Sunday, August 15, 2010

Onward to New Horizons: London, Zurich, and Cybernetics

Dear Reader,

It’s a beautiful day here in London! I just finished mass, lunch, and now I’m sitting here in my flat with the French bay window open; a slight breeze from Finchley Road is flowing through, stirring the curtains. London is buzzing, sirens and babies crying, women clicking the pavement with their Sunday afternoon heels and sundresses. My computer, in some cosmic way, is playing the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. A steaming cuppa sits to my right. Clouds of milk still stir in the amber liquid…..I take a sip. =)

It’s been over a month since I’ve last posted hasn’t it? I guess to begin, much has been going on, and to be honest it’s been quite overwhelming! I first went to Zurich, Switzerland in July for an interview with Gunther Vogt Landscape Architecture. I got the position, however they were looking for an intern that could stay for up to 6 months. Unfortunately, I only needed an internship for the summer, so I had to kindly decline. The good news is I have the option of working in Switzerland if I had the right visa! What an exciting thing- to work in Zurich, the birthplace of Dadaism! So why Switzerland? Gunther Vogt gave a lecture at ECA a few months earlier, and his perspective on design and life absolutely clicked with mine. It dwelled on minimalism for one, however it wasn’t an uncomfortable type of minimalism. Rather, he emphasized spirituality and clarity- reducing clutter in the mind and heart of landscape architecture to create modest, honest, open spaces….holy spaces it felt….like the Swiss Embassy landscape in Berlin, near the Reischstag. The goal of the German government, I suppose in essence, was to focus on redemption and openness. This became real in the architecture (Foster’s Reischstag), the Sony Centre at Potzdamer Platz, and Vogt’s parliament landscape.

I guess another reason why I was so attracted to Switzerland was it’s graphic design- it’s movements in Deconstructivism in Dadaism- the emotional responses to the World Wars made real in their advertisements and package designs. To bring it into modern times, think about the graphics for the band Franz Ferdinand, and to some extent Modest Mouse. That will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I understand as a designer, it’s probably best to not re-create a style that was appropriate for the epoch it developed, but maybe it’s a starting point? For some reason it is taking me forever to grasp this style, and I’ve tried many ways to study it, maybe even duplicate it to enhance my own personal style of graphic representation. Maybe I’m struggling because I was not raised in the geography of the land it germinated. I grew up in Los Angeles, in a Filipino family, and my visual vocabulary consists mostly of swirls of light, heat, swimming pools, sunsets, movement, and dust.

After my trip to Zurich, and spending a considerable amount of time with my beloved Auntie Nena over there, I’ve decided to put it in my back-pocket and move on. I’m not sad, just curious to know if that will be a direction my life would go. For now, I have London to face.

Now, I’m in London because I’m interning for Raoul Bunschoten at Chora Architecture and Urbanism in Camden/Kentish Town. This direction is incredible as well, and probably loaded with more purpose, because my goal is to do more research on the Thames Gateway which will be the focus of my Major Design Project at ECA. There will be a considerable amount of focus on the regeneration of the Thames, especially in East London, close to the location of the 2012 Olympics. Also, since this will be my last year in the UK, I’m hoping to make it a good one (that is unless I can either stay a year longer for an art degree or working visa….more on that later…). One of my schoolmates, Liva, helped me get the position, and I’m eternally grateful. I’ve also met so many wonderful characters here- Helene Binet, Raoul’s wife, is one of the most talented architectural photographers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. She’s always having volunteers and interns walking in and out of her office (upstairs from the Chora office); and the interesting thing is some aren’t even photographers. Some are junior high school students, interested in art and/or photography. Some are architecture undergrads, friends of the family, or relatives, all pitching in to help her develop film, organize stock, and archive files. Quite simple work actually, but it makes me wonder if I could lend her a hand as well…..hmmmm….

