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Archive for October, 2010

Made on Illustrator and Mac

My second board for the faculty display wall. I now have a list of new art to add to my portfolio tabs, as this was a great opportunity to curate my artwork.

It feels great to be done (for now). Happy Halloween!

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Practice+Pedagogy. October 28, 2010. Made on a Mac. Click to enlarge.

The board is done and up on the faculty display wall.

In the process, I refined my skills with Illustrator, pondered philosophy, practice, pedagogy,and  crystallized what I am, do, stand for — in a tangible format.

A welcome tall order.

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Today I wanted to share these incredible paintings by Gregory Thielker, a hyperrealist painter.

The world seen through a rain-soaked windshield becomes an impressionist kaleidoscope of colors.

To paint water…..

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Stonehenge. Detail of trabeation (Post and Lintel). Considered one of the foremost examples of Megalithic Architecture (Mega+ Lithos, or Colossal Stone)Salisbury Plain, England. C.2750-1500 B.C.E

From my Friday’s History Class.

The Beginnings of Architecture covers Stonehenge, the caves at Lascaux and Altamira, and what we consider the beginning of the urban revolution in our hemisphere, the proto-cities of Catal Huyuk and Jericho. I will share weekly  my History powerpoints, well, okay, the ones I consider complete…next I want to sharpen up the lecture on Pre-Columbian|Precontact Architecture of the Americas and will then share it here.

See/Download the Presentation:

Week2_AR761_Beginnings_Stonehenge_Final

…and don’t forget to hear Eddie Izzard’s take on Stonehenge. My students always love to hear from this ‘expert’ 😉

Eddie Izzard on Stonehenge

Click to Stonehenge (Before Stonehenge there was Woodhenge and Strawhenge...)

These are the texts I use in my History of Architecture class:


Architecture: From Prehistory to Postmodernity
. 2nd ed. Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 2002

A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals. Spiro Kostof. Second Edition. Revisions by Greg Castillo. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

A World History of Architecture. Michael Fazio, Marian Moffett, Lawence Wodehouse. McGraw|Hill.

A Global History of Architecture. Francis D.K. Ching, Mark M. Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash. Wiley, 2006.

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Apologies for the absence of the recent days, I have so much to share, as always, yet the days have been filled with preparations for our Architecture school’s NAAB Accreditation.
It is an all-school process and effort and we have all been preparing for months; there is an energy and purpose as we all pull together the work which represents us, as a school, an intellectual entity, a collective of creatives. What is our pedagogical approach? What do we stand for? What idea of Architecture are we partial to and propagate?
As we pull back and see the sparkling work produced by faculty and students there is a moment of realization: we are a force that, properly channeled, could bring forth astounding change. In a way, this is my school’s and all of the faculty’s graduation. SO throw those caps and let’s invent our future, and pave roads that have not even been mapped yet.

So, blog and blogreaders, if the collective you’s were a single friend, I would say “I have not come to visit you yet I have thought of you“.  I have written few lines in preparation for a board I am compiling on my practice and pedagogy. It is a daunting task, pulling together a cohesive snapshot of who I am, what I stand for, and what my aspirations are.

But as long as I keep thinking and growing I feel the work is being done, I think, here I might have something to share, even though it’s not a sketch, or a finished work.
In the recent past there was a  lecture I put together for my weekly History of Architecture class, on the beginnings of Architecture, Stonehenge, the caves at Lascaux and Altamira, and the urban revolution in Jericho and Catal Huyuk (I wonder if putting online my History of Architecture powerpoints would work).

I was happy because I felt the lecture was complete, as in, I used all the resources/images of the four texts I employ for the class and outside research, and was able to have time to annotate everything . Bullet points, paragraphs, dates, location, I even designed each slide like a board…the works! Often it’s hard enough putting all the images together while preparing the lecture part and I have been historically in awe of the beautifully designed presentations Joe Nicholson, my mentor, brings to class.  My History students, all Grad ones since I now teach the Master level course, also turned in a spectacular body of work for their research in Pre-Columbian/Pre-Contact Architecture of the Americas. I am so proud.

