horrible white wine, all of three tablespoons worth in a luxury plastic cup. This is so faculty can mingle with the lecturer and also serves a caloric safety net for students to come down, get some protein and carbohydrates in highly portable format, and quietly slip back up to studio.

I digress...

Anyway, I was sipping my wine (the terrible variety) and Saori came up to me and told me that McCarter, one of the professors who typically handles the visiting lecturers, was looking for a student who could drive the lecturer to the arch grounds in the morning and take her to the airport afterwards. I quickly agreed and talked to McCarter about driving. I was invited along to the student faculty dinner to hash out the details after the lecture.

The dinner was delicious, India Palace delivery, acres of basmati rice, mountains of naan, parsecs of curry. We chatted with Shim, hashed out the logistics with McCarter, and talked with other students. The timing was tight. We were to pick her up at 8:30 am the hotel, and she had a 11:30am international flight, which meant we really had to book it there and back.

In the morning, Saori and I picked up Shim from the hotel and drove her to the arch, the only misstep was that we ended up missing the last turn off the freeway, so Shim got to see the Arch from the Illinois side of the river as well. We did eventually find the parking garage and get in to see the arch. There was nobody there at all. It was great. The misty gray cold morning kept the tourists away I guess. No wait to go up at all, and Shim bought us the tickets, which was very kind of her. It was also Saori's first time up in the arch.

We got the view from the top for perhaps twenty minutes or so, then took the tram back down. We walked around a bit more and then we were back in the car to leave by 10. Jetted right over to the airport via 70, and saw Shim off at the curb.

Mission Accomplished.

Afterwards, Saori and I drove back to downtown to Betton Park Cafe in Betton Park, near Soulard and just adjacent to the Budweiser Brewery. The cafe was great. Delicious breakfast. I got the "BP Slinger" which was basically a sunny side up egg on biscuits, covered in sausage and bacon gravy. Delicious.

Feb 14, 2012

Designing Books

Just had a lecture by Ken Botnick, our resident book designer, for our design thinking class.

In general, I would say that my graduate school experience compared to my undergraduate has been primarily about issues of representation. I suppose, in the end, architectural ideas can only be developed refined so much, but representation much more so.

The bar is set pretty high here- there is a high level of expectation for graphic design. It is more important to know your way around Adobe Illustrator than AutoCAD. I had to learn illustrator quickly, and I've actually come to really enjoy using it for graphics and diagrams, but I'm still fond of the power and simplicity of InDesign for graphic layouts. Photoshop I use least these days, relegated to its old function of manipulating single photos or images.

Actually, our studio so far has centered around the production of books, and we're working with page spreads and books to organize our design thinking work. Hence the multiple presentations by Ken Botnick.

Got some good quotes from him today:
You can spend a lot of time...and money on fonts....and I have.
He was quite disparaging of Helvetica, but saved a lot of invective for Arial
Arial is the al-Qaida of typeface. It's an insidious force whose network is spreading.
The designers of Arial took Helvetica and made it bad. It's the Las Vegas of typeface.
For reference, the most popular typefaces for architects seem to be Helvetica, Swiss, and Arial. I'm not sure why. I think they all look a little too skeletal.

I don't normally link to outside content, but I'll make an exception for the typographers/designers in the audience.

I'm Comic Sans, Asshole from joehollier on Vimeo.

Feb 13, 2012

Between 1 and 2 people

Last night, Saori and I used a groupon to check out Flaco's Cocina, which had surprisingly decent Mexicanish food. I got a grilled mahi mahi baked burrito ($11) and Saori got the Chili Rellenos ($9) and the portions were pretty decent. Place was cozy, more like an old diner or cantina, although the feel was colder rather than warmer or more textured. 

Today we had a studio pin up of ideas and it was quickly apparent that we need to focus on programming the site and letting that program drive the rest of the design. In the middle of the review, it began to snow heavily, and over the course of two hours, we got a few inches  of snow blanketing the city. 

