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August 31, 2007

And so it Begins

Greetings All,

I have enjoyed our discussions thus far and have found them to be most helpful. Here, for your pre-Labor Day Weekend reading pleasure, is version 1.2 of my Hypothesis and Thesis Statement.


I returned from studying in Biloxi, MS encouraged by the work dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina I participated in and observed. I was encouraged to see architects and designers offering their services to people who would not usually be able to afford those services yet were in need of them. Returning to Minnesota, I did not know where to look to find an opportunity to do a similar type of work. I began to wonder what a humanitarian practice of architecture for those unable to purchase design services would look like. Questions began to surface such as: How does one go about forming a practice around this idea? Who will the client be? Who will fund the projects? Can the current model of practice be used to this end or must a new model be made? The peoples of the world have many needs and problems for which the skills of an architect can be of assistance in reliving, yet it seems that the general practice of architecture serves those needs in a piecemeal way at best.

Thesis Statement:

The praxis of architecture should provide design services to those who, though unable to pay for them, need assistance meeting their basic human needs.

I hope you all enjoy the long weekend, the last respite before school begins.

August 29, 2007

meeting notes: August 29

For everyone who couldn’t make it (or the people who did come and forgot what was said) here’s what happened last night at the weekly jamboree. We planned to come with the first assignment so that we could get some feedback and focus our ideas before class.

Wonder of wonders … people actually brought their work and ideas to the meeting tonight. Keep reading for a very rough paraphrase of each person's idea and then notes on the discussion we had following it. Also, next week our brave students face a new challenge – the return of formal class schedules – whatever shall they do? Find out at the end!


Hypothesis: American cities suffer from placelessness – they lack identity while hyper-focusing on the future at the expense of the past. The industrial centers which were once the corner stones of burgeoning cities have now been abandoned leaving empty shells. How can we reactivate these spaces to engage with the urban fabric? Critical regionalism lacks in its criticism by focusing on form and context and negating these qualities of a more phenomenological approach

Thesis Statement: "On a building and urban scale, architecture can increase the awareness of a regional identity by selecting projects that highlight the past and point to the future."

Suggestion/Issues: Thinking about things beyond the visual creates a new avenue of research in critical regionalism that addresses the issue in a new way. Might start with a review of the literature but then can move beyond the Framptonian form-focused discussions into the reasons why something is unique to a place. Perhaps dig into the functionality that created a form in the first place. Industrial sites are interesting for this purpose is that they were created for very practical purposes which no longer exist and have left behind shells that need to be dealt with in a new way.


Hypothesis and Thesis Statement: see the full text from yesterday below – I can’t be expected to transcribe and talk at the same time.

Suggestions/Issues: My problem is that my intellectual focus is on waste management and my emotional direction is affordable green housing. How do the two meet? After much brow beating re-concluded that I have to simply state that my interest is based on housing but I have chosen to focus on the waste stream management branch of it.

How can the architectural aspect of this be informed by the perspective of the contractor – when you meet with the GC as an architect you'll have more insight into their point of view and lead to better communication and results of the collaboration. “All built product is waste in transit? – find that quote – FIND THAT GUY!!!!!

Another question raised: what part of the waste stream am I focused on. Can I think of it as the ecology of the building – they whole food chain from everything that goes into it and everything that comes out. Look into the industrial design field of supply chain management– horizontal organization: owning all of one part of the production or vertical integration: controlling everything from raw materials to finished product.


Hypothesis: Based on experience of Biloxi and the aftermath of Katrina, he became interested in the idea of providing architecture services to those not usually able to afford them. How could a humanitarian practice of architecture function in Minnesota?

Thesis Statement: "The praxis of architecture can provide design services that help to meet basic human needs for those unable to pay for those services."

Suggestions/Issues: Service needs to be more of the practice part of the practice of architecture. That doesn't even mean that everyone has to do it but it becomes a greater part of the practice of architecture. Who are the public defenders of the architecture world? Meeting the
humanitarian needs of the world isn't part of the main stream in architecture right now – its just something people do for fun on the weekend if at all. Oddballs and non-architects like Cameron Sinclair may propose it but there is no stream of eager young architects coming out of school to pursue a practice in designing for the under-privileged. It’s simply not in the system. How can it be?

