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May 13, 2008

Some Closing Thoughts

For my final blog entry for 1701, I would like to comment on a few things I picked up on in this class that I found to be most important/memorable/applicable. From every lecture, guest lecture, film, and discussion session, I learned something valuable. Some were 'better' than others, but each was interesting, thought-provoking, and informative.
Perhaps the most important lesson that I took from the class was that, as Jennie Winhall's essay discusses, design is political; thus, designers are activists whose work embodies an ideology. One of my favorite quotes taken from the class is Jennie Winhall's assertion, "Design is not a neutral, value-free process." I think that this short excerpt sums up the "moral" of the course, so to speak, that the work of the architect can change the world for the better. Ozayr, James Wheeler, Della, and many of the readings and films outlined this lesson well for me. The coursework helped me to understand the real impact that design has on people's lives. It isn't, like I assumed coming into this course, simply another "profession," but in many ways a position of public service. The Millenium Development project allowed us to dig even deeper into a specific avenue in which design makes a difference. I thoroughly enjoyed the project. Researching our two-fold problem of a shortage of low-income housing in the Twin Cities and the current environmental crisis was a fascinating process. It was really exciting digging into books on sustainable design strategies written for architects. Overall, I feel that the course had a really good approach to defining architecture in a very real and human yet complex and sophisticated context.

May 8, 2008

5/7/08 Service Learning...The End of a Great Experience

It's official: I have completed my learning experience at Augsburg-Fairview Academy for ARCH 1701H. With approximately 11 hours of service in total, I have fulfilled the course requirement for service learning, which is a nice relief for a busy college student. But I really viewed my experience tutoring high school students at Augsburg-Fairview to be much more than a required assignment for a college class; I viewed it as an OPPORTUNITY to give back. This positive mindset has gotten me up an hour earlier than usual on Wednesday mornings this semester fired up and ready to go out and make a difference.

It was a relief to wake up knowing that I would be finishing my service learning requirements, but it was also sad to think about the fact that I would probably not be working with the good people at Augsburg-Fairview again. IThis semester, I had the tremendous opportunity to work with an extremely grateful, welcoming, kind staff and student body. Each morning, I was welcomed by Mr. Matuseki and the students with a smile and immediately brought up to speed on what the class was working on.

This morning was no different, as I was promptly welcomed and thanked for coming. The class was small today; only five kids. It was a new rotation, so they were just getting started on a new unit. Mr. Mat had the kids working on yesterday's homework assignment during the first half of class. I helped a guy who didn't do much of the assignment at home and was scrambling to get as much done as possible before Mr. Mat collected the assignment. I tried to slow him down a bit and convince him that it would be best to do a few problems correctly than all of the assignment wrong. The assignment was dealing with finding the domain of functions, so I tried to explain the process in as simple of terms as possible (such as defining domain as "what "x" cannot equal for the function to remain a function) He began to slow down and try to understand the assignment, even though he only finished about 1/4 of the assignment and didn't receive much credit.

May 5, 2008

An Odd Couple? Technology & Architecture

The relationship between technology and architecture has been a bittersweet one. Scholars of architectural theory have debated the appropriate role of technology in the field of architecture for ages. In my architectural history class with Professor Rachel Iannacone, I've been exposed to the rather bitter battles over the ages over the role of the "machine" in architecture. We learned about the Arts & Crafts movemement being a backlash against the Industrial Revolution's embrace of new technologies in architecture (namely steel, glass, and mass production techniques). The craftsman's touch versus the mechanized look serves as a stark contrast between, say the architecture of the DeStijl architect Theo von Doesburg and William Morris of the Arts & Crafts movement. Upon studying both sides of the argument, I personally believe that theorists from both radical pro-mechanization and reactionary anti-mechanization camps have brought legitimate arguments to the table.

Those in favor of embracing mechanization can rightfully argue that the machine brings good design to the common man by vastly lowering production cost. Furthermore, they argue that it creates pure geometries which cannot be created by the craftsman without the proper tools. Pure geometric forms are essential to Cubism, Purism, and much of modernist art and architecture. They also argue, as Ozayr's lecture outlined, that technology allows an "escape from primitive helplessness of the will," (I like Ozayr's word choice). Other legitimate arguments from the pro-machine camp are that the machine conserves and minimizes our use of energy, which is a huge plus with today's energy crisis.

