Exhibition Reviews: Wendy, Doktor A, Columbus, and more

This fall, I've been trying my best to make it around to more NYC shows and events.  Here are my thoughts on a few of them (more photos available here):

MoMA's PS1 Young Architect's Program (YAP): Wendy
The Young Architect's Program competition provides the chance for a "young" architecture firm to produce an installation at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens, for the summer, to provide the site for multiple "Warm Up" concert events.  This year's firm was HWKN, and their creation, "Wendy," was a giant blue stylized explosion, intended to do something about cleaning air and water.  What it didn't do very effectively, in my view, was provide anything other than visual appeal.  There was hardly room to stand under/near it, no one was allowed inside (although off-limits stairs leading up into its interior indicated that there was space inside), and it was really too far from the stage to do more than serve as a piece of eye candy.  Occasionally it shot water out of a jet near the top, but otherwise seemed just to sit there.  Probably Wendy's greatest redeeming feature was being incredibly photogenic - I had a hard time taking a bad picture of it (her?).  My conclusion was that it was a cool sculpture, but hardly "architecture."  More like an overgrown starfish.  Apparently the goal was to "craft[...] an environment, not just a space" - but I'm not sure the architects managed either.  Points for making it blue instead of green?

"A Postcard from New Yorkshire: New Works by Doktor A" Oct. 12-Nov. 11, 2012 at myplasticheart
Although I must confess having little to no interest in "designer toys," as the type of work displayed at this exhibition was called, I definitely enjoyed seeing the level of detail and craftsmanship put into these little plastic sculptures.  I also didn't know anything about the artist Doktor A before deciding to go to this show.  So you may ask why I went at all - and the answer can be found here: I was asked to go by an internet friend.  Who then rewarded me by publicly thanking me for the photos here.  So, even aside from my enjoyment of seeing these little steampunk creatures close-up, it was definitely a worthwhile endeavor!  And I've learned a bit about custom vinyl toys.  Isn't the internet - and living in NYC - fun?

Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens
Despite the relatively small size of this museum, Justin and I were thoroughly interested and entertained for several hours.  Located in an old film studio complex, the museum was overhauled and renovated 2008-2011, and reopened in 2011, so the displays are new and pretty interesting.  The interactive media displays actually work properly, and are clever and engaging.  And best of all, I got to take my picture with a Yoda puppet.  If you're interested in film/television production, old cameras and TV sets, and props and models, this is definitely the place to go.  They also have a large display of original Star Wars and Star Trek toys, functional arcade games, and more in the "merchandising" section - pretty neat!

Discovering Columbus, by Tatzu Nishi, presented by the Public Art Fund
I enjoyed this installation quite a lot, both for its surreal interior qualities and for the amazing views provided from the installation platform.  Tatzu Nishi creates installations like this for statues around the world, building oversized rooms for the statues to inhabit.  Here, Columbus is like a giant coffee-table ornament in the middle of the room.  Oddly, the windows are oversized, as if to make up for the giant scale of the room, but the doors are standard-sized, creating a bizarre contrast.  It's not clear who the room is really for.  Despite its pink American-stereotype wallpaper, most of the room is so ordinary that after a while one forgets that Columbus is even there.  The real star of the show is Columbus Circle outside the windows, with busy streets radiating out in all directions.  A fun experience!

Note: To all those concerned about my safety here in NYC since Hurricane Sandy - thank you for your thoughts and messages!  Fortunately we never lost power or water, and everything is back to normal here in upper Manhattan.  Continued support is needed, however, for those in other parts of the city and in New Jersey who were not so lucky.  Dozens of charities are accepting donations tagged for Sandy relief - choose your favorite!  Here's mine: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance


Urban Design Studio: Suburban Retrofit in Denmark

This fall, my studio course is with Richard Plunz, head of the Urban Design program here at Columbia, and our subject is "Aalborg, Denmark: New Paradigms for Global Suburbanization."  I spent the past week in Aalborg at the invitation of the municipality as part of the Urban Design Studio collaborative workshop between the University of Aalborg and Columbia University.  Together with 30 international students in various planning and management fields, the fifteen of us from Columbia (architects, engineers, and urban planners) researched the suburban fabric of East Aalborg and brainstormed solutions to problems of social isolation, inadequate housing stock, lack of accessibility, unemployment, and environmental impact.  In teams of 8 or 9, we developed strategies to address one or more of these problems using urban design, architecture, and planning interventions.

