Do you remember in primary school when your teacher would give you a card board box, some paper and a tube of paint and tell you to use your imagination? Do you remember the excitement that the freedom sparked? Well, if you’re thinking of that memory fondly, Architecture is the course for you.
Essentially my first six weeks have been spent working in a group to design and build a sculpture following the theme Kin/gnosis (google it, it’s very abstract). At first we modelled it in scale 1:10 out of a specific amount of card, paper, balsa sticks and cotton, then we had to replicate it in real size out of wood, canvas, softwood sticks and rope.
Now, as someone who hasn’t used a saw since year 8 wood work, working out how to create different wooden joints was quite a challenge, particularly since our design involved a lot of awkward angles. So many in fact that when we explained to the workshop technician how we wanted the sculpture to look, he laughed until the smile faded as the realisation sunk in that we would be requiring a lot of assistance, especially me, as someone who doesn’t know the difference between a screw and a nail. (I joke, I’m not that bad, nails are the ones with a spiral groove right?)
Disaster struck in the second last week before the deadline when we discovered that that weight of the boards would not suffice in counter balancing the weight of the sticks, thus our sculpture would merely be a wreck on the floor if we could not find a way to modify our design. Thankfully, we asked one of the tutors for help and he aided us in making it feasible and structurally sound. Though, even then we were paranoid it was going to fall over and spent many fretful hours imagining how bad it would be to have to support the frame throughout the crit (a review in front of tutors). A worry that was amplified when we asked the head of the project what would happen if our sculpture did not stand - he chuckled and walked away.
In the end, we couldn’t have built it without the helpful technicians who would happily assist you with lap joints, dowelling and even with providing heavy metal struts to add weight to our otherwise unbalanced sculpture.
Yes, our base piece was crammed on the underside with metal bars or as we called them our ‘fixings’ – not technically breaking the rules - but without them, it never would have worked. Needless to say when we came about transporting the sculpture to the crit room, we were careful to try to hide the base. Didn’t work. The tutors who judge our pieces had a little snigger as all 5 of us supported the sculpture in carrying it into the room, the metal bars noticeable like a black dog in snow. But alas, it stood up and our crit went really well with the tutors liking the design concept and also the way it was made.
If you ask any architecture student about crits, they will tell you not to expect much sleep/spare time in the week preceding. I guess as long as you manage your time well and work productively this doesn’t have to be true, though I was at the studio till 10 on one occasion, but when your jobs are to operate a screw driver or hammer in some nails, it’s really fun and time passes so quickly.
Alongside the making process we had to produce a design report explaining the journey we took to reach the finished outcome complete with sketches and detailed elevations. My top tip for you would be to spend a few hours over the summer learning the basics of ‘In Design’ and ‘Photoshop’. I hadn’t so I felt a little lost when it came to making the report though luckily two members of my group had and were amazing.
So even if your strengths lie in drawing rather than sculpting or digital modelling rather than wood work, there’s always a job you can do. And if you are good at them all – brilliant, you can help me out.
After crit is over, you get the satisfaction from destroying your sculpture. The thing that has been the bane of your life for the past few weeks gets to be turned into a pile of sticks on the ground. It’s exhilarating and yet a little piece of your heart melts as it dawns on you that all the sweat you put into it making it feasible was for nothing - well good marks would be nice.
What’s more, there’s the architects social on the evening which is basically a chance to get together with your group to cry/celebrate the end of the project. Seriously, it’s like the end of an era. It’s likewise an opportunity to socialise with the people you have spoken to at 7.30 in the morning whilst queuing for a workshop slot or shared cakes with whilst sanding down a piece of wood at 9 o’clock in the evening. It’s surprising how much you can bond with people in weird circumstances.
Posted in: Faculty of Engineering, Undergraduate
23 years ago, as a fourth year architecture student, I spent the Fall semester traveling around Western Europe soaking in all the architectural wonders I could find. I was 22 years old and had done very little traveling of any kind … through the good graces of my parents, The University of Texas School of Architecture, and Virginia Tech, I was able to travel extensively at an age when I was barely prepared to do much of anything in the real world. Most of what I learned from that time (other than I didn’t know how to spell) didn’t have as much to do with architecture as I anticipated … I grew up.
