26 July 2011

Being abroad - made live

cover of sketchbook #5
Back in June, I wrote a post about a travel reflections project I had once contributed to called Being Abroad.  A few days ago, I had received word that the project site has now been made live after a few years' hiatus.  I finally got to glimpse what I had written and drawn all those years ago, and seeing the sketches again brought about feelings of nostalgia and regret, along with reflection on the sentiments expressed about being abroad, now recorded in Sketchbook #5.

Although I claim to document my reflections "three parts," they only really represent the two countries where I had most recently studied abroad: France and China.  I was in France for the Spring of my junior year in college and predominantly lived in Paris, with a brief week-long homestay in the southern part of the country.  This was the start of my intense love for travel, adventures, and the idea that I could transplant myself and live elsewhere and somehow blend in.  My daily 20 minute walk to school, the food I ate, the culture I absorbed, the classes I took were all small parts that made up the whole of this amazing experience, convicting me that every student should try and study in a foreign country if they could.  The stretching-ness and just sheer fun of it changed my perspective about home.

Studying in China was also a similarly joyous situation - this time, the 3 months of summer right after graduation.  This, though, was more defined by the friends I spent time with, the intense language training, and the new knowledge learned about my heritage.  It was also a trip, though, that challenged me more than I thought - not simply because Mandarin was harder to learn than French for me, but that I somehow had hoped to "blend in" more easily than I actually could.  Perhaps this has to do with the fact of being Chinese American, having been raised in the States and not fully knowing the language of my 'people.'  I looked the part, but couldn't act it - was far from it in many ways, although I worked hard and made great strides in that short time.  Like many others at the boundary between two cultures and two nations, I felt - and still sometimes feel - regret about what I couldn't be, although over time I've come to accept the different strengths that come with a hyphenated ethnicity.

My time abroad - particularly in these contexts, but in subsequent journeys as well - has been marked by both a profound sense of place as well as a certain placelessness.  In each experience, I had the opportunity to soak in a new culture, new language, new environment, new friends and 'family' - all very specific to the context.  Living in Paris is quite different from living in Beijing, as if it weren't already clear enough.  But the placelessness was more about identity, where nationality became the key to defining who I was.  In France, people could never pinpoint it.  They actually almost never thought I was American, but rather asked if I were Japanese or even Brazilian Native American (... this was true!).  In China, I got similar questions of "where are you from?  No, where are you FROM from?" because I looked Chinese but spoke with an accent.  Most taxi drivers then assumed I was Korean, which made for entertaining explanations.

In more recent travels, the role of language has changed a bit.  Instead of being an indication of self identity or something about myself, I found that the power of speaking in the same tongue is more about the people you are communicating with.  In Cambodia, my Khmer was less than conversational but the villagers we worked with appreciated those gestures - no matter how paltry - because we were attempting to genuinely communicate in a way that they could best understand.  It enabled me and my teammates to form relationships over English/Khmer lessons on the construction site, singing "cement/simong" every time we went to mix more mortar or accidentally flung some onto each other.  I suppose it was a way to say, in minimal words, that by caring enough to learn a language, we were showing care for that person.

Being abroad - eye-opening, self-revealing, relationship-making, and fun-filled, it becomes about people and crossing borders to find commonalities instead of simply about places and capturing the monument on camera.  So, where to next?

21 July 2011

Barbie can be modern, too

... with a real live architect-designed dream house such as this design below :

The AIA has partnered with Mattel to sponsor a design competition for Barbie's next dream house.  Like many design competitions, this one will also not be built but is, rather, what they call "a fun way to play and engage with Barbie® I Can Be™... Architect regardless of your age."

Too bad for architects, though - their designs can't even be realized in the fantasy world of toys, although it's an interesting way to engage other disciplines in the potential education of children, in technicolor pink.

One fun note (if the pink wasn't enough) : One of the judges is a former coworker of mine from my days prior to MIT.

20 July 2011

[musica] j.montague / fly on

Discovered via the Design & Thinking documentary blog.  The electronica + banjo puts me in the right summery mood.  Instrumentalization reminds me a bit of Sufjan - but unique on its own.  Check out more of Jacob Montague, or get your own cool widget.

19 July 2011

High Line : Part deux

via Architectural Record
We like to think of it as a place where people revel in doing nothing, which is an anomaly for New Yorkers.  It has an unscripted, unintended, unprogrammed timelessness. You just get lost in there."
// Liz Diller, in the NYTimes article
anticipating the opening of Section 2 of the High Line

Has anyone seen it yet?  (Some people clearly have.)