My group's theme was "sustainable business," which we tackled by proposing a distributed network of small businesses started by local entrepreneurs, to be located in new commercial areas with inexpensive rent, built by a combination of municipal and private funding.  The idea was to provide cheap commercial and light industrial space for local entrepreneurs who presently have nowhere to work, and to match up the skills of the neighborhood residents with the areas in need of their services.  The matching would be done with interviews and surveys through a local community development group in tandem with support from the University of Aalborg's business department.  The area has a high proportion of immigrants, many of them refugees with state support and no jobs, so we hoped to tap into their international culture to create a diverse market of food shops and restaurants as the first node in the proposed business network.

To step back a bit, East Aalborg is a 1960s/70s suburb of Aalborg, Denmark's third largest city, with a large area of detached single-family homes as well as two-story apartment blocks and attached multi-family housing.  The area is easily bikeable and walkable, with good bus service to the city center.  But the neighborhood suffers from a reputation of insecurity, poverty, and isolation.  Compared to the many American suburbs I've seen, East Aalborg is in great shape in terms of transit, housing types, etc.  But in a European context, it's seen as unacceptable.  And having lived there for a week without a car, I can attest that there are very few options if you have to rely on public transit and biking - unless you go to the city center for all your needs.  So I think our proposal for more businesses and the development of commercial centers is definitely an important step.  My studio will continue working on this site for the rest of the semester, although I don't know yet what form our project will take (master plan? designing a commercial area?).  I think this type of suburban retrofit is something we need in many suburban areas of the US, and around the world wherever there are post-war suburbs.  I hope we can explore a variety of ideas for retrofitting the suburb this semester.

For images of our group's design work, visit my Tumblr.  You can also view more of my photos of Aalborg and Aalborg Ost here.


Book Review: "Theory and Design in the First Machine Age"

Reyner Banham's Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) is an engaging overview of the important theoretical developments of the early 20th century leading up to the "International Style" of the 1930s-40s.  Banham does a fairly good job, in my opinion, of avoiding excessive editorializing, although he has a clear viewpoint on the Modern Movement and finishes with a strong conclusion.  In opposition to his teacher, Nikolaus Pevsner, whose own history of modernism came out in 1936, Banham dismantled the "form follows function" credo that became the stereotype of modernism, arguing instead that formalism (a preoccupation with style and aesthetics) was an important, if not overriding, concern of Modern architects.  Two sections of the book struck me in particular: his analysis of Le Corbusier's famous book Vers une architecture (Toward a [new] architecture) from 1923, and his Conclusion (chapter 22), where he breaks the link between functionalism and 1920s progressive architecture.

In the chapter on Vers une architecture, Banham argues that "[...] Vers une Architecture has no argument in any normal sense of the word.  It has, instead, a series of rhetorical or rhapsodical essays on a limited number of themes, assembled [...] in such a way as to give the impression that these themes have some necessary connection" (222).  Instead, "[I]t has at least a motto-theme, which may be summarised as follows: architecture is in disorder now, but its essential laws of Classical geometry remain.  Mechanisation does not threaten these laws but reinforces them [...]" (245).  Banham reads Le Corbusier as essentially a classicist interested in universal laws, types, and symbolic forms, and his book as reassuring its readers that the new has a necessary connection to the old: "In any case, it was precisely this rediscovery of the old in the new, this justification of the revolutionary by the familiar, that ensured the book its enormous readership, and an influence, inevitably superficial, beyond that of any other architectural work published in this century to date" (246).  Although Banham's conclusion, that Le Corbusier's writing is conservative in the sense that Corbu appeals to Platonic forms and academic rationalism to justify new designs, is one that I've heard before in architectural history classes, I've never heard the critique that Vers une architecture is actually bad architectural writing.  Perhaps professors are reluctant to criticize the quality of the texts that they assign us to read!  I have always struggled to read architectural manifestoes and writing because they are notoriously poorly written, and I think Vers une architecture is no exception.  I thank Banham for being willing to point it out.  This may be a small point, but I think that being clear about the quality of our architectural writing, as architects, is a first small step toward a higher standard for communication within the field.

