Mar 31, 2012

strange days

Yesterday, by alcohol consumed:

2 glasses of beer at the happy hour. For the prospective student visit, the happy hour committee gets kegs of Schlafly beer on tap, and a large group of current students, faculty, prospective students, and local professionals there for the lecture mingled on the outdoor plaza and and enjoyed the mild, late afternoon weather. 

Skipped the bad wine they offered at the reception immediately prior to the lecture and just after the happy hour ended.

No alcohol at the lecture by Gregg Pasquarelli, but its ok because he's a really electrifying speaker. Even though it was the second time I've seen pretty much the same lecture, its still pretty good.


2 glasses of not bad wine at the dinner after the lecture. This was the big flashy dinner they put on for the prospective students with the good caterer up on top of the hill in the historic university hall. Salad, rolls, chicken with spinach and cheese, chocolate lava cake. Once again, I mistake a current student for a prospective.


3 bottles of beer at Blueberry Hill. This is always a fun event- a big yellow school bus takes the prospective students straight from dinner to Blue hill where the university has rented out the Elvis room (basement) and provided an open bar. A lot of graduate students elect to go as well, as do almost all of the prospective. The event lasts until 1 AM, although I left shortly after midnight. 


Today was surprisingly lucid after all that. Plus, I have work to do. Late this morning, I took a minivan of six kids on a fast tour of the city of St.Louis, ending up having lunch at the arch grounds, and then whisking them all back to the airport for their flights home. 


Came back to school and found pizza lunch waiting for me (well, remaining after the Digitial Desires [sounds like a pornography convention] symposium had eaten it for lunch). So I grabbed a few slices and quietly ate them while I sat in a lecture by Benedetta Tagliabue (widow of Enrique Miralles) of EMBT fame.

Mar 29, 2012

Car Talk

What a day.
It's open house. 80 students fly in to the campus to decide if this is Wash U is the right place for them and they fly in all day. As a member of the GAC, I took a role in the pickups and coordination. The school rented seven huge minivans and we shuttled prospective students back and forth to the hotel where we lodged them for the next two nights. So did airport runs in the morning, and then took my car into the shop for a radical overhaul of my finances. 

The problem was that about a week and a half ago, I started noticing the aligment was off and the car was wobbling at low speeds, vibrating really bad at higher speeds. Since today was turning into such a wash with open house, I decided it would be a good time to figure out at least what was causing it. I did some reasearch online and I didn't like what I was seeing. It sounded like one of my tires was disintegrating and I did more research on tire durability and costs. So when I took it in, it was less of a horrible shock when I found out that I was going to need buy four new tires.

Actually, the mechanic showed me the tire and where the belt had broken inside which was giving me the wobble. The other tires were really bald, and I'd been driving about 44k miles on them, so I figured it was probably time for a new set. My wallet disagreed, but Saori and I need a car, so tires it was. 

That took a long time. A long time. 

Then it was back to shuttling kids around. Then a class which I was an hour late to visiting, and then back to shuttling kids around again for the late night run. And now its 10:30 and I have nothing for studio tomorrow. 

So.

Tea. And granola bars. 

Mar 27, 2012

Givens

A cherry tree on campus-
dull building by its side:
a more gray and dreary partner
I have yet to find.

One might well wonder
why build such a plodding thing:
its drabness the perfect background
for pink blossoms in the spring.

Mar 26, 2012

spring

I arrived back in St. Louis after ten days in Italy to discover that in my absence, Spring had happened.

The cherry trees are in full blossom, the trees are unfurling their new tiny leaves, the grass is joyous, and everything is the brilliant, fresh, green.




Mar 24, 2012

Life and Death in Milan

The Zebra Hostel was hard to find.

I called Saori and called the hostel to find them. I had the directions I'd laboriously copied in Rome, and the address. The hostel told me I was in the right area that I described to them. It's not an easy place to get to from the train station.

