Category Archives: Academics

Back East

Once again, I’ve decided to dust the cobwebs off this blog and bring it back to life. Over the past few posts I made a big deal about wanting to clear excess detritus out of my life, and the self-imposed commitment to maintaining a personal blog ended up being one of the things that got chucked by the wayside as I concentrated on finishing grad school. A quick rundown of what I’ve been up to in the interim:

I ended up staying out in Los Angeles for an extra semester and delaying my graduation for a year. This was due to a number of factors, mainly some problems I was having with my Structures course sequence being complicated by the university’s switch from a quarter system to a semester system, as well as my desire to spend some more time working in LA and see my project along to a more complete stage. I returned to Cincinnati in November 2012, but not before spending a week stranded in San Bernardino County while my Jeep’s transmission had to be rebuilt. (Buy me a drink sometime and I’ll be happy to recount that story. It’s a real hoot.)

Bad tranny

Bad tranny

By taking an extra year to finish grad school, I was given the opportunity to take another co-op placement. I ended up working for a mid-sized firm in New York City over the summer of 2013 and greatly enjoying it. I had actually been planning to spend that co-op at a local firm in Cincinnati, but applied to the firm in NYC without thinking I stood much of a chance of actually getting the position. The firm does great work and I felt that my portfolio was, at best, middle-of-the-pack compared to my classmates, and I was somewhat leery of moving back to NYC after getting seriously burned-out with the city twice before. To my surprise, I got hired and the job turned out to be the best co-op placement of my grad school career. While walking back to the subway one night, it dawned on me that, despite all my frustrations, New York felt at least as much like a hometown to me as my original hometown of Cincinnati. I eventually made the decision that I would try to move back to New York upon my graduation the following spring.

I returned to Cincinnati in August and spent the next nine months fleshing out my thesis project, which I had decided would be something small and manageable: a new Penn Station for New York. It was either that or a meditation cabin in Oregon. Meanwhile, I had begun the search for post-grad school employment. After several months of false starts and dead ends, I received two offers within minutes of each other late in the spring semester: one from a local firm in Cincinnati that does a lot of fairly bland workplace design, and another from a small boutique firm in New York that does mostly high-end residential and hospitality projects. I picked the latter option, and began preparing to move to New York while I finished up my thesis.

In April, I successfully defended my thesis and completed my Master of Architecture degree from the University of Cincinnati. While finishing my bachelor’s degree in 2010 was a huge relief at the time, it felt more like a formality than anything else; it was just my permission slip to enter grad school. This graduation ceremony, though, was the real deal. Looking back several months later, I still can’t believe that I actually did it.

Pro tip: When you can't win over the thesis jury with quality, overwhelm them with quantity.

Pro tip: When you can’t win over the thesis jury with quality, overwhelm them with quantity.

World of PainWith hardly any time to catch my breath after graduation, I put all my stuff into storage once again, boarded a plane to New York, and started working at the aforementioned boutique firm the following Monday… And it immediately became clear that I had entered a world of pain. The work environment could best be described as abusive, the hours were extreme, the work was unoriginal and unproductive, and the firm’s financial standing appeared to be shaky at best. I began sending out resumes again before I had even gotten my first paycheck.

In late June, I visited Chicago for the AIA National Convention. It was my first visit back there since graduating from DePaul in 2010, and the longest I had been away from the city since I first moved to the area in 1993. It was great to see the city again and renew some old friendships, and to let go of some of the bitterness I had been feeling about Chicago since I had moved away in 2007. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are great cities that each have their own unique personalities, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in all three at various times in my life.

Another benefit to attending the AIA convention in Chicago was a chance encounter with one of the principals of the firm where I spent my last co-op before thesis year. One thing led to another, and within a couple weeks of the convention I had accepted an employment offer at this firm and turned in my resignation at the abusive boutique firm. It didn’t happen a moment too soon; I had been expanding my job search to the west coast, and was seriously considering moving to Los Angeles or Portland if the right opportunity came up. I love New York, but it’s impossible to survive for long here unless you love what you do, and my first priority was to find a better employment situation. Luckily I didn’t have to move again; I’ve now been at the new job for about four weeks, and so far it’s been going well.

With my job search happily resolved, my next big priorities are to find permanent housing here in New York and to complete the Architectural Registration Exams. I’m hoping to have enough money saved up for my own apartment by around January or so, and I’m hoping to be registered as an architect within the next year or so.

My resolution for 2012 was to rid my life of distractions as I finished grad school. Now that that’s done, it’s time to start building again. Wish me luck; I’ll certainly need it.

