Columbia GSAPP (George Showman)



Jan '05 - Jul '05

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    Final review notes, thoughts on drawing, digital tools

    By George Showman
    Apr 26, '05 6:53 PM EST

    Well, the final review was yesterday. Overall it was great, the panel was probably the smartest group of people I've ever interacted with. Smart, and varied in their approaches to design. Here's the list of who showed up (as opposed to the 23 people Ed invited, and the 18 who "confirmed"!):

    Brett Steele
    Joeb Moore
    Perry Hall (painter and composer/musician, among other things)
    Andrew McNair
    Alysa Andracek (sp?)
    Chris Perry
    Karl Chu
    Hernan Diaz-Alonso
    Urtzi Grau
    Daniela Fabricius (sp?)
    Carlo Leitao
    Mark Wigley (just briefly)

    I hope I'm not forgetting anyone. I was especially impressed by Brett's, Joeb's, and Perry's thoughtful comments, but everybody participated in a spirited way. I was pleased to find that Hernan had interesting things to say after having received the impression he was "anti-theory".

    Anyway the reason I say the review was great is that the critics were really eager to talk about ideas rather than, say, pick projects apart and question the quality of the realization. This turned out well for those of us who were extremely frustrated with our own ability to represent our ideas and show various scenarios. In other words, if the critics had wanted to they could have completely ripped us apart. My own presentation could have been taken as a complete joke.

    Unfortunately I was a bit of a zombie yesterday so I cannot now clearly recall the content of all the discussions. At certain points the critics were really debating with each other (which can be annoying, but in this review felt entirely appropriate since the student projects were really intended to be seeds for discussion) fundamental points about parametric design, dynamic systems, representation, and (refreshingly!) ethics. Here's a sampling from my notebook -- I wish I could reproduce for you the ridiculous sleep-deprived scrawl:

    Joeb: irony vs. cynicism... which is this project? (for a new kind of prison)
    Brett (same project): ... or is it a business plan?
    Smithson is everywhere: McNair, Brett, Joeb, ... not surprising since many projects are about the desert, and what makes it special, and how that specialness can influence the city. I know nothing about Smithson, really.
    Ed: advocating a "critical intuitive" approach, defending (beautifully!) the right of the designer to make decisions outside of a dynamic systems analysis, while still using the analysis in some way (this came on the tail-end of a debate about analogy vs. simulation which Karl Chu instigated).
    Brett: check out a 24-hour film by Warhol of the Empire State Building, and a 24-hour stretched version of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (this sounds amazing).
    Joeb: Mnemetopias... a kind of memory pilgrimage made in the Renaissance, sounds absolutely fascinating.
    McNair: many comments on the status of the projects in the context of the student's ongoing work... what is research, what is provocation, what is real building proposal, "raw" vs. "cooked", and so on... these are the issues he always dwells on, but I found it quite refreshing to have him raise them in our studio. Mind you I've never heard the guy talk much before, so his ideas were fresh for me. e.g. his question "is this the first time you've done this?" which sounds terribly aggressive but is really "is this the first time you've been through this specific project?"

    So the studio ended well, I would say. I intend to continue working on my ideas, which is really the sign that it was a worthwhile studio, I guess. Its major flaw was its open-ness, which made it so hard to produce coherent, let alone impressive, presentations for the final review. I think Ed should find some tool, whether it be a specific program assignment, a specific site, or whatever, to give the students something to lock onto even as they explore the broader cloud of ideas he exposes them to.

    Another realization from the review: it's best to assume, when you first meet/hear a critic talk, that what he is saying is part of a shtick he repeats all the time. E.g. at first I was really depressed by how brilliant everyone sounded (this depression is a typical architecture student experience, I think! -- "how will I ever be that smart?"), but gradually I came to believe that, while of course yes these people are brilliant, they are talking very much along the lines they usually talk. They are not all polymaths. So the "assumption of shtick", let's call it, is a technique that allows you to stay upbeat about yourself in the face of unrelenting brilliance.