The train station in Milan is an amazing piece of architecture. Built under facist dictators, the station is a blend of nationalist classicism, and art nouveau, and its fucking epic. Three mind boggling vast halls created by massive vaults, the third totally open to the outdoors as a giant portico.

I took the metro across the city, and walked for about half a mile to get to the area with the hostel...and couldn't find it. I went to an espresso bar where there was a girl on a laptop, hoping it they had free wifi so I could double check the directions. I ordered an espresso and asked the Chinese girls working there if there was wifi. No luck. Totally cold flat answer. At least I was able to use the bathroom.

I finally got in touch with the hostel and I started hunting for numbers once I verified I was in the right area. There. No sign. Or rather, a sign for some kind of children's clothing boutique. And on the sliding doors, a zebra. A small zebra. My only indication I was in the right place. Through the sliding doors, a sign:

Just Like Fun [But not Quite] was an accurate depiction. This was a place that really wanted to be that European hostel. And they really tried. Mostly deflated balloons inside. Strict secure controls on entrances. (actually a card-activated turnstile that never worked for my card). Bar inside. Signs with various notices and warnings everywhere. Invitations to leave photos on the walls and to hook up your ipod to the sound system. It was tired and sad, like a cheap dorm in a third-tier school. 

Cheap it was, one of the cheapest places I could find in Milan, actually, so it delivered on that account. They did give me a map of the area and tell me how to get around, although frankly, I wondered why considering you needed a detailed map and understanding of the subway system in order to find the damn place. Maybe all the backpackers arrive via taxi.

Anyway. I did meet two other American backpackers there, and we chatted for awhile over beers while surfing on the free wifi. One of them was a very young electrical engineer from someplace like Ohio working in Qatar and hadn't been stateside in about nine months. He was just happy to hear good ole USA English spoken from a native. The other guy had been backpacking for about two months, and was about to take a flight to Romania to meet his friend whom he'd met on his travels and who had invited him back to her homecountry. At this point of backpacking, he's not carrying anything worth stealing, but I do home he still has his kidneys.

Low moments in Italy

For every high moment, there is also a low.

I was kicked out of the Florence airport around 2AM by police who were trying to close the building for the night, but that really wasn't that bad. There was a nearby bar/cafe/convenience store which was 24 hours where I consumed, in alternation, Italian beer and espresso.

Bad was the shower at the Zebra Hostel in Florence. Hostel. Hostel as in, six beds in a room, bathroom down the hall. I was pretty tired by the time I was ready for a shower that night, and I'd neglected to rent a towel from the front desk. Actually, I wasn't even sure I could rent a towel there, so I was in the "aw screw it" frame of mind by then anyway.

The showers were in the men's bathroom, which was very poorly designed to the point that if you opened the door into the hall, there was a direct line of sight through the sink area straight into the shower stalls. After I'd stripped nekkid and stepped into a stall, I realized there was no soap. I had my own shampoo, but shampoo just doesn't cut it as far as removing travel grease and grime from the skin goes. So after I got the water going, I had to make a few mad dashes (streaking) to the sinks to pump some liquid soap into my hands so I could dash back to the shower to lather up.

I dried off with a thin shirt which was not clean in that I had worn it before, but not dirty in that it'd never been in direct contact with my body. Still. Drying off with not-quite-dirty laundry is really not a moment that will go into my favorite travel moments book.

Other crappy moments in Italy- finally getting to the MAXXI museum and realizing it was closed that day, then finally getting to the Ara Pacis and realizing that it was also closed that day, getting dressed down by two maintenance workers in Italian for sneaking into Renzo Piano's music hall.

Oh, and I tried to get cheap tickets to the world famous Opera in Milan. It was about an hour before curtain, and I was in my jeans (my baggy American jeans, no less) with my beat up Freitag bag. There's a little room with the box office window, and I was waiting in line, feeling the scorn from pretty much everyone there, who I might point out, were all twice my age, and dressed in what wealthy, old, Milanese wear, which is also the fashion capital of Europe. I decided against the Opera, partially from embarrassment, but I told myself that it was really because I didn't like opera in German anyway.

