Posts Tagged 'architecture'

venice revisited

For several reasons, I have been consistently falling into daydreams about Venice in the past few weeks. One reason is the smell of warm weather which reminds of me the anticipation of going to Veneto last spring.  Another is a square two inch picture of a comforter laid on a window sill over a canal in Venice which I spotted while skimming a book for thesis. I immediately remembered that I had taken a picture across the same canal.  You can reach it by walking down a bright, wide but quiet street with a brick wall on one side and houses on the other. The street ends under a building next to the canal with no steps leading down to the water.

Left, picture from the book Collapsibles. I sat just beyond the picture on the right side of the canal across from the one-story high wall. Right, my photo of the one-story high wall.

Venice, despite its winding streets and consistent architecture, manages to remain distinct from street to street. In contrast, suburbia developers, who have constructed endless winding streets and incredibly consistent architecture, have created repetition and anonymity. (Maybe the new urbanists have done better?)  Venice succeeds in creating a sense of place and identity because it has much more variety than surburbia (obviously), not just in color or materials, but also (more importantly) in architectural forms/spaces. This is achieved through a lack of standardized street dimensions, organic growth, layers of uses, and layers of time amongst other things that I have yet to unravel.

I would love diagram/catalog Venice to dissect its spatial patterns, but that would be a self-torture as well. The question really is if I go back to Venice again (the dream…), how do I want to study it now that I have an intuitive grasp of it? What are the forms and patterns of Venice that be applied elsewhere and how does that translation happen? (I want the diagram of Venice somehow. This paragraph also makes me think that I have been brainwashed by MIT. Do I really need the diagram? I feel like there must be something that is between the diagram and J Wampler.)

In any case, another reason for Venice daydreaming is wanting to edit the photos from the trip using my new skills from darkroom. Darkroom printing has made me conscious of the level of manipulation and control possible in a photograph which in turn makes Photoshop more fun (partially because digital is so much faster). Also, I am curious about the emotional difference of a black and white photo and a color one.  Some experiments of color and b/w below and flickr for more.

It looks old and full of character in color, but in black and white it is battered and used up.

rainy to moody, dark, and mysterious

cute pool party to glamorous gathering

fashion and/or architecture

It is both frightening and exhilarating that after 6 continuous semesters under the constraints and demands architecture studio, we will next year be designing our thesis, an entity completely of our own ideas and obsessions. This fall we have started to define, research, and edit our interests, architectural and otherwise, into the beginnings of a thesis. Under the guidance of Yung Ho Chang, the head of the MIT architecture department, the thesis prep class has taken on a more architectural/physical angle than in recent years past. His approach has been a source of debate. In Yung Ho’s mind, a design thesis goes like this: define an architectural/material/physical question that interests you, then from the exploration of that architecture some greater idea, purpose, “world benefit” emerges. But some prefer the reverse: an idea that is realized through architecture. To me, the emphasis on physicality/materiality is a good and useful constraint that (hopefully) leads to more thoughtful design rather than the long, convoluted discourse that too often results in lukewarm architecture.

Perhaps I enjoy Yung Ho’s approach because the only constraint I gave myself at the beginning of the semester was to avoid any serious social, political, environmental, economic issue in my thesis and his assignments never asked me to put my ideas in a more ‘worldly’ context. Our first assignment was to define our thesis in three words: a critique on what exists (RESTRICTIVE), a physical material (SOFT), and one other word (ENERGY).  Explanation – My thesis questions whether building materials can be something besides the typical concrete, steel, glass, brick, wood. The almost universal use of ‘hard’ materials is restrictive to how we experience spaces and the kind of architecture we create. An alternative is textile or ’soft’ architecture which can provide a different way to think about space and also a new way to incorporate the technical needs (energy, ventilation, insulation) of a building and its users.

The turning point for my enthusiasm for my thesis was when Yung Ho suggested that fashion could be incorporated into my work somehow. Since then it has infused itself into all aspects of my thesis. For the first draft of our thesis proposal, we turned in a page with three words (above) and three phrases with three explanatory sentences as well as a page of sketches. Here are some excerpts:

1) Tool+ Method for initial research into our thesis
Re-stitching the Membrane – Can the fashion industry’s innovative use of textiles inspire architects to think beyond a thin membrane roof?


The idea is that I will actually create (scaled down) clothing that explores a variety forms. This is partially an architectural exploration into rethinking how ventilation, enclosure, energy amongst other things can be enhanced/reimagined with textiles, and partially a practical necessity to be familiar with sewing/patterning/(laser)cutting fabric.