Tonight, we had a lecture by architect Monica Ponce de Leon, who spoke on themes of adaptive reuse and negotiating with historicity. It's a subject I'm very much interested in, given that the buildings which will transform the way we live and consume in the future are already around today. Anyway, he take on building in historically sensitive contexts is kind of a middle road a la the Byrds: there is a time to speak, there is a time to stay silent, there is a time to be respectful, there is a time to be rude. 

For the habitable objects she designs for her projects, she follows the SHoP architects method of components which are computer fabricated and then assembled via IKEA style assembly manuals. More IKEA than SHoP, actually. 

There was an interesting moment in the lecture when she asked the audience to raise their hands if they knew what Universal Design was, and only me and a few other hands went up. I'm kind of surprised, actually. Universal design, which was framed as a critique of ADA, is a way of thinking inclusively about design. In contrast to ADA which has a distinction between able and disabled people, Universal Design seeks to accommodate the range of human abilities. OXO Good Grips tools is often cited as an example- they were originally designed to make life easier for suffers of rheumatoid arthritis, but the easier to grasp handles made life easier for everyone. Anyway, Ponce de Leon designed a series of desk carrels for a library, and each one is a little different in size, seat, height, desk height, etc.

I was vastly bemused when she described the width of the carrel ranging from "two people to one lonely person," which made me wonder precisely how many steps there were between 1 and 2 people. Actually the more I thought about it:

1 lonely person
   1 person + 1 fish
      1 person + 1 cat
          1 person + 1 dog
            1 person + 1 person obnoxiously leaning into the carrel to disturb the 1 person
               1 person + 1 child
                  1 person + 1 orangutan
                     2 people romantically intertwined
                        1 obese person
                           2 people

I was not impressed with the work she showed us, frankly. Where there were things I really admired about the approach and certain details, overall, I was underwhelmed and I didn't think that the RISD library insertion was as successful as her methodology would suggest. Perhaps I didn't see it in the right angle, but it seemed very much like the architecture inserted simply disregarded the context rather than respond to it in any particular way. The two things really fought each other for supremacy, and the art installation in the hotel atrium looked fantastic in renderings, but came off looking just like some wavy loops hung with some string. 

Of course, I must add, as always, that the position of the critic is easy, and getting anything built is very difficult- anything reasonably interesting, historic, or challenging, doubly so. 

Feb 11, 2012

salsa sin huevos

Attempted to go salsa dancing tonight. There's a fantastic place in CWE, Club Viva, that has salsa on Saturday nights, and the place was really hopping. The most Hispanic people I've ever seen in one place in St. Louis. In a packed basement which can legally hold 499 people, everyone was dressed really nice- ladies in their heels and cocktail dresses, guys in their fitted dress shirts, nice shoes, and the older gentlemen with their fedoras. Great music. There were really amazing dancers out there. Salsa is a guys dance in a field of guy's dances. I took a look out on the packed dance floor, and decided to grab a beer. Didn't see anyone from architecture, but just one girl who a joint MBA/MArch grad (who is, incidently, the president of the salsa club). I think there were a few business students. I was too intimidated to dance, so I just watched, enjoyed the music and the dancing, and then left. 

Really wish I could dance like that. I was way too intimidated to even ask anyone to dance, which is why I guess I'm not a business student. The architecture students could be found around the corner at the Irish pub, drinking heavily and socializing among themselves. I made a round, said hello, and left. I drove in, and with Saori still at studio, I didn't want to be out all night. Mostly, I was just kind of down after leaving the salsa club. 

Gotta take some salsa lessons. 

Something special about St.Louis

Before you think that I'm going get all sentimental and dewy-eyed over this post-apocalyptic city, I'm not.
Well, maybe a little.

In Design Thinking the other day, my professor for the class, Ben, was talking about centrality vs distributed cities. In many cities, there's a big core which is active, vibrant, and interesting, and then once you get beyond that core, there's pretty much nothing. St. Louis, he pointed out, has an active core which is attempting to be something and do something and has actually made some progress, but that one of the real values of St. Louis is that there's so many cores of interest around the metropolitian area. There's about a dozen old downtowns, distinct neighborhoods, and other nuclei of interest, which make St. Louis Metro into a kind of archipelago. Centers of urban interest and activity separated by either non-place suburbia or urban wasteland. 

