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April 25, 2005

Biology is Destiny

I guess I should have known something like this would happen when I started designing a building based on hands and bones and tendons. Somehow, my design for our latest project has morphed into a bony structure with chunky, knuckle-like bits, lacing over a twisty, organic staircase in the shape of a uterus and ovaries.

Maybe there is something to the theory that all good artists are insane.

Here's my first pass at a study model. We were assigned a location between two wings of a building on campus, with the requirement that the space accommodate all existing circulation (people passing from one place to another through the space), a pin-up area for second-year architecture students, and at least one "ritual" that is unique to the experience of being an architecture student.

My ritual was the mass migration to studios at one o'clock -- all architectural studios are 1 to 6, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So at that time we all get up and walk up to our studios and get to work (well, approximately).

Our first assignment was to make a light study (warning: large) of the model, using a little sun dial thing and a digital video camera.

I left the building very open on the North exposure, which opens onto the Dexter Lawn where in fine weather you often see students sacked out in the sun between classes.

First revision of model - North

The South exposure is closed up, with just a few narrow slits cut into the wall to allow the sun to slant through.

First revision - South

As I worked on the model I refined some of my ideas, adding a lot more thickness to the South wall, and emphasizing the joints in the wall structure by placing floors at that level.

Today I finished the exterior, at least for this revision, and took some photos of the inside in the appropriate light, to see how the changes I made livened the space up.

Today's revision - lit ritual

My pinup space is upstairs, with walls tilted to the North that catch light but not glare or direct light. Those walls also funnel light down to the first floor.

Lit ritual - upstairs gallery

You can see in this photo that I've made some changes to the model, but mostly that's because now it has stuff inside, which the earlier pictures don't show.

Latest revision - North

The most dramatic change is the deepening and complicating of the South facade, which is now about 6 feet deep and has slits carved into it to create strips of light across the floor.

Img 3603 Edited

It's funny that the red floor is red because I needed to make a larger base out of smaller materials, and red construction paper was what I had. But activated by light like this it is amazing. The strips of light slant down the staircase between noon and one o'clock, during the school year, to enhance the ritual climb to studio. The stairs curve back on themselves to slow the students down and help the transition from everyday headspace to studio headspace.

Path of light

More light

To better understand my model, I made what is called an orange peel drawing, where I unfolded the buckled top and laid it out in front of me. Doing this helped me refine some of the connections and change some of the arrangements of light slits in the ceiling.

Orange peel

I added a couple more slits because the back seemed to have a pair of large blank panels, and I wanted it to feel skeletal while being massive, rather than feeling like a building.

Img 3610 Edited

Tomorrow I will being planning some of the other drawings I am going to do -- this project is primarily being presented on paper, which is good (no need to spend hours on model making) and bad (have to measure and systematize every blessed inch of a model I made in a non-systematic process).

# Posted by ayse on 04/25/05 at 8:47 PM

Silly Dances

This weekend one of the things we did was that Noel went all around San Francisco bouncing up and down like a fool, wearing bells and flipping hankies at five other men. Some friends and I met up with him in Union Square at the end of the day, and we all went out to dinner. But not before we were subjected to an hour of this.

This is how we usually see Noel: dressed up in silly clothes and playing the music of his people:


But wait...


Who's the guy on the far end?


I know that big silly!








# Posted by ayse on 04/25/05 at 11:54 AM

April 24, 2005

The Toilet is Not Playing by the Rules

My apartment in San Luis Obispo is student housing, which means it's an illegal studio tacked onto a regular bungalow and rented out at rates which are ridiculously unaffordable if you have to work in a rural town like this. Being an illegally constructed apartment, it has certain benefits (it is invisible from the street) and certain drawbacks (no separate utilities from the main house, which is also rented out). One of those drawbacks is that the plumbing is nowhere near code.

So the rules are this: every few weeks, the toilet gets plugged up, and I spend a day or less thinking I can just add water to the bowl regularly and clear the clog. It teases me by making weird gurgling noises, but eventually I break down and plunge it, whereupon it clears immediately and with very little effort.

