Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

This is the story of the little Amrita that could. Right after risking my life (ok, losing a lot of sleep and subsequently almost eating toothpaste in the morning), I was handed an assignment that would change my life: thus far, I had managed to survive two undergraduate degrees and three weeks of Architecture Boot Camp with less than 2 days per week of under 5 hours of sleep. That, alas, was not to be the case during Weeks 4 and 4.5.

Our final pin up was to be the result of a week and a half analysis of an enclosure on campus. We were allowed to chose our site from a shortlist. A classmate and I chose an exciting passage  designed by Eero Saarinen (we all know I’m a huge fan), and thought we’d be proactive by taking our measurements Saturday afternoon, rather than waiting till Sunday morning. We arrived at our site to find our ambitious attempt thwarted:

This is our site. It is under construction. I was not prepared to ward off bulldozers in order to measure things with my feet.

So we scurried around campus looking for another site that would do. At 3PM we arrived at Sterling Memorial  Library, enthused to find the intriguing cloisters as an acceptable alternative to our previous selection. And so began our 10-day race against time.

Sterling Memorial Library closes at 4:45PM on Saturdays. And is not open on Sundays. We needed to complete two sections, a plan, and three sets of perceptual drawings and a photo essay by Monday morning. This became a group project. We couldn’t quite shout measurements to each other across the courtyard (this is, after all, a library), but we came close. Frantically pacing between buttresses muttering to myself (10 steps, 90″, 18 steps…wait, where’s my calculator?), my eyes searching out anything of interest to photograph, my pencil swiftly documenting a corner here, a door frame there…we made it out alive, but only barely. Upon returning to my desk I discovered, as we always do, that one elevation didn’t quite match another, and my plan was highly suspect.

This experience became symptomatic of the next week and a half. The library is only open between 8:30AM and 4:45PM on Monday – Saturday during the summer – we have classes from 9-12 and 2-5 pretty much every weekday,  giving us two hours at lunch and an hour or two every other day to squeeze in any additional drawings, measurements and photographs we needed to substantiate the lines we were drawing in AutoCAD.

I, in true Amrita-style, submitted one set of plans and elevations only to completely redo them the following day. This move became known as “the Amrita” at Fontainebleau. Especially if it was combined with an entire overhaul of your design concept. Which this one was. I hadn’t begun with a concept in mind, but after staring at my photo essay and experimenting with a real and digital model, I decided to pursue shadows on the site as a thematic boundary for my study. Not a moment too soon, as by this time it was already Thursday.

But here you have it, folks, sleepless nights and carpal tunneled wrists, all in the pursuit of something akin to a meager understanding of this complex subject we call architecture.

Here are a few photographic shadow studies to get us started.

Many of the doors to and from the cloisters are either hidden or inaccessible. Though I did manage to climb up the stacks and get a birds-eye view of all the entrances and exits to the site...

I was particularly drawn to the shadows the landscape cast upon the architecture, and how these shadows served to both obstruct and accent the architecture upon which they were cast.

These sketches were actually conducted the day before the project was due. I revisited the site several times, each time getting more and more adept at drawing what I needed in a limited amount of time.

The shadow across this recessed door was particularly charming. Studies at multiple scales allowed me to stretch my drawing skills - quick documentation to more focused analysis.

My photographs and sketches led to a SketchUp model and subsequent shadow study of the buildings that enclose the site. A compiliation of data, shadows drawn every hour from 9AM to 5PM, composes this drawing.

There was one more major component to this project (in addition to the plans, elevations and site analysis), but that I shall save for the next post. I’ll say only this: remember my 90″ stair drawing? It was dwarfed by the final part of our Enclosure project.

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Holy Giant Redwoods, Batman!

After the most beautiful part of our trip, we continued on to the most awe-inspiring part of our journey: a jaunt through Redwood National Park, where we walked amongst the Giants. Now, I’m a pretty tiny person.  I’m 5′-0″, which is short by normal standards, but when placed against a 200′ tall Redwood (or in our case, several Redwoods), I become minuscule. We actually spent the night in a small cabin in the forest itself, where Dino and Saarinen risked getting eaten by bears during a daring night-time hike, and Dino, Jr. and I played it safe by watching Saving Private Ryan and discussing a citizen’s obligation to fight for his country.