St. Louis, the [post-apocalyptic archipelago] river city. 

We were at one of those hot spots last night, in Central West End (CWE) at Brassiere by Niche, a moderately upscale French bistro for Silvino's birthday. Great food, great environment. 17 of us showed up and we ate at one long table and the staff were very patient with us considering we mostly paid by separate checks. My dinner:
Urban Chestnut Brewery Wingnut ale
moules marinieres
french fries with garlic aoli
Scoop of house-made brandy ice cream

Feb 10, 2012


I thought I would share the work I'm doing in my Optimization in Parametric Design class. While I am highly critical of wacky forms for the sake of wacky forms, I decided to take this class because

  1. wacky form architecture as a style isn't going anywhere anytime soon
  2. I needed to learn Rhino and Grasshopper
  3. There's a optimization and responsiveness component to using grasshopper and Rhino in this way. 
This last point I'll illustrate with our assignment. In the screen capture below, you're looking at four triangles in Rhino that I scripted in  Grasshopper. I fold them open and close a few times to show how the "cell" operates to open and close using a slider in Grasshopper (not shown). Then, I use another slider to make the grid 10 cells wide and 10 cells deep so now I have 100 cells. You can see a point that I move around in Rhino that doesn't do anything. Finally, I change the parameter which controls how open the cell is from the slider to an algorithm which calculates how far away the center of the cell is from the point. The closer the point is the center, the more closed the cell is. You can see that as I move the point around, all the cells change depending on their proximity to the point.

Feb 9, 2012

Boogie Nights

Today was an unusual day.

Suki meowed at me all night, keeping me up, while saori chan spent the night working in studio for her pinup today.

I drove her back home so she could take a quick shower and went back just in time to catch the GAC meeting. We were reminded of the crucial importance of finding replacements for our positions, as elections are in march.

For studio, instead of a desk crit for work we havn't started yet, we drove down to the Pulitzer art museum  designed by Tadao Ando. We used the rectilinear and tall galleries and narrow plaza for an understanding of the Uffizi and the notion of scale, with the method of drawing them in one point perspectives. For some reason, we've been dealing a lot in studio with perspective drawing- it seems to be a fixation for Z. He was going to initially propose that we do all our books by drawing by hand, and our last class was basically constructing perspective drawings in the field. (our books turned out great, by the way, they looked fantastic together with the coordinated covers).

After studio, I went back to work at my desk and my friend Silvino dropped by and asked me I wanted to come out Swing dancing with a few friends. I said, Sure! Saori was going to be structures class until 9 anyway, and I've actually been itching to dance again for some reason. Loss of dignity as I ase I guesss. So I grabbed a bite to eat, picked up some stuff for Saori and then headed out with Emily, Silvino, and Natasha. Silvino and Emily are like me, just kind of doing it for kicks, while Natasha apparently loves to go out and dance, so she was happy that she could rope us in for the night out. And I do mean out. Way the hell out out, damn near out of town beyond the 270.

The dance hall is marked by a big white "Bud Light" sign and is basically just a big dance hall with a dance floor, a stage, and a big basement for practice. It could have been a senior citizen center. The average age of the people who were there to dance looked to be about sixty. We paid our $9 (a little expensive), got our name tags and went downstairs. There were already two other couples down there, for the beginner session. Our instructors, Pat and Tony, were good teachers, and we learned the absolute basics of the "Imperial swing" which is basically a six-count dance step, a "glide" which brings the partner in front and away, a turn, and a return. The steps weren't that complicated although I get tripped up with the turns sometimes.

I was complimented on how well I was leading the ladies I was dancing with, and I thought once again back to junior year in ASU, when I took salsa with Jen. She was an extremely type A girl who wanted to be in control all the time, so I learned to develop a really commanding lead while dancing, which has served me well since then in dancing.

Anyway, after about 40 minutes, they released us upstairs where there was a bar and a dance floor. The bar was fantastic, like a bar you might find in the middle of nowhere in the midwest. The menu on the wall reads
cup $2
bottle $2
pitcher $7

And of course they serve two great American semibeers; bud and bud light. Actually, I can't really taste the difference between the two since one has a hint of beer taste, and the other, half of a hint.

