Category Archives: Academics

Checking In

Quick check-in here….

Columbia summer program is challenging, intense, and fun… It’s very much like a 5-week architecture boot camp. Some aspects of the program, like basic drafting and model-building techniques, are very old-school for me, and it’s been interesting to sit back and listen to the critic explain the whole concept of architectural scale (i.e., 1/4″ = 1′-0″) to a room full of people who have never heard of such a thing. On the other hand, I continue to struggle with a lot of the abstract concepts and heavy theory being tossed around. I’m starting to think that while I’m a pretty good architect, I’m a pretty crappy architecture student.

I went out and got Chinese take-out for dinner this evening, and the message in my fortune cookie was, “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.” Somehow it seems apt.

Things will be getting even more challenging for the final 2.5 weeks of the program, as I’m now working about 20 hours a week, which will cut into the time I have to devote to my studio projects. I was hoping to be able to get through the Columbia program without having to work, but that’s simply not financially possible for me.

Speaking of work, today was my first day at the new gig, and it went pretty well. Lots of orientation stuff, being introduced to lots of people whose names I instantly forget (I really suck at remembering names), and getting acquainted with their policies, standards, practices, etc. Pretty uneventful overall, but so far the place seems like a pretty tight ship.

Still haven’t sold the car yet, so I’ve just knocked another $1000 off the asking price.

That’s all for now….

KPF Office Tour, Other Issues

We had our tour of KPF this morning, which was interesting. Lots of nice projects and tons of cool study models stashed everywhere… At my last job, I never saw a single model being built in that office in two years of working there. I think that may become one of my criteria for evaluating prospective employers: Lots of study models = good. No study models = bad.

KPF sort of reminded me of Perkins + Will in terms of their corporate culture and general approach to design. Probably a bit too big for my taste (both in terms of the firm size and the typical project size), but as far as big corporate firms go, they’re doing some pretty nice work. The guys who showed us around were very cool, seemed to know their stuff well, and had a genuine interest in meeting with us.

Their office itself, though, was a big letdown. I guess I was sort of expecting lots of open spaces, high ceilings, clean lines, and high-tech detailing… Instead it was sort of a claustrophobic warren of various rooms, with a very 1980’s PoMo feeling to it all. It’s obvious they’ve been in that space for a long time, and everything had a pretty tired look. They’d be well-served by either renovating that space or moving into some new digs.

Long day in studio today, as we’re trying to wrap up our second project. In a nutshell, we have to build models that represent certain inherent characteristics of a number (from 0 to 9) that we’ve been randomly assigned. I have the number 9. Our critic mentioned that I seem to have a good knack for visualizing interesting spaces and a high level of craftsmanship, but that I need more of a theoretical concept — more of an agenda — to base it on. I tend to agree, as theory is probably my weakest point. I’ve always had a good intuitive design/aesthetic sense and a strong attention to detail, but I tend to find that most architectural theory goes right over my head. This dilemma was also reflected in many of the comments about my grad school portfolio a few months ago here on archinect…. Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

My first of several job interviews is tomorrow morning… This is the firm that’s gotten pretty good reviews on, and seems to do decent design work. In the words of one reviewer, “Maybe not the starting lineup, but definitely major league material.” Time to bust out my brand-new Kenneth Cole black suit and shoes.

I’ve since heard back from a couple other firms that also want to meet with me… I’m pretty shocked at the response I’ve gotten. I’ve sent out 24 resumes and have gotten 5 callbacks so far… In 2004, I got about the same number of callbacks after sending out over a hundred resumes. What a difference three years makes.

Columbia Summer Studio: Random Thoughts

Random thoughts about Columbia GSAPP and other issues of the day:

1. I’m thinking about starting a drinking game, in which we take a shot each time we hear the word “emergence” being uttered in Avery Hall.

2. Quote of the day: “We wouldn’t be sitting here on a theory panel if any of us had a normal relationship to practice.”

3. I’ll most likely cancel my interview with the Firm From Hell mentioned in my last post, considering I no intention of working in that sort of environment again, although part of me wouldn’t mind showing up anyway and asking them lots of pointed questions about the issues raised above. But if it’s anything like my last firm (which it seems to be in every detail), the partners most likely don’t have any ability nor inclination to change a thing about the way they run the firm, and it would be a waste of time for everybody involved for me to even darken their door.

