Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2015

Visiting Sacramento / Seattle / LA

Just for the record:  I'm an architect!

And now, I shall attempt to catch up with all the posts I meant to do this summer, but didn't, because I was too busy working on becoming an architect.

This summer I had the great pleasure of attending the weddings of two friends, in Sacramento and Seattle, and a Weird Al concert in Los Angeles.  These short trips gave me the chance to see more of the cities of the West Coast.  While I had been to Seattle before, it was back in 2007, and I didn't spend that much time in the city.  I'd never been to Sacramento, and in LA, we only went to places I hadn't been before.  Many adventures were had!

Sacramento

Our fair state's capitol has a distinct downtown, surrounded by miles of sprawl.  In downtown we were pleased to find a silly hipster vegetarian restaurant for lunch, called Mother.  We had chicken-fried mushrooms (amazing) and some other tasty things.  We spent some time walking through the downtown, from the riverfront wi…

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

It's been over a year and a half since I started testing, but I can finally say that I'm done:  I passed the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) on Saturday.  (Don't make the mistake of thinking I'm an architect, though - until I get my papers back in the mail, calling myself an architect is still a criminal offense, as the license application itself helpfully points out.)  Here are a few thoughts about all that.

The Prep

As soon as I finished IDP, I applied for CSE eligibility.  That process took from August until October.  Once I was eligible to schedule an exam, I gave myself six weeks to study and scheduled for November.  I used the materials we had in my office:  the 2012 edition of the David Doucette suite of materials and the 2011 edition of the Archibald Woo study guide, plus some flashcards of unknown source.  I thought both sets of materials were underwhelming, to the point where I seriously considered going through them with a red pen and mailing the results …

On the Border: Part I

This past July, I traveled to the US/Mexico border with a group of folks from First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto.  Our goal was to learn about what happens at the border, what it looks like there, and what, if anything, we should do about it, including whether to become a sanctuary for undocumented individuals (see Sanctuary Movement below).  We were a group of high schoolers, college students, younger adults, and older adults, and we were mostly unfamiliar with US border security and what life is like at the Arizona border; we discussed what we knew before the trip, and it was just things we'd read in the news.  Despite this limited knowledge, we were eager to learn more.

My own interest stemmed from my 2012 trip to Israel/Palestine, where visiting the wall was one of the most powerful experiences I've had.  The border wall separating the occupied territories from Israel is an architectural weapon, used deliberately and actively to acquire territory, restrict development…

Post-Apocalyptic Architecture

This post has been bobbing about in my brain for a long time now, and I've yet to fully nail down what it is I want to write about, so enjoy this loose association of thoughts turned into a post.

Architects (and others) seem to have a thing for watching their work come undone.  From Shelley's Ozymandias to "ruin porn," and everything in between, we modern humans seem to have a fascination with the decay and ruin of our greatest works, especially architecture.  English architect John Soane famously had his Bank of Englandshown in a state of ruin, displayed publicly upon his completion of the project.  (To be fair, partly-complete and partly-destroyed buildings can look quite similar.)  Renaissance and Early Modern painters, especially Panini, loved producing "caprices" showing the ruins of ancient Rome.  Today the artistic way to celebrate decay is with a camera, and Tumblrs-full of photos of Detroit can be found across the web.  I even have some of my own!…

Hunger and The Hunger Games

I know I'm a little late to the Games here, but after watching Catching Fire I finally got around to reading the trilogy.  And what surprised me the most wasn't the first-person present narration of the books (although that was both surprising and annoying) but the persistent focus on hunger.  Having only seen the movies, I had no sense that food, hunger, and poverty played such an important role in the novels; that part of the story isn't easily translated to the screen, so in the films it gets passed over in favor of the flashy action sequences.  But hunger is a thread woven throughout The Hunger Games, from Katniss's hunting expeditions, to the stark poverty of the District, to the lavish fare of the Capitol, to the search for food and water in the arena.  Katniss and Peeta's relationship is defined by his gift of bread when they are children, just as Katniss and Gale's relationship is defined by their shared struggle to provide food for their families.  Au…

More Thoughts on the Studio Model

"Architectural education" was a hot topic for debate when I was in school two years ago, from conferences on exactly that topic, to the annual architectural school rankings, to my own dean's comments as he prepared to step down from his post after a decade of leading the school.  I think "design thinking" is still a hot issue, and within architecture, the pertinent questions seem to be whether architecture school prepares you well for practice, whether it's similar to practice or not, and whether it should be.


