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Harvard GSD M.Arch.I (Lian)

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

  • Live Blog: Stan Allen and Preston Scott Cohen

    Hi Archinect!

    Stan Allen, Dean of Princeton University School of Architecture and Principal of SAA/Stan Allen Architect, is going at it tonight with Preston Scott Cohen, Chair of Architecture at Harvard GSD and Principal at Preston Scott Cohen Inc. The video is also posted at the GSD's YouTube Channel.

    Thanks to Orhan for mentioning this link, which signals that Princeton is looking for a new Dean! I wonder if they'll be talking about this? If not, it suggests a number of obvious questions for the follow-up.

    6:38: Packed house in (half) Piper tonight; people are spilling out of the aisles. They should have set up for the full auditorium so that everyone could find a seat. But I admit that I do like the excitement a packed house.

    PSC: "Welcome to Stan."

    SA: "It's good to be back."

    Scott is starting things off. "The field condition is...the built environment conceived as a series of parts. It begins in a single element or elements that cluster or aggregate to become many."

    "It is a logic of aggregation that we are interested in here, and the effect of that logic. Seriality. It's about generating an analog to heterogeneity rather than wholeness."

    "In Field Conditions, Stan, you basically divide the world of architecture according to two principles: the first you call the break: quantifiable units set upon the other. And the other: the geometric. Clearly, you are an adder, an algebraic--our opposite--which is why I brought you here to talk with us." Scott gives the example of the mosque of Córdoba.

    "At the risk of opening a can of worms, I'd like to [think about] why Olgiati and I are die-hard dividers. Could one argue that there is an incipient monasticism in your work, in revealing the particulars of the parts--reveling in its singular figurality..? ...That's my question for you."

    SA: "Well, it's great to be here."

    PSC: "Yes, buy a little time."

    SA: "While we were walking down the hall, Scott said, 'you know, I think we're opposites.' and I said 'I think it's true, but I think it's too subtle for anyone to really care.' And he laid it out in a very clear way."

    "Two things to say: first: I did a studio at Columbia in 1984; and we were talking with Greg Lynn, Jesse Reiser, and Sanford Kwinter, rethinking the part-to-whole problem. The context that might be lost to these students is that we were reacting to deconstructivism. The model of that school was that you start with a whole and break it apart: Tschumi and Eisenman. So the early attraction of the field condition was that: instead of breaking down a whole, you start with small elements and through repetition bring about a different sense of the whole."

    PSC: But there are other dividers; they're the worst dividers.

    SA: ..."Greg and Sanford at that time were looking at biology; I was looking at music and minimalist art. When you look at [Iannis] Xenakis... he makes an analogy to being in a demonstration in a crowd in Athens, and how you get lost, absorbed into a larger whole."

    PSC: "But this would not be the whole that has an aspiration to cohere?"

    SA: "Greg and Sanford wanted to make a new kind of organic whole; I was still comfortable with the notion that you'd always read the tension between part and whole."

    PSC: "I'm going to quote one of your statements, although not a recent one: 'Form matters more for what it can do than what it looks like.' Very important. ...The hypothesis is that certain forms are conducive to supporting certain programmatic responses. The language of form here is signalling what it is expected to do. So the question is: do you think we do the same thing in a neoclassical or modern vocabulary of form as we do in these field forms? To play devil's advocate, I could say that people do the same thing, more or less, regardless of the order of the building. It is really something new?"

    SA: "Not necessarily. One thing was the notion that you were no longer representing the institutionalized, centralized power and representation of hierarchy. [But] I'd be suspicious of saying that it's somehow fundamentally democratic."

    "The more subtle argument...were those around thought in the sixties, that the building created non-specfic spatial relationships. An openness in spaces. That shouldn't be confused with undesigned spaces or the 1960s notion of universal spaces: in spaces where anything could happen, often nothing happened."

    "I was interviewed by [...] at one point and they used the phrase: 'Nonstandard expansive systems capable of becoming specific at any given point.'"

    PSC: "You still haven't told me what is wrong with [dividing]."

    SA: "There's a passage in Foucault that says there are no constraining architectures; there are liberating architectures per se. Even thinking about infrastructures, at a larger scale you can specify ways in which people move through spaces--degree of openness, access. We used to use this phrase: 'architecturally specific, programmatically indeterminate.' And we realized that we had such a space: the steps of Lowe Library. [All kinds of diverse activities happening there: convocation, protests, etc.] And this is a symmetrical space. But where it is positioned in campus is hugely important--the fact that all the paths cross there--and that has nothing to do with the classical language. If it faced north, though, it wouldn't work."

