Biking to Work

I don't like biking to work.  I don't like it much at all.  I arrive at my destination grumpy and sweaty, having fought traffic and other cyclists, the cold, the wind, and my own fatigue the entire way.  Now that it's nearly December, it gets dark early and my 6pm commute takes place after dark.  And perhaps worst of all, I can't listen to music while I ride or do anything except concentrate on the task at hand, for fear of distraction leading to injury.

This part of California should be ideal for biking.  I live in an area with strong aspirations to be a bike-friendly place.  The weather is rarely too hot or too cold for outdoor activities, and it hardly ever rains.  There are plenty of bike lanes, and even a pedestrian- and bike-only bridge that allows me to get across a creek without having to take major roads.  It's flat, unlike San Francisco.  And lots of other people bike, so it generally feels safe on the roads.

I like to make excuses: I don't have the right gear; I'm just getting used to it; I need practice to become comfortable.  Well, now my bike is tricked out with head and tail lights, a bell, even a mirror, and I have a windbreaker, gloves, glasses, and reflective ankle straps.  I have a rear rack with a pannier to hold all my stuff so I don't have to wear a bag while I bike.  I have a high-visibility reflective jacket and lights on my wheels so I'm visible to cars from the side.  My bike itself is new, and it's fast and quiet.  I have nothing to complain about.

And yet...  I'm tempted to say I hate it.  It feels barbaric, racing against cars to make the always-too-short traffic lights, clearly timed for motorized vehicles and not for bikes.  I'm constantly afraid of hitting something (an open car door, other parts of a car, another cyclist, a pedestrian...) and of falling over, potentially injuring myself severely.  I know people who have recently been hit by cars while biking.  I hate it when my fellow cyclists fail to follow standard traffic rules - they pass on the right, and they don't use lights or bells or signals.  They're often buff athletic guys in cycling outfits who can't wait to pass me.  This isn't Amsterdam, after all, or Japan, where you can see middle-aged folks in their work clothes biking around town.  I feel awkward in my khakis and oxfords.  It doesn't help that the usual work dress code in this area is a t-shirt and jeans - it's possible that the guys I see biking in the mornings don't have to change out of their cycling jerseys when they get to work.  Compared to the convenience of taking the subway, or, in this area, of driving, it's becoming harder for me to argue that biking is really an equivalent form of transit.  When it rains, biking becomes unsafe, and at that point I don't feel comfortable biking at all.  In short, my bike is not a sufficient method of transportation; I can't rely on it as my sole means of getting to work.

And yet again, I feel like I'm taking an ethical stand for something when I ride: for exercise, for directly experiencing one's neighborhood, for quieter streets, for less pollution, for less fossil fuel use*, for cycling as it could be.  It could be fun, if more people did it, and if we had better bike lanes, fewer cars on the road as competition, and more vigilant drivers.  What about dedicated bike streets, with better street lighting on those streets?  This area doesn't (yet?) have the population density for real light rail, and Caltrain is too infrequent and accident-prone to make sense to use for the short distances I'm traveling.  Biking is makes a lot of sense from a transit perspective.  So I guess we'll see how long I last on moral fortitude alone - if only biking was more, well, fun!  If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

For some tips on cycling safety, check out this website.

*Since food production usually involves fossil fuel use, understanding the fossil fuel required for cycling means understanding where a cyclist gets her calories (which she uses to power the bike).  An interesting discussion of this concept here.


Rejected from McSweeney's

Worst Sports Team Names*

San Francisco Fog

Los Angeles Traffic

Miami Humidity (It’s not the heat…)

Anaheim Acne (We’re mildly irritating!)

Sacramento Sabines

Utah Unibrows

Las Vegas Vegans

Los Angeles Lapdogs

Brooklyn Plaid

Boston Drivers

New York Minutes

Pittsburgh Pits

Houston Hiccups

Alaska State Wintry Mix

University of Vermont (UV) Rays

San Diego Sniffles

West Point Light Brigadiers

Silicon Valley Studs

And last but not least - the Toronto Maple Leafs.  (Yes, I know that's a real team.)

*Not actually rejected from McSweeney's.  Yet.

Written in collaboration with jlebar.


From the Architectural Archives: Skyscraper Airship Docks

Maybe this will turn into a series - I can't tell yet.  Just pretend this is the first installment of a series of posts on historical architectural curiosities.