In his Conclusion at the end of the book, Banham writes that 1920s architecture may have been preoccupied with technology, but that architects never bothered to investigate technology thoroughly, since they were really interested in creating a formal symbolism of technology that could be incorporated into architecture.  I have already heard the argument that Modern architecture was not truly "functional" despite our tendency to refer to it that way, in addition to its failure to live up to the truth-to-materials claims that some Modern architects made (free plans and free facades were still being built with load-bearing walls, eg).  Banham writes, "Functionalism, as a creed or programme, may have a certain austere nobility, but it is poverty-stricken symbolically.  The architecture of the Twenties [...] was heavily, and designedly, loaded with symbolic meanings that were discarded or ignored by its apologists in the Thirties" (320).  In other words, although we often think that the Modern movement that began before WWII and continued on afterward was one and the same, in reality the early movement was preoccupied with symbolic form and was not the inexpensive, mass-produced construction that later architects would pursue (although its early practitioners may have hoped for such a result).  Banham argues that the change from an aesthetics of technology to an interest in "functionalism" came with the start of the war: "Under these circumstances it was better to advocate or defend the new architecture on logical and economic grounds than on grounds of aesthetics or symbolisms that might stir nothing but hostility" (321).  He goes on to analyze the Barcelona Pavilion and the Villa Savoye (Les Heures Claires), stating, "[E]ven if it were profitable to apply strict standards of Rationalist efficiency or Functionalist formal determinism to such a structure, most of what makes it architecturally effective would go unnoted" (323).  These are analyses I've also heard before, although it's interesting to hear them from what I assume is the primary source.  What I really wonder is why I haven't had to read Banham in my classes before!

In Mark Wigley's lecture on Reyner Banham (part of his course on the History of Architectural Theory, Nov. 9, 2011, at GSAPP), he said that Banham's critique of the 1930s interpretation of the Modern movement was "devastating" - not only was the 1930s theory of functionalism wrong, according to Banham, but architects at the time were not even thinking of their work in that way.  Wigley also argued that Banham's writing was the beginning of "real" scholarship on the Modern movement, not written by the friends and colleagues of the architects, and with footnotes and sources.  Wigley said that the tone of the work, however, is "less about judgement" and "more about love," that Banham believed the arguments of the 1920s and believed in the search for a machine aesthetic.  I can agree with Wigley that Theory and Design seems like a tribute to the architects and movements that were searching for a new architectural expression at the turn of the 20th century.  I  recommend it for anyone who wants a thorough introduction to the important people, places, and ideas of Modernism, despite Wigley's warning not to read it because you will "become its victim" (!).


New Technologies and Swiss Trains

Lake Lugano
This August, I attended an international architecture workshop at the i2a (International Institute of Architecture) House in Vico Morcote, Switzerland.  A joint project of Columbia University, the Politecnico di Milano and the University of Shanghai, the workshop focused on how we can use digital technologies in tandem with existing infrastructure (in this case, a small commuter rail line) to enhance our experience of urban space.  My Italian partner, Giovanni Nardi, and I proposed a large-scale parcourse for the train line to provide commuters with an easy way to take their daily exercise and meet people.  Each station would have a different fitness activity, as well as showers, lockers, and amenities to facilitate exercise; the train itself would have an exercise car with stationary bikes, elliptical machines, and other equipment that could be used en-route.  To encourage commuters to meet up and form athletic teams, we proposed a smartphone application that would show what facilities are available, who's using what fields and when, and which groups need more players or are looking to start teams.  At the terminal station, Ponte Tresa, we proposed an outdoor gym on the station roof, including a glass-bottomed pool that would allow swimmers to watch the trains coming and going from the station.  The app could also help users plan their fitness routines, using the very reliable train system (a train every 15 minutes) as a way of structuring a workout.

The workshop was a lot of fun, although we had no reason to think any of our proposals would be implemented; we had lectures from a number of local architects who were also working on projects for the area, but not from the municipality.  This part of Switzerland is very beautiful and Morcote basically a resort town, but growth of the nearby city of Lugano, and the strength of the Swiss franc versus the euro in Italy, means that more and more Italian commuters are projected to come through this area to work in Switzerland.  Still, we enjoyed developing our somewhat fantastical proposal and thinking about rooftop pools and train station climbing walls.  You can see the results of our design work on my Tumblr page.

Heidi Weber Pavilion by Le Corbusier, Zurich
The i2a House, Vico Morcote
Working with a variety of international students was also a highlight of the trip - there were students from Italy, of course, but also international master's students from Brazil, Poland, Turkey, Bulgaria, and more.  Everyone seemed to have an easy time working together (the workshop was conducted in English), seeming to reflect a fairly consistent method of design instruction across these different countries.  I hope to post my thoughts about architecture school sometime soon - I have a lot of criticism - but it is fun to be able to work with students with such different backgrounds thanks to the similar training we have all received.