Call me a Californ-i-a hippie, but more awe-inspiring than the size of these monstrous flora is the aura infusing the forest. The golden light filtering through the trees lends an eerie calm, and some how calls attention to the forest’s longevity – as though the light you see shows its age, the several light-year journey standing in sharp contrast to our homo sapien youth.

I’m not sure my photographs do this feeling justice.

Look up, way up.

Look up, way up.

Technically, humans aren't supposed to touch the trees. But Saarinen's a monkey, so that's okay.

Technically, humans aren't supposed to touch the trees. But Saarinen's a monkey, so that's okay.

Prehistoric light documented on digital-film, I assure you.

Prehistoric light documented on digital-film, I assure you.

On our way down to San Francisco we stopped by a vineyard in Mendocino county, Jeriko Estates, where Saarinen and I tasted several delicious wines and even purchased a few.  Dino and Dino, Jr. were exempt from the revelry since they were driving.

The wine-tasting room.

The wine-tasting room.

We then stopped by the Charles Schultz museum, whose collection includes artifacts from the cartoonist’s personal affects as well as contemporary art featuring his infamous characters. I particularly enjoyed an exhibit that explored the research Schultz conducted (with respect to music, for example) before penning his strips.  Dino particularly enjoyed kissing Charlie Brown.

Said kissing.

Said kissing.

San Francisco was, unfortunately, a let down. A dense fog had settled over the bay, obscuring the one sight I so longed to lay my eyes upon: the Golden Gate Bridge. It was so foggy I barely caught a glimpse as we drove across the bridge to enter the city.  We did get to see the crookedest street in the world, since Dino, Jr. insisted we check it out.  He actually wanted to drive down the street, but during the last trip to San Francisco Dino’s car got hit by a bus and he’s now reluctant to let his Mercedes anywhere near the local public transport.

There was a crooked man...

There was a crooked man...

Up next: West coast dining, from amazing milkshakes to succulent crabs.

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Gorgeous Gorges and the Great Outdoors.

One last apology before I vow to never apologize for delays in posting again: I’m sorry!! Now on to the much anticipated Road Trip 2009 recounting.

Day one of RT09 had us checking out the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge.  Tip #1: Do not begin a road trip with a visit to a popular tourist destination on a Saturday afternoon if you expect to find parking for not one, but two cars.

Once we resolved the parking dilemma, we got to see some really beautiful waterfalls! The first one was lovely, the second quite nice, the third took too long to get to, and if Saarinen had made us go to one more waterfall, she wouldn’t have lasted the rest of the trip. And I know you can only see so many waterfall pictures before they get old and start looking like the same thing, but here’s a handful to satisfy your curiosity.  Our visit to the Gorge ended with a stop at Vista House, whose incredibly scenic ‘vista’ was marred only by the dense cloud cover.

The first of the waterfalls, decidedly the most impressive.

The first of the waterfalls, decidedly the most impressive.

Apparently, that rock did some damage at a wedding party.

Apparently, that rock did some damage at a wedding party.

The view from Vista House.

The view from Vista House.

That night we stayed in Coos Bay, Oregon.  The Oregon Coast was by far the best part of the trip as far as I’m concerned.  On our drive from the gorge to Coos Bay we had glimpses of waves smashing against large rocks and sandy shores.  When night fell, we stopped for a moment by the road side to listen to the soft splash of the waves below, a bit afraid to climb down because it was so dark! I think we interrupted a couple in their car…doing what couples in cars do, but it was worth it!

The following morning began with a trip to Shore Acres Park. We finally had a chance to walk around the rocky shore, hike down to a beach and tentatively explore a cave.  Since Dino, Jr. and I didn’t get to see the sea lions at the Sea Lion Cave, we insisted on stopping by a view point that promised the largest group of sea lions on the Oregon Coast.  It was amazing! They were incredibly loud.  And we even got a humpback whale sighting!

