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February 29, 2008

Me, Myself, and the Built Environment

"The fundamental source of all our knowledge, however, still remain rooted in nature. That is to say that nature, as our first environment, was our primordial source of external knowledge and the subject of our speculation about ourselves in relation to all else." - Norman Crowe, "Nature and the Idea of a Man Made World," Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997 p. 4.

I couldn't begin to count how many times people have interrogated me on the issue of why I am pursuing a degree in architecture. When I have struggled to provide them with a straight answer, they are often dissatisfied. But unlike many of my friends and fellow college students, I am simply unable to say, "I'm going into math because I got good grades in high school algebra," or "I'm going into teaching because I like working with kids." Don't get me wrong; I do have reasons as to why I am pursuing an architectural degree. Actually, I have several reasons for doing so, making it very difficult to provide someone with a simple answer. A complex set of life experiences coupled with my inborn personality traits has infused, I believe since I was very young, a keen interest in my environment; the built environment in particular. This attentive observation of my environment has shaped my growth and childhood development.

While one's inborn personality traits are certainly highly influential on determining one's values, I am a firm believer that one's environment--both designed and natural--profoundly shape the human being. Think of someone you know very well and imagine that person had been born and raised in China. Would that person--biologically the same person you know--be the same person had his or her life experiences been so drastically different? You could personally attempt to answer this question for yourself with a close examination of the various experiential factors shaping who you are.

My Childhood Home from 1995-2006 in Detroit Lakes Neighborhood

I grew up in small town Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where the population is currently just under 8,000. Detroit Lakes is truly a beautiful community, rich in many respects. Consisting of predominantly Scandinavian and German heritage with a fairly sizable Native American community, White Earth Reservation, nearby, Detroit Lakes is culturally unique. While representing a rather small demographic of the global population, the area doesn't fall short in expressing its heritage. Historical vernacular architecture from the Norwegian and German lands along with elements of traditional Native American construction is intermingled in the area, and currently being juxataposed with modern.

Detroit Lakes Community Pavilion The community pavilion in my hometown architecturally embodies my core value of neighborliness and community interaction. Such architecture designed for the common good in my hometown have created, in me, a strong belief in social responsibility. My image of myself as one cell in the living organism that is our planet Earth has been shaped by my childhood built environment. I view myself and fellow man as part of the framework of the human race and the clockwork of intelligent life on Earth. In the same way, we human beings are part of the framework of living things, in the clockwork of the evolution of life on Earth. These values are well-represented in the Cheers theme song, as I often find myself wanting to take a weekend trip away from the big city and "go where everybody knows my name."

Typical Lake Home Architecture that engages its natural surroundings in some way or another has always appealed to me, likely due to the large number of lake homes, cabins, and rural farm houses that are commonplace in and around Detroit Lakes. Coming to Minneapolis this year was quite a change from the norm architecturally speaking. Unless architecture engages in some way with nature, I often have a difficult time appreciating it fully, as it's missing one of my key evaluatory elements.

The Cheers Bar Set The set for the hit TV series "Cheers" is a built environment in pop culture that well represents and supports my image of the world at its finest. The interaction of the actors with the set is the kind of human-environment interaction that I grew up in and hope to someday live and work the rest of my life in. The historic brick and dark wood clad bar interior is the kind of historic preservation/restoration architecture that I have been long exposed to, explaining my passion for bringing life back to old buildings and preserving the livelihood and structural strength of existing positive environments. But public life has always had its boundaries in my ideal image...

Tim and Wilson from "Home Improvement" With another reference to pop culture, I point to the interaction of Tim Taylor and his neighbor "Wilson." The physical fence separating the two neighbors' yards serves as a powerful motif in the television series. The fact that Wilson's face is never concealed to the audience or Tim, as he is always seen behind the tall fence or a similar obstruction, doesn't detract from Tim having a strong neighborly relationship with him. He shares his feelings, interests, joys, and sorrows with Wilson while maintaining a physical and mental separation. This separation...

Springfield, "The Simpson's" The fictional built environment of Springfield in the popular TV series well represents the kind of town I grew up in (minus the ridiculous people, of course). Spacious lots in quaint tree-lined neighborhoods, clean streets, plenty of green space, and a well-separated commercial and residential districts are characteristic of the American small town. From my architectural history class, I have discovered that is in the early European suburban model first proposed by Ebenezer Howard in 1898; a sort of fusion of the best aspects of town and country into a new living and working environment. In the small town/suburban city plan that I called home before my move to Minneapolis, I was cultivated to value this kind of blend of city and country; a separate but close civilization.

The Gable Roof Having a long tradition in northern architecture, the gable roof is everywhere to be seen in most of the United States. Its successful conquest of the architectural opposition of winter precipitation has made the gable roof one of the most overlooked and underrated architectural features of our local architecture. My first childhood drawings of houses all featured the gable roof. I thought nothing of it; it was simply what a roof looked like (my limited image of "roof"). Now that I am in architecture school, I have begun to appreciate some of these traditional local methods of conquering everyday architectural (and otherwise) natural oppositions.


