upper upper west side dreamin’

On Friday I got off early from work and went up to my old stomping grounds. Ah, hello my old neighborhood! Hello dearest Columbia! Hello quiet residential streets!

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There isn’t much up there except housing, the university, the hospital, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, but I have such fond memories of the area! It’s where I first lived in New York, and while I was busy at grad school, that quiet environment was just what I needed. Oh, but seriously, Columbia isn’t in Harlem, it’s in Morningside Heights (the area west of Morningside Park, West 110th to 125th Streets), which I tend to merge with the UUWS (Upper Upper West Side, aka Manhattan Valley, West 96th to 110th Streets), which itself is differentiated from the more happening part of the UWS to the south.

But in truth, who really cares? I lump Morningside Heights with the UUWS because combined, that was the majority of my life, and culturally, it feels more like the UWS than Harlem. And after living in Harlem for a year (east of Morningside Park), I gotta say, that park is a pretty serious dividing line. Oh gracious, all those stairs. (Not so fond memories.)

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I was actually up at Columbia in order to get an alumni ID because my student ID had been stolen (along with the rest of my wallet) during my last few weeks in Shanghai. I also went to look at an apartment in the area, which was spacious and clean and recently renovated and overall great. But unfortunately not great enough to outweigh the location. That being said, I love the location.

The UUWS really does feel like home to me (or more like home than my current tourist-ridden pit of hellfire), but alas, it’s no good for me anymore. Sigh, if only I could transport the UUWS to Midtown. So yes, this is a bit of an ode/elegy to the Upper Upper West Side, because it was amazing. But is no longer. (For me anyway.)

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i know that feeling (in sculpture form)

Wandering around the CAFA campus was great fun because there were a number of undergraduate student exhibitions scattered throughout. I stumbled upon the sculpture studio, and unfortunately the sculpture exhibition wouldn’t start until the week after, but I saw this piece and thought it was pretty great.

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I don’t know who the artist is since there was no label, but it’s pretty amazing, right? Part of me thinks it’s a self-portrait, but even if it’s not a direct self-portrait, I think all students, architects, and the like can sympathize. For my part, I’ve definitely fallen asleep in similarly awkward positions at my drafting table.

reminiscing: why i’m an architect

About this time five years ago, I was sitting in the courtyard of Goldsmith Hall on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas. It is there that I sat on a worn wooden bench taking photos of the petal-filled space. It was so quiet, I remember there being a slight chill in the air, and I was all alone. I loved that courtyard. I still love it. The space has an innate sense of calm that’s not shut off from the frenzy on the other side of the windows, but has the ability to recontextualize it and add some measure of beauty to the madness.

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Was I taking a break from a studio project? Ah no, that was my first semester without studio. Having finished the majority of my architecture degree requirements at that point, my schedule was filled with English and humanities classes. Perhaps that’s why I found myself back in the arms of good ol’ Goldsmith, visiting an old friend, a place I felt so comfortable in. This is a photo that has come to define me, and in many ways still does. It’s been my avatar on so many sites for so long, I don’t know if I’ll ever change it. Granted it’s not the best photo, not the best composed, and not the greatest quality, but I cherish it because it’s a moment from that time – that four years of time when I became an architect.

I was recently browsing one of my favorite blogs, Life of an Architect, and started thinking about that title. The life of an architect. The architect behind it, Bob Borson, is referring to his specific life as an architect, but moreso about the life of architects in general. He’s a University of Texas alum and practicing architect in Dallas, and I always find it interesting to read about and from architects, because it’s the life I could’ve had if I had stuck with practicing. But the truth is, I will always consider myself an architect. And my life will always be that of an architect. The truth is, I never wanted to be an architect and ended up in the major purely by accident (a result of some extreme procrastination that ended up being the best mistake ever). The truth is, as much as I am infatuated with art and as crap I am at architectural design, my perspective of the world will always be that of an architect. And the truth is that I will always consume way too much coffee, stay up all night all too often for no apparent reason, write with the black Precise V5s I buy in bulk because yes I have a favorite pen, obsess about details no one else cares about, and absolutely whole-heartedly love architecture.