So we grabbed a pint and headed up to the dance floor where there were a bunch of folding tables around the large dance floor. They had the music going, laser lights on the ceiling, DJ booth, and actually about fifty people out on the dance floor and sitting around the tables. We watched the first one and sipped our beer. Seems like everyone was in their late 50s-70s. Everyone seemed to know each other too. The elderly DJ would also take breaks from the booth and come down and dance as well. They played a wide variety of music actually. Everything from swing to waltzes to Maroon 5's "Moves like [Mick] Jagger" oddly enough. Lots of different dances. Four-play, river waltz, line dancing, the country two step, and other varieties I'd never heard of before.

Dancing with my own count is one thing, dancing to music is something totally else. I havn't learned the steps well enough to let my intuition take over in balancing the footwork with the beat, so I'm constantly screetching to a halt as my footwork falls apart and worse, I'm not leading well either since I have no idea what the hell I'm doing out there. So its kind of awkward.

Practice, practice.

I was better at the salsa dancing (well, after the semester long class in it, I should remember something!) so that was fun as well. Might go out saturday and do some dancing with the salsa club.

It was really funny, people were so excited to see us (young folk, new folk) that we were constantly being asked to dance. Even the woman cleaning tables took Silvino out on the dance floor for a spin and she could really boogie. And EVERYONE told us that should come back. And bring more friends.

Feb 7, 2012

Design Thinking leads to Design Drinking

Today was a big 'push' day, and now I'm wiped.

Left studio a little after 2 am last night, and got up again at 8 this morning for my 9am landscapes class. I had a presentation due on the hydrology and hydaulics of the Demun and Wydown neighborhood. Went pretty well. With only six people in the class, its hard to feel intimidated presenting. Especially when I've got fancy graphics like these:

Afterwards I had about two hours to wrap up and print my Design Thinking concept book spreads. I feel pretty good about how much time I'm spending on it. It's kind of like swimming over a very deep body of water. Just keep swimming; if you think too hard about what you're doing, you'll get bogged down and start to sink. You have to trust your intuition is working towards something, and its the critical mind which simply provides the structure. 

Here are the book spreads:

Anyway, we had 13 students (two DT sections combined) for our review. We started at 1:30* and didn't end until about 6:30. Five hours of nearly nonstop presentations on critical conceptual thinking and we were all fried. I don't know how our critics can handle it. I can barely handle it, and I'm just following along, not even making really critical comments on it. My presentation went ok- I was a  little nervous, but I'm doing work that I proposed, which I'm really interested in, so its a lot easier that way. But it is still intimidating to get up in front of your peers and have your conceptual thinking directly exposed.

Got some good quotes out of the day though:
The pornographic frescoes seem mundane at this point, if you've been on the internet.
Bananas suck at making tools.
 and more insightful,
Using something against its purpose [e.g. using a book as a paperweight] liberates things.
And other random bits of knowledge, such as the NSA buying warehouses in the middle of fields and using them as the entrances to elaborate underground research and surveillance centers, and Pompeii's status as basically a seedier version of Atlantic City in Roman Italy, and the role of insurance companies in creating structured segregation in St.Louis.

Feb 6, 2012

Bus Loop Burgers

Saori and I grabbed some burgers from Bus Loop Burgers tonight. I came across this place in an usual way. I was searching for St.Louis architecture when I came across a page with this image:

 Apparently, it was the main station of a bus loop waaay back sometime. The station now holds a burger dive which took the name of the station: Bus Loop Burgers. The structure is really amazing and nobody really uses it for anything except to wait in their cars after they order (it takes awhile to get your food). I really wonder what's in the roof- as it looks like there could have been offices there at one point. Hopefully no bodies.
The area of town its in is very run down. Old brick buildings probably dating from the early 20th century, many of them shuttered. The area looks really impoverished. Laundromats, a few convenience stores. Lots of empty lots. Looks like they recently put in some nice "period" street lighting along the street, Martin Luther King Dr St, which was probably some elected official or alderman trying to use a little money.

