31 January 2008

7 years and baking soda

I watched Ed Mazria's "Face It" Web cast yesterday, and at about an hour long, it was certainly a lot more modest than last year's 2010 Imperative Web cast, with a live audience and over 2 solid hours of speakers and information. For those of you who don't have time to watch it yourself, I will sum it up for you:

1. We only have 7 years to level out global greenhouse gas emissions before we pass the point of no return.
2. The best way that we can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the scale that is needed is to stop coal.
3. Architects and designers can be part of the solution by following the guidelines of Architecture 2030, which call for carbon neutral buildings by 2030.

This discussion was interspersed with some always-unsettling images of what coastal American cities will look like under 1 meter of water, and the following graph, which shows levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and corresponding average temperatures over the past 400,000 years. The extremely high spike on the right hand side shows the CO2 level we're at right now - 385 parts per million. This is the highest we've seen in recorded history!

image courtesy of architecture2030.org

After viewing the Web cast, I went back and had a stimulating discussion with the 2nd-year students in my program (who must surely think of me as "that 1st-year girl who comes to class when she doesn't have to"). During the course of this talk, I learned about another way that we can "cure" global warming: by turning the carbon dioxide into baking soda. And why not?!? We've been looking for unique and innovative ways to solve the problem of global warming and I think we may have found one. Granted, it would yield massive amounts of baking soda, but 4th graders everywhere would be more than happy to use it in their paper-mache volcanoes, and the rest of it would go towards odor-free kitty litter and other worthwhile projects. Then, in the second week, we would have another crisis: what do we do with all of this baking soda? Who knows, but at least it wouldn't be in the atmosphere, melting our arctic ice.....

28 January 2008

Face it! There is a solution to Global Warming.

....Well, maybe. That's what the people from Architecture 2030 want to tell us anyway, and they are doing so with one of their very effective Web casts this Wednesday, January 30.

As for the "maybe", I am a little uncomfortable with the notion that there is a "solution" to global warming. There are certainly ways of reducing it and mitigating it, but the fact remains that even with those measures, even if we completely turn our back on our greenhouse-gas emitting ways, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are still going to escalate to levels previously unseen in human history (in fact they already have).

But, I am still all for spreading the word and doing my part, which is why I'm helping to organize a showing of the Architecture 2030 "Face It" Web cast this Wednesday in the USC School of Architecture. It is especially important that we at USC participate in any initiatives to reduce global warming, not only because it is a critical learning exercise for all of our young designers, but also because USC is still one of the only schools in the country to have signed on to the 2010 Imperative. If you are in Southern California and you'd like to see what all the fuss is about, please stop by! Everyone is welcome and we'll have pizza too.

23 January 2008

And the transportation saga continues...

The outlook this week in Los Angeles has been abysmal at best. Just as I started to hit my stride, just as I was getting into the wacky roller coaster of my schedule for this semester, I started to get sick....and then it started to rain. And since all of this happened, the highlight of my week thus far has been purchasing a pair of red galoshes with a gift certificate (i.e., free) which made trudging around in the rain on Wednesday a little less unbearable.

Before the rain, and the bronchitis, hit, I visited a temporary outpost of the SmartCar dealers on Abbot Kinney in Venice. And you have to admit, these things are cute:

So, you can imagine what I was thinking as I went from bus to soggy, overcrowded bus this week...."oh if I only had that SmartCar". Last night I discovered that my regular bus route home from school changed, even though there was no notice of this anywhere. And of course I would have loved to bike this week, but even if I did have fenders on it, using it would have been impossible anyway since I barely had the energy to walk in the first place.

On top of all of this comes the news that ZipCar has bought out FlexCar in Southern California. As a FlexCar member, I was assured that the service would be just as good, and that the transition would be seamless between the two companies. Then I heard from another friend in West LA that they got a notice from ZipCar which stated the following: "In Southern California, we have decided to remove our vehicles from areas outside of the universities we serve (cars will remain at UCLA, USC, Pomona, UCSB, UCSD and UCI)." Apparently ZipCar didn't feel the need to send me this notice since I attend USC, but what they don't understand is that it makes the most sense for me to use the cars parked directly behind my building in DOWNTOWN LA. Which are now, in fact, gone.

