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September 24, 2006

Architecture 1701 - Social Design Issue

I have a problem with my high school. With a mere six years under its belt, one would think it had everything a student, staff member, principal, or teacher would want. Wrong.

Hastings High School is laid out in a very practical way but more importantly, it is quite beautiful. Each day was the same old boring day, though, and that is where the architect flawed: he/she should have worked with students to design the building. The core classes are all by the lockers on three floors stacked on top of each other, and each floor is broken up into three pods: A, B, and C. Each pod on each floor looks exactly the same, aside from a sign on top of the cluster of rooms that says a letter. The gym is completely on the other side of our building, and the music department has their own section away from the pods. All these things have created practicality, normality, and actually a very monotonous day. Each bathroom looks exactly like the next, and so on and so forth.

Now, I realize that our school probably didn't have the budget to go nuts with decorations and mixing things up, but architecture in my mind deserves to stay away from mass production. It deserves the respect to go beyond normal, even for a high school. It really comes down to a question of how the building was laid out. First of all, (for the interests of practicality) classes should be designed according to their typical size and purpose. To some extent that exists, there is a kitchen for instance in the food science room, but why on earth are the health classes the same size as the honors English writing classes, or the drawing 3 classes?! That is ridiculous. We barely ever fit in those tight health rooms with forty kids! And whosever idea it was to make the parking lot a thousand miles away from the high school front doors should be in design jail. They obviously have never been outside in a Minnesota February before!!

The design of this building should have been thought out more clearly. It's not as if we should have had amazing interior architectural design to create beauty and diversity, because what we are very blessed with in Hastings High School is our fine arts program. The designer (having known that if he had talked with students and teachers) should have laid out the building with this in mind, and instead of having math and science classrooms by each other, they should sprinkle in a few like drawing 1, German, photography, choir, English as a second language, ceramics, band, or something to that extent. Walking by these classes would make the day so interesting that even if the kids aren't taking those classes, at least the mathletes can socialize with the art kids and get a taste of the other side of the planet for once.

Like I said, we had enough beauty at Hastings High School to "decorate" with. We didn't need a million dollar bridge connecting the gym area with the classroom area. That was an expensive “wow this really looks cool� thing. Maybe if the bridge went from one classroom, over the drawing room, into the lunch room it would have had purpose, substance, and creativity all at the same time.

The lesson architects can learn from instances like these is that there is psychology involved in architecture. If architects keep studying practicality and "making things look cool" they will get nowhere. The two have to be intertwined. When designing a school, an architect should be diverse and knowledgeable in each specific school study (social, English, art, mechanics, choir, math, etc) to know that needs are met. If he is not, he must find a team of architects and/or students that would give him first hand experience in the matter.

This simple example of a "less boring and dull" day really seems like an unnecessary change and is probably commonly overlooked, but if the students/teachers/staff had a layout as I mentioned above, their worlds would be powerfully impacted. Career ideas would change, more people with different backgrounds would interact, and there would be more appreciation for the other subjects in school, because to get through the day you would get a taste for them all. The possibilities would have been endless, because architecture is always powerful. Architecture doesn’t have to be expensive; if it meets practicality’s needs, uses what is already given in a new way, and is pleasing to be around, it is successful.

September 16, 2006

Midtown: ironically in the middle of nowhere.

As my hour long hike from the light rail to the unknown whereabouts of this "Midtown" place, I said to myself, "Self, why is it, do you think, that we weren't assigned a nice little place on campus to observe this so-called flowing energy thing?" The answer was only a few blocks ahead of us by this point, until the gigantic building came into view at the very last second. As I entered the market, I was immediately hit with the element of surprise. It was like a juicy oasis in the middle of a long, dusty, barren, under-construction section of the city. This was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The type of energy at the Midtown Market was physically obvious, the colorful lights illuminated the otherwise dull warehouse of a place into a festive block of cultures all melted and meshed into one another. I could have sworn I had been through China, Greece, India, and Mexico all in the same two minutes. Mid chinese food, I realized that I had to observe for my blog, and not just for fun! I began to search around for different lights and decided that it was way too obvious of an answer. What had stopped me from remembering why i came there was exactly the thing that i needed to talk about in my blog! Energy was being transfered from people to people everywhere in this place! Energy wasn't all physical, but more of a feeling. This feeling was the shock I had upon entering this place, the feeling of awe I had at all of the diversity and smiling faces, and the accomplished feeling of satisfying a specific craving and hunger. As Claire and I fed off our plates, the diverse cultures and the different people feed off of eachother (in a figurative sense of course) to create a massive energy source that kept people (like myself) entranced.

After I decided my discovery was quite meaningful and probably a better answer than "colored lightbulbs" I began to think of examples of uses, creations, and exchanges of this vibrant energy. The creation took place in the hearts of people, and came out as jewelry, rugs, food, music, candy, or clothing. Starting a conversation or sharing a smile was a simpler way to create energy, and to carry out with the flowing and exchanging of it. The use of this energy was clearly to fuel other people's needs to learn about these cultures. I left feeling that I would be back very soon. It wasn't the chinese food I had been craving after all, but this conscious flow of energy in the cultural expression. This energy would be used to spread knowledge to all other cultures, and to express their pride in their history and country.

Claire and I walked back feeling amazed. We arrived back home so fast that it was hard to believe how long it took to get to the market. All of the facial expressions, friendly conversations, passionate art, and cultural depth really refreshed the part of me that was getting bored with life. The aesthetics in the place just took me to a whole new level of appreciating the little things. After all, it was only a market, for crying outloud! Claire and I were in the end very pleased with the whole day, and so I decided to make it a goal of mine to get out at least once a week an explore more places off and on campus, and just sit and absorb the little things that aren't so obvious unless one listens for them.