4. Office tour of KPF first thing in the morning, and we’re touring Polshek’s office next week. There’s actually a lot of office tours being offered as part of this Columbia program (Libeskind, REX, Vinoly, Meier’s model archive, and many others among them) but unfortunately we were only permitted to pick a maximum of two office tours per person. Should be interesting.

In the Elevator with Peter Eisenman

In lieu of the “Architecture Sucks” t-shirt I was considering, today I wore a t-shirt that I had bought online some time ago. It’s black with white lettering, and has a silhouette of George Costanza of Seinfeld fame and some text. I don’t have an image of it, but imagine something like this:

Vandelay Industries

Latex, Architecture,
Importing & Exporting

For those of you unfamiliar with Avery Hall, our studio is on the 5th floor. The administrative offices are on the 4th floor, and the main auditorium is in the basement. The floors are connected with one very small, very slow elevator.

My classmates and I were up in studio, and around noon, began to head downstairs to the auditorium to hear Mark Wigley and Peter Eisenman give their talk. Some of us decided to grab the elevator, and we pretty much filled it up. The doors close, and the elevator begins its descent.

We stop on the 4th floor on the way down. The doors open, and none other than Mark Wigley and Peter Eisenman decide to squeeze on, and the conversation in the elevator comes to an abrupt halt. I end up standing belly-to-belly with Eisenman, with Wigley behind him, looking over his shoulder. Both of them are obviously reading my t-shirt. The elevator doors close, and we’re moving downward once again. Nobody speaks.

After a couple seconds, Eisenman simply says, “George Costanza.”

I try to smile politely. “Yep,” I manage to utter.

What follows next is about thirty seconds of awkward silence as the elevator makes its way to the basement. I’m still belly-to-belly with Eisenman, and Wigley is still looking at my t-shirt from over Eisenman’s shoulder.






Finally the doors open, and that’s the end of the encounter. I can’t help but wonder what the conversation would have been like if I had worn my “Architecture Sucks” shirt.

As for the talk itself, all the heavy theory and discourse was a welcome change from two years of listening to my former boss yammer on and on about “strategic design” and marketing. I won’t go into detail what the talk was about (theme: corners), but I generally found that Mark Wigley was witty, engaging, and seemed to make a lot of sense, listening to Eisenman talk pretty much made me want to shoot myself in the face.

In other news, I’ve heard back from one firm I contacted in response to an ad on Archinect, and they want to interview me. Not a moment too soon, as I never cease to be amazed at how easy it is to piss away money in this city. Stay tuned.

Columbia Summer Studio: Day One

Well, there goes Day One of the Columbia summer studio… Lots of paperwork, introductions, orientation stuff, getting-to-know-you things. We already have our first assignment, and it’s due on Monday… They certainly throw you into the deep end right at the get-go. Overall it looks like it will be very intense, fun time.

Tomorrow evening is another of a series of discussion/lectures by Mark Wigley and Peter Eisenman… Should be interesting. I’ve heard a lot about those two, and it will be nice to finally see them in the flesh. Should I wear my “Architecture Sucks” t-shirt? Maybe I’ll wait until I’m better friends with my studio critic before I bust that one out.


Well, I’ve been in NYC for about 24 hours now, and I finally have a minute to catch my breath after running all over the place for errands and official Columbia business.

I left Chicago around 5:30 PM on Saturday (a few hours later than I was hoping, but oh well), spent the night near Cleveland, and got into NYC around 3:30 yesterday afternoon. Aside from the usual traffic delays around Chicago and NYC and some construction delays in Pennsylvania, the trip was uneventful. As of yesterday, at one time or another I have moved from Chicago to each of the three biggest cities in the northeast: Chicago to Boston in 2000, Chicago to Philly in 2002, and Chicago to NYC in 2007.

Funny how each time I moved back to Chicago, it didn’t take me long to remember why I left in the first place… Never say “never,” of course, but this time I have the feeling that I’ve finally left Chicago for good. Maybe I would have felt more inclined to stay in Chicago if I had a better job there or if all my old friends there hadn’t gotten married, started having kids, and/or moved away or if there were better education options for me there. Oh well… I’ll always have some fondness for Chicago, but for now I’m just glad to be out.