Here are some images from the park, I highly recommend a visit to anyone on the West coast!

Beautiful sun, gorgeous water, just divine.

Beautiful sun, gorgeous water, just divine.

The beach where I first dipped my toes into the Pacific.

The beach where I first dipped my toes into the Pacific.

Herman the snail.

Herman the snail.

____ the crab.

____ the crab.

The Cave.

The Cave.

The very loud Sea Lions.  And why I was glad I brought my 70-300mm zoom lens.

The very loud Sea Lions. And why I was glad I brought my 70-300mm zoom lens.

Next time on RT09: Redwoods and San Francisco.  Still to come: West Coast dining!

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Beans, beans, beans!

We all know Seattle has a thing for beans – coffee beans.  But did you also know that Seattle’s starting to fall for the chocolate bean as well? Chocolate bars (pun intended), workshops, tasting tours…we ran into this new craze everywhere during our hunt for food in the city.  It was too much to resist.  So this post features not one, but two of the best chocolate places I’ve visited – and the best part is that you can order their chocolates online!

Let’s start with Chocolate Box.  Right up the street from Pike Place Market, and a few blocks from the major shopping district, it’s a great place to grab a mid-century-modern-inspired seat and savor some gelato or sip on a large bowl of mocha – which is exactly what we did. I had a delicious  scoop of stracciatella and one of those mochas, a combination of temperature extremities that probably did little to help the cold I was starting to catch.  Chocolate Box sells local chocolates and hosts a range of chocolate-themed workshops, so if you’re in town, I’d recommend stopping there first.

A delicate and sophisticated atmosphere at Fran's.  The portrait is actually a photograph of tiled truffles - talk about chocolate art!

A delicate and sophisticated atmosphere at Fran's. The portrait is actually a photograph of tiled truffles - talk about chocolate art!

My favorite chocolate place, though, was definitely Fran’s Chocolates.  It was a chilly morning (well, chilly for me, since I was the only one in shorts) as we made our way to SAM, and nothing in Seattle seemed to open until 10AM.  That is, nothing but Fran’s! There we were, standing outside the museum at 9:40, shivering in our flip flops, desperate for something warm.  A charming floral graphic across the street caught my eye.  I hadn’t actually registered what the graphic was for – I only liked the promising interior, and the designer that I am, I dragged Saarinen and Dinosaur after me.  Open at 9:30 AM, located directly across the street from SAM, Fran’s has the best hot chocolate in the world. I can say this, because I have had hot chocolate from very random places around the world (Paris, which certainly gives Fran’s some competition, and India, which doesn’t, for example), and Fran’s is definitely the best hot chocolate I have ever had.  The barista pulled out a small paper cup, filled it (I kid you not) with dark chocolate chips and topped it with steamed milk – mmmm, delicious.  Fran’s also sells an assortment of chocolate truffles, with the usual flavors…and some unusual ones (chocolate figs anyone?).  These and their hot chocolate mix are available online – I know I’m going to be purchasing some, right now.

Are those diamonds on display or truffles? Either way, a woman's best friend...

Are those diamonds on display or truffles? Either way, a woman's best friend...

Before you get the wrong idea, we did eat some real food while in Seattle.  While at Pike Place Market, we ate at Athenian Inn.  A contender for the best meal of the road trip, it’s also the place where Tom Hanks has a seat in Sleepless in Seattle.  I had the freshest Halibut and green beans I’ve ever tasted, and Saarinen’s seafood alfredo pasta was absolutely divine.

One of Saarinen’s friends recommended Ray’s Boathouse, so we thought we’d check it out.  It’s a bit on the pricey side, and when we got there they said we’d have to wait an hour before we could be seated.  So we opted to eat at Ray’s Café instead – they’re both in the same building, but the view from the deck at Ray’s Café can’t be beat.  As we dined on fresh seafood (everyone had a nibble from another’s dish, of course), we watched the sun drop below the water.  They even provide you with blankets to fend of the chill that sets in at dusk!