Fargo, North Dakota - Historic Broadway Avenue

My life experiences haven't been limited to small town Minnesota, however. My travels have brought me frequently to nearby larger cities. Fargo, North Dakota, is 50 miles west of Detroit Lakes. In my childhood, on average, I traveled with my family into Fargo at least once a month to take advantage of the generous shopping and eating opportunities there. I also traveled to Minneapolis annually or biannually as a child to visit relatives and undertake such activities as watching a Twins game or shopping at the Mall of America. My family vacationed to Florida when I was 10, where I experienced the vast natural phenomena of the Atlantic Ocean along the sandy shores of Coco Beach. This past summer, I took in the deserts of the American Southwest in a visit to my retired grandparents in Green Valley, Arizona.

Gotham City, "Batman" Okay, you may have thought I was finally detracting from pop culture when you first saw the above image. I had to use Gotham City to represent the negativity of the metropolitan built environment in my image of the world. The crime-infested, smog-covered, cramped, unnatural concrete and steel city environment depicted in "Batman," which is a parody of New York City life, has never appealed to me. But it has been this exaggerated image of the city, presented to me through various mediums of pop culture and very occasional trips to certain parts of Minneapolis in my youth, that has created such a negative image. Moving to the city, while not completely changing my image of the city environment, has opened my eyes to the potential beauty in such.

Minneapolis Skyline My first time seeing an image similar to this was during an evening walk along the east bank of the Mississippi River with friends. Words cannot explain the sensual awe I experienced. What I can express is that it was an experience comprable, for me, to seeing such a natural phenomenon as a massive waterfall or the Grand Canyon. While natural phenomena was no stranger to a person who had grown up among the forests, lakes, and rivers of Northern Minnesota, man-made phenomena had never really struck me in such a way that the skyline did that night.

Foshay Tower, downtown Minneapolis Foshay Tower contributes to my growing respect and appreciation for big city life. Seeing the evolutionary story depicting the wonders of man's intelligence over time through architecture is something that cannot be easily done in small town USA. While there is very unique and special architecture there, state-of-the-art works of genius are hard to come by. Completed in 1929, Foshay was designed by the architectual firm Magney & Tusler, Inc., with the intention to imiate the Washington Monument. Wikipedia claims that the tower is considered the "first skyscraper west of the Mississippi." I think what speaks to me is the sight of the once-architectural marvel sitting in the shadows of modern day architecture with much less elegance than it once had, but now possessing a new strong sense of iconic magnificence.

February 27, 2008

2/27/08 Service Learning

This bright sunny morning marked my fourth service learning experience at Augsburg-Fairview. The weather was a pleasant 15 degrees at 8 AM--a nice change from the last few times. Mr. Mat had a new set of kids today; I believe their rotation has taken effect since my last visit. They were working with percentage increase/decrease over time; using graphing and scientific calculators and learning to plot practical application problems on the cartesian plane. The new group seems very eager; I was greeted very warmly by a number of the kids and sat with four of them at a table near the back of the classroom. Mr. Mat went through a number of problems on the board. As he did so, I clarified certain key points that the kids at my table had trouble grasping right away. While many of the kids were great with this new group, there did seem to be more disinterested and disruptive kids in the class than with the previous rotation. One, in fact, had to be asked to leave. But all in all, the new group seems like a great group of kids. I look forward to working with them.

February 23, 2008

Reading 10 "Mr. Palomar On the Beach" by Italo Calvino

Key Words:


The key to reducing the world's complexity could be reducing it to its "simplest mechanism," writes Calvino on page 6. When Mr. Palomar struggles to examine a single wave because of its complexity, he narrows the boundaries and breaks the general pattern down into sections that rise and vanish. In doing so, he gets a much more clarified set of images of that individual wave than the single blurred image he was previously receiving.

2. Repression

Calvino demonstrates the fact that many pleasing sensory images are repressed in a "reactionary" attempt to conform to the conventions of society. This is exemplified in Calvino's story of Mr. Palomar passing a woman's naked bosom on the beach. He first sucumbs to societal convention by looking in the opposite direction. He later passes again and finds his first behavior to be unacceptable in that it was too obviously an action of conformity, this time looking straight ahead as if the bosom is part of the landscape. But Mr. Palomar finally passes by again, this time obviously staring at the woman because he has realized his previous two instances of denial of aesthetically pleasing images. The woman is disgusted, demonstrating the limitations that society places on many natural human sensory experiences.

3. Perception

Sensory images are often belonging solely to the beholder of them. "All this is happening not on the sea, not in the sun," thinks Palomar while swimming over a ray of sunlight on the sea, "but inside my head, in the circuits between eyes and brain. I am swimming in my mind; this sword of light exists only there." For centuries, the sun's rays rested on the water before there were eyes capable of perceiving them.

Discussion Questions:

1. "If no eye except the glossy eye of the dead were to open again on the surface of the terraquerous globe, the sword would not gleam anymore," thinks Palomar in Calvino's story of the man's experience with the sword of the sun. Physicists would disagree strongly with this assessment, arguing that the sword of the sun would still exist on a physical level, completely disregarding the human perception of it. Why do design thinkers think more like Mr. Palomar and less like scientists?

2. Mr. Palomar has great difficulty isolating his concentration to one single wave. Why is simplification of our sensory messages important for designers? On the opposite token, why is seeing the big picture equally essential?