The image above is my “box” of stuff … the stuff I will look through when I invariably end up in some institution with no visitors. This box is full of memories about things I know my brain will eventually fail me and I will forget. I was digging through this box to find a particular letter from my Mom that I wanted to re-read and as I sorted through the contents in this box, I came across the letters and diaries I kept from the time I spent in Europe. Talk about a time sink, it’s really difficult to ignore these things once they are right there in front of you. I thought I would pull some out and share them to show just how different things were back in 1990 –
No internet … Research meant going to an actual library and sorting through the card catalog and the Dewey Decimal system so you could pull out books.
No email … you wrote letters. Can you imagine?!?
No cell phones … if you wanted to make a call, you used a pay phone. Have you ever used a pay phone in Europe to call someone in the states? It required stacks and stacks of coins, arranged like little soldiers waiting their time when you would feed them into the pay phone slot.
My mom saved all the letters I wrote her and gave them back to me as a remembrance of the time I spent in Europe. This is an envelope from one of the letters I sent. Think it was a nice touch to write “Starving Child” in the return address slot? Probably not …
This is one of the few dozen letters I wrote home. It is written on the thinnest paper you can imagine and with the smallest handwriting ever because mailing a letter from Europe cost a lot of money to a student who was counting their pennies (or pence, pfennig, lire, etc.). I’m not entirely sure my parents could even read this letter.
It is amusing to read about the items that I thought were newsworthy as a 22-year-old. Down at the bottom of this letter, I briefly spoke about the time I spent staying at Le Corbusier’s Sainte Marie de La Tourette which as it turns out is still one of my favorite buildings of all time. Actually staying in that building for a few days added an entirely different sensory level to my knowledge. I even sketched the floor plan of my room at the bottom. (You can click this image and a new window will open up with a larger version of this letter will open. Click this new image again and it will get even bigger.)
This image is from a spiral notebook I kept – it was a daily diary of what I was doing, the money I was spending, and generally what I was thinking about at the time. It is equally parts fascinating and painful to read. I flipped to the page when I was in La Tourette so there would be some continuation/ comparison of what I wrote in a letter to my parents versus what I thought I would like to remember about my time spent here. I didn’t know this would become such an important building to me at the time, the experience of staying there contributed to the reason I am so found of this building.
I also have the post cards that I sent home. The ones above are a two-parter that cost me almost $8 to mail (the exchange rate in 1990 was kinda rough on the US dollar). These post cards are fairly amazing as points along my personal timeline. I wrote about my visit to the Berlin wall – which had fallen in 1989 but most was removed in 1990, the year I was in Europe. I also briefly told my parents of some trouble I ran into on the train – it was much worse than I let on in these postcards. It’s a fairly amazing story but I think I matured about 4 years during a 20 minute window when I was kicked off a train in East Berlin, lost my passport (which I recovered that 20 minutes later from East Berlin Police who were hiding it from me) and had to sleep in a Red Cross shelter.
Finally, I thought I would include a letter I wrote from my spiral notebook that covers several cities but recounts the story of when I was in Budapest and our group got caught up in the middle of revolt, an uprising, maybe an attempted coup d’état … whatever it was, it was pretty serious. You’ll have to read the 4-page letter above to get some of the details but I’ll tell you that it involved being trapped on a bus for almost 2 days, the KGB, a small piece of salami, and driving through a corn field to escape. It’s another great story and life experience and I have it recorded very unceremoniously on paper from a spiral bound ledger.
I love that I have these documents, and I don’t think that having these in email form would allow the stories to contain the same sort of power. I have already spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how I can expose my daughter to the experiences of traveling but it will never be like it was for me in 1990. Writing letters, looking for working pay phones, not having a smart phone in my pocket where I could look up any translation or bus schedule I wanted. There is unquestionably some old-timers nostalgia to this – I’m quite sure that my challenges have simply been replaced with new challenges, I just don’t know what they are, not without having to go through it myself.
Architecture students should definitely travel … I think every student should do some traveling. Learning is certainly a great by-product of the experience, but so is growing up.
Filed Under: Life in General, Observations, TravelTagged With: a day in the life, about bob, Architecture School, bob borson, Travel, traveling