Wednesday, August 30, 2006

For Better or Worse

After the past couple of weeks, one question seems pretty appropriate. Why am still here? After all, I’ve had opportunities to escape – leave this frustrating and confusing world for places more, well, logical. But I didn’t, still haven’t. And I can’t help but wonder.

There is always the masochist rationale, which I have to say, just doesn’t pan out for me. I don’t derive a lot of pleasure from pain, so I’ll just leave that one out. There is the god-complex argument, but, well, omnipotence just isn’t one of my personal goals. There is the starving artist syndrome, but if you saw me, starving is not an adjective that you’d probably think of. So, those reasons eliminated, what is left?

After my horrible foray into the world of Architecture, I was ready to walk away. That winter break, I spent most of my time gathering applications for transfer, and, when I returned for my second semester, I had a plan of action. I was going to work hard, lift my grades, and use my new found success to get me somewhere else.

To my surprise, everything went according to plan. Faced with the possibility of no escape, I worked even harder than my first semester, which was a feat, given my already long hours. But I kept at it, the four to five hours of sleep, the overload of credit hours. Fear was my high-octane fuel, and I used it to its greatest advantage.

By mid-semester, I had my applications lined up, my reports ordered, my essays written. I just had one minor problem – recommendation letters. I had one, from my history professor, who, funny enough, wanted me to change my major, and join the ranks of those who researched the past as a way to better define the present. But I needed one from a professor teaching a class in my chosen major. And, well, given my relationship with my first term studio professors, I decided they were out.

That left my current studio professors, a pair who couldn’t be more different in personality. One intimidated me; a perfectionist, he was a great proponent of clarity, rigor, and details. He picked apart our drafted drawings with a fine tooth comb, with even the slightest variation in line density caught by his critical eye. He wasn’t afraid of writing a big fat “F” across something he found unsatisfactory. He was also fair, articulate, and patient. He took time to explain the expectations he had and his own methods for practice. I admired the hell out of him.

The other professor was, well, in one word, fabulous. How else could you describe a refined, silver-haired lady who wore designer frames with ice-blue lenses and drove a Porsche Boxster? She was open-minded, funny, easy to relate to. She lived a life we all dreamed architects should, and made it seem effortless. Needless to say, I also admired the hell out of her. And, I felt I could talk to her. So I did.

As I expected, she was happy to write me a recommendation. But, in asking, I had to, somewhat awkwardly, explain the purpose of the recommendation; I mean, what is the appropriate protocol for asking someone you admire to help you get out of their field of expertise? It’s like telling a French Chef how much you’ve enjoyed their cooking, and then, in the following sentence, absently remarking how much you dislike French cuisine.

My professor was gracious, kind, and lent me an open ear. And, unexpectedly, she told me how surprised she was to hear how I felt. How she had assumed I was enamored with the work, with the profession. How she expected me to roll right along to the end, without hesitation. Needless to say, that was a shock to me.

Whether we admit to it or not, we are all in need of validation at times, especially when we are in doubt of ourselves and our abilities. And, that day, that’s what my professor provided. She was the first person to encourage me, to counter my own assessment of failure. For the first time in that long, first frustrating year of school, I finally felt like I deserved to be there – that I had enough talent to make it through.

I still sent off my applications, and when the semester came to a close, I even packed up everything I owned and shipped it home. But my professor’s words had planted seeds. I never again doubted whether I should be in architecture school, I only doubted if I wanted to be in architecture school. And, ultimately, here I am.

Sure, I am still wondering if I want to do this, if I think the end game is worth the effort. And, yes, this year here, in this program that has confounded me, frustrated me, made me revert to feelings of inadequacy not felt since that fateful first year, has challenged my desire to maintain a relationship with this profession I’ve invested so much time into. But, that comes with the territory. What is that quote…“this too, shall pass”.

So why am I still here? Is there an answer? I can’t place my finger on it, yet. Hopefully, one day soon. But, this much I know. I will forever be grateful to my professor for that one gift she gave me: the confidence to push forward, for better or worse.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Game of Chess anyone?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Back at it

And you thought I'd be done. Nope, not even close. Here, they beat you down, then tell you to work harder. It's their method of motivation. Tell you you suck, and then ask for the near impossible.

