26 February 2008

For all those visual learners out there....

Say what you want about the New York Times, but you can't deny they have a mighty fantastic infographic department. Sure, the infographics at The Onion are funnier, but the NYTimes graphics are mesmerizing.....I can stare at them forever, and they are often eye-openers.

Like this one, actually. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at this and realize, "wow, we could actually do a lot of things for our country if we weren't mired in an intractable war half a world away." Hmmmm.

24 February 2008

The cultural significance of my new hoodie

My friend Lisa works at American Apparel, and this is great for me for two reasons: 1) she is a walking database of AA information and can tell me what to get when I inquire, and 2) she can get me everything I want for half off. Despite the fact that they don't (currently) carry wardrobe staples like jeans, I do like shopping there because they carry every style they have in nearly every color imaginable, and all of these pieces are made sweatshop-free, in downtown Los Angeles. And who doesn't support that?

My last Lisa-sponsored visit to AA was a necessity; it was a typically breezy day in Santa Monica and the sun was descending over the horizon, and with it went the temperature. Basically, I was freezing and needed something to wear. And like a beacon of glaring fluorescent light, there was American Apparel waiting for us. Lisa gave me the 30-second breakdown of my numerous AA-hoodie choices, and we decided that this unisex salt-and-pepper Flex Fleece version looked good.

No, this isn't me - this is an American Apparel model showing off my new Flex Fleece Hoodie - image courtesy of AmericanApparel.net

This is slightly difficult to explain but I'm going to try anyway....with the purchase of this hoodie, I feel like I have embraced Los Angeles culture a little more. It's not only that I bought from American Apparel, which I have done before, but I remembered that it was made in Downtown LA, my own neighborhood, and that made me feel good. And then I heard that Lindsay Lohan passed out drunk in this hoodie in a car and got her picture taken in it...and after a healthy chuckle at that fact, I thought that I might actually have something in common with my celebrity neighbors (not the "passed out drunk in a car" part, though). Lastly, I ran into a guy at a restaurant who was wearing my same hoodie, and it was a conversation starter....in a society where we find ourselves increasingly isolated by advances in technology, I appreciate anything which encourages direct human interaction.

So, I'm probably going to name the hoodie now. I am a big fan of naming inanimate objects which exhibit personality characteristics, like my bike, Darcy. Any suggestions, post them here.

22 February 2008

Thanks, Craig.

Seen tonight in front of my apartment building in Downtown Los Angeles: a tribute to "Craig", aka Craig Newmark, the creator of craigslist.org, which is now the 9th most visited web site in the United States and the number one site for classifieds in the country. The poster encourages passers-by to write personal notes of thanks on it - I am considering crafting a cardboard arrow and attaching it in the direction of my building, since Craig helped me get this place, and I like it quite a bit. Until then, some photos:

19 February 2008

"Weird Shit"

I don't normally like to use profanity in my blog posts, as I find it unnecessary. I am, however, unable to write about this evening's conversation with Dean Qingyun Ma, Thom Mayne, and Sir Peter Cook at USC without quoting Peter himself when I try to describe it. Three different perspectives, three architectural visionaries from three different continents, and most of what they talked about was, as Peter said over and over again, "weird shit." I actually can't quite figure out what to say about it, so I'll try to give you a sample list of topics that were discussed, in the same "stream-of-consciousness" way that they discussed them:

-Introductions by Dean Ma. He starts the conversation off by implying that there is no formal structure to the evening's chat, just that they will talk loosely about a number of topics. This proves to be true shortly.

-After a brief jaunt down memory lane, Peter and Thom start to talk about utopia and fantasy. Peter mentions that fantasy is much better than utopia, because as soon as you create utopia, it's wrong, whereas fantasy can be whatever. This might have been the first mention of Peter's "weird shit" (which sounds funny when you or I say it, but it sounds downright charming with a British accent, I have to say).

-Dean Ma asks a question about the future....or something. A collective "what the..." goes around the crowd. Peter and Thom are left speechless, briefly.

-Peter talks about the country versus the city. This is the first of many inferences, by both he and Thom, about how New York and Los Angeles are really the only interesting places in the States and there is basically nothing but country in between. Peter admits that he likes Los Angeles better, and likens it to London, whereas he doesn't care as much for New York or Paris because "you have to do things a certain way" in those cities.

-Peter talks about wankers in the government, and how you basically have to pick a wanker to run the government, because you have to have government. He says wankers a few more times; giggling ensues.