It got kind of funny on Friday, and I didn't deal with it. So when I got back tonight, I gave in and just plunged it right away, because I'd been driving for hours and required its services. And it hasn't unplugged. I plunged it with all my might, harder than I plunged it the day I had to climb on the roof with the help of the girls up front and dislodge something from the vent. And it is draining, but only very slowly. All is not lost -- I have a studio only five minutes away from here with an adequate toilet -- but it's awfully inconvenient to have to go to school to use the bathroom.

If it will not plunge clear tomorrow morning, I will be calling a plumber. I hope that this is something like a $50 service call, rather than something that requires fixing the fact that the plumbing lacks adequate slope to prevent plugs like this, which would probably entail ripping the crap out of the kitchen floor and leaving me without a bathroom at all. But with any luck, the toilet will recover its senses and start gurgling any moment now, indicating its willingness to give in.

# Posted by ayse on 04/24/05 at 11:49 PM

April 23, 2005

Excursions and Buttache

My butt hurts. It hurts because I have spent the last several days standing in studio, working on a model. It hurts because I stood for ten hours yesterday, one of those outside in the cold talking on the phone about the foundation (stress, stress), then got in the car and drove home for four hours without stopping. I told Noel my butt hurt (while he was driving around the Marin Headlands last night trying to find a bunch of Morris dancers and not succeeding), and he said, "Why does your butt hurt? You've been standing all day." As if the only way your butt could hurt is if you sat on it.

Also, my knees ache, and I have a pop in my shoulder. Whine whine whine. You'd hardly think I was under 40.

So today I am lying down for the morning. In the afternoon, I will get my aching butt out of bed and drive into San Francisco, where I will first go to a yarn shop and possibly spend next quarter's tuition on yarn (don't worry; I pay in-state tuition), then meet up with some friends and go watch Noel make an ass of himself in celebration of his cultural heritage. Watching people dress up in silly clothes and hop around with bells on makes me very happy that my cultural heritage is less publicly goofy.

Tomorrow we meet with our contractor in the morning, then I have to drive back to school. We're almost halfway through the quarter, and this one seems to be going faster than the other three. I'm enjoying school, but really looking forward to living at home all summer. Unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes are great, and have saved us a lot of heartache, but they are not the same thing as being able to have stupid conversations in person.

# Posted by ayse on 04/23/05 at 10:59 AM

April 19, 2005

Fuss and Bother

I've been spending a lot of time working on house issues lately, having taken over as project manager from Noel. This means that when I'm not in classes -- and sometimes during the lulls in studio -- I'm out on the walkway, talking about contracts and materials and costs with our contractor. What it all comes down to is that $104,000 is more than a little bit more than $55,000, a simple fact that it has been taking our contractor two weeks to understand fully, as awful as the prospect is for all of us. It's much worse for him, of course. We get a new basement out of the deal, after all.

I've also been working on a new project in studio, for a ritual space, but right now it's in the messy, inchoate state with no photos. I do, however, now know that the staircase between the two wings of the engineering building has stairs that are in no way code-legal, and which vary in size from 5 1/2" rise to 6 1/2" rise, and from 11" run to 12 1/2" run. That's some substantial variation.

And I knit a penguin, which I sewed up all wrong and then destroyed while trying to un-sew it to fix the problem. It's a good thing I wasn't just made pope, because there's no way I could do that infallible thing. Oh, right, or the male thing, because we all know only boys can talk to God mano-a-mano.

# Posted by ayse on 04/19/05 at 10:17 PM

April 14, 2005

Drawing Room

So we had our models of our room for drawing due last week, and we presented them to the class on Friday and Monday. I didn't have the digital camera down with me, but my teacher took photos and gave them to me, so you can all see them. (Well, actually, he took the photos for grading and his teaching portfolio, but the side effect of that is that you get nice photos instead of crappy cameraphone ones.)

These are the pieces of my model, awaiting attachment to the framework.

Pieces before assembly

You can really see how the scratches in the pressboard cutting surface transferred to the plaster -- I did do some things to help that along, like clearing the scratches of dust, and carefully coating them with oil to prevent sticking, and doing a splash coat of plaster in the mold before filling it.

Scratches transferred to the plaster base

The final model I stuck on an OSB base, with the plaster let into the surface to bring it down to being only about 4" above the ground in scale.