Upon arrival at Columbia University I got my housing assignment, which is for a fairly large private room within a suite on 113th Street. Nothing special, but it will suffice. So far my cat seems to be handling dorm life without any problems. He’s behaved very well throughout the trip.

Today I dropped my car off at a garage over in Newark, took PATH back into the city, did some paperwork for Columbia housing, got my Columbia ID, and took care of a few other odds and ends.

Last night I was able to take a stroll around Greenwich Village, and today I did some walking around the financial district… I had forgotten just how much of a sensory overload this city can be. There’s usually something interesting to see no matter what direction you’re looking… It’s thrilling when you first arrive here, but it can become wearisome after a while… I think the secret to staying sane in NYC is to have some sort of escape destination outside the city you can head to when things get crazy here.

I haven’t decided yet, but tomorrow I may head down to Philadelphia while I still have my car and some free time… It’s been a while since I’ve been back there, and it would be nice to see the old stomping grounds again. And one of these days I’ll make it up to Boston for a visit… I haven’t set foot in that city since 2000.

New York City, Part Deux

Here’s a quick update, for those of you who don’t already know: I didn’t get accepted to any of my top choices for grad school this year, but it’s doubtful I would have finished my BA degree by the end of the summer anyway. So, I’ve decided to postpone grad school for another year, finish my BA degree in the fall or spring, and re-apply to grad schools for fall 2008.The good news: I’ve been accepted into the summer architecture studio at Columbia University in NYC, an intensive 5-week program that offers studio projects, lectures, field trips throughout the city, and office tours of some prominent NYC architecture firms. This program will give me some additional (and hopefully better) projects for my portfolio and provide some valuable networking opportunities for when I re-apply to grad schools next year.

At the conclusion of the program in August, I plan to remain in New York and work full-time there for a year while wrapping up my BA degree on a distance-learning basis during the fall quarter, leaving the winter and spring quarters open to tie up any loose ends if necessary.

Even though my last time living in NYC was somewhat less than pleasant, I’m looking forward to getting back there. That city certainly has a way of getting under your skin. I wish I could move there tomorrow, but then again, I also wish I had another six months to save up money for the move.

Anway, wish me luck…

New York Road Trip

I recently got back from a road trip to New York… Mainly to visit a couple of prospective grad schools, but also to visit my church in NYC and catch up with some old friends there.I briefly visited Columbia, and although I generally liked what I saw, I wasn’t blown away by it, either. Avery Hall is incredibly cramped, and people are practically sitting on top of each other in the studios. Lots of computers, naturally, but relatively little in the way of models or hand drawings. While walking around, most people seemed inclined to avoid eye contact and pretend I wasn’t there. Being a former NYC resident, I guess I shouldn’t have expected any differently, but it would have been nice to at least gotten a friendly “hello” from somebody.

I spent Monday evening and all day Tuesday up in Ithaca, and spent most of that time hanging around the Cornell campus and the surrounding area. Ithaca itself actually reminds me a lot of Eugene, Oregon… Smallish college town, incredible natural beauty, and lots of flannel and granola. Cornell itself was very nice, and I had a good meeting with Dr. Lily Chi, the director of the graduate architecture program. She gave me a few helpful pointers about my portfolio, gave me tons of information about the program, and led me on a brief tour of the facilities before setting me loose to explore Rand Hall on my own. Rand Hall itself is rather old and decrepit, but much more spacious than Avery, and looks like a cool place with a lot of creative energy… I especially loved the top floor studios. In general, there seemed to be much more of a balance between computers and hand drawings and models, which I appreciated. Dr. Chi introduced me to a couple of the students there, and they were happy to answer any questions I had.

I happen to love waterfalls, so later in the day I did some exploring around the area and got some photos of some of the nicer falls nearby. The Cornell campus reminded me of Rivendell… How many other colleges can claim to have large canyons and waterfalls directly adjacent to the campus? Even if I don’t wind up in Ithaca for grad school, I may have to build myself a vacation house there someday.