Good luck cats

The Next Horizon

Apologies for neglecting this blog lately. Being a full-time graduate architecture student at DAAP has a way of forcing one to jettison all other extracurricular activities in favor of school-related work. Now that the fall quarter is over, I finally have a chance to catch my breath and turn my attention to some of those things that have been pushed to the back burner over the past few months.

Back in July I posted The Grass is Always Greener

, which describes my dilemma as to whether or not I’ll want to remain here in the Cincinnati area after grad school. In that post I concluded with, “If I ultimately decide to leave town, possible destinations include London, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, or back to the East Coast. Each locale has its own pros and cons, which will probably be the subject of a future blog post.” This is that blog post.

In addition to the long-term question of where I go after grad school, there’s also a more immediate question of where I’ll end up spending my 5-month co-op that begins in late March. I’ve already begun laying the groundwork for that decision, and where I end up going for co-op has the potential to strongly influence where I’ll end up post-graduation. And of course, the decision isn’t entirely up to me, as it will depend heavily upon where I can find a job. In this crappy economy, I may end up having to hold my nose and move someplace I otherwise wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, at least until the job market improves and I get an offer someplace more desirable.

That said, there are a few locales that I return to often in my mind, where I can envision myself having a reasonably good quality of life, and will probably be the places where I concentrate my job search both for the co-op and for permanent employment. The short list changes from time to time,  and will almost certainly change many more times before a decision is made, but now consists of Cincinnati, London, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, and Asheville, North Carolina.

Cincinnati

Home sweet home... for now.

As I mentioned before, my roots here in Cincinnati run deep, and no matter where else I end up, I’ll always be a Cincinnatian at heart. I grew up here, I have a lot of friends and family here, and I’ve made a point to get as involved as I can in local civic affairs. Cincinnati is small enough that one person can make a big splash, the cost of living is dirt-cheap, and the city has ambitious plans for remaking its urban core. I have enough professional connections that finding a job here after graduation will likely be considerably easier than in any other city.

On the downside: While I love Cincinnati dearly, I generally loathe the Midwest. No mountains, no ocean, very little international vibe, and despite some progress here in the city, the region’s political culture is loaded with right-wing ideology with strong undercurrents of racism and religious fundamentalism. In my more cynical moments, I feel like Cincinnati is where the bigotry and religious fanaticism of the Deep South meet the burned-out post-industrial landscape of the Rust Belt. The weather — featuring the most unpleasant extremes of both winter and summer — makes the mere act of going outside tortuous for entire weeks at a time. The local architectural scene, while not without its bright spots, tends to be very conservative without much in the way of new ground being broken. If I end up working here as an architect, it almost certainly won’t be in the areas of design that I’m most passionate about.

London

My life in six months?

This past September I finally took my long-awaited return trip to London, and stayed there for almost a full two weeks. There’s something invigorating about being in a global city where you can hear a dozen languages being spoken while walking down the street, and if I want to specialize in transportation-related design, there’s plenty of such work in London. London’s mild climate would be ideal for me, and the benefits of living in a city with such a rich history go without saying. London is also an ideal jumping-off point for exploring the rest of Europe. And while no political system is without its faults, the overall political climate in the United Kingdom is much more to my taste, and working in the UK would provide job benefits that Americans can only dream about. Depending on how the currency exchange rates fluctuate, I might also be able to repay my student loans in a much shorter period of time.

The biggest catch, though, is that it’s in a different country. Finding an employer willing to sponsor me for a work visa would be a big challenge (especially when so many British and European Union architects are already out of work), and if I were to live there permanently, getting professionally registered as an architect with my American masters degree and work experience would be at least as challenging. Moving that far of a distance across an ocean would present its own logistical problems. London is a long way from home both in miles and in culture, and while I consider my Anglophile credentials to be pretty solid, nothing would change the fact that I’d always be a foreigner in a foreign land. Beyond that, living in a major global city like London, with its long commutes and extreme cost of living, would present a lot of the same frustrations I found while living in New York City. On those frequent occasions when I get tired of the rat race, it simply wouldn’t be possible to jump in my car and escape to the countryside in a few minutes like I can do here. Visits back home would involve a long trans-Atlantic flight and all the hassle that entails.

While London would be ideal for  my 5-month co-op, I don’t see it being the place where I ultimately settle down after grad school. As such, there’s the possibility that whatever networking connections I make in London on my co-op ultimately wouldn’t do me much good if I decide to stay here in the US for the long term.

Los Angeles

You are entering a world of pain.