Mar 23, 2012

Roman moment

Saori and I took a late train from Florence and we arrived around six or seven o'clock in the evening. I'd picked out a B&B very close to Termini, 69 Manin St. De Lux. It was pretty cheap, a single room for about $50 (I opted to skip the breakfast), but surprisingly nice. The place was very small, perhaps ten rooms in the hotel, but nicely appointed and finished. The room came with an espresso maker and free coffee, and the shower was very nice with multiple shower heads. 

Anyway, the older proprietor checked us in, with an incredibly Italian accent, and gave us a map of the city and  told us to avoid any restaurants around the heavily touristy areas. (not that we needed that particular advice, but it was still nice). He did suggest we look in Trastevere, a neighborhood across the Tiber south of the Vatican. 

So Saori, who had lived in the city of Rome for a month, led us back to Termini and helped me buy a bus map and bus tickets. In Rome, the bus is by far the best way to travel. We took the bus line to a famous monument and worked our way across the dark, narrow alleyways and streets across the river. My guidebook had recommended a pizza place, but when we got there, we were greeted by a guy literally passed on on the bar. We walked through, and out the door. There were a lot of little restaurants in the area, and we were pretty hungry but nothing really caught our attention. 

Finally, we found a place that had a line of locals waiting to get in. Now, Trestevere is also a tourist scene, especially the more conscientious traveler, so to see a bunch of young Italians waiting to get into this place was like a giant neon sign saying EAT HERE!!!!!! Anyway, we checked in with the frenetic waiter and hung around outside. The place was called Trattoria Augustus and I highly recommend it if you have the fortune to be in Rome with an evening free.

After about thirty minutes, we finally got a table. Kind of. The place was really small, so our tiny table for two was side by side with another table already occupied by another couple. Whatever. There was only one guy running around taking orders and delivering food, so it took awhile to get him. Saori and I leisurely perused the menu, picking out what we wanted for our primi piatti and secondi piatti. When the waiter finally got to us, he knelt down because he was tired from running around. He indicated in broken english that they had a few menu items unavailable due to the late hour. Actually, there was only one item on the primi piatti menu and four items left on the secondi piatti menu. Ok, we laughed, we'll take the pasta and the chicken.

Actually, it was kind of like being at a big family reunion. It looks kind of like somebody's house, there's one guy running around like a maniac and trying to get everyone everything, and the menu is about as limited as flying coach. We did get a small carafe of the house red which turned out be the best wine I had anywhere in Italy and a loaf of amazing bread. 

Once we ordered, the dishes came out incredibly quickly. The pasta was astounding. It was a very simple pasta with lots of olive oil and parmesian cheese, but the olive oil was unbelievable. Imagine the best olive oil you've ever tasted- flavorful, subtle, fresh, and that was it. 

The chicken dish surprassed it. I don't even remember what it was called. Some kind of a Tuscan roasted chicken. It was phenomenal. Juicy, well spiced in a tomato sauce. It almost reminded me of Indian cooking. Of course, we had to order dessert to go with it, and we got a very passable tiramisu. Of course, it was only passable because everything else had been so good, but I'm sure by itself it would have been great. When it came time to pay, our waiter sat down in the empty chair next to us (the restaurant had become more open with all of our courses) and we helped him remember all the things we'd bought as he added it up on the paper tablecloth. Ended up being around $25 for each of us. 

We left incredibly full and happy, and slowly made our way back through the quiet and ruined city back to the hotel.