So, as posting may be light until I see the end of this tunnel, I want to reassure the one or two people that read this little blog that I am, indeed, still here. That I didn't make for the nearest exit. Well, I did, but they locked it. So, with no escape in sight, I'll just get back to work.

Friday, August 11, 2006


I’ve spoken about the horrors of reviews before, and my final one here was no different. As you may have guessed, it was far from ideal. And far from helpful, but I’ll explain myself on that point in just a little bit.

I have always struggled with structure of an architecture education, especially its methods of evaluating success and accomplishment. It is a world that champions process until you actually stand before a panel of strangers to defend yourself. And then, process, even if presented, seems to fall to the wayside, as the product is picked apart bit by bit.

And, of course, the product is what will be evaluated. Because, in the real world, you live with the product, not with the process that created it. And, to that end, I may never be a great, hell, even good, architect. Because, as it is seemingly reinforced time and again, I don’t make good products.

I wonder at the hypocrisy of it. While many will argue that the process defines the product, ultimately, as a student, you will find yourself having those moments of post-crit crisis, when you ask yourself why you bothered. Why did you invest the time in honing a methodology when pretty pictures were all that the critics were looking for?

That’s simplistic. I know it is. And, being the person under fire, I am not objective, just licking wounds. But I can’t help it. I’m human. And right now, I’m struggling to get past my present failure.

You’re probably asking, was the crit really that bad? It felt like it. There were analogies made between myself and those cheesy presenters on DVD tutorials. There was the infamous “banal” comment. There was an absolute disregard for my process, termed “simple and uncomplicated” because the work I presented was minimal, quiet. This from a critic whose research into the “virtual” exists purely through pen and paper, and never on the machines that access his supposed site of interest. My work ethic was questioned, as though I had lazily spent the last few weeks sipping ice tea on a beach.

I am the designer. I accept responsibility, as a designer, to argue the validity of my work and, ultimately, sell it. And too that end, as a designer, I failed. I have to accept that and move on. But, my frustration, nay, my barely controlled rage, hinges on the commentary itself. There was no actual attempt to understand my work, nor any objective discussion of its merits. I am convinced, had I played within the aesthetic limitations of their own interests, I would have faired quite a bit better. And my ideas, instead of simple, would have been evaluated as sublime.

In the real world, this would be mitigated by understanding, from the get go, the client’s preconceived notions and expectations. But, when your tutors profess a desire for you to “find yourself”, explicitly describe their program as a place “free from enforcing certain aesthetics”, you hope for a bit of, let’s say, open-mindedness.

If I’ve learned nothing else over the course of this year, I have been taught this most important, if disillusioned, lesson: Architects, at least the ones I’ve had the relative displeasure of coming into contact with, are children. If they aren’t entertained, they will complain and wail, like those brats you wish to slap for screaming “I want a lolly” over and over again. They want to see what they want to see. They are self-centered, egotistical bastards. And I’m just about done. Because, you see, I’m one of those people who’d willingly go over to that screaming child and slap them for misbehaving.

I said they were observations from hell, didn’t I? And, perhaps, it may be time to find an escape from hell.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


And suddenly, it was over. Faster than I could imagine, a blur of questions, rebuttals and dour expressions. Did I do well. I'm not quite sure. But, at least I can say this: The Great Mr. Peter Cook called me banal. Not everyone gets the opportunity to say that, right?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Off to Print I go...

The joy and heart-break of digital work...going to the printer. You've settled down, decided your happy with the image in front of you, are ready to call it quits. And so, off you go, in search of a place to transform those pixels into something to hold. It's a great feeling, standing at the printer, having them download your files. You're excited, anticipating the outcome, the accomplishment of holding an actual product from your hours of squinting at a screen. And then you get the bill...and you think, maybe I should have modelled.

I've gone to a couple of places, and am praying for good returns. If not, at least I have some time to go somewhere else. That's the other thing you'll definitely learn when you are an architecture student...where to go for what, at what price, and in what amount of time. Because, in the end, the thing about working digital is this: You're as good as who makes it real.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end....

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

One Week to go

Yikes...7 7 days I will be standing in front of some very serious looking architects, hoping for a little love. It's been a steady push, with long hours and fleeting moments of doubt. But, you continue on, because you can't turn back, can't second guess. That's what happens during the week before crit. You design on the fly, adapt to the problems as they arise. You dream of calm, but work in panic. Or at least I do. Because, really, you never finish a design, you only run out of time.