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.

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Woah-oh, we’re more-than-half way there!

Bon Jovi doesn’t know what it means to be living on a prayer…but two dozen or so people hustling about on the 6th floor of 180 York can clue him in.

Week 3 at Architecture Boot Camp: Midterm Crit.

We architects are not very good at math, it turns out. The end of week three (of five – not six)  was marked by a day-long critique session, with guest critics who teach  (or have taught) or studied (or are studying) at Yale. Everybody pinned up everything they’d completed up to that point, from the self-portrait assignment up to our last major project, The Stair.

And since this is a visual program, I thought I’d walk you through my stuff with images rather than blathering on (which I might wind up doing anyway – isn’t that what captions are for?).

Thanks to our anthropic measurement assignment, I now know the exact length of not only my foot (9") but my face (7"). Not sure how the latter will come in handy, but the former helped me set up this sketch.

One of the major challenges of the program was time. Specifically, the lack thereof. We had to do three perceptual drawings, floorplans, reflected ceiling plans, and two sections of this site: and we had less than three hours before the museum closed.

The same project as above, just another view. My actual hand drawings aren't scanned in correctly, so you guys'll just have to imagine my beautiful section (where I *didn't* cut through a column).

Each project was more challenging than the last, and I, of course, chose the more challenging portions of each project. We were asked to chose a building from a list and reconstruct a bay (repetitive portion of it's facade) in elevation, section and plan. My building was over 100' tall...and so my paper, with the drawing at the required scale, was taller than me.

The last project before mid-terms was The Stair. My subject, the square stairs in a cylindrical drum at the Yale Center for British Art. Which in plan, not too complicated. In an isometric drawing....

...a little bit more complicated. Especially when your professor suggests you attempt to draw three flights of stairs. I decided to focus on the handrail. I suggest you click on the image - the small size conceals all the detail I poured over into the wee hours of the morn'. Did I mention this drawing was almost twice my height?

As for the actual critique, it spawned some unforgettable comments:

  • “This triangle, to me, is the most juicy part of the drawing.”
  • “This line disturbs me.”
  • “Cut as section through my finger, through my foot, the cut line is a continuous line. If you cut a section through anything in this room, through anyone in this room, the cut line would be a continuous line.”
  • “I haven’t done a two-dimensional drawing since second grade.”

When it came to my turn, I stood shaking in my boots as one of the critics approached my 90″-tall stair drawing, peering at my seemingly unfinished drawing – only the handrail was fully drawn in, after all! He stepped back, paused, and said, “I’m going to take the pro view. I think you’re done.” The sigh I released was the largest puff of air ever to be expelled by someone under 5′-0″. The criticism got more constructive, suggestions to eliminate the scale figure, pay more attention to receding lines and their weights, etc. But boy was I glad to have a thumbs up from someone on my stairs. I’d had to re-start that drawing the night before it was due because my original construction depicted one-too-many a step on the second and third levels…and a shrinking overall plan. The lost hours of sleep? Worth it.

No rest for the weary, though. Finals were in less than two weeks, and they put us back to work that very weekend. More on Weeks 4 and 5 coming soon!

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , , ,

Word of the day: corpulent.

Greetings from the cusp of Week 2-3 of Architecture Boot Camp. Technically, this is not the name of our course. Yale decided it should be called ‘Visualization I.’ But we all know better. While we’re not running through mud and vaulting over fences, we’re certainly burning the not-so-proverbial midnight oil and feeling the strain of necks craning to see that one…last…line…on AutoCAD. So we, too, are suffering for our art, if not for our country.

Week 2 was sketch-tastic. And by that, I mean that we spent hours on end sketching. Every single one of which was a needed break from the life of the AutoCAD droid that consumed our waking hours on Thursday and Friday. Instead of regaling you with more anecdotes of pain-filled minutes offsetting and trimming, I’m going to show you some sketches, so you know I actually had some fun this week!

