Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Falling in Love

I see education, in general, as a series of lessons learned; a sequential process, you build upon your foundation of knowledge through research, reading and experience. You see the relationship between what you are doing and what you have done. It is logical, and more importantly, chronological.

I see the education of an Architect as a series of lessons belatedly revealed; upon reflection and retrospection you see the importance of the experiences you suffered through. You realize that, often times, in classes, at lectures or in studio critiques, what you pay attention to often isn’t the most important idea. The real point, you find, sometimes comes much later.

One of the first projects of my first year was an exercise in transforming a two-dimensional image into something with volume and depth. Taking a sketch we had made to “warm up” our drawing skills, we were asked to create a relief image, building up layers upon layers of cardboard or chipboard to reflect the implied depth of our drawing. It was interpretive, in one sense, since we could never actually capture the true distances our drawings depicted. However, in the attempt, the exercise was grounded in reality, drawing a direct relationship between the physical world we experienced and the visual world we captured on a page.

As a preliminary assignment, the pressure was placed upon us to prove ourselves. When it came time to create the relief, I chose chipboard over cardboard; if you are familiar with the materials, then my reasons are obvious. If you have worked with neither, then let me explain. Cardboard, as a corrugated paper composite, offers the ability to create depth quickly. Many students saw the distinct advantage of this quality, allowing them to finish their reliefs within twenty or so layers. Chipboard, which is composed of recycled paper fibers compressed into a dense, thin board, allows for precise, intricate cut-outs, which appealed to me, but required two to three times the layers to achieve the same visual depth.

With one weekend to translate our images, the task was intimidating: to accurately understand how many layers of cardboard or chipboard you needed, you had to first deconstruct the drawing, make a template for each layer you intended to have. Breaking it down, I ended up with somewhere near seventy or so layers. If I had been more experienced with this type of work, I would have realized the importance of abstraction; as I was still under the mindset that more detail, more intricacy, more realism, equated to a better project, I sat there patiently cutting out each of my layers, including the outline of individual leaves that I had drawn in for each tree’s silhouette.

I worked the entire weekend, starting immediately after the assignment had been handed to us to midnight that Sunday. My distractions were minimal – food, snacks, the bathroom. It was hour after hour of cutting, closely following the lines of the trace paper templates with my X-acto blade. I watched as fellow classmates filtered in and out, many finishing quickly and then leaving, as though the exercise was little more than an elementary task for little children. You experience a range of emotions when this happens: frustration, watching how simple the task was for others to accomplish; jealousy, knowing that others had more talent, and could quickly make amazing things; doubt, as you wondered if you would ever finish the damn thing.

When studio commenced the following Monday, all twenty-three of us Middle Studio compatriots stood ready to present our creations. While we quietly eyed the works of others, comparing and contrasting the greatness of our own work with theirs, you could still sense a unified feeling of accomplishment. We were all proud of ourselves for meeting the challenge of our first task. We waited eagerly for the praise we fully expected.

Our professors barely glanced at our work – their quick scan of the room was only to ensure that we had indeed done our homework. Then came the bombshell; the next exercise required us to take our reliefs, the projects we had just invested ourselves whole-heartedly towards creating, and cut them in half using the shop band saw. We weren’t allowed to ask questions, and no explanations were given. And we were to begin immediately.

We sat in confusion, and for several minutes, many, myself included, considered it a practical joke; perhaps this was some weird way for our professors to get us more comfortable with them. We were wrong. When no one moved, one of our professors demanded a volunteer, and had us follow him across the hall to the woodshop, where he demonstrated how he wanted our reliefs to be cut. We watched silently, I watched horrified, as the blade made its sharp and permanent slice across the example project.

As other students began to line up, I tried to protest, to bargain with my professors for the preservation of my project. Why were we doing this? Wasn’t there another way? I met with a wall of resistance. Their only response was, as I would realize later on, the underlying lesson they were trying to impress upon us:

“As an Architect, you can’t fall in love with your work.”

Then, it sounded like a coy “ism” – a bullshit expression used to appease an annoying and disrespectful child who was misbehaving. I resented it then, and it colored the whole experience of my first studio. To this day, I think of other ways they may have used to teach us this lesson; however, I have come to see how crucial this lesson is. My love for that project, the elation I felt in completing it, prevented me from considering the possibility of altering it in any way. To me, my project perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the exercise, and cutting it in half was effectively ruining it. But, in the process of design, you never complete your project on the first pass. Your first instincts do not always lead to the best solution, and no matter what, the one constant in design is this: there will always be changes. As a responsible designer, you have to be ready, and more importantly, willing to entertain them.


Blogger vjchang said...

Didn't think Archi-torture would have such Buddhist principles. But I'm glad at least you got your priorities straight whilst working on your piece--food, snacks, and bathroom.

11:43 AM  

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