May 9, 2008

Service Learning


Upon discovering that I would have to do another service learning requirement for this class, I had little reason to be excited. First of all, I could not figure out what on earth volunteering had to do with architecture. I mean, what does helping a kid out with homework have to do with design? This misconception, along with a less than stellar volunteer experience in a previous class made me a little weary of beginning a new volunteer position. However, my view was greatly changed over the course of the semester and my experience.

From the beginning, Augsburg was very welcoming and professional, which helped a lot to remove some of the doubt I had. After making contact with Heidi Anderson at Augsburg, I was able to set up a time that worked perfectly with my schedule, and was introduced to the teacher whose class I would be working with, and given a tour of the school as well. Everybody, from the teachers to the students, treated me with respect and I felt that it was actually appreciated that I was there. Mr. Johnson was extremely easy to work with, and helped me to better understand the student’s issues.

I am very glad to have had the experience of working with such a diverse group of students. Working in an environment such as the one at Augsburg really showed me how our different cultural backgrounds inform our point of view of the world and how it works. I think this was the real point of requiring service experience, so we would have a chance to step out of our own “box? and actually look critically at the world around us. I saw some students who were dealing with issues that I had never been forced to even think about, and it really opened my eyes. I often thought about how much different my learning experience would be if I were forced to do it in a non-native language. Issues such as this definitely change the way someone interprets their environment.

This course stresses the necessity for designers to be able to recognize a problem, then critically analyze it, determining its consequences and importance, and then finally determining how to best address the problem. I feel as if my experience tutoring at Augsburg helped me to be a better designer and following those exact steps. In order to help someone, I first had to figure out what the problem was, and what obstacles were in the way of solving the problem. I then had to determine the best way to help the student overcome the problem, and help them through the process.

Although the semester is over and my requirement is fulfilled, I hope to continue my work at Augsburg Fairview in the fall. The first reason is because I truly enjoyed my experience, and I want to continue to work with the students and teacher. But another reason is that I think it will help me in design. Volunteering has forced me to examine the environment around me much closer, rather than merely accepting it as a constant. I know now that I can have an effect on people and things and can work to change them for the better. I learned that it is the duty of the designer to better the world around him, and this can be done in many more ways than just designing structures. I hope that I can make a difference in my world, even if it is just helping out on some science homework once a week.

May 2, 2008

MDG Presentation (Response 8 & 9)

I was extremely impressed by the presentation done by Kelly Berry and Broc Blegen. The report was on the MDG 8, and it focused specifically on the access to information and communication through the private sector in Somalia. The group did a very good job explaining why the access to information is so important to a developing country, such as Somalia. One good point was because of the political instability, the government couldn't be relied on to provide these services, so it has to be up to companies in the private sector. Three points they covered were mobile phone service, wireless internet, and the fuel to power these things. Since the country is so far behind in information technology, the group decided that it would be best to skip previous technologies, i.e. hard lines, to instead establish wireless technology. According to the group, this wireless technology would actually be more beneficial, less costly, and more environmentally friendly than the alternative. A couple of interesting points that were made was the availability of wireless technology in Kenya has allowed for a better political system, as there was higher voter turnout and less corruption. Also, since there are less restrictions, the country is open to large scale development. The group also showed an example of wireless internet and the $100 laptop to be provided to children, which has shown to be greatly beneficial to the education of the country. Overall, the group's presentation was extremely well thought out and professionally presented. The other group that I would like to talk about was presenting Goal 7, with the focus on improving Minneapolis slums through sustainability. The chief concern put forth in the groups argument was the trend of low income housing being turned into higher priced condos. As a result, the low income residents in the apartments are essentially being kicked out, because they can't afford the new high priced condos. I would agree that there is a lack of enough low income housing in the country, especially quality low income housing. The group then showed how costly the building industry is to the environment and the world's natural resources. I thought that this was a little off topic, since the focus was improving minneapolis slums thought environmental design. It was good though, that they showed some examples of green design applied to housing and how these small changes, such as grey water systems

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April 4, 2008

Cover Pages

So, I couldn't figure out how to show these pages on the blog, but you can download the files as pdfs instead. Download file Download file Download file

March 13, 2008

Sometimes you should judge a book by its cover

Over and over I keep hearing how important the way you present your work is. I know this from personal experience as well. So often I watch a presentation, or see someone’s work, and completely disregard it from the onset because it looks like crap. If the presentation is of poor quality, either through incompetence or laziness, I won’t even bother to pay attention to the material, though it could be really great work. If this is how I look at other’s work, merely as a casual observer, I can only imagine how bad it looks to someone who is in the position to grade or judge the work.


With our research projects taking shape, it is becoming extremely important to begin thinking about how I want others to experience my work. I will be putting a ton of effort and time into the project, so it would be a shame for the work to not be seen because of sloppy presentation.

Obviously, it is about more than just doing a neat job. It isn’t about using expensive paper and design software. However, it is about consciously analyzing every little aspect of the presentation. Even little details, such as typeface become important in presenting your work. (Anyone remember our 1281 TA Ryan’s angry rant about the evils of ComicSans?)

