Harvard GSD M.Arch.I (Lian)

Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around the GSD and beyond.

  • 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 less per person, or an approximately 20% reduction from the previous space of 45 square feet).

    Nonetheless, a promise is a promise, and I thought I should cover this development, as this first overhaul of the workspaces in Gund Hall since its opening in 1972 is no small matter.

    The old desks look like this:image


    The new desks look like this: image


    The first change is to get rid of the large common tables (or narrow table with high shelving units, for desks under the overhang) that used to separate the two aisles of desks, and to use that space to increase the length of the desks, which are then made much shallower and spaced closer together. The second major change is that the work surface is lowered from 34” to 29,” such that regular office chairs can be used (and indeed, are now supplied). There are three major results of these changes. First, we lost a great deal of storage space: instead of a sizable pinup surface, large flat file, gigantic cabinet, and ample 3D model storage space on the common tables and shelves, we now have a single lockable rolling cabinet, some open vertical storage for sheet materials, and a TINY shelf that is pretty much the Golden Gate Bridge for any model wider than 10 inches. Second, we now--in the words of one of our tenured professors--“can no longer make drawings [higher than 24"] even if we wanted to,” and have nowhere to either build or store models larger than 24 x 24”. Third--the silver lining--is that we have vastly improved ergonomics for working on the computer.

    I might add that a fourth result is that the lowered height of the vertical elements means that even a person of, ahem, modest height (like myself) can now stand up and get a view of most of the people and workspaces on the entire tray. Personally, I like this very much, but most people lament the loss of privacy. With large groups of tourists snapping photos in the trays at least a couple times a week, we may as well be starring in our own reality TV show (which, it is rumored, was offered to the GSD in the form of a season of “Architecture School,” but outright refused by the administration).

    The fact that we’re not plotting an all-out revolution speaks to how much time we really do spend at our computers these days. Nonetheless, there is a strong model-building culture at the GSD--the bigger the better and the more the merrier, especially in the architecture department, and especially in the core studios--and this is not disappearing anytime soon. So the simple fact is that something will have to be done to accommodate this. I’m one of the representatives for our class on the Student Affairs committee, which is one venue for us to voice our concerns to the various department heads in this Typhon of an institution, so I brought this up. Our main request, besides more ample storage solutions, was to get rid of the new small café tables in our shared “kitchen” space (a common area made for us in partial compensation for the reduced desk size), and replace them with a giant multi-use table that could be used sometimes for communal meals, sometimes for meetings, and sometimes for model building and other production. They’re pretty good at responding to our requests so I have high hopes of seeing this giant table appear sometime before the end of the semester.

    image [Our current "kitchen" space. A sad state of affairs.]

    Thanks for reading!



    P.S. Between you and me, what irked me at the beginning of the year about the workspaces was not so much that they were smaller, but that the administration did not openly admit that they were smaller, and that this reduction in size was a primary motivator for the change. Instead, along with the complimentary box of drafting dots (given to us because in lieu of our old pin-up boards, we now have low plexi-glass panels to which we have to tape our drawings), we received a little leaflet that crowed about the modernized workstations and their attendant aesthetic and ergonomic improvements. I don’t think that was necessary; if the administration could be straight with us about the school’s pedagogical ambitions and financial and infrastructural pressures--and the fact that, for example, the MDesS students still don’t have desks of their own for lack of space--I think most of us would be on board. The school *is* growing in ways that I think are pretty exciting--Krzysztof Wodiczko’s new program in Art, Design and the Public Domain comes to mind--and I think we should be able to talk about that.

    P.P.S. I just found this:
    image [As found here ]

    At the student affairs meeting, I raised an issue that has been the subject of much conversation within my class: the fact that at the M.Arch.I end of the third tray, we’ve maxed out our storage spaces and work surfaces, while the urban planning end of our tray seems hardly occupied. So, phrasing this as diplomatically as I could, I asked if “the design and allotment of desks could reflect the fact that different programs and different years have different schedules and workspace needs.”

    This was, understandably, a controversial point to raise, but in the above analysis, which the GSD published as part of the brief for the new workstations, you can clearly see the words: “urban planning students have less of a need for storage and work space.”

    Damn straight!

    image [The urban planning part of our tray; photo taken on the same day as all the rest, midway through the semester.]

    P.P.P.S. If you're an urban planning student, before you start hating, please know that it's not that I want you to have a worse workspace, but just one that better meets your needs, relative to the needs of other GSD programs. Obviously, increased model production and storage space wouldn't do much for you, but maybe you'd appreciate better accommodation for group work (or something else--I know even less about the urban planning department than I do about landscape).

  • 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...

  • Um, hello

    Hello Archinect! So I'm feeling guilty for neglecting this blog. I have the usual excuses about being busy or trying to compose my thoughts, or whatever--but suffice to say that it's not you, it's me... and I’m going to do better now that I’m on the wagon again for semester two...

  • really advanced kindergarten

    Hello Archinect, On Friday, GSD alum Andrew Hartness brought a kindergarten class to the GSD. They toured the facilities, were greeted by Dean Mostafavi (who talked to them about Career Discovery!), and got a lesson from Andrew on the different orthographic drawing types (plan, section, elevation)...

  • The Return of Nature

    The Return of Nature is a symposium discussing "the question of architecture's autonomy in relation to contemporary debates." Each of the three panelists (a historian, theorist, and architect) presents a thesis, perhaps positioned polemically relative to the other two, and then engage in...

  • Open House Edition, Part Two

    Hello Archinect, I wanted to follow up on last week’s post with some thoughtful prose about the GSD, my experience of it so far, and what I’m learning. But—and maybe this is the best sign that I’m starting to be a real architecture student—I can’t seem to muster...

  • Open House Edition, Part One

    Hello Archinect! Well, we’ve finished four short (12-14 days each) projects and are just starting our last one for the semester: a building/pedestrian bridge integrated into, and more or less based on, one of three locks that sit at the mouth of the Charles river. I say “more or...

  • Second Project Done.

    Hello Archinect! Our second project, which was a house in a 7.5' gap between two existing gable-roofed houses, is finished. It was great to see what everyone came up with; this project required formal invention much more than the first one, which was more analytical, so there was a great deal of...

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About this Blog

Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around Cambridge...and once in a while, some studio and course work. Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in most cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts. If you have concerns about how you are quoted, please contact me via Archinect's email.

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  • Lian Chikako Chang

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