September 24th, 2012

Week 69

Before the semester started I was lucky enough to tak an impromptu visit home to see my family and take one last deep breath before the semester starts. As serious as I am about architecture, spending a week away from the study of architecture makes it completely melt away, I got to see my dad’s new home, stayed in brothers new place and spend the long weekend at the cottage with my mom. It reminded me why I am doing all of this.

It is easy to get sidetracked and forget why you went into architecture school, the long hours, it is expensive and it is certainly not looking good as a profession, but somewhere you decided to go into it and give it your all. I can only speak for myself, but my family has helped me tremendously throughout my education, any kind of support I have needed they have been there without hesitation. I am here on the cusp of my final year and masters thesis and in a way I am doing it for them.

I love architecture and all of its flaws, and I am positively doing it because I want to, but it helps knowing that it is what my family wants for me as well. Especially helpful in times of despair when the weight of architecture education pressures you beyond your capabilities, I take solace in knowing that my family wants it for me as much as I want it.

The week before school started went by too quickly and I said goodbye once again to my family, but as sad I was to go it gave me resolve for my last year in school and I’m going to strive even more for what I want, because it is what they would want.   

August 26th, 2012

Week 68

It’s a universal truth that the more you know, the more you in fact don’t know. When starting to investigate a subject, entire worlds open up with questions, and from those questions, ever more worlds, which inevitably lead to even more questions, and just when you think you have mastered a subject, boom, you realize you don’t really know anything.

Having previously done two undergrad thesis’s, I can say I have a good handle on the pressures and disciplines that accompany it and to a certain extent, the architectural thesis process itself. More than any other project you have done, or will ever get commissioned to do, a thesis is a manifestation of you. Everything you think about your industry, your mannerism, your belief structure. There is not one aspect of a thesis that cannot be traced backed to you as a person, and ultimately compared to you. You are setting up the rules of the game, you are playing both sides, and it is ultimately a reflection of your experience and attitude as a designer.

I decided a while ago what my thesis will be about, however its just a little frightening writing it down for the first or second time… It is about the practice of architecture itself.

From the reading list above you might not come to that conclusion, but after a few discussions and observations on my own, to engage in a thesis that questions how architects work in this contemporary age, I am going to have to learn how people work. Architectural precedents and research will most likely underline and solidly current architectural practice methods, which in my opinion are stalled, outdated and/or hanging by a thread. You do not need to look far to witness the degradation of the discipline.

It’s true: people don’t know what architects do

Why do Architects dream of a World without them?

Unemployment soars for architects

The architecture meltdown

And yet at least from my eyes architects do not seem to want to change. Any student who has sat in on a really accomplished project at the end of the semester has heard in some form or another the crits speak of “having to change the minds of society” “this is what we should be doing, but nobody wants to be the first”. For all of our beliefs that many aspects of society should change, the way architects work is not high on the list. There are lots of reasons why: inertia, risk, delusions of grandeur, the privilege of complaining about being an architect/ studying architecture.

How I am going to do an academic thesis on architectural practice is still being decided, I am thinking of isolating practice issues (somehow) and testing them against a typology to measure the differences and hopefully reveal something about how architects work, it is still fermenting in my head. But the more important question seems to be “How can you do an academic thesis on the professional world of architecture” to that I would say “Practice itself is design, following a design through from ideation to completion requires as much design talent as the design of a building itself, even more, which makes it certainly worth studying at a academic level.”

August 19th, 2012

Week 67

New York is about 5,000 kilometres from Vancouver, not an incredibly long distance, there are further distances across the globe, it’s about a 5 hour plane trip. Yet for someone who wants to make architecture and design their career or life’s work, the distance to NYC can be a bit more relative. New York has a number of architectural institutions which are looked at from all over the world, some of the best schools and firms are positioned in New York. Culturally and socially it is definitely a city that other cites try to resemble, it has celebrities, sports figures, politicians and designers, museums, consumerism, and Saturday Night Live. I am a huge fan of SNL

It is no secret that many young designers feel the pull of NYC, a place to be able to test ideas and work to an utmost of potential. I am certainly not the first student to feel the allure, nor will I be the last. However right now it feels so much further than 5 hours away, but I am working on closing the gap.