Peter discussing wankers

-Sometime during the middle of the talk, Peter almost buries the microphone in his lap. This created a lot of distracting noise so I missed part of the chat, however, I could guess what they were talking about - probably weird shit.

-Thom talks about his visit to USC last year, and about how (at that time) there seemed to be a question of whether or not to use computers. He scoffs at this and says there is no question anymore, we're way past that, and recognizes that the school knows this now too. He does admit that he misses the drawing, and then he reminisces about how much he loved to draw, and what a great experience it was to be up drawing at all hours of the night, listening to Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. He said it was even better when you were stoned.

Thom talking with his hands

-Peter, following the conversation about computers, starts talking about "biscuits." It takes us a few minutes to realize that Peter refers to 3D models as "biscuits." More talk of weird shit happens here as well, if I recall.

-Dean Ma starts taking camera phone pictures of the other two while they are talking. Meanwhile, Thom and Peter launch into an elaborate conversation on "honing", as in, honing a project or a design. Peter compliments Thom on his office's lobby, which he said was his favorite piece of architecture he's seen "in at least 2 years." He notes that it was very clearly created with a biscuit, and Thom says "that fucker took a year and half of honing!" And, says Thom, it would have taken another year and a half if they had not used the biscuit, er, computer.

Dean Ma and his camera phone

Finally, Dean Ma decides to end the conversation with two questions:
1) (Directed at Thom) "Why are you leaving Los Angeles?!?" Thom Mayne then explains that Morphosis is not "leaving" LA, but they are opening up an office in New York, and they already have an office in Paris. Thom says they've always kept LA as the base of operations, but Paris is quicker to get to from New York. Peter mentions that Thom's wife and son like New York better anyway.

2) (Directed at both) "What's the stupidest question you could ask in relation to architectural education?" Some of us look around as if to say, uh, I think you just asked it. However, Thom launches back into his riff about computers, and how they are indispensible to an architectural education.

After that, a few people in the audience asked questions, but I had to head out to class. If anyone else was there and has anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment. That is, if you can figure out what they talked about!

Epilogue, 20 Feb 2008: In response to many comments I have received regarding this post, I want to clarify that the whole event was less about trying to force an intellect down everyone's throats, and more about a personal conversation between these people who have had truly incredible experiences in the profession of architecture....it was very reflective in nature, and an added bonus was that it was highly amusing. I tried to capture the essence of the chat with the cheeky nature of my post....I hope I did it justice. I remain grateful that all of us were able to sit in on such an intimate conversation among three people who I regard very highly...

17 February 2008

Talking about homework instead of actually doing it.

It just occurred to me that I hadn't yet done a round-up of the four courses I am taking this semester in the USC School of Architecture, so I thought I might do that now...instead of actually doing work for them! Ah, what a great idea.

Urban Landscape Case Studies:
I'm pursuing a certificate in "Urbanism and the Built Environment", which is a fancy way of saying that I need to take 4 or 5 architecture classes. This is fine by me since talking about architecture is one of my most favorite and nerdilicious things to do. This class is especially interesting because it talks about actual urban and landscape design projects around the world and tries to put them in a theoretical context. So far most of my assignments have included readings about landscape design strategies and infrastructure which allow me to explore my inner urban designer. The only downside is this class is huge for a graduate-level course - something like 35 people - so it's sometimes difficult to have a meaningful conversation without being a little intimidated. I won't be talking about this class too much longer as it's only a half-semester course and the second half of the semester I will be in something called "Architecture in the Urban Landscape: Comparative Theories".

History of American Architecture and Urbanism: The title of this course is pretty self-explanatory - it explores American architecture from the days of the Indians to just around the time when Modernism showed up. So far the class has been a good review of architectural history classes I've had in the past, and is engaging without being too demanding. An example of what we're studying can (coincidentally) be found in this video segment, produced by one of the editors of Archinect.com on his architectural odyssey across the American West.

Advanced Topics in Environmental Controls: This could turn out to be the most useful class I'll ever take. Basically we are learning how to use a variety of computer simulation programs to design more energy efficient homes. We've already explored a couple of programs, one user-friendly (HEED) and one not terribly (Energy-10), and we'll use several more by the time the course is over. Inherent in this learning process is the discussion that we have every week about green design strategies and when best to apply them. It's good stuff, and I'm thinking that most designers could benefit from taking a class like this.