One of our field trips this week was to the American Decorative Arts Furniture Study, where I chose this adorable mid-19th century chair made of papier-mache. After our hour and a half together, I really wanted to take it home...but that's forbidden.

Our professor thought we should end our rather stressful week with a relaxing exercise: life drawing. It was my first time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it - two dozen gestural sketches later, I was as limber as a yoga instructor.

On our walk back to studio, one of my classmates asked our professor, "So, are all life drawing models so...corpulent?"

The answer is, not always, but often. One of my friends from VT modeled for classes, and she was certainly not corpulent. But it is a lot of fun to draw the bulbous body’s rolling curves.

And if rotund figures weren’t a capital end to the week, I topped it off with a field trip to IKEA to shop for kitchen supplies. My current roommates are leaving on Saturday, but my new roommates (some of whom are bringing things like pots and pans and plates…) aren’t arriving till mid-August, so for a while I would be stuck in a kitchen but unable to cook…IKEA to the rescue! A few dozen dollars later, I’m now the proud owner of a colander, a pot, a pan and a sharp chef’s knife, among other things.

My shiny new colander! It has already been used to prepare bowtie pasta, and looks forward to many more uses in the future!

Well, I should probably be off to finish the first day of Week 3. After tonight’s Rhino tutorial, I’m sure next week’s blog post won’t mention AutoCAD!

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , , ,

Big weekend: a multi-national play in four parts.

The last few days have set a wonderful tone to what promises to be a memorable holiday season, in spite of the weather-related train and plane frustrations.  It all started Friday evening, when an Italian student of mine asked me to join him and his friends on an excursion to a Jazz concert…

Act I: The Italian Lesson

Technically, there were two Americans, one French woman, and five Italians present, but since the latter outnumber the former two, we’re giving them Act I.  In any case, it was truly a lesson in the differences between French, Italian and American ways of life.

First, tempo.  Tempo when walking, that is. Americans, I find, tend to be the speediest bipeds I’ve met, especially those from NYC. But even Virginian walkers will lap a Frenchman every so often.  Parisians come second in the speed-walking contest and Italians…well, they’re so leisurely in their pace the tortoise lapped them not once, but thrice.

Second, expatriates. I asked one of the Italians his thoughts on living in Paris, versus his time in Italy. One thing he noted, that many texts on French culture will support, is that the French aren’t exactly friendly.  It takes a while to squeeze yourself into a French friend-circle, and even then, things like swinging by the Jones’ on your way home aren’t done: you really should call and schedule that visit.

Third, jazz! The band was apparently part Italian, and the concert was in the 10th (right around the corner from the Indian district) and we ate Turkish food right before, so it was a right multi-cultural experience. The guitar player looked like Bret (from Flight of the Conchords) and the other American and I couldn’t help but snicker every time we caught a glimpse of his shaggy hair. The music itself was smooth, enjoyable, a bit of flute, some sax, percussion, and a mellow bass.

We ended the night with a stop at Rue Mouffetard, for some mulled wine and late night conversation at La Contrescarpe, whose cozy decor didn’t quite match the thumping techno music played over the speakers.

Act II: The French Lesson

On Saturday I took some time to visit another museum, le Petit Palais, which was built for the 1900 world fair and is the little sibling of the better-known Grand Palais. The latter gets to host big events like the Paris Fashion Week.  The former houses a small but nice collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, has impressive architecture itself, and is free, to everyone.

After wandering through the collection for an hour or so, I took some time to sketch (as I promised I would try and do more often).

Detail from the entry dome at the Petit Palais.

View of its famous spiral stair from below.

