Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

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

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    Spring 2011

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Jan 19, '11 4:41 PM EST

    Hello Archinect,

    I'm baaaack! The holidays were super: I investigated the, uh, sub-urbanism of Burnaby (part of metro Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada), the landscape of the ski trails of Kananaskis (in the Alberta rocky mountains), the interior architecture of West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, and the atmospheric spatiality of hot tubs and steam rooms in a very fine spa in Calgary. Oh, and an extended material and experiential study of my bed.

    As far as holidays go, it was very short, but very, very intense. :)

    Then I headed to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government for their January term course on Persuasion. The course was fantastic--so many things to learn, and a really amazing group of classmates (a real NY Police Captain and 9/11 hero! A West Point professor! A former MP from the UK! CEOs! Activists! Speechwriters for world leaders!). It also got me thinking about the public image that the architecture profession has cultivated as of late, and what this might have to do with our difficulty in securing a strong position at the table when the major issues of our times are being addressed.

    More on this later.

    But this week, I'm back at the GSD. Yesterday, the thesis students had their reviews and the work was very good: more focused and more experimental than in previous years. Scott Cohen proudly surveyed his kingdom, and attributed the improvement to a change in the thesis curriculum. For the past thirty years, students did an independent "thesis preparation" course before their thesis semester, but this was the first batch of students to take, instead, an extra elective in the area of their thesis topic.

    This makes sense to me: encouraging students to navel-gaze, fantasize, and raise one's expectations is not the way to prepare for decisive and adventurous projects. PhD students have enough trouble defining and narrowing their topics independently over several years, so I think it's too much to ask M.Arch.I students to do the same in a single semester. Better to let them seek some relevant background and then jump in, to use their design skills to find their way.

    Today, we have course presentations, in which every professor teaching a limited-enrollment elective course (and some for the non-limited elective courses) gives a ten minute pitch.

    In December, I thought I had it all figured out: I'd take a course from the interdisciplinary 'Mind, Brain, and Behavior' group called 'A Systems Neuroscience Approach to Conscious Perceptual Experience,' and a course at the Kennedy School with Marshall Ganz, on 'Moral Leadership' (which is about reading fictional texts to understand articulations of public narratives and of ethical choices in leadership situations).

    Then, I found out about a seminar led by Erika Naginski and Michael Hays called 'The Architectural Imagination,' which is a seminar tasked with developing the curriculum for a new undergraduate course in architecture for Harvard College's Program in General Education. I'm interested in architectural pedagogy as well as in the question of a general education (on this, see Sean Kelly's speech on General Education in America, which he gave in Guangzhou, China). So this was a course I couldn't refuse.

    And, after meeting Harvard historian Daniel Smail in the context of a J-term course I co-led (with Archinect blogger Andrew Zientek) on Smail's idea of 'Body States,' and thinking a bit more about the role of boundaries in how we define our ideas of the self and of the groups we belong to, Smail's history course on 'Europe and Its Borders, 950-1550' suddenly became more appealing. Besides meditating on the fluid nature of frontiers and identities in medieval Europe, the syllabus also states:

    "The course is a standard survey course of Europe in the period from the end of the Carolingian Empire to the Renaissance...but with two twists. First, I adopt the "layer cake" approach to time. During each of the weeks of the semester, we will explore the complete history of one medieval region from the Carolingian period to the Renaissance, and then we jump to another region, go back in time, and start all over again. By the end of the course, you will have absorbed a series of histories layered on top of one another to make a rich and lofty narrative cake."

    So delicious.

    So that's that--unless I change my mind again. I'm also listing Hashim Sarkis' Urban Planning and Design course "Constructing Vision: A History and Theory of 'Visual Constructs' in Architecture," Charles Waldheim's Landscape Architecture course, "Ford's Fields: Readings in Urbanism, Ecology, and Industrial Economy," and Timothy Hyde's "The Personifications of Modernism: Philip Johnson" on my lottery form. Eve Blau's course "Baku: Oil City" looks really intriguing too (field trip to Azerbaijan!) but I don't think I my schedule will allow for that.