I may not be able to legally call myself an architect, and practicing architects may frown on my choice to stay out of the field (trust me, I was crap at practicing), but that alone doesn’t make one an architect. So yeah, that’s why I’m an architect.

weird morning in new york

Thesis presentation went well – woot! Class paper finally done – woot! Final thesis turn in is … uh oh, back to campus then.

Yesterday morning I walked to campus, taking the same route I always do. Walk walk walk. As I was climbing a set of stairs in the park, a guy in a black suit walked by. Weird, but it barely registers. Walk walk walk. More guys in black suits. Huh? Eh, whatever. Walk walk walk. Woman in white puffy wedding dress. Walk walk walk. WAIT. WOAH NELLY, WHAT? Stop. Double take. Stare. Gaggle of women in sage green dresses walk by. They stare back. Oh, I get it now. Wedding pictures. They’re not actually crossing the park to get to Harlem, they’re just using the park and stairs as a backdrop. But still … woah.

I know it’s not that weird, since it’s a park and the weather is AMAZING and it’s wedding season, but it was still surprising, maybe because my walk to campus is usually done on autopilot. After I made it out of the park I was still thinking to myself: That was weird, right? And then I was confronted with a children’s carnival. Right there along my normal path. It was set up in the street with pony rides and face painting and inflatable bouncy castles and OH MY GOSH IS THAT A LLAMA!?!

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Yeah. Weird morning. And in the afternoon I saw another wedding party, but those bridesmaids were wearing blue.

how to survive the library

Since I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in the library stacks of Avery, I thought I’d offer some tips on how to survive the experience. Also, I’m procrastinating. Can’t you tell?

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1. Beware overhead objects. Make note of them, but do not get distracted by the exposed pipes and/or wiring. When you are losing interest in your research material, letting your eyes wander to the fascinating aspects of the ceiling can be disastrous. Do not let your concentration shift upwards. Or sideways. Or any direction other than the next page.

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2. Put some muscle into it. Who said academics were all weaklings in ivory towers? There’s some real force required to shift some of the movable stacks, so throw your shoulder into it and get those gears cranking. Turning them bit by bit only reduces the momentum and prolongs your stay. If there are multiple stacks bunched together, you’re going to have to move each one individually, so just get it over with.

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3. Kick to save your life. If caught between electronically-moving stacks, kick the red/white strip running along the base to avoid being crushed. If you’re caught between hand-cranked stacks, for goodness’s sake, YELL. When you have safely escaped from the enclosing wall of books, smack the person who didn’t check the aisle before moving the stack and feel free to glare at them evilly any time you see him/her in the future.

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4. Don’t get lost. One of the worst things is to go down a row and forget the specific call number, volume number, or issue number of whatever it is you are looking for. That many books in a small area can be disorienting – arm yourself with a list and a game plan. If you have multiple books on your list, make note of which stacks are already open and then work out the best order to retrieve them before you go around shifting stacks. Be prepared for the onslaught of books!

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5. Accept assistance when needed. If you are short, own it. The stacks can go up pretty high and this isn’t the stretching Olympics, so don’t risk throwing out your back, pulling a muscle, or having a book fall on your head. Save your strength for flipping all those pages and grab a step stool. Plus, if there’s a step stool in the aisle with you, you can’t get crushed to death.

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6. Check the clock, at least occasionally. Or you will be in here forever. This is the only exception to #1. When there’s no window and you’re all by yourself, it can be hard to gauge how much time has gone by. If you don’t occasionally glance up at the clock, time will run recklessly wild. You will skip lunch, skip dinner, and before you know it the library is closing and some guy is telling you to pack up your stuff and leave. And then you will look up at him with tears in your eyes muttering about how you’re not done. Avoid that.

Happy researching!

sweet leaf sweet tea – austin iced tea

Sweetness. Sweet tea. Love the stuff. How can you not? Sweet Leaf is a brand of iced teas, and the company is based in Austin! Ah, fond memories. Since Sweet Leaf uses cane sugar and black tea and its ingredients list is super short, even though it’s in a can, it’s much, much better than Nestea or Brisk or Snapple because Sweet Leaf actually tastes like sweet tea rather than canned/bottled iced tea.