Further, I have to say that I appreciated attending an architecture studio that looked at transit and infrastructure as appropriate places for architectural intervention, and not just at your typical museum/library/public project.  As my professors keep telling me, and not just in history class, there are so few "designed" spaces in the US that if architects want to stay relevant, we should really be thinking about those places and not just prestige buildings.  Maybe what I'm learning is really dependent on my choice of professors, and I'm just choosing those I agree with, but it seems like what I learn in architecture school generally contradicts the predominant image/methodology of architecture practice.  I think architecture should be about the design of the built environment broadly, and that this is the way to increase the value and success of our built spaces.  So thanks, Fred Levrat and Oliviero Godi, for leading us in some really interesting discussions about the future of infrastructure and digital technology.


Television Review: "Doctor Who"

I'm officially obsessed with the BBC's Doctor Who, the world's longest-running sci-fi show with 784 episodes as of this writing.  To be honest, I didn't know live-action television could be that good!  All my previous shows have ended in disappointment.  Firefly was good but was too short-lived to keep my attention.  House had great dialogue and an interesting plot device (medical detective story ftw!) but devolved into senseless drama unsuitable to such a logical main character.  Young Indiana Jones is fun for the history, but the acting is only so-so; Macgyver is hilariously campy but that's about all it's got.  MST3K is really a series of movies, not a real show.  All the other shows of which I've willingly watched more than a couple of episodes have been animated.  Doctor Who is, like, awesome.  It combines all the things I want in my mindless entertainment: problem-solving, fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, futurism, technobabble, plot continuity (hurrah story arcs!), and a stance against violence.  It's even free from swearing, drinking, drugs, and taking-actions-you-know-you'll-immediately-regret, which is my #1 pet peeve in most comedies.  Did I mention it was a comedy?  It's hilarious.  My only complaint is that sometimes the monsters are too scary.  (Yes, I'm a wuss.)

The theme or thread that runs through the show (at least since 2005) is the essential worth and value of human life.  The universe is an awesome and exciting place, and we have an important place in it.  According to the Doctor, humans are sometimes clever, sometimes stupid, but essentially good and progressive and kind, and our humanity is worth fighting for, not just in the sense of continuing the existence of the species but in the sense of "preserving" the qualities of our humanity.  In the episode The God Complex, every character who has a faith (of some kind or another) finds a room with their greatest fear inside.  The Doctor finds a room with the younger version of Amy Pond, whom he let down as a child.  Although it's never revealed explicitly in the episode, I think the Doctor's faith is in humanity - hence his fear of disappointing Amy.  What's not to like about a show starring an intelligent and funny alien adventurer who thinks we humans are the best thing going?  The show reminds us to believe in ourselves and hold on to our values, which is generally a trite and obvious point for a show to make, except that somehow coming from the Doctor, this seems like a really wonderful and encouraging sentiment.  The show's premise is that the Doctor knows something about everything, he's been everywhere and every-when, so his valuation of humanity is more authoritative than our own.  If he says we're brilliant and great, then we must be.  So I applaud the BBC for finding a way to make a TV show that encourages us all to be the best we can be, without insulting our intelligence or sugar-coating the message.  Humans screw up and make terrible mistakes in the series, and the Doctor can't always set them right, but he does give the other characters, and us, reason to hope that we'll turn out ok in the end; he's already been there and seen that.  In the meantime, we all need to muddle through as best we can.  Need I point out that this show is so very British?

The new (seventh) season of Doctor Who premieres in the US tonight at 9pm Eastern time on BBC America.


Exhibition Review: EOYS 2012

The GSAPP End-of-Year-Show (EOYS), or final student exhibition, is what you might call a Big Deal.  This spring, the EOYS ran from May 12-19, 2012.  After grades are due, after papers are done and reviews ended, all students are expected to stick around for another week, more or less, to design and build our one shot at giving normal people (read: our family and friends) a chance to see our work.  Studio reviews are usually esoteric, confusing, or just plain boring to outsiders; the EOYS is supposed to make our work look exciting and impressive.  There seem to be two schools of thought on how to present our final work.  One is to treat the work like artwork: slather it over the walls, sans explanation, and overwhelm the visitor with visuals.  The other school of thought is to try to explain the work, condense it, and make it accessible.  This latter route usually results in lots of boring text.  The projects are often so complex that they can't be explained succinctly without losing a lot of what makes them interesting (so the theory goes), so we either have to write about them at length, or avoid trying to explain them altogether.