Reading 9 "The Image" by Kenneth E. Boulding

Key Words:

1. Image

It is images, rather than knowledge (which implies validity and truth) which governs human behavior, according to Boulding. Images are comprised of sensory messages received by nature or in communication with other human beings. They are not factual, but arbitrary. The image is built up as a result of all unique past experiences of the possessor of the image.

2. Message

Messages are, according to Boulding, information as structured sensory experiences. The meaning of a message is the change which it produces in the image. A message received by the human senses may not affect one's image of the world at all. In fact, most messages "shoot straight through," so to speak. They go in one ear and out the other. Boulding speaks of the construction noise outside his window as he is writing this essay as examples of various messages that are not affecting his image of the world at all. Some messages, on the other hand, do in fact change one's image of the world. They occassionally add to one's image of the world; not refuting or drastically changing it. Others support our existing image of the world, making it more clear. Sometimes, messages refute or disprove our image of the world, changing it in a profound way. This happens infrequently, however.

Discussion Questions:

1. Boulding deductively makes the argument that since all human beings are exposed to roughly the same image of the world, each of us influenced by similar messages, then the value system of all individuals must be approximately the same. Is this argument accurate or are people actually possessing of very unique images of the same world?

2. It is asserted by Boulding that most sensory messages go in one ear and out the other, so to speak. Are many of these largely ignored sensory messages actually processed and taken in by design thinkers at a much greater level than non-design thinkers?

February 22, 2008

Earth Minus You = A Different Planet

I have seen many people, some very close friends and family, struggle with unhappiness, depression, and despair. I have heard the questioning of one's personal worth; the denial of one's impact on the world. This always saddens me, as an optimist and an ambitious individual who quite honestly doesn't understand the pessmistic outlook on life--and particularily the denial of self-worth--that so many unhappy people possess. I would, admittedly, be an awful psychiatric counselor. Despite my inability to relate with people's emotional and mental struggles, I am always able to recommend where such people should turn to in their times of depression and denial of self worth. You may be surprised to know that I send them to their local Blockbuster rather than straight to the mental health center.

Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life is a cinematic classic featuring the amazing talent of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in a profoundly meaningful film addressing the very question of one man or woman's impact on the world. It tells the story of one small town American George Bailey, who from childhood possessed the compelling ambition to see the world. He plans to become an architect and design magnificent bridges and skyscrapers everywhere. However, as George matures, he continues to extend help to whoever needs it at the sacrifice of his dreams: He puts off going to college until Harry graduates from high school to take over the family business, the Bailey Building and Loan Association, essential to many of the poor and disadvantaged in Bedford Falls. This noble decision leaves George a very unhappy man despite finding and marrying the love of his life and having children. Managing the unprofitable but vital-to-the-community Building and Loan company doesn't fulfill George's dreams of becoming a wealthy travelling architect. And with the stock market crash plunging the company into immediate and unexpected debt, George falls into a spiraling depression, eventually attempting suicide on a highway bridge over the icy waters of a river. Sent from Heaven is an angel named Clarence to jump into the river after him. He not only physically saves his life, but proceeds to take George on the invaluable journey through the world as if he had never been born. George's eyes are opened to the profound impact he has had on the world, as he witnesses a city overtaken by the cruel business tycoon Henry F. Potter. The city's poor are living in slums without the existence of George's generous service-oriented Building and Loan company. The town has become one of mass consumption and commercialization; the sense of community and friendly hospitality that George knew was gone. The old dilapitated mansion George bought and fixed up remained dilapitated in the George-less world. Clarence shows him his wife, who without George lives the life of a lonely librarian. His brother is dead since it was George who saved his life when he fell through the ice on a pond as a boy. This much-needed reminder of his self-worth and the amazing impact he has had on the world causes George Bailey to do a complete 360. He realizes that just because he wasn't making alot of money designing world-famous buildings and bridges, he was doing "big" things for the world just as he had always dreamed of doing.

The grainy black-and-white VHS version of Capra's story of George Bailey has been a New Year's tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. Until recently, I have never really realized the awesome personal lessons I have been given to kick off these almost 20 years of my life. This lesson of one's individual impact on the world is one that all people need to learn. Architects have it easy--they see the impact they have had on the world around them in quite literal, physical terms of building or landscape designs become reality. Others have more difficulty with this. That's why Ozayr's blog prompt is so interesting, asking us to ponder how we would still have an impact on our environment if we were released from the constraints of the architecture school program.

I think Capra's film gives me insight into Ozayr's provocation, in that no matter how insignificant one feels, every person--and, delving into today's lecture a bit, THING (something containing matter)--affects the environment in which we live. The way I look at it is that we are all members of the one living organism that is our universe; each of us contributes in some way, either large or small, to the betterment or detriment of our world. So, the very second upon release from the constraints of the architecture school program, I would start affecting the environment just by living and breathing. As long as I am in existence, I am affecting the world. But being the change-the-world kind of ambitious individual that I am, I would do much more than passively be alive.

I would impact my environment wherever I decided to go. In an ideal, utopian sort of situation for me, it would be traveling the world working on global development. To begin my work in development, I would definitely take a trip down to the American Gulf Coast and work on hands-on restoration of the built and natural environment there. But the environment of the Gulf Coast region won't forever be in need of alteration. So I would have to look elsewhere for a permanent place to have a major impact architecturally, physically, and artistically on the environment. I would likely travel to a third world country in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America. In such a place, I could immensely impact the environment architecturally, culturally, economically, and socially in some pretty big ways.