Justin asked me the other night if it was true that the Empire State Building was built with the intent of mooring zeppelins (German airships, which themselves have a fascinating history) to its mast.  I thought I had recalled hearing this tidbit myself, and had to investigate.  Turns out the answer is a somewhat qualified yes!  The New York Times describes some of the history of this architectural quirk, along with great photocollages of the intended result.  Apparently, the skyscraper's spire was given additional height during the construction process, which the building developers claimed was to give it the advantage of a landing platform for dirigible traffic.  The real goal seems to have been to achieve the extra height needed to surpass the Chrysler Building.  Evidently the whole dirigible-landing-platform idea wasn't given much engineering forethought, as no airship was ever able to dock there successfully, due to the high winds at the top of the building and lack of proper tethering locations.

But it does make one wonder - what if airships hadn't gone out of favor so quickly, and had been developed to be safer and use something other than hydrogen or helium?  Somehow I never realized that the Hindenburg explosion happened so close to New York, but it was just about an hour and a half south of the city, in Lakehurst, New Jersey.  In an alternate history, would a better landing system have been devised for Midtown Manhattan, making it an airship hub?  Would we then have had masses of airships hovering above New York, a quiet multitude casting shadows on the streets below, bringing aerial traffic in and out of the center of the city?  If airships had continued to be developed along the lines envisioned in the 1920s, perhaps we would even have had wealthy bankers commuting by airship from Westchester, docking at the tops of their skyscraper offices, and returning home through the sky, never having to touch the ground.  Frank Lloyd Wright would have been proud.

Then again, maybe it's all for the best.  These past years, our friends on Wall Street have needed some grounding even without getting to ride airships to work.

From Modern Mechanics, 1930, via


Thoughts on the Studio Model

In which will be discussed architectural pedagogy and its bizarre relationship to the real world, with the caveat that apparently all architects love talking about themselves, so I can't help it.

Studio.  I wish I could say it's not usually this messy, but that would be lying.
I can't speak to the long and surely interesting history of the studio model, which I expect is a holdover from the days of medieval mason's guilds, but I can speak to its practical effects on my life.  And having survived almost two three years of it [this post has been a long time in the making], I'm ready to make a few remarks.  (For those without any experience in this mode of instruction, this pdf gives an excellent outline of the recent history & current structure of the typical architectural design studio.  Ignore the weird characters - I think something went wrong with the pdf generation.)  Since I spent at least one semester in an "experimental" studio setting, and many others in more traditional studios, I am especially interested in this topic, so bear with me as we think about The Studio and about architectural education more generally.

It's a relatively common platitude that architecture students' enjoyment of studio is inversely proportional to their enjoyment of actual architectural practice.  In other words, those who enjoy studio the most, dislike "real" practice the most, while those who suffer in school can still enjoy practice significantly.  I think it's natural to wonder why this would be the case - isn't professional school preparing you for practice, and if so, isn't there something wrong with a school that gives you the opposite impression of what practice is really like?  I'm in the process now of finding out to what extent this stereotype is true, but let's consider what studio is like versus (my limited experience of) practice.

Each student in studio - and here the emphasis is on each - is expected to produce her own creative, unique solution to the semester's design problem.  She is welcome to speak to her peers, bounce ideas off them, and make changes and refinements to her approach, but the more her solution diverges from her peers', the better; she is more likely to get individualized feedback that way, and more praise.  In architectural practice, however, we work in teams.  The Howard Roark model of architecture is a myth, and a dangerous one at that, in my opinion.  Even the architect of single-family homes, who needs little help from engineers, city planners/officials, contractors (dubiously possible), or others, surely still needs a client, who acts, effectively, as a partner in the design.  Even Roark needed clients, and couldn't simply build on his own for his own ends.  That's part of what makes architecture interesting, I think - the confluence of resources (money, materials), design goals, and problem-solving.  But in the architecture studio, we have only our critics and ourselves, and the critics are not good stand-ins for clients.  Yes, critics may give us constraints and sometimes assume the role of a client, but the critic is first and foremost an architect, with his/her own design agenda and with the mandate to teach us what he/she knows.  Our critic is still our "master" in the master/apprentice model of teaching that suffuses the architectural studio, not our partner or client or consultant.

There are some architecture studios, at Columbia and elsewhere, that have real clients for the design problems.  Often these are design-build studios, where the goal is to provide a finished building within a school-year timeframe.  But even this is hardly realistic training for the majority of us; how many of us will work on single-family homes (as these projects nearly always are)?  And how often will our "real" projects have artificial limits placed on them like the length of the summer vacation and our ability, as untrained students, to build what we design?  The critics of these studios have to account for our limited building (as well as designing) abilities when they guide the projects.  But in the "real world," the constraints we will face are, hopefully, somewhat different.  Yes, we will always have to take into account the type of labor available, its training, etc, but our options won't be quite so limited!

In short, the individual starving student/artist model that is perpetuated in studio hardly reflects the realities of architectural practice.  Even sole practitioners don't really do all their work alone - there's always the building department to deal with!