Personally I would love to see an exhibition that manages to walk the line between these extremes by presenting the work artfully, since many student projects are purposely experimental or "artistic," while also allowing a casual viewer to have some idea of what's going on.  Maybe that's asking too much from a bunch of sleep-deprived people who would rather be on vacation, but that would be my goal.

So here are the M. Arch. exhibitions from this year, and we'll see what C-BIP, my own studio, managed to put together.  (If you're curious, past EOYS images can be seen here (2009) and here (2010) and here (2011).)  My full album of photos of the exhibition is here.

Third-Year Studios:
Hawkinson Studio* went for the artistic approach, displaying everything on the wall and table without text.  The work was nice, though, and I thought this display was one of the most impressive.  All the models were milled, which requires some skill and planning.  There was something on a screen, but usually things on screens can safely be ignored.  I have no idea what the project was about, but it seemed interesting.  This is a fairly typical art-oriented display.

Below, from top to bottom: nARCHITECTS Studio, Shigematsu Studio, LOT-EK Studio, Bell Studio.  Not pictured: Wasiuta Studio (it hurt my eyes too much - I couldn't stand the bizarre 3D glasses effect they were going for), and a few others.  nARCHITECTS Studio's display was quite nice, I especially liked their oversized renderings that were hung up like room dividers.  Shigematsu Studio's display was cutesy with quotes in the red squares from their trip to Japan.  LOT-EK Studio's display was, well, coffee-shop hipster, I think.  I didn't read any of the monographs on the chairs, although I liked the fancy bulbs, sort of steampunk.  Bell Studio's eco-minimalist design (it gives off a recycled-paper vibe) was appealing and made me want to investigate the project further.

Kaseman Studio, below, was another slather-it-on approach, with models hanging from the ceiling, stuffed under the counters, and covering all the flat surfaces they constructed.  I don't know if the hanging/flying models were supposed to indicate something that would actually be in the air, or not.  Some of the models were lit up internally and were pretty cool looking, although, again, I had no idea what they were supposed to be.

Second-Year Housing Studio:  This display of our first-semester work was put together by a TA, but I think he did a nice job despite the wall text falling off repeatedly.  It came down in a curve from wall to floor, but the wall part wouldn't stay put.  I don't think the title ("Different States of Housing") made any sense, but this was one exhibit with so much text that one couldn't be bothered to read it, so I'm not sure if it somehow linked in there.  I think the title was a critic's, and not the TA's, anyway.  My model is below, in white and blue (with thanks to my studio partner, John Barnes).

C-BIP Studio (Marble, Benjamin, Kurgan):  Here it is, my own studio's contribution!  Since there were 30 of us in the studio (and three critics), we couldn't really agree on how to do the exhibition, so it has several discrete parts that didn't quite mesh in the end, unfortunately.  In the middle of the room we built a freestanding "black box" with some explanatory text, photos of ourselves and our "elements" in a connecting grid, and a game with stickers.  Inside the box was a blacklight and pages of white code on a black background to symbolize the "black boxes" we all created as part of the studio (that is, working pieces of code that we passed off to our neighbors, who then had to use the code without understanding how it worked).  And there was a screen mounted on it for some reason.  Around the box were posters of the different building elements and strategies, supposedly stratified (strategies above, elements below), but I don't think that distinction came through at all in the final display.  That part was contributed by the throw-everything-on-the-wall adherents in the studio.  In the end I don't think our display made much sense, but then again, neither did our studio, so perhaps it was the perfect reflection of our semester's work.

More second-year studios.  From top: Space Studio, Solomonoff Studio, Marino Studio, Kim Studio.  Not pictured: tiny dioramas from Varnelis Studio.  I was most impressed with Marino Studio's display - their projects were for a shipbuilding museum on Long Island, and their display used sand as the model base.  The skeletal, uniformly cardboard models really did remind one of ships being built on the shore.  Well done.  Space Studio was appropriately "out-there," while Kim Studio's postcards were strange and confusing.  I applaud their decision to make their display interactive (I think the idea was to take a postcard and mail it to the pre-printed address as a political statement), but I don't think it showcased their work very well.