For possibility's sake, let's say I choose to take my change-the-world ambitions, free from the constraints of the architecture school, to Liberia. Since 1989, the country has been in a constant state of flux, witnessing two civil wars that have collectively caused a devastated economy and a displaced citizenry. An economy in shambles has consequently created a country of poverty. Adding to this is another disheartening statistic. According to a UNESCO publication, 65% of primary-school-age-children attend school while 24% of secondary-school-age-children are enrolled. As I've discussed in previous blogs, education is something that I view as extremely important for the future of our country and for sake of human progress. I truly believe that addressing problematic education systems has the potential to drastically change the world for the better. A more educated person is more likely to contribute in a larger way to the betterment of his or her environment. More people impacting a bad environment in positive ways can gradually build a good environment.

Children at the Esther Bacon Elementary School, Monrovia, Liberia. November 2004

Children at Feed My People Sponsored Liberian School

African School Building, 2004 Aga Khan Award Winning Design

This award-winning design for an African School house exemplifies the kind of build/design work I would pursue with the purpose of impacting my environment in a positive way outside of the constraints of the architecture school that I am currently held bound by. I really appreciate the use of readily available inexpensive natural materials in combination with durable recycled steel in the construction of this school building. The building provides ample shelter from the elements and relief from the desert sun, giving the school children a decent learning environment.

Typical Existing African School Setup

The sight of these school "buildings" (and I really mean to emphasize the quotation marks) is deeply saddening to me. The fact that most existing Liberian school buildings are in the model of Laugier's primitive hut with no walls and little more than a thatched roof supported by a few sticks poses a serious design problem. In order to learn, children need a well-programmed school building in which to do so. As Christian Norberg-Schulz asserts in his article on "Place," a particular environment with a specific program requires a certain character and spatial organization. The primitive hut doesn't satisfy either of a school building environment's requirements.

February 20, 2008

Service Learning 2/20/08

This chilly Wednesday morning marked my third service learning experience at Augsburg-Fairview Academy. I worked with the math class once again, which today was preparing for tomorrow's chapter test. Math teacher Tom Matuseki led the class, which had a pretty good turnout today, in review problems on the board. I had the chance to work one-on-one with a guy who had missed alot of class and was a little behind the rest. The class worked a bit with the electronic multiple choice buzzer system again. The increased level of interaction and unique nature of these types of questions seems to engage the kids in a much more effective way than traditional paper and pencil math problems. In fact, Mr. Matuseki announced to an eruption of cheers from the kids that the test would contain some electronic questions. It has been interesting seeing which learning techniques work for the kids and which don't. Coming from a rural, all-Caucasian, traditional public school, I really had no idea how other schools were set up. Coming to a diverse inner city alternative high school has opened my eyes to a whole new realm of education. So far, service learning has been a great experience for me; not only as an opportunity work with kids, but in the new culture, education style, and environment I have experienced in doing so.

February 17, 2008

Millenium Development Goals: Finding Inspiration in Word, Image, and Song

Millenium Development Goal #7 Ensure environmental sustainability

The UN's Specific Intentions: (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/)

Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources

Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water

Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020

Inspirational Images:

Inspirational Quotes:

"The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children." - German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Our ideals, laws and customs should be based on the proposition that each generation, in turn, becomes the custodian rather than the absolute owner of our resources and each generation has the obligation to pass this inheritance on to the future." - Charles A. Lindbergh in New York Times Magazine, May 23, 1971

"The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value." - former United States President Theodore Roosevelt


Earth Team's Theme Song (by Earth Team)

Green Christmas (by Elf Cottage Elves)

The Miniature Earth (music by Yann Tiersen, video by Donella Meadows)

A Better Future (www.aBetterFuture.org)

Millenium Development Goal #8 Develop a global partnership for development

The UN's Specific Intentions: (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/)

Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction— nationally and internationally

Address the least developed countries' special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction

Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States

Deal comprehensively with developing countries' debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term

In cooperation with the developing countries, develop decentand productive work for youth

In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries

In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies— especially information and communications technologies

Inspirational Images:

Inspirational Quotes:

"We have a moral obligation to help others and a moral duty to make sure our actions are effective." - United States President George W. Bush, address to UN General Assemby, 2005

"In my eyes, Americans as well as other tax payers are quite ready to show more generosity. But one must convince them that their generosity will bear fruit, that there will be results." - Paul Wolfowitz, former World Bank Group President

"In particular, there is a need for the multilateral and bilateral financial and development institutions to intensify efforts to imporove ODA targeting to the poor, coordination of aid and measurement of results." - Monterrey Consensus Statement


The Millenium Development Goals Anthem (by Tayo Tayo Rin)

Where is the Love? (Poverty Version) (music by Black Eyed Peas, video by YouTube user relaxing27)

Cry (music by Hillary Duff, video by YouTube user LittleHotaruChan)

Millenium Development Goal #4 Reduce child mortality

The UN's Specific Intentions: (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/)

Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.

