Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still blog here once in a while.

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    Project 1 done. Project 2 starting.

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Sep 21, '09 6:54 PM EST

    Hello Archinect!

    It’s been three weeks since my last post, so I apologize for my absence. I’ve been busy! Our first studio project—the addition of an elevator to a 19th century building with convoluted staircases and other circulation patterns—has come and gone, and our class is fully immersed in life at the GSD. Our second project is a house in a very constrained site: a narrow gap between two nearly-identical gable-roofed houses, a few blocks from school. I’ve always been fascinated by small spaces: One of my favorite apartments was in the University of Alberta’s HUB Mall, an enclosed arcade connecting various university buildings with a long pedestrian street of shops and restaurants and apartments overlooking them. One of the most common unit types had four bedrooms off a shared double-height space; each bedroom was under 20 square feet, and after a quick trip to IKEA, it was perfect. (The key was making use of the vertical space with the loft bed, a strategy aided, I’m sure, by the fact that I’m not particularly tall.) All this to say that I’m excited to see what we can all come up with for this tiny and very demanding site.

    The school's teaching, resources, curriculum, and the overall administration have been really impressive so far. I love how it’s a big place filled with obsessive-compulsive designers and nerds, such that there’s a system (and often an algorithm) for every decision-making process. It’s not perfect, but the GSD is a big enough (and good enough) ship that even with a few leaks here and there, constantly being patched, it sails just fine. Of course, there have been frustrations, too—mostly involving a certain early-morning class which is mandatory and for which we have to sign in at the door, but for which we do not get credit, and reviews for non-studio courses which go on and on and on and on—but these are small issues. What these two examples suggest, however, is that the way to tick off the M.Arch.I class is to rob us of our time. Time (and therefore sleep) is the currency that rules our lives, and in which we’re always running short on. I’m sure most architecture schools are like this (and I’d like to hear about it from the other current and former M.Arch.I students out there), but it does seem particularly insane here. We have studio on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so we essentially have some kind of deadline three times a week, and combined with our in-class time and homework for our other classes, and the various workshops, lectures, and other non-credit (but pretty much mandatory) activities, plus all the really great extra-curricular stuff going on, every hour of the day and night seems to be accounted for, and we’re often double and triple booked.

    The biggest change for me, coming from a PhD program, is learning how to learn a little about a lot, rather than a lot about a little. Nothing that we’re doing is all that difficult, but there’s just so much to do. The GSD’s approach, at least in the core program of the M.Arch.I, is to throw way more at you than you can possibly keep up with, so that you learn to prioritize and make choices. Scott Cohen told us not to worry if we can’t follow everything in an in-depth manner, that the key is to pick up on whatever clicks for us and find ways to cultivate our own areas of interest and expertise over the 3.5 to 4 years that we’re here. I’m taking that to heart and am keeping the perfectionist side of me in check; everything is an opportunity to learn and my aim is to focus on what I am learning rather than whatever I may not have been able to learn or get to on any given day.

    In terms of studio pedagogy, the compressed schedule and frequent meetings with our studio critics and TAs are set up so that we’re constantly being asked to produce. If I have to do (say) a model in Rhino for Monday, a set of diagrams, plans, and sections, for Wednesday, and a physical model for Friday, I don’t have time to sit back and contemplate the project. So I have to learn how to think through making and to develop my own working process for doing this. While this can get hectic and stressful, I really appreciate this strategy. It seems to set up a condition comparable to that of architecture itself. A building can’t do everything well; if it tried to do that, it would probably achieve nothing. So we have to pick our battles and try to find ways to deal with a few essential ideas at a time, within the many demands placed on any given project.

    I’ll leave you with a few pictures.

    Here’s a group project (with James Martin and Bri Patawaran) for our structures class.

    Here we are in Corb’s Carpenter Center.

    Here’s Scott Cohen doing his thing (photo credit: Glen Santayana).

    And here… is our site for project #2. That’s right, it’s the space between these two houses. I’d better get back to work!

    Thanks for reading.



    • Kamu Kakizaki

      the second project sounds fascinating! let us know how it goes.

      i reminded me of a competition a couple weeks ago, called re-burbia. the entries weren't extraordinary i would say, but definitely might be worth a look.

      Sep 22, 09 3:47 am  · 

      lian, seeing the site for project #2 reminds me of a gordon matta-clark project called "odd lots" could be interesting.

      Sep 22, 09 4:47 am  · 

      the zig-zag follies (foto 1) is interesting...i'm assuming these are free standing and not "attached" to the table?


      Sep 22, 09 2:12 pm  · 

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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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