Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Own Private...Studio

What to do with all this time? That’s the question I face each day of this dreaded job search. Between the three minutes it takes to check my email, which is, of course, empty and the several minutes spent afterwards wallowing in the inevitable self-doubt, I have many minutes of time to fill.

The funny thing about being in a small upstate college town is how easily the minutes do slip by. You’d think boredom would set in, but it hasn’t. Not yet. Because, well, projects just seem to come up.

One has been the repair of some old school models; let’s just say that, in spite of my best efforts, damage occurred. After all, 500 miles in the back of a U-Haul does take its toll. Thus, a couple models were rattled about, and their pieces, held together by the tenuous bonds of Elmers glue, found themselves not so much attached to one another. Then there was the more significant destruction caused by large bodies in tight storage spaces. As they say, shit happens.

So, today, my hands, finding themselves idle for too long, took to the task of, let’s say, restoring the past. After some hunting around, a couple of runs to a local art store, and the re-arrangement of some of my brother’s furniture, I had it, my own private studio.

I’ve mentioned it before, my love of modeling, especially in wood. I like the tactile nature of the medium, the knowledge you gain, through your fingertips, of the scale, the space, the objects before you.

I’m not always the most patient person, but when I model, I’ll sit still for hours, waiting for glue to dry. I like the details. I like measuring to fit.

Modeling requires some inventive uses of the things around you. You find ways to get things done while freeing you up to continue on. Like oranges for weights, with tea-candle holders to distribute the weight evenly over a surface.

Most of all, modeling always gave me a sense of accomplishment. I liked the moment when you could stand back and see the product of the long hours. It wasn’t the real thing, but it was close enough, a tidbit to whet the appetite, tease me of things yet to come. It kept me puttering along, hoping to see the day when I would stand in front of a project that I had helped supervise, perhaps designed, and saw realized.

So, until I get a job, this will have to do.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Job Hunt: The Update

An open letter to Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis Architects,

Dear LTL Architects,

I would like to take a moment to sincerely thank you. It may not have seemed like much - sending a postcard, notifying me that you had, indeed, received my resume package. But, the fact that you took the time to send it is worth noting, because you were the only firm to do so.

As a relative nobody in this vast pool of potential hires, your firm did what none has - acknowledge my existence. That is right. In the thirty firms I have contacted since the first of October, your firm was the only one to respond in kind. There were four others who did, eventually, return emails, (which was my only forum for communication, as each firm I contacted posted a “no phone calls please” clause), but your firm was the only firm to provide unsolicited recognition of my interest.

It is a small thing, perhaps, to others, this postcard, which you likely have pre-prepared for just such occasions. But to the individual waiting, an insecure suitor hoping for a return of their affection, it is something to hold on to, something to provide (perhaps false) hope of a potential future together.

The reality may be that, upon receiving my package, no one really looked at it. Or, that, if someone did review it, they laughed condescendingly at the samples included. Perhaps it was passed around the office for the rest of the ivy-league grads to mock, a good joke to break up a morning of phone calls to clients and contractors. Whatever the case may be, the simple fact is this, you sent something back. And, if nothing else, it makes me feel like my effort wasn’t made in vain.

So I thank your firm for doing something that the rest of the profession has failed to do. When I was at school, in professional practice class, speakers continually emphasized the importance of communication, of networking, of maintaining relationships. And yet, through the process our profession implements to attract new employees, most professionals seem to do everything but. Potential hires are ignored, made to feel insignificant, foolish, worthless. It is no wonder why the jaded architecture graduate is such a common character.

The actions of your firm stand out from the rest, and for that, I think you should be commended. You made the process seem, well, personal. You made me feel like I had, indeed, made contact. And that is a good feeling. Especially when, everywhere else I turn, I have found nothing.

Amazing what a postcard, and 24 cents, can do, isn’t it?


This Silent Observer

P.S. Your postcard only reinforced why I wish to work for you. Thanks for rubbing it in.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Eye Candy 8

It's been some time
since I've felt the urge
to post an image
from my little world.

This is the end
of one year's work
all condensed
just stills.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Two Foot Rule

Let’s face it. Architecture hinges on taste. We try to argue, try to rationalize, but really, if you like something, you like it, regardless of the reasons.

The problem with acknowledging this simple fact is this: how do you differentiate between “good” or “bad”? What makes one project note-worthy while another languishes in obscurity? And, as a student, the biggest question on your mind: how does your professor really evaluate your project?

Each semester, every studio professor felt it necessary to outline their grading process. And of course they would; the reality is, as students first and foremost, our grades were a priority. We saw grades as concrete evaluations of our potential success or failure as a would-be architecture professional. Even if our professors tried to tell us otherwise.

After the first couple of times, you realized that the same thing was being said semester after semester. It was specific enough to make you feel like, yes, this time, you had a chance, but generic enough for the professor to do whatever the hell she or he wanted. And, without a doubt, every professor included the line that always mollified any student:

“I regard the process as much as the product.”

Each semester I hoped that, this time, things would be as described - that the work leading to the final product would guide the evaluation. But, inevitably, when the end would come, there was a nagging sense that, well, it wasn’t so important. That, instead, the professor’s own tastes weighed in.

Not surprising, but, if the professor has been around long enough, he or she developed a reputation; passed from one class to another, the myth of the professor could be heeded or ignored, depending on how confident you are in your abilities. When I first got to school, I thought I could ignore the myth. I believed that hard work would be the equalizer, would compensate for any discrepancies between my design talent and those of other classmates. I learned I was wrong.

