31 May 2010

An Ex-vaulting experience

The massive crowd of designers and donors at the preview

I figured I should recap on a previous adventure closer to home before heading overseas.  I had talked about the vault sighting at the Cooper-Hewitt, but the preview reception came and went as a milestone in MIT MRG's book (Masonry Research Group - yeah, we came up with a name instead of perpetually calling ourselves "the Team").

As I mentioned before, the group had been working on this project since last spring, so I was really looking forward to actually seeing the vault in person.  Walking into the CH that night of the 13th was a surreal experience.  Not everyone on the team could make it, which was a shame, but it was still a very festive (and cacophonous) night.  The museum was absolutely PACKED.  It's moments like these when I truly lament being short, since most people's armpits are at my nose level and it's difficult to get people to notice that I'm trying to push past without jabbing them in the ribs with some generous elbow movements.

And then,

A little walk-through leading up to :

Perhaps the other photos look better, but somehow this is special because I took it in person.  The vault in all her arching splendor!  So unassuming and light yet heavy with the hours of work involved in getting those catenaries just right and the bricks laid with minimal mortar wasted.

This vault need not go on a diet - she's so thin already!

And of course, you can't leave without taking at least one (or more...) silly pictures, here with Flo as my partner-in-crime.  No worries, though - the vault can't be destroyed with a mere push by a small one like me.  You need a couple sledgehammers and many minutes of sweat to make the footings budge.

One of the most surreal aspects of the event was seeing our names on the wall plaque, and then going around the exhibition and seeing other well-known names we also recognized: MVRDV, FOA, KTA, Norman Foster...  and MIT MRG.  Although it was cool sitting virtually side by side with these architects and their firms, one major difference stood out: most of them had renderings, models, or other forms of representation for their buildings, whereas we had a full scale installation.  KTA did have a massive wall section of their Loblolly house there, which was cool to see, but I would have expected more 1:1 mockups or at least larger scaled prototypes than the typical renderings you would see in a magazine or monograph.

There are too many other cool projects within the overall "Why Design Now?" exhibition, but one that I thought was semi-insane yet admirably intricate was this sweater:

Look closely.  Yes, it's made from those little plastic tags retailers use to attach price tags to clothing.  Now that's what I call attention to detail in reuse before recycling.

28 May 2010

Finally, a guide to my kind of school

via Architect magazine

Staple resources like the US World and News Report's school evaluations often omit architecture, which was frustrating to me when applying for colleges. What, architecture isn't a big enough discipline to talk about nationally, when we have our own schools and - very often - buildings on campuses around the country?

In any rate (I'm really not that indignant), the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (or the simpler ACSA) has compiled a guide to architecture schools, which is too late for me but a good resource for other budding designers caught between the arts, sciences, and engineering. Other resources include Design Intelligence's survey of schools (for a fee) and this informal guide posted by Architect magazine on their website.

If I were to go back and decide where to go for school, would I have chosen MIT? Dangerous question... I didn't put this truly to the test, but in general I've learned a lot here so far and still have much to go on in my next 1.5 years. More reflections on the semester to come...

New features

I've been playing around with some of the formatting on this blog, and realized (perhaps belatedly) that Blogger now has a feature, similar to Wordpress, that allows for multiple pages within a blog site. At last!

So my first official page (seen in the top nav bar) is a quick guide to New York City, compiled from recommendations I've made to friends, personal experience, and my own lengthy list of things to do. As a list queen, I have one of books I'm reading, places to eat in various cities, and things to do in each of them as well. Since this summer one of my goals is to keep this blog updated somewhat frequently, I'll try to get my other lists up there soon, for Boston and Philly at least as my most occasioned stomping grounds. The commenting feature doesn't quite work at the moment, but hopefully I'll figure something out or tweak the HTML to do so.

The blog banner is taken from a photo I took while on the Boston grad Fall retreat last October. I was looking for one featuring my red Saucony's, which seem to be a signature piece of me. Sad will be the day when I have to retire them... but hopefully I'll be able to find replacements down the line.

