Dec 30, 2012

stilted post

We landed at the airport in St. Louis early in the morning two days ago, around 2 am. Dew picked us up and drove us home.

It was good to sleep in our bed again, and Suki wasn't even mad at us.

In the morning, by which I mean 1:30, Saori, Vivian and I met Dew, Dew's sister, Chuck and Claire at Winslow's home for lunch. Everyone got burgers except for me, who got the pancakes. They do have pretty amazing pancakes.

Saori re-packed her stuff, and we went to the mall to finish her Christmas gift card shopping and take care of her phone for while she is in Japan. She packed well into the night and really didn't sleep much.

It was snowing when I took her to the airport at 5:30am yesterday. After she took off, I went home, slept some more. I've been gradually picking up the house and trying to organize it a bit more. Over the past two days, I've been putting some of my books to sell online, and started posting some items on Craigslist to see if I can get any buyers.

Today, I paid more bills and bought a Nexus 7 with Christmas money. Tried to take photos of my models but the sunlight was really gauzy and I need a bigger white surface to shoot on and against.

Why does my style feel so stilted all of a sudden? Strange.

Dec 29, 2012

the scale of fixing things

One of the many problems I have with design has to do with the scope of the problem.
Take commutes, for example.

Commutes are not that bad, unless you happen to make them in a vehicle. Worse if you happen to be driving that vehicle, and an order of magnitude worse if you're also driving in traffic. Multiplied by the amount of time you spend doing it.

How do you respond as a designer to the unpleasantness of the commute?

There's many scales of response, from the smallest, most palliative, to the most radical. Actually, it is a question of how much the designers are willing or able to question the larger issue.

The Brookstone approach deals with the smallest level, the most acute symptom. Here's a neck massager to relieve the tension of driving. Here's a sound system to distract you. Here's shoes to make the trip more comfortable. Here's a tab of aspirin for your headache. What is the least amount I can change? What can I sell in a box at the mall or at the checkout counter? At this level, the design considerations are ergonomic.

At the next scale up, you have the Limousine approach. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that in general, people are happier and more comfortable getting to work in the back of a chauffeured luxury sedan than driving a minibus. Change the mode of transport. Design considerations here are somewhat ergonomic and anthropometric, but more infrastructural, micro-economic.

At a leap more radical is the Proximity approach. Design proposals in this range involve relocating ones house to be closer to work (or vice versa), or making that distance feel less with various strategies. Walking a mile in the heart of Boston or Paris or New York is a delight. Walking a mile in suburban Phoenix is a banal death march. Design considerations are the urban planners: climate, visual interest, movement, urban grain.

The Telecommute approach calls into question the commute itself. Why do you need to be physically transported between your job and your home? This approach is a bit more radical in that it may propose solutions like working at home or living where you work. Definite infrastructural design considerations, some cultural and socioeconomic considerations and business practices are questioned.

The Pavlovian approach works shallowly in the motivations and feelings of the individual. If the commute is unpleasant, pharmacology or post-hypnotic suggestion may be able to make people happy to sit traffic. Behavioral and perceptual modification by applied force.

More difficult to perpetuate but more deeply and subtly engrained is the Propagandist approach. Rather than trying to whitewash away a natural predisposition towards a dislike of waiting in traffic, introducing a change in culture may over time give different values to commuting. Squashed and distorted human heads and appendages were seen as beautiful by different cultures in human history- why could thousands of cars in gridlock not be re-presented as a glorious, ecstatic agglomeration such as seen at Mecca during the Hajj? Why mayn't the intercourse of private vehicles become a dance more passionate and sensual than the tango, or more subtle than chess?

But this does not question the notion of living or working like the Hermit approach. Why, really, do you need to work? what is it, really, that you need to live? Why are the two different? Is it preferable to subsidence farm instead or adopt the shaved head of a mendicant and pray? Design proposals at this level require deeply personal, biological, spiritual and economic considerations.

One may find that design proposals in the Hermit approach are limited in viability because they come up against larger structures in human civilization. At this level, the Structuralist approach calls into question why civilizations have organized into the structures they have formed. Design proposals may include challenges to various forms of capitalism, neo-liberalism, forms of governments and economies.