18 July 2011

Don't talk, just do

"... it’s true that when we talk about our work, we give ourselves the feeling that we are working on something when truthfully, we aren’t."

and other thoughts on creativity from Donald Miller,
author of Blue Like Jazz

15 July 2011

Spontaneous occupation?

Well, this is one way to occupy a slice of the city in more ways than one...

(found via C&Z's newsletter)

The train must add a tasty...flavoring to the veggies.  Where is this, though?

14 July 2011

On creative work

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through." 
// Ira Glass, host of This American Life (via FreshAir)
 The nature of long hours resides with creatives, not just 'crazy' architects.

A bit on Ira's history:
Ira Glass started working in public radio in 1978, when he was 19, as an intern at NPR's headquarters in DC. Over the next 17 years, he worked on nearly every NPR news show and did nearly every production job they had: tape-cutter, desk assistant, newscast writer, editor, producer, reporter, and substitute host. He spent a year in a high school for NPR, and a year in an elementary school, filing stories for All Things Considered. He moved to Chicago in 1989 and put This American Life on the air in 1995.

11 July 2011

[foodage] Salmon + ratatouille

via Chocolate & Zucchini
Tonight M and I had a very baked (and nearly smoke alarm-inducing) dinner to fuel visionary conversation.  It consisted of modified recipes for:

ratatouille confite au four
one of my French favorites
lime and honey-glazed salmon
the smokey culprit that thankfully was completely intact

plus a "healthy" serving of pastries from Area Four, who decided to give us freebies because we happened to stop by right before closing today.  (Delicious!)

I have no photographic evidence since it all ended up in our stomachs.  For the future, however, I would
a) add more salt and maybe a bit less rosemary for the ratatouille ... and make it ahead of time so that the flavors get to settle
b) add more lime and honey to the salmon to strengthen the subtle flavors

Note: M was the actually chef for the night.  I only helped to buy the ingredients, pick the recipes, and do some backseat cooking over my laptop.

10 July 2011

[FAST] Lightbridge illuminates the crossing

These videos of the FAST installation Lightbridge came out recently.  The project, conceived by the Media Lab's Susanne Seitinger and Pol Pla of the Fluid Interfaces Group, illuminated the Harvard Bridge with 10,000 LED lights back in May 2011.

See more images and animations on the project's Flickr site.

08 July 2011

The first days

I was asked to unearth evidence from our first two projects in architecture school, and as I dug around I swear I could smell the must of dust-encrusted work.

Exercise 1 //  The Bridge
a project I liked but which induced many of my first all-nighters of grad school, as well as my first introductions to the laser cutter

Exercise 2  //  The Circulation Project
(aka interstitial space, or how many stairs and ramps are needed to get from one place to the next)
a project I liked only in diagram form but really didn't like in physical form, and which manifested in a model bigger than my body

Oh Level 1... how long it's been since then.  How far we've come (hopefully).  How different Level 1's are today.

06 July 2011

Figure 8s

I'm not sure what to think about videos like this that highlight a building walk-through in such a 'cool' way (with requisite lounge music), but don't say much about the actual experience of living in such a place where the figural aspects of the building itself (shaped like an 8, like the diagram) means a very long road from one's flat to the parking lot.

Then again, I still like the scenic promenade (supposed to be for cyclists), so the walk-through as a convincing visualization tool works.

- - -
Bjarke Ingles Group
8 House
2010 / nearly completed

05 July 2011

July 4th : The best view in the "house"

Yesterday, a festive group of GCFers and friends neatly staked out a great spot along the Memorial Dr. side of the Charles River to watch the fireworks.  Thanks to Sam, Yong, and Mark, our area was well claimed, big enough for ~30 people, and - perhaps most importantly - directly in front of the fireworks barge.  We had plenty of food, games, and good conversation to keep people going through until the concert's start and then the fireworks at 10:30pm.

This was my first 4th of July celebrated in Boston, and it was a splendid one.  We were right near one of the main speaker towers and screens broadcasting the Boston Pops performance from across the river.  When the US Army Field band came on with their marches in full swing, it made me nostalgic.  "Stars and Stripes Forever," in particular, has long been a favorite.  Once upon a time I could actually play that piccolo solo ... can't imagine getting back into shape for that again, but who knows?

For Steph, who didn't see the smilies
I was very impressed with the 1812 Overture, the fireworks that followed, and then the main pyrotechnic display to end the night.  What a great show!  Here are some snippets from the night :