Look at this review from Print Magazine on a new typeface called “Metroscript?


Little details are evidently important enough that a professional design magazine would devote an entire article to one single font.
So how do I want to express my ideas so that viewers are drawn into them, and want to learn more about what I have done? I know that a verbal presentation, or a poster will simply not cut it. Though there could be aspects of both incorporated into my presentation.

Personally, I think the New York Times is a great example of good design. In fact, I was just thinking about it the other day, how it was so clean, organized, - it just looks respectable, which is exactly what you look for when in a newspaper.


Why not create a simple, but eye catching web site? This way, anyone at any time could view my work and still experience it the same way as if I was in the room.
Take for example this site from Frost Design.


(Screen Shot Click On It)

I love how the site is a simple black background with a clean line of images through the center. Each image is a photo of work the firm has done, and by rolling over the image, you can see a larger photo. The web site is effective at getting out the idea, and is appealing to look at.
Personally, I think the New York Times is a great example of good design. In fact, I was just thinking about it the other day, how it was so clean, organized, - it just looks respectable, which is exactly what you look for when in a newspaper.

Why not film a movie? A company could simply create a web site that lists their various accomplishments, complete with photos and everything, telling why you should choose them to work with. But look at what Cahan and Associates did –

It is just a simple, single shot, hand held camera movie of this man explaining his philosophy and why he is different than the rest. But the originality of this way of presenting his pitch exemplifies the uniqueness that his firm represents.

I also love the site The design is so clean, and yet creative. There are no big distractions to keep the viewer from experience the intended subject. Everything is fairly uniform, yet it is visually appealing enough so that you don’t get bored looking at it.

Screen Shot Elevator.tiff
(Screen shot from CLICK IT)

March 6, 2008

Identity Crisis?

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Our identity is defined both subconsciously and consciously by our living environment. The effects of our environment are visible both on a personal level, which is expressed through our personal values, goals, attitudes, and personality, as well as a society. A particular example which I thought high-lights this interconnectedness between architecture and identity is found in Norman Crowe's "Nature and the Idea of a Man-Made World".

Crowe compares European architecture as "cold, quiet, and inwardly focused", while Japanese architecture is characterized as having "open and flowing interiors", as well as "thin walls of sliding screens, and perimeters open to the landscape" (Crowe 64). As a result, both cultures have been shaped partly through their respective designed environments.

A traditional Japanese interior (

                                    Compared to this

mhall1.jpg A traditional European-style house (

It is obvious to most people that Japanese culture and art is vastly different than that of American or European. However, it is probably less obvious to most people that the environment which we live contributes to these differences. What is comfortable for one people may be completely uncomfortable to another. But I am still not entirely convinced that the environment influences cultural behavior, or if it's the other way around. Probably it is a combination of the two.

If I had grown up in a commune-type development in the California desert, or even a single room apartment in New York City with my family, rather than a traditional Midwest home - would I be the same person as I am now? I would really doubt it. I would probably have a drastically different view of social norms and cultural identity. But if we are all similar as human beings, how much different can the environments we live in be?

Is it even possible to adapt to a different built environment than we're used to? Though through our lives we are imbued with a sense of who we are and how to act, feel - essentially, who we are - can we actively (or passively) change who we are?

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I think that it is possible. I mean, people adapt to new situations all the time. Anytime you move to a new city, or change some aspect of your life, you are adapting. Yes, at first it can be difficult to change, but eventually, we become accustomed to it and become situated in our new environment. Though there are probably some extreme situations in which it might not be possible to grow accustomed to, people can change. But I also don't think that we completely lose our previous "identities" that we have acquired through our environment. I think that we learn to reconcile the differences between the old and the new, thus creating even richer, more interesting cultural identities.

March 3, 2008

Living and Learning

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College is stressful. More often than not I have too much to do in too little time. Obviously, sacrifices have to be made. What kind of sacrifices? No, I’m not saying I sacrifice lambs so that I might finish that project on time. But all of us sacrifice either sleep, health, sanity, or just time that could be spent on more important personal things in order to complete our most pressing demands.

Is that paper I finished at 5 am the day it was due the best work I could possibly have done? Hell no! But it was done. In my opinion, school is too focused on deadlines and tests, than actual learning. Learning comes through experience, and nobody actually learns from doing assignments and studying for tests. You do the homework, and study the facts so that you can pass the exam, and never have to worry about that stuff again.

This is why if I wasn’t held back by the constraints of the current educational system, I would spend my time traveling and just really experiencing the world around me. How often to I really see and understand my surroundings? Too often I am just in a hurry to get from one place to the next and everything around me is just stuff in between. I think that in order to make an impact on my environment, it would help to know what that environment is besides a bunch of roads and sidewalks in between my dorm room and French class.

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If I didn’t have to spend so much effort on learning for graded purposes, I would travel the world and learn that way. You can learn so much from experiencing different cultures, and in a way that is more meaningful than reading about them in a book. This is especially relevant to architecture, as a good designer should be very multicultural. Again, you don’t learn from reading or writing, you learn from doing and experiencing.