    It really, really is a strong semester for the GSD in both the electives and the studio options/trips (Mumbai with Rahul Mehrotra! Rio with Jorge Silvetti! Beijing with Peter Rowe! Osaka with Hiromi Hosoya! Ben Van Berkel with Ben Van Berkel!). People around here are pretty pumped.

    And, I'm not crazy about the poster, but the lecture series ain't bad, either:

    Vito Acconci
    Genpei Akasegawa
    Arjun Appadurai
    Tobias Armborst
    Ben van Berkel
    David E. Booher
    David Brooks (yes, the NYT columnist)
    Mario Carpo
    Alexandre Chemetoff
    Preston Scott Cohen
    Philippe Coignet
    Daniel D’Oca
    Evan Douglis
    Olafur Eliasson
    Sou Fujimoto
    Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
    Jacques Herzog
    Timothy Hyde
    Catherine Ingraham
    Judith E. Innes
    Junya Ishigami
    Toyo Ito
    Lisa Iwamoto
    Carol Johnson
    Rosa Grena Kliass
    Ebba Koch
    Robert Levin
    Rafael Moneo
    Erika Naginski
    Ryue Nishizawa
    Guy Nordenson
    Eduardo Rico
    Ingeborg Rocker
    Tomas Saraceno
    Patrik Schumacher
    Mack Scogin
    Craig Scott
    Kazuyo Sejima
    George Teyssot
    Georgeen Theodore
    Thaisa Way
    Ai Weiwei


    That's all for now. We should find out our studio assignments and course lottery results on Friday. Until then, I'll leave you with two out-of-context quotes from today's course presentations:

    "In the circumcision ceremonies of 1592..." Mark Laird

    "Most of the reading for this course will be unpleasant, by today's standards." Sanford Kwinter

    Thanks for reading!


    • that alot of interesting sounding courses...

      Jan 19, 11 5:20 pm  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      Indeed. It's hard to choose. And it's a constant struggle between wanting to do all these interesting things, and needing to keep it reasonable to maintain some shred of sanity. I'm tending a bit towards the former this semester, for sure, so I suspect there will be some dicey moments.

      Jan 19, 11 5:39 pm  · 

      Fantastic that they are fixing the thesis program. When I was there we used to refer to the "miasma of despair" that hung over the fifth tray. In large part this was because the thesis was so loosey goosey.

      Jan 20, 11 12:49 pm  · 

      smail's course is a must. a medieval flavored narrative cake, rich and lofty?! how could you resist? also, you should take Jorge for studio and convince him that I am the ultimate M.Arch II applicant... i tried desperately to make an impression at the open house, but i don't think he took note of my name tag. best of luck this semester, it sounds like an exhausting and happy place to be!

      Jan 20, 11 11:08 pm  · 

      Unpleasant readings...? Is he making you read Kwinter? badumboomchick! I kid...

      Jan 21, 11 2:21 pm  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      Hey, thanks all! Exhausting and happy is exactly what it is. I'm about to keel over (taking J-term, teaching J-term, portfolio reviews, studio exit interview, TA work, RA work, personal projects...job wait, what job search?) and the semester hasn't even started yet.

      On the upside, they fed us sushi last night at the UN Studio exhibition opening...Ben van Berkel was wandering around--nobody to talk to--because we were all tasting the sashimi and makis.

      But yes, with any luck my class will avoid the 'miasma' of thesis despair, or at least most of it. A bit of despair, here and there, is probably inevitable.

      As for Jorge (Silvetti)? He's not teaching in the core studios. Our professors will be: Timothy Hyde (coordinator), Felipe Correa, Eric Howeler, Florian Idenburg, Carles Muro, and Thomas Schroepfer. I should find out within... minutes...whose studio I'm in and who my new classmates (and buttmate, facemate, sidemate, etc.) are!


      Jan 21, 11 4:06 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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