At the highest level of design, one may attempt to join God at the drafting table in the Existential approach. Design proposals at this level may suggest meaning or reasons for existence, new religions, new purposes or directions for mankind. "Why am I unhappy commuting" is really only a sub-sub-sub-question of "Why?"

Dec 28, 2012

kind of a whiny post I wrote a week ago

It's been a little over a week since I finished my final presentation for graduate school. Two days ago, I finished my final paper for John, 17 pages of decent research without any fluff of what was probably supposed to be a 20-25 page paper.

Right after my review, I was so happy. It was a great happiness to have brought my project to a successful conclusion- a happiness of being able to present a project well, of having a project I felt was worth concluding graduate school.

But now, I feel nearly nothing. There's no sense of euphoria, there's no feeling of expectation of the open road which I now face. It's one of the rarest moments of life to have no real commitments in terms of a mortgage or a job. My job prospects are good (I was recently offered a job in a planning office, which I turned town for various reasons).

Was I satisfied with my decision to go to grad school at Washington University in St. Louis? Absolutely. It's a fantastic school, generally filled with incredibly smart, interesting students and (generally) great professors. I'm a much stronger, more versatile designer, and I've learned an incredible amount and discovered a direction to my approach to architecture. It's an incredibly expensive school, so from a financial standpoint, we'll see what happens over time, but they are also incredibly generous with scholarships. Half of my tuition was covered for my time there. I'm satisfied.

I am sad that I am leaving my friends in St. Louis, the first time I've ever really developed a relatively normal social life. I will miss all of them a lot.

I also have mixed feelings about Saori going to Germany for nine months. It's going to a be an incredible experience for her and she's got a great job in Boston lined up after that where I'll be joining her. I'm very happy for her, but I'm also a little jealous- the job, the travel, the security in knowing what is next, the whole package. And I'm also going to miss her. 

What I feel is not quite discontent, more like a dull anxiety. For the past two and a half years, I've had so much direction and purpose. I believed in what I was doing, I was engaged, I was a speedboat with a powerful engine and I knew where I was going. Now, instead of feeling like I have the whole horizon to command, I just feel adrift.

It's great to be in Salt Lake, to be surrounded my family and beauty and where I'm fed and given drinks and entertainment. It's a reminder that that architecture is really just architecture, that there are bigger things, like babies and career trajectory and family.

Dec 18, 2012

over the precipice

Sunday, we all slept in until around 1 in the afternoon. I got up, downed a few aspirin, fed suki, and went back to bed around 9 am. I took Tay to get some blueberry pancakes at Winslow's home. You get a stack of three that you won't be able to finish, real maple syrup, and with the first bite, you put down your fork and say "oh my god." We brought coffee and a scone back for Saori who was getting ready to go. We then went to studio to work for a few hours- I was putting together my Approach* materials and Saori was working on her (un)Desired Object class's final presentation materials. 

After a few hours of work, Tay and I split for Soulard since its a place he's never been before. We hit 1860 for a beer and a chat. After the beer, we walked around the block to the old farmers market. The area and the brick houses reminded me of parts of Boston.

We hit a grocery store on the way to Dew's house where Saori and Dew were working on their Desired Object class. At Dew's, we cooked a box of Jumbalaya with a mix of spicy and Italian sausage from the Schnuck's deli (amazing sausage), and also a small salad. Dew cooked a tomato and cabbage soup and some pork shoulder. It was a tiny feast. 

Afterwards, we let Dew and Saori work in peace and I drove Tay to Bridge, one of my favorite bars in St. Louis. Bridge is in the downtown locust neighborhood, basically an urban, upscale wine bar which sells beer instead of wine. It was pretty quiet on a sunday night, so we sat at the bar and perused the 60-odd beers on tap and ordered a few rounds of particular brews in small glasses to just get a sense of the taste. It was fun and a good chance to catch up.