This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles for the first time, and to my surprise, I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. The climate can’t be beat, and the city is in the process of rapidly expanding its mass transit system. I have a couple good friends out there already, and the ocean and mountains are both nearby. The architectural scene in LA is decidedly more forward-looking than that of Cincinnati.

Of course, the idealized vision of Los Angeles giving way to its harsh realities is one of the oldest cliches in the book. The cost of living — while not nearly as high as that of New York or London — is still very high, crime and general quality of life would be big concerns, and having the ocean and mountains nearby won’t count for much if I have to sit in traffic for two hours to reach them. Visiting Cincinnati would involve a 4-hour flight. While not nearly as long as a flight from London, it’s still a major hassle.

The Pacific Northwest

All else aside, if I could pick any region of the country in which to settle down based purely on its climate and natural beauty, it would be the Pacific Northwest. I briefly lived in Eugene, Oregon from late 2004 to early 2005, and not a day goes by where my mind doesn’t wander back to the mountains, forests, and waterfalls of the Oregon Cascades. While living in Eugene I visited Portland a couple times and liked what I saw of it. Similar in size to Cincinnati, Portland seems to have made all the right decisions regarding its future as a city, while Cincinnati has made many wrong ones. Seattle is less familiar to me, except to say it’s somewhat larger than Portland and has the benefit of being on Puget Sound. Both cities offer an attractive quality of life in a mild climate, a reasonable cost of living (although Seattle is a bit more expensive than Portland), incredible natural beauty outside the city, and a more progressive architectural climate. Portland has a well-developed light rail and streetcar system, while Seattle has ambitious plans for expansion of its own light rail system. I’ve never been to Vancouver, BC to date, but I haven’t yet heard a bad thing about it.

I'd be willing to put up with a lot of bullshit Monday through Friday if it meant being able to drive to a place like this on Saturday.

It’s hard to think of many downsides to the Pacific Northwest, but there may be a few potential pitfalls. The job market in Portland is notoriously bad even in good economic times. Lots of people want to live there, but there aren’t enough jobs to go around. This puts downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on the cost of living, and I’ve heard people half-jokingly say that almost every bartender and barista in town has a masters degree. I’m not sure what the situation in Seattle or Vancouver is like, but I imagine it’s similar. While I wouldn’t move to someplace like Portland or Seattle without first having a job lined up, this could pose a big problem down the road if I got laid off or otherwise had to look for work again. As with London, moving to Vancouver would require getting a visa, but I understand it’s generally easier to get a Canadian visa than a British one. While living in Eugene I found myself bored once I had explored most of the area, although I attribute that more to being unemployed and broke in a smallish town than to any inherent flaws of the region. I also remember feeling like I was about a million miles away from my friends and family back east, and I could see that being a potential problem. But I didn’t have social media like Facebook and Twitter at my disposal in 2004, and the world feels much smaller now than it did back then.

Asheville, North Carolina

Oregon Lite

I almost hesitate to include this on the list, but I lived there for a couple years as a kid and I was back there for a couple days last spring break, so I may as well mention it. Asheville is similar in size to Eugene, and offers many of the same advantages: a mild climate, a beautiful setting in the mountains, and a relatively progressive college-town atmosphere with a strong emphasis on the arts and brewing. Asheville also has the advantage of being only a 6-hour drive from Cincinnati, making weekend visits back home relatively easy.

Unfortunately, Asheville is the largest city for many miles in any direction. Whenever I got bored in Eugene I could always drive a couple hours up the road to Portland. Driving a couple hours in any direction from Asheville only puts you smack in the middle of Deliverance country. Driving back home to Cincinnati from Asheville takes about the same amount of time as flying to Cincinnati from Portland or Seattle. And there’s even less of an architectural scene in Asheville than in Cincinnati. If I end up working as an architect in Asheville, I certainly won’t be designing transit systems or other major infrastructure projects. But maybe that’s okay, and I would certainly consider Asheville if the right opportunity came along.

So, that’s the list as of today. I reserve the right to revise it, refine it, or scrap it altogether in the future. All in all, I’d say the Pacific Northwest has the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages, and I’ll admit that area of the country has been on my mind a lot lately. But it’s too early to say for sure where I’ll end up, and like I said before, it’s not entirely within my control anyway. If nothing else, though, it will be interesting to see where the road leads.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

This past Friday we had sort of a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre at the office, with about 10% of the staff being laid off. Yours truly was among them, thus ending my 2.5-year tenure at Dattner Architects. I’m not holding any bitterness against my now-former employers; while every job has its good days and bad days, my time at Dattner has been an incredible learning experience, and I’ve never been treated with anything but the utmost professionalism and respect while working there, and I’ll look back with fondness on my time there.