2) Site for the building
Softscape/Hardscape – Hunts Point and Bruckner Avenue, Bronx, NY and/or Near Fordham University, Bronx, NY

The decision to site the building in the Bronx is completely arbitrary. It is driven solely by my desire to actually learn about the borough where I grew up but never knew. Both sites are near commercial centers in the Bronx, but the Fordham site would be an infill while Hunts Point is more free form. Perhaps both sites will be used as a way to explore the adaptability of a textile enclosure to different site conditions. Obviously siting in the Bronx brings up issues of contrast between softscape and hardscape and maybe issues of textiles as effective building security.

3) Program is architecture jargon for building use
House of Street Style – The popularity of low cost, well designed clothing from stores like H&M and the omnipresence of street style photo blogs have ‘democratized’ fashion and challenged notions of fashion as a top-down system.

The building has three uses: one part clothing exchange store, one part concept store, one part workshop.


The exchange store is in essence a thrift store, but people receive store credit for the clothes they bring in, so it is more of a barter system than a commercial store. The clothing would be curated to some extent, so that only the ones worth keeping are in the store (i.e. not Salvation Army, more Beacon's closet). The clothing collection would begin before the store opening and for the first week after opening, the clothes are displayed as an exhibit of Bronx style. Exchange happens afterwards.


The concept store is for a brand heavily worn by Bronx residents to publicize and get feedback for the newest lines of their clothing. They would also be the main financial source of the whole project (if it were real). Brands like North Face, Nike, Ecco, Adidas, Timberland etc. etc.


In the spirit of the innovative textile building, the workshop also teaches about working with interesting textiles and hopefully provide underprivileged aspiring fashion designers with skills that would be difficult to get elsewhere.

As much as I would love to dwell in the world of intersections between textiles, fashion, and architecture, it’s now time to do real research + cataloging and actually create these articles of architectural clothing I keep talking about. But on the blog, at least I can continue to dwell in this conceptual architecture/fashion world and talk about how Yung Ho completely floors me every week with his extensive knowledge of contemporary architecture, how I have come to have more appreciation for Rei Kuwakabo’s clothes, the mind-blowing book from MoCA’s exhibition Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, and the pretty badass blog, Street Etiquette, about Bronx influenced style. To be totally honest, I could forget all the architecture and just do the fashion…..

the highline revisited

Our project for the final undergraduate studio this year is titled ‘The Museum of Unnatural History’ and is sited on the High Line in New York.  More on the strange title will come later. Our studio is heading to New York tomorrow to see the High Line + other projects in New York. What  I love about traveling with professors is that they always have some in on tours and info. This time, it will be tours by members of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Field Operations, the two firms that co-designed the project.

The High Line during its period of disuse and neglect resulted in something beautiful and unurban. The juxtaposition is so strange that it looks like a photshopped image.

The High Line during its period of disuse and neglect resulted in something un-urban and quite beautiful.

This trip will be my fourth visit to the site, but this time through a more architectural and rigorous lens. Over the summer, I fell in love with the project and wrote about it as part of unpublished blog entry called ‘summer favorites’ (unpublished because it seems cheesy?).  Hopefully, I will come back from with a more balanced, critical view of the project, and its the success and inefficiencies.

One of the features that make Europe feel distinctly different from the U.S. is its omnipresent public space.  Barcelona felt like a endless series of plazas and Monselice’s square in a town of 12,000 in Italy, is buzzing with life on a weekend summer night.   After spending four weeks wandering, eating, sleeping in campos, campiellos, plazas, and ramblas, I was glad to have the High Line awaiting me when I returned to New York.

In fact, I had been waiting for the High Line since its MoMA exhibition years ago. The project was less than I expected but more stunning than I could have imagined. Architecturally, it is designed in every detail. DS+R invented a system that allows them to do everything they need for the project. My disappointments are only those differences between the subtle beauty of the renderings and the practicalities of real construction, and also that it is only a few blocks long at the moment.

The real beauty of the High Line is its spatial (sectional) relationship with New York. There exists no other place like it in the city. There are few things as surreal and beautiful as seeing people walking in the sky in Manhattan. From the street below, the pedestrians seem weightless as if they’ve defied the gravitational laws of New York. This feeling of surrealism derives from the fact that the city for many New Yorkers is a (under)ground level universe. The vertical real estate of Manhattan is an exclusive commodity usually reserved for those individuals who can pay to live there or work in places that can afford it. But even then New York is seen behind glass or from the stagnant view of a balcony, never traversing intersections in the open air like you do on the High Line. In the end, it  feels more ‘public’ than ground-level public parks  because it gives access to a previously exclusive and privately owned vertical dimension of  New York. What is also impressive is that the architecture is never a distraction. The design stays quiet without lacking complexity and power,  encouraging the public to experience the city in a way it never has before.

– August 2009

The High Line today with the tapering concrete strips and wild looking plants.