When we got home, we started watching Dune but Tay got too bored with it so we switched over to watch Disney's Robin Hood. Went to bed around 2. Saori ended up working all night with a few naps at Dew's place. 

Today, Tay and I got up late and went out to Bus Loop Burgers to take out some burgers. Bus Loop is in fact, an old bus loop station- the terminal end of "the loop" which runs through University City. It's actually less than a mile from the school but in contrast with U city which is affluent and predominantly white, this area is almost totally black and poor. Tay was definitely feeling awkward waiting for our burgers in the dingy waiting area. 

We brought burgers back for Saori and sat in on her review for Desired Object. Strange class. After a few projects, we ducked out and had a coffee at Kayak. Came back to school to find Saori just finished with her reviews and we took Tay back to the apartment to pack up his stuff. 

We drove him to the airport and sent him off to Phoenix. It was great to see him and it would have been much sadder except for the fact we'll be together again in Salt Lake in a few days.

Saori, who at this point can barely stay on her feet she's so exhausted, and I swing by the gocery store to pick up ingrediants for the studio night dinner at our advisor's house. We make a salad and Saori makes a kind of sour sauteed eggplant and zucchini. We're really late, which makes me feel really bad for keeping everybody waiting on us, especially since our advisor is such a stickler for being on time. Anyway, he's got a cool house, and two old dogs he kept trying to give away ( "Six months of health insurance and food.")

After Ben's we drove to another friend's house where a farewell party had been going on for awhile. It was good to see everyone in a bittersweet drunken state. We ceremoniously burned Philip's conceptual models in the firepit out back. Got home around two AM.   

*Approach is a catalog of student works assembled by the school. It's only selected projects, but they don't tell the students which ones they want- they make everyone submit highly specific documentation in highly specific formats and sizes and resolutions.

Dec 17, 2012

Celebrations

Tay was a trooper- he stuck out the entire day of listening to architecture students present. That night, we went out to celebrate at the India Palace at the Airport and had some great curry and beer overlooking the runway, and then we went home and just crashed since we were all critically sleep deprived.

Saturday, Tay stayed at home and went shopping and Saori and I went back for the rest of the reviews. For lunch, Tay went out and brought us pizza and so we had a picnic at school. Tay went on to go shopping, and Saori and I stayed to watch the final reviews of the day.

The epic conclusion was Adam's presentation of his vertical stacked drag racing strip in the old cotton railroad building. The entire project was really wild- fantastic mechanisms swung cars around to load them into the building- a grandstand which moved up and down to provide optimal viewing angles- a vehicle arresting device including a drag line and a massive swinging counterweight. The entire thing was so over the top and fun that the main criticism Adam received was that he didn't go far enough. Why were the models of the swing arms white, which is the language of hi-tech, serious architecture? why not painted in garish colors in celebration of all the moving pieces?

 It was a great show and the reviewers enjoyed themselves. There were no woman visiting critics so it was kind of a bro fest anyway, and ending on such a stereotypically male project (tricking out an old building like a hot rod for drag racing) seemed appropriate.

Anyway, after his presentation, we all went upstairs where a line of bottles of  champagne were laid out in a row. At the appointed time, the studio advisors started popping corks, and for me, the sound of champagne corks popping hammered home the fact that I was done. That distinctive pop of celebration, that was it. We handed out cups to everyone and had a series of toasts. The faculty toasted us, we toasted our advisors, the critics, each other. Much wine was drunk, and each studio migrated towards their advisor.

Catherine Dean's studio was easy to find- her students were truly hers, she was emotional, so visibly happy, and getting someone to take a picture of all of them together in a group photo. Saori and I found Ben smoking outside, already talking to a few studio mates from our section. We hung out there for awhile, chatting with friends and other students in lower sections who had supported us, and then when all the wine was gone, the party broke up and we went upstairs back to studio.

Two students had taken the initiative to charter a party bus for tonight, and they knew I was good with fun graphics so they asked me to make a map, and I went up to finalize it and print it out on a big scale plotter. There were a lot of friends already up there and I had a cup of Knob Creek pressed into my hand and we chatted and laughed and made plans for the night.

