Thursday, April 22, 2010

How I learned to Talk like an Architect

On my very first day at graduate school, we neophyte architects were herded into a subterranean lecture theater and had the facts of life explained at us by our studio professor. One foot on a chair, his elbow on his knee, his camel-hair jacket unbuttoned and swinging jauntily around his manly frame, he was the very image of a dashing and successful practicing architect as he set down to the business of telling us all about our very first project.
            We would construct two cubes out of bass wood dowels  - he said - and we would wrap these wooden frames in paper. One cube inside the other, we would slash both paper layers full of excitingly shaped and dynamically positioned holes. We would line the inner cube with photo-resistant paper and, placing our boxes on window ledges, track the movement of the sun across these photo-resistant inner surfaces. And then - at last! - sun exposures in our eager little neophyte hands, we would trace the patterns and draw them out in both plan and orthographic perspective.

Or as the professor explained it:
             "The vertical mapping of the temporal exposure of the surfaces is intended to provide the prime conceptual material out of which your subsequent architectural proposal will gradually coalesce and emerge or -if you deem appropriate- remain submerged.  Ahem."

We blanched, but we were young and keen and not particularly blessed with foresight, and we merely squirmed a little in our seats. Visual theory attended to, our professor got down to the nuts and bolts of the class, and we fixed our eyes upon him and pulled out writing pads and pencils and prepared to take notes.
            Which, from the point of view of posterity, turned out to be rather a good thing.
            Making vague noises about the "materials acquisition" the professor handed out lists of required studio equipment -  lists that he assured us earnestly were "entirely non-hierarchical in form."
            "What's that?" He said testily. "Self-evidentially, I mean you to infer that everything on that page holds equal relevance for your practicable activities. Is this clear?"
            Raising his voice, he drew our attention to the large number of pens and pencils on the aforementioned non-hierearchical list, and said that "in this studio, you will find a void of digital content," or, in plain-speak, that we didn't need a computer this semester, because "this school strongly values the acquisition of traditional methodology for learning skill sets as they allow a certain entry to representational media not available through a dramatic jump into digital technology. Ahem."
            I heard a choked-off titter somewhere behind me.
            But he wasn't done yet. Turning to the subject of the actual physical construction of our basswood-and-paper models, he noted, in passing, that "although your drawing mat is resilient and self healing, the purchase of a reserved cutting mat is advisable.  In fact, it is not inadvisable to have a number of reserved substrates available for different materials. Ad exemplo, to understand the functionality of your parallel rule bar, I would here note that parallelity and verticality are only a few of its relevant inherencies."
             Once he'd disposed of the equipment list, the professor settled down for a comfy professorial fireside chat about school theory and student expectations:
            "As you advance within the school, a lack of comfort with representation will become conflated with your burgeoning computer skills"
            (= "don't forget how to draw once we turn you loose on the computer.")
            Because "in general, your work with traditional media has been unparalleled within our faculty - "
            (= we reckon that pencil drawings are much prettier than digital renders anyway)
            " - Although it is certainly true that the use of digitalization has become so primary within our program."
            (= when jargon come in, grammar goes out the window!)

The assistant professors were beginning to make coughing noises at his more florid excesses, and the class was developing an interesting variety of nervous tics. Someone finally slipped a word in sideways and asked a question about the actual project:
            "If the basswood frame is covered with paper, are we allowed to have the frame be visible?"
            The resulting drivel was so spectacular that it is worth quoting in full:
            "This problem is necessitated by initial moves on your part conflated with critical moves on the part of others. This exercise does not privilege the model as an artifact. The basswood frame will necessarily become visible through the projection of shadow and, via the compromise of envelopes, the dialogue between structure and substance, structure and perception, visual and invisible...... er.....  Ah ha....ha... did you mean literally visible?  Like, with your eyes?"
            "May the heavens preserve me" I thought, "from catching his attention this year.  I just might start spouting jargon back."

Despite the liquid velocity
The loquacious sibilance with which he articulates his erudition
            and, incidentally, demonstrates a not insignificant portion of inflated pomposity
Elaborating upon a contemporary conflation of contradictions that show how exemplary 
            hierarchies deviate from accepted norms and, thereby, perspective, from his 
            viewpoint, the primary functionalities of certainty and coherence -
- That's viscosity.


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