Overview of finished model

Oddly, the model seems to be much more coherent when you are closer to it and can fit yourself inside it, mentally. The panels define the space well in there, but the exterior really needs a unifying element to hang off of.


The best part is of course the floor with the scratches, directly below the ceiling it was cast off of. In the original assignment, our teacher pointed us to the drawing rooms used in building medieval cathedrals, where the arches and shapes were marked out on the plaster floor, and a framework for building them was set up by the carpenters right there, full size, then taken to the place where the stonework would be done. I was trying to capture some of that feeling in this space, of being a worksite, exposed to the elements in some ways, protected in others, a utilitarian room, but one that is with a greater, more spiritual purpose. I like to think that the builders of medieval cathedrals put their love of God into the work, did it not because they were compelled to do it but because it was an expression of their faith. It's that same sort of faith, aimed at a different kind of God, that makes people undertake creative acts like drawing or writing.

Assembled: the base

# Posted by ayse on 04/14/05 at 7:44 PM

April 12, 2005


Just before last quarter finished, I found a neat little bag at the dollar store. So I bought two. One to use as a bag (the perfect size to carry a smallish knitting project, or use as a purse now that it'd getting too hot to wear a coat all the time), and one to take apart and analyse. So this evening I settled in with the seam ripper and my monkey brain, and took the thing apart.

Of course, the first thing to note is that I bought this bag for a dollar, and the store is still in business, which means it must have been made for a cost considerably less than a dollar. I would guess at the cost being about 25 cents, actually. There's about 1/2 yard of fabric in there, and instead of your standard interfacing, they sewed in cardboard, and all rather roughly. There were no finished edges on the piece, just rough edges tucked in.

The fabric seemed to be pink canvas, but once the piece was apart, it turned out to be the wrong side of pink fake leather, which is actually quite a clever trick, since the bag is styled too casually to work in leather. I bet that stuff comes in massive, cheap rolls, and they have a ton of it. The lining was a very cheap acetate. The zipper was a rough cut, with a bit of the fabric sewn over it to cover the end.

I think I'm going to take the pieces and make a nice bag using them as a pattern. I'll have to completely rework the lining, of course, and merely sticking the handle on the side is not really very classy, either, so I'll have to detail that. But apart from that, taking the bag apart showed me how fast something like that can be made. Certainly, the poor girl who sewed it together somewhere in Asia spent no more than ten minutes on it.

Now I just have to decide whether I want to go for funky and weird all over, or plain outside with hidden funky and weird inside.

# Posted by ayse on 04/12/05 at 8:15 PM

April 11, 2005

School Roundup

Ah, so the quarter, how is it going? Quite well, thanks for asking. Not that you did, of course, but I have my little fantasies.

I'm enjoying my studio immensely, with fun projects, an engaged and interesting teacher, and a decent set of classmates. My studio teacher last quarter told me that I should expect to lose about 2 classmates every quarter, and even more over the summer, for the next couple years, but you could still colour me chocked that one of my classmates dropped out last week. We're in a studio most students would kill to be in, after all.

Other classes: environmental control systems, which right now is all about siting and weather. Interesting, although apparently I am the only one of my classmates who has any idea what relative humidity is. We learned that in 7th grade science, after all.

Also architectural history, which looks to be a cake walk as it's all essay and no memorization, thank goodness. The other students are preturbed because memorization tests are easy to fake your way out of; essay tests require you to actually be able to think and process what you have learned. They actually prove you know what you are supposed to, which is why I prefer them.

Structures this quarter is interesting. The first two quarters of engineering are shared with the structural engineers, so they basically kick your ass up and down the Dexter Lawn. Now the Construction Management students and Architecture students branch off into "structural systems for architects," which turns out to be something along the lines of "structures for babies." After doing detailed load tracing and shear calculations last quarter, we began this quarter with this moment:

Teacher: When you stand on the floor, where does your weight go?

Class: Silence

Teacher: It goes through the building to the ground.

OK, this should not be too hard. We've already learned a couple of ways of cheating on the calculations; the poor structural engineers have to suffer over method of joints and so forth and we can just approximate. Ha ha ha. I had this brief moment last quarter of thinking maybe I should change majors to engineering, but now? No way. Structures for babies is way more my speed right now.