That evening, I went to see a movie with one of my French students, in French.  I’d been complaining about how little French I actually spoke, since most of my courses were English courses and my friends were all Americans…and that I wanted to go see a French film but was worried I wouldn’t understand a thing! So she suggested we go together and discuss the movie over a drink, which is exactly what we did.  After a bit of window shopping along the Champs-Elysées  (window shopping because I’m not sure I can afford to spend €200, also known as 1/4 my paycheck, on a 3″x4″ LV wallet), I met her at the UGC Charles V. We then wandered through the Christmas markets, grabbed a cup of vin chaud (to keep both our insides and our shivering fingers warm), and caught a glimpse of the light show at the Eiffel tower.

The film is about a young boy, Oscar, who has terminal cancer. The "dame rose" is the only woman with whom he agrees to speak during his last week. Yes, it's a sad movie. Yes, I teared up (more than once). And yes, I understood most of it, even without subtitles (though when they spoke really fast, it was from visual clues, and a slowed-down replay in my own mind).

Act III: The American Lesson

Yesterday, a Tech classmate of mine who’s doing the same program as I am, but teaching near Bordeaux, came up to Paris. She had a flight back to the US this morning, so last evening the two of us met up with another American friend of hers, wandered around the Latin Quarter, did some window shopping, and had a generally good time comparing notes on living in France, being American (i.e. not French) and general sillyness. I had my first fondue in France, both cheese and meat, and my first raclette, and chased that down with a delicious crêpe nutella banane and a mug of caramel tea.  We dropped my friend back at her hotel which was a bit closer to the airport – and that meant taking the RER B. Like usual, there were issues with the train, we had a random train-change because of technical errors, but made it to the hotel and back just fine.

Encore: The French Lesson, Reprised.

This afternoon I had an incredible pasta lunch at Pizza Positano, near Odéon, with a French girl I know from studying at Fontainebleau.  We then wandered around the Marais, catching up on our adventures and ducking into an architectural exhibition or two, and making me faire travailler (work on) my French.  It turned out to be a 4-hour French-only conversation, the most French I’ve spoken in one-go since getting here.  I was pretty tired by the end of it all.

As a side note, we were tempted by a free taster at Starbucks, and wound up going in and ordering the real thing – whoever comes up with their lattes is an incredible genius: drinking a noisette caramel (hazelnut caramel) latte is getting pretty close to heaven.

Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Long time no see.

So it’s been a while since I last posted, and that’s because I’ve been out doing things and writing papers and finishing applications and practicing drawing and all good stuff that I just haven’t had time to write about! But now the majority of my graduate applications have been submitted (save for the architecture-specific portion of my Berkeley application), and my scholarships are almost done…so in this little breather time I have, I thought I’d update you guys on what’s going on in Paris.

First, the important bit: today, it snowed! Before I came to Paris, everyone told me it rarely snows (if at all, a few flakes in January), and that I’d have to face a dreary wet winter full of freezing rain.  Well, November wasn’t all sunshine, but I continued to hope for a fluffy white December, and here it is! A couple of inches stuck to the ground, and for proof, here’s a shot of what I’m henceforth calling my backyard:

I'm not sure where exactly the body of water in the center of the gardens begins...and I wasn't planning on testing that out with my extremely un-winter-friendly suede boots...

In other news, I paid a visit to the Musée Rodin the other weekend. Some of the roses were still in bloom, and a couple of yellow leaves were clinging to the trees in the garden; I could see why people recommend this as one of the gardens to visit in Paris. I will definitely return in spring, when all the flora is in its full glory.

As for the museum itself, well, it’s a very small museum. That said, I’m particularly fond of its stairs and the arch-topped colonnade in the entry area. The pieces showed Rodin’s process, both in the technical (an exhibit displayed the step-by-step making-of one of the sculptures), and creative (multiple iterations of the same theme). Seeing The Kiss in person amplifies the eroticism of its tangled limbs and contrasting curved and angular forms. Even if it is cliché, it’s one of my favorite sculptures, and I’m probably going to go back to see it again, get a few more sketches in.

