13 February 2011

Suggestions of (a) thesis topic(s)

or, the beginning of the beginning.

I realized I haven't written very much about my work this semester, so I'll try to begin by painting a portrait of this month since I've been back at school.  Spring 2011 is unique, mostly because it's my last semester of pure coursework and my class of Level 3's are also embarking on that thing called Thesis.  It's still the preparation phase (hence Thesis Prep), but it's certainly the beginning of the end - or, as I'd rather call it, the beginning of the beginning.  Maybe other classmates don't see it in this light, but I keep thinking of it as the potential seed for future work - and if I want to psych myself out, I use the word "life work."  Oi.

Although I hesitated initially, I decided to post my first two stabs at writing down some vague thesis ideas, if only to document my thought process and the evolution of this year-long final project.  Reading them makes me cringe at just how vague, awkward, and unclear these ideas are, but it's a start.  Hopefully by the end of next week - after having done more reading, pondering, sketching, and getting feedback - I'll have a better idea of where this is going.  Some people have the issue of giving a simple idea more life.  I have the issue of making an overly convoluted and complex question into a more straight forward one.  (Often my issue in many things over-thought.)

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Rendition 1:  multiple ideas, multiple interests
  • Nomadic architecture
    It may be cliché to speak of the global nomad, but it still remains true that the sense of “home” is less permanent and may, instead, be packed in a suitcase rather than pinned to a concrete foundation. "Nomadic" also suggests portable, deployable, and transient architecture that necessarily incorporates issues of temporality and even spontaneous inhabitation. ... The small scale, flexibility, and malleability of developing a new prototype may be an interesting avenue of exploration within the larger context of change.
  • Megacity, micro intervention
    Cities of almost unimaginable scales, with populations exploding over 10 million inhabitants, are of particular interest to me because they are massive conglomerates of programs and both belong to every inhabitant and agency and yet belong to no one. Some like Tokyo work like well oiled machines with a steadily controlled expansion, while others such as Rio di Janeiro suffer from violent growing pains and vast slum rings. ... Within such a large scaled scope exist pockets of forgotten land, the interstitial spaces or “unusable” real estate. ... I am intrigued by the catalogued behavior of such sites (in the vein of Atelier Bow Wow’s Made in Tokyo) and how to develop an architectural intervention as a platform to somehow cultivate spontaneous occupation.
  • Preservation vs. Utopic vision
    Whether historic preservation, environmental / sustainable preservation, or otherwise, the act of conserving or retaining the existing or past status of a site or culture has often come in conflict with forward thinking development and the striving for the new. However, here I propose a juxtaposition between the past and the utopic vision. ... what is the utopic vision of today that can free architects to dream larger than big?

Rendition 2:  
still multiple ideas, masquerading as a single idea but really just a convoluted mash-up
  • Question #1 : What does a “do it yourself” utopia look like for today’s megacities?

    The notion of utopia within today’s architectural discourse is little uttered and little used, and yet what are contemporary visions of the future but self-sufficient, low-impact cities? I suggest that alternative energy and “sustainability” in its vaguest terms have become today’s catch-all promises for a brighter future, yet many pathways to get there reside in the hands of institutions and policy makers. For the average citizen, her participation in this vision becomes reduced to recycling bottles and tacking a few solar panels to the roof, calling it a day. Is there an idealized way of living? Do-it-yourself methods are often a way to empower the individual to create solutions, but in the built environment are relegated to a trip to Home Depot.

    I am interested in developing an architectural “tool kit” with an accompanying instruction manual that begins to address these questions of ownership and vision. Within the context of megacities ... the stress of high density living on city infrastructure and the individual life becomes a testing ground. ... A DIY manual in this context could offer grassroots – and maybe even subversive –small scaled architectural interventions to help catalyze change.
  • Question #2 : What if our stomachs could power the city?

    The local food and slow food movements carry an element of nostalgia, bringing us back to the days when farms were literally close to the table and the smell of compost from the backyard garden scented the scenery. It is arguably a healthier way of eating, but although this idealized form of subsistence agriculture may be possible – and is indeed practiced – in rural areas, the urban environment poses particular challenges merely in terms of square footage. Firms and think tanks like MVRDV’s Why Factory have conducted brief surveys that show the absurdity of cities sustained on self-contained farms, but the idea of a “high-tech agricultural landscape” is intriguing to me. How would an agricultural landscape be high-tech? With today’s focus on alternative energies, one being biofuels, an answer to that resides in energy generation.

    Here, I am interested in the potentials of an energy producing farm factory – in some ways utopic in conception, but also able to scale down to the reality of a deployable system of “energetic” farming interventions in the landscape. 
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Questions for myself: What are the critical issues that are really important to me?  Is the conceptual / theoretical bent just an artificial construct to cover up what I'm truly interested in?  How do I avoid both the the "save the world" and unreal academic mentalities?

Where to go next: par down, cut, snip, read read read, clarify clarify clarify, refine refine refine ...