It is the easiest (and deservedly so) thing in the world to take a break after you graduate from architecture school, to take a month or so and ease back into a more structured life. I find people are usually not in so much of a hurry to start working at a firm; after all you have the rest of your life to work. It is important to reconnect with people and do all of the things that you can never do with studio deadlines looming, then after a few months to take a job with a local firm, who does ok work, not the most exciting, but a challenge none-the-less, after all sometimes it can be a wonder at all to be employed in this profession. This is certainly a natural progression from students who I have seen. After all in the city you have studied in, you inevitably have a network set up, one that starts with professors then extends to their colleagues in the field. It can be difficult to pick up everything after graduation and move to an entirely new city. It would be much easier for me to stay in Vancouver, but I have never been one to take the easy route.

Getting a portfolio done now (early) is one important aspect, too many times are portfolios left until April, and by then it is already too late. Asking your friends for the graciousness to put you up for a few days would certainly ease the burden. Deciding whether or not to take on too many T.A. jobs (again) so one is not incredibly broke at the end of the academic year will be another small step, tailoring your applications to the firms in NY that you would really want to work at, and talking to the right professors who can help you with the networking. All small but vital steps for a student about to enter is last year of architecture school, all these steps will certainly not guarantee anything but hopefully may just give an edge to a young man from Canada and maybe make the 5,000 kilometres not feel so far away.      

August 19th, 2012

Week 66

In an effort to streamline the thesis process starting in Sept, I wanted to take all of my remaining elective courses this summer. I was supposed to do a design build but it unfortunately fell through, so I decided to take a class I had heard good things about from some other architecture students, a class on modern Chinese history, not architecture or art history, a full history course. It was nice to take a class and not have the pressure of other architecture students, critiques, or any of that performance anxiety that comes with design school; I could just take a class and try to enjoy it.

Taking this class outside of architecture made me think of the relationship design students have to architecture school. Some love it to bits, some hate it to its core, many are indifferent to it and simply “want to finish” at any one time you can feel all three of these or any kind of mixture. There are such highs and lows but I have always wondered, is it the architecture or the education that drives students so mad? You can take the architecture student out of school, but can you take the school out of the architecture student?

During the class, I would continually compare lessons and ideas learned in the class to contemporary architecture, my mind would just drift into that direction, and think about how I can apply this knowledge, or just the architectural side of it. I guess that means that architecture students do love education, beyond simply just architecture. We are always thinking about the applications of what we have learned, it is never enough to simply research or discover something; how it will be perceived and integrated are far more important questions we ask. In that regard I did really enjoy the class because it gave me a new breadth of learning in an unfamiliar topic. I really want to visit China as I learned to have a respect of its history and for what the Chinese people have done and what they have had done to them.

image reference 

July 28th, 2012

Week 65

Before there was architecture, for me there was photography. In fact the decision to undertake architecture instead of photography at an undergraduate level was not a matter of philosophy or ideology, it was timing. I had my heart set on either pursuit, I just happen to get the acceptance to architecture school first; it is amazing how fragile journeys can really be, and how many paths there could have been. I do get to use whatever photographic talents I maintained in architecture school but it is limited, so the opportunity to take an intensive two week course on architectural photography this summer was something I was really looking forward to.

When I was doing photography in high school, it was completely analog, dark rooms with enlargers, chemicals and photo paper. Most of my class time was spent in there, as well as lunches and after school, Mr. James always praised my technical ability, but my subjectivity always fell short, or I how thought about it. I could always compose a good image, develop it, making sure the focus and cropping was in order, but what I was taking photographs of, well that left something to be desired. In fact when I look at my early architecture academic career the how’s take exceedingly more precedents over the why’s. I am working on this to balance out my education but coming from a technical school, my mind is always about the implementation of things first. Even at the crit for the photoset above, contrast and composition was great, but there was a lack of intention or conversation in the photos…

except the sewer one.

