Architecture in Connecticut

I just returned from a family reunion in CT.  While my mind was blown away by many things out there, per the subject matter of this journal, I will focus on the architecture.

First off, my Great Great Aunt's (from here on out referred to as GGA) estate is absolutely beautiful for numerous reasons, but one of the particular wonderful treasures is her private gallery and storage house, designed by the one and only Stephen Learner.  The gallery, known as the Granary (a quick Google search will reveal who my GGA is), houses one of the top contemporary art collections in the world.  The building, to me, feels like an excellent exercise in critical regionalism - something I wouldn't necessarily have thought Learner to be a practitioner of.  While modern and elegant, the rustic nature of both the stone panels facade housing the main gallery space and the stained cedar volume, housing the upper gallery, blend beautifully into an understanding of New England materials (perhaps not methods, but that is the beauty of it all).  And I love grey when it isn't concrete.

The space underneath the galleries features a beautiful storage area of movable panels, with her major works all hung and RFID'd.  The panels slide easily in and out and are hung on both sides.  The building also features some modern essentials like a geothermal system - this of course probably helps with the excessive environmental controls needed for such a exquisite art collection.

It was on the tour that I discovered just the kind of people my GGA rubs elbows with.  Names like Renzo Piano, Craig Dykers (Snohetta), and Jasper Johns are among that list.  Oy veh.

The majority of th weekend was spent connecting with family that I had never met, which was absolutely wonderful, but I did make my pilgrimage to a few other buildings of renown, since I was in the area.  Of course, they all just happened to be on Yale's campus.

First on the sacred trail was the Rudolph Building, better known as Paul Rudoph's Art and Architecture Building.  I don't know why, but I love Brutalism.  And this building is a great example of it.  My younger brother described it pretty well, I think:  "I'm architecture and I am here."  There is no attempt toward subtlety, it is proclamation in mass, material, and function.  You know what is circulation, what isn't, what is structure, and what is show.  However, I'd have to say that visiting the structure in person revealed something I didn't expect but that I now cannot help but see in all the pictures of the building - and that is its resemblance to every architecture student's first love: Sant' Elia-esque Futurism.  Ah... if only the world could really be that way.  But that would require too socialist a society.  Bleh.

Unfortunately, most of the buildings were closed since we were visiting New Haven on a Sunday... and I'm still not sure when Yale starts classes anyway.  Not that we had time for too much exploration.  But the locked buildings made the next visit a little less exciting (though it was still great to see).

Next on the agenda was something my comp. studio professor had me investigate (though I do remember reference to it in some of my Sci-Tech courses in terms of materiality) for its elegant articulation of its structural details, and that of course is a lovely building by Gordon Bunschaft of SOM known as the Beineke rare book library.

This building is great in a number of respects.  Not only are the corners beautifully articulated from large concrete piers to these small steel hats and saddles (an elegant illustration of the different capabilities of concrete and steel), but the marble exterior blends with the surrounding campus in an interesting way.  Of course, the buildings greatest claim to fame (outside of its amazing rare book/manuscript collection), is the glowing interior.  The marble panels are thin enough to actually allow an orange light through to the interior on a sunny day (Google it, it is awesome), providing some natural light to a windowless building.  And a good thing that it is windowless - you wouldn't want direct sun shining onto an original copy of the Gutenburg Bible.  Those folks at SOM have some knowledge goin' on.

The picture to the left is one of my faves, illustrating the contrast that exists on Yale's campus.  The new, the old, and the connections in between.  I love this building, though I would've loved to go inside.  

Last on the Yale journey (but definitely not least), was another building introduced in Sci-Tech but further investigated in comp. studio.  This guy really knew elegance - and structure as it turns out. 

Eero Saarinen's Ingall's Auditorium illustrates how long span structure really defines the form of a building.  Of course Saarinen handles it beautifully, accents it even with a flourish at the entry.  Again, of course, this space wasn't open.  But peering through the glass I was amazed at how intimate the space seemed.  The score console was down on the ground, probably for repairs of something of the sort.

If you find yourself lucky enough to be visiting Yale's campus, make sure you visit Campus Customs and get yourself a "Yale Department of Architecture" shirt.  It raised several eyebrows, and the woman sitting next to me on the flight back to Minneapolis, (who, herself, was from New Haven), asked if I was a Yale student.  I replied "I wish."  Suddenly the Avenue Q song "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" popped into my head.  If only money wasn't such an issue.


Working for a living

I recently acquired a job within architecture at a firm in Sioux Falls.  I am elated to be doing what I love and getting paid for it.  I'm only 3 days in and it is getting better each day; I feel I have a steep "common sense" learning curve when it comes to the building industry (they don't teach you basic building staples in school it turns out, they try to teach you creativity... which is stupid), but I've learned so much in the past few days.