Now, I’ve been working for Raoul for roughly 3 weeks. His method of thinking and design is completely different from what I’m accustomed to. He developed his thesis, from my understanding, through the work of Gordon Pask on cybernetics. I really can’t tell you what cybernetics is about because I’ve just recently begun to understand it (quite literally 3 days ago). However, if I were to give it my best, at least for Raoul’s thesis, it does happen to touch on the idea that creation, urbanism, and all that is material is static, unorganized, and constantly in flux. Design, whether it’s a building, a landscape, or a city, must accommodate this by providing a flexible structure, a place for growth, on the micro and macro levels, and definitely in the scale of the human being….

In another angle, by which I’ve begun to understand his thesis, Raoul emphasizes on the need to help the actors or stakeholders in an urban environment of study (he calls them “Sectors”, or if given a smaller/specific site, a “Prototype”), more aware of self-sustainability, and the power they have to make a positive change in the environment. It also touches on economics and “non-structural” systems, such as the unfolding of time, that would bring about change and the development of an existing urban environment; the key actors or stakeholders in these environments would be the participants in its design; therefore the architect is not designing the city, but rather its participants. For example, Greenwich Village in New York was first designed as a small/medium-scaled, residential, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood before the invention of the auto-mobile. The people who lived there were middle-working class New Englanders. They maintained an “average” lifestyle, and the neighborhood during its time, was very much “average”. As the rest of New York developed into a modern metropolis, Greenwich Village has maintained its physical character, or rather resisted the changes brought by the unfolding of time, by the dynamics between key actors such as the war between Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, and the City of New York. Greenwich Village resisted physical/urban fabric changes as time unfolded, and but the people who live there now, the user-group of its “new” design, and presented by Jane Jacob’s influence, are grassroots activists, artists, environmentalists, and the city’s elite. It’s a jewel in the City of New York, because very few small-scaled neighborhoods exist within Manhattan.

With this case-study in mind, Raoul is creating an awareness, designing (“teaching” as a way to put it), the minds of students, stake-holders, architects, and other actors in emerging environments (aka: “Sectors”, like “Sector T”- for the Thames, the environment I’m doing research on), about the ways of sustainability, renewable energy, and so forth. Jane Jacobs knew Greenwich Village needed to be preserved, not only because she lived there, but also because of its people and it’s potential to become a beacon of sustainable growth in a city that was losing its history. This is what I’m doing for Raoul as I continue to study the Thames Gateway.

If you were to read any of his books, dear Reader, you would be quite confused. The language, or perhaps jargon used in his thesis uses metaphors, prose, or even iconography to describe an idea because, given the constant flux of urbanism, a taxonomic name would be too specific, and perhaps inaccurate. For example, how do we label a person, or a cause, or the existence of an object, if it’s constantly changing, or the perception of it is different from one person or being, to the next? I’m quite certain Jane Jacobs didn’t know she was helping with the design outcome of Greenwich, nor Robert Moses….However, I’m quite certain they had feelings involved as they participated in saving or changing New York. How would you place a label on a feeling? More so, how would you label Jane Jacobs? She wasn’t an architect, she didn’t have a college degree; she was a journalist, and maybe a shaper, but she wasn’t creating the Greenwich Village we see today….it already existed. Its perception has merely changed, and it’s method was the unfolding of time, through the hand of key actors or agents, a non-structural method of design...somehow Time choreographed it into a Metacity…..

This way of thinking has given me more direction, because quite often I would think or create a design that can’t be given a label; and quite often I would feel disappointed in myself for not knowing what to name it….For example, I designed a garden for a veterinary hospital in Edinburgh…but it’s name- a “Healing Garden”- didn’t seem quite right, and if I called it a “Space for Change”, or a “Space in Flux”, people would not understand it. In a way, branding it would be false, because there are so many ways to use the so-called “Garden” that I designed; and locking it with a label would restrict it to a specific use. At the end of the project timeline, I called it a “Healing Garden” because that was the best way for me to “sell” it to our Client. It was a bit frustrating, but maybe at the end of the day, I just had to settle.

Raoul’s way of thinking makes me feel happy- that it’s ok to leave things out in the open, to develop in its own. If you set a stage for the actors and players to do their own thing, you are doing enough as an architect or a designer; and most often you know you’re doing this out of love, at least to your best ability. For the larger picture, however, I’m still struggling on creating a method to communicate this concept in a simple and concrete format. I definitely could not teach it in a few sentences.....Yet, Raoul was able to win the hearts of Ken Yeang, Zaha Hadid, Eeclo Hooftman, and REM Koolhaas. Maybe it’s because they think like him…maybe it’s because they’ve known him for a long time, and therefore had the time to develop a history of communication among themselves. It’s incredible…..

