University of Southern California (Daniel)

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    Projects and Plans

    By Daniel
    Mar 23, '06 6:21 AM EST

    I admit this entry is written out of instinctual procrastination panic, but still. I'm dissatisfied with models as a mode of diagramming. I'm convinced certain things like circulation, grid relationships, and site proportion are best left to the drafting board. Which makes what I'm doing (or not doing) busywork. And whining about it online will totally help me finish.

    Our final project of the semester is being kept a secret--they're clearly trying to force us to think in purely abstract terms--but the rumor has leaked that it's some kind of exhibition space. Some people are already designing Postmodern museums. Mice and men, you know. I'm innocently playing along, ostensibly because I'm such a good student but really because I'm embarrassingly uncreative. That's where inspiration from analysis comes in, thank God.

    Mid-term studio evaluations came out. I doing far worse than last semester. I blame the lack of drawing (I've drafted once all semester) and emphasis on craft. And my time-consuming general education courses, which are eating my life (it probably tasted like candle wax, or maybe a stale custard). Maybe this is the rest of schooling: I suppose I can't expect that first year, first semester rush of knowledge to sustain itself. Maybe that's why I keep turning my interests elsewhere. I've diagnosed myself with academic ADD.

    We pick Fall 2006 classes soon. Remember when I whined about the lack of a language requirement? It turns out the time slot is open. I'm debating between Latin and French. Or Spanish. Or maybe an in-college elective called "Literature and the Urban Experience", which will mean reading (yay) and getting that pesky diversity requirement out of the way (also yay). The most "urban" piece of literature I can think of is Joyce's Dubliners, adding to the academic allure of the course. Something tells me, however, that if I pass this chance to take Latin I'll never forgive myself.

    Must keep babbling. Anyone read Nancy Levinson's blog ? I think it's quite good. But what do I know? The glares of the passing fifth years remind me of my place.


    • CorBooBoo


      I am a current second year at SC, so I've not much more experience, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

      But I've been reading your blog now and then, and it seems to me that while you are a particularly bright and aware student, you are missing something that most people never understand in the entire course of their education here. And that is faith. It is perfectly healthy and normal to continue to question your education and the methodology but you also have to be sure to not take your instructors for granted. A lot of people question and mock instructors whose achievement as architects they themselves will never reach. They complain about how instructors A, B, and C's style doesn't match or suit them, that they like architects D, E, and F but all at the same time, they don't have their own style - they piece elements from magazines and journals together and call it architecture - that is some dangerous shit.

      You must have faith in the system, you must read deeper than surface level and understand that underneath the nine models due on Thursday there is something the instructor is trying to drive out of you - and if you treat it as busy work, then even if you made 200 models they wouldn't say a thing. What you need to know is that what you are doing is sacred. This is coming from someone who just spent his spring break measuring and cadding a house in Hollywood for an add-on project for his instructor - real work is dry, boring, informative, educational, yes, but b-o-ring. The next time you get to make your own study models outside of school marks a time when you've really gone somewhere with this thing called architecture. Statistically maybe 1 out of 10 of your colleagues will actually get to DESIGN in the sense that you are doing now, so you should learn to savor it while it lasts. All you need to know is to be relentless with your work and brutally honest with yourself - absolutely no bullshit. If you realize that a model you just worked on for 3 days is shit, you need to have the willpower to throw it away, not trick yourself into liking it. This is probably the most important thing a first year can learn.


      Mar 24, 06 4:07 am

      As far as your concerns with classes go, I take an approach that only 4 or 5 of my classmates share - and we generally do pretty well - that is studio comes first. All other classes must revolve around it. This isn't coming from me, but if you have to ditch class, skip readings, cram for midterms, be clueless in discussions, it is absolutely worth it if it helps you free up time for studio, if it helps to enrichens your project, because to us that's really all that matters - our work defines us in an almost unhealthy way, but we are in pretty deep. This is of course very much an opinion that the school does not agree with, but on the other hand, they don't give us much choice.

      As far as medium is concerned, you have to find what you like, but first year is a time in which you are exposed to different ways of designing, let it be through models, sketching or sketch-upping, its the idea that has to read through like a white dot on a field of black - if an educated non-architect can read it then you're good. I think its important that you don't shy away from any medium at this point, but instead really try out all of them and then decide which one suits you best - several of my colleagues design in different ways and mediums and are all successful in reviews but back in first year we all slaved endlessly over all the different kinds of work they gave us.

