Columbia University (Miki)



Sep '06 - Oct '07

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    Good food, the finer grain, design and redesign

    By mikilee
    Sep 10, '06 1:28 AM EST

    I just spent a lovely New York evening saying farewell to a dear friend of mine who decided to take the year off for work. Several of my fellow classmates sat around a dazzling array of delicious japanese/korean bbq down near the Cooper Union, cooking away at tasty dishes, talking about school and life and our interests prior to Columbia and now that we are there. I'm a firm believer in taking breaks from work, meeting over good food and sake, to talk and discuss- isn't that why we are here to begin with? To meet and collaborate over ideas and food? When I first came to Columbia, I had no idea that students don't really team up on projects. If anything, I learned the first year that if anything, the trend is to get students to develop their own way of thinking about design and 'develop personaes'. It's really refreshing that second year, you have the opportunity to pair up and collaborate- though I heard many pairs end up in bitter divorce because egos and ideas collide with no resolution. I'm hoping that won't happen with our year, but hey, the divorce statistic is now up to 60% who get married get divorces in the end-- maybe our culture is becoming more willing to split than compromise, but we'll see.

    On another note, both in response to my last post and the comments I received, was in relation to design and money. I don't know very much (yet) about markets and how they drive design, and I'm hoping that I can get a taste of that in my studio at least, on a conceptual level from the standpoint of 'who's funding' the work and ideas that are driving it. I don't mind 'dirtying' the design talk by asking realistic questions. I hope that our studio encourages that- because only then, can the fantasy of academia have an impact on the real world. Maybe I'm being naieve and idealistic. I welcome your experiences in this area if you've had them! Do share! Apparently in the UK, there's much more support for creative thinking when it comes to topics in housing, where in the US it's not as common. When it does happen in the US, I'm really interested in learning how it came about, and how to manipulate the system here so that one can then infuse so-called good work and honest design thinking into a number of disciplines.

    One thing I've been interested in, is how buildings grow and evolve over time, and how architects should perhaps be involved in their change as part of their way of thinking about design. I'm very interested in how people live in buildings, and what works and what doesn't AFTER the building is handed off. Does anyone work in this capacity as an architect? I would love to hear about it. It seems the possibility and the need to have a more interactive, and long-term relationship with those living in these spaces could help architects expand their role in the long-term and be perhaps more involved in redesign of spaces, developing a finer grain of understanding about their 'client' over time, with the capacity to evolve with them.



    • the righteous fist

      i would love the idea of an "after care" service too, involving the residents'/users' experience of your place, but that also sounds like more work for no money, i don't know if anyone could set up a relationship like that.

      Sep 26, 06 8:03 pm

      hey you, i don't know you. but i am curious about your curiosity of what i wrote earlier.

      i've suggested this possibility to other practioners in medicine, primarily. they are in gross need of this kind of thinking.

      sadly, or fortuitously, i think the answer is in business. being able to chat with what you're most uncomfortable with- to figure out how this might work. i think there's a whole world out there for architects to analyze and design, but then redesign the worlds they create by working with clients.


      Sep 27, 06 1:23 am

      in the spirit of collaboration and communication!... I highly recommend these two books, which I think you will really like re your interest in how buildings evolve and how people live in them:

      * Whyte, William H. "From The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980)" and "From City: Rediscovering the Center (1988)." in 'The Essential' . ed. Lafarge. Fordham University Press , 2000.

      ...Whyte analyses new york public spaces and how people use them, as well as the characters of the street. Since you're at Columbia you'll have great fun with this book... and exploring the spaces he analyses... there is also a fantastic film documentary showing his film and time-lapse research also titled "From The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces".

      * Brand, Stewart. 'How Buildings Learn: What happens after they're built' . New York: Penguin Books. 1994.

      ...Brand takes an inquisitive look at the different layers of a building, how it ages and evolves over time, and what the relationship of building to user and user to building is.


      ...also, please comment more on the dynamics of the classes and the sensibility around collaboration (which I also believe is vital)... do students organize things together and initiate their own research cohorts and projects?



      Nov 7, 06 11:56 am

      Dear Snookers,
      Thanks for writing. I've been away from my blog for a while, busy with midterms and my next quarter review. I was not familiar with your first book suggestion, by william whyte, but i will check it out. stewart brand and i have actually been doing some email correspondence over the past few years, because we're alumni from the same highschool. weird, no? either way, i've been in touch with that world of thought, and beyond academic records, i've been looking into ways of connecting architecture to other disciplines.

      i will be much more vibrant in the upcoming days, but i wanted to let you know that i appreciated your entry and the fact that you want me to write more. it always helps, in times when one has to figure out if it's worth it to spend energy when there is no positive response.