This didn’t come as a complete shock, as the writing had been on the wall for a while. Thanks to a couple of large projects via the stimulus program, our office was able to maintain a decent workload for about a year longer than most other architecture firms, but all good things must end sooner or later. There had been a noticeable slowdown in our workload over the past couple months, and more often than not, I found myself without much to do during the day. The thought of getting laid off had occurred to me, and I had already begun to develop a contingency plan in case the axe dropped. This past Friday, when I was asked to come in to the office of one of the partners for a meeting, I instantly knew what was about to happen. It was time to institute my contingency plan.

As this means the end of my 2.5-year at Dattner, this also means the end of my 2.5 year residency in New York City. I moved here in 2007 with high hopes and grand ambitions. Some of those ambitions have been fulfilled, and some have not. When I moved here, I figured I’d be going to grad school here in New York City, presumably at Columbia or some other big-name school, and get a job with some boutique firm that does ultra-modernist hotels and condominium interiors. Instead, I ended up postponing my grad school plans for a while, and developing a strong interest in transit design, urban planning, and civic architecture.

As the economy went down the toilet, and I came to the realization that I had reached an age where a sense of stability and comfort were much more important to me than being in the middle of all the action. My thoughts increasingly turned back to my hometown of Cincinnati, and what it might mean to move back there for grad school and possibly even settle down there for the long term. Instead of Columbia and a bunch of East Coast Ivy League architecture schools, I ended up applying to the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State, and the University of Kentucky for grad school. At the same time, I found myself increasingly burned-out with New York City. There are still many things I love about this city, and I won’t rule out the possibility of moving back here sometime in the future, but for now, this city simply isn’t my natural habitat.

In the meantime, I’ve become increasingly involved with the local blogosphere and online community in Cincinnati, and have already added my voice to those advocating for improved mass transit and urban planning in Cincinnati. In the relatively short time I’ve been involved with these people who are relentlessly pushing to make Cincinnati into a better city, I’ve already developed a number of good friendships, and I know I’ll be welcomed with open arms when I return home. This is in addition to the numerous old friends and family members who have always been there to welcome me home whenever I found myself in town for a visit.

With my job now no longer keeping me here in New York, I’ve decided to leave NYC and move to Cincinnati at the end of the month. I’m hoping to start grad school at UC (or if not UC, then at least nearby OSU or UK) in the fall, so my unemployment benefits and savings should last until then, and I’m actually pretty psyched about finally going back. That said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous as hell. Finding a landlord willing to rent to me will be a challenge, and if I don’t start grad school or land a job in six months, I’ll really start to panic. Also, the last time I lived in Cincinnati was 25 years ago, when I was 10 years old. Going back is certain to bring up all sorts of old memories and weird emotions for me.

I’ve reserved a Penske rental truck for the weekend of February 27th, and if all goes well, I’ll be arriving in town sometime on the 28th. As of this writing, I have no idea where I’ll be living, but I have a couple of strong leads.

At this point, I don’t have the slightest idea how this will all work out. In six months I may end up in Columbus or Lexington, or moving in with my parents in North Carolina. At some point I may end up frustrated with Cincinnati’s notorious provincialism, and run screaming back to New York or Chicago. No doubt there will be times I wish I was back in New York City, or longing to expand my horizons even further, perhaps as far as London or the West Coast.

But for now, I’m just happy to be coming home.

Anno Domini MMVIII

I hope everybody had a good Christmas. Mine involved taking a 9-hour train ride each way to Raleigh, North Carolina and back to visit my parents. I’ve made this trip before, and it always brings up a lot of weird feelings. On one hand, it’s certainly nice to see my family again, enjoy my mother’s cooking for a few days, and generally take a break from the stresses of my daily routine.

On the other hand, it seems like those trips serve to remind me why I left home in the first place, and nothing makes me appreciate New York City more than spending a few days in a place like Raleigh. While I love my parents dearly, being around them somehow has the effect of turning me into a surly 14-year-old again, and I feel my stress and anxiety levels going through the roof at a time when I’m supposed to be relaxing. I don’t know why, but it seems like all my internal defense mechanisms go into overdrive-mode while I’m down there. Add to that the stress of holiday travel and living out of a suitcase for a few days, and it was with a huge sigh of relief that I stepped off the train at Penn Station Wednesday evening and found myself back on my home turf.