    PSC: "And if it were a field form..."

    SA: "And Jesse Reiser pointed out: the tread-to-riser relationship is such that you're forced to walk diagonally across the space; that's a subtle architectural condition that is really important. So you're right--"

    PSC: "yes"

    SA: "But..."

    PSC: "But I don't know where the political charge is in the field operation. You've lost it; you've just conceded."

    SA: "OK, you've won round one."

    Stan is now presenting the Maribor Art Gallery in Slovenia. "We didn't set out to design a field condition museum, but...[it ended up that way]. If we built the museum of roughly similar parts that built up to a larger whole, we could operate in a very contemporary language that was in some way sympathetic to the condition of the museum."

    "The unit here...[some confusion with slides.] Oh, Scott has edited my powerpoint." [laughter]

    PSC: "No, it is exactly as you gave it to me."

    SA: "I know."

    "...Rather than framing the site and creating some sort of internal square, we worked with the porous edge, creating irregular smaller scale spaces that complemented those that we found in the historic city."

    "Quick lesson: when you aggregate a hexagon you get a continuous field. When you aggregate a pentagon you get those voids that bring light into the project."

    "So you see all the columns coming down in the reflected ceiling plan...as a museum it didn't need a lot of lighting; and we wrapped a zinc rainscreen around the entire project at the lower level."

    "Our attitude is that galleries need big, clean, white walls; if there's complexity, it's in the way that light is brought into the spaces. I don't like to say 'neutral,' but they serve the art well."

    PSC: "When I first saw it, I was struck by this grid system of pentagonal elements. And I saw some localized errors, if you will."

    SA: "That's where we cheated."

    [This image of the structure is what Scott was scrutinizing.]

    PSC: "But they're very intentional." Scott is pointing out where the nodes don't align in the grid, where the pentagons have sheared off.

    "Now you could have gone with hexagons; everything would have fit. But you go with 108 degrees in pentagons. It's a willful choice to create a disintegration within the system, to produce the appearance of a condition of heterogeneity. You add another layer of rhetorical information. So it goes back to the question of what architecture should be representing."

    "Isn't this a postmodern problem; the conscious representation of heterogeneity? It's not heterogeneity. I love the idea that you'd get a system to problematize itself, but..."

    SA: "All the early studies were hexagons. It was a kid in the office who came up with the pentagon. But it was brilliant. When I was a fourth year student at Cooper Union; and in fourth year you do analysis. A triangle is stable, a square is stable, but a pentagon is the simplest form that produces instability; it's irreduceable."

    PSC: "But imagine if you had found a large-scale periodicity...if there were a pattern that you could cycle whereby those fissures induced by the pentagon would cohere, then the whole system would be a closed, unified field. Would that then not be the field condition? What would be the problem; that wouldn't have contradicted your position, would it?"

    SA: "I think the representational aspect is important. And i thought the reference to the pitched roofs would help us win the competition, but it different. But what I like about this project is the toggling between regularity or standardization, and heterogeneity. We wanted it to be incomplete in that sense."

    [Lost some text in here, but there was more discussion of the museum and then PSC dug into SA about the columns as shown in the above two images.]

    SA: "...It was a response to program...we saw the lower level as connected and porous to the city; at that level it was like a piece of infrastructure connected to the horizontal space of the city. The muscularity of the columns spoke to that. What I like about the columns is that they mark the central space of the pavilions."

    "The problem with the early field condition stuff in the early 90s is that I could never get out of the mat building. This project works with the field condition in a way that gets out of the mat building. That has to do with iconicity and tectonics. The mat building, like so much in the 90s, was in love with horizontality."

    PSC: "But it's really a two-zone project. The top zone is just subdivided; it's not a separate zone."

    SA: "Yes, we divided...oh, I knew we were going to fight over the laser pointer."

    PSC: "You divided! You're a closeted divider." [laughter] "The tripartite. You're a classical architect in your elevations."

    SA: On to the next thing. "What I like about Scott's approach is that we haven't uttered the word landscape yet."

    PSC: "But a night without landscape is like a night without architecture these days, I thought."

    SA: "But it's important here."

    OK, now SA is showing his Taichung InfoBox project.

    "We thought we could build a free-standing pavilion. We visited the site and were shown this hangar built in the 1950s when the airport was constructed. We already had a roof, and a very heavy concrete slab; so all the expensive parts were taken care of. So we built a bamboo building inside the hangar."

