Yale School of Architecture (Enrique)

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    Who Are You, What Do You Do, What Do You See?

    By Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke
    Dec 24, '06 12:14 PM EST

    It seems that these are the questions I get asked the most, especially this time of year. My relatives ask me if I'm gonna become an architect, and I tell them, "Actually, I am a historian." And there's an answer that draws a multitude of facial expressions.

    But the thing is, now that I am away from my desk at school, away from my books, my files, my research, I have some time to reflect on the decision I've made to spend the next 6 or so years working towards a PhD. Not to get into application-personal-statement mode, but I will give you one of the answers I'm not supposed to give: I absolutely love studying, reading, about architecture. I love finding out those mysteries that add to the general puzzle, those not-so-famous moments that are more significant that I even thought. Really, we're not supposed to say that -- we're trained to say "Well, my area of expertise, while I studied under professor X, is the ramifications of historical event/aesthetic movement y on architect Z, and so on and so on." But only two days ago, while I was in the lower Chicago Loop with my brother, about to enter Prarie Avenue Bookshop, I stood in the rain looking at Sullivan and Adler's Auditorium Building for about 10 minutes. And it was there that I realized why I am embarking on this whole PhD thing, why I am devoting a near-eternity to the study of architecture: because I love to look. When you strip away all this theoretical/historical/aesthetic nomenclature and jargon, everything basically comes down to looking: whether it be from a worm's eye, via revisionist historicism, or even considering something from a completely different angle, my love of architecture, my desire to breathe, inhale, and devour architecture comes not from wanting to build and design something, but from looking at that something. If I am not a designer, then everything I do or think is informed, in some way, by architecture and other avenues of visual culture.

    Which reminds me ... so when I logged in to archinect this morning, I saw my name all over the page. I never thought myself as a "featured blogger" type. I can't put up some of the dazzling models and drawings as +q and others; my commentary is not as witty or provocative as hasselhoff's or oana's. I can't even give you a first-hand account of studio culture. I am not sure how to really pinpoint or assign value to my contributions to this website ... I'm just trying to impart how I look at the things I see. This featured blogger stuff, plus all the comments I get make me feel like I'm on the right track.

    So Thank You, and Happy Holidays to all ....


    • Katze

      Smokety, that was quite touching. I am glad that you are on the right track. Happy holidays!

      Dec 24, 06 3:36 pm  · 

      my goals are similar in some ways. i just want to read books for a living. but i don't think that's the same as being a historian, or even a book critic.

      seriously though, before 2007 even starts you know where you want to be! that's got to feel good. congrats.

      Dec 26, 06 12:11 pm  · 
      vado retro

      i contacted indiana university about doing a phd in art history. actually i have this idea about writing a bio of john wellborn root. i figured i could do it through iu since i received my ba there in art history. well they sent me the info and you need two foreign languages to be admitted. now this would be important if i was studying mycenean pottery or peter breughel. and i know of course that theres a lot of kraut writing on american architecture, but come on , i don't even speak or write english that well. needless to say that killed that idea.

      Dec 26, 06 2:50 pm  · 
      liberty bell

      Nice job, Smoke. Find what you like to do then figure out how to do it for a living - that's success. That's what I feel whenever I walk on a jobsite - I love looking at how buildings come together.

      Loveley end of the year entry. See you in '07.

      Dec 28, 06 7:25 am  · 

      Beautifully written insights into your mind while it contemplates architecture, that's what you offer and they're very valuable. :-)
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know what you mean about looking and thinking, and the only thing I would add is how great it can be to draw while looking, cause then you see even more. And it's an excuse to stay a while longer.

      Best of luck with your applications!

      I must say my personal statement really twisted me in knots, and my beloved advisor read it and didn't like it. She said it was indeed twisted in knots and I should just come out and say what I meant. Which made me wish I knew what I meant. I think I did say something in there about my love for coming up with better questions, maybe similar to a love of reading. I love the way that learning more show you how little you know. Reality is often way weirder than one can imagine.

      But I wonder if I will ever see myself as a historian, whenever I call myself a historian it's to sneak by someone. People don't look too closely at historians, it's a credible thing to be in a way that an architect or theorist just isn't. I mean, when talking to family or faculty or whatever. Anyway, great to hear your thoughts as always!

      Dec 29, 06 2:38 pm  · 
      Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

      k-stan .... I appreciate the encouraging remarks, especially from a fellow traveler. I finished another application today (Princeton), and when I looked at the finished .pdf version, I was taken aback by how pithy it was. It was kinda encouraging, knowing that the statistical/GPA/rote stuff is so minimal compared to the writing sample and statement. I was not too happy with the personal statement. I worked on it for days, and once I edited it down to its pithiness, it sounded so clipped and direct.

      I hope that this is the last time I have to fill out such applications ... they can get exasperating.

      Dec 30, 06 1:34 am  · 

      Enrique, I actually look forward to reading your updates, so you are feature-blogger worthy, dude! - Johnny P-B

      Dec 30, 06 10:14 pm  · 

      I don't know why that personal statement was so hard. The one for the MED really flowed well, and I had a lot of time to think about it while working in an architecture office. This one, I think needed to be sooo many things to so many people. Scholarly but peppy. Trying to show that you can be serious and specific, but not such that you look boring or like one of those people who can't see the big picture at all. Of course, your topic isn't boring so that helps. And maybe another reason the PhD statement was so hard was that at that time in the third MED semester, you're thinking is rather in transition. At least for me it was. As things come together, your understanding of them develops and shifts.

      As to hoping not to do that ever again, I hear you. But...
      I wasn't at all sure I would get in, so to hedge my bets in February or so, I wrote a teaching statement to apply for a teaching job. And that was great, it was so much more me. But so, there will be more times, but not so bad. The PhD applications really freaked me out, on top of all the other writing and everything. Kinda like the way that doing three good researched papers has been freaking me out this semester.

      But the nice part of the PhD application was going through old papers and seeing how well some of them had held up. I had written about 'Snow Crash', Matta-Clark, 19th century American utopias and then of course the adolescent privacy issues. Oh, yea, and the one MED chapter that I had at that time, Evans' biography. But they hung together as this sort of speculation on the intimate politics of solitude in a way that I liked. That and as scary as it was, meeting all these people that I had looked up to. It was kinda neat. I kept saying to myself, well, if this is the pinacle of my career, at least I will always be able to tell myself that person x and person y talked to me about my work and didn't laugh me out the door. That was neat.

      And the other nice part, was having the applications gone.

      Dec 31, 06 10:10 am  · 
      Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

      K-stan ... you are dead on about the PhD application thing being a moment to reflect. I was lookng at potential writing samples and immediately noticed how much I had changed in the past year-and-a-half ... so much so that I had to be very selective about what stuff to include in my writing sample. I immediately jettisoned stuff I did while at UCLA and for my first couple of classes at Yale ... as you can imagine, what was left was this melange about architecture and scientific practice, as well as other sutff, but with a critical/historical bent (at least I hope so). I was also able to narrow the scope of my inquiry, which was good. And though I was not precocious enough to write about Snow Crash or GMC, in the end, I too feel that I was able to present stuff that (I think) people will be able to take seriously. It took a while for me to be able to get to that point, but I look forward to maturing in my scholarship.

      :) indeed

      Jan 1, 07 9:11 pm  · 

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