I want to make a difference in my environment, but I can’t do it sitting in my room. I know that I have to get out and be a part of the real world. It is great that colleges are preparing students to be the best, most employable person they can be, but they are not really educating.

According to the American Heretige Dictionary, the definition of learning is “to gain knowledge, comprehension, or mastery of through experience or study?. (1)

We have failed to remember the “through experience? part and have only relied on the “study?.

Though I feel as if in the several architectural classes I have taken so far at the University have encouraged experience rather than study, my entire educational experience has been through study. I like that I am being challenged to take a proactive role in my education, to explore the world through learning, rather than learn about the world through school.

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February 22, 2008

Blog Prompt #3

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"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich"
- John F. Kennedy (2)

Watch this YouTube video on poverty

I think we fail to fully grasp the pain and suffering felt by those in extreme poverty. This video is definitely difficult to watch, but it serves as a reminder that poverty is more than a condition, it is felt by humanity as a whole.

There are several songs that I think are really great responses to the issue of poverty. Arts and music can be a great vehicle to express the human emotions affiliated with poverty and homelessness.

One such song is the obviously titled "Homeless" on Paul Simon's album "Graceland". The song is really unique as it contains some traditional African words.

The next song is titled "Fake Empire" by The National. I thought the lyrics "We're half awake, in a fake empire" could be applied to the issue of poverty, as we are not fully conscious of the immense problem that many are suffering from, right under our unsuspecting noses. We call ourselves one of the great nations of the world, when in reality, we are a fake empire, oblivious to the problems of the real world.

My third song is "Johnny Ryall" by the Beastie Boys. The song depicts the life of a homeless man, and his daily life. Though we are unable to actually live the life of a homeless person, we can still experience it though music and literature.

Finally, the song I think is most inspirational to me, is "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Otis Redding. My favorite lyrics in the song are

"But a change has gotta come
I'm so tired, so tired of suffering
And standing by myself
And standing up alone"

We can't do it alone.

It is going to take all of us in a unified effort to change the world.

The issue is not whether we should address the issue, but how we are going to do it.

Although it does increase awareness on the issue, artists writing about poverty and homelessness will not bring about changes. We should use these songs and videos as inspiration to get together and finally end this problem once and for all.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

2. The John F. Kennedy Quote Page.

February 18, 2008

A Small Addition

I just saw this article in the New York Times, written by Paul Krugman, and thought it was extremely relevant to my last post. The article talks about the long lasting emotional pain and suffering children who live in poverty face for their entire lives.

February 14, 2008

Blog Prompt #2

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"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (2)

Poverty is a continuing problem plaguing the Twin Cities, and society as a whole. Obviously, the problem is not one easily eradicated. The issue of poverty cannot be solved simply by throwing money at those who are in need, the greater system that leads one into and suppresses their ability to escape poverty.

Another problem with the poverty situation in the Twin Cities is the extreme segregation along racial, cultural, and economic lines. The divide between the rich and poor is as wide as it has ever been, and current policies do not aim to improve this split. For example, the percent of those living below the poverty line in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is 42% in 1999 compared to a 19% city average and a 3% rate in the Kenwood neighborhood (3). Worse still, many of these people suffering from poverty are children and the elderly.

The number of those suffering from poverty in all of Minnesota is over 270,000 alone. With numbers like these, it is obvious that drastic measures must be taken. The poverty line in the United States is just over $18000/year. It is extremely troubling to me to know that there are while so many Americans (or humans in general) are living in poverty, the rest of America is seemingly oblivious to the fact. While most of us encounter poverty on a regular basis, we don't really ever think about how we can help fix the problem, besides maybe throwing a dollar in a bucket. (5)

Referring back to the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, the system which produces poverty must be eradicated. Designers can help with this, because designers look at new ways to solve problems. Though it is not necessarily related to design, designers can use their talents in other ways that are helpful to society.

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February 7, 2008

Blog Prompt #1

In the film "Rivers and Tides", Andy Goldsworthy explores the idea of altering the makeup of his personal environment. Through his artwork, Goldsworthy both directly, and indirectly makes a mark on his surroundings. I thought it was especially interesting that as an artist, Goldsworthy was not concerned about public notoriety, as most of his work was unseen by anyone besides himself. For example, the piece where he constructed the stack of stones on the beach only stood for a day, to be swallowed by the incoming tides. Rather than displaying his art in a gallery, the artist created his work solely to interact with his environment, to become closer to the earth. Although it often was uncomfortable, Goldsworthy explained that he had to use his hands as his main tool, because he needed to connect with his materials, to better feel their natural energy.

Goldsworthy shows that an individual can change the flow of a landscape through design. It is up to the designer to decide if the impact they wish to make alters the landscape in a positive or negative way, that is, to reorganize the land in a way that is most natural. I think that it is only possible to move, push, pull - to alter - rather than create or destroy. Designers do not create something new to a landscape, but rather direct its use and aesthetic appeal.

Therefor, anyone can transform their personal environment and the way energy flows through it. It can be as small as rearranging a pile of accumulated salt on the sidewalk, as Goldsworthy did with the iron dust in the river. Changes can only be made in a positive or negative way, so we must make every effort to change for the former, rather than the latter.