    I have also realized that I have allowed myself this semester to be severely limited by my work environment and tools. I find the computer to be completely debilitating, even when I have a relative fluency with the software I'm using. I think it's because, coming from a programming background, I want to solve problems with first principles. I was trying to script things in Max that somebody else would probably have achieved using built-in dynamics tools. But also, it's very frustrating not having pin-up space on the 7th floor here at the GSAPP... there are no shelves over the desks up here. So my desk is totally covered with crap, and I don't have a drawing board, etc. Plus working on the computer (and presenting digitally!) all the time has made me lazy about ever finishing diagrams. I had all sorts of good ideas that didn't make it into my final presentation because I never bothered to really realize them -- and, most importantly, REACT to them in a way that might have pushed my project forward. It was very hard in this studio to build layers of an argument, because everything stayed in a nebulous half-finished state on the computer screen. Ideas need a medium in which to accrete, and Powerpoint is not a good choice.

    I should have scanned sketches from my notebook, I think. Sketches are better, if they're clear, than point-and-click Illustrator diagrams. There's something about "drawing out" the line rather than just locating the two end-points that makes it so much more satisfying to work by hand, and brings you closer to the actual line of motion you are trying to draw, and hence to the system properties you are trying to capture. I'm going to get into hand-drawing more, and also try to find what the satisfying ways of working by computer might be. But actually that already came up in my final review: the command line. Which is why even AutoCAD, whose ludicrous layers of interface make the Vatican look simple, sometimes gets me high.

    (note... I see the ghost of Phil Parker in what I'm writing above. It was really in his studio, in first year, that I figured out the importance of producing things you can react to, and of thinking _through_ drawing, in the act of drawing. I went to his final review today, which was quite interesting... Derek (another archinect blogger) had a really beautiful project, incidentally).

    Finally, what's with Adobe's growing evil and incompetent empire (they bought Macromedia)? Are there any folks out here on archinect who work in linux, or with totally alternative tools to AutoCAD, Flash, Max, Maya, and the Adobe suite? Rhino is nice because it's relatively cheap and accurate, which is a start. Architects should be developing their own tools, rather than stealing other people's (at both the level of system and the level of individual CDs with burned copies of software): discuss! (if it interests you)


    • TED

      gs, curious. what is the format of the juries, time of your presentation, time for comments, do the students feel they can participate etc. does that whole crowd do every student or do they break up to more managable sizes? are you only presenting digitally?

      Apr 26, 05 7:15 pm
      George Showman

      Well, this varies a lot by studio. In our case:
      - we presented all digitally
      - the core of the jury was there for the entire time, with maybe three or four people changing. But our studio was only six students, so it wasn't nearly as tiring for the critics as larger studios are.
      - because we were only six, we had about an hour per student. Ed told us to keep our presentations under twenty minutes.

      Apr 26, 05 10:04 pm
      Matthew Geiss

      I was in Ed's studio along with George and wanted to add my comments regarding the studio, final review, etc...

      I share many of the same frustrations as George specifically, the issue of not ever feeling grounded. It is interesting yet agonizing, to me that the review on Monday felt much more like a new beginning than having reached some conclusion.

      I suppose that one benefit of an 'ideas' studio such as this is the feeling that the research can and will continue for many of us well beyond our time at Columbia. Another benefit which comes to mind (having sat through much of Hernan's studio review today) is that amazing diversity is bread and almost guaranteed in such an open studio. Many of Hernan's students’ projects, while incredibly complex and beautiful, looked quite similar as they were all derived from a more specific, critic driven process. No project among the six of ours came close to resembling one another, even though we were all working with the same theme and guidelines.

      In the broadest sense, the downside of such a studio is the frustration of continuously floating through your imagination, without ever being able to firmly grip something solid in your hands. In the end, I felt that our projects were too disjointed to be evaluated in terms of one another. Each project had to be discussed and judged on its own logic of analysis, design, production and representation. This is what led to the more general discussion of the jury panel, which George mentioned above.

      I have been thinking about all of this a great deal, as I will be teaching a studio this summer. I am struggling between the desire to establish specific guidelines and parameters as a point of departure, and the instinct to encourage students to develop their own ideas and conclusions as the studio progresses. Hopefully the result will be a group of coherent projects, which can be judged against one another and still inspire a more general discussion of the design process.

      Lastly, I have found that the best juries, contain the fewest architects. Our jury last semester which included a fashion designer (Greg Foley), and two graphic designers (Mikon Van Gastel and one other from Imaginary Forces) was the most interesting panel I have ever experienced. In the same light Fabian Marcaccio was on Hernan's review this afternoon and had by far the most insightful comments of the day.

      Apr 28, 05 1:04 am

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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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