Other studios try to address this problem by requiring students to work in pairs or groups, or, in the case of the experimental studio I participated in, by working first individually, and then in groups, but all the while exchanging design pieces and ideas on a weekly basis.  While I think this is a step in the right direction, I don't think it's enough; a pair or group of us, meeting with our critic, is still just a bunch of architects who aren't necessarily going to be able to give the right sort of feedback.  But perhaps only by working on a "real" project, with all its stakeholders, can we learn how it's done - and simulating this in studio may be beyond the resources, and patience, of students and critics alike.  Perhaps we could try inviting a wider assortment of professionals to our final juries, to get more accurate feedback, instead of just inviting the most famous architects who happen to work nearby.

Yep, Thom Mayne was at our final review.

Speaking of feedback, the jury method of evaluation is yet another puzzle to me.  Except in the case of firms who constantly enter architectural competitions (I won't say "firms who receive most of their work from competitions," because I don't think such firms exist), rarely will we face a jury of our peers after architecture school.  We will face groups of people who act as juries, certainly, but these juries will be composed of our clients, subcontractors, contractors, vendors, and a host of specialists who know something, but not necessarily a lot, about architecture.  I suspect many architects spend more time explaining to clients what it is that they do, and how they're going to do it, than explaining the precise merits of their design, as they would to a design jury.  Even if our final evaluations, as students, do not depend on the results of the final design review, it's still a harrowing experience that is essentially for naught: we may or may not return to these projects, and the comments we get, if our projects are well-developed, are often about unimportant formal aspects of the project.  (Not to imply that formal aspects themselves are unimportant, just that it's the unimportant things, and often formal things, that usually get targeted in final design reviews.)

This mess brought to you by the letter A, as in "Architecture with a capital A."
 My final critique of architecture school is the culture of continuous work.  I want to be careful to separate this from "studio culture" more generally, because I enjoy the collaborative aspects of working in studio: learning from one another, working as a group on similar problems, etc.  What I find troubling is the expectation, both on the part of (some) critics and on the part of (some) students, that we should be working literally all the time on our projects.  I do not mean "figuratively" here - I mean that students are known to apologize to other students for not being in studio at night, or to make excuses for why they weren't there, because they really believe that they should spend every waking moment working in studio.  Of course, not everyone, or every critic, feels this way, and some students are able to maintain a remarkably decent standard of living while in school.   But I can at least speak for myself in saying that the pressure to produce, the expectation of having "something" polished and ready for every desk crit, three days a week, is sometimes extremely onerous.  I know that some firms actually do work this way, requiring late nights of unpaid overtime for all their staff, but I have vowed never to work for any of them; it would be too painful, and unfair to my family.  I'm not proposing that architecture school should be made less challenging, just that we should step back and take a more realistic view of the urgency of our own work.  No one will die if we get some sleep.  (In fact, bad calculations/decisions from lack of sleep seem much more likely to lead to deaths.)  All that coffee and all those all-nighters can't possibly be good for us.  Can we collectively agree that this is crazy, and actually go home on the weekends or after 6pm some nights?  If we can make a pact to shun unpaid internships, maybe we can also change the way studio works.  If we do it together, then the critics will have to go along with us.  It's not laziness that will motivate us to push for more humane working hours - it's self-preservation.

All that said, let's return to my initial question.   Is studio, at least as it's run in all the architecture schools I'm aware of, not simply different from actual architectural practice, but somehow inversely related?  Maybe not.  My current firm has weekly "crits," where we pin up projects we're working on for office critique.  This process is very similar to the pin-ups or crits we had in school, although less freighted with tension and theory.  We do still work hard and sometimes long hours.  But importantly, we're getting paid for this, and there's an expectation that we must deliver something that the client wants, not just what pleases us.  I think the additional constraints and variables in real practice are really helpful.  So, a mixed bag - some similarities, many differences.  I would, however, like to tell anyone considering architecture school to be aware that architecture studio doesn't give you the whole picture of what the profession is all about.  A further question, perhaps to be explored later, is how to change/improve on the current model - but that will have to wait for another time.  I leave you with an image of the patron saint of studio at Columbia GSAPP, "Head of Statue Wearing Corbu Glasses," as he beneficently surveys the sixth floor.

Serious Statue says, "Architecture is very serious."


In Memoriam: John Barnes

John, we won't forget you.

I will remember not just our housing studio project together, or that first semester where we - you, me, Jenny, and the other non-architecture-students in Yoshiko Sato's studio - struggled to get a grasp on that thing that is architecture school; but I'll also remember the giant bag of chocolate-covered acai gummies you kept in your drawer, your endless series of documentaries to watch on your sticker-festooned laptop, your street art obsession, your fearlessness, and your crazy imagination.