Of course, I'm bored to death, but I think I will start working on some weird art projects to get that out of my system.

# Posted by ayse on 04/11/05 at 9:31 PM

Um, EW

Yahoo headline: Study: Cloned Meat, Milk Nearly the Same

# Posted by ayse on 04/11/05 at 9:07 PM

Penetrating the Secrecy

There's lots of talk right now about the security measures being taken to conceal the proceedings at the papal conclave. Which is fine -- those proceedings should be secret. What I don't understand is why anybody would care to listen in. We're not going to be able to change the outcome. It's not as if they're not going to tell us all who the new pope is. And it's not as if the information they will exchange there -- about the new pope's views on women, birth control, Asian politics, or whatever -- is particularly hidden from us. A decent investigative reporter can uncover plenty of dirt on his own without resorting to technology.

Not to mention that the whole thing is likely to be incredibly boring. I mean, it's the Catholic Church. It's not some reality TV show where a lady might walk out naked or something. These are 60-ish celibates, debating who gets to lead a church that has increasingly alienated its followers by trying to force them to stay in the middle ages. We all decided these guys were irrelevant years ago, especially you Protestants. So what gives with the insatiable papal curiosity?

# Posted by ayse on 04/11/05 at 11:55 AM

April 10, 2005

Ranting About Talent

There's an ad playing on the radio now that sort of offhandedly presumes that great musicians and artists are born that way. I can't think of any better way to devalue the years of work and study that goes into developing real skill and experience in a field than to insist that the practitioner was born that way. As if the talent were no more than luck, and the reason the rest of us don't have it is not that we didn't work as hard, but that we somehow drew the short stick in the gene pool.

Obviously, that's not how I feel about talent. I do believe people are born with an innate preference for one thing or another -- some people don't like broccoli, if you can imagine that, so it seems obvious that some people would be born to like making music, or two like drawing things. Liking to do something means you're likely to do it whenever you can, and that translates into developing real skill in that area.

Some people believe that the cause and effect is flipped: that some people draw a lot because they are naturally good and get positive feedback for doing it, while others never draw well and so do not enjoy it. Which really doesn't make much sense to me, because everybody starts out the same, all floppy and unable. Even great artists had to learn to hold a pencil at some point in their lives, so obviously the ability is not innate. Maybe they have an ability to get into drawing headspace more easily than the rest of us, but I would argue that that skill is developed with time, not from some special genetic coding.

The thing is, sometimes it's hard to admit to envy. Envy makes us belittle the accomplishments of others -- say things like, "He's just got a natural talent for music" -- because if the other person had some special advantage, then the reason why you or I do not have his skill is that we were unlucky, rather than that we are lazy jackasses. Or, less childishly, rather than that we simply do not enjoy the practise of that skill enough to devote as much time and energy to it as the talented person.

This is all very close to home right now, because I'm changing from a world of words and intellectual structures to a world of pictures and diagrams. My classmates, who have very little life experience in general, tend to think there's some kind of miracle to my ability to read fast and structure writing. Seeing as how I spent the last twenty years developing that skill, I find it somewhat insulting to be told that it must be innate talent. My ability to memorize is an innate skill, given to me by the particular makeup of my brain structure and chemistry. My ability to read a manuscript and edit it to make a structured, reasonable argument, on the other hand, was hard-won. As hard-won, I would say, as their ability to look at a structure and see whether it is stable or not, and their ability to make a composition that is balanced and delightful. This is not something any of us is born with. It's something we have to work hard for, and we do that because it makes us happy (or, unfortunately, because other people pressure us to do it).

# Posted by ayse on 04/10/05 at 10:57 PM

April 5, 2005

Only in California

I had one of those only in California moments the other day. Joy, one of the girls in the front of the house, and I were in the back yard talking about when the oranges would be ready to be eaten, plus the pruning I had done on the persimmon. She gestured to a plant growing out of the old weedy bed near my door and said, "What is that?"


It was an artichoke. Growing wild in the garden. Anybody know how to tell when an artichoke is ripe?