However, what I'd like to reflect on is not my current job, but a bit on how I got to this point.  If people were to examine my life pre 2004, my choice of "architecture" may seem curious.  Even after that point, I didn't attend a college with a legitimate degree in architecture. 

In high school, the closest thing to "architecture" that I ever did was attend an exploratory class at Spitznagel (now TSP), and that really didn't teach me much.  The one thing I learned is that I should "take an art class."  I already knew I was good at art, and that I hated my high school's art teacher, but I took a 3D design class anyway.  Lame.  Waste of time.  Learned nothing.  I remember taking a test where there were a series of 4 pictures all with different frequencies and paths of lines.  The student was supposed to pick the square that "best represented the concept of Line."  All I could remember thinking was that "this is not how you teach design."

Yet I still loved to create and draw.  I was always creating things out of Legos and building Puzz-3Ds.  I was heavy into Sim City 3000's Building Architect Tool, and would often sketch out creations before actually building the physical models within the program.  Then "the Sims" came along and taught one even more about basic space planning (as rudimentary as the game was).  After that it was RPG Maker, and I guess you could say I lost the architecture kick and was more interested in pure creation.  I created programs, stories, characters.  I used Photoshop and (ugh!) Paint to create new monsters or tilesets.  And when I wasn't involved with some sort of videogame experience, I was creating music, or creating drama.

Then college rolled around.  When it was discovered that my high school counselor was "accidentally" sending out the wrong transcripts to schools, I had a wake up call.  I wasn't getting in to the schools I wanted - I wasn't getting scholarships.  Life was getting serious.  I had to go to college.  Luckily, Augustana still took me in, with a scholarship, but they unfortunately didn't have the architecture program I needed.  But I loved the place and stuck around.  4 years later I had a degree in Art and a minor in Psychology and Economics.

Now, it was surely time to "get serious." I applied to 4 graduate schools of architecture, from Iowa State all the way up to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  With a great GPA and a stunning artist portfolio, I was a shoe in at all places.  But I knew money would be the issue.  Thus I found myself at Iowa State University, enrolled in the M. Arch I program and working as a Teaching Assistant in architecture (something I really knew nothing about at that point).

I felt... funny... about having taken so long to finally do what I wanted to do.  And I did discover that at Iowa State, architecture is what I wanted to do.  Yet I'm very defensive about my experiences.  While I am not wise enough to have the legitimate right to proclaim "it is important to have a varied and diverse background for architecture, because it pulls from a variety of disciplines" I still cling to that morsel of info anyway, having heard many a wisened architect utter something similar.

And now, even with what I learned about history and technology and ADA and structure... I feel like I am learning all over again with this job, because, while I can figure out how a building "can" go together, that doesn't mean it should go together that way, or that that is the most effecient or cost effective way for it to go together.  But I think that is an important reminder... that education doesn't end outside the classroom.  You learn something new everyday.


ISU Campus Model

Last semester amid the craziness and drama of comprehensive studio, I landed a sweet little part-time job updating the campus model.  It hadn't been updated for 10 years, but I didn't think that was a big deal... I figured it would involve making a couple buildings and painting them.  Boy was I wrong.

The campus has undergone at least 50 changes in the past 10-11 years, and the changes made to the model before that were, let's say, "less than acceptable" in quality.  Luckily, even though I am no where near complete (only working on one panel), the boss thinks I'm doing a great job... and it is quite a fun job to do.  I don't know why, but detail oriented tasks are often stress relievers for me.

Most of my work last semester involved building digital models of new buildings in Sketchup, figuring out the math and scaling (not as easy as you might think in SketchUp) to convert them to 1:100 scale, and then uploading them to an online service to have them digitally "shrinkwrapped," thereby eliminating all holes and allowing them to be 3D-printed.

My work has consisted mostly of the bottom panel in the middle of the model, consisting of all the changes on the main part of campus (including additions to the COD, UDA Center, Eaton and Marrin Halls, the State Gym Expansion, the MU addition, Hach Hall, Biorenewables, Coover addition, LeBaron addition, Gerdin Business,... you get the idea). 


Gerdin was really tricky because it required a lot of "excavation," cutting into the 40 year old foam that constitues the base of the model.  To fill in any gaps or dents, I have been using drywall mud to a surprising degree of success.  The paint colors have been difficult to match.  The colors the paint guys scanned from the originals aren't quite right, so I have to do a lot of interpolation/mixing (perhaps to compensate for the years of fading).

All in all, it is a really interesting project to be part of.  Perhaps many years down the road I can return to campus and see my handywork still displayed on the model in the conference room and FPM.


Sioux Falls Events Center

Site Analysis Update

-go here ^ and watch the vid-

Just a few weeks ago, Mayor Heuther and the consultant architects on the events center project - Sink Combs Dethlefs - held a press confrence on the resultant site analysis of the best "downtown site" for the events center.  While I haven't followed the project very closely, having not really lived in the city for about 3 years and also having reservations on the "need" for an events center of this scale (given the 'stellar' attendance at Stampede and [shudders] Skyforce games), I was wholeheartedly intrigued by this process, given its relation to my current and previous semester's studio work.

