Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still live-blog here once in a while.

  • Live Blogging Bjarke Ingels with Preston Scott Cohen

    Hello Archinect!

    Please bear with me for an experiment tonight, as I attempt to live blog Scott Cohen's discussion with Bjarke Ingels. Even this late in the semester, the house is packed and the mood is buoyant. Not, the consensus seems to be, because Bjarke is that important of an architect, but because he's that entertaining, and watching him spar with Scott just might be the best show of the semester.

    We want a K.O., Scott! No winning on a technical, okay? Okay, go!

    6:35 pm

    PSC: We have tonight Bjarke, who agreed to... [PSC chuckles]...subject what will hopefully be another critical discussion.

    6:40 pm

    BI: I actually always hated Philip Johnson, I don't think he's a good architect. But I appreciate his willingness to embrace anything--

    PSC: You really don't think he's a good architect?

    BI: I went...with Barry Bergdoll on a visit to the Glass House, and the detailing was horrible. Once, Mies was there and was pointing out all the faults. He refused to sleep in the guest house and had to be driven to a hotel.

    6:45 pm

    PSC is asking BI why he included Darwin in his book: "What is this about the survival of the fittest, because I want to ask you something about that?"

    BI: ...Only those specimens that have enough desirable attributes to survive long enough to mate, only they make it. And it's like that in our office: we make models and we literally try to mate them. And some of the offspring are hopeless misfits or abortions, but others-- well, instead of taking things and separate them into different boxes, I like to deal with the overlap, to find a whole fertile territory there--to not keep things in different camps.

    PSC: But this whole idea of having camps. You don't have them [in Denmark]. You're inventing your own opposites and then resolving them.


    6:50 pm

    BI: But in my mind, a compromise is a situation where everyone is unhappy. So instead of forcing everyone to be unhappy...because when you add so much program, there's so much going on that a standard solution won't work. It's like an architectural game of twister. You know, that social game where you have to put your head between your--

    PSC: But do you want the author to be-- [BI checks his iPhone] --present or absent?

    BI: We don't want to force preconceived notions on the world, because the world is already happening, so we have to find a way to channel these energies of the world within the form of the world. And we are...the midwives.

    PSC: Yes, that's what I had in mind. I thought you were interested in midwifery. But if that [the slide shows the People's Building in Shanghai, which looks like the Chinese character for "people"] is not willful--I mean, you can't say that's just the result of forces.

    image [People's Building in Shanghai]

    BI: ...So you know, the giraffe has a long neck and the turtle has a shell... And there's sexual selection too. Take the peacock. There's nothing more inefficient than dragging this giant tail around, but you know, the girls like it. And it works. And the girls think he must be a very strong and healthy individual to drag that tail around.

    PSC: OK, but this is the old model of the architect, the singular heroic architect who [enacts existing power structures]. And to do that in China, where power is centralized... what does that mean? This is China. I mean, what do you think I'm doing there? I know what it's like. And you're there too.

    BI [I'm not sure if Bjarke tried to answer this question, but he segued quickly into the following]: ...So one of the other main aspects of evolution is migration. So there was a fish, and then it had flippers, and then it had legs. And in this project, at one point we had the promenade going through the legs... but it [didn't work] and we refined it later.

    image [Ledoux]

    PSC: You have said before that at first you were uncomfortable with the literalness of this building as a character, but that later you embraced it. Is that right? [...] And you continue with this idea of the enormous form. And I'm curious about the lineage here, and it doesn't have so much to do with [mating one thing with another] but with this: Ledoux' idea of architecture parlante, the idea that architecture speaks. And then the next step literally makes architecture into text [the slide is Johann David Steingruber, an 18th century German architect who made plans in the form of letters]. And the next step is this: [a slide of a contemporary project in the form of letters].

    image [Johann David Steingruber]

    And you're making the next step after that. [...] It [isn't language], it isn't a logo. I would argue it's just a representation of a logo, because it isn't performing as a logo does. So what does it mean to you for architecture to be literally figured as symbols? I mean, you are invested in this. It's a pure semiotic--

    BI: Well [...] we simply couldn't resist. Instead of having these respond purely to developer needs...

