Tag Archives: student work

Fear

I’m a yogi (I know, horrific image: me in shorts standing on my head). Without yoga I’d be a physical wreck. But entering into the world of yoga, one enters into an interesting philosophical construct as well. In the west, especially in Judaism and Christianity, we have the proscriptions of the Ten Commandments; in other words “thou shalt not.” The Yoga Sutras have a similar ten commandments, but five are proscriptions, and the other five are observances. Thus there is a balance between avoiding and seeking. In yoga, there are five afflictions or diseases: ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and fear. Fear refers primarily to the fear of death, but this can also be viewed as fear of failure.

I bring this up because my students appear to be afraid to draw. I have experienced this fear myself. Even though very little is at stake, a blank sheet of paper can still be quite intimidating. But it is critical to overcome a fear and make things. Recall that the paper is not blank; it is already loaded with the ideas of the project. The paper is loaded with your own personal history. The paper is merely a vehicle. Recall that a drawing is not an end, but a part of a continuum. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you make an awful mess. Sometimes it is from the messes that we learn the most. There is a fear that the hand is inadequate, that ugly drawings are going to be made. The drawing is not so much about the hand as it is about the mind. The drawing is merely a means for expressing ideas. The lines drawn are a notation. Once the idea forms, the drawing can start to take over. Apply experience to deepen the drawing. A drawing can almost always be saved, but it takes effort of the mind. A bad drawing is usually about a lack of depth of thinking, rather than a poor hand.

As a parting image, I include this drawing by John Hejduk. Hejduk had an awful hand. I get the sense that he held his pen like a 4 year old in his fist, point down. He certainly doesn’t have the elegance of Lebbeus Woods, or, referencing the current exhibit at MoMA, Henri Labrouste. But Hejduk’s work is not about the finesse of the drawing, but about the ideas they contain. To that end, his drawings are phenomenally successful – he has created an entire world.

 

hejduk-subject object 01

John Hejduk – Subject/Object

 

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My work as a student

Some of my students have asked to see my work as a student. This was my graduate thesis.

It was a waste water treatment facility that uses biological engineering to treat the waste – what are since called living machines. It was based on John and Nancy Todd’s work with Ocean Arks. The site is in LA, next to the LA river, and sits atop the I-5 freeway just south of Los Feliz Boulevard.

Somewhere I have the original sketch that defined the partie, which I recall was done sometime in October.  These drawings are 48×18 each, and the large site plan is 36×60. The final model scale was 1″=32′, and the site plan was perhaps 1″=50′. So this project was at a pretty massive scale.

Research and site analysis was conducted concurrent with the design work. Final presentations were at the end of January, so we had the entire month after classes ended to complete the work without feedback.

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The 35 Schemes of Qin Ma

I just got a portfolio from a recent grad looking for work. Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer at this time. However, the portfolio had some nice diagrams I wanted to share. They show sequential developments of an idea. One in particular shows a really nice series where the concept remains consistent, but small variations produce significant shifts in the spatial resolution.

Thank you for sharing, Qin Ma, and best of luck with the job search.

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Charrette

I am about to ask my students at CCNY to embark upon designing their projects now. The usual course of events is to develop a concept, do site analysis, precedent analysis, etc. I want to upend that process and ask them to design first in a charrette. The thought is this: through the act of attempting to design, questions regarding the site and the program will arise that will make the analyses more profitable, and will lead to the generation of concepts.

These are to be representations that are as complete as possible, and use the skills built in the last four years. These aren’t sketchy, though they are schematic. The student should endeavor to put down all of the ideas s/he has been thinking about for almost the past year that they have been thinking about this stuff.

As examples, I am including the produce of a one week charrette conducted in a third year studio. While there isn’t a huge amount of detail, there is a wealth of ideas. They are drawn like architects drew them. The architectonic language is abbreviated in the interest of time, but the ideas are represented and they look like they had fun – there is life to them.

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Shahira Hammad

I recently came across this proposal for the Westbahnhof train station in Vienna by Shahira Hammad. I was oddly taken by it’s Gaudi-esque/Alien-esque appearance. It follows an idea, however, and creates a strong mood. She’s quite young it seems, but has developed a clear language already. I’m curious who she has studied with, and what the influence might be. This is also difficult to discuss in relation to comprehensive design. There is no clear notion of how this might be made, what the actual enclosure is. But I will say, if I have students coming up with ideas such as this, I wouldn’t shut them down.

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First Year

In reviewing the work of advanced architecture students this past week,  their ability to make form, and to apply new tools of representation to describe those forms, is quite impressive. What is troubling, however, is a lack of engagement with natural systems. They become very inventive with structure and skin when pressed, but the level of understanding and invention with natural forces is not natural to them. There is no fundamental comprehension. There is a primarily a preoccupation with contemporary stylistic devices. The schism between structure and comfort that Reyner Banham identified in 1969 is present today. I am as guilty as the next person in this – typically there is little such discussion in the studios. But it goes well beyond the design studio and dwells deep within culture. There is a lack of a direct engagement with the world. When it is hot, we put on the AC. Most Americans move from air conditioned cars to air conditioned buildings. Electricity comes from a socket in the wall, water disappears into a pipe. Americans spend some 95% of their lives indoors.

So, how do we shift this matrix?

To get to a carbon neutral world, many  believe it is an issue of deploying the appropriate technology. The work being done by the Society for Building Science Educators (SBSE) is admirable. Learning the appropriate tools of analysis and design are critical to solving the climate issue as it pertains to buildings. But the technology needs to be preceded by a deeper cultural appreciation, and perhaps even a level of play. And it needs to happen earlier in a student’s education.

Most first year pedagogy involves tectonics, narrative, spatial sequencing, and ways of building skills in architectural representation. We need these skills – no doubt. So what I want to question is are these skills an end to themselves, or are they in service of a larger idea? Could that large idea be a focus on how architecture reveals the natural forces? Could we examine how architecture both shapes and is shaped by natural forces?

One semester teaching first year at Pratt many years ago, we did a project called “container space.” It was meant to be a container for air, earth and water. My colleagues chose to treat this metaphorically; I chose to treat it literally. The students were required to make containers that engaged these elements. Thus had to hold water and earth. I feel that this project holds a germ of an idea that could point the way forward. They looked hard at the properties of the material and how they interacted. One student made a floating array of volumes held down by a brick. The floating volumes were cubic, with the bottom face omitted trapping air. The brick was earth. By adding and removing air from the volumes (by blowing or sucking air through a straw), he got it to float level. Another student had water suspended in air, with an open pool at the base. The vacuum properties of air held the water in place. A third student froze water and earth together. As the ice melted, it deposited earth in a random manner, much like a glacier. Thus he incorporated the element of time as well.

Air in the volumes of the column produces buoyancy, held in check by the brick.

Water is open to the air at the bottom – the “foot” – while water is suspended in the topmost volume by the force of a vacuum.

Glaciation – sand was frozen with water in a sheet suspended over the top of the project. The melt resulted in glacial deposits across the interior space.

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