Choosing a partner for the housing studio at Columbia is in many respects like getting married, requiring similar levels of commitment and determination to stick it out.  I should know, because I did both around the same time.  Our housing studio was fall of 2011, right after my wedding.  The housing studio semester can be amazing or terrible depending on one's choice of partner, and while John and I disagreed often and argued at length, I think our partnership was in the end a good one.  With his engineering background far behind him, John was always the more visionary of the two of us, pushing us to do crazy things with steel and concepts and programs.  We modeled our project in Revit while he did watercolors by hand and built our physical models to complement the drawings.  During our site visit to the Taino Towers, he convinced me to go up to the roof, where we got the photo that really made our project, the one I still use in the final image to represent that semester.

John was a night person, to put it mildly, and I would often find him asleep at his desk in the morning, curled up in his hoodie, with pieces of models strewn around him and - hopefully - a freshly-spray-painted final piece for that day's presentation.  Although he had his dark moments, John always put his best forward at reviews, and kept us all entertained with his stories and sketches.  I still remember the review in first semester studio where he sketched us each in turn.  The one of me showed me with a pie in one hand and a finished model in the other, labeled "the week before final review."  He was gently mocking my mania for getting things finished early, in contrast to his own more relaxed approach.  I don't think I ever had time to make pie before a final review after that semester, unfortunately!

John was a great artist, even apart from his architecture work, and experimented with glass blowing and spray paint.  He used left-over material from laser cutting as stencils, and fortunately I took some photos of his work, which he had pinned up around the studio.  The pieces below feature the x-shaped outline of our studio project.  One time I may have used the school laser cutter to make a Star Wars blaster for Halloween (although of course I would strongly discourage any current students from doing so).  John loved the stencil left over from the blaster, so I gave it to him to use in his art, but he never did get around to it...  I wish I could have seen the piece he had in mind.

We all envied John his nearby family, with their Costco membership and access to vehicles, but envied not at all his long commute to Queens.  I hope his family understood his dedication both to his work at school and to them, which led him continually to make the trips back and forth when many of his friends would have happily hosted him at their apartments near school.

The first time I met John was at our first group studio meeting, Day 1 of Columbia, with Yoshiko.  John was the guy who tried to speak to Yoshiko in Japanese and was immediately rebuked.  Poor John!  Everyone liked him from then on, the sheepish guy who was just trying to be friendly with our strict studio professor.  But I think even Yoshiko was secretly pleased with him.  Maybe she just didn't want to seem like she was playing favorites that early.  I can't believe that both of them are now gone.

John, I wish I could have seen the architecture you should have created, the art and ideas and music and poetry that you should have produced.  While we didn't have a lot in common besides our shared studio experience, I feel like I would have understood your work better than many.  I am sad most of all that no one will get to see it.  I think you lived your life with all the spirit and enthusiasm that you could, so I hope you had no regrets.  I wish I could have been there for your memorial service, where I'm sure your legions of friends made it clear how much you meant to all of us.  Crazy as you were, you were my studio partner, you were great, and I am really going to miss you.

All images are of housing studio work by John Kotaro Barnes, GSAPP M. Arch. 2013.  More of John's work is on his brief blog and sister blog, and an action shot of John at one of his reviews is here.  More images of our fall 2011 housing studio project are on my Tumblr here.


The Best of Times

Happy anniversary to the best friend, co-conspirator, and husband I could ask for.  Somehow it seems like it's been a lot longer than two years, and in some sense it has, but these two years have gone faster than I could have imagined.  If these have been any indication, then I have a lot to look forward to in the next two, and in all the years after that.  You're the best.

PS: Maybe this year I'll get around to printing some of our wedding photos?  Maybe.  No promises.


Hello Silicon Valley!

We've had a whirlwind couple of months since my graduation, and have finally settled down now in Mountain View, California, a town as suburban as they come, and a new challenge for me to navigate as a fledgling urbanist.  Three years in New York has changed the way I see urban environments, and so as I figure out how to find the grocery store, get up to speed on my new job, and finish unpacking from our move, I'm also trying to figure out how to grapple with our new environment.  I can't feel smug any longer in my relative lack of carbon footprint.  Our new circumstances mean that we are now car-owners and I have been driving to work every day.  But I think we've been successful in at least a few areas, so far, to reduce the impact of our new less-dense lifestyle.