Mark Wigley, the architecture theorist and aforementioned previous dean of GSAPP, told one of my classmates - our class representative, who was questioning the lack of career services provided by the school - that students came to GSAPP to "join the think tank," not to prepare themselves for a career of practice.  My classmates and I found it difficult to believe that the dean of a professional school, which grants accredited degrees that l…

An Unexpected Shortcut Through IDP

NCARB's decision to reduce the required number of hours for IDP (the Intern Development Program) couldn't have come at a better time.  Good on NCARB for making these important changes -- shortening the ARE and now IDP!  "IDP Streamline," as it's known (not to be confused with the much more sinister Operation Streamline), has reduced the required hours by 1/3, by eliminating the "supplemental" (read: pointless) hours that were required beyond the "core" hours.  Those extra hours could be in any category of work; they were just filler to make IDP last an extra year.  But no more!  Now once you finish the core hours, satisfying all the requirements for breadth of experience, you're done.  Thankfully, California follows the national IDP requirements, so as soon as IDP Streamline took effect in July, my target date for getting licensed moved up by about a year.  Thanks, NCARB!

And so it came to pass that on August 15th, I filed my final hours …

An Open Letter to the Tiny House Movement

Dear Proponents of Tiny Houses,
First off, I respect what you're trying to do here.  Today's average American single-family houses are gigantic compared to houses only 40 years ago (and getting bigger)!  Why are we wasting all this money, energy, time, and effort on giant homes?  Let's return to smaller footprints, cheaper mortgages, fewer rooms to clean, less stuff to worry about, lower bills to pay, more time to spend with our families.
However.
I would like to point out that even the tiniest, cutest, most DIY-est tiny homes might not be the amazing panacea that you seem to think they are.  (Not to mention that there are some hurdles to face even to build them in the first place.)  Let me explain.
I consider myself an urbanist, someone who's interested in cities and thinks that density is an important tool we have to make better places to live and work.  Based on my studies in graduate school of housing density, the environmental impact of buildings, and energy use …

Book Review: Close Up at a Distance

Although Laura Kurgan was not directly one of my studio critics at GSAPP, I was able to work with her somewhat as part of the C-BIP Studio, where she, David Benjamin, and my assigned critic Scott Marble teamed up to co-teach a joint studio on parametric design and building systems.  I appreciated Laura as an attentive and careful critic, but I didn't get to learn much about her own work until reading her book, Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology and Politics (2013).  I attended a lecture that she gave introducing the book in 2013, then finally got around to reading it this past year.


As the title of the book suggests, Laura's work focuses on mapping, especially on satellite and surveillance imagery as used in mapping, which allows for a "close up" image of the world taken "at a distance."  I thought her lecture was extremely interesting, which was the reason I bought and read the book.  Her work tries to deconstruct the process of satellite imagery…

Housing Affordability in the Bay Area: An Architectural Perspective

The Bay Area's housing crisis has gained a status akin to the weather: We can't help but mention it whenever two or more Bay Area residents are gathered together, and we feel there's equally nothing we can do to change it.  But instead of the general praise given to the area's weather, there is general despair about the state of housing.  At least among the twenty-something set and construction industry professionals who make up my peers and colleagues, there are few answers and much criticism for the way we live here.  It's not dense enough, public transportation is a sham, and housing costs are outrageous.  Many of my peers agree that they would not live here at all except that their spouse/significant other works in the tech industry, without whose salary they could not afford to live here, but whose worth is so valued here that it makes little sense economically to live elsewhere.  Here in the Peninsula it's just as bad as in San Francisco ("the city&…

Visiting the Grand Canyon: Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

Early on October 5th we got up, had a delicious breakfast at the B&B, and drove back in to Page to the Colorado River Discovery headquarters for the first half of our two-part all-day adventure: a Hummer ride to a slot canyon followed by a boat trip on the river.  The slot canyon tour was only four of us, plus the guide, who, after learning we were all from Northern California and Washington, spent half the time apologizing for the fact that we had to take a Hummer (there was a lot of off-roading and steep drops, and he demonstrated the full capacity of the vehicle in the process).   He used the other half of the time to point out where to take the best photos of the canyon, and what camera settings to use.  Apparently taking photos of the canyon is considered the primary reason to visit!  He also showed us the different types of native plants, which are surprisingly varied and interesting.




The canyon itself was beautiful and quiet, especially in the morning…