Inspirational Images:

Global Infant Mortality Rates

Inspirational Quotes:

“I came here to show support for all the millions of people in the world who stand to benefit if the Millennium Development Goals are reached, especially the children who will be saved from malaria or Aids, who will grow up healthy, go to school and have the chance to earn their living and enjoy life.? - Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize

"There is a belief that the health MDGs are all about building health centres, ... whereas 55% of infant mortality is down to poor drinking water and hygiene - environmental issues.? - Ian Johnson

“The infant mortality rate is shameful, ... If you didn't know better, you'd think it's a statistic for a Third World country.? - Jay Williams

“It's pure nonsense that a state legislator would think there's nothing he can do to benefit Native Americans. The high infant mortality rate on reservations is due to devastating poverty. Yet the state has not passed any laws in the last several years that would boost any of the health or education programs within the reservation community. As for tribal sovereignty, the only time the state wants to recognize it is when it benefits the state, as in this instance when it allows Senator Napoli to opt out of an intelligent response.? - Charon Asetoyer


March of Dimes Mission Video (by March of Dimes Massachusetts Chapter)

Deep Calls to Deep - Ministry in Malawi (by WorldView International Christian organization) (www.worldviewinternational.org)

HereandThere.ca Benny Sanders brings goods to orphans in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala (by YouTube user gameplanpros)

February 14, 2008

Service Learning 2/13/08

Today was my second service learning experience at Augsburg-Fairview Academy in downtown Minneapolis. The initial first time jitters were long gone as I rode the 16 from Willey Hall to the corner of Hennepin and 4th Street and then walked through the architecturally rich Hennepin Avenue Theater District. The historic stone buildings really stood out to me this time, especially in their juxtoposition with the new steel high rises overshadowing their once great height. I was surprised to see so few kids in the math class today. There started out with just two guys. A few other students joined over the course of the class period. I was the only tutor today. The math teacher was preparing the students for an upcoming test, so they played a multiple-choice trivia game with electronic remote control "buzzers" containing questions on conics and their equations. The few kids that were present didn't seek much help from me or the teacher today, as it was a casual review day for them. Still, it was nice to get a feel for how they learn by observing their game.

February 10, 2008

Reading 8 "1000 words for design students" by Allan Chochinov

There are many of them for this reading, but the two that stand out the most to me personally are...
inspiration, perspiration

To be a successful designer, argues Chochinov in a rather creative and concise way, you must commit yourself to your studies and your work. "It's not exciting and it's not revelatory, but it really does turn out that the students who work the hardest and commit themselves the fullest end up with the best stuff," writes Chochinov. He encourages students to get the biggest bang for their bucks by utilizing all tools the school has to offer; coming early and staying after class, doing their homework, working on their presentation skills, and documenting all of their work photographically. Collaborating with other students and teachers is also strongly recommended. Chochinov also emphasizes broadening one's knowledge of the workings of the world. To do so, he suggests regularly reading the newspaper and auditing a non-design class for noncredit, which expands your general knowledge of other subject areas without the pressure of grades. He also, interestingly, points out the fact that students should be clear about what they want and need from their teachers, who are actually there because of the students; not the other way around.


1) Chochinov recommends that design students "get off campus," connecting with communities of people who are doing design for a living and a life. How would seeking out an internship or apprenticeship while in school benefit a design student's education in a way that the traditional design school cannot?

2) The importance of presentation skills (public speaking and writing) is illustrated by Chochinov, who argues that no matter how good a designer you are, without a certain level of presentation skills, nobody will ever know. Despite his assertion, there are many (including Dr. Tom Fisher, in his guest lecture) who feel that good design speaks for itself, without the need for written or spoken explanation. Do you agree or disagree with Chochinov's extreme emphasis on presentation skills?

Reading 7 "The Profession and Discipline of Architecture: Practice and Education" by Stanford Anderson

profession, discipline

In his essay, Stanford Anderson examines how architecture as a discipline and architecture as a profession intersect and create the field as a whole. By "discipline," Anderson means a collective body of knowledge that is unique to architecture that is not delimited in time or space. In order to distinguish between the realms of the architecture, he suggests thinking of it as a diagram in which the profession of architecture extends horizontally and is vertically intersected by the discipline of architecture. "Thus the two realms of activity intersect; they are partially but not wholly coincident," writes Anderson. Professional practice, he notes, is primarily concerned with fulfilling commissions to the highest standards; in other words, operating the most successful business. Academic discipline, on the other hand, is projective (highly imaginitive, historical, and creative). The problem, Anderson argues, is that numerous conditions and activities in academic practice and discipline are increasingly moving apart from one another, no longer intersecting at as many points on the diagram. Aspects of architectural tradition survive in discipline but are neglected by practice. By the same token, activities and conditions necessary to the operation of successful professional practice are nowhere to be seen in architectural discipline. "Thus, from the point of view of the profession, we see an appropriate inclusion of concerns that are not intrinsically those of architecture while certain forms of architectural knowledge are strategically excluded," writes Anderson. From a disciplinary standpoint, Anderson states that much of the elements of architectural practice does not result from the unique knowledge pool of architectural discipline. In defining and then discussing the distinct realms of architectural discipline and profession, Anderson is arguing that the intersection of profession and discipline should not be emphasized to the extend of undermining the synthetic activities of the profession that must reach outside the discipline, or, on the other hand, honoring the discipline only if it is of immediate applicability to the practice of architecture. The two must coexist peacefully, in respect for one another's basic principles.