With everything so hectic and frenzied lately, I haven’t had the time or the energy to update this blog as often as I’d like. But now that the final hours of 2007 are rapidly slipping into the past-tense, I thought I’d take a moment to ponder how things are going in my life to date, and take a look at what direction I’m hoping for things to go in 2008.

The Home Front

As mentioned earlier in this blog, I’ve been living in a loft share in Bushwick, Brooklyn since the beginning of September. Although it’s probably the best housing situation I’ve had in New York City to date (which doesn’t say much, considering some of my prior situations), I’m still itching to eventually get my own one-bedroom apartment in a half-decent neighborhood, and be done with the whole fucking roommate thing once and for all… At least until my roommate is somebody I’m having sex with on a regular basis.

Bushwick is predominantly a working-class Puerto Rican neighborhood that is beginning to see an influx of hipster pioneers who have found themselves priced out of Williamsburg. Given that I’m neither Puerto Rican nor anything remotely resembling a Williamsburg hipster, there really isn’t much in this neighborhood for me except lots of loud stereos and car alarms. While I’ve never really felt unsafe here, the quality of life leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s not the type of neighborhood where I’d be comfortable going out for an evening constitutional. Luckily, the subway is only a block from my apartment building, so my daily exposure to the ‘hood is usually fairly limited.

Ever since the first time I lived in NYC, I’ve wanted to get an apartment up in the so-called Hudson Heights area of Washington Heights, a quiet residential enclave along Ft. Washington Avenue between 181st Street and Fort Tryon Park. Perched along a high ridge overlooking the Hudson River, this neighborhood has lots of trees and parkland, diverse demographics, and a quiet domestic feel that is hard to find in most other parts of the city. The predominant housing stock consists of large art deco apartment buildings, and many of the apartments are stunning. The A train has two stops in the neighborhood, offering a quick ride on the 8th Avenue express line into Midtown and beyond.

Up until recently this neighborhood was still relatively affordable (by New York standards, mind you), but lately it has been “discovered” and many of the apartment buildings have gone co-op. I’m still holding out some hope that I can eventually find a rental in my price range up there, but I’m not sure when that will happen. The monthly rent is actually less of an issue for me than the upfront costs of the security deposit, first month’s rent, and especially the broker’s fee that will likely be required. Barring any unforeseen events and if I’m able to stick to a budget (fat chance), I might be able to start seriously looking for an apartment sometime in the late spring or early summer. Until then, I’ll have to continue to grit my teeth while living as a guest in somebody else’s home.

My resolution for 2008: Get my own apartment, or at the very least, find a better roommate in a better neighborhood.

Work

My job has its good days and bad days, but overall it’s been working out pretty well. A while ago I posted a blog entry regarding some of the issues I have with my job, and while some of those issues are still concerns of mine, others have been more-or-less rectified. They finally moved me to a new location (out of the stuffy corridor mentioned in that blog entry), and I’ve been working on a few interesting projects. One of those projects includes our own office relocation, as we’re bursting at the seams in our current space and looking for new digs. I’m not sure what the time line is for moving to a new office, but it feels like there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel.

While the office remains busy with a wide variety of projects, the national economy isn’t looking so rosy, and we may be facing lean times in the near future. Hopefully my job situation will remain stable until I’m ready to head to grad school.

My resolution for 2008: Not get fired or laid off, do the best work I can do on some cool projects, and become more involved in the life of the firm.

Church

I continue to remain active as a volunteer acolyte at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, despite my longstanding issues with organized religion in general and Christianity in particular. I’ve always struggled with matters of faith: while it seems to come naturally to some people, to me God has always seemed to be either incredibly distant, ignoring me, or just plain nonexistent. It’s been getting harder and harder for me to recite the Nicene Creed without wondering how much of it is just some human-invented myth that’s been handed down through the ages. I’ve tried my best to have a “personal relationship with Jesus”, but as with so many of my other personal relationships, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that the other party just isn’t interested.

Maybe the Calvinists are right, and each of us has already been predestined to eternal paradise or damnation since the beginning of time. Somehow I didn’t make the cut, and I just haven’t yet been formally notified. That’s a depressing thought, but if God actually exists, he certainly hasn’t been returning my calls lately.

Fortunately, I belong to a church where I can say all that without fear of being excommunicated or shunned. I tend to think of the cathedral as the spiritual counterpart to Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca: Sort of a safe haven in the midst of all the unholy wars raging outside, and a gathering place for a lot of refugees and misfits who wouldn’t otherwise have a spiritual home. If it weren’t for the Episcopal Church in general and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in particular, there’s a good chance I would have given up on organized religion altogether. While the cathedral isn’t without its flaws, for the most part the people there have been great, and it’s one of precious few places where I know I can show up at any time and be welcomed with open arms without being bludgeoned to death with a King James Bible. Regardless of wherever I stand on theological matters, that’s what keeps me coming back more than anything else.