So I'm back to being frustrated again. What it boils down to is the fact that Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the country, and there is not a truly viable public transportation system here. I hate it when people tell me, "well, you're in LA, you should just get a car". No, that's not the point. I live in one of the most culturally, socially, and economically diverse regions in the world, and the point is that the people in charge of it need to be better stewards of their city. Why is this so hard? What is it going to take to get some proactive leaders, and for the people here to realize that a fully operational public transportation system is in everyone's best, long-term interests? The writers may be on strike right now, and that's hurting us in ways we can't understand quite yet....but what I really want is for the highways to go on strike. Perhaps that would wake fellow Angelinos up from their foggy, fume-induced haze.

17 January 2008

"I'll take one bottle of Nihilism, please"

One of the reasons LA is so amazing is the sheer volume of stuff that you can find in this gigantic basin that constitutes Southern California. Case in point, we now have our own "time travel mart". Specifically, The Echo Park Time Travel Mart....observe:

all images courtesy of 344design.typepad.com

This is not just any convenience store, however. It's actually the retail componenet of a free literacy and writing center for kids that was started by author Dave Eggers called 826LA, and the heart of its programming is drop-in tutoring, which is available to kids ages 6 to 18. The story behind why it's a "time travel mart" and not simply a community center is quite clever:
As the story goes, the zoning of the first center at 826 Valencia Street in the Mission District required there to be some sort of retail space in the storefront. Instead of the predictable bookstore or art gallery, Eggers decided to open a pirate supply store; a superhero supply company in Brooklyn followed. He had some ideas for the new space -- a Viking emporium among them -- but "I've been overruled every time."
And what a great concept it is! Where else can you help out kids and purchase items from outside the space-time continuum? Here are some more photos from this unique place....

Barbarian Repellent

Dead Languages

Time-Freezy Hyper Slush Machine

"Ism" Wines

14 January 2008

My idea of a good time, Spring 2008 Edition

As the title of this post indicates, I have not lost my lust for sitting in a dark auditorium and looking at pretty pictures of buildings. Following is a healthy list of opportunities for you to join me, as well as a number of other notable events taking place in the USC School of Architecture this Spring Semester.

An Exhibit of Work from the Master of Architecture Program
Tuesday, January 22 through Friday, February 1
Lindhurst and Rosendin Galleries

Ira E. Yellin Lecture on Urbanism
JDS Architects, Copenhagen
2 Kilometers of Architecture
Wednesday, January 23, 6:00 PM

The Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth Lecture in Historic Preservation
Architectural Historian
Frank Lloyd Wright's Textile Block Experiment
Thursday, January 24, 6:00 PM

AC Martin Visiting Professor in Architectural Design
Principal, Gang Studios, Chicago
Recent Work and Thoughts on Work
Wednesday, January 30, 6:00 PM


An Exhibit of Work from the Study Abroad Program in Saintes, France
Monday, February 11 through Friday, February 15
Reception: Monday, February 11, 6:00 pm
Rosendin Gallery

Principal, StoSS, Boston
Performance Practices
Wednesday February 13, 6:00 PM

Provost's Distinguished Visitor
TEN-Arquitectos, New York City & Mexico City
Achievement of Innovative Solutions through Architectural Design Excellence
Wednesday, February 20, 6:00 PM
Seeley G. Mudd Auditorium (SGM 123)

USC School of Architecture Midterm Presentations and Reviews
Monday, February 25 through Friday, March 14, 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Verle Annis Gallery, Helen Lindhurst Architecture Gallery,
Watt Hall 1, Rosendin Atrium

Jon Adams Jerde, FAIA Visiting Design Professor in Architecture
Professor of Architecture, Royal Academy, London
Lecture date TBA

Principal, MAD, Beijing
MAD in China
Wednesday, April 2, 6:00 PM

Nancy M. & Edward D. Fox Urban Design Critic
Architect and Dean of the School of Architecture, Princeton University
Beyond Landscape Urbanism
Wednesday, April 16, 6:00 PM