All things considered, Raoul currently teaches in Dusseldorf, and also is a professor here for the London Metropolitan University. He’s also worked with the Architectural Association and the Bartlett (I think), so there’s loads of research done on his part. He’s also written quite a number of books including his thesis book: “Urban Flotsam”. I have the prototype book here, sitting so comfortably on my desk, with post-it notes all over it. =)

So here we are again, returning from the depths of cybernetics, London, and Swiss Dadaism. “Dust in the Wind” has transformed into “Heaven” by Lamb. The window is closed, my tea is cold, and I just inhaled the last gulp. I’m going to make more though, and accompany it with a few biscuits, because it’s 4pm; and as we all know, in Britain 4pm is officially Tea Time! I hope you enjoyed this read- I definitely did. It brought light to so many issues that have been floating around in my head; and I think I will enjoy my cuppa knowing I could return to work tomorrow with more peace of mind. I’ll keep you posted of more changes. Until then, enjoy the rest of your summer! =)

Love in the Clouds,
Lesley Ann

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 is not constant

Dear Reader,

I feel my life will change dramatically this year. It's difficult to describe, but I've already taken action is so many areas- pursuit of my landscape architecture degree, a recent visit to Zurich, Switzerland for an interview in Gunther Vogt's office, and now I will be spending most of my summer researching on climate change, improving my graphic skills, and locating a project site for next term. I've yet to find one and really can't decide between north-eastern Europe and Asia. This year is going to be exhausting and challenging! Also, I've been itching to improve in other hobbies- singing (yes I know, but really I've always wanted to try hahaha), learning how to play the guitar (again), and modeling. I'm not particularly gifted in any of these. I just find that they balance my life so well when I spend time on them. Thankfully though, I wouldn't find enjoyment in these hobbies without my purpose for being in the UK- to get my second degree in Landscape Architecture, to one day teach, and become a stronger, more active professional. To reflect on all these developments so far, I've experienced a new understanding of the words "Change", "Consistency", and "Identity".

Speaking of being more professional, I have a new addition to my summer reading list- The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action by Donald A. Schon. I was reminded to borrow this from the ECA library when I was re-reading the comments my studio professor wrote when she finished grading my performance. She noted that I should try to relax and observe the world around breathe, meditate, and not work so hard all the time....and by doing so, naturally this new input will make an impression on my ability to improve my designs. Landscape is very different from architecture. Yet, I find this advice would have been helpful when I was at USC. Maybe my designs wouldn't have looked so Brutalistic. In the end of my first year, I didn't have the grade I had expected, despite all my hard work. It was quite lower. I would have argued against it, but something in my gut told me to suspend my actions and LISTEN. I'm ok at understanding what people tell me, but I have a difficult time heeding advice. If it doesn't suit me, or function with my plans, it's quite difficult to swallow. I know this happens to the best of us; I guess it's been a while since I've had such precise (in some areas), and (in others) strangely vague, constructive criticism....

After a few hours of reading The Reflective Practitioner, I've realized that I don't want to return it after my three-day loan period. I'll have to buy a copy. Thinking about my professor's comments, I felt sheepish of my initial reaction to be defensive (and at times offensive). I'm glad I didn't do anything about it. This book fully explains the ambiguities of her writing. I think I have, indeed, been unaware of the tremendous responsibility I have as a new professional and future instructor to take time out of my "industrious" and "hard-working" vacuum, away from honing my graphic and technical skills which will soon become obsolete anyway, so I could rightfully spend my time building up my foundations. Learning how to learn, how to think, how to observe the "now". What's going on in the world today? What are its problems? What advances have been made in fields beside my own that are currently affecting global issues? How do I respond to it? What role do I play?? What messes are out there that I play a part in managing? We are not disconnected and the world is not constant. I'm no longer considered a professional if I'm not up to date with an understanding of my field. Again, I felt naive to put more time in "seductive" graphics.