    PSC: But what if these weren't legible? What if they were inscrutable? Like Steingruber, he hides the letter in the plan. You don't see it. You could have done that--like Koolhaas does--and made the shape lose its legibility. They're still interesting shapes. You can't say Koolhaas' shapes aren't interesting. Why are yours so literal? And the way they all look like cartoons, it's part of the...gestalt...

    BI: I mean, you start with a masterplan, and you try to imbue it with a symbolic force...

    PSC: But where there is a need to represent power, frankly, especially in the Chinese context, you make it into a figure.

    BI: But the mountain itself leads to iconography. [Explaining something about a perimeter block.]

    PSC: But there's a big difference between a perimeter block and a building that looks like a mountain, Bjarke.

    BI: What is the difference? A building that looks like a mountain is a type.

    PSC: That's where we disagree. [audience laughter] You make a building in a turkey shape, and you fill it up with architecture. Type is what fills up cities; it's the gray goo that you're talking about. How can you say that they're the same thing? Come on. Let's look at Steingruber. There is nothing here that is outside of its type; it's beautiful. But this [turning towards a Robert Somol diagram] is you: you take a shape, and then adapt to it. I don't think you can claim that your shapes are the result of forces.

    image [One of Bjarke's videos]

    7:20 pm

    Having taken that line of inquiry as far as it was going to go (and probably a bit farther), Scott is letting Bjarke present his work for a few minutes. Bjarke is now back in his element, and immediately shows a striking video showing a sequence of some 92 different forms plugged into a site model. He is talking about iterating (or in his words, "mating"...). He's making a case for how his forms aren't willful from the beginning, even though the end result looks so willful, but rather, that the forms evolve as they work through the needs of the project.

    image [Part of the series of diagrams for the Copenhagen project]

    Turning to another project, Bjarke is explaining how in Copenhagen, instead of expressing diversity by creating "a kind of faux streetscape of townhouses," they thought about the programmatic diversity, and stacked apartments on top of commercial spaces at the ground level, but allowed for a setback and green space, and then stacked other things on top of that, etc. And he goes through a series of operations on this figure-eight perimeter block diagram, which becomes a building accessed through a winding street that wraps up along the entire figure eight. I'm not sure if this still acts exactly like a street (in its publicness, its diversity, its degree of animation), but it's a pretty incredible project. Or maybe I'm just wowed by the cheerful diagrams and the video.

    image [Copenhagen project]

    7:42 pm

    Bjarke wants to show us one last thing: a drive- and fly-by video of a new project for which he's just applied for excavation permits. He describes it as a mating between a European type (of the courtyard apartment) and an American type (of the tower). The soundtrack is Jay-Z's 'Empire State of Mind'! The whole presentation has been over the top, but this takes it.

    Scott is turning it over to questions now.

    Student question: I love comics books, and when I read Tintin as a kid, I'd always turn to the back to find out what the next title is. So what's next?

    BI: It's the evil twin of the first book.

    PSC: More is Less?

    BI: I can't say. I signed a non-disclosure agreement.

    7:50 pm

    The tone just got a bit serious: In response to another student question, BI is describing the influence of Douglas Coupland on him. He's saying that Coupland monitors aspects of life, pays attention to culture, and somehow gives it back to us. And Bjarke is making the case that architecture is that which mobilizes certain aspects of daily life in a way that, once you've seen it, you can't shake it off.

    Another audience question: This is in reference to your figure-eight building [in Copenhagen]. You've only talked about the evolution of your buildings before they're built. But what about after?

    BI: In a way, the architect's job is over when you hand over the keys. But we're very interested in what happens when social life takes over our projects. That's just not where our commissions come from.

    PSC: Bjarke, I think we're getting close to a...concluding condition here. But do you have any last comments? If you have any thoughts about the future--

    BI: I think the bottom line of our explorations so far is have the demand to come up with stuff constantly. As an architect, you get called, and you have to pull something out of your...rear end, or wherever it comes from. But there's a constant process--and you don't have to look for something mystical to arrive at something interesting. If you look and listen carefully, the world is full of interesting things. If you can relegate yourself to the role of the midwife and be conceptually promiscuous enough to embrace different things, then it is limitless.

