Columbia University, GSAPP 2014-2016

what am I getting myself into?



Aug '14 - Oct '14

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    The Start of School and the Value of Sunsets

    Martina Dolejsova
    Sep 14, '14 10:45 PM EST

    My second week of classes are done and I missed posting last week as a result of figuring out my courses and being buried under text.  Just to give you an idea, in my first week of classes, I was assigned 628 pages to read and ‘comprehend’.  With an overwhelming assembly of information and rapid googling when I found myself in seminars where someone said, ‘everyone knows this image… this exhibit.. this design.. this phrase’ and I had no idea what they were talking about, I jammed as much information as I could into my already full consciousness. This week is about the same and while I am still swimming in excerpts and articles, I have come to understand that this is never-ending and decided to take a break from Colomina, Benjamin and Simmel.   

    Even with the anxieties of keeping up, the limitless threads of dialogue that explore architectural history and the questions of cities and their environments are everywhere and exciting.  I was fortunate to get into the class Reinhold Martin is teaching this semester, as there was more interest than spots.  Even with decreasing the number of people, I walked into the second class to find that there weren’t enough chairs.  I ended up sitting on the floor next to a guy who I noticed took incredibly organized notes. I was taking notes on his notetaking (setting up subject headings, bullet pointing, sub bullet pointing, etc).  He was also the person who asked a question that I was most interested in and curious about while we circled around the topic of economies and their interaction with city development.  The question while not verbatim but close was, ‘What is the value of a sunset?’ 


    It is a question that thinks about the environment, about the value of an ephemeral object that may or may not be monetized. Seen in the incredible popularity of James Turell, and his recent major shows at the Guggenheim (June 21 to September 25, 2013) and LACMA (May 26, 2013 – April 6, 2014) one can argue that there is a value in sunsets. There is a real temporal and environmental wonder in the phenomenon of light.  There is a value in how it interacts with space and how people experience it, and if one considers Turell, there is a question about the representation vs. the real thing, which is a topic for another day.

    While I have been settling into New York, I catch myself in awe of the sunsets whenever I see them.  By the Flat Iron Building off of 5th avenue and 23rd street, around 7:15pm, I found myself staring west as the sun went down.   I noticed the street is unusual for Manhattan because it is a wide four lane street.  34th street, near the Empire State Building is also like this.  Looking west it appears that there is a slight decline in elevation which also adds to your range of view as you look up towards the sky.  You have a clear, unobstructed perspective of the changing oranges and pinks of the sky.  If NYC DOT is considering new places for a median strip, look towards these streets, and place chairs facing west.  On good nights pedestrians could watch the sun’s performance until she dips below the horizon and the curtains are drawn back to the forms of the city. 

    Each time I catch a glimpse of the changing colors I am transmitted somewhere else and am a little calmer.  As I see the sun setting in glimpses off the streets by St John’s Cathedral and once from the balcony in a highrise building in Brooklyn, I try to snap a photo.   This has carried over from living in LA, where I would snap photos of deep colored sunsets.  On the most vibrant days, I’d see the various locations and colors of the sky taken by others streaming on my Instagram feed.  In New York, some of the images come out, and some are faded, and I realize the sun that day can only be captured by memory.  

    After class ended I introduced myself to the guy who sat next to me and asked what graduate program he was in.  I had met everyone in the CCCP program the other week and knew I didn’t recognize him. He was rushing but as we walked out, he said he was working with a diplomat and that he was here to do research.  We talked about the importance of aesthetics and the environment and I am looking forward to future discussions if politicians and academics are coming together to talk about cities. And that the question he had was about the value of sunsets. 

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About this Blog

A blog that records my two years in the Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices of Architecture Program at the GSAPP. Posts will explore the program, New York's architecture and urban design and has the potential to envelope the west coast as well. Having spent the last 6 years in L.A., my intended thesis will look at the the west coast (and hopefully the school will give me the objective distance I need!).

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