Mar 18, 2012

Italy bulletpoints

Cities I visited in Italy
  • Florence
  • Rome
  • Siena
  • Milan
Things I bought
  • 2 pairs of pants from the H&M in Milan
  • Bus map of Milan
  • Bus map of Rome
  • light scarf
  • 3 pairs underwear and socks from a street vendor
  • A sale book from the Armani Emporium bookstore about Brazilian modern architecture
  • A copy of Italian design/architecture magazine Abatare from the month I was born.
  • A current copy of Italian architecture/urban design magazine Ottagano 
  • A current copy of an Italian architecture magazine with new architecture in Florence
  • A pair of olive green chukka boots from a small, cheap shoe store across the street from the Palazzo medici
Major sights I didn't see (because I'd seen them before or wasn't interested)
  • Colosseum in Rome
  • Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums
  • Birth of Venus
  • The Last Supper
  • The Roman Forum
  • Michelangelo's David
Most useful items for travel
  • Kindle- loaded with guidebooks, phrasebooks, and novels for travel
  • Cell phone
  • detailed map with local bus and metro routes
  • day pass metro card
  • credit card
  • glass water bottle for refilling
Works of modern architecture I visited
  • MACRO (contemporary art museum in Rome)
  • EUR (facist/futurist/modern architecture) in Rome
  • MAXXI museum by Zaha Hadid
  • Music park in Rome by Renzo Piano
  • Richard Meier's Ara Pacis museum in Rome
  • The new Florence Opera house
  • New justice center of Florence
  • Nervi's stadium in Florence
Daily menu
  • Espresso shot and a croissant at the bar
  • panini and beer for lunch
  • gelato (sometimes)
  • gyro, pizza,  or panini for dinner accompanied by glass of wine

Mar 15, 2012

So much for that

leaving Milan soon, turns out Milan Design Week is actually NEXT month. Going to catch a slow train to Florence, then wander the city until I can catch a cab to the airport for my 7AM flight.

Mar 14, 2012

checking out, checking in

Hit the modern architecture of Rome pretty hard last few days: Zaha Hadid's MAXXI museum, MARCO museum, Renzo Piano's parc di musica, Mussolini's EUR, Richard Meier's Ara Pacis Museum.

Now I'm off to Milan for two days before hightailing it back to Florence and my flight back to reality. Milan design week begins tomorrow. Exciting!

It's the budget tour of italy with $20 a night hostels $1 espressos, $2 beers, and $3 paninis.

Mar 9, 2012

Highlights from Italy I

Weather has been lovely- a little chilly in the mornings and after sunset, but the rest of the time has been beautifully warm and sunny. Spring is truly the best time to visit Italy, before the miserable muggy heat of summer. The light is strong and crisp, makes me jealous with our crappy St.Louis light.

Strolling through the Uffizi gallery, not looking at art (I've seen it all before) but looking at the architecture and trying to get views of the piazza below. We got student cards usually given to local students (E25) so we get in 'free' and dosn't have to wait in line (60min+) to get in. We just flash the card and get our entry tickets, this way please. It kind of feels like a VIP pass.

Picnic lunch of toasted caprece paninis on the piazza Pitti with the locals. Its amazing how a little incline turns a square for standing and meandering for a place for sitting and laying down.

Walking around the Boboli gardents, the Medici private gardens, which rise above the city south of the Arno. The old marble statues, the quiet paths, the beautiful weather, the wind in the olive trees and bright sunshine. The whole garden rises above the city in the hills, so there's a lot of stairs and hills, and the city spreads itself out in the background.

Walking around the city with Leif and Dave before everyone else arrived, the full three mile loop across the historic city center, through the piazza delgi uffizi, across the ponte vecchio, and up into the hills north of the city, getting really lost, and finally working our way back through the countryside, ending up drinking beer at the piazza michelangelo which is an amazing overlook of the city.

Dinner with Dave and Leif the first night at a Kabob place where the owner lamented how mean the Italian girls are, wishing he could come to the US. Really good. Super cheap meal.

Meeting up with everyone on the piazza michelanglo, drinking a beer, and sitting on the steps with all the other American students in Florence and maybe five Italians, watching the sun set.