Saori and I went home to meet Tay and I cooked us a pasta dinner, still a little tipsy. After dinner, Tay drove us back to school and dropped us off in the parking lot where the bus was waiting. We were going to ride the STL Road Pony, a former school bus which had been converted with side bench seating, a dance floor and pole in the back, mood lighting, etc. It was hilarious and we were all a little drunk and totally excited. I would say about half the studio was there, including Chuck and his girlfriend.

We got blue wrist bands to identify ourselves (and to let people know who to contact when they find our passed out bodies in the street or too drunk to speak), and we took off on a bouncy trip to the St. Louis arch, were we got out and took a big group photo, still clutching our alcohol.

We drove on to a few sites where a few people took shots, and then made our first bar stop at a hipster bar. The guys there were 20-30s with facial hair, the girls were chunky and geeky/gothy, and there was a room filled with pinball machines. Because we'd ended up paying more than the cost of the bus, everyone took a shot at the bar. The bar was also our pee stop since the bus didn't have any facilities. We drove on to another site in south St. Louis and then shot north to stop at a bar (Tropicana?) with neon blue bowling lanes.

There was a lot of very drunk and intense conversation about how great our classmates all were and how we were going to change the world. I'd been working on a giant bottle of Trader Joes Christmas ale (9%) made my Unibroue which was pretty good and strong.

Our last stop was Pepper Lounge, a dance club of which I'd heard much about but never visited, and the bus people announced that it was heading back to the school or you could get out here.

We jumped out, along with most of the bus. I'd been given $10 from the bus organizers for my part in making the map and printing it (even though it was pretty useless in the end, apart from a party decoration) and I used that as cover to get Saori and I in the club. I barely remember going in.

The dance floor was packed and we met a bunch of people who weren't on the bus- Cordelia, John S., others. Lots and lots of dancing. My memories of it were very fuzzy. I think we got there around 12:30, and we left around 2. We shared a cab back to campus with Sarah M, and Tay, the eternal gentleman he is, came to pick us up from the school.

We went back home and passed out.

The Presentation

I presented well. Saori said this was the best presentation she'd ever seen me give. I didn't stutter, I didn't stop and repeat the same words or have to re-begin sentences. I kept the line of the narrative arc straight, and to the point. I stayed calm, interested in what I was presenting, but not over-passionate.

Except for one moment when some of the ideas behind the concept were challenged when I unleashed the fiery rhetoric in a short but passionate exhortation. "We're already tinkering with these systems- with global warming there can no longer even said to be purely natural processes anymore. It is time to bring our design to an expanded field of architecture" and so on. After I unloaded that, I thought I'd gone too far, but I talked to people afterwards who said it was impressive and demonstrative of my passion.

The critics gave me a wide range of feedback. They were impressed with the level of depth and research I'd undertaken. They thought my single conduit drawing of the water system was amazing. They liked my renderings. They weren't sold on the experiential qualities of the space I was creating. If I was trying to make something that feeds back to the people the quality of the river which has biological implications, then it was too subtle with the rise and fall of the arcs.

I got a lot of push back in particular from one critic who proposed that I vaporize the river to be inhaled by visitors to the site. To that, another critic added, "And nobody would come." To a certain extent I do agree, the project needs to strike a balance between the tension (a big buzzword of my review) of the dangers the river poses, or at least the connection of the river to the person, and the need to make this place an attractor. At one end of the spectrum, I could create an amusement park pier with a few placards of information. At the other end, I could create a device that grabs random passers by and drags them through the river to emphasize the point that you are connected to the river whether you like it or not.

At the end of the review, my instructor praised my work over the past year, saying that to pursue a project without really knowing what the outcome would be required a lot of courage. He also said that I was crazy and privately afterwards, told me that he was happy I was moving on. It's not that he's glad to be rid of me, but the kind of project and area of the work I was doing is relatively uncharted and very difficult to critique because it is straddling newer places in architecture. It's easy to critique a library because you can immediately compare it to every other library you've ever seen and you know basically what the point is, and there's a lot of precedent for how it can act to carry out it functions.