# Posted by ayse on 04/05/05 at 7:55 PM

April 4, 2005

The After-Effects of the Cold War

I keep thinking this guy has the US and Soviet flags flying at his house.


Actually, the lower flag is the Marines flag (since when do the Marines need a flag? What's wrong with an American flag?). I know this, and yet, every time I see his flagpole lit up at night I think, "How odd that he has the old USSR flag flying."

Also, is it only in America that civilians not in public positions fly the flag like this? It certainly seems that way to me.

# Posted by ayse on 04/04/05 at 10:44 PM

Back to the Plaster

You can never quite get away from plaster in architecture, can you? In studio we've been working on a quick, two-week "warm-up" project. It's kind of complicated, but bear with me and you'll see how fun it really has been.

We started on the first day of class. We were told to come back on Wednesday with a simple chipboard model of a 150 square foot room for drawing. I designed a very simple space based on a series of panels that made a sort of primitive hut over the person working in the space, with openings for light and air.

Chipboard model

As part of this model, we were given a 12" square of MDF (medium density fiberboard) that we had to use as a cutting surface.

The next step was to take the piece of MDF, now covered with scratches, and use it as the springboard for making a plaster base for our model, cut up to make a mold. We made rubbings of the base, then sketched out ideas for a model. I hung mine on my backboard. My sketches were inspired by our dinner party Easter weekend, when we talked about the tendons in the hand. I started thinking about making a hand cupping the person, how the hand is the real instrument for drawing, and it also cradles and protects symbolically.

Rubbing and sketches

This is the sketch I made Thursday, thinking about the hand and making a comforting space.

First hand sketch

Here's my mold, full of plaster and curing.

Plaster cast in mold

Today I came in and unmolded my base (which promptly cracked, but it was easy enough to repair), then cleaned up my framework (which we have to use in our models) and began working more seriously on ideas for my final model (due Friday).

Plaster casting released

I showed my sketches to my teacher and asked him for help coming up with ways to attach the chunks to each other -- when I did it myself, they looked too heavy and chunky. He suggested using sticks to hold them apart, and maybe creating a framework to hold the pieces and add structure.

This was my first simple exploration of that idea.

simple hand idea

Then I added a frame along the lines of what we were talking about, thinking about neurons and tendons and thinking/drawing, making connections between the brain and the way a body is put together and my little drawing house. It sounds all intellectualized, but really it's not about the idea as much as it is about making a space that feels right. The idea adds some depth to the design beyond the initial feel, but it's really only a crutch to use to make a good space.

First frame idea

I think I will suspect my chunky panels like this, with wire attached to them then wrapped around the frame. Sinews, see?

mechanism for holding

The square frame felt wrong. Too inorganic, too rigid. How about a dome? I will always jump at a reason to bring Bucky into the mix.

first dome idea

The single dome seemed to boring, so I changed the size of the triangles from one side to the other to add complexity.

complicated dome

I stepped back and began to think about how this would work in plan. I have a floor that is roughly six-sided, to I drew it out and the dome base around it. Kinda dull, no?

plan idea - simple

I broke the dome up into pieces (I leave out many iterations of different breakings; also fourteen different dome designs).

plan idea- final

With two partial domes of different triangle sizes, lapping over one another, I think there is enough complexity now. Maybe too much, but hopefully it will work when I put it together.

final frame idea

# Posted by ayse on 04/04/05 at 9:23 PM

April 3, 2005


Noel called me earlier to make sure I'd gotten home safely in the rain. Of course, it was POURING there, but it was just fine -- sunny and bright -- my whole drive down to SLO, so I had no idea what he was talking about except in the abstract sense (having heard the weather report on the radio).

Rosie came down with me again to give Noel a vacation from dog mornings and her more chances to try to sniff the entire beach. We took our time getting here (we stopped at Fry's to try to find some weensy clamps for model building), then we had a little walk, ate dinner, and did engineering homework (Rosie's a real champ at stress calculations). I was sitting down at the computer to check out the lecture notes for history when the heavens fell on the apartment. Hey, wow, is it raining. And that domed skylight in the bathroom is like a drum, isn't it? Now I see why he was concerned.

# Posted by ayse on 04/03/05 at 11:45 PM