Dinner at this trattoria the guidebook on my kindle recommeded, which was tiny, filled with locals (we had to share a table with another couple), delicious, and cheap! It was fantastic. A liter and a half of wine. Good times. I got canneloni and the pork loin. Belissimo.

Gelato. G. E. L. A. T. O. Say it with me. Prego!

Mar 6, 2012

1 0 0 0

This is my 1,000th blog post. I started this blog my freshman year of college back in 2003 as a means of staying connected with my family who were living abroad at the time, giving them a snapshot of my daily life.

I've been through a lot in these 1,000 posts. A semester in Buenos Aires, backpacking Europe, my entire college education, a relationships come and go, parents divorce, my first professional work. There's been long stretches where I havn't written much due to the fact that there wasn't much to write about in the daily grind of working combined with professional confidentiality.

My blogging has evolved into something I use as a tool for organizing my own thoughts, rather than as a communicative device (although I hope it still holds that function!). There have been several rather niche people who seem to find it via Google searches. The train from Lausanne to Jungfraujoch in Switzerland and how to make a Dia de Los Muertos costume give me a constant stream of traffic, and I get fewer hits from people looking to improve their revit renderings.

I'd switch over to other blogging platforms since Blogger has nothing designwise on Tumblr or Wordpress, but since I've been here so long, I figured I might as well stay at this host.

The name, The Blazing Sun was the title of the summer monthly family newspaper I used to publish in middle school and high school, chronicling our family daily lives. I'll have to post an issue sometime. I enjoyed the optimism of the title, fitting the Phoenix weather nicely, but also because I saw in the title a secret- another reading of Sun as Son, which transforms the periodical into a chronicle of my successes, the rise of the 'blazing son'.

Readers have come and gone- there's only a handful of dedicated regulars who still read, and it makes me happy to know that I'm still communicating with you guys in some way.

Mar 5, 2012

mid-review

Mid-review is over.
I have difficulty accepting that picking something completely arbitrary and using it as a design concept has any more validity than designing intuitively.
Review did not go well, but I impressed the hell out of the non-architect with my display materials.
Did not have 1:50 model or process book.
I'm pretty tired and fried. Got about four hours of sleep last night, just like the last two nights before. Just like tonight will be.
I've got a project due tomorrow morning. Before I catch the metrolink to [the airport to minneapolis to amsterdam to] Italy.

I can sleep on the plane.

Also exciting: this is blog post #999.

Mar 4, 2012

Late night adventures

Midreview is tomorrow.
It's been a really long week with not so much sleeping in it. Got about four hours last night, and about the same the night before. Probably get about four tonight as well. Maybe a little more so I'll be coherant enough for the review.

Anyway. We took Thursday easy, going out to explore the town and indulging in a trip to the mall, where I ended up buying a fun green hoodie at H&M for $20. Saori was incredulous that I was buying something so boldly colorful. In her experience, I'm mister monochrome or neutral. Maybe it's all the young students I'm hanging out with in studio. Most of them are five years younger than I am. I think I may actually be the oldest in my studio.

Friday night we went out to dinner with Silvino at Gokul, a relatively new vegitarian Indian restaurant. Food was decent, service was appalling. The wait staff made it obvious that customers were second to looking at pictures of monkeys online. And we got the buffet. It's not like we were a party of nineteen ordering separately. All we wanted was drinks, but we had to wrestle them to the ground to get them to do anything. Won't be going back anytime soon.

Afterwards, Saori and I went driving at night around the city. I wanted to see old town St.Charles, which is actually a really cool historic street with brick pavers and a lot of original old architecture from early settlements and exploration. It's apparently a huge magnet for the blue collar crowd and suburbanites living in St.Charles. Tons of bars. Mostly sports bars, but a few clubs, a few wine bars which looked like they were trying a little too hard. Every place was packed.

