Columbia GSAPP (George Showman)



Jan '05 - Jul '05

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    First studio meeting, other classes, rant

    By George Showman
    Jan 24, '05 10:21 PM EST
    Some people in this school like to smoke. Very few people seem to like the snow (fools).

    Okay, I had my first studio session today with Ed Keller. You may have noticed that one of the other GSAPP bloggers, John Kher Kaw, is also in this studio, so I guess you will all be hearing a lot about Ed Keller this semester. He seems like a really approachable guy with a broad and deep range of interests. The basic premise of the studio is framed around ideas from three books... actually, it's best if you just read the blurb on the GSAPP website, or give me a couple of weeks to synthesize the material; if I try explaining it now, I will be incoherent. Fortunately, though he talks a LOT, Ed is a pretty coherent guy. He wants us to come up with individual theses within the framework of ideas he's laid out -- something about the flow and storage of energy in landscapes, both cultural and physical. So that will be the next week's work. Then we will be analyzing a variety of films, looking for particularly moments, characters, material details, etc. that relate to our theses. From there we will be diagramming for a while (a couple of weeks).

    I'm a little skeptical about the need for this diagramming process, which I fear will bring too much abstraction to what I think are real problems needing real solutions, but I know next to nothing about film theory so I think I'll just follow along for now. The reading list and film list are wicked. When I asked Ed "why are we taking films as a starting point for this studio?" his first answer was that watching films is fun. Then he went on at length about film's relationship to time, to material, etc. I ended up being convinced that film is at least a very useful and rich lens for looking at society.

    Okay, about my other classes: (aside: see rant below about studio vs. other classes)

    I'm still waiting to find out if I will get into the "Advanced Curtain Wall" class with Bob Heintges. I pray that I do because I think the technical know-how I get in that class will help to offset my total lack of work experience in architecture (yes, I spent my summers traveling and playing Ultimate... hmmmm). Plus Bob is a huge world expert on curtain walls, and seems like a really devoted teacher (no wonder, he's married to Mary McLeod, who is on my A-list for "best people in the world"). Several classes this semester, seminars all, are overbooked. This is pretty common at the GSAPP, and the usual way to deal with it is to give 3rd-years precedence, and then if there are still too many people, to have each student write a little blurb on why he thinks he is a good fit for the class. So we all did this for Bob's class, and we're waiting to receive email telling us whether we're in or not.

    My next class is "Studies in Tectonic Culture" with Kenneth Frampton, which will be an architectural history class focused on "poetics of construction" in the last 200-some years. I love the textbook already, but am somewhat irked by the $57 cost of the reader. Frampton has taught this class for a long time, it's a classic of sorts. The only requirement is to either write a paper or build a model that studies the way a particular famous architectural project (built or not) is put together. Most people choose to do the model, but I think I'll do the paper. I don't have any ideas yet. Oh, and most people don't finish the model during the semester, so they have to keep working on it until they graduate... hilarious.

    Finally, I'm taking a class in the Art History department, taught by Esther Pasztory (sp?), about Andean art and architecture. The focus will be on the various parts of the so-called Inca empire, and both the prof. and the material seem interesting. I went to Mexico City last semester as part of my studio (Craig Konyk and Paul Byard, joint Historic Preservation and Architecture), and we saw a number of Aztec sites, so I will be interested to compare Aztec art to Incan (which is the standard exercise in pre-Colombian art history, anyway). Prof. Pasztory (it's an undergrad class, so they don't use first names... hilarious... actually this will trigger another rant on respect for the faculty, but I'll leave that for another entry) claims Andean art is much more abstract than other pre-Colombian work -- this interests me a lot. I don't know of much ancient art that is abstract.

    An aside here... I've generally been disappointed at the amount of dialogue between the GSAPP and the other schools in this university. The art history and engineering departments are the only ones we have any real connection to. For instance, Ed Keller and others in this school are really into film, but I have never seen the film school at Columbia, and never seen a poster or anything related to it inside the GSAPP. Pretty silly, since it's one of the best film schools in the world. I'm even more sad that we have no dialogue with Columbia's fascinating and accomplished Center for Computer Music (you can Google that puppy), where they write their own software to do their intense and abstract creative work -- I find that an interesting contrast to our school, where mostly we appropriate software from other fields (e.g. animation) since we don't know how to write it. Of course it's more complicated than that, but still... what's the point of a university if all the schools sit like islands on the campus? I'll get into this later, how I think ideally we would be using linux and working with some open-source development teams on modeling, animation, and other architectural software.

    Okay, I see my posts are bloating out of all control. I will wait a week before the next one.

    Rant about studio vs. other classes:

    I notice that people on archinect don't seem to blog much about the other classes. I wonder how the studio/other classes divide works in different schools. I'm glad to say that at this point in my third year at Columbia, I feel like I can get a bit of distance from studio and actually pay attention to the other work. It pissed me off to no end when first-year critics would encourage students to skip or generally underperform in their other classes, since the lecture series by Kenneth Frampton and Mary McLeod were totally awesome (well, I don't have a lot of experience in art or architecture history, so I learned a lot). My general view is that Columbia has a particularly strong non-studio faculty, and I wish we would be given more time to learn from them. Ideally we would have a studio-free semester where we could actually read books all the way through; we're sitting on the world's best architecture library (or so they claim) but we plunder it for quick ideas without learning very much.

    I must admit that one of the reasons I love non-studio classes is that they provide a buffer from studio; I used to feel somehow protected when I would go into a history lecture, as if the history of architecture would shelter me from the brutal criticism I received on my studio projects (I broke down in tears after my first final review). But whatever, all this to say that there is only so much time a person can constructively spend on a studio project, and there is a LOT of knowledge to be gathered about history and technical stuff from the other faculty in a good school. Students should fight against what seems to be an ever-strengthening studiocentrism.


    • drs

      Hey there. I enjoyed reading your gigantic message :D. I'm in my first year at Liverpool, UK ( and am also interested in the bias towards studio projects. I expected a lot more theoretical content in the course. Then again, I'm only just beginning, and things may change. It's good to be aware of this though.

      Jan 25, 05 5:31 am
      George Showman

      Thanks for reading! I guess it may seem weird for me to be complaining, since Columbia is probably one of the most theory-driven schools around. At the risk of seeming like an all-round complainer, I do also wish they had started us out in first year with some short, skills-focused studio sessions. I don't mean computer skills (which are pretty well taught here), I mean design skills. Your first semester at Liverpool sounds like a reasonable approach, at least for the studio part.

      Jan 25, 05 9:58 am
      Jon Kher Kaw

      Hey George, I cannot agree more on your comment on the Studio vs. "Other" Classes. I had the same problem back in Singapore where I graduated - the course was studio-bias, and skipping classes for studio was a norm. But that has changed, I've been enjoying (and finding refuge) in the these classes. I wished I had more slots for them in my timetable.

      Jan 31, 05 7:32 pm

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About this Blog

I did an M.Arch. I at the GSAPP between 2002 and 2005. I started this blog only in my final semester, when I had Ed Keller as my studio critic.

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