On the other hand, the anti-machine camp can argue that the machine creates an alienation from materiality and renders the inhabitant unable to see subtle details in the architecture. They also argue that the increased speed in the machine's design process doesn't necessarily create a better design. The camp can also legitimately argue that the machine is neither additive nor subtractive, but "ecological," as Neil Postman puts it in his book. Ultimately, they are asserting that new technological advances completely replace old technologies. They cannot coexist with old technologies, so regardless of the value of the old technology, the new one will consume it. Technology can sometimes be good, they concede, but it can also be very bad. Ozayr illustrated this point well in showing two different pictures of "mobile homes"; one row of luxury motor homes at an upscale RV park and next to it a photograph of the row of junk trailers in a refugee camp. They argue that technology has created architecture which lacks the imprint of the human touch; thus an emotionless, cold, and depressive architecture that doesn't uplift its inhabitants. They point to the monotony of suburbia and the the pre-fabricated boxes we call homes. They argue that the machine is ultimately taking over the role of architect in many respects, over time rendering the human designer obsolete. David Newton well-illustrated this prospect in his guest lecture.

So, as I really agree with all above points from both sides of the aisle, I would have to label myself a centrist when it comes to the politics of pro/anti mechanization. I can honestly acknowledge the validity of both sides. I think Ozayr said it best, himself also taking a centrist point of view on the subject: "The ultimate lesson here is to be skeptical of new technologies because they can greatly after how we think with things and alter the nature of community." A healthy level of skepticism is always necessary when confronted with a new change; not just in architecture, but in life in general. But a healthy level of openness must also counteract this skepticism.

May 2, 2008

MDG Goal 4 Presentation Response

Sarah and Krista's project addressing Goal 4 (Reduce child mortaility) was a very informative presenation. The statistics they brought to the table were really quite shocking; a common piece of all of our presenations. The fact that 13,054 children die in the time we were in lecture today was particularly eye-opening. In discussing Sierra Leone's under-5 mortaility rate of 270 deaths per 1000 children, the group clearly defined the problem as a serious crisis. The widespread threat of Malaria lacking anything of ample magnitude currently being done to truly remedy the problem was well-defined by the group and solutions thoroughly analyzed. 39% of the population using inadequate sanitation facilities and 80% not using mosquito nets can easily be remedied; the group had some excellent points to make here. It really struck me when they explained how the problem and its solutions are widely-known, and that the acutal execution of these solutions is the real challenge. It was the simplicity of the solutions that really caused me to wonder why this country is still experiencing the crisis of child mortality. An adequate amount of mosquito nets, nutritious food, and immunizations would solve this problem. It really isn't that costly or complex. It simply takes people and/or governments to have a heart and take action to help their brothers and sisters in need. This is very much like the problems we addressed in our project; sustainable building strategies are widely known and have already been brought to the table, so our challenge was to convince our audience that these sustainable solutions CAN feasibly be applied to high-density urban housing. I enjoyed how they included a set of organizations to join and actions that can be taken by "the common man." Their group was unique in this, as the rest of us focused more on what can be done by governments, architects, and those in charge. I think their message reached the audience at a more personal level than the other presentations.

Overall, I really liked how the group organized their presentation: beginning with a well-defining the problem, followed by a thorough listing of possible solutions and an in-depth analysis of a few key solutions, and finally, ending with what they foresee as the benefits of the execution of these solutions. It was very much how we chose to organize our project, and I felt it worked well in all of the projects that chose to do so. I commend the group, and everyone who presented today, for a very thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the Millenium Development Goals. I hope that our audience of peers took our call to action to heart. We all learned alot in our own research as well as that of the other groups. To be honest, I didn't even really know what the Millenium Development Goals were before this class. I now feel that I know enough to educate others about them, which I hope to have the further opportunity to do in the future; be it in the formal sense at my church or something, or just in conversation with a few curious people.

In addition....
I just viewed the video today when I opened Ozayr's email. It was very well done! Great job, group! You found some great images to document the problem at hand, playing well with the emotional sensory qualities of well-chosen image and sound.

May 1, 2008

4/30/08 Service Learning

Today was one of the last days of class for the current rotation in Mr. Mat's class. The kids were working on their final project on the laptops and on finishing up homework assignments. Most kids were working on the projects and didn't need much help. I spent the hour today helping a girl on a homework assignment from a few days ago which was assigned a day that she missed class. Since she missed class, I taught her the material she missed, dealing with statistics and its representation through circle and bar graphs. She was a little rusty when it came to compass and protractor use for drawing the circle graphs, so we spent a good portion of the hour working on angles and their measurements. Just before I had to leave, she finished the assignment, though. It was really fun teaching her an entire lesson on my own. I am used to just clarifying information they had already been taught in class and helping them problems with little details, but today offered me the unique opportunity of doing some actual 'teaching' rather than just helping. It was really a rewarding experience to know that I helped her get caught up so that she will do well on the final exam and project. If I hadn't been there today, she probably wouldn't have gotten the one-on-one attention that I was able to give her, as Mr. Mat was very busy jumping around answering questions about the requirements for the final project.