Columbia University (Ryan)

  • Columbia City

    By rlovett
    Aug 31, '09 2:53 PM EST

    With my life in my bags I arrived at JFK a little after 5:30am. The sun was rising. It was already 80 degrees and I felt the humidity- as if there was an invisible extra weight- another type of space all around me.

    I decided to take the Airtrain to the subway instead of a cab. After seeing someone for some reason throwing up as I was boarding the subway car I was struck with sudden sense of nervousness and realized, my god-I am in a very new place. I grew up in Los Angeles, the epicenter of decentralization- a city defined by its paradoxical socialized libertarianism. A city made up of edge cities, where a sense of civic pride is only visible by flags hanging from cars on the freeway after Lakers win the championship, where collectivized services facilitate halucinations of individualism in an urban desert-Where the case study houses and the Getty Center create a warm sense of comfort looking out an endless sea of low-rise buildings.

    Immediately over the next hour or so on the train I noticed that each stop produced its own group entering the train. I began to visualize my journey as an underground section cut that sampled those regions traveling to work-amazing juxtapositions of people all unified by different colored Yankees caps, headphones, and silence- all plugged into somewhere else... perhaps there is a subway etiquette. As I proceeded through Lower Manhattan, Midtown, Upper West Side and onto Harlem, I listened to my iPod and occassionally glanced around as I read Michael Sorkin's Twenty Minutes in Manhattan- pondering about if there is a way to combine Jane Jacob's sensitivity with Robert Moses? political saviness in a way that doesn't produce an indifference to aesthetics.

    My building, located near W125th and Broadway, is at the crossroads between Columbia and Harlem. Just walking from one block to another, one side of the street to the next- really seem, at this point, to be two separate worlds. I am on some sort of frontier-All the buildings, street corner shops, are glimpses into some sort of experimental housing typology of the past. There are the Cruciform quasi-Corbusier public housing towers, then long threads of Columbia-owned brownstone buildings that face outwards to Riverside Park and the Hudson. The aging infrastructure has so much prescence. Its really in your face, and sometimes on your head when you realize that hanging AC units which adorn thousands of window sills leak water onto the sidewalks. The 125th street station shakes so violently sometimes when the one train passes you begin to wonder about its structural integrity and rust. Aside from the sweat and occassional solicitation for change or weed, lets just say it will be interesting to get to know it over time.

    After being in the city for little over two weeks, I've been able to get out of uptown to explore some of the other neighborhoods and boroughs. After long afternoons and longer nights drinking and eating with my future GSAPP classmates I re-realize from my trip in the spring for GSAPP's open house why being in NYC as an architecture grad student was so special. I've been told that once school starts all of the situationist like wandering through the city will be an impossible luxury, but I cannot imagine that NYC will not have a lasting effect on my educational experiences. Regardless, it seems as though it is one of the best times and places to be going into grad school.

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