I met a fellow faculty at my favorite haunt, Cafe’ Bassam, and he told me: To teach is like singing, the first few times it might not be that great, but the more you practice the song, the more you perfect it. The trick I think, is to constantly update the song and demand of yourself a better performance each time.

When that works, well, all the stars are aligned.

I don’t have new art right now, and don’t want to touch the backlog tonight, so I offer you my mind, and give you a peek of the (stolen/borrowed) books in my satchel, the toys I am playing with today.

Architecture needs to transcend the built and enter the realm of the poetic. In this enlightened environment alone it can illuminate.
I was walking past glistening walls today, surfaces that would leap and swim with the dancing light. There, I thought, there is the beauty of Architecture, the brilliant mind of the designer, who works with matter and creates wonder. Walls, surfaces can then speak to me: they spring to life in a  beautiful song, and I fall in love.

Le Corbusier said:

You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces. That is construction. Ingenuity is at work.
But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good, I am happy and I say: “This is beautiful.” That is Architecture. Art enters in.

The books I carried today (there may be a Pecha Kucha with my photography of Kuwait and poetry of the Arab woman soon).

The Poetry of Arab Women

Modern Arabic Poetry

Muslim Europe or Euro- Islam

(I actually met  Prof. Nezar Alsayyad, in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies he designed in Berkeley :))

One of my favorite books, by my ‘History of Architecture mentor’, Spiro Kostof.

History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals

(my copy is actually autographed by another Berkeley gem, Prof. Greg Castillo)

Inchoate: Experiments in Architectural Education

The book I have been trying to finish since 2002:

Wherever you go There you Are

A novel I picked up (on Ancient Egypt): River God

And three books-part of a series of four) I found after couple of years of looking  (they were in school all this time!)

Architecture in Detail: Colors

Architecture in Detail: Elements

Architecture in Detail: Materials

Architecture in Detail: Spaces

To everyday sit in the light few minutes, make our soul soar with words and thoughts greater than the mundane tasks, lists and even technologies we surround ourselves. To rise above exhaustion and see a smiling face who tells you ‘It is always so good to see you. Seeing you always makes me smile.’ To take a moment to be kind and acknowledge kindness….to realize the greatest technological marvel is already inside of us. To celebrate our spirit, learn everyday something new, take an instant to be thankful and, above all, silent. To live art and music everyday. To sneak in a poem, or remember words such as ‘illuminate’, ‘transcend’, ‘visionary’, ‘catalyst’. These are the things I am working on. I am busy, the work is never done, yet I try not to forget becoming is the goal, not just doing.

Now, for creative brainstorm, try to google images for ‘inchoate’, ‘inchoate : experiments in architectural education’ ,’detail in architecture’, and ‘architecture detail color space elements’ . I see a collage coming…

Send me yours.

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The beginning of an urban scenario collage. Oct.19, 2010.

I have been thinking and wanting to explore collages again since this summer, when I was so inspired by Hector Perez and his students’ work with SoCal Ex–but not until today I finally acted on that impulse. I have two works done and one almost complete. Two to share, and one part of a larger, more ambitious project that will have to wait for a bit.

What I love about collages is their sustainability (this below was made for prints that were to be thrown away), and their serendipity. There is a magic about collages, finding enough materials or copies of subject to bring a piece to completion, or that sudden inspiration that constitutes the ‘aha!’ factor of the collage. I am referring to old-school paper, scissors and exacto knife collages, glue-messy ones….there is nothing like digging through your collage material container and unearth and reassemble a work you didn’t even know existed or could compose.  The root of the word collage is the same as the  French verb ‘coller’ or to glue (a latin verb, in italian ‘incollare’). Collages are associated the the Cubist and Surrealist art movements in the last century. Picasso and George Braques are said to have coined the term. In Surrealism, we find more three-dimensional assembly/collages that resemble nonsensical machinery. There is a very fine line between sculpture made of found objects and three-dimensional ‘collages’. The key being, in my opinion, the spontaneity and uplanned process leading to the finished product, which, really, is never meant to be finished.