The long journey home

Long musings befitting of a long journey :

The ride through Rhode Island and Connecticut is one of
my favorite parts of riding the train down the Northeast Corridor route.

After days of packing and 8 hours on what should have been a less-than 5 hour train ride, I am home. This was only made possible through the gracious help of my burly muscle crew: Po-ru and Eric on the SP end, Rachel and Gao Yu at McCormick, and Travis as the car-driving go-between. With their help, I was able to move everything into storage within my time frame, although throughout the entire packing and moving process this thought kept coming to mind:
So much stuff. So much stuff!!
Goodness. 2 years of living in the same room would do that to you, I suppose, but the perpetual disbelief at my material abundance made me open my eyes wide. Why do I even need so many things? And even with this realization, why did I still find it hard to let things go when I clearly had not worn them in the last year or given them any thought? I could use the excuse of "being a girl," but really - just because I happen to have two X chromosomes doesn't mean I must own a million things. (Sadly, though, this is my current condition.) I didn't have much time to purge much, but once I'm back in Cambridge, I'll have to do a more serious cleaning out.

In any rate, the ride back was long yet rather peaceful. If you've never ridden the train between Boston and New York, I would suggest swallowing the bill and doing so at least once. There are some beautifully tranquil waterscapes bordering on pastoral, especially around the New London area of Connecticut. I keep marveling at the sights out of my window and intentionally trying to sit on the correct side of the train so that I'll get a good view of the water... One of these days I will stop. And breathe in that fresh salt air.

The approach to New York is also a fond sight to see. The skyline illuminated at sunset, hugging the horizon as we seem to speed by yet speed towards it. Just that little glimpse before pulling into the hectic Penn Station makes me glad.

Pride and Prejudice was my travel companion. I finally finished it, after reading it at a "stroll through Pemberley" pace while brushing my teeth at night throughout this past semester. (Yes...this is a little snippet of how I stay grounded.) Although I've read this book a couple times already, this was probably my slowest reading of it of all. It's like chewing slowly - you somehow concentrate more on the subtle flavors and really get to enjoy before digestion. I noticed things I hadn't before, and had some laughs when I came across the indignant comments I had written in the margins almost 8 years ago, when I first read the book in LitHum. (For example: "YOU CALL THIS COMFORT??" next to Mr. Collins' letter of "consolation" post-Lydia's incident made me giggle.) The complexity of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's relationship as it unfolded, her conflicted back and forth with her mixed feelings, and the difficulty of explaining her change of heart somehow resonated more than before. I also noticed the narrator's subtle ability to give glimpses into the thought processes of multiple characters within a scene, which seems to defy the typical take on point of view but worked really quite well. In all, I'd still say it's a book worth staying up reading, even for the 3rd or 4th (or nth) time around.

Ok, musings over. Home now. Hong Kong on Tuesday. More later.

23 May 2010

Starting to feel like summer

... captured in a simple cup of Berryline frozen yogurt with kiwi and blueberries. Yum - my first Berryline since last semester! (It's been too long.)

My friends make fun of me for taking more pictures of my food than of them... but the next post will feature actual faces, I promise.

This semester has been a long one, although the quality of the "longness" is different than in the past. This time, I was able to make more choices that greatly influenced how busy I was. Unfortunately, I think I made some wrong ones and took on too many things, leading to a densely packed semester that I wasn't quite prepared to tackle - and really, I don't think I was supposed to, either. 5 classes, 1 job, 2 side projects, 3 leadership roles.... (I shake my head at myself.)

Sure, it's now the end and I'm (just about) done and finished, but not without vast lessons learned - mostly about the great depth of God's grace in managing everything (or rather, realizing that I can't manage without Him) and becoming even more of the supreme multitasker that I am. Oh my reputation...I think I'll have to ruin it one of these days. Step by step I learn, despite my stubbornness.

