A lot has happened since school began two weeks ago. I've put off writing this first blog of the semester because I didn't want it to be full of insults””words that would inevitably make their way back to the dean, as did those of a fellow blogger in the past. So, I'm going to be careful in the following paragraphs.
There are photos at the bottom of this, so if you want to skip the rant, please do so and enjoy the photos instead.
Since this is my last year at Yale, I am now entitled to take the “advanced studios,” so-called because they assume a certain level of competence on our part, as well as a certain level of rigor on the part of the instructor. Who one has as a studio instructor is determined by how one plays the student-run studio lottery. I am very bad at the lottery. Once I missed it entirely. This time around I stayed up all night with a friend who was moving to Germany the next day, and so arrived at school groggy but excited. I listened to the speeches of the various instructors, some of which were better than I expected (Bridget Shim) and others worse. When the proceedings ended, I filled out my lottery form and promptly turned it in. Then I went to Sterling library and fell asleep in their cushy fiction reading room overlooking a quaint interior courtyard. This was a mistake. Other students stood around and talked about how many points they would give to their least favorite instructor. (More points = less desirable) It turns out””and for the life of me I don't know why I didn't know this already””the studios are filled back to front. That is, the committee adds up all the points and lists the studios from least popular to most popular. Then they look to see who gave the fewest points to the least popular instructor over-all. Each student has 25 points to dole out among six instructors, with your favorite choice receiving a zero. This year, one had to give 10 points or more to get out of the least popular studio””a record amount, I believe. I gave 9. If I had stayed and talked to people more, I would have seen the point inflation taking place and adjusted my points accordingly. But all I wanted to do was sleep!
My studio instructor is Leon Krier. I've been heckled a bit so far on this blog by angry anti-ivy people, so for anyone who went to Notre Dame out there let me first say that yes, he is an incredibly intelligent and original architect. However, I am not interested in this studio””our site is colonial Williamsburg and we are being forced to use the “lexicon” of colonial America to represent our modern-day designs. I find this outrageous and hypocriful and just plain idiotic. It's funny, because if this were a studio about traditional Scandinavian architecture or Japanese architecture, no one would mind. That's because those traditions are more stream-lined and it's easy to appreciate the use of materials and joinery and craft in these structures. Colonial architecture is none of these things. Yes, it is built with wood and brick, but it's all derivative from the English tradition and is more about playing social games than building inspiring original buildings. I'd rather study farm houses. Anything.
I tried to get out of this studio and switch into the next least popular one, which only has 9 students instead of 10 (and no women), but it was a no-go. My choice was either to drop out for a semester and try again in the spring, or deal with the situation. I stayed. (Dropping out late also means having to re-apply to the school, if you can believe that. It's a very unsupportive policy. What if my parents had died””should I be punished for dropping out then?)
One thing that's different about this studio and which none of us were suspecting is Leon's new-found fixation on the end of fossil fuels. He has us reading James Kunstler's The Long Emergency. Here's a review from Publisher's Weekly on amazon's website:
“The indictment of suburbia and the car culture that the author presented in The Geography of Nowhere turns apocalyptic in this vigorous, if overwrought, jeremiad. Kunstler notes signs that global oil production has peaked and will soon dwindle, and argues in an eye-opening, although not entirely convincing, analysis that alternative energy sources cannot fill the gap, especially in transportation. The result will be a Dark Age in which "the center does not hold" and "all bets are off about civilization's future." Absent cheap oil, auto-dependent suburbs and big cities will collapse, along with industry and mechanized agriculture; serfdom and horse-drawn carts will stage a comeback; hunger will cause massive "die-back"; otherwise "impotent" governments will engineer "designer viruses" to cull the surplus population; and Asian pirates will plunder California. Kunstler takes a grim satisfaction in this prospect, which promises to settle his many grudges against modernity. A "dazed and crippled America," he hopes, will regroup around walkable, human-scale towns; organic local economies of small farmers and tradesmen will replace an alienating corporate globalism; strong bonds of social solidarity will be reforged; and our heedless, childish culture of consumerism will be forced to grow up. Kunstler's critique of contemporary society is caustic and scintillating as usual, but his prognostications strain credibility.” http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0871138883/qid=1126623388/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/103-5651536-6435833?v=glance&s=books
Remember the fireman in I heart Huckabees? That's right! Leon is that guy.
But will we accept this apocalyptic scenario as an excuse to build futzy little towns few people (in America) truly want to live in?
I'm all about a walk-able, bike-able city, sure. But that's why I see myself living in Europe. Americans don't seem to like each other enough to live in walking distance from their next door neighbor, let alone within shouting distance from an entire self-sustaining community. If you bring up a metropolis like New York as an example of density and walk-ability in action, you'll get shot down, since New York is “density out of control,” “an exception which can never be the rule,” and of course don't forget that “skyscrapers are immoral.” That's right, kids. Just stop building tall buildings altogether. If you think cities are humanity's worse contribution to the health of planet earth, read David Owen's New Yorker article Green Manhattan: Why New York is the Greenest City in the U.S. Here's a link: http://www.greenbelt.org/downloads/resources/newswire_11_04GreenManhattan.pdf
Of course, without fossil rules, cities would crumble... but I happen to be an optimist when it comes to developing alternative energy sources...
Which leads me to the fun part of this blog””the other advanced studios. If we take Leon's new view of the world then we should all be taking Australian Glenn Murcutt's studio. He's actually teaching his students how to build better buildings””they're going crazy with hydrology right now. The site is an abandoned mine in Vermont.
I noticed that the books on people's desks say a lot about the nature of the studio they're in. Here's a Murcutt student's desk:
The Story of Vermont
The Nature of Vermont
Versus an Eisenman Student:
S,M,L,XL and Schinkel
The Plattus “China” planning studio:
The Urban Wilderness
(Black and White Photography””for variety)
Diana Balmori's and Joel Sanders's students have no books, but I did see this cool model:
The Gang studio is going to Chicago:
Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis
Labor's Untold Story
The Devil in the White City
Mother Jones (I guess that's an anthology)
The Shim studio is going to Toronto:
But you wouldn't know it... these are actually kind-of random.
Charlotte is learning Maya.
Here she is, learning:
Even with a broken foot, she goes on... her studio is on the top floor and the elevators break down regularly. Fortunately she only weighs 100lbs, so someone could carry her up... not sure if I'm strong enough though. Sorry, Char-char.
That leaves us, the Krier Studio:
Hark Upon the Gala, about William and Mary
The Buildings of Colonial Williamsburg
The Public Buildings of Williamsburg
White Pines””a series of books with colonial moldings etcetera
Leon's Choice or Fate, urban landscapes imbued with a phantasmagoria of platonic forms.
More White Pines.
My own desk””it's kind-of like a cubicle without walls.
My own books””the heart of the matter.
Violence and the Sacred, which Leon recommended to me but I don't know why (It's French anthropology from 1923)
The Long Emergency, which I just started last night.
The Classical Language of Architecture, a series of BBC radio lectures from 1966
Starving for Embarassing Architecture; totally unrelated art-arch project out of L.A.
This is the 4th floor pit. It's so clean.
A never-ending post-pro studio.
This is a photo from a big-ass party we had the other night, the first of the year and usually the best. Can't show you too much... again, it'll get back to the dean (but there were lots of half-naked men).