The exploratory aspect is the most attractive component of the collage process to me, the element of surprise, play, even psychological discovery that all contribute to give life to a work. It is quite extraordinary how when the mind lets go the art takes over (you can call it soul), and such a welcome relief from too much art that is planned and executed like a project. Collages keep the wander, let us, like sketching, solve ourselves. There is no right or wrong because the destination is never known in collages. How utterly liberating.

Yet the best collages, like the best works of art, appear undeniable in the end, as if the piece just ‘made sense’;  they acquire layers of meaning with passing of time, age well, even acquire a certain patina. More than anything, they became more lovely or intense with each time your gaze falls on them. The personal fragments embedded in the collages will echo throughout the years; they will forever signify a time, place and emotion captured, crystallized, amplified.

In architecture, collages are extremely useful right-brain experimentation, and we see the Situationist using them to chart new maps of possible cities. We see collages in the 1960’s and 70’s in the works of  Archigram, Superstudio, Coop Himmelblau and others.  Richard Meier is a starchitect and collager. Whether or not you favor his brand of architecture I think that we all, as architects and academics, ought to have, like him,  a way and time  to let our innate sense of creativity develop, A time to use our hands (not the mouse, not the tip of our finger)and remember how to let our mind play and discover itself. Build something with our hands, an alternate reality, even if  paper-thin.  Collages are where we can dream, using pieces of reality. I suspect that regular collaging would open us (and our art/design)  to  inspiration, mental flexibility, maybe even brilliance. 

Richard Meier’s collages complement his architecture. Unlike his architectural drawings, they are nonrepresentational; like these drawings, they record process.  Like his architecture itself, they study relationships in space and seek difficult reconciliations of the opposed conditions of “found” discord and ideal order.

“A single collage is not begun and finished by itself,” says Meier. “On the contrary, works in various stages of evolution are left in notebooks and on the shelves of my studio, left sometimes for months or even years to await their own period of development.  A collage is often the result of many revisions.  Each must be seen as an element in my total work; they are, for me, an adjunct and a passion related to my life as an architect.”

“Meier has an eye, and a mind to use it,” the architect John Hedjuk has written.  “He doesn’t create all those collages at night at home for nothing.  The collage making is his midnight boxing ring.  It keeps the hand and the eye trained.”

This is what I have been working on, all material from extra pages from printing this blog for my mom in Italy (I send monthly installments via mail because she refuses to make friends with computers. Mamma, when you read this, know you killed a tree ;)).

I applied an ‘antiquing’ crackling glaze to the glazed canvas so we’ll see how it develops. I dig the diagonal/chainlink texture which resulted from the juxtaposition of the pieces. The celling adds an architectural/design reading to the piece. What do you think?

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Steel frame poetry. Click for more info ore read below.

Choi+Shine, a Massachusetts-based design studio has recently received the Boston Society of Architects Unbuilt Architecture Award for their creative concept Land of Giants™, transforming the generic steel-framed electricity pylons across the Icelandic landscape into unique, individual humanised forms.

Read the World Architecture News article here.

In contrast to the poetry of the unbuilt, and whenever I see vision in design and architecture, there are the missed opportunities of the city around me. In my History of Architecture class I like to tell students that Architecture is built politics. By this I mean that the architecture of the civilizations we study, even the built environment around us, is the embodiment of a people’s values, belief system, socio-economic conditions (or agendas). Architecture can literally be considered ‘the body politik’.
During a recent conversation with a colleague the meaning of absence came up, that is, the absence of benches or piazzas in downtown San Diego. America’s Finest City enjoys the perfect temperate weather, is gifted with a beautiful natural setting, and yet its downtown does not invite enjoyment, people watching, outside of commercial establishment. This is a city that is, peculiarly, not urban at all, but fragmented, servile to cars, at times alienating. In the heart of its historical quarter, the Gaslamp, the city does not yield; no place to sit and pause to take it in.

There could be such place: Horton Plaza.