First Year studios.  From top: Kumpusch Studio, Rothstein Studio, Klein Studio, Andraos Studio, Rakatansky Studio.  Not pictured: Goberna, Wilson, Seewang studios.  The first-year projects were for banks.  I wasn't able to figure this out until about halfway through the exhibition, when I finally remembered what my first-year friends had told me.  Klein Studio gets honorable mention for the giant $100 bill printed on the back of their display that reminded me.  As we ourselves did last year, the first-years put a lot of effort into their generally "high concept" displays, but I don't think this helped explain what they were doing at all.  Kumpusch Studio's giant frame and prism was especially weird and unintelligible.  Maybe I'm missing something.  The matching "fans" of displays on the two sides of the room (Rothstein and Klein) were nice, although I doubt that they were coordinated in the advance.  Most of the studios seemed to be going for the slathering approach ("just put it all up there!"), although I thought Rakatansky's group did a nice job addressing their terrible location (on two sides of a very active hallway).  Wilson Studio built a straw contraption suspiciously similar to last year's cardboard tube contraption that was in almost the same location.  Goberna Studio, thanks for the non sequitur buttons.  Mine says, "I am a double agent architect.  Welcome to my machine."

And finally, special mention goes to the creators of FY-Langes, a fun and innovative seating installation as part of the Fast Pace/Slow Space class.  It seemed to be a great success, and I saw it again at the Governor's Island "Figment" art fair where it was further abused by enthusiastic visitors.  Below, before-and-after shots from the show opening.  My only disappointment with this project was the choice of material, since I think packing foam is a waste of energy and fossil fuels.  You couldn't find any natural material that would fit your needs?  Maybe I'm being a humbug for calling you out on your material choice, but really - would nothing but plastic foam work?  It's an extremely durable material being used for an extremely temporary use.  I just hope you recycled it afterward.

Of course, there were displays from all the other GSAPP programs as well - Historic Preservation, Urban Planning, the technology and visual studies classes, etc - but I didn't find these to be as interesting and I don't have any photos.  This year our displays were more cramped than usual because Buell Hall is under renovation, so the usual third-year gallery space wasn't available.  Tech classes and visual studies were relegated to the corridors, making for awkward displays.  In all, though, the EOYS was an impressive outpouring of energy from the student body, and surely must have rivaled the final exhibitions at a number of art schools.  Good work, everyone, and I hope you enjoyed your well-deserved rest afterward!

GSAPP classes resume next week, so I apologize in advance if posts slow down during the year.  But stay tuned for more summer reading comments!

*Note on studio critics:  I chose not to link to the critics' websites for two reasons: 1) The critics usually have very little input into the final exhibition; 2) Architects' websites are notoriously bad, and I would be embarrassed to show them to you.  So please excuse the lack of links in this post.


Happy First Anniversary!

It's been a year since our wedding, so of course now seems like an excellent time to write about it (right?).  Ever since the planning phase, I was interested in doing a write-up à la Offbeat Bride, having read so many interesting and inspirational write-ups there that helped me with my own planning.  Besides, this seems like a fitting conclusion to it all.  (If you're looking for any wedding planning help/tips, of course I recommend going to the source itself: www.offbeatbride.com.  Our wedding wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without the helpful writers and contributors there.)

Caroline & Justin's "Secretly Nerdy" not-at-the-beach Florida Summer Wedding

Name:  Caroline, graduate student in architecture
Partner's name: Justin, computer programmer
Wedding location:  Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Sarasota, Florida
Date:  August 13, 2011

Wedding photos:  available on the Eleven Weddings website thanks to our fantastic photographer, Chip Litherland, at this address  (contact me for the password).  All photos in this post are courtesy of Eleven Weddings Photography.  Selected photos are also viewable on my web album here.

Wedding highlights (the "offbeat" bits):  We tried to incorporate little nerdy touches into all aspects of the wedding.  For example, for the invitations, I drew an illustration of two swallows carrying a coconut (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail); for the wedding website I drew a "cable bouquet" of different connectors, like USB, Wii, ethernet, etc; and in addition to the regular program we made an "alternate" program using lolspeak with references to a variety of internet memes.  Materials used in the invitations and table cards were recycled from the Slide Library where I work and from discarded architectural drawings.