USC School of Architecture Final Presentations and Reviews
Monday, April 28 through Wednesday, May 14, 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Verle Annis Gallery, Helen Lindhurst Architecture Gallery,
Watt Hall 1, Rosendin Atrium

Honoring the USC School of Architecture Class of 2008
Friday, May 16 at 10:30 AM
Ceremony- South end of Trousdale Parkway,
Reception to follow at Watt Hall Courtyard

An Exhibition of the Work from the Class of 2008
Friday, May 16 through Friday, May 23
Verle Annis Gallery, Helen Lindhurst Architecture Gallery

13 January 2008

Flip flops in January

This is ridiculous. I visited LA at this time last year when I was trying to decide where to go to grad school, and it was cold when I was here. It was as if the falling mercury had followed me to the West coast, and while it was chilly, the record lows seemed normal to my Ohio-River-Valley blood at the time. This weekend was more normal by Los Angeles standards....the temperature hovered around 70, and I actually woke up this morning flailing about in my room, which hit 80 degrees according to our thermostat. And so I ventured out in flip flops, in January, for the first time in my life, as far as I can remember. From what I've heard, I wasn't alone - the Midwest and the East coast experienced record warmth in the past week. So it appears that global warming is keeping us on our toes....what will we have next year? Torrential floods? Fire and brimstone? Raining frogs? No, it's not the plot of a Paul Thomas Anderson film, it's just another day in Southern California.

Speaking of distorted reality, I think I've found New York City, and it's only 2 blocks north of me. That is, New York City in movies, as far as you are concerned. The massive film shoot below had a 3-block radius tied up with heavy traffic the whole weekend, and it involved what looked like a hundred extras, a cherry picker, a large stadium-style spotlight, and, later on in the day, a bevy of fire trucks. If I had to bet, I would suggest keeping your eye out for this scene in any potential "such-and-such destroys New York" movie in the future. But that's just me, speculating...what do I know? I'm just a grad student....

4th and Spring, abuzz with retired cops and walkie-talkies

11 January 2008


OK, I suppose it's time that I made a small confession: I have a thing for really smart guys. I remember when I was in junior high, buying magazines with names like Tiger Beat and cutting out pictures of cute boys from TV and movies to add to my collection. This habit dwindled in high school (eventually...) and by the time I entered college, it occurred to me that I didn't give a young man a second thought if I didn't appreciate his fully developed cranium. And then the magazines turned into monographs, and I didn't cut out pictures of boys anymore, I cut out pictures of buildings....OK, not really, but isn't it funny to think about pasting an architecture collage all over your Mead 5-Star binder?

The first time I heard Thom Mayne speak was probably in 2001 at the University of Cincinnati, during one of our regular lecture series in the School of Architecture. I can't remember the exact year, it's been so long, but I remember walking away thinking to myself, "now HERE'S a guy who knows what he's doing!!!" Mayne is the principal of Morphosis, an architecture and design firm in Santa Monica, California, and he is often referred to as the "maverick" of the architecture community. He went on to win the Pritzker Prize in 2005, which is architecture's highest honor and a decidedly un-maverick award to receive. He and his firm are responsible for the designs of the Science Center School in Los Angeles, the new University of Cincinnati Rec Center, and the Caltrans building in downtown LA....if you are keeping score at home, his buildings constitute nearly half of the pictures tagged with the word "architecture" in my Flickr set.

So it should come as no surprise to you at this point that I have a bit of an intellectual crush on Thom Mayne. On the off chance that Thom might ever read this blog (unlikely but you never know), I would like to clarify this statement by saying; Thom, I'm not stalking you. I'm not creepy - I'm actually quite normal. I just really respect your ideas and your design approach, and I find your buildings exceedingly photogenic. So, well done there.