    Show's over! Scott definitely won on technical (i.e. the theory), but with his diagrams, slick videos, and enthusiastic language, Bjarke held his own, on his own terms. A good time was had by both the Bjarke-lovers and the Bjarke-haters and now, now... I must get back to studio.

    We have a pin-up tomorrow; it's "just an internal pin-up" but the internal critic is Dean Mostafavi.

    Thanks for reading!

    P.S. For a taste of Bjarke:

    [Addendum as of 11/11/10: I should add that since I was blogging this live, the deviations in my text, from the actual words spoken, are probably a bit greater than usual. I don't check my texts against audio recordings, so it's a bit imprecise, but I always do my best to represent both the overall sense and the specific language whenever possible.]

  • Krieger: "reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated"

    Never met the man but I like him already: Anyways, the conference next week is sure to be packed, for all the wrong reasons. You know I'll be there.

  • midterm

    Hello Archinect! While digging through my photos, I found this: Turns out I did go to Neil Denari's lecture after all! Here, Neil is showing his competition entry for the Maribor Museum of Art and Scott is pressing him about the window openings. Why, he was asking, does this window have a rounded...

  • On the Flagship with Preston Scott

    Election day is as good a day as any for partisanship, so I thought I’d share with you the conversation I had with our department chair, Preston Scott Cohen, as he set up for his presentation in our studio this afternoon: PSC: So what have you blogged lately? LC: The new desks…and...

  • In defense of homasote

    Hello Archinect, Wow, such modernists here! I've been following the comments to my post about our new workspaces and--partly because I know that outsiders' impressions of our school often align with these comments--feel compelled to use this space to respond. I have to say that just because...

  • Lessons from the Superfly Machine

    Hello Archinect!The greatest thing just happened at the GSD.My day so far has been: counting square feet of programmed space in my building, constructing a spreadsheet and making charts in excel, being given way too much information about the various algorithms that V-Ray uses for rendering light...

  • The GSD took my desk away and all I got are these crummy drafting dots.

    Hello Archinect! At the beginning of September, I promised to write about our new workspaces, but as we settled in, I actually started to like them and found it less pressing to itemize for you just how many square inches we lost (although for the record, it seems to be about 1300 square inches...

  • Edible

    Hello Archinect! Time for a head-to-head. Here are photos of the two recent food-and-architecture events that I attended: MXT at McGill University School of Architecture, and Three States of Hors d'oeuvres by the GSD's Project on Spatial Sciences. MXT by Alberto Pérez-Gómez and team...

  • It's not about the words this time

    Image by Alberto Pérez-Gómez, as displayed during the MXT event at McGill University School of Architecture, September 16-17 2010. Will post more on this event soon. Thanks for looking! Lian

  • Out with the old, in with the new

    Hi Archinect! We did another quick charrette two weeks ago, studying a selected interior space for our community performing arts center. I chose the lobby, and was interested in how an interior space can set up a transition to, and experience of, the exterior. (We were instructed to make "rough"...

  • Bicycles in Montreal

    Hi Archinect! I went back to visit McGill two weekends ago. It's hard to express what it means to feel so much at home in a place, but maybe I can just say that there's no place like Montreal. Lian

  • Three States of Hors d'oeuvres

    Hi Archinect! Guest blog this week from some of my friends in the MDESS, MLA, and upper-year MArch programs, who are embarking on the injection of the GSD into the arts-science-technology-design-branding fest that is the Lab at Harvard. Their exhibition is opening at 8:30 pm on October 7, 2010, at...

  • He said they should be rough.

  • To the ends of the earth...and back

    Hi Archinect! I was planning to write some long, thoughtful posts over the summer, digesting and meditating on my first-year experiences at the GSD, but it turns out that what I really needed was just a break from the school routine. I definitely got that, as did most of my classmates...

  • China!

    Hi Archinect! In a week and a day I'll be en route to Beijing for my one month trip to Beijing, Shanghai, and a number of smaller places in between. The trip is funded my my alma mater, McGill School of Architecture, with the only condition being that I bring back materials to hold an exhibition...