And did we mention that the wedding was at a marine laboratory and aquarium?  More nerdy details included: our cake's Latin inscription with decorations based on architectural details, and Justin's dragon buttons on his vest (think Trogdor).  The wedding party wore Star Wars buttons in their boutonnieres (and on the bouquet, below), and walked down the aisle to excerpts from Yoda's Theme, Leia's Theme and The Throne Room.  Unless you were looking for them, you wouldn't necessarily notice these "secretly nerdy" pieces - but of course we and our friends knew, and loved it!

What were the most meaningful moments of your wedding?

Caroline: Getting a few minutes to ourselves during the photo shoot before the ceremony (even though it was awkward since neither of us like having our picture taken); hanging out with our friends before and after; and getting to see all of my family in one place at the reception, together with my best friends and other important people in my life.  Also, trying not to cry while Justin was crying during the ceremony.

Justin:  I highly recommend having tissues available for this contingency.

What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?  One of our biggest challenges was staying within budget while satisfying everyone involved, from parents to grandparents to ourselves.  It's easy to get sucked into the standard wedding idea and buy lots of things you don't really want or need!  We didn't spend much on decorations, deciding that the fantastic view of the water from our air-conditioned venue was all that was needed in August in Florida.  No outdoor wedding for us, and no real flowers, either, since Justin is allergic and they're expensive.  Instead, our friends hand-made dozens of paper flowers for our table decorations, and I re-used vases from a cousin's wedding.  I don't think anyone missed having real flowers!

What was the funniest moment of your wedding or reception?  At one point during the reception, our friends spontaneously formed a conga line and snaked their way around the room.  Some of the pictures from this are the funniest ones of the day!  Some of the other funny moments came before the actual wedding - one of our attendants got stuck in the elevator during the rehearsal, and during the photos before the wedding we took some pictures with large stuffed marine animals that were sitting around the venue.

Tell us about your ceremony.
 We wrote the majority of the ceremony ourselves with help from our officiant, Rev. Cherrie Henry, who was my pastor at Duke University.  Cherrie was incredibly gracious and helpful, and we think the ceremony managed to reflect both of us.  We were concerned because Justin is not religious but I am, so we tried to balance and respect both of our beliefs during the ceremony.  We had readings from Ogden Nash (To My Valentine) and John Stuart Mill (philospher of utilitarianism and women's rights), our good friends Roger Zare and Alex Dee performed a piece that Roger wrote, and the other music in the ceremony included a Mozart sonata and Bach prelude performed by another friend.  It seems like practically all our friends helped us with the wedding, and we couldn't have done it without them!  We also had an all-female group of four honor attendants instead of the traditional bridesmaids/groomsmen, and both of us walked down the aisle with both parents.

Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great?
 We weren't expecting any disasters, but we were both nervous about the first dance.  Justin is a great dancer, but I hate dancing.  We discussed various alternative "firsts" for a while (first Wii game?  first argument?)  but decided to try to dance after all, with the help of our friends joining in the dance after a minute or so of us alone.  We opted for a waltz since that's one of the few dances that works well with a wedding gown.  We didn't rehearse much with our friends, but everything went great and it was a success.

What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?
Take advantage of your friends and family to help you with everything!  Usually they will be thrilled to help, and if they aren't, well, ask someone else instead.  It's a more fun event for everyone if they get to be involved.  And don't be afraid to do what you want to do, even if it's not usually done.

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
Photography by Eleven Weddings Photography
Catering by Simply Gourmet Catering

Cake (Tropical Delight) by Pastries by Design
Recessional, "Vinculum Matrimonii," by Roger Zare
Videography by Monique and Ryan Lebar
Silk flowers from Afloral.com, paper flowers hand-made by our friends!  Thanks everyone!
Caroline's dress: family heirloom, worn by her mother and grandmother in their weddings
Caroline's earrings by Victoria Dumbaugh
Caroline's ring by Boone Titanium Rings
Caroline's tiara by ElnaraNiall
Caroline's reception shoes by Tom's

Justin's vest from Rags A Gogo, with dragon buttons from Patterns of Time

Advice for other offbeat brides:  If you're worried about how to incorporate your geeky/nerdy sides into a wedding that your grandparents will still be proud of, you can do it!  For us it just meant thinking a little harder about how to incorporate what we wanted in an elegant rather than obvious way.  We didn't wear anything unusual but we still had Star Wars music, I wore a tiara that reminded me of Lord of the Rings, etc.  If you're happy at the wedding, your friends and family will be, too.

geeky "offbeat lite" interfaith eco summer Florida laboratory DIY