Anyways, more reflections later. It's getting hot and humid in Boston - must be almost summer! And so many things to do before I leave Cambridge... "miles to go before I sleep," but now I sleep. Blissfully so!

20 May 2010

Transformative living

If you think a tiny space is something to lament about, check out this Hong Kong apartment called the "Domestic Transformer" by architect Gary Chang. It's 344 SF and is purported to transform into 24 different configurations. It's gotten a lot of press recently in blogs like ArchDaily and the NYTimes. Although I have yet to see all 24 variations, it's a pretty cool concept in not only modularity but in how flexible architecture can be to accommodate various programs in tight quarters.

The project is lauded in quite a few "green" publications and forums, although the association isn't explained beyond the daylighting benefits of mirrored ceilings that increase the interior illumination. But if you think of it more in light of the lifecycle of the apartment (pun intended), then it makes sense to have a flexible space like this. What I find to be most valuable is not just how you can have 24 configurations in one space for one certain living situation, but the possibilities of changing a living space based on the different needs of users. (This is a subtle difference, although I'm not sure if my point comes across clearly.) In that sense, a living space can not only expand or contract for the current occupants, but can change based on future needs.

That second part is what I'm trying to explore in my final project for Mass Customization of Housing, the kinetic nature of living as stretched over the many lives of various residents. We'll see if it turns out to be as flexible and cool as this modular space. And maybe I'll get to visit this apartment sometime this summer while I'm there. (Hey, I can hope, right?)

15 May 2010

Boston's Japanese jazz link

It was only after conducting a series of interviews for this mini documentary on Boston's "Japantown" that I realized the link between Japan and Berklee College of Music. Some of the people I spoke with are Berklee graduates and kept making references to how famous Berklee was back at home. I admit I was a little dubious, but after the third or fourth reference, I just had to do some research.

Apparently, there have been many amazing Japanese jazz artists who have come through the school, like Toshiko Akiyoshi and Hiromi Uehara, and more recently Tsunenori Abe of the group Syncopation (seen above). I started listening to a slew of Youtube clips, interviews (notably, a great session with Hiromi on NPR's Piano Jazz program) and got really excited about it. And was reminded of how great jazz piano and scatting can be.

Inspiration for my soundtrack! Now, if only I could master sound editing... If anyone has any experience, especially in minimizing background conversation, let me know!

12 May 2010

The vault made public

[ also posted on the vault's blog ]

The long-anticipated day will arrive this coming Friday! The Cooper-Hewitt’s “Why Design Now?” Triennial exhibition will open to the public at 10am on May 14th. The show runs until January 9, 2011, so there’s plenty of time to make your way over to the museum and see what has been 13 months in the making. If you're in NYC or head over to that area, please check it out! You won't be able to miss it - you have to walk underneath to move through the exhibition :)

It’s hard to believe how far the vault project has gone since its original inception last year. If we had gone ahead with our first instincts, we would have simply replicated existing structural forms in bricks instead of thin shell concrete. Instead, we dove into design and structural experimentation, expanded the team from 2 to 4 to 7, and now to 12 including the building team… And now, we get to see our baby live - in 3D - and out in public. In some ways, I feel I’m anticipating it even more because I wasn’t able to actually build this one over our spring break. How satisfying will it be to see the fruit of our labor, and to be able to tell others that they, too, can share in it!

A good portion of the team will be heading down to New York for a special opening reception on Thursday, before the exhibition opens to the public on Friday. Can’t wait! It comes at a difficult time at the end of the semester, but at least it'll be well worth it.

03 May 2010

IDEAS now!

In the IDEAS competition awards ceremony... Learning about Carl Bielenberg's biomass and fuel innovations in Cameroon. He looks like an MIT alum from the 70's, high socks and all.
(thought: Sometimes I wish I were an engineer and could just figure out and make machinery. (eek, what blasphemy!))

Ok, back to listening and not being rude. News on the results to come!