Downtown San Diego. Horton Plaza is in the 'Core'. Balboa Park is visible on the upper right corner. from onlinesandiegohomes.com

Horton Plaza/Fountain Side is a potential piazza whose use is twarthed by the deliberate use of ‘discomfort’ tactics: rough landscaping and the absence of benches, or seating at human-being level. I see tourists crouching down on curb edges everytime I walk by. There is a plan by the CCDC to ‘reenvision” the public park to make it more attractive‘.

Horton Plaza, facing the U.S Grant Hotel. San Diego, 1910. Fountain and plaza design by Irving Gill, who proposed four tiled walks (the city approved two, not tiled). Notice the cordoned-off lawn, and the absence of benches, even back then. sandiegodailyphoto.blogspot.com

Horton Plaza before 2008, with fountain still operable. It is flanked by a mall by the same name ( I love when malls appropriate the names of public space they displace, names such as 'Plaza', 'Avenues', 'Boulevard' etc.). Tall, unattractive plantings and no benches make the use of this piazza impossible. From http://sdhs1960.org/photos/yesterdaytoday.html. Adding ugliness to infamy, the fountain has remained fenced and inoperable for two years with no immediate plans for restoration. From signonsandiego.com

Horton Plaza/’Farmer Market’ Side is an open space eager to be a piazza, yet at the stage of ‘Piazza. Interrupted’. Why? The absence of seating, appropriate lighting, or a focal point in this location (a fountain? a modern sculpture?) renders this an open space to be traversed as quickly as possible, day or night, where spontaneous gathering is not encouraged (except for the commercially-viable weekly Farmers’ Market half-days or the inescapable ritual of the holiday ice-rink).

Horton Square, between the Horton Plaza Mall and the NBC building in Downtown San Diego. From shindohd@ flickr.com.

But Horton Square has potential, at least it’ s not a permanently-in-shade, unusable ‘public space’ such as those found among high-rises in financial districts nation-wide. You know what I’m talking about.

Wells Fargo 'Plaza', Financial district, San Diego. from frwl @ flickr.com.

Upon reading ‘ Why Public Spaces Fail’, it seems like San Diego has used this article as a blueprint to eschew its public responsibility and alienate the public sphere.
Of course anytime public space is brought up, the issue of the homeless is dragged out like a decaying corpse from the cellar, to once more make an appereance in trite arguments. The refrain goes ‘ We cannot have any public space in San Diego because of the homeless’. Meaning, if you build it, they (the homeless) will come. And we can’t have that. It’s as if the city, to paraphrase Ani di Franco’s words, instead of curing the disease, is bent on suppressing any evidence of the symptoms.
Of course we have the public, but touristy, Seaport Village and our cultural, manicured, Balboa Park. Both are not integrated with the urban fabric of downtown San Diego, that is they are destinations, not generators (can I say incubators?) of urban moments within the streets/flow of the city.
Balboa Parkis a wonderful (or maybe just pretty, depends on the days and my mood) public space, also designed by Irvin Gill,  and yet it is a place apart, an idyllic, bucolic, museum-filled oasis . I have not tried to go there at night, but I suspect that, in addition to dangerous, the park closes at night (like most American parks, something that doesn’t happen for public spaces in Europe). There are no night activities encouraged in Balboa, except for going to eat at The Prado restaurant, which stops serving food around ten. This could also says something about San Diego early bird ethic, and limited vision when it comes to cultural events. Balboa Park could be made an integral part of Downtown by better, more frequent transportation and by its transformation into a cultural hub, with stores and museums open at night. There are already good news: the main plaza of the park, originally designed as a public space and made in recent decades into an ugly valet parking lot is to be restored to its original use (!!). San Diego will finally have a true piazza (hopefully with seating opportunities) and I for one plan to go there sketching as often as possible.

The lack of piazzas or urban public spaces is not of course a San Diego phenomenon, or a Southern Californian one, but a North-American one. Why criminalize the act of spontaneous gathering, why call it ‘loitering’? We do not have this word in the Italian language, not with the negative connotation. What else but healthy loitering and thinking is done in piazzas in Italy? We can speculate, get political, be conspiracy theorists. We could talk about the privatization of public space. We could wax poetic about missing piazzas and the public consciousness of European cities.

Or we could-maybe- all agree on the beauty of (un)built poetry.

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