We drove on, through the countryside, with the lock and dam at Alton as our goal. I wanted to see this massive piece of infrastructure at night. We passed a huge coal powerplant for Ameren and drove in the entrance marked visitors. It was late at night, approaching midnight, and it was huge and mechanical and lit up at night with huge smoke stacks and floodlights. We pulled up to the gate and this huge guard lumbered out from the 1980s. Heavily overweight, with coke bottle glasses, he was appalled to see us. I rolled down my window and said cheerfully, "hello! is it ok if we get out here and take photos?" (we were in a driveway leading to the fenced off area controlled by a checkpoint.)

The guard was hostile and flabbergasted. "It's a federal crime to even HAVE a camera on this property!" he gibbered, eyebrows arched. "You need to back up, turn around and go out the way you came!"  So we did.

It took awhile to get to the dam, but we were rewarded with the isolation and river and the horn blasts from the boat pilots navigating the locks. Drove on home, getting in around 1am.

Speaking of which, back to work.

Oh, and I need to start preparing for my trip to Italy, as I leave the day after tomorrow. 

Mar 2, 2012

Wang Shu

There has been much abuzz in the Sam Fox campus these last few days. We just finished our NAAB accreditation visit today, for example. This is a very major event, and the school began preparations over two years ago for this four day visit. The way it works is that architecture schools are accredited for degrees that they offer to be valid so that graduates can sit for licensing exams. Anyway, a small team of people made up of students, architects, professors, NAAB people come down, look through the school's documentation, student work, do interviews with students and staff etc and then make recommendations for areas of improvement and finally decide whether or not to recommend accreditation.

I'm pretty sure we passed, but its a pretty epic event in the life of the school every six years, and its the first time that the combined schools of Sam Fox has been accredited since the combining. So the faculty and administration especially have been running around all over the place to make sure everything is just right. So it goes.

The other exciting piece of news that architect Wang Shu was awarded the Pritzker prize... three days before he was scheduled to give a lecture here. (the Pritzker prize is widely seen as the preeminent award in architecture, not really for a building design as much as a body of work. It's a pretty big deal) I see it as somewhat political/cultural move on the part of the Pritzker committee, as they're awarding it to a Chinese architect (the first Pritzker to be won by a zhongguoren) but more importantly, they want to highlight the more reflective, culturally and historically influenced work he's doing in China.

It's critical regionalism, but that's really a big bucket. His work has elements of whimsy like an exterior stair/balcony which scurries up and down the face of the building, but there's also massive, sculptural elements, monumental angular forms, like his musuem in Ningbao. Personally, he kind of frames himself as a cultural rebel- his architecture degree was withdrawn from his university, and then he started his own architecture school, where he was the only faculty member. He did expand a bit and hired another teacher. Ai WeiWei, probably the most famous contemporary artist in China.

The lecture that he gave was packed. Over packed. People sitting in the aisles and on the floor of the stage, back of the room, out the door. It's strange to think that if not for this Pritzker, we would have seen not even half of the people. But a small group of people came to a certain conclusion and suddenly the president of the University has to make a short welcome speech.

The Chinese kids here were going nuts. Weng Shu came early to the campus and a friend of mine showed him around and acted as an unofficial translator. He's pretty chill, more than happy to pose for photos with the Chinese students who mobbed him. Seemed very amiable.

After the lecture, they swarmed the stage, trying to get more photos, while the faculty tried to get in on the scene and others were trying to get him out of there and over to the Studio Dinner. Saori and I were invited along by my friend and so we all drove over to Matt's apartment where the dinner was going to be held. Another friend of mine had left the lecture early to pick up the food. Earlier, she had told me how excited she was to be getting Pappy's BBQ. When I got there, it was House of India. I raised my eyebrows about this and she quietly told me that nobody had realized Weng Shu was vegetarian until the last minute.

Pappy's would have been better, but the Indian food was pretty good. The apartment was packed. Many other (Chinese) students had also decided to crash the party, although there was plenty of curry to go around. So it goes.

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...