When I saw it, I knew there is a sense of play, a bit comical or satirical, but mainly it initialized a conversation regarding the purpose of architectural photography. Do we photograph the buildings to show off the architects ideas or show the messy vitality of real life? I think I got lucky with the shot, but it is an image that gets across both of those concepts of architecture photography. More over it is a shot where people can fill in the blanks with what they think is important to architecture and how it should be viewed. For me it brings to mind a quote, the author of it escapes me, but an architectural question that that has no answer only reveals more questions, and maybe that is the best kind of photograph or building.

“Does the sewer serve the opera, or does the opera serve the sewer?”         

July 8th, 2012

Week 64

I have yet to make my mind up about Vancouver, it is a wonderful city to study in, and it has been great to live outside of Toronto, but there is still something about it that doesn’t feel like home, and maybe it is not suppose to feel that way. Somewhere in the back of mind getting my M.arch degree here has always been a transitionary step, to what? Well that is still being decided.

There are great reasons to stay however, case in point, hiking. Almost non-existent in Ontario, is part of almost everyone’s daily lives here. Emily, Jen and I hiked up the Cheif a little while ago something if you come to Vancouver is a must. It was pretty spectacular, the views for miles, I can totally understand the high people here get from the rush of it all. I was told before I came out here that when people ask you what you do they do not mean your career, they mean do you run, or boat, or climb, ski, snowboard? On the east coast I think it is a question that is directed at what you do for a living, indicating that this is definitely a recreation city, rather than a cultural or economic city (from my short lived perspective at least).

For me this has been a great city to visit, but the more and more I realize it is not the city for me to build a career in, other have done it and very well I must add. But I am feeling the need to adventure to a new city, maybe no other place will feel like home, not that is has to, but if I don’t  try to find it… well I am going to try and find it. 

June 27th, 2012

Week 63

My architecture education will conclude next year with the completion of my master’s thesis. I have mentioned it once or twice before how things are organized compared to my previous undergrad thesis, and another aspect which sets it apart is the submission of something akin to an abstract submitted close to the end of the summer. From my point of view this submission has two functions, the first being administrative, so every student entering GP 1 is accounted for with an appropriate mentor, and the second being that when the semester officially starts, it is possible to hit the ground running rather than squander the first few weeks humming and hawing, although this tends to happen anyway with topic research and knowledge expansion.

This leaves work to be done over the summer on the developing the germ of an idea that is to blossom into a thesis. Even now in late June with lots of time to actually do this work, am I feeling the weight and pressure of developing a thesis.

How does one even decide on a thesis? With the centuries of architectural history, innumerable theories and concepts, literally an entire world of built work to draw on, how can a thesis be developed to break new ground? I do understand that a thesis does not have to be something new, such as simply smashing two or three programs together, that is hardly a thesis or new, or attempting to create new ways of developing or visualizing  form. However some aspect of the research must strive to attain some kind importance in a architectural world, otherwise what is the point of the whole thing?

Perhaps it is not a question of what it is about, but what I want to get out of it. Which is scarier. I have to forgo the thesis and imagine the kind of architect I want to be… There is something to be said that a thesis, a school project, is not going to determine your career and life ambition, but right now I have this as a gift to make it anything I choose. A wonderful horrible gift. 

June 19th, 2012

Week 62

Architecture school takes its toll, mentally, physically, psychologically, existentially and lots of others ways and forms. During the terms, you are forced to look at society, culture and maybe hardest of all; yourself, design can be a powerful lens in which you have to look through. Thankfully we have summer vacation, it is the perfect avenue to recharge and refuel, cooking, laundry, cleaning, sleeping on a regular schedule, the banality of everyday life seems to obtain a deeper meaning. I guess it is no surprise that the moments we never have time for, we relish in the summer.

