Monday, September 3, 2007

Locking horns with a professor (but in good way)

This happened last week, but it just now occurred to me to post it. (something someone said about it being okay if I posted positive happenings on my blog too...)

Our first design assignment (before the fingerprint one I'm working on now) was apparently a struggle for most of the students.

The professor at the end of class told us to take a 20x20" piece of bristol board and make a composition of what "design" is. He then informed us that neither he nor any of the TAs would answer any questions about the assignment and chased us out the class.

It was clear from overheard conversation that the other students had no clue what to do, but I had already planned out what I wanted to do.

Rather then attempt to demonstrate my (at this point) poor illustration skills I wanted to share examples of design. Since the professor didn't specify good design, or even human design I figured I had a lot of options. So I gathered up photos of things like ferns, the eiffel tower, spider webs, pyramids at giza, the Anchorage Performing Arts Center (my example of BAD design), mokume gane, the Golden mean (Heidi's idea and a great one) and many others. I then stuck a picture of sunflower in the middle and had the rest of them spiraling outward in pattern reminiscent of the of the middle of a sunflower.

Next class came and we all pinned ours up on the walls. Mine was one of two that was photographs, the rest were hand drawn (some good... some awful.)

We then circled the room looking at each others, when after about 5 minutes the prof came to mine, ripped it off the wall and went striding to the chalkboard where he pinned it up.

"Who's is this?" he exclaimed angerily.
I raised my hand.
"Can you identify all of these photographs on the board"
"All except two, I don't remember who designed the log cabin and I'm not positive if the Basillica was St. John's in Prague or if I'm getting it mixed up with another."

Then the grilling began..

"What's this... and this... and this... and this..." as he ran me through every photo on the board.
Finally the last one he pointed too I answered "Seattle Public Library designed by Joshua Prince-Ramus."
"Wrong!" shouted one of the TAs.
"The library was designed by Koohaas." said the prof grimly.
"I believe that you will find that Joshua Prince-Ramus was the principle architect on the project before he left Koolhaas NY to start his own firm."
"Are you certain? Willing to bet a passing grade on this assignment on it?"
"I am." (This happens to to be only one of the three pictures I was 100% certain on."
"Very well, if you are right you get a passing grade, and the loser buys coffee."

He then addressed the class... "What I was trying to demonstrate, is that if you include a picture of another person's work on your assignment you damn well better know who made it, and why it's important. Which Mr. Nelson will now tell us something important about the Seattle Public library."

Fortunately for me, about a week ago I re-watched Joshua Ramus TED talk on the design of the library so I was able to talk about hyper-rationalism design and the continuous spiral stacks and other cool features of the library.

The professor brought me coffee the next class.

(The two other pictures I knew a lot about was James Binnion's Mokume-gane teapot and Nadir Khalili's fired clay dome at the cal-earth institute.)


  1. I wondered how your solution to the assignment would be received, now we know. Think that prof knows your name now?

  2. I suspect he knew my name before that. He called me by name when I was to tell the class about the library.

    Also the first day when we all introduced ourselves to the class I sorta stood out.

    1) I was the last person to go (luck of the draw.)
    2) I am 8-10 years older then everyone else in class and the only one with facial hair.
    3) Everyone else gave reasons to become and architect that fell into two categories "I'm good at math and art so my counselor said..." or "I took a drafting class and my counselor said..."

    When it came my turn my response was "For the last decade my life has been about helping people. I want to be an architect to solve problems and to help build permanent solutions that help people."

    4) All black. Every day. It does make me stand out from the rest of the students in their wife-beaters, baseball caps, and khakis.

  3. This sounds awesome! Any chance you could post a picture of the whole thing?

  4. Huzzah my dear! You usually don't go diving head first into anything without knowing exactly what you're doing. Mostly...:-)