Architectural Photography: While the other three classes I'm in are required for my degree, this one is just plain fun. I've been taking pictures of buildings for literally half of my life but I've always wanted to know how to do it properly, and that's the point of this class. It's only two credit hours, but it's probably more work than that....I'm not complaining because it means that I am getting world class instruction for less money (I'm not even going to tell you how much one credit hour costs at USC - suffice it to say it's extraordinary). We have already begun our midterm project, which consists of a slide show of pictures that we take of one building that we select. I picked the Caltrans building by Morphosis, partially because it's just up the street from me, and partially because it's a good looking building, but mainly because it's my favorite building in LA. You might have figured that out by looking at my Flickr page....I've already taken quite a few pictures of it on my digital camera (below). We'll see how I do on old-fashioned film!

I suppose I should get back to homework now....meh.

14 February 2008

I love coffee.

I also love architecture, brunch, watching movies and talking about politics. It would seem more appropriate to profess your love to another of your species, rather than a beverage or a thing, on Valentine's Day, but unfortunately I am single, so that's the best I can do right now.

(Just to clarify, I am single, female, straight and looking. Thanks for playing!)

11 February 2008

Auntie Em's, and feeling good about eating bad

I'm not sure how this happened, but over the past few days and nights, I have eaten several meals that were, shall we say, "detrimental" to my overall caloric intake. I consider myself generally in tune with my dietary requirements, and while I haven't stopped eating the good foods (greens and fruit and nuts and such), I recently decided to add some bad ones into the mix. The #1 culprit this weekend was without a doubt bacon, which I am quite sure is the only reason I am not a vegetarian. The worst meal I've had recently must surely have been the submarine I ate for lunch today, which I got from a cafe on USC's campus. That'll teach me. The second worst was the Pantry Cafe omelette and hash browns I had at some wee hour of Saturday morning in downtown LA....it tasted OK at the time, but I now look back on the event in horror that I would A) eat such a thing, and B) pay tourist-fleecing prices for it. The best thing I had all weekend was - no joke - a chicken quesadilla from a taco truck near the corner of 9th and La Brea. Even now as I type about it, I want another one. I have no idea what was even on it, save for chicken and cheese, but it was probably the best quesadilla I've ever had.

The second best meal I had this weekend would have been the first had I not tasted the quesadilla from the taco truck of the gods. It was brunch at Auntie Em's Kitchen in Eagle Rock, a neighborhood north of downtown LA. I found out about Auntie Em's via the LAist, whose "Wake Up LA" series of posts has me anxious to get back into my normal brunch groove. First, the ratings:

Quality of food: 3.5
Quality of coffee: 3.5
Service: 4.0
Atmosphere: 4.5
Overall value: 4.0
Alcohol: I don't even think they had any, but I wasn't paying attention

I ordered the Honey Orange French Toast with a side of bacon (below), and for an appetizer I had a taste of the cupcakes that Auntie Em sells straight out of its front counter. The french toast honestly wasn't the best thing I've ever had, but the food rating is bumped up by the bacon, which was delish and probably about 1/2" thick; the cupcakes, which are as good if not better than the Sprinkles cupcakes in Beverly Hills that people wait 45 minutes for; and my friends' entrees, which all looked positively yummy.

The coffee was self-serve but tasty, and I drank it out of a chunky mug that briefly made me think I was in my own kitchen, except with actual cooking taking place. The service was fine, although I think our waitress may have been drunk, which did not impact our orders at all, though it was comical. The atmosphere was jovial, so much so that there was a LOT of hugging going on. Not just hugging good-bye either....there seemed to be people coming in from the street for the sole purpose of hugging someone in the restaurant. I wondered if I hugged a stranger, what might have happened.

For overall value, I have to give this place a 4. We drove far to get there and we waited a while to be seated, but it never felt like a chore, and the staff was entirely gracious the whole time. Plus those cupcakes....and that bacon....if anyone invents bacon cupcakes, I may never return to a life of healthy eating! Eh, maybe not, that sounds kind of gross.

To top it all off, I arrived home today to find a shipment of (Cincinnati favorite) Skyline Chili waiting at my front door. Guess my healthy eating routine will have to wait yet another day....

08 February 2008

Arup Shapes a Better World?

Four high-profile members of the international design and engineering firm Ove Arup and Partners gave a panel lecture at USC on Wednesday night. The theme of the evening was "Arup Shapes a Better World", which is also their company motto, and which is a reference to the sustainable development that Arup is encouraging around the world. In the first part of the discussion, the most well-known of the group, Cecil Balmond, presented some of the projects that they have had the pleasure of working on in the past several years. Among them was Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which amounts to a 500 meter long ribbon of concrete....

image courtesy of citycomforts.com

image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

....and the CCTV Tower by OMA in Beijing, which is a 700' tall cantilevered spectacle.

