Tag Archives: Columbia


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.


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


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


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….


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.

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 insidearch.org, 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.