Overall, I was much more impressed with Cornell than with Columbia, not only in terms of the welcome and the general vibe I got, but also in terms of the facilities and the program itself. Of course, where I end up going is up to the respective admissions committees of the schools I’m applying to, but I feel safe in saying that Cornell is my #1 pick at the moment.

For those who are interested, I’ve posted some photos from my trip:

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC
This is my home church in New York, and is currently undergoing a massive cleaning and restoration project as the result of a severe fire in 2001. The nave is currently closed for restoration, but the Great Choir has recently been re-opened, and the results are spectacular.

Ithaca, Cornell, and environs
Okay, not much in the way of Cornell itself, but several photos of Fall Creek Gorge and Taughannock Falls.


Some Good News: Moving to Philly

Just thought I’d announce here that I was recently accepted into the architecture program at Drexel University in Philly! It’s unsure exactly when I’ll be moving out there, as much of that depends on my housing and financial situation over the summer (I’ve been unemployed since mid-March, and I’m in pretty dire financial straits at the moment), but I’m guessing early September at the latest. Worst-case scenario is that I’ll have to put all my stuff into storage for a while, find a temporary place to live in Philly, crash there until I find a job and a permanent place to live, and then come back to Chicago to retrieve my stuff.

Cheesteak on my Mind

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I lost my job a couple weeks ago. My job search since then has been going rather badly, having scored exactly one interview out of at least a dozen or so resumes I’ve sent out so far. The interview went well, but the job in question qoes something like this:

1) Idiot buys expensive house near O’Hare Airport
2) Idiot is shocked to discover that jet airplanes make noise
3) Idiot, naturally, sues the City of Chicago
4) Judge decress that the city must pay to soundproof Idiot’s home
5) City hires architecture firm to oversee soundproofing of Idiot’s home, as well as the homes of several hundered other similar idiots. This is where yours truly would come in.

Needless to say, it doesn’t sound like a very exciting position, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.

In my previous posting I also mentioned that with things in Chicago going so badly, I’m giving some consideration to leaving the city once again, possibly to Boston, Philadelphia, or the NYC area. After looking at a lot of information and doing a lot of soul-searching, right now I seem rather torn between sticking it out in Chicago or moving to Philly sometime this fall.

Reasons to stay in Chicago:

  • I’ve grown very attached to Chicago over the past eight years of living here.
  • Chicago is a very healthy and beautiful city
  • Most of my closest friends live here
  • Chicago has a very good architectural community
  • I wouldn’t have to move all my crap 1000 miles again

Reasons to move to Philly:

  • Drexel University’s co-op program will let me work full-time and still get my degree by taking evening classes
  • Philly, unlike NYC or Boston, has plenty of affordable housing
  • Philly is very close to NYC and Washington, and within a few hours of Boston.
  • Several of my close friends in Chicago have family in Philly and visit regularly.
  • Despite my housing fiasco last summer in Boston, part of me is still itching to broaden my horizons a bit by spending time in another city.

I applied to Drexel today just to see if they’re crazy enough to accept me, so I should have an answer within a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s a few questions I have for any Philadelphia residents or experts:

1) Most importantly, any idea what Philly’s job market is like for architects? In what esteem is Drexel’s co-op program held within Philly’s architectural community?

2) I know there’s a couple people here with connections to Drexel. What are your general impressions of the university? Strengths / weaknesses? Be candid.

3) I’d be looking to get a one-bedroom apartment for less than $750 a month, close to public transit (preferably MFL, subway-surface or regional rail), but also someplace where parking wouldn’t be a hassle. From the rental listings I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like I’d have much trouble finding a place. I’d most likely end up in Northeast or maybe South Jersey just because it would be a somewhat shorter trip to NYC, but I’m open to any other suggestions.

4) This may be a bit of a stretch, but how hard would it be to work in New York City and still take evening classes at Drexel? The commute would be a bitch at the very least, but I’m exploring all my options here.

5) How healthy is Philly’s underground nightlife/arts/music scene? It can’t possibly be as sterile as Boston’s, but I’d still like to take advantage of such things without trekking all the way up to New York.

Thanks in advance for any tips or suggestions… FYI, I probably wouldn’t be moving until October at the earliest, so the SubTalk field trip to Chicago wouldn’t be in danger.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at