As you will see from the posts below, I worked on a scheme for an 8000 seat velodrome in downtown Boston.  At that point, given its access to mass transit, parking was less of a concern, and our site selection was less about pragmatics and more about having interesting site constraints.  Oddly enough, the site my partner and I chose was also right next to some rail tracks in an existing parking lot.  The building barely fit... it was quite a wrestling match to make it work, having the building cantilever over road and track.

This semester I am in a planning studio for Des Moines, focusing on an area full of warehousy office buildings in the River Hills District on the east side of the river.  If you are not familiar, Des Moines is somewhat famous for its abundance of parking (and numerous parking garages, some of which are actually well designed), so parking was the primary concern (in order to continue the trend) for this planning process.  Des Moines, luckily, already had loads of data on parking variables based on usage and square footage, so it gave us a good idea of the amount of parking we would need for our proposed scheme (if I find time you might see some of that up here).  I still don't think we maybe had quite enough.


The point of the Des Moines work is that cars are big and parking takes up a lot of space.  And the Boston work showed that 8,000 seats (let alone 12,000) is a huge building.  So huge + huge = huge (which generally equates into money).  Now, I already hinted at my reservations about the project in general, but when you really begin to understand the scope of the project, money is going to be a huge factor.  This doesn't necessarily make me totally against it, I just feel press conferences analyzing primarily parking could be better spent discussing some other concerns the city has in regards to the events center.  

What I'm alluding to is that there wasn't a single mention of busses (that I can remember without sitting through the whole presentation again).  No analysis of "mass transit" options.  SCD (and I'm hoping it was mostly SCD's analysis and not Hazard's) talked only about cars, furthering the reluctance midwesterner's have about walking.  However, I am glad there was a walking distance analysis, but I feel that the events center, especially on the Cherapa site, could benefit greatly from a more developed mass transit system (more convenient bus routes/schedules downtown, etc.)  Maybe even a park and ride wouldn't be a bad idea (i.e. Jazz Fest?)

Anyway, while I'm souding off about the project, I should mention (once again) that I am on the fence as to its good.  While I truly don't believe that its use will outweigh its cost, there is that idealistic progressive part of me that loves progress for the sake of progress.  A friend of mine expressed something similar a couple years ago when my alma mater was building a football stadium.  While he (and I) wasn't really into the whole college sports scene... especially at a liberal arts college... he was excited to see something the scale of a stadium built on campus- an admittedly huge undertaking. It's hard to balance these two urges... one to be responsible, the other to be productive and progressive.  

Anyway, other comments about the presentation.

It took me a bit to orient myself.  This could have been aleviated by, 1. a return to architecture school ideals of "north should always be up" or 2. a better cameraman (I mean really, c'mon).

I don't know about the whole "attaching onto" Cherapa.  I like that building as a stand alone, and I don't see the benefit of attaching an events center to an office building (unless it became a hotel).  There are other ways to solve the problem of floorplate... perhaps some unique seating conditions... something Guthrie-esque (Rapson, not Nouvell)?

True, Mike, polling the city would not be a good idea.  Honestly, most would have no clue what analysis was done and pick a site based on baser instincts.  Also, you'd probably get some negative feedback about the whole project in general.  Mr. Dethlef's nod to this "controversy" was well played.

I think the site-plan will be crucial to this project.  I already know the awkwardness of trying to get to Cherapa (the access isn't very legible since it doesn't front any major street).  I suppose this would be partially resolved with the general scale of the building.

In terms of parking, again, parking garages aren't all bad (even if expensive), but maybe this could be a way to generate revenue for the center.  You have to pay if you want to park.  I know Sioux Falls is trying its best to avoid too much urbanity too fast, but I think it is about time. 

In the end, I am excited to see the next step of this project.  The convention center area analysis will be interesting to see, but my hesitation with that site is that it is not urban enough.  That is also why I don't know if I love or hate this project:  I am concerned about its success based on the arena's performance, but the arena's failure could be about its accessibility and legibility... it's not in an urban area and it is surrounded by a see of asphalt.  Regardless, whatever comes should be interesting to see, looking at SCD's site, their buildings seem functional enough.  I'm excited what this could mean for Sioux Falls.



Had a friend render some images for me today on his awesome supercomputer.  It would've taken me days to render these on either of my machines, but only took his machine about an hour for each.  Below are some of my favorites.  The first one is an axon of the first two levels (underneath the track) which I actually did on my machine overnight.  The next is the view of the approach from TD Garden T-station, and the final one is a bird's-eye from the south.  Now to get some trees in cars (and Boston) in there.  Maybe a reflecting pond too? (I like those)