Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

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

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    Yes, James, it was utopia.

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Feb 23, '10 9:39 PM EST

    As we lined up to get into Stubbins today, I asked my former buttmate*, James Martin, if he thought lunch was already being served. He said "this isn't utopia: we can have either Tschumi or free food, but not both." However, the fact of the matter was that today, we did get both, because Bernard Tschumi, Dean Mostafavi, and K. Michael Hays had a "conversation" planned. This means that 100+ people were crowded into a small underventilated** room, eating sandwiches and cupcakes, listening, looking, and asking questions. It was great, even though I somehow managed to smear chocolate icing across the front of my sweater.

    Tschumi's message, in a nutshell, was to point out and problematize the current emphasis on the envelope--that is, on architecture as surface and exterior form as represented through hyper-real renderings, in which all the projects look the same--at the expense of program.

    Bernard Tschumi Quote One (the take-home message):

    "Because we get all our information on the internet and we watch it on the screen, there are certain images that just don't get through. The exploded axonometric, the drawings of Eisenman, they just don't read on the screen. The hyper-realist renderings are what read on the screen. So there's a discussion of diagrams but the popular mode of representation is the hyper-realist image."

    Bernard Tschumi Quote Two (a more nuanced view, he's basically saying that the "death" of criticality today isn't an absolute shift from the past):

    "Even though retrospectively we think there was so much going on in the 1970s, remember it was only a small group of people, and they basically all knew each other. And sometimes this kind of [critical] discourse is at the forefront of things and sometimes it's not, but it's never as simple as the activists of the 1920s made it sound: 'Now the time for thinking is over. Now is the time for action.'"

    Bernard Tschumi Quote Three (just to continue with the lunch theme):

    "...Because in the last 40 years, it was not a global discussion of architecture. If you were in Venice with Tafuri, if you were in New York, these were different conversations: it was a whole series of discussions from a number of very specific local discourses, each creating its own oppositions. Think about that! Nobody today would name an architecture magazine "Oppositions." Today, there's a common discourse, and we're all using the same software. So what I'm trying to say is, 'hey, we don't have that anymore. We're all in the same soup.'"

    K Michael Hays Quote One:

    "There's a floating question in the school, at least for some of us: the moment that we moved from critique to technique, we stopped drawing
    buildings and moved towards simulation. I hesitate because it sounds so old school to say this, but in a way, at the same time we went from drawing to simulation, we moved from diagram to surface. And we've decided to stop teaching drawing as such in the school, if that's fair to say."

    In response, Dean Mostafavi objected:

    "That's not entirely true; drawing is very important in the school today, but it's a different method of arriving at that drawing; part of this is about the parametric, and where the drawing comes from.

    What do you think about this? I'm ambivalent about whether the parametric is actually about drawing, even if it can produce beautiful things (and even if it can be justified and theorized in ways that are not directly about representation per se).

    I should mention that my MArchI class took a (near-universally popular) course on freehand architectural drawing with T. Kelly Wilson in our first semester, so we did actually "learn to draw," even if only for a six-week module. But it seems that maybe this is changing at the GSD: sadly, our class was the last to have Kelly as an instructor and maybe the last to learn freehand drawing at all. I'm curious which other schools are still teaching freehand drawing and which are not--is yours?

    Thanks for reading!

    *buttmate: colloquial GSD term for the person with whom one shares a U-shaped desk area, the idea being that one spends the better part one's life "butt to butt" with this person. Mack Scogin has said that he's seen six buttmate pairs from his studios get married. (James and I have not yet made any such announcements.)

    **We had just gotten out of a lecture in our Environmental Technologies of Buildings course with Christoph Reinhart, on infiltration and internal heat gains, and he said that buildings should have 10L/s of air exchange (exterior air coming in) per person in order to be well ventilated. Sitting in Stubbins, I was pretty sure we weren't getting our requisite 10L/s per person.


    • citizen

      Very interesting report, Lian, on both food for the mind and the tummy.

      Yet, I yearn for more... such as an explanation of those asterisks!

      Feb 24, 10 1:15 am  · 

      by freehand, do you mean the use of the tools pencil/pen and paper and nothing else? i am taking a freehand sketching class now and was slapped on the wrist yesterday when i pulled out my triangle.

      but before this kent state (in my personal educational path) has heavily emphasized the construction of physical drawings and especially the benefits of combining both analogue and digital medias.

      ultimately, i think the point is getting the 'point' across when it comes to a representational drawing. whether that is the one extreme of the use of hyper-realist rendered images, or the other of more concept driven complete hand drawings. maybe this is a matter of personal tastes? but i think a good drawing is one that communicates.


      Feb 24, 10 10:49 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      Oh yes! I was just about to add my footnotes...thanks!

      Feb 24, 10 10:57 am  · 

      Mack is always full of uplifting stories.

      Feb 24, 10 7:39 pm  · 

      Last year at Columbia we started our first-year drawing class with freehand work, but by week three that was pretty much over. (Though, computer generated drawings were sometimes reworked with hand techniques by some students). The transition from hand- to computer- drawing takes place through the eye and mind, more or less. If you can use either to flesh out ideas and explore questions then the difference is negligible.

      Still, I've heard so many critics comment on how it is nice to see a hand-drawn line, for example if a student shows an early conceptual sketch. I've heard the same thing about material cut by hand instead of the laser cutter.

      There was a thread in the Discussions about work flow and programs and hand vs. computer drawing that I was following a few months back. Personally, I think that hand drawn stuff is most important in the beginning, when you are exploring ideas and wide open. No program is faster than that, or able to keep up with your thought processes. It gradually recedes as things become more refined and fully worked out.

      Feb 24, 10 10:11 pm  · 

      it's not just about learning to draw, it's about learning to USE drawing. example: we had a course in undergrad (professor scott wall, now at u.tenn) called 'working drawings' which was about using the drawing process to develop the project, to use the drawings themselves as elements of thinking.

      one of the projects was to make a 'presentation' drawing that was detailed and explicatory enough that it could both communicate the goals/intentions of the project but also describe the construction of the project well enough that the project could be built from it. the class forced us to think differently about the kinds of drawings we used, the value of drawing standards (orthogonal, axo/iso, perspective) and whether they were enough, and the potential for new kinds of drawings that could explain things better/differently.

      all this required a level of facility with drawings and an ability to think three-dimensionally without the crutch of a machine that could model 3d for you. even, sometimes, think about a fictional 3d - a peeling, bending, or warping of actual 3d into something less correct but more fully explanatory or narrative. is this lost? yes. as evidenced, somewhat, by your own supposition that learning to draw by hand is the limit of what might be expected...

      Feb 26, 10 3:02 pm  · 

      Gee...what does "problematize" mean ? why the hell are these so called "professionals" still talking about journals from the 1970s ? Unless there is some serious good food and wine, I ain't going anywhere near these old foggies.

      Feb 27, 10 7:45 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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