    "Now this is the slide I shouldn't show. By code, the building had to be a steel structure, even though bamboo is just as strong. And the bamboo scaffolding just wraps this structure. But that part was done [as it would be traditionally], in a .75 x .75 x .75m grid of bamboo lashed together."

    SA: "This project was done as division; we started with a cube and started chamfering the corners and hollowed it out."

    PSC: "But there's something field here, in working with the technology that is productive. A different sense of field: being on the ground, working in the conditions."

    SA: "The field is tactical."

    PSC: "Yes, I don't want to forget that part of the thesis."

    ...

    SA: "Certainly with the seriality of the computer, well--there was an intuition there [in the early days of the field condition."

    PSC: "But you did not enter into the expression of computation."

    SA: "I was never a smooth guy."

    PSC: "Even I slipped into that for a moment. Everyone was vulnerable to that."

    Ok, last project: Busan Opera House.

    SA: "How could we possibly work with the language of aggregation for an opera house? It seemed like a contradiction, and certainly it was not our initial project."

    "I showed this to Jeff and he said it looked like a Scott Cohen Project."

    PSC: "Okay...yeah, a little on the right side [where there is something funky...what appears to be a hypar]."

    SA: "We had a working analogy for the project, which is that somehow a piece of the mountain had found itself between the city and the sea."

    "If you Google 'opera house,' you get the Sydney Opera House. We've lost the urbanity of the Garner Paris Opera House."

    "Well, the starting point of the project is when we realized that the roof if this shed is a pentagon. We were very happy."

    PSC: [laughs.] "You're as bad as I am!"

    Stan is explaining the plan and 3D form through this nice series of diagrams. "That's the same thing, rotated 90 degrees, pulled down instead of up, allowing us to create occupiable spaces up there. Thinking about this landform we wanted to find ways to occupy it in ways other than working from the ground up."

    "To my mind it's a successful experiment when the aggregation forms some sense of the larger whole. You can read the parts but there are also times when you can't decipher them."

    Oh, they lied! He's doing one more project, a house an hour north of New York.

    SA: "In 1999-2000 when this was designed, the emphasis was on that (pentagonal) piece in contrast with the horizontality of that piece. It was done right after Maribor and we were a bit frustrated that we didn't win Maribor, so we were building a little piece of that. That's one way of explaining it, but I'd prefer to say that [it was more about engaging] the tectonics and verticality and the iconicity."

    "But the canted wall created a perfect painting wall for [the client]."

    "The neighbors have taken to calling it the 'Minter Chapel' which is...a little bothersome."

    Questions from the audience. One of the questions has to do with when a field condition is no longer a field condition.

    SA: "...a field condition...I don't want to make a litmus test, but it relies on the size of the elements and the number of repetitions."

    "But the field condition has more attraction as an urban idea than an architectural idea."

    Question from the audience about how Stan sees the way he advanced the discourse at Princeton.

    SA: "Scott did a great job of teasing out our differences. But I think you could say that Scott, Jesse Reiser, myself and a number of people working today share a lot of territory. It's a kind of generational snapshot: people born between 53 and 61, with the exception of Fujimoto--he's the outlier...and Scott is the perfect example--we were educated in the seventies and eightes when there was a strong theoretical charge. Our work is characterized by experimentation and even alternative practices. But now, the work is directed at institutional projects. And I'd like to think that all the energy that informed that work in the 70s, 80s, and 90s is still there, but directed toward the issues that are the issues we need to be dealing with today."

    PSC: "Well, it's getting late, but thanks so much... (etc.)"

    [Applause] And now Stan and Scott are still going at it. Not sure what they're talking about but I hear the words "diagram" and "indexically." Whooo...

    Thanks for reading!

    Lian

    P.S. After the lecture, Scott lamented that they got so caught up with the geometry questions that they didn't get to talk about how field conditions also have to do with working in a context, and the architect giving up total authorial control. Which is too bad, as this would have indeed been interesting! And as a landscape student pointed out to me, Stan Allen would also have had many interesting things to say with regards to the relation between all of this and landscape. There were many landscape students in Piper last night, and this really would have been great to hear. Alas!

    [photo credit: the Stan Allen part of the first photo is from this flikr site. The Scott Cohen part of the above photo is from the GSD website. The others were taken by me in Piper Auditorium. All the slides shown tonight were Stan Allen's.]