As a final thought, I truly feel my interests in design are slowly shifting. They still respond to issues of global warming and hands-on practice/technique; However, I've come to experience that after reading a few articles listed in my previous post and today's book, that learning Rhino and another tool in AutoCAD or Sketchup is less significant than understanding how, when, and why I do what I do. How do we accept that global warming is all part of a cycle? What sort of research and practice can be done to adapt to these changes? When will research catch up with technology, and when will the construction industry catch up? Why am I getting a post-graduate degree? For me, it's important to do my best not lead the client, the construction team, all the consultants, and even my contemporaries down well-worn paths when I know the world never truly stays still. However, with all things considered, I could never call myself a professional.

What is the "Fittest"?
Lesley Ann

Monday, May 31, 2010

Pursuit for a Productive Summer

Dear Reader,

Last Saturday marked my first day of research for my Major Design Project for next term at ECA. I went to the University Library (originally in search for a Rhino tutorial, but found out the Artificial Intelligence Library- where the book was kept- burned down 4 years ago) and borrowed a new book on Climate Change instead. Maybe this will encourage my understanding of the chain effects global warming has on human and non-human systems. It HAS to be part of a simple cycle, exacerbated by the carbon pollutants we've emitted into the biosphere.

My topic: something along the lines of self-sustaining cities (i.e. Cuba and the Bed Zed Eco-Village in London). In theory, if most carbon emitted into the biosphere is caused by the burning of resource material, then it's quite possible the construction and maintenance of cities are a leading cause....from the stripping of minerals, to even recycling...That said, I feel considerable amount of research needs to be done on my part to understand energy, food, and design efficiency to find ways to become a more responsible designer. Based on this new knowledge, I'll be better equipped to choose a site, a design concept, and enter it into a design competition. My goal this summer is to read up on Climate Change, eco-design, any other relevant topics, and do some traveling in search of an appropriate site. Target areas of interest remain: local food and energy production, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, re-use and recycling programs, micro and macro economics (that'll be a challenge hahah!), and transportation. Even a greater challenge for me- talk to the locals ::gasp!!::

Here's my reading list so far:

1) Cohen, Stewart J., Waddell, Melissa W., "Climate Change in the 21st Century"
2) Bell, Bryan and Wakeford, Katie, "Expanding Architecture: Design As Activism"
3) Farr, Douglas, "Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature"
4) Hooftman, Eelco, "Design Against Nature"
5) Nisbett, Richard E., "The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think
Differently....and Why"
6) Smith, Peter F. "Architecture and the Human Dimension"
7) Yeang, Ken, "Eco-Design: A Manual for Ecological Design"
8) Yu, Konjian, "The Art of Survival: Positioning Landscape Architecture in the New Era"

I feel like I'm missing something, but I guess for research there's always something more to read (no?). That should be enough for now. I don't want to make my head explode. Perhaps, depending on the direction my research, I could use this project to develop a Fulbright Fellowship proposal for 2011-2012. I tried applying for the Fulbright in 2009, but it didn't work out because my course at ECA was for 2 years, and the scholarship was only awarded for 1-year courses (shucks). If all goes well, I might be able to work or study in another country for free for a year. Oh but then I'll have to take into account my plans for the NCARB and LEED.... Who knows then, but I'll do my best to sort things out. Thanks for reading, wish me luck!!

Riot In My Brain,
Lesley Ann

Friday, April 9, 2010

Trudy Miller's Eco-Chic Fashion Show; and a Testimonial on Trudy's line

To All Eco-Friendly People!

Come to Trudy Miller's Eco-Chic To Go Product Preview Event and Fashion Show!

My story with Trudy Miller Layers:

I became friends with Trudy in the late summer of 2007 when I took a short trip to New York for some interviews, hoping to find employment and eventually make it on my own. At that time, I was staying with two of my most gracious friends (bless you Jess and Elena!) in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, a lovely green neighborhood right outside of Manhattan. I happened upon her storefront which was just called "Layers" back then on Atlantic Avenue. I think, cosmically, the planets were aligned that day!

