Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

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

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    In defense of homasote

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Oct 28, '10 4:04 PM EST

    Hello Archinect,

    Wow, such modernists here! I've been following the comments to my post about our new workspaces and--partly because I know that outsiders' impressions of our school often align with these comments--feel compelled to use this space to respond.

    I have to say that just because something looks open and transparent (and therefore democratic--that connection is something worth interrogating in itself--and while we're at it, whoever said an architecture school is or should be a democracy?) doesn't mean it functions that way. Remember the birth of cubicles, made necessary by the fact that those wall-less floor plans didn't end up as wonderful as their architects promised?

    image [From Jacques Tati's 1967 'Play Time.']

    Yes, visitors to the GSD often think our homasote pin-up boards and individual shelters are unsightly or anti-social; I certainly did when I first saw the place, and this was part of what initially gave me the (entirely incorrect) impression that the GSD is an unnecessarily competitive or unfriendly place. But you have to understand the workspaces in the context of the building and how we use it: this isn't Rudolph Hall (at Yale), where the building often has low ceilings and articulates itself into many nooks and small aisles that afford you a sense of shelter and privacy. The high, shared ceiling of Gund and the structure of the trays is such that when you're sitting at your desk, you see and are seen by your 600 closest friends, the faculty and staff of the school, and the dozens of visitors and tourists who come through the trays every hour of the day.

    Personally, I don't mind that; this is my first semester being "out" on the railing instead of under the overhang, and I not only enjoy being able to glance around, but I also find the feeling of being under surveillance, and surrounded by life, useful for my productivity and sense of well-being.

    But not everyone feels the same way. And it's often the most social of our peers who build partitions for privacy, because they're the ones who will want to talk with you, and who you'll want to talk with, every single time you pass through their peripheral vision. We spend a great deal of time at our desks and we each do what we need to in order to feel that we can focus and be productive. The pin-up space is also valuable, and many people like having large surfaces where they can post their current work or inspirations.

    image [Again, from Tati's 'Play Time.']

    None of this means that we're not friends with each other, that we aren't constantly sharing ideas, commiserating, and helping each other out. I think if you ask anyone at the GSD they'll give you this same answer.

    Plus, the roof leaks and glare comes in through the windows, especially at the south end of the building, so many of the plastic roofs or screens that you see actually serve these very physical needs.


    Actually, if you compare our old and new desks, one thing that many of us lament is the loss of the large common table that used to form the spine of the outer aisle; that was a shared space where you could work facing your colleagues, place a large model between you to develop together, and so on. Socially, it functioned very much like an alley or courtyard space shared among residents of a city block, and while there were inefficiencies and messiness in the use of square footage with that setup, it also afforded us a great deal of flexibility.

    The new workspaces, on the other hand, are all cleanly partitioned up, and so our biggest request for the administration is to get some shared workspace back, in the form of a giant multi-use table in what is currently our "kitchen" area. It would still be a kitchen, with all the activity and communality that implies, but for cooking and sharing ideas more often than food.


    [The great potential of this space is that it's shared, large, informal, and right on our tray, so it's perfect for group work and impromptu meetings. Here, my classmates are working with Pat McCafferty, our structural consultant from Arup. This will be the subject of a future post, but let me just say now that nothing that a school can do says 'I love you' quite like giving you your very own Arup engineer. We also have a leading sustainability consultant, Chris Shaffner, working with us for this semester's studio.]

    Thanks, as always, for reading.


    P.S. If you're coming for our open house next Friday (Nov 5), you should know that we're getting out all our shiniest objects to impress you! I hope to meet you then (my desk is on the third tray, immediately adjacent to the central stair, on the railing, if you want to stop by). Here's the new exhibition in development:



    • ADavin

      That's pretty awesome about the Arup engineer. Super jealous!

      Oct 31, 10 10:05 pm  · 

      Great post, by the way.

      Oct 31, 10 10:05 pm  · 
      job job

      I enjoy the reportings of Gund life and times, and would really like to see design work from midterms.

      Nov 1, 10 7:09 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      Thanks so much, both of you! Yes, at the end of this week I'll post my midterm work as well as (with any luck) my truss system in progress...

      Nov 1, 10 2:07 pm  · 

      PPSSPP the only differences are the icon, and life time  psp gold application will shut right away after you open it. 

      Mar 27, 17 2:32 am  · 

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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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