1) Anderson sees discipline as "that which fosters participation in the field by nonprofessionals," such as preservationists, historians, engineers, builders, advocacy groups, and citizens. How important is the contribution of nonprofessionals to the future of architectural discipline (defined as "a collective body of knowledge that is unique to architecture that is not delimited in time or space") and, consequently its effects on professional practice?

2) Anderson cites Julia Robinson's different understanding of "discipline" that "The field of architecture is in the process of evolving from what has been a practice, informed by other disciplines, into a discipline with its own body of knowledge." Do you agree with Robinson's assessment that the field of architecture is naturally becoming more self-sufficient, or do you find that it is becoming more dependent upon other fields?

February 8, 2008

The Rethinking of Social Design Activism

When prompted to document and advocate a social-design issue in the Twin Cities, I immediately thought of investigating the most obvious and pressing issues facing our society that have had obvious design solutions. Homelessness has prompted architects in the likes of the great Sam Mockbee to design and build innovative inexpensive shelter for the less fortunate. I could write a book about low income housing design in the Twin Cities, much of which is notable, such as our own Ralph Rapson’s Cedar Square West project on Riverside Avenue. Not to underscore the serious nature of homelessness—shelter is a basic necessity that many people lack—but social-design projects that focus simply on building inexpensive shelter to protect people from the elements just don’t thrill me. Necessary? Of course. Noble? Absolutely! Kudos to those who build “shelters? for the homeless. Catalyst for social change? Well, here’s what I don’t throw all of my enthusiasm behind. Finishing such a project is obviously very rewarding. You can say that you put a roof over someone’s head who didn’t have one before. But can you say that you really reshaped the state of society as a whole; that you really made the world a better place to live in? It’s certainly debatable, so please don’t jump on me for saying that I don’t think so. Those people who now have a little more dependable shelter may live a little bit more comfortably, but will their lives really change all that much? If a bunch of architects get together to creatively design them a cheap house out of compressed carpet, will they suddenly land a dependable job to go to every day? Will they decide to leave the gangs and turn from the drugs? Will they seek a higher education? Will they become active contributors in society and noble citizens just because some designers from a faraway land built them a house out of carpet and then went back to their comfortable suburban homes and spacious offices only to forget all about them in a week, thinking that they solved all the world’s problems on their little mission trip? The answer to all of these questions, I believe, is a firm “no.?

To truly have an impact on society, to provoke real social change, workers for social justice must go beyond providing basic essentials to those who lack them. Social designer activists need to reach out in more ways than designing practical inexpensive shelter, but design buildings that will change the landscape of the most dismal places in our society. Inner city America faces not just homelessness, but skyrocketing crime rates, a formidable war on drugs that seems never-ending, racial injustice, and long lines of the unemployed and uneducated at the social services offices. We as designers need to realize that the guy sleeping on a street bench has more problems than homelessness. In order to truly help this man and the millions of men, women, and children like him, we need to design in response to all of their problems. Then and only then will we truly shift the gears of society and create a better social picture.

In our city of Minneapolis, racial and ethnic minorities lag behind white counterparts in education, with 15% of African American and 13% of Hispanic people holding bachelor's degrees compared to 42% of the white population. Median household income among African Americans is below that of white by over $17,000. Home ownership among these minority residents is half that of white, and one-third of the Asian population lives below the poverty line. It is this issue of poverty-stricken inner city minority groups lagging in education that I believe deserves the focus of designer activists. What prompts me to do so is my work with alternative and charter high schools through the service-learning components of both ARCH 1281 and this course. The design of spaces for alternative education for failing inner city kids is something that fascinates me even in the earliest days of my life of design. Last semester, I volunteered at Plymouth Christian Youth Center, or PCYC. The alternative high school is a facility in the poverty-stricken, crime ridden district of North Minneapolis. Not to sound too poetic, but this place is truly a beacon of light that radiates its positive atmosphere for miles. Their website tells a moving story of one student, Larry, who once said he was going nowhere before he came to PCYC Alternative School. Now he's going to college. Previously a habitual truant, Larry never missed a day at PCYC. “And it wasn't just skills in reading, writing and math that he picked up at PCYC, but the values of responsibility and giving back to the community.? The bottom line, explained coordinator Kathleen Butts and the rest of the staff to my group and I, is that many kids just don’t function well in the traditional public schools, especially kids with troubled lives here in the North Minneapolis community. Before the days of alternative learning facilities like PCYC, all of these kids simply failed out of the traditional public schools and were left out in the cold. It was these kids who grew up to be the criminals, homeless wanderers, drug dealers, and victims of suicide of today. Today, some of these kids have been given hope by the innovative, ambitious, progressive thinkers who created new spaces for new education systems for them to learn and grow. But as we can see with previous generations and the effects of their childhood neglect on our society today, the problem still persists and begs further solutions. Designer activists need to design and build more and better PCYC’s. We need to design and build schools for at-risk children in risky communities. We need to design spaces that are safe, embracing of their individual needs, open to their cultural and racial differences, and inviting. We need to design spaces that teach them the academic and life skills that will allow them to break the hellish cycle of poverty by first seeking higher education, then finding stable employment. It will follow that they will form a stable life, abandon drugs and gangs, and contribute to our society in an amazing way. Real social change will become reality in the near future if designer activists focus on the future of the children.