      Don't mind the upper years - you must become confident enough to believe that you will surpass all of them.

      Sorry this is so long - but you have to realize that out of all the very, very talented students at USC, you are the only one representing us on this very popular webforum. I dare not question your potential, but judging from the models you posted of the first project, I will tell you that in last year's studio, they might have passed as study models. Maybe.

      Good luck on the final and knock'em dead.


      Mar 24, 06 4:07 am

      Literature and the Urban Experience is a great class if you're a bibliophile. The homework is 90% reading, 10% writing. Plus, when you have to take Ghirardo's theory class later on, she'll remember you and like you better if you did well in one of her electives. But it definitely is not urban experience = architecture, it's a much broader sort of discussion of it.

      But languages are good, too.

      I suspect that your final project is a small museum on campus, as that has been the final first year project for at least six years now. Unless they feel like changing it up a bit.

      In response to WoAiSanSan's comments: I too was disappointed with model quality, but we don't all have tiny, precise fingers. Some of us, models just aren't our thing. Hopefully Daniel's got some kickass drawings going on. And if only four or five people in second year put studio first, that is one weak class to come from SC. Either you are WAY underestimating your fellow students, or not noticing because of your own focus on studio, or that's a really, really weak class. I know very few people out of last year's graduating class that didn't take that attitude. Knowing the environment there (as well as some of your classmates), I'm going to assume that you are vastly underestimating them.

      Mar 29, 06 5:11 pm

      I appreciate all your comments. I know the models weren't that great--they were last minute. I probably shouldn't have posted them. But model making is one of my shortcomings, I'm at least aware of that. It'll improve.

      The project is indeed a museum... or "art exhibition space." I'll post about it shortly.

      Mar 30, 06 12:21 am


      I apologize for not phrasing my statement correctly and I dare not assume anything about the potential of my studiomates...most of my classmates do put studio first in terms of the strict hierarchy of classes, however there are very few that put their architecture before their grades. This is important - I am talking about not just taking each assignment for face value and producing what's required of them, but really flipping it upside down and thinking hard about exactly what it is they are being asked to explore, often producing more than the minimum not because of a mechanical desire to impress the instructor but because of a genuine passion for the architectural design process. Believe it or not, this is really rare in second year - if that makes us a weak class, then I guess that is the reality of it. If I seem hotheaded, I might be a bit - but that is only because I am comparing our class with the current third year, which apparently consists of a bunch of prodigies, which is also why I wish to see our first year do much better than us.


      Real quick model tips that should help out a lot if you don't know them already - mark points with your xacto point only (except for plexi), and always cut with your mayline and triangle - metal rulers are for long cuts and angles only. This way you ensure 90 degree cuts each time - glue with a syringe and use tweezers in small areas. Plastruct works not just on plexi to plexi, but is extremely effective in securing plexi to foamboard skin, as well as basswood to plexi, strathmore to plexi though to a lesser degree, and the chopper is your friend.

      Good luck with the final!

      Mar 30, 06 4:12 am

      Daniel- I understand completely. Even when I figured out a cool way to do a model, craft was just not my strong point.

      WoAiSanSan- I do agree that third year does indeed rock out. At least those I know from that year do. The unfortunate reality of the educational system is that you have to care about grades unless you're rich. I was on something like five different scholarships at any given time to make it through SC, and most of my friends were in similar situations. If people in that situation decide not to care about grades, then they don't have the opportunity to study at all anymore. I would have loved to be able to not care, as that freedom to take chances is lovely. So there's a balance between the extremes that must be found by most people, and believe it or not, pleasing a professor has some value and lessons in it, too, because someday you'll have to please clients in the same way.

      Mar 30, 06 1:22 pm


      I am sorry this is getting off-topic but I'm sure you can benefit from these issues.