      Nov 8, 06 2:10 am

      Hi Miki, thank you for your response!

      Very cool that your in contact with Stewart Brand. I imagine then that you're also familiar with the Global Business Network? (

      Brand's fellow BGN founder, Peter Schwartz has a great book called "The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World" which I highly recommend in regard to thinking about long-range planning and future scenario visioning.

      I'll let you get back to your midterms, etc. but I also have a couple other inquiries along the same lines as my last post...

      are you pursuing a joint degree? And is there much collaboration or 'cross-polination' of ideas across the GSAPP and the Columbia Earth Institute, for example?

      Thanks again!

      Nov 8, 06 8:23 pm

      Hi Snookers,

      I am familiar with the GBN- in fact, Mr. Brand got me in touch with his wife, Ryan Phelan, because she was starting a company called DNA Direct, which was recently featured in an issue of Business 2.0. At the time, I was interested in developing a healthcare outreach through design, which led me to the foundation of a company that would look at design solutions for massive problems in healthcare. The company is on hold for a little while, until I finish school, but Brand was helpful in connecting me with people who are actively changing access to healthcare through communication and the internet economy.

      I will check out this other book you suggested- you are helping me develop my winter break reading list. Thanks for that... and you? Who are you? (sorry to be so bold to ask) are you in school? Are you pursuing a joint degree? Etc...

      I am not pursuing a joint degree at the time, but I did get a previous masters degree at the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program, in 2002. The program was founded by Martin Elton, who was a Burda Scholar, and taught business and economics at Columbia U, a professor of urban policy, and artists. It was a great program back in the day, and through that program I became interested in the possibility for interdisciplinary work that manifested in social change. The students there ranged from all disciplines, from architecture, finance, writing, performing arts, and technology, and were of all ages and sizes. So in a way, though I'm not pursuing a 'dual degree', I am stacking them up and hoping to develop a new approach.


      Nov 8, 06 11:15 pm

      I'm a GSAPPer in Miki's studio. I think Columbia has a lot of talent and potential within the student body to have creative extracurriculars. But, the school discourages any kind of extra-anything. I would say there are a hand full of students here that are partaking in architectural investigations along with professors, but no one is doing something outside of school that is ambitious in it's own right as a complete architecture project. Columbia is encapsulating and will require the most of you 24/7 for 3 years. Keep everything else of your creative measures on the back burner for a while. CU will help you see them in new light and will provide you with so many more tools of investigating those ideas than when you walk in for first year.

      That said, check out Jill Fehrenbacher's blog here. She has an independent blog called Inhabitat ( Jill has a little help keeping it going since she has a lot of GSAPP work going, but in terms of students doing architecturally related extracurricular activities, this is probably one of the best examples.

      With relation to bottom up approaches, I think its not unfeasible, but it requires a relinquishing of power by the architects. Bottom-up is a community/neighborhood dictation of program within/around a space. The program desired by residents of the neighborhoods comes from years of intimate knowledge about the space and place. Architects, however, do not know anything about these places, therefore making their creations assumptions of what appropriate space should be. I find this troubling. Potentially the problem is within the academic approach of architecture school. We are required to have a finished project. Fair enough. (con't on next comment)...

      Nov 9, 06 9:31 pm

      (con't from previous comment)...

      But, when the project is about how to allow bottom-up approaches one semester is not long enough. A real architectural solution would be to design "potentials" by which the residents can make use of in a manner that they see fit. These potentials might not be physical elements. They might be allowing them to be part of the design team, for the entire process, not just the initial "charrette". In any case, the final project is not a manifestation of the design language of the architect, but it is the process of problem solving with strangers that yields a place.

      In today's world I think we are too proud to not have exclusive ownership of a creation. It is not understood in the intellectual corridors of architecture if you "facilitated" something. Facilitating takes just as much design prowess and social maneuvering as any ego-centric skyscraper, but your reward is collective and that scares too many architects.

      Nov 9, 06 9:32 pm

      Hi JGL- so you're in my studio, who are you? I'd like to talk to you :)

      You have really valid ideas and let's get lunch :)


      Nov 10, 06 12:01 am

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