While we do now own a car, we plan to have only one, in an area where almost everyone drives alone.  We chose our new apartment carefully based on location: Justin can walk to work (15-20 minutes) and my commute is only 3 miles (20 minutes in the car, in rush-hour traffic).  Once we get bikes, we can both commute to work without a car.  Our goal was to minimize commute time for both of us.  Further, since we are only 20 minutes (walking) from downtown, we can walk to the train station, the farmer's market (if we're feeling ambitious), and the other city amenities fairly easily.  We also live in a three-story apartment building, one of the very few buildings with more than two floors, so we live in one of the denser buildings around, although this was completely by accident.  The one bonus of living here over New York is climate: we don't need air conditioning in the summer, and we probably will only rarely need heating in the winter.  A year-round mild climate means less energy spent on heating and cooling, and of course, more cost savings as well.

Our reasons for choosing to live here instead of in San Francisco, where I was very tempted to stay, are complex, but some of the attractions of the suburbs are undeniable.  Our rent is very reasonable compared to what we expected to pay in the city - we have more space for less money, covered parking, a full kitchen with dishwasher, and even a storage space in the parking area.  Cheaper land means cheaper everything else, too, all subsidized by the federal highway system & mortgage practices (but more on this in a later post).  We actually have more space than we really know what to do with.  I'm currently trying to figure out how to make our living room look inhabited without having to buy a lot of furniture!

It seems fitting at this point to review my 2013 New Year's resolutions in light of our new circumstances.  I expect some things to be easier, and some to be harder.
  1. Don't buy things I don't need, especially durable goods.  This has already proven to be a tough one, since any move means getting rid of things and then re-acquiring them upon arrival.  We already had to do one major IKEA shopping trip.  I'll be trying my best not to "fill up" our new apartment with unnecessary stuff just to make it look good.
  2. Start Continue composting.  This will take some figuring out, since Mountain View doesn't have a city-wide compost program, and we don't have a yard in which to compost.  I've noticed that our local Whole Foods has a collection bin for compost at their store, however, so I will see how feasible it is to drop off compost there on a regular basis.
  3. Cook more at home and bring my lunch more.  With our new giant kitchen, this should be easier than before!  I will also try to buy more produce at the farmer's market, but this may be a challenge based on my Sunday morning schedule - to be determined.
  4. Ask for no utensils, napkins, etc when I do get takeout.  This is no longer an issue, since I don't think we'll be getting takeout much anymore.  Mountain View has also banned plastic bags at stores, so I'm now bringing my own bags everywhere I go, with less waste as a result.
  5. Eat less meat and processed foods.  Same same.  (See: An Omnivore's Dilemma and this article)
  6. Remember to be energy & water conscious.  California has more problems with this than New York, so it's probably even more important here.
Perhaps I can add a new resolution, to replace #4 above:  Walk & bike more; drive less.  And maybe further, exercise more!  We managed to get an apartment in a pretty good location, so now the challenge is to resist driving everywhere.  I don't have a bike yet, but once I get one I hope to bike to work at least a few days a week.  I also take encouragement from this blog written by an urban advocate in Los Angeles who gave up her car several years ago and has been getting around on foot, bike, and public transit ever since.  [Warning, there is music on her site that can't be turned off; I usually read her posts on RSS which avoids this problem.]  If she can do it in LA, a city notorious for its car culture, then why not do it here?  Public transit is pretty bad around here, but biking seems very feasible.  I intend to try!

Whovian Hiatus

If you're like me, you've been wondering what to do with yourself since Season 7 of Doctor Who ended in May.  Since we still have practically an eternity to go until the November 23rd 50th anniversary special, I thought I'd help out with a handy list of ways to pass the time until then.

1.  Cry.  I can't believe Matt Smith is leaving.  I will miss his hair.
2.  Find a local Doctor Who fan club, so you can cry together about the fact that November is so far away.  Sooo far....
3.  Cry while re-watching recent Doctor Who episodes.  (The end of Vincent and the Doctor always kills me.  Also every season finale episode, ever.)
4.  Do laundry?  Or something useful?
5.  Watch all the nearly 700 previous episodes of classic Doctor Who.  Or watch them again, depending on your age.  I started from the beginning in June, and have managed to finish seasons 1, 7, and 8, plus a random selection of episodes from other seasons.  I'm currently on season 10, with the Third Doctor.  More on that later.
6.  Stop crying long enough to reflect on Peter Capaldi and what he will bring to the show.
7.  Resume crying.  I miss the Ponds.
8.  Get a different hobby, like guitar, or macrame?
9.  Figure out the best way to watch Doctor Who legally.  I don't have cable (or a TV for that matter), so I don't get BBC America.  I don't have Netflix, or Amazon Prime, or any other internet TV service.  While I'm contemplating signing up for one of these, I'm not sure which one has the most Who for the buck.  Should I just give up and buy the DVD box sets, so I can own copies of Doctor Who forever?  And besides that, how am I going to watch new episodes without a TV?  These are important questions to answer before the next season.  Let me know if you have suggestions.  Note: volunteering your own TV for weekly group DW-watching is an acceptable solution.  Otherwise I might have to go all the way up to SF to watch with the local DW group.