      I completely respect students who keep up the rigors of architecture along with work study, scholarships, rotc, clubs and jobs and the like but what I am saying is that besides all that, there is still a distinction in the attitude toward design studio. It is true that I notice that those who are on scholarships and fin aid generally try harder than those who are rich enough to buy their way through to a degree, but that is precisely why I do not think it is a matter of wealth when it comes down to passion - it is probably true that wealth will allow you the freedom to really focus on studio, but I'm afraid that most people take that for granted. None of my friends are loaded enough to discard their gpa, me included, but when it comes down to our architecture, as long as there is sleep left to be sacrificed, we make sure our architecture is on par with our standards.

      While I'm sure it is important to impress clients, to me doing so for the sake of impressing is not beneficial to the client, the architect, or the future of the built environment in any sense larger than the monetary flow in the economy. Real ideas must take on something more than the standards of someone else - I realize this is an extremely idealistic view but I am only a second year student and have had some idealistic instructors. At some point you have to sell sell sell but to develop that mindset here in undergrad is not at all beneficial to your process in design imho.

      Thanks, though - nobody here even seems aware of these nuances. Its all wrapped in shiny paper.

      Mar 30, 06 2:56 pm

      This is a really great discussion, so you're very welcome and please continue. Thanks for the model-making tips... I often feel out of step with everyone else, as if I was supposed to naturally acquire these skills and the teachers expect them to already be in place. Hopefully by the end of this year I'll reach a point when creating a study model is more about learning and less about putting it together, if that makes any sense.

      And how did third year get to be so legendary?

      Mar 31, 06 3:28 pm

      I guess I just feel that you're going to miss something if you ALWAYS work either way. I know I've sounded very go-get-em-type-A-grades-matter so far here, but I would occasionally just refuse what my studio professor wanted because I thought they were just wrong, or not understanding where I was going. You've just got to try different ways of doing it, so you get the value from different experiences and processes before you get too set in your ways. So try occasionally to do what your instructor wants, not for the grade, but with the expectation that their suggestions have value and you're likely to learn something from the path they're trying to lead you down. Disclaimer: only try this when you have an instructor whose opinions you value and who you believe WILL be leading you somewhere interesting.

      Also, by fifth year you'll discover that there are usually several different small groups that think they're the ONLY ones working hard. It's just that y'all do it at different times. I was an early-morning person, and VERY few people were there with me, so the night-owls thought I didn't do any work for weeks at a time. But the fact was that I stayed up until mid-morning (3ish), and then went to bed right as they came to studio, and they were gone by the time I got in at 7 or 8am. It's easy to go on passing in the night like that for 75% of the semester.

      As for third year, I wouldn't say they're legendary. They're just somehow very competitive, but without the intensity and almost mean-spiritedness that my year had. They know how to work hard, but are still able to laugh at themselves. Every year has a different character as a group, and they just ended up being a great year. That by no means should be intimidating to anybody, because there's nothing to say that you couldn't fit in with that group had you been born in the appropriate year. It's just an aggregate characteristic that develops. Likewise, don't mind the fifth years, they're just like that.

      Mar 31, 06 8:19 pm

      Daniel, I'm sure you've noticed by now that everyone works differently and that its all relative, but I have to stress again that in first year and maybe first semester second year you have to have faith in your instructors because well, you really don't know what's good for yourself yet. You've probably also noticed that architecture is a completely different animal from other majors and a huge leap from high school education - this essentially levels the playing field, but the reality of it is that there will be those who believe themselves to be smarter and more capable because of their previous track record - this to me is extremely dangerous in your first few years - after you get to understand the fundamentals of making design decisions you can start to push and pull with instructors. I have followed this strategy very strictly and only this semester am I able to begin to critically and reasonably question some of the steps my instructor wanted me to take, and talk to him about it on an acceptable level.

      One last thing, as an alternative to what rationalist mentioned about groups who work hard, I'm sure it happens, but in the end it comes down to the pin-up. I highly suggest touring around all of the various review spaces and seeing ALL of your classmates projects, not just the two sections you review with - your instructor shouldn't have a problem with it. It is then that you can see who the real powerhouses are, which projects don't just look pretty but actually have something to say, generate discussion amongst students and faculty. You want that project to be yours. Most importantly, find out when the upper years are presenting and walk around their reviews! Look at their work and see their level - you are entitled to this educational experience - you are NOT invading another year's review.

      Apr 1, 06 3:05 am

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