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...


alvin said...

thanks for the recap, good to see some interesting talks happening at my alma mater. if you get the chance, check out my blog - http://cspacepavilion.blogspot.com

fight on.


fleur de gris said...

sounds like they could have had this conversation in dean ma's office, or, better yet, at a nice restaurant over drinks.

nice of them to let you guys sit in, but it doesn't sound like it offered much from which you could learn...

fleur de gris said...

sounds like they could have had this conversation in dean ma's office, or, better yet, at a nice restaurant over drinks.

nice of them to let you guys sit in, but it doesn't sound like it offered much from which you could learn...

sevensixfive said...

That sounds like it was fun, I wish more lectures were like that.

k.v.n. said...

well i was ther too! and i appreciate emily's blog post, however it really just scratched the surface of the discussion. i would say that whoever wasnt there really missed out. thom and peter even got up to draw on the chalk board. ill see if i can put those pictures on my blog. but the talk of weird shit and the relaxed use of profanity felt more comfortable than uncomfortable. it reminds me that people like thom and peter are still humans even if they are starchitects.

peace kurt

emKem said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I do know that my post just scratched the surface, but the conversation was all over the map, so I guess I did some "creative editing". And honestly my attention drifted every time I found myself thinking "what the...."

Kurt, I did NOT see them get up to write on the chalkboard. That had to have happened in the last 5 minutes; I left for class after the 2nd question from the audience. What was this in response to?

k.v.n. said...

hey emkem, you are more right than i am. the questions MA threw out there were leaving everyone with the WTF look on their face. good creative editing!

Brady Westwater said...

Students should get more involved in running these events, setting the agendas and selecting the questions they would like to have answered. And besides these types of more intellectural discussions, it wouldn't hurt to have some frank talks about... the real world. For awhile, I hired a number of young, upcoming architects and was stunned at how totally unprepared they were to deal with a client, make a presentation - or even draw a simple floorplan or design a kitchen or a bathroom that actually worked. I ended up having to give them all Real World 101 tutorials before letting them in the same room with their potential clients.

Max Malein said...

Wow... interesting post, thanks.
Now i wonder if there are any pics of that Morphosis' lobby in the web ))