And finally,
10.  Cry over your inability to do anything except wait impatiently for more Doctor Who.  Come on, November...


EOYS 2013 & GSAPP Graduation

Last year I had the luxury of visiting the annual GSAPP End of Year Show (EOYS) after the opening night, so I could spend some time looking at the projects and thinking about how they represented the work of the school.  This year, with graduation and moving directly after the opening, I didn't have that opportunity, but I have a few images of the set-up and projects from opening night and the previous day.

My own studio decided to go for a minimalist approach, painting our area dark grey and hanging seven identical screens, one for each project.  We built out a shelf for models, painted the inside neon green, and installed an LED strip to illuminate the models on the shelf.  I helped install the screens, which took much more time than it should have!  I think it looked pretty classy.  Our location was in a short hallway leading to the cafe, which was great for getting lots of people to see it as they went by, but terrible for people who wanted to spend any time looking at the projects.  Anyone lingering in the hallway nearly got run over.  But at least it looked ok as one walked quickly past.

My favorite projects are always the outdoor pavilions from the Fast Pace / Slow Space class.  These large-scale works are the result of a semester-long team effort, something I didn't feel that I had time to do in my final semester at GSAPP.  They're all the more impressive when you realize that most of the students building these are third-years, who are trying to finish their graduation requirements and portfolios at the same time.  The mini-forest of PVC pipe and plastic bags, called Sway, was the most compelling for me.  The project created a sense of anticipation inside, since the narrow pathway obscured views both in front of and behind you, leading to unexpected encounters.  And it had a nice bench for photos in front!  Unfortunately, TINA, the wooden tensegrity piece, didn't survive the rain after the EOYS, reminding us all not to forget our vapor barriers.   The third piece had an undulating roof of reflective material that moved with the breeze, and would probably be great for parties.




Not sure of the name - comment if you remember!

The other studio projects I enjoyed were some of the first year studios, Bob Marino's studio, C-BIP studio, and the furniture classes' exhibition.  The first year studios are generally the most elaborate, since they are finished the earliest with their final reviews and have the most time to prepare.  Bob's studio had lovely wooden models, similar to last year.  C-BIP studio appeared to have finally succumbed to complete insanity, with a dinner table setup explaining the studio through bizarre food-related metaphors, including a real, whole fish.

Bob Marino's studio

C-BIP Studio

The furniture class exhibition looked great, as should be expected from a display built by the instructor himself.  I managed to get one of my seating units into the show!  I also had a wall system on display as part of the Beyond Prototype class.

Craft in the Digital Age - my "seating unit" at center

"Structural Storage," with Amir Afifi, Sepideh Khazaei, and Miguel Lantigua

Overall I enjoyed this year's EOYS, but perhaps it was just my deliriousness at being finished with school, coupled with a bad cold that I caught as soon as I finished all my work.  There weren't as many patently ridiculous first-year displays as the year before (I still remember the giant picture frame and "double agent architect" stuff from last year, although the latter made a reappearance).  I wish that the third-year/AAD work could have been grouped together, since scattering it around Avery Hall made it difficult to compare the work from one studio to another, but perhaps eventually Buell Hall will be renovated enough to use it for the EOYS again.  Not having that extra space, which we did have last year and the year before, made it difficult to accommodate all the studios.  The second-years were all together on the 4th floor, and the first-years were all in Brownie's, but the rest of the studios were seemingly put into any other available space.  Even granting that the first-years "put on a better show" than the third-years, because of their copious free time and effort, it seems unfair to relegate the final projects of three years of work to a cramped hallway (like we had) or to a tiny classroom on the fifth floor.  Hopefully next year will be better.


There's not much to say except congratulations, everyone!  Let's go make better buildings!


New York Minute

And so, three years in New York have gone by like a flash, and Justin & I are beginning our next adventure - San Francisco / Silicon Valley.  But before we dive in to our new city, here's a wrap-up of some final New York experiences.

Four Freedoms Park

On a still-cold but sunny day this spring, three of us made the trip to Roosevelt Island to see the recently-opened Four Freedoms Park, designed by Louis Kahn and dedicated as a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The park gets its name from FDR's famous State of the Union address declaring freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech & expression, and freedom of worship.  Roosevelt Island, the park's location, is itself named after FDR.  This memorial and park has an unusual history: Kahn designed the park before he died suddenly in 1974, but the project was suspended after that and only begun again in 2005.  The final design was kept as close as possible to Kahn's original, under the direction of Mitchell | Giurgola Architects.