2008 should be an exciting year for the cathedral, as we should finally be finishing up the huge multi-year cleaning and restoration project that’s the result of a severe fire the cathedral suffered in 2001. For the past several years the great pipe organ has been silent and various parts of the church have been buried behind huge walls of plywood and scaffolding, but everything is supposed to be fully open and operational by the end of November. I’ll be anxiously waiting, and then maybe we can get on with the business of finishing the building.

My resolution for 2008: To continue to support the cathedral in its ministry however I can.

School

If all goes according to plan, 2008 will be the year I finally finish up my long-sought undergraduate degree. I made some good progress at DePaul University in Chicago, and I accomplished everything I set out to accomplish this summer at Columbia (which DePaul will accept as transfer credit). The end is finally in sight. The few remaining outstanding items:

  • Math and Physics. In addition to counting towards my BA degree, these are also admission prerequisites for most graduate M.Arch. programs. I’ll be taking these classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) downtown, which is part of the CUNY system. DePaul will accept these as transfer credits, and I plan on starting them within the next couple weeks.
  • Externship, Advanced Project, and Summit Seminar. These courses are specific to DePaul’s adult education program at the School for New Learning, and will need to be taken before I graduate. The Externship is sort of a community service requirement, the Advanced Project is like a mini-thesis, and the Summit Seminar is simply a one-day meeting with my advisors to tie up any loose ends. Ideally I’ll do this stuff in the spring quarter so that I can attend commencement in Chicago this June, but it can wait until the summer or fall if needed. (These can be done on a distance-ed basis, which is how I can still be a DePaul student while living 800 miles away from campus.)
  • Independent Learning Pursuits (ILPs). Another thing specific to DePaul’s School for New Learning, this is the mechanism by which I can earn college credit for “real life” experience that’s relevant to my focus area. Given that I now have 11 years experience working in various architecture firms, it won’t be a challenge to earn some ILP credits; it’s just a matter of getting everything properly documented and submitted for review on time.

I’ve taken a hiatus from school during the fall while I got settled into my new life here in NYC, but now I need to get back at it. By this time next year I’ll hopefully be a college graduate, and I’ll be wrapping up the application process for my M.Arch. degree.

That will involve a lot of work in putting together a portfolio, lining up letters of recommendation, and wrapping up any remaining prerequisites. I went through the whole M.Arch. admissions process in 2006 (thinking that I could finish my BA degree much sooner), and it was almost a full-time job in itself. I didn’t get accepted to any of the schools I applied to — no surprise, in retrospect — but it gave me a good idea of what to expect the next time around.

I’m still not sure which schools I’ll be applying to, but the top contenders include City College, Yale, Cornell, Pratt, maybe Columbia, and maybe Harvard. No doubt there will be some changes to this list when the time comes, so stay tuned.

My resolution for 2008: Finish my damn BA degree already, and apply to M.Arch. programs for fall 2009 admission.

Money

I had made some good progress in climbing out of debt while living in Chicago, but moving to NYC and enrolling in the Columbia summer program left me even further in the hole than I was two years ago. The good news is, I’m now making better money at my job and I no longer have the expense of owning a car, so I’ve already begun chipping away at this new mountain of debt and I’m hopeful that I’ll have the bulk of it paid off within the next few months.

My resolution for 2008: Right now I’m about $6000 in debt (not counting student loans) with about $500 in savings. I’m hoping to have at least reversed that ratio by this time next year.

Relationships

One day last week I took a nice walk through Central Park during my lunch break. I came back into my office building feeling refreshed and invigorated. An attractive young woman came into the building behind me, and we both waited for the elevator in the lobby. The doors opened, she went in first, and I managed to smile at her as I boarded. She politely smiled back. I got off on the third floor, while she continued further upstairs.

Not a bad little encounter, I thought. Maybe sometime soon I’ll see her again and strike up a conversation.

I returned to my desk in pretty high spirits, and then went to hang up my coat in the closet. It was then that I discovered, to my horror, a giant glob of white bird shit on the black leather sleeve of my coat, the same sleeve that had been inches away from the face of this woman in the elevator.

I went to the bathroom to clean off my coat, while entertaining serious thoughts about moving to a different country.

