Sunday, November 13, 2005

Oh So Sexy

People think of Architecture as a sexy profession. There is an aura to it – some ephemeral quality that makes it intriguing. With the title of Architect comes an image that is illusive, enigmatic, yet always, it seems, alluring.

I am, most definitely, not a sexy architect. Not the sexy, clad in black Architect with the magnetic presence to hold the attention of an entire room. Not the sexy, quirky, academic Architect with the stylish glasses and theoretical visions that revolutionize the way we speak about architecture. (I admit to having some kick-ass glasses, but it pretty much ends there.) Not the good-looking, sexy Architect who should really model but does not, and becomes even sexier for being both beautiful and creative. These are the Architecture stereotypes people relate to, that feed public perception.

Seeing the glossy photo shoots and headshots, the profiles in newspapers and monographs of the current architecture superstars, makes me feel like an oddball, an outsider. It makes me wonder why I am here, doggedly pursing something that, sometimes, makes me feel so awkward. But here I am. And, for some reason, I keep getting drawn back.

This love/hate thing I have with Architecture is probably familiar to many students currently slogging through their studio work. The long hours, the confusing, obtuse comments by your professors, the frustrating weeks of feeling completely stuck. It’s hard to find a reason why we should put up with it. And a lot of people don’t. High attrition rates are the no-so-secret fact of many undergraduate schools, and I honestly think that (though architecture schools would never admit to it) that high numbers are a source of pride. After all, it shows a certain level of “intensity” to the program, the surviving students, and the education they are receiving. Right?

I almost left after my first semester. I really hated my first semester. It was one thing to be a freshman, in a new city, trying to make new friends and adapt to college life. It was quite another be a freshman, facing everything previously mentioned, and struggling in a program which was, day by day, drowning you.

I spent those days of my first semester performing a regimented and choreographed schedule. I was up at 7:15 every morning, which amazed even me, especially since I had broken my alarm clock during the second week of class. I was out the door by 8:00, since I was unlucky enough to have 8:30 lectures or tutorials every day. From class, I would head straight to studio, where I would stay for the rest of the day, leaving only to go to other classes, or for food. I would leave studio around 10 or 11 in the evening, in order to maintain the “curfew” that had been implemented by our professors. Once I got back to my room, I had two-three hours of homework from other classes before I could sleep.

I know, cry me a river. It was probably worse for some. It was also easier for others, and that was all I could seem to focus on that first semester. Surrounding me were all these people who made it look so effortless. I didn’t think I was that stupid, but I felt I was being proven differently on a daily basis.

I still have a hard time finding joy in my reflections of that first year studio. But, there were some. And one, in particular, is probably why I still am here.

As unlikely as it seems, that first relief project, of the seemingly endless number of chipboard layers, represents my attraction to architecture. Not in any ideas that it explored, or anything that it necessarily taught me about design. It was in the process of making it, of piecing it together from such a vast amount of indiscriminate parts that captivated me.

While I had previous art experience, it was limited, and I was never really satisfied with the results. Around me were true artists; each had unique and personal iconographies that they presented to the world. I was a poser, a copy machine, a Xerox in need of some serious repair. My work was a conglomeration of other influences, bad reproductions of people whose work inspired me. I was a cheap knock-off.

I even took a pre-college program in architecture the summer before school began, but completed it feeling rather ambivalent, and again, dissatisfied with my work. It didn’t seem original, what I had done. I looked at it and only saw the work of others, mashed together, unconvincingly. Perhaps I was a good technician, a good modeler, but that didn’t make me feel creative.

But, for some reason, this relatively inconsequential piece of work gave me a feeling of accomplishment that I had never felt. It was my own sketch that I transformed. It was my own hand that built up this relief, layer by layer, from abstractions that I traced out. It was the first time I really felt proud of something I had done.

That is, in part, why I was so upset by our professors’ command to destroy it. Hours…actually days…of work were being sent through a band saw right before my eyes. And by my own hands nonetheless. I remember how angry I felt, the resentment that bubbled inside me, directed entirely at our professors, who, I felt, deceived us. Why not tell us the whole point of the project on the outset? Knowing that I would have to cut it up, I would have definitely gone with the cardboard.

There was meaning in that piece of work that I have failed to recapture. When I stared at the completed relief lying in front of me, I saw proof of my abilities to construct something exactly way I had envisioned. For the first time I felt truly creative. In my mind I had a clear idea of how my relief should exist in the real world. And now it existed, resting heavily in my hands. It wasn’t like many of the projects that would come afterwards, where I felt something was missing, that more could be done. This project, this very first of projects, was completed without compromise, a finished object that I imagined holding onto for years to come. And while, at that time, I expected more moments of such inspiration in my future, I did recognize the special nature of my experience. As I gazed upon this insignificant piece, this assignment made of nothing more than recycled, compressed paper, I beheld a glimpse of what I might be able to accomplish.

4 Comments:

Blogger vjchang said...

ha, you've got some good comments. Not thinking yourself mentally deficient is one thing. But being proved otherwise is another. Creativity is never easy. Folks who look effortless now will certainly lose sleep or hair over the lost "magic."

I suppose the point is to at least make the effort. without it, there's no path for the creativity, period.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Ania Szopania said...

Nice to know you take your work seriously. I'm sure you'll make a fine architect one day, or failing that, you could always try your hand at writing - you have a good style.
Good luck with your studies and keep up with the thinking/observing!

2:58 PM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

Ahh...indeed...effort...It's all we have to hold on to at times, isn't it?

9:14 AM  
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4:35 AM  

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