Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

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

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    The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Jan 26, '11 12:29 AM EST

    Hello Archinect!

    My studio critic read to us the code for the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner series today, as part of a discussion about what code (which our section is going to often interpret in terms of the constraint) can mean in the context of artistic and architectural production. And this ninth rule--"The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures"--struck me as an apt description of studio.

    Not that we're often truly humiliated, but that the worst that can happen--and does happen, with a predictable regularity--is that we will be somehow a bit embarrassed. No real harm incurred--we're within the safe confines of academia, after all, and our clients are mere 1/4":1' pieces of paper or plexi.

    And yet, the risks are real, and the stakes are high, for us. It can't be any other way.

    Our studio started today. The project is called 'CITY/CODE' and it deals with understanding architecture not as the creation of static objects, but as an intervention into the codification of the city, or a reverse engineering of the flows and processes that constitute contemporary urban life. We'll be looking at how the city is formed through codes--building and zoning codes, civil or legal codes, social codes or mores, environmental codes and standards, graphic and representational codes (including parametrics), the visual coding of the environment--and so on. Our representations be developed through some system of codes, and ultimately, our architectural proposals will be constituted through codes that we devise.

    It's an ambitious project that puts us into uncharted territory in a number of ways. We have, until this point, often been thinking about architecture in its object-like nature, even (and maybe, especially) when this architecture was kinetic in the final project of our first semester. Unlike the work in landscape architecture, our training in architecture generally doesn't deal with the spatial and temporal indeterminacy of flows and systems. And since we're also not urban planners, the scale of our site--a ginormous (and this proves my point: I don't even know how to verbally convey the square footage of a site this size) tract of land across Willets Point in Corona, Queens--is unsettling. We are also not accustomed to working in groups for studio. Group work is common in courses, but not in the sacred ground of studio, and we are in teams of three for the ENTIRE SEMESTER. We're even spending a week collaborating with our colleagues in the landscape program.

    So this really is the wild, wild west. I'm excited. After all, we have nothing to lose but our sleep and--as Wile E. Coyote reminds us--our dignity, right?

    I just need to figure out how to situate some of my interests about embodiment (that is, an understanding of the self and experience that erodes the boundaries between MIND, BODY, and ENVIRONMENT) within the project. It seems like it should be very workable: both have to do with processes and, maybe, feedback systems, instead of objects. But I haven't yet had a quiet moment to think carefully about what the argument here would look like.

    So I should get going soon, so I can do this. But I just wanted to let you know that I also got into my courses today! Both the Graduate Education (curriculum development) seminar with Erika Naginski and Michael Hays, and the History lecture with Daniel Smail. I'm looking forward to these, as well as to the...(insert drum roll)...Moneo/Eisenman course that starts tomorrow.


    This is a special course for us, since Peter Eisenman "usually teaches at the other school," as Scott put it on Friday. But in this course that they are co-teaching this semester, they will take turns presenting their accounts of modern architecture, each from their vantage point: Moneo will tell the story from Europe, and Eisenman from America. And they'll respond to each other over a series of eight conversations.

    I will live-blog it if I can.

    And all of this leads me to my conundrum: we have a very intense studio; and I have two courses that mean a great deal to me and in which I'd like to avoid outright humiliation as frequently as possible; plus the Moneo/Eisenman, which I'd like to enroll in for credit if I'll be there anyways. Plus our structures course, which is supposed to be really difficult, and I'm also TAing another course (no big deal, mostly just helping with logistics and administering some straight-forward assignments, but still). So I'm pretty nervous, because this will be high stakes and low sleep, with very small margins for error all semester.


    Maybe I can get away with not taking structures this semester. Probably not a good idea, since it's always easier to take difficult courses in the good company of your own classmates (instead of the friendly, but less familiar year below). But if I don't live to see next year, that doesn't really do me much good either. And taking 24 credits (when a full course load is 16, and our standard registration is 20) is kind of nutty.

    So I'll have to see how it goes tomorrow, since Structures will also be meeting for the first time.

    Yikes yikes yikes. Wish me luck, would you? Thanks...!

    And thanks for reading!

    P.S. If you're on Facebook, if you want you can search for and "like" 'Harvard Graduate School of Design.' They've started announcing lectures and posting photos, videos, and news tidbits there, so it's not a bad way to stay in touch.

    P.P.S. Here is the entire Wile E. Coyote code. But you should read 'coyote' as 'architecture student' and 'Road Runner' as the elusive 'great project' (or maybe, the 'critic.') 'Acme Corporation' is a thinly-veiled 'Autodesk and Adobe.'

    1. The Road Runner cannot harm the coyote except by going "Beep-beep!"

    2. No outside force can harm the coyote—only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products.

    3. The coyote can stop any time—if he were not a fanatic.

    4. There may be no dialogue ever, except "beep-beep!" The coyote may, however, speak to the audience, occasionally with his own voice or through wooden signs that he holds up.

    5. The Road Runner must stay on the road—otherwise, logically, he would not be called "Road Runner".

    6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters—the southwest American desert.

    7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.

    8. Whenever possible, gravity should be made the coyote's greatest enemy.

    9. The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

    10. The sympathy of the audience must lie with the coyote.


    • own1221

      Sounds like an awesome schedule, good luck Lian!!

      Jan 26, 11 4:42 am  · 
      Lindsey Koepke

      Good luck! Is there an architectural stand-in for "beep beep" as well?

      Jan 26, 11 11:35 pm  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      Thanks, Shannon!

      Um, desk crits, pin-ups, and reviews?

      Jan 27, 11 12:01 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      And 'wooden signs' are 'Archinect'!!!

      Jan 27, 11 1:12 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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