Kent State University (Micah)



Sep '09 - Feb '12

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    Struggle, meditation, acceptance.

    Micah McKelvey
    Mar 19, '10 6:20 PM EST

    This semester has been a strong test of my general approval of architecture, and more specifically, my place within it. Of course, I'm not talking physical architecture here, but rather the industry, practice, and teaching of architecture. To sum it up neatly, I've realized for myself, like so many before me, that architecture is a sham and a general waste of time.

    I don't know when my resistance to the whole concept began, but being in Italy has definitely proliferated my disdain for architecture to a higher degree. I think this is because my main grief deals with the authenticity of our practice, and for me currently, the authenticity of architectural instruction. Over winter break I picked up a book randomly from the architecture library at school, Architecture Depends by Jeremy Till. I was only able to get through the first few chapters before coming here to Florence, but in it he offers (among other things) an unapologetic criticism of the architecture studio, often humorous, but at the same time painfully true. The main message of the book isn't exactly this, but Till relates the architecture studio to an autonomous culture, trying so desperately to separate itself from society being both self-referential and pushing its own bourgeois stylistic code.

    Unfortunately his critiques are incredibly relevant for me when I consider my current existence. But for me it's not so much the professors expecting students to perform at certain standards, thus assimilating into the “society” by using meaningless words, designing projects with catchy one-word concepts, and accepting the aesthetics and trends of contemporary design to name a few, but rather the students' apathetic acceptance of these ludicrous methods. Because let's admit, passive acceptance better guarantees a good grade, and a good grade will eventually lead to an (idealized) well-paying job. I asked a fellow student a while ago, who had said he didn't come into architecture school expecting what he found (being that architecture to him meant the traditional-style house he grew up in), if he truly believed in what he was now doing. In short, his answer was no, and even openly admitted to conforming to the architecture world in assumption that that was what he had to do. And I know that this doesn't just happen at Kent, but that it manifests itself in programs across the world with schools pumping out “architects” who are merely shadows of unsubstantial ideologies.

    I said earlier that Italy has been a catalyst for this realization, and in fact being in Florence at this time has very conveniently lined up with my griefs in that being here has proliferated my hated towards the inauthentic. Here in Florence I have been unexpectedly bombarded with fakery...namely the presence of tourism as an industry and all the atrocious things that spring from it...more so than anything I could have experienced before in Ohio where tourism is admittedly a foreign concept in the realms of coexisting with everyday life. So it bothers me, and I mean this in the worst possible way, that Florence is a Renaissance amusement park. This amusement park is only fun if you remain ignorant to truth, believing that everything around you really is from past eras, traditional, and authentically "Italian" as the people here want the world to believe. In fact, so much here is a sham that the boundaries between what is faking authenticity and truly authentic are horribly blurred and almost indistinguishable. To complicate this, when I try to seek out the authentically Italian I don't know where to start because I don't know what the point of originality is here. But more than that, ironically attempting to study contemporary architecture in a culture that is outright against what I am here to learn would make anyone uneasy and a little bit disillusioned.

    So what do I do and how do I reconcile the fact that the world that I am a part of and feeding into is so inauthentic? My response thus far has been a complete lack of motivation or inspiration and the work I've done in studio to this point would reflect that. And what does that say about me if I realize all of this but still remain without a single creative urge? Is the joke ultimately on me, because I can observe all of this in incredible anguish and nobody cares? I came into architecture with a very innocent and naive aspiration of changing something about the world, but I never would have thought that I would end up wanting to change something about architecture. And I find that very disheartening.

    Certainly the story doesn't end here, but starts here. In the case of studio, motivation has (somehow) found me again and over the past two weeks I managed to push my project (slightly) forward. My battle with authenticity is just beginning and I think that accepting this is probably the best step I can take at this point. A friend recently reminded me that school is about finding yourself and what you're actually interested in, despite the polluted situation we find ourselves in. I'd like to think that this personal battle is evidence that I'm doing exactly that, but if not, then it at the very least helps keep it all in perspective.


    • abc91686


      To be completely honest, Im proud to hear this. I feel for yous and struggle with you. I hope you find your answer, one thing i can tell you is that if you still feel this way in a year when you get back to wonderful Kent, IDC will do horrible things to your "motivation" I accepted it moved on and have no future plans of getting licensed or "practicing". Architecture doesn't pay enough for me to perpetuate the falsalities. I can do that in any number of other jobs that pay me double. But I have stayed am in grad school and will have an M.Arch in 6 months...but the wonderful thing about Kent is I will also have an MBA in 14 months...hard to turn it down. Hang in there and try and enjoy Italy.

      Adam Cummins

      Mar 20, 10 4:37 pm  · 


      I applied to Kent State's M. Arch program for Fall 2010 and it appears that I was accepted per Greg Stroh and would like to know if either of you could answer a few questions for me.

      1. How is the M. Arch program as far as technology aided design and digifab?
      2. Is the Florence program beneficial?
      3. How are the facilities?
      4. Do you feel the program's 1.5 year structure to be enough time for you?


      Mar 21, 10 11:37 am  · 

      I'm surprised at how little response this post has received. I suppose archinect is a bit more segregated than we wish it were...the kent-ers are the only ones who seem to take interest in this blog (and my how we come out of the woodwork)

      We've talked a bit on this, but in response to Adam's comment and some of what you've implied; motivation is a tough thing but ultimately it's not Kent's responsibility. Specifically, "OE" doesn't have to ruin your motivation if you're aware of the issue going into it. This coming from a person who was extremely satisfied with his performance on a fantastically anti-typical OE project. While we were laughed at by classmates for not doing CD's, we were continually told by professors (ours and others, whom I respect highly for their technical and practical prowess) that our project exemplified what integrated design was about.