The High Line today with the tapering concrete strips and wild looking plants.

internet famous

I’m not quite there yet, but maybe this is a beginning. Tiffany interviewed me about living in Alvar Aalto’s Baker House as part of a ‘back to school/living in architecture” series for her Dwell blog. Thanks Tiffany!

Where the free things are

is where the people are.
This is especially true in New York.
Evidence: Free Friday Nights at MoMA

A free MoMA ticket may be the most wanted museum pass in the city since the place charges $12/student and $20/adult (yikes!).  Not only do you get to enjoy incredibly vibrant architecture (more on that later) and decent art, you get to use that saved money to dine at The Terrace. $12 will get you three chunks of good cheese, 3 slices of very good bread, and 9 fresh berries at the classy, minimalist looking cafe on the 4th floor of the museum

But before all that, we had to wait in a line that wrapped around three corners of a Manhattan block;  we started somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd corner.


We waited 25 minutes (not bad) during which the line got even longer and we twice had to ally with the people behind us to defend our spots from line-cutters. Here is a how you defend: you poke them very hard in the arm (which they ignore), then you must glare and rudely say “EXCUSE ME, but the END of the line is over THERE” and point dramatically at the other corner  (at which point the sneaky line cutter will avoid eye contact and pretend to be a confused foreigner).  It also helps to attract of a lot of attention so people nearby are looking suspiciously at them too. Eventually the line cutters slithered away and we got into the museum.

Being inside MoMA on a Friday night during the holiday season is probably like being in an overcroweded Asian city. Or it also looks something like the fish tanks in Chinese grocery stores in New York where all you can see fish and barely any of the water that’s supposedly in tank. Except that the tank is designed by a Yoshio Tanaguchi and it’s exciting getting through the tank and finding your way around people.


The MoMA building is quite spectacular and actually gets better as you start piling people in. The building capitalizes on the fact that people like being around other people and that a space that feels filled with people feels more vibrant. Also, two reasons why people to New York in the first place.

cimg73101Slight congestion on the escalators.

cimg72941Overlooks galore

The most impressively used space was the central atrium (1st photo) that was exhibiting a video piece being projected on all three 30 ft high walls. In the center, there was a large round couch on a carpet where people were taking off their shoes, laying down, talking, chatting, enjoying. All around the atrium people scattered about sitting against the walls, lying on the ground and even falling asleep. It was a real urban living room.


As for the actual artwork, I was not as inspired except for one of Van Gogh’s paintings and his pre-painting ink sketches, but maybe this will come later?

ongoing: architecture jargon magnetic poetry project (ajmpp)

earlier this semester at an Course 4 Resource Council meeting (aka 4RC=ma), someone, probably Bill McKenna, said “wouldn’t it be hilarious if they made magnetic poetry out of architecture words that everyone uses by no one understands like ‘fabric’ or ‘juxtapose?’ since then, a few of us have decided that it would indeed be hilarious and started compiling a list of jargon that make you think ‘damn, I don’t know a thing about architecture’

anyway, the end goal is for us to be able to string together sentences like:
the concept of city as cellular is the anti-idea of CIAM‘s socialist discourse on urbanism which in practice is quite disturbing.

little substance, a lot of jargon, you get the idea.

oh, and we will customize it to MIT with words like AVT, RPL, Meejin etc.

the words will all be printed in the helvetica font, so pre-order now and we will send it sometime before I graduate. maybe.

the glamourous life of c. renfro

Every Thursday night the MIT Archictecture Deptartment hosts a Public Lecture Series where world renowned architects, artists, engineers + more come speak about whatever the semester’s topic is. This semester the topic is ‘Urgent! Architecture for Climate Change’ and this past Thursday’s speaker was Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

DS+R is not ‘green’ in the way of using bamboo or making minimalist design. In fact everything they do is quite excessive. I don’t have the exact Renfro quotes, but its something to effect of DS+R is not interested in green design as a way of starving yourself and living an extreme minimalist life; they are interested in green design that is in tune with the american dream of excess. Quite different from most ‘green’ architecture and could be argued that it isn’t green architecture at all.

Anyway, C. Renfro the man is more than somewhat fascinating. Medium height, blond guy who is the most well-dressed lecturer I have ever seen. His somewhat sparkly tan scarf was wrapped around in the most perfect way that I cannot replicate (most unfortunate) and his somewhere between bootcut and loose skinny jeans were the best pair of men’s pants I have ever witnessed. Okay, maybe not the best pair, but they are up there.

On top of his fashion sensibility, I was impressed by his entertaining lecture. He told us stories about partying on the High Line in new york, pre-renovation which leads me to believe that it is possible to be a good architect and lead a glamourous life. Also, DS+R doesn’t do many projects, but the ones they do are glamourous especially the ones in new york.

Well, I left the lecture more excited about architecture. It does not have to be a stuffy, jargon-filled profession and there is room for real creativity and fun in the real world.

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