That little vignette pretty much sums up the vast majority of my experiences with romantic relationships: Meet somebody new and get excited that things are going well, only to later discover that I’ve inadvertently committed some unforgivable breach of human decency. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve had that giant glob of bird shit on my sleeve for the past twenty years, and I’ve only discovered it just now. That would certainly explain a lot.

This is the area of my life that has by far been the most problematic, and the aspect of my life that causes me more depression and anxiety than all the other issues above combined. I’m pretty much convinced that I was born without the dating gene, or that I was absent from class the day they taught mating skills to young boys. I hate to sound so desperate, but fuck it. If the shoe fits…

There’s much more to this issue than what I feel comfortable sharing here, but suffice it to say that it’s almost impossible for me to meet women who I think might be compatible with what I’m looking for. Of the women I do meet who seem like a good match, the vast majority seem to have the common trait of being completely unattainable. It’s very possible that my hopes and aspirations are totally unrealistic, but I still fear the notion of settling for a relationship that isn’t really what I ever wanted.

I think one of my problems — at least one that has the possibility of being rectified anytime soon — is that I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of casual dating, and that I’ve had sort of an all-or-nothing mentality about relationships. What’s the point of dating somebody if there isn’t the potential for a long-term relationship or marriage? Well, lately I’ve been working to overcome that particular hang-up by starting to attend more singles events and expanding my scope of potential dating partners, and I think it might be starting to pay off.

This past weekend I attended a huge year-end party at Webster Hall organized by a few groups on Meetup.com, and despite the obnoxious music and the usual assortment of hopeless cases who reek of desperation (some readers would no doubt include me in that category), I actually had a pretty good time and met some interesting people without doing or saying anything terribly awkward. Maybe the vodka tonics had something to do with it, but I didn’t feel like the uptight bundle of nerves I usually am at such events. I’ve been in contact with a couple of women I met that evening, and I may be meeting one of them for dinner later this week. Stay tuned.

My resolution for 2008: Attend more social events whenever I can, continue meeting new people, and not be so damn shy about talking to strangers. Also, some counseling probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Overall, 2007 has been a pretty good year for me with a lot of new beginnings, but with a lot of things still left to be done. Hopefully 2008 will bring continued progress on the new life I’ve begun here in New York, and maybe even bring a few new beginnings of its own.

I hope 2008 brings you all peace and joy… Best wishes for a happy new year.

Checking In

I officially have a place to live in Brooklyn. It’s not perfect (mainly because of the location and the fact that it’s not my own place), but it should be good enough for a few months. It could certainly be much worse… There’s plenty of space, it’s clean, it’s air-conditioned, and the living room has a million-dollar view of the Manhattan skyline. I’ll probably fly back to Chicago sometime next month and move the rest of my stuff to NYC. Most of it will go right back into storage at this end, but some of it — including my beloved Eames chair — will get brought into the apartment.

Lately I’ve been licking my chops over the new iMacs and the iPhones… Guess you could say I’ve drunk the Apple kool-aid. Assuming I can stick to my budget, I’m hoping to get a 24″ iMac maybe in late October (hopefully Mac OS X Leopard will be out by then), and maybe an iPhone in mid-September. I had been pining for a MacBook Pro, but I may hold off on a laptop until I’m closer to starting grad school… Most likely in 2009. More about that in a minute.

In the meantime, I just dumped 2 GB of RAM into my Dell fossil… All this time I somehow thought it already had 1 GB of memory, but it turned out to only have 512 MB. No wonder the damn thing seemed so slow… Anyway, it’s much faster now, so hopefully this will suit me until I have a shiny new Mac sitting on my desk.

About grad school: I have a feeling I’ll be sitting out the 2008 round of grad school angst while I save up some more money and sink some roots here in NYC. Now that I’m making decent money at a good firm, I’m not feeling as much of a rush to start my M.Arch. degree as I was in Chicago. Despite all the stress of this summer, life is pretty good right now, and I’d like to enjoy it for a while.

Panic

Checking in… Sorry I’ve been AWOL for a while.

I have to be out of my dorm room at Columbia by noon tomorrow, and I still haven’t lined up a new place to live… Starting to panic now.

I’m looking at a couple places up in Harlem this evening… Here’s hoping they aren’t too shitty (I’ve seen some incredible rat holes over the past week), although at this point I’m not in a position to be very picky.

In other news, our grades from the Columbia summer studio have been posted… Yours truly is the proud recipient of an “A”.