Basically, designer activists need to transform the focus of their attention in the same way as many are urging modern medicine to do—to administer less of the short-term band-aids and more on long-term cures and preventative measures for the ailments facing our society. I look forward to being involved in the long-term solutions to not only the problems facing the Twin Cities, but those facing the global community. I look to Jennie Winhall's essay "Is Design Political?" for inspiration. In it, she writes, "My policy colleagues say they went into politics because they wanted to challenge the status quo and make things better for ordinary people. That's certainly why I went into design."

February 7, 2008

Reading 6 "The Redesign of Practice" by Thomas R. Fisher


expand, reconnect

Tom Fisher's writings make me proud to say that he is the dean of my college! Seriously, his forward-looking analytical breakdown of architecture gives me confidence in the kind of progressive design education I am receiving at the U of M. In "The Redesign of Practice," Fisher comments on the necessity for architects to redesign the practice of architecture---drastically. In fact, he goes so far as to say that architectural practice is a vital design problem facing every firm. Architectural practice has seen a reduction in control, especially over front-end decision making (budgets, schedules, site planning, etc...) and subsequently a reduction in value (i.e. smaller profits, less demand, etc...). Fisher argues that architects need to expand their range of services beyond the traditional/conventional, to redefine the geography of practice to an international scale, and to become more efficient in time management. In addition, he points to the need for architectural education and practice to reconnect. Expanding work-study programs, putting students in real-world practice situations during the academic years is necessary, in Fisher's mind.


1) Fisher notes that one solution to the architecture profession's current dilemma is to expand the profession's traditional boundaries, expanding the discipline itself. How has the profession expanded beyond traditional boundaries? How should the profession expand in ways that it is yet to?

2) Fisher comments on the fact that many firms have redesigned themselves by expanding offered services to include such things as strategic planning, facility analysis, and real estate development. To me, this could pose the threat of "perverting" the purity of a firm's prime focus of creative design. Does this expansion of services distract from a firm's central focus and lessen its value or does it enhance its value by creating multiple foci?

Reading 5 "Design in a World of Flows" by Thomas R. Fisher


flow, evolution

In this powerful piece, Fisher seems to be addressing a sort of state of the profession address about architecture's past, present, and future and its current state of evolution. Along with virtually every other profession, he claims, architectural practice is being forced to evolve with our changing world. As our socioeconomic world is becoming more and more like the natural world, architecture must adapt to the evolving, uncertain, experimental world in which we now live. The world is no longer mechanistic, but one of flows which knows no boundaries. Conventions are being overturned with every passing day. Today's technology revolution is compared by Fisher as being similar to the Industrial Revolution. That's one radically changing world we're living in! Those who adapt to this changing world will be rewarded, but those who don't will eventually fail under the weight of progression. In such an uncharted territory as our changing world is, architects must engage in a primitive sort of survival-of-the-fittest battle with other professionals, such as enginners, planners, and contractors, who are trying to "invade" on their territory. But Fisher points out that this new era won't be detrimental for the future of design, but rather supportive of a broader application of design thinking. "In a world with little respect for traditional structures, almost everything--from the operation of a company to the organization of a community to the order of our physical environment--can be approached as a design problem," writes Fisher. The health of design's future depends, though, warns Fisher, upon the ability of designers to "become counselors to clients" and become more expansive in the teams put together to solve clients problems by working collaboratively with other professions.


1) How has architecture responded recently to the new society of flow that Fisher speaks of?

2) Fisher discusses the importance of designers' collaboration with other professions. Which professions do or should architects collaborate with? How does such collaboration contribute to better design?

Reading 4 "Is Design Political?" by Jennie Winhall


activism, ideology

Design, like politics, is an attempt to challenge the status quo and improve the quality of life for ordinary people. Architecture is no exception. Buildings are designed to serve a specific purpose or set of purposes, with a clear program or set of programs in mind. A building's designer can oppress, liberate, seclude, expose, horrify, or glorify a person. Elements of authoritarian propaganda (Nazi or Soviet buildings, insignias, banners, clothing, etc...) were designed to intimidate and oppress. Churches are designed to welcome and invite. Many newer homes and offices are designed to be environmentally friendly. Like the design of a political program, or platform, design impacts the lives of people. Thus, designers are activists who work to shape society in a certain way. Ideology has been applied through design just as it has through politics. I think Winhall sums it up nicely in saying, "Design is not a neutral value-free process."


1) Winhall claims that with new ideology comes new design. What are some recent societal ideological shifts that have prompted new design?

2) Winhall leaves it up to debate: Are designers responsible for the consequences of their designs?

Reading 3 "Genius Loci" by Christian Norberg-Schulz

Key Words:


There exist two independent but mutually dependent aspects of human being’s
ability to truly dwell in a place: ORIENTATION and IDENTIFICATION. When a
person dwells in a place, he/she is simultaneously located in space and
exposed to a certain “environmental character,? asserts Norberg-Schulz.
Orientation refers to the requirement in a place for spatial structure and
organization. “The world may be organized around a set of focal points, or
be broken into named regions,? he writes. Man must have a sense of security
in understanding how a place is organized in order to truly dwell in a
particular place and not be lost. It is the familiarity with the nouns
defining a place. Identification refers to “becoming ‘friends’ with a
particular environmental character." The objects of identification are
concrete environmental properties, developed typically during childhood. It
is the familiarity with adjectives definitive of a place. Essentially, it
is the possession of a feeling of belonging in a particular place.