This is considered North St.Louis. It's the kind of place I'm hesitant to drive at night. I looked it up Google maps, and I was shocked- it's about 2.5 miles. If you take Skinker north of Delmar, you cross Olive and go under the metrolink bridge, and its like the average income of the area halved. It's quite incredible actually to drive it. It's a stark reminder of how St.Louis has such sharp transitions between neighborhoods- Less than two miles separate a major street in these first ring suburbs- On one, it's hard to find parking because the metered parking spots are full and its considered a pedestrian/urban highlight of St.Louis. The other I wouldn't feel comfortable parking any time of the day.

Sorry, got off on a tangent there. Was the burger place itself sketchy? Let's just say its the kind of place that makes beef seem like an illegal drug. Kind of fun though. You walk through the doors and in the narrow waiting space, there's two benches facing each other. You order through a tiny hole in a plastic screen that runs to the ceiling, and all the transactions occur in a rotating plastic pass-through.

The menu had about a hundred items, ranging from breakfast dishes (served all day! with Sunny Delight), to Gyros, to 99c Chinese egg rolls, to about thirty different burgers. The menus were all over multiple walls, some handwritten, most heavily annotated. Saori and I each got the 'Big Boy Burger' because we were feeling pretty hungry. We ordered and then had to wait about fifteen minutes for our food to come out since they really only seemed to have one person back there cooking. We took our burgers back to studio to eat. Smelled so good in the car, I started singing about them.

These burgers are indeed big boy burgers. We were probably looking at a 1/3 lb of meat, cooked. Delicious, freshly grilled, but still a metric ton of meat. Saori gave me a onion ring that was so big and thick, I had to take a break in finishing it. I never did kill that burger. I've seen bigger burgers, but I couldn't tell you when. Got it with Vess cola, which is only sold in the St.Louis area.

Oh, and I bought my tickets for Florence for spring break. Going with some classmates for our studio, although its very loosely structured, so I'm planning a side trip as well.

Feb 4, 2012

Glassy Eyed

I had the surreal experience today of buying eyeglasses that were cheaper than the eye exam.

I drove out this morning to an extremely thorough (and expensive) eye exam at Contemporary Vision Center in Manchester. I was there because I had a $15 coupon for $150 worth of glasses. After I'd unwittingly scratched the hell out of my lenses, it was time to replace them. The exam was at least double the most expensive eye exam I've ever had. They had a lot of very nice and sophisticated equipment, including a device they kept trumpeting that lets you see two options side by side instead of "A...(flip) or B. (flip)A...(flip) or B." They also did a high resolution retinal scan and the optometrist talked about the images blown up to about two feet across on the screens.

My eyes look good and seemed to be in good health, I'm happy to report. They're going to email me the images.

The less than fantastic thing was their selection sucked. They're located way the hell out in the outskirts of Manchester along the all big box suburban stores and strip malls and suburbs. It should come as no surprise then, that the vast majority of the frame styles looked like upper middle class suburban housewife. There wasn't  a single frame I really liked, and all the frames were at least $100.

So I got my prescription, paid for my exam, and left.

I then went online, and bought a pair of glasses for less than $50. The website is apparently the Amazon.com of eyeglasses. There's no brands as they're all manufactured in China and shipped stateside. I opted for the slightly more expensive poly carbonate lenses (extra $9) and anti-glare coating ($4). Should be getting them in about 2-3 weeks. We'll see how that out. For sake of comparison, the last pair of glasses I bought cost over $300. So yes, its a risk since I can never really really know how the glasses will look on me, but then it's a discount of $250.

Feb 3, 2012


For someone who has more than once decried the waste and materialism of technological consumerism, I've been getting a LOT of electronic gadgets in the past month.

But I can explain:

The new computer was necessary for studio. My laptop graphics card (fused to the motherboard) was flaking out and I was losing a lot of time and work when my workstation came to a crashing halt, often several times an hour. Plus, with this 23" monitor, I can look at two program windows side by side and work across the desktop.

I was giddy when I started opening boxes.
Apple, Inc., actually, bought me a new ipod nano. There was a class action lawsuit against them since their original ipod nano battery kept overheating when it was being charged. Guess they turned the "obsolescence" dial a little bit too far to the right. Anyway, I guess Apple figured that nobody would keep an Apple product more than two years (after which, it's probably broken anyway), so they offered to replace all the original ipod nano's out there. 