Speaking of: to prove that I have been sketching (though, to be honest, not every day as I hoped – but come January, I’ll have all the time in the world to put my pencil to paper…), as I was saying, to prove that I have been sketching, I will now show you two sketches. I did more than these two, but if I show them all now, who’ll review my sketchbooks with me when I get back?

This one's from one of the sculpture atriums at the Louvre. I unfortunately didn't write down the artist's name...

A drawing from the 'Hanako' bust at the Musee Rodin. I'd just like to note that sculptures are much easier to sketch because they aren't as fidgety as humans.

Next up: the last two weeks of school before winter break…

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , ,

Applications, schmaplications

I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself lately. I haven’t had a chance to really get out and be in Paris as much as I would have liked.  And I’m blaming that on the 2 scholarship applications and 5 graduate applications I’ve been working on since I arrived in this beautiful city. But at last, the end is in sight.

A bit of background: I went into my undergraduate degree knowing I’d want to do a Masters in Architecture. I was one of those annoying kids that knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, and then stuck it out. And I don’t regret it, not one bit. Architecture has never been “work” for me, just a constant source of discovery and pleasure, ok, mixed in with some pain (for example, the frustration when those damn riser heights won’t add up to the FFL).  It’s almost hedonistic, the joy I derive from basking in Foster’s atrium, or reaching out to touch the zenith-esque corners of Pei’s National Gallery addition. There is, of course, the fun in solving a design problem and the associated satisfaction of having all the puzzle pieces fit.  But, to be honest, what keeps me coming back for more is that I am never not dazzled, impressed, intrigued, disgusted – I am never without a reaction, soit positive soit negative, to architecture. Sometimes I have to take a step back, get a breather from the chaos that seems to be inseparable from the designer’s life (thus this stay in Paris), but that break always has me coming back for more.

And here we are.  For the last few months, I have been pulling together applications for graduate programs in architecture.  This involved recreating a portfolio, since I had to include my thesis project and since each school had its own specifications, writing thousands of rough drafts for essay upon essay, and pestering faculty for letters of reference.  The first two are are pretty much out of the way.  The last one, well my deadline is in a few weeks and I have a feeling I’m going to be the one filling their inboxes pretty soon.

One thing I didn’t realize when setting out on this venture is the cost of applying to all these places and scholarships.  Around $30 to print each portfolio, $5 to mail them, $7 for each transcript, $150 for the GRE, $80 for each application…it starts stacking up.  I’d estimate that by the time March comes around, I’ll already have spent more than $700 – and that’s all before knowing which school has accepted me into their program.  Once I am accepted, there’s the first deposit, and paying to take summer courses if I haven’t been able to take care of the prerequisites.  Then, of course, there’s the cost of graduate school itself, about $50,000 per year. So, dear Reader, this post is to inform you that I’ve started a scholarship fund, for myself.  If you’d like to contribute, please send your cheque to…just kidding. Though that is quite tempting.

Actually, the point of this post is to let you know why I’ve decided to make my New Year’s resolution early. I’ve felt like my break from the art world has been long enough, and knowing that I’m living in a city that has inspired many an artist, I owe it to myself to take charge of my aesthetic destiny.  That, and I’ve been Stumbling upon some very inspiring images. I’ve always been decent at drawing, but I’m ready to take my pencil sketches to the next level. So, I’m resolving to sketch an hour every day during the week and two hours on weekends.  Gladwell thinks it takes about 10,000 hours to master a skill.  Well, I suppose that means in about 20 years, I might be nearing proficiency in drawing.  In any case, if I manage to do this for a year, I’m bound to get a little bit better.  I’m going to try and get a head start by squeezing in some sketching time this week, and I’m debating whether not having work on Wednesdays and Fridays makes them weekend days…oh, why not.  When in France…

So here’s to grabbing the pencil, and jumping over the lazy dog that was my dormant art career.

P.S. That means you’ll be seeing sketches in addition to these awesome photos I’ve been posting. Aren’t you excited?

Filed under: Close to home, , , , , ,