  • Live Blog: The Core of Architecture’s Discourse Now: A New Generation of Scholar Critics Speak Out

    Hi Archinect! William S. Saunders, Timothy Hyde, George P. Dodds, David Gissen, Simon Sadler, and Meredith TenHoor are in the house tonight in front of the golden curtain. The topic is theory and writing. [Update: you can now view the full video at the GSD's YouTube channel.] 6:40: William...


  • Kinesthesia - M.Arch.I first year project

    Hi Archinect! The kids did good. Here is the final project from a group of students in the first-year M.Arch.I. Materials and Construction course. They were working with fabric hinges and a geometry that allows for their full-scale mockup to be transformed and configured in a multitude of ways...



  • Happy Birthday, GSD! And you too, Harvard.

    [Harvard's Birthday Cake. Graphic from The Harvard Crimson.] Hi Archinect! Well, this year the GSD turns 75 years old, and Harvard turns 375. Big parties all around, pecha kucha lectures from alumni and faculty, and lots of alumni in town for the weekend of events. Yo-Yo Ma performed in the yard...


  • Live Blog: Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi / Evolutionary Infrastructure

    Hello Archinect! My current studio critics, Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, are lecturing in front of the gold curtain tonight. You can also watch the whole thing on the GSD's YouTube channel. 6:36: Scott Cohen is making introductions. Lots of awards, great projects, Ivy League educations and...


  • On Making and Learning Architecture: a conversation with Danielle Etzler (video)

    Hi Archinect! My first semester studio critic and assistant professor of architecture, Danielle Etzler, has been building buildings for fifteen years, teaching architecture for a few, and thinking throughout about connections between these. Over the summer, I sat down with her to talk about the...



  • Live Blog: Why Latin America, Why now?

    Hi Archinect! Okay, I've been sick all week, and I've missed so very many things.  (Note: if you're ever told that it's OK to get a flu shot while you have a cold without a fever, don't believe it! Flu shots are powerful.) On Monday, Asia GSD invited Erwin Lui, a senior designer at Toyota...


  • The Bridge Towers at the I-95/George Washington Bridge in NYC (Site Visit)

    Hello Archinect! Last week our studio (led by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi) went to NYC to visit our site, which is the area around the "Bridge Towers" that are built directly over the I-95 highway in northern Manhattan. [This image from Weiss/Manfredi. All other images are mine.] Our site...


  • Flatland: an installation at Gund Hall by Casey Hughes with Hiroshi Jacobs

    Hi Archinect! Like most schools of architecture, the GSD has a tradition of students installing projects in and around the building. Some of these last longer than others, and some are better thought-out and executed than others. Some are not installations at all, but just crumbling pieces of...


  • Weiss/Manfredi studio at the BMW Guggenheim Lab

    Hi Archinect, Just a quick note to say that my studio, led by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, will be running a workshop on "Evolutionary Infrastructure: An Unfinished Utopia" at the BMW Guggenheim Lab this Friday, September 23, from 3 to 5 pm. If you're in New York and have a moment to stop...


  • Live Blog: Janette Sadik-Khan, Comissioner of NYC Department of Trasportation

    Hi Archinect,Janette Sadik-Khan, the New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner, is speaking in Piper as part of the 'Roadmap to Sustainable Infrastructures & Green Cities Conference.' [Photo from Esquire.com] 6:38: It's a pretty full house in Piper tonight. Sadik-Khan is as...


  • Live Blog: Naginski, Jarzombek, Savage, and Wodiczko on Memory, Vision, and Practice

    Hi Archinect! Live-blogging tonight from Piper Auditorium, where we somewhat inexplicably (and to my endless fascination) have a new gold lamé curtain. Krzysztof Wodiczko, Erika Naginski, Mark Jarzombek, and Kirk Savage are talking in an event marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The...


  • Tennis, not architecture.

    Hi Archinect! This post is as advertised. "Site visit" on Saturday, September 3, 2011 to our site from last semester's studio project--Flushing Meadows. [I was crouched in the bushes like a pervert to take this photo. Tennis fans, you know that I know that you know who this is.] Now I'm back at my...


  • Schmancy new website for the GSD

    Hello Archinect! Just a quick note to say that it looks like the GSD's new website, which has been in the works for the past few years, is live! I haven't even looked through it yet, but you can check it out here. The site is designed by Lisa Strausfeld's team at Pentagram. Thanks for looking!...


  • Arigatou gozaimasu, Mohsen-sama!

    Hello Archinect!!! I was very happy to wake up to this email from Dean Mostafavi this morning:Dear Students, Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to this semester’s Paris studio offering, we have made plans to continue the Study Abroad Program in Tokyo for the Spring 2012 term. Toyo...