We arrived at the island from the subway and walked past a cherry blossom festival that happened to be going on; the festival used part of the memorial plaza, so I can already tell that this site will be well-used.  Roosevelt Island has also become known recently as the future site of Cornell's new tech campus, part of Mayor Bloomberg's campaign to bring more tech jobs to New York.  It remains to be seen how the campus will fit in with the rest of the island.

As we approached the park, we kept to the right, skirting around the audience sitting on the main steps, which was watching some cultural performances as part of the festival.  We made our way down the eastern allĂ©e of trees and were blinded by the white granite at the "prow" of the park.  The view of Manhattan, and of the United Nations buildings in particular, was fantastic.  Only after admiring the view from the end and then turning around did I really notice the dramatic expanse of lawn that forms the majority of the park.  I was too distracted by the city views to notice it on the approach from behind the trees.  On the lawn, kids were cart-wheeling and running around, enjoying the spring weather, in contrast to the stark solemnity of the white granite "prow" with its floating bust of FDR.

After walking back to the entry steps we were able to take in the entire view of the park.  I noticed the walkways along the sides of the park, down by the water, but we didn't explore them further.

Kahn's design brings you up from the plane of the riverfront walkway to the elevated lawn, via the grand entrance steps, and then slowly back down to the level of the water at the far end.  The scale of it seems right, and certainly it's one of the best places in the city to see the rest of the city.  I had to look hard to see the details like the mortar-less placement of the blocks, with a thin space between them, and the blinding whiteness of the stone made our visit uncomfortable.  But I imagine that time and wear will dull the stone, and a cloudy day will change the experience entirely.  In all, I would highly recommend a visit, if only to get a sense of Louis Kahn's later work without having to travel outside the city.  For a much more elegant review of the park, read architectural critic Michael Kimmelman's review.

We took the aerial tram back to Manhattan (the island has limited public transit access), had lunch, and decided that any future visits need to happen when it's warmer!

Marble Hill Station

Another interesting experience we had was taking the Metro North - Hudson Line train up to visit a friend in Tarrytown.  We took the subway first to Marble Hill, where we caught the train.  We had a hard time finding the station, and once we did, I was quite amazed: like the Cloisters and some parts of Central Park, this part of Manhattan looked nothing like the quintessentially urban place I have come to know as New York.  The rest of the train ride was equally interesting, although I don't have any photos (turns out, it's hard to take photos with your phone while riding a bumpy train).  The Hudson line takes you along the Hudson River for most of its length, and the river itself has somehow been protected from development along its banks, giving you the impression that you're riding through forest, or at the very least, not through a city!  It probably helps that the "bank" is actually a rocky cliff.

View towards Manhattan
This waterfront train ride, and visits to Central Park and Fort Tryon Park (home of the Cloisters), emphasized for me the possibility of having your nature and your city, too.  With smart regulation and development, it's possible to have dense, forested parks, natural waterways, and urban living within easy access of one another.  (This argument is taken up in A Country of Cities, a book by my studio critic Vishaan Chakrabarti, which I'll be reviewing shortly.)  As I learned during a lecture in Denmark, it's better for wildlife to have connected green corridors than isolated large parks, but it's better to have any kind of parks, both for people and wildlife, than no parks at all.  I hope New York continues in its pursuit of new parks and open spaces as part of the city's planning policy, so places like these are no longer unexpected gifts but an expected and valued part of city life.

On a separate, and more humorous, note: Marble Hill, while geographically located in the Bronx, is politically part of Manhattan.  This is because the hill used to be part of Manhattan, and was only separated from the island - and attached to the mainland - in 1914, as part of a river diversion and subsequent land reclamation project.  The residents have been fighting to stay part of Manhattan ever since.  Isn't history fun?


Kinne Trip: Part 5

This is part 5 of a multi-part description of my trip to Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan, as part of my Kinne Traveling Fellowship grant through my studio at GSAPP.  See also: first post, second post, third post, fourth postTo see all my photos from Tokyo, visit my Google+ album here.

March 20th

On Wednesday, halfway through our week, we spent the day with Azby Brown on a great tour through more of the neighborhoods of Tokyo.  We started at the covered market of Ameyokocho, built below the elevated rail tracks.  We checked out Akihabara, the "Electric Town," with its odd anime-centered shops and "maid cafes" where awkward young men can, supposedly, learn how to talk to women by having conversations with the waitresses.  This would all seem a lot more acceptable if the "maids" weren't dressed up as French maids, but alas, it all seems a bit sketchy to me.

