A Student Blog by Jordan Laurila

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    A Piece of Clothing, and a Piece of Niemeyer

    By Laurila
    Oct 8, '17 7:30 PM EST

    It's not quite groundbreaking to assert that travel is life changing. Of course it is. It’s equally obvious for me to equate traveling to being a better designer. Sure, there is a connection there. Sure, there are a thousand blogs and articles to attest to this fact, but I’m going to do one more.

    I recently went on one of Taubman College’s Spring Travel Courses with Anya Sirota and law professor, Anne Choike. We did three weeks of site work and research in Detroit, followed by three weeks in Brazil -- Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

    My first Niemeyer, the first project I was able to experience of his was in Rio -- his Niterói Contemporary Art Museum. It is a spaceship on a cliff that juts into a bay. An object of pure white, seemingly hovering, it has a way of commanding your attention. It is curvaceous and exuberant and not at all quiet, surprising for a building that isn’t big. Anya made sure we saw more Niemeyer than we knew what to do with.

    Modernism in America became stale. It was almost revolutionary at its inception, but at its end, it’s no surprise that postmodernism took over. Modernism in Brazil, though, kept going. Tied to the mantle of Niemeyer, who died in 2012, modernism became the lasting aesthetic. He broke the box for the sake of creating a free-form performative language. And along with Niemeyer, there were a number of others who did their part in keeping the modernist doctrine fresh and powerful. Paulo Mendes da Rocha designs buildings that echo the American minimalist movement. Perhaps modernism flourished by the women and men in Brazil who recast the architectural project as art.

    In Sao Paulo, in the Jewish neighborhood that is starting to become the Korean neighborhood, there stands what used to be a Jewish People’s Palace, which is an interesting building type all on its own. Now, it’s a broader cultural institution, supporting various levels of creative work.

    I saw a dress. I saw it from a distance and perhaps calling it a dress is presumptuous. I saw a piece of clothing that might appear to be a dress. It was checkered, black and white. Usually clothing requires the body to animate it -- clothes simply look better on a body, rather than a mannequin. Walking into a new space, eyes flit to and fro, like a vacuum sucking up any and every relevant detail. This dress arrested my eyes. I even forgot to photograph it. For the briefest of moments, I wanted to abandon architecture school and move into this workspace to design clothes, costumes, and co. Language and lack of sewing skills be damned; I was going to drop it all to create things like this dress, this costume to mold and weld fabric into something as wild as this checkered thing.

    Fortunately, I looked away and explored the rest of the building, reminded of the reasons why I made the turn into architecture in the first place. A dress and Niemeyer, those two moments alone made the entire trip to Brazil worth it. For whatever reason, I’ll be able to reference those two specific moments, along with many others from the travel course, in every studio project until graduation. Within these three weeks of Brazil, there are a million moments I could categorize into every relevant architectural category.

    There are a thousand things to keep on your radar when applying to architecture school, so travel opportunities might fall to the side, but it’s good to be at a school where travel is prioritised and supported. Taubman College recently posted the Spring Travel courses for 2018, and I've already got one on my eye for next year.

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About this Blog

Details, impressions, and all those in between memories deserve a voice. It just so happens architecture school has given me a lot of those. I am a 3-Year Masters of Architecture student at Taubman College at the University of Michigan, and we'll see where this gets us.

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