Also, how can this address the rural landscape? Most of what is done in affordable housing is done in an urban context. How about ten people living in a trailer on an Indian reservation? Maybe the focus needed for this topic is a specific group of people that need serving. That doesn't fail to acknowledge the greater problem of activist architecture but it gives a specificity that nods to the EIGHT MONTH nature of this task. Acknowledge the constellation of service problems in the world or America, then choose a specific one to tackle.


Hypothesis: "We have only two modes, complacency and panic." The US, at war with our largest sources of oil, is creating enormous problems that we have as yet neglected to address. We need to deal with peak oil. Our American freedoms are seemingly all dependant on the power of the automobile and the assumption of cheap oil. What is the role of architecture in changing the minds of Americans, who seem to have no idea of how unsustainable their lives are.

Thesis Statement: Now cities are contracting again with people returning to city centers to inhabit new condos and redeveloped loft areas. Minneapolis is an excellent example of this with its revitalized warehouse districts. But residential areas adjacent to the city must also be addressed if the trend is to succeed. Transportation can and should have an impact on res architecture. "This thesis proposes that the architecture of communities on the fringe of the modern city will express the most hopeful aspects of transportation while addressing the needs of the globe through higher density as well as the concerns of the modern American family."

Suggestions/Issues: Basically the suburbs are beginning to collapse back into the city into new and exciting urban neighborhoods. Suburbs themselves are attempting to revitalize and address urban problems. The area that remains unaddressed are the urban fringes; the houses with yards within bus range of downtown (along the former streetcar routes) need architectural advice. What kind of public/commercial building can revitalize those neighborhoods? How can we make that area a viable option between the blossoming high-rise life and the conventional American-dream suburb.

OK, folks, so that’s what we did tonight. At the end of the meeting we concluded that we want to keep this up, at least through the beginning of the semester and that Wednesday night is provisionally a good night to do it on, although subject to alteration. We are going to have a change of venue – stay tuned for email updates.

For next week: assuming that we turn in our first assignments and then get a week to stew while they’re read and commented upon, we can still bring something to the meeting. Justin suggested that we all try to complete a SWOT analysis of our own idea. See last weeks notes if you don’t know what that is. Everyone’s welcome folks. It’s a great schedule too – you’ll be sticking around after studio to got to the reception at the Weismann, then you can just hop on over to meet and pat yourself on the back for having already turned in the first part of your thesis. Look forward to seeing y’all there.

Thoughts on a Hypothesis

After meeting with the Onion group last week, I confronted the harsh reality of composing my thoughts and the responsibility of making decisions...until today, I have successfully set that reality aside. (I think it is on a stick somewhere at the State Fair) To gather my thoughts, I am trying to answer the question posed to me, What a successful thesis is to me? I found myself tapping into the original interests that lead me into architecture: culture and language. So, now I have my passion, which I think is a great start ( for May) and I need to direct it. These thoughts led me to semiology and Charles Jencks, which led me to wanting to shoot my foot. So, I am still thinking...

A first crack...



This spring, the University of Minnesota sent seven students (including myself) on a life-changing ‘study abroad’ journey to Katrina-devastated Biloxi, Mississippi. The clear need for humanitarian efforts to help families in Biloxi and on the Gulf Coast opened my eyes to similar needs unmet here in Minnesota. Biloxi is my inspiration to constantly endeavor.

Working in downtown Minneapolis this summer, I walk the long blocks of Nicollet Mall each day. The street is flanked with shops and bustling with the activity of many business people. But those same long stretches of streets, shops, and business people, house the homeless. On an average walk to and from work, passing eight homeless people isn’t out of the ordinary.

The National Law Center on in 50 cities found that in virtually every city, the city's official estimated number of homeless people greatly exceeded the number of emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces..........[more to come].


__Thesis Statement

“Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor … not only a warm, dry room, but a shelter for the soul.?

[more to come]

August 28, 2007

The First Assignment

OK, folks. We all promised to have something in writing for the meeting tomorrow. Try to bang something out and post if here, even if you aren't going to be able to make it to the Onion. Here's mine.


The building industry is responsible for 35 percent of the waste generated in America each year.

It is still possible to startle friends outside the world of architecture with this statistic, but to design students and professionals it is old hat – so often dinned in our ears that it fails to shock. It has become a byword, a fact. But I don’t believe it ought to be taken for granted.