Ads for a maid cafe at right
Then we went to Iidabashi and visited the Share Yaraicho house, a strange house with a plastic exterior that literally zips up to close.  Sharing a house or apartment with multiple roommates (non-relatives) is fairly unusual in Japan, but this house was built by an architect for her son to use for that purpose.  The son acts as the landlord, screening applicants for the several bedrooms in the house.  Inside it's all plywood and perilous-looking staircases, but there's a nice deck on the roof.

After the Share house we had lunch in Iidabashi at the Italian restaurant I mentioned before - yay pizza! - and then headed back to Asakusa for some work time on our projects.

March 21st

Thursday we took the train down to Yokohama to see the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal by FOA.  It was another cold and windy day, so after climbing around the sloped boardwalks for a bit, we sat inside where I had a strawberry milk drink from a talking vending machine.  (Gotta love Japanese vending machines.)

We went to Chinatown in Yokohama for lunch, then back to the city to see a house built by SANAA and to visit Roppongi Hills, the mega-complex built by developer Mori.  We got to visit the roof deck and the art museum, and had a brief ground-floor tour of the complex by Mori representatives.  It's hard to describe how big this place is - it's even hard to tell where the ground is, because there are so many levels both up and down.  Quite interesting, if a bit overwhelming.  Back at the hotel, it was work time again in preparation for our presentations the next day.

March 22nd

Friday was the big day, our final presentations at Hulic HQ!  But first we had a slightly bizarre lecture at the Mori Foundation, the think-tank/research wing of the aforementioned Mori development company.  The researcher presented four visions of a future Tokyo, "sunny," "cloudy," "rainy," and "stormy," ranging from a utopian vision of magically flying pedestrians and green-covered slopes (could that really be Tokyo?) to a dystopian nightmare of crumbling buildings, shrinking population, and failing infrastructure.  The idea was somehow to identify the driving forces behind Tokyo's future success (or failure) in order to influence them for a positive conclusion.  I'm not sure I agreed with any of the causes identified by the think tank, but the imagery used to illustrate the four visions was quite entertaining.

Oh, and there was a giant 3D map of Tokyo, that took up nearly the entire floor.  Awesome.

After the lecture we headed over to Hulic, where we were informed that each group would have only 5 to 10 minutes to present, with no time for questions.  This was pretty disappointing, but not necessarily unexpected.  Since we didn't have a translator with us, I'm not sure how much the Hulic staff was able to understand of our presentations anyway.  At the end, our Hulic guide, who had seen our earlier presentations at the midterm in New York, remarked about how much better the presentations were this time, having been updated with feedback from the midterm and site visits - but there was little specific feedback for any of us.  Oh well.

Since our visit to Hulic was much shorter than planned, we got the rest of the afternoon off!  I was finally able to visit a shop across from the hotel selling Studio Ghibli merchandise - it had been closed every other time I had tried to visit.  So I finally got my Totoro!  After that I visited the Kitchenwares District, on Kappabashi Dori, and perused the enormous amount of bowls, chopsticks, and restaurant supplies there, before heading back to the hotel.  That evening we had a group dinner organized for sukiyaki, but there was some confusion with the restaurant and we ended up instead at an izakaya, a Japanese drinking establishment.  It's different from a standard bar, because food is served, but the food was all snack-type food in small portions, and none of us (at my table, anyway) realized what was going on until the end of the evening when we were all still hungry.  We ended up ordering more food at the end, a la carte, but it wasn't that good.  There was plenty of alcohol (beer, sake, whiskey), but since I don't drink it was hardly the kind of experience I would want to repeat.  It was also very loud in the restaurant, despite each party having its own private "room" made of thin paper dividers.  Still, it was fun to go out with the whole crowd at the end of the trip.

Crazy illusionistic building on Kappabashi Dori

March 23rd

Saturday morning we left early to return to the airport at Narita, where we boarded our flight back to New York.  We left at 11am, flew for 12 hours, and arrived at JFK at 10:30am, half an hour before we left.  The wonders of modern technology!  Back in New York, we had a day to sort out our time zones (ie: sleep) before classes started up again on Monday.


Our trip to Japan was fun, crazy, confusing, enlightening, and never boring, from the bizarre vending machines (selling both hot and cold drinks in the same machine!) to the nearly incomprehensible advertising and culture.  For such an enormous city, Tokyo rarely felt crowded, and never much more crowded than New York; and its public transit was much cleaner and faster.  Coming back to New York made me realize how noisy, dirty, and full of cars it is.  But I also realize that I would much prefer to live there than in Tokyo, if only because I like the food - and understand the language - so much better.  Overall it was a great trip to take, and I especially recommend visiting Kyoto if you get to travel to Japan.  It was actually much easier to navigate around the cities there than I expected, and with so much to see and everything being so safe, it's hard to go wrong.

Thanks for reading - arigato gozaimasu!