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My favorite flavor is the peach sweet tea, although the original is pretty yummy too. The vending machine on campus has an array of Sweet Leaf options, which is great (and fairly uncommon for New York) … but a bad thing for my coin purse. I’ve been on campus A LOT lately working on thesis stuff, and the Sweet Leaf is only two flights of stairs and $1.25 away … so yes, there has been A LOT of Sweet Leaf consumed lately.

all wrapped up: the phase box

I was in the library the other day looking at some old books, and I went off in search of Diderot’s Encyclopédie. And when I found the row of volumes, the books were all wrapped up and tied with bows. It was adorable.

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I had seen books in archival phase boxes before, but usually the boxes are fairly new, constructed of mounting board or some such, and the closures are Velcro. These boxes however, were … um, not really boxes. Only the front cover, spine, and back cover had hard surfaces, and the flaps that go around the pages’ exposed three edges were a flexible sort of textile. Not exactly archival.

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Oh, and I got really nervous at one point when the corner of the page CRUMBLED AT MY TOUCH. Woah. I wonder how long those books sat there before I messed with them. Pretty neat to see books that are super old, but at the same time, it’s kinda nasty thinking about how many people have touched the pages before you, and as you’re flipping through the pages, you’re basically breathing in dust particles that have been trapped for YEARS.

back in h-town: chapel of st. basil

Alrighty, peeps. This is my last Houston post. Mostly because, well … I’m not in Houston anymore! And it’ll probably be a while before I return again to the land of sun and Tex-Mex. This series of “Back in H-Town” posts have all dealt with Houston art museums and architecture associated with them in the downtown area. So I’m going to end with one of my “favorite” works of architecture in Houston. Quotations are needed, because there’s so much wrong with this thing, but that in turn makes it fascinating.

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This monstrosity, ladies and gentlemen, is the Chapel of St. Basil. I visited shortly before the new year, so they still had their Christmas decorations up. It is located on the University of St. Thomas (UST) campus – a stone’s throw from the Menil and Rothko Chapel – and was designed by American architect Philip Johnson (also architect of the Rothko Chapel). Johnson designed the university’s Academic Mall, the long two-story arcades on either side of the chapel, way back in the 1950s (on recommendation of the Menils) … but back then he was relatively unknown and his chapel design was rejected … so this chapel wasn’t completed until 1997, after Johnson had become super famous and was really old. In other words, this was one of Johnson’s last buildings, was after his high modernism phase, and came at a time when he was probably having a lark and could do whatever he wanted because people would still worship him.

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Basically there are three elements: the white stucco cube (with the entrance flap), the gold-leafed sphere (actually a semi-sphere dome), and the black granite plane (that doubles as the bell tower), and the intersection of these three perfect forms (cube, sphere, plane) form the chapel. I actually wrote a paper on the chapel in my senior year of college for an architectural criticism course. The entrance sequence, internal layout, natural lighting system, and exterior form are actually quite intriguing. I guess those are things I find similar with the Rothko Chapel, with Johnson playing around with the archetype of a chapel. However, since the Chapel of St. Basil holds services, its program and elements are more typical than the Rothko Chapel, so inside there are pews, religious statuary, an altar, et cetera.

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But … in the picture above, do you see the giant tilted cross? Yeah … there’s a giant tilted cross in the side of the cube that’s only viewable from the prayer garden and the street beyond. The official explanation is that it represents the tilt of Jesus carrying the cross, but it seems heretical and reminiscent of the Russian suprematists. Also given that Philip Johnson was gay and not Catholic, but here he was designing a chapel for a private Catholic university … it makes you wonder if he had a smirk on his face as he sketched and why the university let him run wild. UST’s new logo actually incorporates the chapel in its design and they’ve fully embraced this piece of architecture. And yet … it’s atrocious. But immensely fascinating.

starting to feel icky

It’s finals season! Dead days, woot! Well actually, I still have one more class to go (a make-up class due to Sandy), but then I’m done with classes and can focus all my energy on my two papers. But … I feel like utter hell.

I had a major presentation last week, and wow that did me in. I’ve lost three or four pounds in the last two weeks. Also, I apparently pulled something in my neck/shoulder/arm, because it all really hurts, and my stomach is unhappy. So I’m having a hard time sleeping and have no appetite even though I need to be eating. Yeah … I am not in the mood to be writing papers. Darn school!

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