Construction and Demolition waste totaled an estimated 136 million tons in 1996, as compared with 133 million tons of landfill in Municipal Solid Waste in 2005. But of that MSW stream, a further 97 million tons were diverted to recycling and composting solutions and another 33 million tons were burned for energy harvesting. In the public sector waste management has improved dramatically over the last 30 years. The situation is not perfect, but there is a sense of progress and a common goal that is actively being approached.

So far the building industry has not seriously tapped the potential of waste reduction. Even the low hanging fruit remains unpicked. Industry in general has proved that great advances are possible. The automotive industry has had its first zero waste auto plant up and running for over a year, turning out Subaru’s by the thousand in central Indiana while generating a bi weekly dumpster of office trash. In America we recycle roughly 25% of our building waste (mostly large scale debris ground into fill for further construction projects) while in Germany and Belgium more than half of construction waste is recycled and in the Netherlands an average of 75% of C&D “waste? is reclaimed. This lack of activity and innovation can only be caused by a lack of interest. The American construction industry does not have the effective motivation necessary to change its approach.

Thesis Statement

There are many potential methods for reducing architecture’s contribution to the waste stream. A shotgun overview: Prefabrication, whole or partial, provides a more controlled building environment and makes reuse of leftover materials more feasible. Design for deconstruction takes the relative life spans of individual materials and building program into account and provides for easy reuse of long-lasting components. Adaptive reuse similarly re-purposes certain parts of an existing structure which both keeps the reused mass out of a landfill and negates the need for new building material. Designing with standard units allows for minimal selvage. One simple and easily overlooked option is to make buildings or spaces smaller; less material creates less eventual waste.

Too often sustainability in America is viewed as a good thing … for those who can afford it. What do a few LEED certified houses solve when only 1% of houses are designed by architects? The majority of people continue to live in homes designed by contractors who are uninterested or unaware of the potential of sustainable design. They would regard it as an impractical luxury. However, few, if any, of the above options make a building more expensive or more technologically complex. Waste reduction is a simple, effective and cost effective to make a building greener. By approaching green design from the angle of waste reduction, it is possible to make it more and more immediately cost effective. My thesis proposes that environmentally friendly building techniques can be universally accessible when they are grounded in sound business theory and sensible waste management.

(that wasn't so hard was it?)

August 23, 2007

Getting Started

As we began our foray into the world of the Masters Thesis with our hypotheses and thesis statements, I thought some inspiration to be in order. To that end, the following link provides some examples of how not to start. Unless, of course, you want the next eight months to be a grotesque adventure of epic proportions.

Happy Writing.

August 22, 2007

meeting notes: August 22

For everyone who missed it, we had another productive meeting last night. Everyone went around the table and said what they were thinking about and we gave each other some suggestions for focusing topics and extending research. Justin suggested that we might use a business technique called the SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths / Weaknesses / Opportunities / Threats and allows you to try to predict where your ideas might fail and then address those issues. We'll think about that for next time.

Also for next meeting everyone should try to bring a first draft of their Hypothesis and Thesis Statement. Since its due in less than two weeks anyway this isn't any hardship and it'll be a good kick in the pants to get moving on it for those of us (me!) who've been avoiding it. Looking forward to next week. Same time, same station.

August 16, 2007

Testing the Waters

Well, here goes nothing. I resolved at the end of my first round of observing thesis that I would be doing it all differently when my turn came around. No procrastinating. No excuses. I would tap every resource and try anything to streamline the process and get around the bureaucratic hitches of the school. One of my clearest observations was that people didn’t do enough shared writing and editing and that it would be vital to create some sort of writers group to get through it. Now that my time has actually come, we’ll see how that goes. But I do think it behooves me to go this far with the creation of an informal support network. Thus, in the manner required by our first assignment *due the first day of class, folks*
I propose …

Hypothesis: Architecture students are skittish about writing in general and the writing of a thesis tends to terrify us out of all rationality. We haven’t, as a rule, spent a lot of time translating architecture into words and the prospect of producing a 40-odd page document about it is daunting. Add to that the awe inspiring title of “thesis? and the mind runs to panic. Although class work and the current M Arch system make creating a thesis much easier than it would be without any formal system, we are all nonetheless desperate for more support and guidance.

Thesis Statement: My thesis proposes that an extra-curricular writer support group (this blog) can help us through the process by providing moral support, between-deadline motivation and an external sounding board.

To this end I will also continue to hang out at a coffee shop near campus every Wednesday from 7:00 to whenever working on my thesis and happy to exchange ideas with anyone else who shows up. Look forward to seeing you there.