University of Southern California (Daniel)

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    USC All School Charrette

    By Daniel
    Jan 13, '06 1:15 AM EST

    Thank-you all for the helpful and compassionate response to my last post; I see that open-ended entries with questions are more comment-friendly than my typically closed and tiresomely whiney style from before, so I'll adjust. Yes, I am that vain.

    Today during studio it was announced that the day would be spend participating in an all-school design charrette with the goal to give the school a "heart." The USC architecture building, Watt Hall, is notoriously characterless and unreactive to its context.

    Last semester, the building was under construction, adding a long-ago planned third floor which will contain offices and extra studio space. I got the distinct feeling that the undergraduate student body was fairly indifferent about the whole thing; the construction was annoying but rarely intrusive. Now, however, the school is enlisting its students to bring personality to the school, a "redesign and re-use of the existing facilities to enrich the school's activities beyond the normal class structure. The school of architecture needs to have a physical setting supporting our unique community of students, faculty, and staff."

    The charrette was a competition: we were divided into 4-6 person teams and asked to plan something, as large-scale or as focused as we wanted. My team first decided on a rather unambitious plan to beautify or simply spruce up the main courtyard between Watt and Harris, the fine arts building ("Oh, I don't know, a little paint, a few flowers, a couple of throw pillows..."). With a little help from our instructor we began to think more about what displeased us about the current arrangement: first years stuck in an airless basement. Our only source of sunlight:

    Our plan became a large excavation on the south side of the building, some 90 ft by 60 ft and 10 ft deep, with a paved and covered patio and sloped grass area, providing a sheltered place of meeting or relaxation as well as giving the basement a large wall of openable windows. Actually, I made that last part up, I don't really know what they wrote on the presentation board: I wasn't consulted.

    (Imagine a big, stylish pit here.)

    I am vexed by the hugely collaborative nature of architecture. I enjoy working on my own. And if I am going to work with others, I'd like to assume that they have to same devotion that I do. All the leader of my group could say was that she wanted to be out of there by six. I have no social life, so I suppose it's unfair to expect the same of others, but architecture isn't a "I need to be out of here by..." field. You're finished when you're finished it's due. I ran into the same problems last night cutting the wood--the person I was in the shop with wasn't measuring as carefully as I was, and so many of our pieces are faultily formed. Here's the open ended bit: what are some recommendations you have for working with groups? We ended up being all right. Our project won't compare, of course, to the designs cooked up by the fourth- or fifth-year students, but I'm oddly proud of it in a dorky way.


    • citizen


      When I was at 'SC, back when the earth was still cooling, Watt Hall's roof (now third floor) was prime drinking territory, populated mostly by empty beer bottles. I'm glad to see it put to better use. Of course, I did my drinking down in the courtyard.

      As for group work: don't sweat it. You won't have to do very much of it in school. You will, however, be doing more of it in practice if you decide to stay in architecture (many won't). From what you describe, your approach was just right: give your input, figure out the really important elements to you, fight for them (firmly but respectfully), enjoy the battles you win, accept those you don't. Choose your battles carefully: some matter, some don't. And accept that you won't always get your way. Over time, YOU will be the one with more experience and expertise, and will be able to win more of the group-level contests and shape the work.

      Good luck.

      Jan 13, 06 10:35 am

      while i was at SC the watt hall roof was the home of a painting by risk wca. he was in the art school. it was his final project of the year. he was kicked out of school for the painting, and next year the school of fine arts used his painting as the poster to recruit students to the art school. when i was looking at schools dana smith took me up there to see the painting. but we spent many night chilling on the roof.

      as for giving the school some heart and soul i would start with tearing out all the doors and security systems they put up just before i graduated. it became nearly impossible to just wander through the studios and see what was happening in each of the other classes. there is no point in a heart if it has nothing to feed. i would figure out ways to better display student work. ensure safety for the models and drawings and put them out there so others can see. once in a while when we were in school they would have a small exhibition of student work, usually locked up before studio was finished. it would be nice to see more of what is happening around you. think of ways to encourage communication between studios and years.

      as for working with others. citizen has given some good advice. once you graduate you will always be working in groups. i was much like you wanting to lock myself in the studio put on my headphones and work till my fingers bleed. there is something nice about collaboration though. even if you don't agree on everything. learn what your strenghts are learn what your weaknesses are. try to form your team to compliment yourself. you might be great at the initial concept but not understand structures, you might be a great physical model builder but are not able to diagram your building. understand that inside the group everyone will not put in equal work. someone might go home at 6 someone might stay all night. sometimes the allnighter is uncessary, sometime the professor will notice that the work is lopsided. use the time to learn to work on creative projects with others. designing as a group is much different than a group paper.

      Jan 13, 06 6:09 pm

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