Actually, my old nano worked fine and even outlasted the first generation touch which came out years later, and it was only when Saori had it in Buenos Aires that it stopped working. Anyway, I enrolled in the replacement program and they mailed me an "ipod transport package" which was "specially designed to secure ipods for transit." It turned out to be a padded mailer with a plastic baggie. So they should be sending  me a new nano any day now, although I'm hopeful that old nano was recycled and not by barefoot children in an Indian landfill. 

Which brings me to... my new Kindle. Dad actually gave me some money for Christmas and asked me if I wanted a kindle or new glasses, and so I used some of the money for a kindle and I'll use some of the money for new glasses. The kindle I picked up because of my landscape class. 

The landscape class has a required textbook that we're apparently using which is $60 at the cheapest. They have a Kindle version, which is $50 and isn't the same size and weight as a textbook. But which kindle? I was debating between the basic $80 version or the $100 touch version, and I ended up getting the basic. It was $20 cheaper, and a read in numerous places that the touch was terrible at rendering PDFs, which is a lot of how I read classroom material.

I'm actually kind of surprised at how much I use it, although the novelty of a new thing also helps. There's literally thousands of free books out there and nearly ten you might actually want to read. Found a good one on traditional Japanese fairy tales. ProPublica also published a free book on the Financial Crisis (SPOILER: it's Wall Street's fault). I also downloaded a book by Haruki Murakami that I've been desperately waiting for in paperback. The hardback version is $40, so I was happy to pick up the kindle version for $14. So its nice to bring to bed to read a bit at night, and then when I wake up in the morning, I can use the browser and check email. The thing uses very little battery power, especially when you turn off the wi-fi. Supposedly it can last for weeks on a single charge. We'll see.

Feb 1, 2012

Craig Dykers Architecture Lessons

Architect Craig Dykers, co-prinicpal of Snohetta (Library of Alexandria, Oslo Opera House, World Trade Center Memorial Museum) is teaching a studio this semester, and he also delivered a lecture on his firm and work tonight. There were several valuable lessons we gleaned:
  1. (courtesy of Anita) Put a beer tap in your architecture office.
  2. It's pretty freakin' awesome to work for Snøhetta.
  3. Also put in a fruit bowl to make it look healthier.
  4. Hire a chef to come make healthy lunches for your staff every day. This may sound really expensive, but as Dykers pointed out, the American 'lunch hour' is really closer to two or three once you factor in thinking about where to go and what you're going to eat, getting there, eating, coming back, and then zoning out for a bit when you get back from lunch. At Snohetta, their lunches last 20 minutes. Since profitability, especially in architecture is directly a product of productivity, you've just effectively gotten an extra hour of productive work out everyone in your office for the cost of lunch.
  5. transdisciplinary > multidisciplinary
  6. The balls of the bronze bull on wall street are shiny from being handled so much. People aren't perverse, they're just human.
  7. Architecture should provide structure when people need it, and unpredictability when people need it.
  8. Architecture should be a verb- it does stuff. For example, a building may attract someone's view, and then pull it through to show them a part of the city they haven't seen before.
  9. Do lots of competitions. Snøhetta was pulled together out of a bunch of 20-somethings who happened to win a competition. The competition happened to be designing the $220 million Alexandria Library in Egypt. So now they can do things like install beer taps in the office.
  10. The 'gift' of architecture is that we can take large spaces and make them seem intimate.
  11. Ownership of a thing = being able to put your dirty boots on its surface.
  12. Wild reindeer mating is a pretty big tourist draw in Norway.
  13. Questions drive projects much more than answers. The key is to find the right question [and to ask it at the right time]
After the lecture, we went to the lecture dinner with Dykers, which was at a classmate's house. We got a huge platter of food from Pappy's Smokehouse, which is one of the top-ranked BBQ restaurants in the city. They were apparently sold out of ribs (happens often) but there was plenty of chicken, brisket, pulled pork, and their amazing barbecue beans. We polished it off and I quietly grabbed a beer for the road to take back to studio.

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