Last night I got the chance to see Thom Mayne and the Dean of my current school, Qingyun Ma, in a chat sponsored by a local organization called Zócalo Los Angeles. The talk was entitled "Do Cities Have Expiration Dates?", and both Mayne and Dean Ma, who has a thriving practice of his own in China, had a lot to say on the issue. The conversation was jovial, at times even comical, as the two weaved in and out of comparisons between Los Angeles and other cities, including those megacities in China which are on the verge of exploding in population. And as usual, Mayne made a lot of comments that I found myself unconsciously nodding to, like the following: "You don't like or dislike Los Angeles.....You have to be neutral towards it, because LA just is."

The conversation then went onto discuss the actual lifespan of cities, in relation to the lifespan of humans, the human lifecycle, and geologic time frames. Dean Ma brought a lot of insight to the table, and Mayne left us with a kick in the pants when he openly derided the American predisposition towards faux-historical housing. He finally wondered aloud how we are to succeed with more progressive design in this country when people are so willing to pay for a "copy of a bad fake", as he called it. (Brilliant!, I thought. This is part of the reasoning behind my thesis, which I will share with you eventually.)

In conclusion, the discussion last night was awesome...a real intellectual high, and the epitome of why I so love the profession of architecture. I will post a link to the audio as soon as Zócalo does, but in the meantime, have a look at this picture that I snapped at the beginning, before I figured out that I wasn't supposed to take pictures. And, I know what you're thinking....and the answer is no, I'm not cutting it out and putting it on my binder.....

07 January 2008

New Ideas for a New Year

I am very optimistic about 2008. I think in 2006, the country realized a lot about itself, and in 2007, we started to get organized. In 2008, I'd like to think we're going to get a lot accomplished, and I know I'd certainly like to achieve some personal goals of my own.

In order to get things done this year, we need to be willing to embrace new ideas and concepts. A lot has been said about change recently (especially in the last Democratic debate), and I think it's time to let change inspire us. Here are some products and events that I've seen in the first week of 2008 that I hope set the tone for the year.

The 2008 Consumer Electronics Show is going on in Las Vegas this week, and while there are plenty of items worth mentioning (including a 150" TV!!), this new phone by Nokia caught my eye. Called the 3110 Evolve, it's Nokia's more sustainable mobile phone option; its handset is "made from 50 percent renewable bio-materials and its charger uses 95 percent less power than required by Energy Star standards."

image courtesy of CNet

This isn't just a giant paperclip (which, let's admit, would be cool on its own); it's a lamp, too! The Paperclip Lamp also bends like a real paperclip for flexible use....there isn't much more info on this product at the moment but let's hope we see it at our local "cool design" store soon.

images courtesy of Linkinn

So I walked into work last week and was greeted with this adorable creature barking like a dog on the floor 5' away from me. No, Jurassic Park had not come to USC's campus; it's the new Pleo by Ugobe, and it's a robotic toy dinosaur with sensors all over it that allow you to interact with it, in much the same way you would treat a pet. Talk to Pleo and she responds with coos that one might assume a tiny dinosaur makes....stroke Pleo like a cat and she blinks and wiggles her head happily. If you are standing a few feet from Pleo and she wants to know what you "smell" like, she may come over and "sniff" your shoe. No word yet on whether she is trainable, although the good news is, of course, she won't make a mess in your house.


Never underestimate the capability of architecture students with power tools. Seen in the USC School of Architecture this week: this massive tunnel-like structure, fabricated with wood, metal and plastics. You might want to keep small fry away from this giant play-tube though, since I see some sharp edges...


Last but not least, we had the first step in this year's Presidential Race with the Iowa caucuses last week. The caucus format is unique to the country, but Iowans themselves are unconventional people, and probably more politically aware than your average American because of their position on the primary calendar. Iowans proved just how unconventional they are when they selected Barack Obama for the Democrats and Mike Huckabee for the Republicans, two candidates who were considered marginal just a few short months ago. These caucuses surprised many pundits and media types who thought the race was over before it started, but not many average voters. Many are left scratching their heads as to why a predominately white state might chose an African-American candidate to lead the Democrats, and I would say it amounts to one word: HOPE. As to why the Republicans chose Huckabee, I think the answer is clear....he's standing behind Mike Huckabee in the picture below. (I mean, everyone knows what will happen if you vote against Chuck Norris...)

image courtesy of the LA Times