Greetings from "The Haven." I guess I should begin by remarking on the incredibly strange weather here in Southern New England. When I arrived back in New Haven earlier this month, the weather was somewhat balmy. There was a faint tinge of humidity in the air, and I swear I could smell wet leaves in the air. Temperatures hovered in the mid 50's to low 60's, and this made walking to class during these fledgling days of Spring Semester a joy. After that? Rain. Snow. More rain. Even more rain. Some snow. The locks on my trusty 1997 Ford Taurus with Texas plates even froze two weeknds ago. My neighbor, a German PhD student named Martin just smiles and says, "Welcome to New England."
Here at Yale we have what's called a "shopping period" for classes. For the first two weeks, students visit all those classes one may or may not decide to take. I was considering a number of classes within different departments of the University. One particular class offered by the Yale Divinity School, a course on Liturgical Architecture, was of particular interest to me because I was being considered as a potential TA by the professor. Now, I live in Wooster Square, which is east of the Yale Campus and the A+A building, and I had to walk over a mile to the northern reaches of campus, way past the bucolic and sylvanic scapes of Science Hill. The professor mentioned that past TA's were hired as "liturgical consultants" by architects and project manangers -- a consultancy that guaranteed an additional $25,000 per year. At least this is what the professor said, and although the prospect of making $25,000 a year just to explain to a client the manipulation of spaces that occur within a church, synagogue, or mosque seemed attractive, I felt somewhat relieved that I did not end up getting this TA position -- this assignment would require me to get up at a ridiculously early hour in the morning just to make it to class. But on the other hand, the last Architecture student who TA'd the class is now designing a Zoroasterian Fire Temple somewhere in Illinois. Don't ask me about Zoroasterianism -- I have no idea what it is.
As for the other classes, I "shopped" two classes in the History Department -- one called "Science, Arms and the State," taught by a likeable History of Science postdoc fellow named Peter Westwick; the other was a class taught by a French historian, Bruno Cabanes, called "The Aftermath of War in the Twentieth Century." So, why all this interest in war, and what does it have to do with architecture?
If you recall, my MED research here at Yale concerns the Allied bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan during World War II, and in particular, I am interested in the damage caused to the built environment during this process. The literature on this subject is surprisingly specious, and most of it is in the form of reports by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey and other military organs -- for an idea as to what the USSBS actually did, check out Peter Galison's article "War Against The Center," published in Grey Room sometime in 1993.
I was also assigned two advisors for my project: Alan Plattus and Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen. Plattus is a senior faculty member at the Yale School of Architecture, and as the head of the "urbanism and landscape" section here at Yale, he seemed an ideal choice for an advisor. Pelkonen is the coordinator of the MED program, and along with Plattus, the two will surely provide some important guidance on how to navigate important postwar archival materials that deal with the built environment.
And I finally ended up with a schedule that I was happy with. As of now, my final schedule includes a two classes in the School of Architecture. "Contemporary Architecture Theory" is a required course for me, and it is taught by the eminent associate dean of our School, Peggy Deamer. She is an incredibly articulate and thoughtful lecturer, which is truly welcome, as our course materials call for this. We begin with Marx, Nietszche, and Freud, and as of today, have covered the luminaries of the Frankfurt School (Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin), as well as the writings of German aesthetic theorist Peter BÃ¼rger.
My other class within the School of Architecture is called "21st Century Infrastructures", and is taught by a young, bright professor named Hilary Sample. I am not sure about her resume, but I believe that prior to coming to Yale, she was the Peter Reyner Banham Fellow at SUNY-Buffalo. The class is equally footed in mapping techniques as well as graphic design, and we are asked to interrogate as well as represent different types of infrastuctures that are indelibly woven into contemporary megacities. For the semester, my job is to use the techniques and theories in the class to create maps of Mexico City. The class is taught as a studio, with juries, pin-ups and the like. Because I am not an architect, this will be a new experience for me. I promise to fill you in on that later.
I am also taking a small seminar in the History of Art department called "Histories of Modern Architecure", taught by a brand-new Harvard PhD named Sean Keller. The materials in the class are familar: Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Philip Johnson, Niklaus Pevsner, Siegfried Giedion, Reyner Banham, Vincent Scully, Colin Rowe, Manfredo Tafuri -- authors of all your favorite texts on Modern Architecture. What is unusual about the class is that we read their work in excrutiating detail, the purpose being not only to mine the theory that underlies their works, but to understand how they engage the subject of architecture history. For example, this past Monday, I led a discussion about Siegfried Giedion and Bruno Zevi. I actually read all of Giedion's Space, Time and Architecture. Although I know about the book, I had never actually read it. And reading it closely to determine what Giedion did right and wrong was an education in itself. Everyone out there should do this. Take a book by your favorite architect and read it closely. What is he or she actually doing? Is it spot-on or is it total b.s.
And lastly, some really good news: I am a teaching fellow in the Department of History of Art here at Yale. I get to teach and lead sections for a huge undergraduate course about modern architecture called "Architecture Since 1945." This will be a lot of work, but it does pay somewhat hansomely, and at least it will provide me with some valuable teaching experience. More on this later, and in general, more later.