      Fight the good fight. The joke's not on you if you're the only one in the room that gets it. And when you get down and unmotivated, read read read and draw draw draw and see if something doesn't happen.

      good luck.

      Mizzle, you picked an odd time to ask advice about grad school. Are you looking at the CUDC or Kent main?

      Mar 21, 10 2:20 pm  · 

      i was hesitant posting this. it could be seen as highly offensive, pathetic, or whatever...but the low response makes me wonder what i have to say to get some action on here...

      damn, do i really sound like i'm blaming kent? my lack of inspiration is ultimately my own fault, and i understand that. but i do think the entire academic system of architectural education somehow needs to own up to its inauthenticity. at kent specifically, the problem seems to be that students can (quite literally) bullshit their way to a degree. it's frustrating that students are okay with that (look at themselves in the mirror sort of i'm harsh) and equally frustrating that the college consistently lets it happen. that's a personal example but ultimately, it goes both ways. at programs across the globe.

      i don't know much about next year's project, other than i thought cd's were required?? i suppose i'll get through it, but jake, that probably translates into more distressed email volley. thanks in advance. ;)

      finally, mizzle, i would help you if i could, but unfortunately since i haven't been through the m.arch, i'm useless to provide you with specifics. maybe i'll see you around next year.

      Mar 21, 10 6:04 pm  · 

      Surely, what you are confronting are your own misconceptions about Italy and Architecture. I have not been to Italy, but I imagine I would be feeling the same as you are in your position.

      Academic architecture is a game. And you can bullshit your way to a degree. But thats all you will acheive - a degree founded on bullshit.

      It is your responsibility to craft an academic career that is based upon the ideas and arguments that you believe are correct and worthy. The risk that you wont receive support on this is inversely proportional to the amount of hard work and effort you put in [in my experience].

      I would have thought that your discoveries about the authenticity or otherwise of the contemporary Italian historical centre would lead to a very fruitful discourse.


      Mar 21, 10 9:24 pm  · 

      I wholeheartedly agree with diabase. I think your idea about authenticity is a bit flawed, and that's why you feel so let down. You can't look at Florence like "the good old days" as being authentic. Epcot would be the inauthentic Italy, Florence is not. Just like you can't study Las Vegas as part of the desert. And if you have learned anything in architecture, it should be that in general architects love to talk about architecture even more than your "catchy one-word comments" like "authenticity", "instrumentality", blablabla. Most of all, if you find you have such an extreme disdain for architecture, then you need to find yourself another major. It's never too late to decide that you don't want to hate your job the rest of your life so don't settle because your negativity will only increase, and architecture often requires long long hours as I'm sure you already know.

      As for the inability to be motivated, read some books! Look at some images. I'm not sure what you are referring to when you talk about the trends of contemporary architecture, but you sound more like you are talking about postmodernism throughout the rest of your post, given your definition of authenticity. What I find most exciting about a lot of contemporary views is that architecture is not defined with some concrete definition that withstands the age of time. A lot of ideas about architecturally thinking about infrastructure and ecology is so much more interesting and shows that we're thinking about the world in more temporary terms (not definitions that can impose a certain "authenticity" on them). Read as much as you can get your hands on, Stan Allen, OMA (something more recent than SMLXL, like Projects for Prada), Bjarke Ingels, Kipnis... Look at what firms are doing, and who they are working with. There is so much going on to be fired up about, to be excited about and inspired to do work by. So if your professors don't inspire you, don't let that be your only judgment of architecture, maybe you belong at a different school.

      And like diabas said, you can't just read read read but you have to MAKE MAKE MAKE.

      Mar 22, 10 8:04 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      Michal, I feel your pain! I guess my belief is that we're in graduate school to prepare ourselves to find our own way to contribute, to change the way things work rather than just buying in.

      That being said, it'll take a while before we're able to really do that, and in the interim, some buying in (or at least renting) seems to be necessary.

      Keep writing! I'm looking forward to hearing how it goes for you.

      Mar 22, 10 9:30 am  · 

      I think a lot of students go through this kind of gut check. It's natural, healthy and demonstrates that you are truly learning and growing in your pursuit of architecture.

      It is dismaying to see that you seem to have dismissed your current environment, though. Authenticity is all around your and unfortunately you aren't being encouraged to look in the right places. Having studied architecture in Florence, I do agree that the omnipresence of tourism is at times overwhelming and it can be disappointing. (This is especially true when study abroad programs are often presented to students as tapping the unspoiled, idyllic cultures of the world for your study (ie consumption) ...)

      All that said, the architecture that you're most likely there to study wasn't built for tourists, but rather was developed to serve and express unique social orders and cultural codes. Is that not is the most authentic expression of design?

      To put it more plainly, (as mycat implied) there is an obvious reason that Florence is a 'Renaissance amusement park'... (Let's be fair, It was the cultural center of the Renaissance)

      You also can't overlook that Florence has been a continually occupied city for hundreds of years. And although tourism is a symptom, the fact that the city's very contemporary residents continue to respond to centuries-old structures and organizations with their own systems makes the place all the more fascinating.

      In parting, despite your questions about the discourse, I hope you give Florence another chance. Look into its history since the Renaissance, go to a soccer game in Stadio Franchi (designed by Nervi). At the very least enjoy it now while the weather is nice and its not quite peak travel season. I have to admit that your frustrations with tourism will only be agitated when you will hear everything BUT Italian walking across Piazza della Signoria ...

      Mar 23, 10 11:35 am  · 

      Cheroke, that's called end of the semester blues....keep an open and inquisitive mind and you'll get through it.

      Apr 17, 10 5:56 am  · 

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