Both are engineering feats for sure, but as one audience member very insightfully asked, how do they resolve their daring engineering work for their "starchitect" clients with their mission of building a more sustainable future? The two do not often mesh, and one only needs to look at the picture of the CCTV tower above to know that this building was not designed with economy of material in mind. I believe Mr. Balmond's response to the question when asked was "good question."

I'd like to take a stab at answering it myself; I think it has to do with innovation. I think that, as an architect, I get excited when I see that buildings like the CCTV tower are possible, but I'd also like to know that this building could be sustainably built. I think it could be, and I think that companies like Arup are helping us to evolve to that point. I think that, like CCTV, there are these two arms of design, and they are working hard to meet in the middle: on the one side, there is innovative and revolutionary design, and on the other hand, there is environmentally sensitive design. We'll get to the point where they are connected and interchangeable, but we have a little ways to go. The good news is, although they used an unfathomable amount of steel in this project, steel is recycled and recyclable....and in 100 years or whenever they decide to take this behemoth down, they will certainly have plenty of steel to reuse!

04 February 2008

Thoughts on being a female and voting for President.

Super Tuesday 2008 is tomorrow, and it remains to be seen if it will truly be a decisive day in the race for President this year. Irregardless of who captures the Republican nomination (a race which I regard as peculiar at best...my humble opinion on that side is basically "anyone but Romney"), the Democratic side promises to be a real contest for the first time in perhaps a generation. And this year, remarkably, our choices are a white woman and an African American man. Any way you look at it, no matter who you are for, it's a stunning achievement for the country. To be a part of this moment in our nation's history has been somewhat emotional for me; when I realize that both of these people have not just a chance, but a good chance of being the next leader of the free world, when all of our previous leaders have been old white Christian men, I get a little choked up. Admittedly this has meant that I am getting choked up more and more as the big day approaches, and now it's almost here.

That said, my emotions are balanced whenever I meet someone who is surprised that I am supporting Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. I went to an Obama rally yesterday at UCLA, which was led by several women who I greatly respect and admire: Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, Barack's wife Michelle, and - a surprise to all of us there - Maria Shriver. I think Oprah put it best when she described conversations she had with women who accused her of "betraying" her gender. Oprah said, to paraphrase, "yes, I'm a woman. I'm a free woman, which means I get to decide who I want to support. It also means I get to change my mind." She said that last part to emphasize that women need not feel beholden to Hillary Clinton simply because we share X chromosomes.

Michelle Obama speaking in front of a poster of her husband at UCLA, Sunday, February 3, 2008

Do I think it's historic that Hillary Clinton is running for president, and does part of me feel obligated to support her because of that? Well, yes, of course. We share experiences because we share estrogen, and if her hormones are anything like mine (wretched things), then I REALLY have a lot of empathy for her life's path. However, I'd like to think that I am also a woman of intelligence and perspective, and when I put them next to each other, I feel that Barack Obama is the right person at the right time for this country. I'm not saying that because anyone told me to....clearly this is my own blog and I can say whatever I want. I'm saying it because I've evaluated both candidates carefully, and I've heard both speak about their goals and dreams for the nation. When I hear Hillary speak, I think of the past, and the trying times we went through with her husband at the helm. Even the fond memories I have of Bill Clinton as President are tempered by the qualms I have about their personal business deals and questionable donors. When I hear Barack Obama speak, I think of the future....and it occurs to me that although we've been through some really rough times in this decade, with Obama as president, we might actually be able to heal all of the bonds that we've shattered and make real progress on issues like global warming, which I care so much about. I said it before many months ago, and I'll say it again now: Obama inspires me.....and, if you'll notice the header of this blog, I'm all about inspiration.

I wonder a lot about high-profile women who endorsed Hillary Clinton, women like Maria Cantwell, and Debbie Stabenow, and Dianne Feinstein and others easily seen in this NY Times graphic. I wonder if they've put up a mental block towards Obama because they can't get past their fear that women's time to lead will pass if Hillary doesn't win. I, on the other hand, have no doubt that there will be many inspiring women capable of leading America, more in my lifetime even. And we must thank Hillary Clinton for making that realization possible, even if it's not her time. But now, on the eve of this Super Tuesday 2008, even with several months of campaigning left before the entire country casts its votes for the new President, we need to ask ourselves: can we look past everything that separates us to believe in the one person who might be able to unite us? I say, yes, we can.