  • Gund Hall is Naked

    Hello Archinect! Like everyone else who's heading back to school this fall, I'm not yet prepared to let go of summer. There are so many things I wanted to do but haven't yet done! I just need a bit more time. I'm not ready yet! Apparently, Gund Hall feels the same way: The GSD's 75th anniversary...


  • Slow summer...slummer

    Hello Archinect, All good things must come to an end. This summer, for me, has brought a little bit of work and a lot of rest, with plenty of time to rehab my ankle, to catch up with friends, and to neurotically develop and re-develop my five-year plan reconnect with what really matters to me...


  • The long road

    Hi Archinect! You may have seen from an earlier post that I broke my ankle at the end of May. Here is an update on my recovery, and also my first Archinect video blog! Thanks for watching, Lian



  • On Loyalties Divided (re: sacking of Michael Jemtrud at McGill)

    Hello Archinect, This past Thursday, Michael Jemtrud was forced to resign as Director of McGill University School of Architecture. My response to this news is not unbiased. It is entirely biased because this is entirely personal. I want to tell you why this, for me, is the only possible response...


  • things of unusual beauty (x rays of my broken bones)

    Hello Archinect! So, I had a bicycle accident almost three weeks ago now, in which I broke three bones and dislocated my tibia. Yesterday I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and got copies of my x-rays and the radiologist's descriptions of them. Here is...


  • Live Blog: Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

    Hello Archinect! Live-Blogging Herzog and de Meuron's lecture at the GSD this afternoon, after their directed thesis studio had their final reviews. Introduction by Dean Mohsen Mostafavi. 4:08 pm: JH: I don't believe in books on architecture; they're bound to fail and disappear even sooner than...


  • Korean Dance-Off and Cory Booker

    Hello Archinect! Korea GSD hosts one of the very best Beer and Dogs* events of the year because they prepare Korean food and a dance performance. This year, the Graduate School of Education (GSE) also sent a group to perform. The GSE team. I wish I could dance. The GSD team. They did us proud...


  • In which I question David Brooks on his support of the GOP budget. Read Brooks' reply.

    Hi Archinect! David Brooks, conservative columnist for the New York Times, spoke at the GSD this evening as part of the Kennedy School's 'Science and Democracy' series. The talk was called “Politics, the Brain, & Human Nature,” and covered many of the talking points from Brooks'...


  • Letter from "Harvard Design School" re: Ai Weiwei

    Hello Archinect! Thanks for looking. Lian


  • Sparking Social Change (Maurice Cox, Marshall Ganz, Duarte Morais)

    Hello Archinect! Last night, Bryan Bell of Design Corps (and currently in residence at the GSD as a Loeb Fellow) held a panel called ‘Sparking Social Change,’ with Maurice Cox, Marshall Ganz, and Duarte Morais. Maurice Cox—professor at University of Virginia’s School of...


  • Live Blog: Ryue Nishizawa...at MIT

    Konnichiwa, Archinect! In lieu of attending the March 31 Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa lecture at the GSD, I went to the Nishizawa-only lecture tonight at MIT on April 1. Word on the street was that when Sejima and Nishizawa brought their minimal approach to the lecture format at the GSD ("this...


  • The Cognitive Science of Embodiment and the Place of Architecture Today: a conversation with Alberto Pérez-Gómez

    Hello Archinect! So I know I've been posting quite a bit lately, but I have two really important things to share: 1. My former PhD advisor, Alberto Pérez-Gómez, will be in town next weekend for Boston University's Architecture + Philosophy Conference, and will be joining us for an...


  • Live Blog: Eclipse of Beauty, vol. II

    Hello Archinect! Here we are in Piper for more blah blah blah. This, the second volume of the Eclipse of Beauty symposia, features Evan Douglis, the Dean of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Georges Teyssot, a professor from Laval University's school of architecture in Quebec City. And it is...


  • Great shame upon our family.

    Hello Archinect, I love my hometown of Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada (a.k.a. Texas of the North), but sometimes I just have to throw my hands up. Edmonton is apparently the largest city in North America to not have an architecture school. There are good architects there and a decent art scene, but...


  • GSD M.Arch.I Q+A

    Hello Archinect! Occasionally I get emails from people asking about what it's like in the GSD's M.Arch.I program, if I enjoy Harvard, if the people really are evil and competitive, or what it's like living in Cambridge/Somerville. The best way to find out all these answers is to visit our school...


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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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