So the review came very quickly to an end- I think it might have actually lasted longer than the 30 minutes, but it flew by for me.

The critic who wanted to vaporize the river for inhalation came up to me afterwards and gave me his card- it turns out that he's also very interested and passionate about the same kind of water infrastructure systems and he wanted to collaborate on some work for a publication. He runs a pretty well known firm in Chicago. So that felt pretty good. I'm going to get in contact with him and see what he has in mind.

I was so happy. To be done, to have finished with a project I felt was really good, to have finished with a strong verbal presentation and defense. No euphoria, no tears of joy or release as I saw at the end of some other presentations, but a kind of satisfaction of summation. It is a high, but not a dancing off the walls high. And then I went in to watch the next presentation.

Dec 14, 2012

Up to the Presentation

Today, I presented my degree project to a panel of six architects and some Wash U faculty as well.
  • Alfredo Paya
  • Carlos Jimenez
  • Catherine Dean
  • Christof Jantzen
  • Phil Holden
  • Marten Felsen
Today was friday. Let's rewind a few days.

Tuesday- last full meal. Went out to the quirky vietnamese place and got a bowl of beef stew with egg noodles. Got four hours of sleep that night.

Wednesday- taco bell and four hours of sleep. Late that night, printed my final boards.

Thursday-  Forgot to eat. Built a model. Tay came from Bloomington. Five hours of sleep.

To recap: I've been averaging four hours of sleep for the last four days. Yesterday, I didn't even eat. I've been drinking coffee and under considerable stress, and coupled with the exhaustion and the fatigue, it's not surprising I didn't feel hungry.

Taylor came out to see our final presentations and to get in a little extra time with us in St. Louis. He was worried about coming in so "late" with an ETA of 11pm the night before our presetnations. He shouldn't have worried- we were both up and working in studio. Saori was finishing her model and I was fussing over my boards on the wall and going over what I was going to say in my presentation.

It was wonderful to let him in the locked front door of the building, me wearing the santa hat, and him in his gray coat and red scarf.  I showed him my pinned up project and ran through my presentation with him. We said hello to Saori and left to head home with Tay's car.

When we got home, I was barely coherant enough to pull bedding out for Tay on the futon, and then I showered and crashed. Saori got back an hour or two later.

This morning, I woke up feeling awful. I felt like I'd spent the night as roadkill on a street flooded with raw sewage. I was trembling, nauseous, with a pounding headache, and according to Tay, white as a sheet. 

It was a panic attack- I was filled with horror and dread at the inescapable presentation I was about to give. I was nearly sick in the toilet. If I hadn't not eaten anything in the past 36 hours, I probably would have been sick. 

Tay gave me some great encouragement and Saori did too, and after sitting down for awhile and doing some deep breathing exercises, I reminded myself that it was all on the boards, and that if I just described what I saw on the boards like a simpleton, I'd still pass.

I drank some hot water, and if someone would have filmed me, I would have won an Oscar for "Most Feebly-Half-Eaten Piece of Toast" With a little carbohydrates, and some encouragement, I began to feel better and pulled myself together enough to roughly shave the long hairs off my neckbeard. We were running out of time so I said "screw it" to my wild hair, and threw on my skinny black chinos, white button down shirt, and gray blazer.

We all drove to school and got coffee. Saori went to finish up her stuff and I wandered up to make sure everything was pinned up as I'd left it the night before. I also booted up my old laptop and loaded my animation to run on  a loop. At 9, we all assembled and split up into the two review groups. I was presenting second, so I sat nervously and trembling through the first presentation.

I presented in the hallway, which I once thought was a pretty crappy place to present, but really not bad for these reasons:
  1. It's a huge fucking wall. There's something like 40 feet of wall space, in seven foot tall panels, uninterrupted by as much as a fire alarm.
  2. You're the only one presenting. It's a space for one person, so the reviewers eyes don't wander around comparing other drawings with yours.
  3. There's no distractions. It's a hallway, but there's no classes anymore, so nobody is walking nearby or passing through.
The only crappy thing about it is that the space is really narrow, so reviewers with their backs to the wall can't see the boards at the end if your presentation is 27 feet long, like mine.