  • Career Discovery

    Hi Archinect! I'm making my guilty face again because it's been a while since I've written, but... The semester ended well enough for me, and since then it's been fun and busy and all over the place. I went on vacation with some friends to Washington DC and NYC, spent time with family in Boston...

  • School's out!

    Hello Archinect! It's late May. Theses have been defended (congrats everyone)! The yard has been set up with chairs and tents for graduation. The graduating students' posters are being put up. The trays are being cleared out and cleaned up for graduation ceremonies in the GSD. The first tray is...

  • What it Takes

    Have you read this recent New York Times piece by David Brooks? The questions he raises have been on my mind lately, and I'm hoping to write about career and life decisions and choices (in the Ivy Leagues and in the architectural profession) over the coming weeks. Until then, what do you think?...

  • Richard Meier Model Museum

    Hello! Last Thursday I had the chance to represent Archinect (thanks, Archinect!) at a press tour of the Richard Meier Model Museum, which is reopening for the summer 2010 season. Apparently Mr. Meier is recovering from hip surgery so wasn't entirely his normal voluble self, but we did get to hear...

  • Game on.

    Hello Archinect, Ten days to go in studio this semester. I had a breakthrough yesterday, finally realizing how to phrase my guiding concept, and how I can use it to shape my process. While I'm a bit nervous because it's so late in the game--basically the last week of a five week project--I also...


    Hello Archinect! So, we like algorithms at the GSD. Not only in design, but in optimizing options studio and electives lotteries, and--apparently--in the naming of lecture series. And I've cracked the code. Recent major conferences and lecture series have been called: Critical Ecologies Ecological...

  • In Which Elizabeth Diller Accuses Us of Being Modernist

    Hello Archinect! Tonight's Return of Nature event was called "The Nature of Information" and featured Liz Diller and Antoine Picon. This was at once the most lucid and the most light-hearted evening in the series. (There were also some unintentionally funny moments: at one point, Scott Cohen said...

  • What should I ask Rafael Moneo?

    The lottery gave me one of two student seats at dinner with Rafael Moneo tomorrow night, after his lecture. What should I ask him? Lian [Addendum: The lecture was great. It was called "Design Conditioned by Circumstance: The Advantages of Obstacles for the Architect." Michael Meredith described it...

  • details and grass and jobs

    Hi Archinect! Since it's about that time again, I just wanted to share a few things about this school, and the M.Arch.I program, that would have surprised me at this time last year: 1. Building Construction courses, aka "City of Wood" and "City of Steel." I thought Scott Cohen was just humoring me...

  • Thickened Wall: Mission (more or less) accomplished!

    When this project started, my goal was to have a clear direction from the beginning, and I took for this starting point the idea of urban fabric on the Greek island of Santorini. I was interested in stacking, nesting, and complexity in section, and the use of one building's negative space as its...

  • Three things I love about the GSD.

    1. GSD Student Announce. It's an email list for the whole GSD student population (optional, but almost everyone seems to use it). It adds a substantial amount of bulk to our inboxes, but it's the voice of the school, and I just think of it as fiber: it just passes happily and healthily through...

  • Yes, James, it was utopia.

    As we lined up to get into Stubbins today, I asked my former buttmate*, James Martin, if he thought lunch was already being served. He said "this isn't utopia: we can have either Tschumi or free food, but not both." However, the fact of the matter was that today, we did get both, because Bernard...

  • the field trip was a success.

    Louis Kahn's Exeter Library.

  • Thickened Wall

    So, to conclude our first project, we hauled all our models out to have a "round-table" discussion, in which talked about how they represented "bottom-up" processes dealing with the unit towards the whole, and how the investigations at the level of the unit and aggregations were more successful...

  • Aggregate 21 days

    Hello Archinect! It’s hard to say which is more unbelievable, that over three weeks of this semester have already gone by, or that a mere twenty-two days ago I was on my winter holiday, watching movies and hanging out with friends. The thing is that one’s experience of time is...

  • ×Search in:

About this Blog

Lectures and exhibitions, news and events, now primarily from the Bay Area! Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in many cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts.

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

  • Lian Chikako Chang

Other blogs affiliated with Harvard University:

Recent Entries

Please wait... loading