Discussion Questions:

1)Norberg-Schulz asserts on page 23 that “The basic act of architecture is
therefore to understand the ‘vocation’ of the place.? What does this mean
for us as students of architecture, and how has this basic act been central
to the profession historically?

2)Norberg-Schulz claims that architecture has to a high extent lost contact
with the concrete life world, neglecting the unique character of a place in
favor of the creation of character motifs that transpose characters from
one place to another. (page 15) Do you agree with his analysis? Are there
examples of this neglect in modern architecture?

2/6/08 Service Learning

I began my service learning experience this morning at Augsburg-Fairview Academy in downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue. Having already met with Heidi, the coordinator, and the teaching staff at my orientation session last Wednesday, I was comfortable and had no apprehensions going into my first tutoring session. Today, I was to help struggling math students. The math teacher introduced me to Ryan, a volunteer former math teacher who tutors during the same 8:30-9:30 time slot. Their math class was primarily lecture today, so Ryan and I took in the lecture and got a feel for the math program and the curriculum of the class. Towards the end of class, the kids got time to work on homework problems pertaining to the lecture. I worked with a group of girls who were extremely friendly and polite. I could tell that graphing parabolas wasn't the most exciting or easy topic for them, but they had a very positive attitude and were determined to learn the material. During the course of the class period, they thanked me about a dozen times for my help, which was very cool to hear! They were also very curious about the University of Minnesota and the reason for my being there to help them. I explained the course and the field of architecture a little bit to them, including our desire to define architecture as a service. They were all extremely interested in the university and treated me like an ambassador from some great nation or something. I left today very satisfied and uplifted. I look forward to future opportunities to help these kids succeed in academics and in life. After just one day of service, I truly believe what Heidi told me during the orientation; over time, amazing results will be seen in working with these kids.

February 2, 2008

Inspirational Environmental Energy in the City

Such concepts as energy and flow are very complex ideas that have been studied by people of virtually all professions, in every corner of the world, from the first intelligent man to the rocket scientists of today. Many practicality-driven people view the study of these concepts as a search for absolute truth. Mathematicians will search for formulas to calculate flow and transformation of energy in nature. This type of analysis of our environment is, of course, very important and necessary for scientific and technological advancement in our society.

But in my personal opinion, a much deeper and more fascinating study of these natural concepts is undertaken by those who don’t search for absolute truths or calculable formulas, but rather who dissect the natural environment around us to discover how the uniquely fascinating “energies? in the environment affect the human experience, and then react to these energies by taking action. The artist Andy Goldsworthy explores such natural concepts of flow and conservation of energy in the most unconventional and bizarre, yet fascinating ways by visiting various natural sites around the world and receiving artistic inspiration from the natural energies present. “You feel as if you’ve touched the heart of the place. That’s a way of understanding. Seeing something that you never saw before, that was always there but you were blind to it,? says Goldsworthy in his documentary “Rivers and Tides.? To me, the beauty of Goldsworthy’s art is that it is in such simple natural objects—the emotional energies given off by sticks and twigs, icicles, iron oxide chalk—that energizes his inner emotions and prompts him to create truly extraordinary pieces of art out of the very ordinary that surrounds him. This seeing of what you have never seen before and experiencing deep emotional feeling that stimulates first wonder and awe, then sparks imagination, and finally drives you to action by expressing these emotions, is the most profound yet at the same time humbling experience for me. Such experiences invoke me to think about larger things; about the vastness and complexity of nature, about the power of human senses and emotion, and about the immense unknown.

Personally, the urban city environment provides as much energy as the natural environment. While riding the city bus down a busy street, I am often struck by the speed at which life is passing me. I am reminded of the fast pace of modern American society and often inspired to make a personal resolution to slow down and smell the roses, letting the energies of my environment translate into emotional feeling. When walking downtown beneath the towering skyscrapers and tall office buildings, I am always struck with the feeling of being overpowered by the mammoth structures looming over me. Overcoming my emotions in such times is always the personally belittling and humbling realization that I am but one small person, like a small ant, in a very big world; that centering my life around pleasing myself is denying my societal duty to contribute to the betterment of the global community.

Likewise, approaching the downtown district by car or bus from the interstate is almost always a profound experience with environmental energy. From the first glance of the towering skyline and growing gradually closer, I experience an amazing feeling of excitement. Though I’ve experienced it many times, it never fails that the energies of the majestic skyline pull me into the city, in an unavoidable magnetic sort of way.

Additionally, the sight of a tree while strolling an urban city street that is literally surrounded by the concrete and steel of the place often gives off powerful environmental energy. The sight of such reminds me of the ever-presence of the natural, even in the man-made urban environment in which nature is usually seemingly “conquered.? Likewise, witnessing the juxtaposition of new and old structures complementing, or sometimes competing with one another, is rich in energy. These powerful feelings are often times a call to action; to work for a more environmentally-friendly city that embraces the natural world that we have so carelessly neglected. This list could virtually go on, and on, and on. The urban city has always been full of profound energy that has affected me emotionally, many in very powerful ways.