Anyway, I had four boards, each one 12' long by 3' high, two massive renderings (besides the ones on my boards), each 40 inches long, a working model of the sampling pod at 1/4" scale, and an animation on my laptop showing the varying configurations of the sampling modules and an flyaround of an exploded module.

Dec 12, 2012

Under the 24 hour mark

We've passed the 24 hour mark to pens down, where we're all supposed to stop working, have and go home and sleep. At the very least, we need to be ready to plot.

I'm in good shape, I'm massaging my boards, I still need to make the model, but I've gotten started on it already.

I present friday, around 9:30 am. I'm second in the slot, and Saori goes sixth in the afternoon session.

This is it. It has come to this at last.

I have a coffee, I have mate, I have tea.

I have all night to work on the model and to massage boards and to rehearse. And all day tomorrow.

I'm a mess, Saori's a mess, the house is a mess, and Tay's coming tomorrow night to see the big finale. He'll see a lot of messes. But not the final projects.

Saori has some particularly gorgeous boards. She's got an excellent eye for layout and graphics, and a sublime project.

Dec 7, 2012

last day of classes

I've been fighting something for the last few days. Sunday it hit me really hard, so I took the day off from studio and worked on my paper. I thought I was over it by monday, although I was still having a lot of drainage.

Thursday night, my last class of university education, I presented my paper in a loud, 20 minute talk. At the end of the class, I felt like crap. Ended up coming straight home, Saori made me spicy ramen soup, and I took a hot shower and went to bed. Didn't sleep well. I think the space heater we have in the bedroom dehydrated me.

In the morning, Saori got back around 7 am from studio and I dressed in a blazer and a tie and the shiny black shoes and went in for a job interview with H3. H3 is a planning/architecture/landscape studio (which, incidentally, is run by three partners, one of which is John, my professor for the informal cities class).

The interview worked in the way it should have worked- it became quickly apparent that most of the work they had in the pipes was planning, and there was a question of my qualifications to handle that kind of work, given my background and degree in architecture. More importantly, however, was that they're looking for someone with a longer timeframe than mine. When my interviewer told me that they were looking for someone available for longer than a year (which is what I told them), I told him basically I didn't think I could do it, given my commitment to relocating to Boston. I did propose an alternative, that I could act as an intern, tasked with internish activities, and he said he'd consider it, although I think he was just trying to be nice about it. The other thing was that I dont think I talked enough or asked enough questions, given my lack of experience with planning firms.

Anyway. Interviewing experience is always good. And it made me feel good that I at least made it to the interview stage.

So I'm still sick. I feel crappy in the morning, hit the Tylenol a few times to keep me going during the day, and then I stop taking it and I feel like crap around 9pm. Extremely sore throat, slight headache, stiff, stiff neck, aches. God I want to recover from this soon so I can finish school. I'm paranoid its going to get worse and develop into pneumonia and I won't graduate.

I've been keeping a lively Tumblr account of my activities in studio, which is fun.

At any rate, the reason I'm at home instead of studio is to rest, so I should go, rest.

Dec 2, 2012

cold

Friday after studio, Saori and I went out to eat at the around the back pho restaurant. The food is good, it's relatively cheap, but the service sucks. I have yet to find a Vietnamese restaurant that has good, inexpensive pho with decent service.

Afterwards, we went downtown to Wash U's private gallery on Washington street for the Codices opening, a selection of artworks from Wash U, including several of my friends from studio. Dew was exhibited there, and so was the elaborate gear box David made. The most strange and disturbing exhibit was video art of a painted mouth repeatedly pulling and pushing a soft boiled egg in and out.

We met up with Dew at the climbing gym late. For some reason, it was really hard for me to climb and I couldn't finish some really basic routes, which was frustrating. I went home after that and did a little reading for my research paper, and went to bed.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling like crap. Nose running, eyes burning, stomach upset, headache. Shit. Last thing I need in the last two weeks of graduate school is a cold.

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...