Physical deterioration is one of the most obvious symptoms of architecture school, some people substantially lose weight or gain a little… showering, shaving, and eating healthy. We can all be excused a little during the year in the name of design. But then the weather starts to get warm and we switch from working on models working on ourselves. Case in point is the photo above, I’m ashamed to say to has been longer than the standard 6 months before my last visit, perhaps education is to blame, but I also tend to be lazy when it comes to things no related to my projects. The good news was I only had to two small cavities, and of course I need to floss more, one of the required courses for dental hygienist must be guilt tripping.

The whole situation was not as bad I thought and insurance covered a lot (hooray for being a student). I have also been buying healthier foods, which makes me think why is it so hard during the academic year to maintain oneself in the same manner? Well the answer is, it is not, like anything else in architecture school it takes planning, discipline and motivation. Traits inherent that any architecture student possesses. I guess we’ll see with the final year coming up how much of these summer habits I can keep up.

June 7th, 2012

Week 61

There is something great about doing nothing.

Every architecture student knows the never-ending mindset whilst engaged in a project and that feeling of unnamed tension just after completing the semester. Your body still tells you that it needs to work on something, it takes a few days for this to wear off, a kind of re-entering into society. And that post state of pure existence is amazing.

Even after “school” is finished it is not really finished, there is hardly ever a moment to take a breath because there is always a portfolio to do, a new project to familiarize yourself with so you have talking points for others designers. A conference, a lecture, a blog (I know, I know…), and let alone your own personal projects that you want to undertake. Sometimes it can feel like to make yourself visible and important in the discourse you have to be vigilant and unyielding in pursuit of ambition.  I am certainly not arguing for less ambition, great things often start with the most ambitious ideas and people. I suppose it has to do with the advertising and networking that architecture and architects need in order to survive, maybe that is what I am reconciling…

Sometimes it can feel like you can’t do nothing, as if it would be a sin, or reduce socializing and relaxing to doing nothing, which has obvious negative effects. But doing nothing can be exactly what needs to be done sometimes. I have enjoyed more than a few days of doing nothing at the beginning of this summer, and those days feel weirdly fulfilling. They are needed to maintain sanity and remember why you love something in the first place.   

June 1st, 2012

Week 60

It’s almost a bit sad that the thesis students do not end at the same time as the vertical and core studios; there is something nice about celebrating together, but the timeline goes the studios finish first, it takes about two full days of presentations with 2 or 3 studios presenting at the same time, then there is a week or so dedicated to finishing course work. This has really bothered me, as if anyone has any strength left to finish 3000 word essays, media portfolios and construction sets, but somehow people manage to finish everything and then there is another week for the thesis students to finish up everything.

Something occurs at UBC SALA which I have not seen at other institutions I have studied at and I would be interested to hear what happens at other schools. In that week of the all the students being finished except for the thesis projects, there is something like an unofficial call to arms help the thesis students finish their projects, render, model build, presentation stuff. It is quite a nice sight to see people students helping other students because of all the stress, in fact I think that is the most important aspect of it, not the production value that other students offer, but that emotional support that comes from knowing someone out there is helping you.

I have met students for it, who see it as the proper course of action that all students must undergo, the expectation of help even, although these are few and far between. And on the flip side students who want to undertake everything on their own, so they have ultimate control over the project. I can see the benefits and negatives to both sides, but something I tend to look at is how the school is operating regarding this. I think administratively they put their arms up and let the chips fall where they may, which could be the most diplomatic way to handle the situation but also the most passive. I think really the school just wants to have good projects to show and you can’t blame them for that.

At any rate it would be nice if we could all walk out of Lasserre at the same time and enjoy the arrival of spring.

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Musings on the successes and failures of a graduate architecture student.