The prize for the quickest, cheapest and surprisingly tasty meal goes to Original Deli, one of those last-minute-oh-my-God-I-need-to-eat finds.  Maybe it was because we were so hungry, but their soup and sandwiches were better than Au Bon Pain’s – and I’m a sucker for some Au Bon Pain.

You’d think it would be pretty hard to top our dining experience in Seattle – but there’s a restaurant in Albuquerque that gives the Athenian Inn a run for its money.  And a place in Oregon called the Crazy Norwegian.  Oh yes, just you wait.

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Guess who’s back!

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the radio silence these last few days, but it’s all with good reason, I assure you.  As I mentioned earlier, a few friends and I planned a road trip for the first two weeks of August. Said road trip took place concurrently with the aforementioned radio silence, so there you have it.  But I’m back now, and it’s time to recount the trails we blazed.

The road trip began with an extended stay in Seattle.  Saarinen and I flew out on a Tuesday to meet Dinosaur and my little brother, and were met by Dino, Jr. (for whom we tried out several other nicknames, including Merry Man and Iceberg, but I think Dino, Jr. is going to stick) a few days later.  This first post shall recount our Seattle adventures.

Dinosaur, Saarinen and I at Kelly Park.

Dinosaur, Saarinen and I at Kerry Park.

We kicked off our visit by getting lost.  Actually, we were trying to find Kerry Park, and wound up wandering through an absolutely beautiful neighborhood, albeit in the wrong direction, before being guided to an alley way and winding stone stairs that led us to our intended destination.  Day one concluded with another walk about town, with the obligatory visit to Pike Place Market (our first visit, but certainly not the last).

Yes, I took 'that' picture.

Yes, I took 'that' picture.

The next day we dipped our feet in history by taking the Seattle Underground Tour, with an incredibly chipper tour guide (think the girl from the Progressive commercials, but even more enthusiastic).  It was a bit creepy, but mostly cool (a bit chilly, as well).  I would be curious to know if it’s possible to build a wine bar down there – the right temperature conditions and a “shabby chic” factor – could be quite the spot.  We then took a long, long, long walk from Pioneer Square to the Experience Music Project and the Sci-Fi museum.  In true Gehry style, the museum is quite compelling from the exterior, if only because it makes no sense.  I was digging the bright red and bronze finishes, but the light blue portions paled in comparison to the uncharacteristically sunny Seattle sky.  Dinosaur, Lil Bro and I wrapped up the night by attending the Barcelona-Seattle soccer match (which ended 4-0, the poor things), and Saarinen met up with a friend to visit the Space Needle.

It's really tall.

It's really tall.

We began First Thursday with a visit to SAM.  An interesting collection, for sure, though the museum building itself is composed of the cliché “empty white square” architecture.  I was particularly attracted to the Cai Guo-Quiang sculptures in the lobby.  That we followed by a walk through the Seattle Central Library, which was incredible to see in person.  The interior spaces are bright with daylight even with a cloudy sky, and the pop of neon colors really does make the circulation legible from a distance.  We then wandered through the art district, popping into the galleries that were open and gaping at the exorbitant prices.

The "Living Room" of the Seattle Central Library.

The "Living Room" of the Seattle Central Library.

On Friday we took a day trip to the Cascades (the ones in Washington State, not the ones near Blacksburg, Virginia).  The hike was beautiful – but the waterfall itself was not that impressive.  I imagine, though, had we come a bit earlier we might have seen more rushing water.  The river we drove along was much more beautiful than the falls we drove to see.  The mountains’ steep climb, the winding road and the turquoise blue water set my soul at ease.  I think I like these mountains better than the ones out East.

The beautiful view at the trailhead.

The beautiful view at the trail head.

If you’ll notice, I haven’t made a mention about food.  Well, that’s because our dining experience deserves a post of its own.  So come back tomorrow for a mouth-watering menu for your next trip to Seattle!

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