Columbia Summer Studio: Last Day

Well, it’s over. Our critic took us out for food and drinks in the neighborhood, and we had our big final party and exhibition over in Avery Hall afterwards. There’s a lot I could write about these past five weeks, but I’m not sure where to begin… I can’t help but think of the objectives I had in mind when I first decided to enroll in this program back in March:

Objective: Escape the daily grind of professional practice and immerse myself in a studio environment for a few weeks.

Check.

Objective: Earn transfer credit that can be applied toward my undergrad BA degree.

Check.

Objective: Do some cool projects that can be added to my portfolio the next time I apply to grad schools.

Check.

Objective: Do some networking to meet people in the NYC architecture community, and maybe even get a letter of recommendation from my studio critic.

Check. Our critic has taught at many top-tier architecture schools in NYC and beyond, and has offered to write letters for anybody in the section who asks. Besides that, he seems like a guy I want to stay in touch with anyway.

Objective: To develop a more theoretical sensibility, a more rigorous process, and apply it to my design projects.

In progress. That’s not something that can happen in five weeks, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in that regard. I can design some very cool stuff, but I need to work on the “why” questions.

And with that, the Columbia summer studio is over just as abruptly as it started… On Monday, it’s back to the working world full-time.

Now I have exactly one week to find a new place to live in NYC, before I’m kicked out of the Columbia dorms. Time to start checking craigslist on an hourly basis.

Columbia Summer Studio: Almost Over

Well, it’s almost over… We had our final pin-up and review today, and tomorrow we have a party, exhibition of student work, and photo sessions for our models. I’ll be sure to post pics when I get them. My review went pretty well… Most of the critiques of my project were about things I’ve already identified as my weaknesses. Looks like I’ll have my work cut out for me whenever I start grad school.

With that, my five weeks at Columbia will be over, and I’ll once again be a full-time working stiff. The paycheck will certainly be nice, and my new job is going well so far, but part of me will miss the creativity and the whole studio culture.

In other news, Chase Bank has apparently found my missing $2000 and credited my account. Now they just need to refund all the overdraft fees they charged while that deposit was in limbo.

I’ll post more later, but for now I just need some sleep.

In the Thick of It

Sorry I’ve been neglecting this lately. Columbia is keeping me busy as hell, and we’re now in full-on crush mode as we finish up our final projects over the next few days. From now through Thursday I’ll pretty much be coming out of Avery Hall only for occasional food and air. It’s been a great few weeks, but I’ll be happy when I have the time to sleep and enjoy the city again. (And getting a full-time paycheck again won’t suck, either.)

New job is going well… Nothing major to report there, except that there’s word about moving the office into new digs at some point in the future. During my interview they seemed particularly interested in the fact that I designed the new space for my old firm in Chicago, and now I’m apparently one of only two people at the new firm that has substantial experience in corporate interiors… This could get interesting.

I finally sold my car on Thursday… Not nearly for as much as I was originally hoping to get for it, but hopefully enough to arrange some sort of post-Columbia housing situation until I can get myself a real apartment. Stay tuned.

Okay, back over to Avery….

Artifacts

Time flies when you’re having fun…. We’ve just been assigned our final project in the Columbia summer studio, which is due in two weeks. Up until now we’ve been doing a lot of visual exercises and modeling of abstract concepts; now we get to design a building for a real site.

The project, in a nutshell: Some 850,000 artifacts were apparently dug up during construction of NYC’s Foley Courthouse complex, most of which dated back to the area’s past as the notorious “Five Points” Irish ghetto during the 1800’s (think Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York). These artifacts were meticulously cataloged and then stored away in what was thought to be a safe place: The basement of 6 World Trade Center.

On 9/11, eighteen of the artifacts were on loan to the Archdiocese of New York and were being stored off-site. The rest of the artifacts were destroyed when the north tower collapsed.

We’ve been assigned a site in Chinatown not far from the original “Five Points”, and our task is to design a building that functions both as a museum for the 18 surviving artifacts, and as a memorial to the approximately 849,982 other artifacts that were lost once in the gradually-shifting sands of time, rediscovered, and then lost again in one catastrophic morning. We also need to incorporate some of the ideas we’ve been exploring in the prior class assignments.

Interesting project, to be sure… Certainly beats designing “a house for a schizophrenic baker” or something like that. I have some vague ideas for how to proceed, but I still have a lot of thinking and researching to do.

Work is going pretty well… Nothing major to report, except that it’s a bit weird working at a place where most everybody seems relatively sane and well-adjusted. In some ways it’s not nearly as entertaining as working with a bunch of dysfunctional nutcases, but hopefully it will mean I won’t be spending nearly as much time pounding my head against a brick wall.