So, the following semesters were approached with more caution, greater attention to those myths I so cavalierly ignored. This time I listened, hoping for tips that might find me safe passage to the glorious land of good grades. This time, I heeded the words of my elders.

Second year was filled with mythic school figures, professors whose reputations were legendary. My fall semester studio professor was no exception. A figure whose cultish status polarized many, this particular professor had a number of, let’s call them, aesthetic preferences that, according to older students, were looked on with particular favor. Of the ones I remembered: the inside/outside rule, the implementation of phenomenal transparency, and the one that struck me as most intriguing, the rule of the two foot square.

Now, the rule of the two foot square, as it was told to me, must be implemented at all levels; within the project, it was the underlying proportional guide that would generate everything from the sizes of rooms to the layout of furniture. At the scale of the real world, it guided the size of your presentation boards and the layout of your drawings. Follow the two foot rule, I was told, and you would find your pot of gold.

It seemed like a joke, a great gag to pull on unsuspecting younger students. I was skeptical, but, well, open to suggestions. And not one, not two, but several older students mentioned the rule to me. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to have a bit of fun, and see if, as I was told, the two foot rule worked.

The end result, a project mentioned here, worked within the constraints as I understood them. Starting with the site, and ending at the panel details on the timber clad walls, the two foot square was everywhere. It guided the geometry of the plan, the heights of the sections, the depth of the cabinets, the width of the seating. It set the dimension of my presentation panels, six in total, which were mounted on the wall for final crit. Everything was a two, or a multiple of two. And, not once, did I mention it to my professor, nor did my professor mention it to me.

The reception of my projected was a mixed bag. Some hated it. Others didn’t mind so much. My own professor remained silent, following the code of conduct amongst our school faculty. I left the crit thinking, well, so much for bothering. My presentation only briefly covered my conceptual development and the ideas driving the work. The questions asked of me dealt with what I had placed in front of the critics and not much more. Product trumped process.

Given the lukewarm reaction, I had little expectations of my upcoming grade. I figured, I’d pass, and move on. I resolved to take it in stride. I secretly I prepared myself for a long winter break spent licking my wounds.

So, you can imagine my surprise, when grades were posted, and I found myself with a grade that, supposedly, placed me at the head of my studio. I felt vindicated, in one sense, since I figured, process did trump product. My professor had considered my time spent throughout the semester developing my project, had given me some allowance for the effort. What could it have been, given my crit? I thought, well, maybe architecture school isn’t as subjective as I thought.

Meeting with my professor for one final time, I mentioned how unexpected the grade was, given my crit. My professor seemed surprised. Asking me for my assessment of the design, I responded as honestly as I could. I knew I had worked hard, but as for the design, well, I couldn’t tell if it was really that remarkable. My professor immediately interrupted. I was reassured that my design was, indeed, worthy of the grade given, that I should be confident of my skills and my judgment. I was told not to worry, just to work. I thought I could handle that.

But, hoping for something more concrete, I asked my professor what, in particular, made my design notable. My professor paused for a moment and then said,

“It’s not one thing in particular, but there something in the proportions, the overall design composition, that works. It seems well resolved and harmonious. I like the scale of the objects, the scale of the rooms, the relationship of the design and its site. It just looks, well, right.”

And, with that, I became a believer in the two foot rule.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Because Color is good...

Talk about paint by numbers...check this out:

If only destruction were always so beautiful. And, credit goes to this blog for, once again, being ahead of the game.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Where has all the blogging gone?

The lull of life has led to a dearth in writing. And, while there is always plenty to say, I haven’t found the lyrical magic to put it out there.

Perhaps stress is the best muse and mistress. That, with deadlines, comes the creative energy to put forth that which is new, interesting, exciting. Not because you wanted to, but because you had to. After all, legend has it that the design for Fallingwater occurred in one quick day, as Mr. Wright traveled to a client meeting.

I remember many a rut. And, damn, were they a pain to get out of. Sometimes, you’d crawl your way out, and find yourself with something so great, so satisfying, that you’d forget the hours wasted on nonsensical doodles. Sometimes, with time running out, you’d find yourself making do with the doodles themselves.

The design process is self-determined, at least in school. You find your way into your project though steps, missteps, and a few moments of inspiration. You may reference others, first as precedents, then perhaps as subliminal influences, as you develop your ideas. You may even blatantly pull and idea or two from something you've seen, just to get the juices flowing. All in the hopes of getting to something you can proudly call your own.

Design inspiration was lean during my first year; partly a consequence of being unfamiliar with the new world I had entered, I spent many a long day drafting variation after variation of the same thing. It was doing something while achieving nothing. But I felt productive, and that was important to me.

It was another studio meeting, another day with my professor where I showed some new sketches of the same thing and we had a quick, subdued discussion of the merits, which he had probably said several times before. Who knew at this point? And, afterwards, feeling defeated, I sat down to start again, pulling out a clean new sheet of trace, meticulously taping down its edges and cleaning off my mayline. And, as I sat before me, this blank sheet staring at me, I could do nothing more than stare blankly back.

My professor, having finished his final desk crit, walked by. He stopped, looked down at my table, then at my defeated daze, and took out a pencil. Without a word, he drew a line straight across the page, startling me.

“Never start with a blank page. Nothing is harder. If you’re stuck, better to be stuck looking at something you don’t like than nothing at all. At least it will give you somewhere to move forward from.”