6.25.2013

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.

TINA*

Sway

Sway

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.

Graduation

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


6.21.2013

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?

6.20.2013

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.

Conclusion

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!

Kinne Trip: Part 4

This is part 4 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 postTo see all my photos from Tokyo, visit my Google+ album here.  A map of our destinations can be viewed here.

March 17th

After our second night at Andon, we checked out and took a bus to our final hotel of the trip, the Gate Hotel Kaminarimon by Hulic.  This hotel is owned by the real estate company that hosted us during the studio portion of the trip, so we were all required to stay there for the rest of the visit.  The hotel was very nice, with large rooms, friendly staff, a rooftop lounge area, and great views from the "sky lobby" on the top floor.  But definitely not cheap.

After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we headed out to explore Asakusa, the historic neighborhood around the hotel, known for its temple, Senso-ji, and the gate after which the hotel is named, the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate).  We saw a ceremony taking place at the temple, where bearers carry elaborate mikoshi (portable shrines or palanquins) around the temple, shaking them and chanting.  Then we got lunch and some delicious sweet potato confections (although not necessarily in that order).  Mmm, sweet potatoes - that is one Japanese culinary specialty that I fully support.




We were able to check in after lunch, then Justin took a nap while I went back out with some of my classmates to visit the Tokyo Forum again - there was a flea market going on - and to see some of the grounds of the Imperial Palace.  From there we took the train over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (aka Tokyo City Hall or Tocho), one of the main government buildings for all of Tokyo.  Designed by Kenzo Tange, it's just plain enormous, and I wasn't sure how it was supposed to resemble a computer chip, as the guidebooks claim.  We went up to visit the free sky lobby on the 45th floor, but as it was getting dark, it was a bit hard to see.  The entire floor was full of chintzy gift shops playing annoying commercials, so it wasn't the most peaceful view of the city, but still fairly interesting.  I felt compelled to buy a Tokyo/Darth Vader/Eiffel Tower mug because of its sheer absurdity.





Back in Asakusa, I think we either had ramen or MOS Burger for dinner.  The food we tried in Tokyo was mostly unmemorable (although I wish we had been able to visit a dessert buffet - those sound amazing).  The MOS Burger fast-food restaurant was notable for having exciting electric-colored sodas, sweeter than anything I've ever tasted, in a variety of flavors; the burgers, however, were subpar, not to mention tiny.  We did find a good Italian place in one far-away neighborhood, and one night we got so desperate for vegetables we went to a relatively expensive French restaurant in Asakusa.  We didn't get many veggies there, alas, but it was nice to have something that tasted Western for a change, and there was real bread!


March 18th

Studio time!  On Day 1 of our studio trip, we met our groggy professors at 8am and proceeded to the Ginza site.  It was windy, overcast, and deserted at the site, so after a few pictures we continued on our way to visit the other sites we had selected for our projects (each group had its own site in addition to the main Hulic-owned site).  We checked out the neighborhood of Sumida on our way to see the Tokyo Skytree.  Because of the wind, no one was allowed up to the top, so we wandered briefly around the base of the tower (a shopping mall) and then broke up for the day.  I headed back but my peers went to check out the Asahi Beer Hall by Philippe Starck.  It's one of the stranger landmarks of Tokyo.




March 19th

On Tuesday we had our first round of presentations for Hulic, this time held at Studio-X Tokyo, the GSAPP site in the city, at the Shibaura House (by Kazuyo Sejima) in the Shibaura district.  This is a multi-purpose building used as a nursery/educational center, office, and Studio-X location.  In fact, only a couple of Hulic representatives came, so this ended up more like a rehearsal (or repetition) of the midterm review from the week before than a new presentation.

Afterward we continued on our site visits, taking the subway over to Toyosu Island / Shin-toyosu to visit my site.  This is one of the most under-developed areas of the city, and it was pretty amazing to see wide open swathes of vacant land right in the heart of the city, with spectacular views of the waterfront.  There is already a monorail line in place, but it doesn't serve much purpose right now.  The city is building a new wholesale market there, however, so I can't imagine that the area will remain vacant for long.




Our final stop of the day was at the offices of SANAA, a firm run by Pritzker-prize winning duo Sejima and Nishizawa.  Their office was way the heck out in the middle of nowhere, past blocks of apartment buildings with a Soviet air.  A GSAPP grad who works there gave us the tour, which was quite challenging because of the amount of stuff (mostly models) cluttering up the warehouse-sized office.  I had the barely-controllable urge to find a broom or vacuum and start cleaning.  We didn't meet with either of the designers themselves, and all the other staff seemed too busy to talk to us, but we heard some great (in a terrible way) stories from our GSAPP guide.  I don't want to repeat them here, but if you want to hear some truly horrifying stories of what it's like to work for an architecture firm in Japan, let me know!