"'Layers'?....That sounds like trace paper....does this have something to do with architecture?", I thought as I let myself in. I was feeling particularly blue that day because I was anxious about my interviews, and just about the usual everything. I felt my whole life was shifting- away from love, to a new career, to a change of lifestyle. It was a shift from the laid-back culture of Los Angeles to the busy metropolis of New York. Could I take it?.... I would have to admit, it was brought back to reality when Trudy popped out from underneath the counter and the seemingly empty store became alive.

Trudy had such a comfortable presence about her. She gave me a quick tour around the store (before its current renovation), and we passed by collections of clothing and accessories from local artists which had their own little niches and glass boxes. To me, it was quite like being in a gallery! I was drawn to four shelves of colorful rolled fabric. It was Trudy's line, quite possibly before the invention of the Kimono Dragon. If I remember correctly, it was the gray Twist which I tried on first and wore as an off-the-shoulder blouse on a bias. Then it was a cream-colored piece (I apologize, for I've forgotten the name) which Trudy helped me convert next into a halter top, then a tube top with a bow, then something else totally weird but fun! It was so EASY to use! Trudy found it interesting that I was able to create such a variety of ways to wear her pieces, so I brought up the theory that it was due to my design background. I don't quite remember how the conversation went, but I do recall it was all over the place- from her architecture days at UC Berkeley, to design theory, philosophy, and why the world had yet to grasp sustainable, zero-waste clothing. I think our lively chatter lasted for several hours and ended with me quite happily investing in a gray Twist, a black Twist (originally for my sister, but then kept for myself ^_^), and the cream halter. Here's a link from my portfolio for a few looks I've created:

Funny, how times have changed. Looking at how well she's come along, I truly believe there's always been an audience out there for her; one that has the desire to think outside of the box and design their "Own" look by using her line as a medium of expression. I think we all can confirm we are different, though sometimes we are led to believe we need to look like someone else, dress like someone else. Us women, from one angle, can vary from being hourglass shaped, apple-shaped, pear-shaped, rectangular, etc.; and just to complicate things, our bodies change too. We gain weight, lose weight, grow taller, shorter, become pregnant. How on earth can we compete with the consistently beautiful people in magazines? The ones who never seem to change. I think what Trudy is trying to do is help her clients realize that with a shift here, a knot there, a tug, a pull, or a twist, there is a look suitable for that particular day and time.

"You can just be yourself", is what I think when I look in the mirror, "because I created this look on my own".

My life has changed so dramatically since my move to New York. Through Trudy, I met so many wonderful, creative, and inspirational people in the design and art world. In a very big way, her influence has helped me feel accepted in such a big city. It was fantastic fun to go to all her parties, pitch in at the store, volunteer as a model, and participate in one of her fashion shows! Then, last Autumn, I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to work towards my post-graduate degree in Landscape Architecture. Sustainability, more than anything, has become a core factor in my life. I find myself doing everything I can to stick to my student budget and reduce my carbon footprint. Lately I've been experimenting more and more with Trudy's pieces. To control the urge to buy new clothes just so I could look and feel different (not to mention reduce clutter in my already-small European closet), I try a new look. I think so far I've managed to come up with15 or more looks. When combined with some basics (i.e. black leggings, long-sleeve t-shirts, jeans, a blazer, black pumps), or another piece of hers, that number is tripled. Some of them are quite subtle, but can be emphasized by a few affordable accessories from a jumble sale which transform the look all together. Others are so dramatic that my friends hardly believe I could achieve so many looks with just one little black Kimono Dragon.

It's been three years since I bought my first piece from Trudy, and to this day all are in great condition and I continue to wear them creatively. They have been squished in my travel pack to Europe and the Philippines, pulled, twisted, and worn in all types of weather. Yet, after all this, they remain in my collection, nicely rolled up, occupying little space, waiting for the next adventure.

Now, with all that said, I do wish I could attend Trudy's fashion show, but I must remain dutiful and continue my studies here in Scotland. I envy all those who could go. If you do go to Trudy's event, you can be certain have a great time and meet some very interesting people from the design, fashion, or art industry! If you're an eco-minded individual, you'll might find elements of this event inspirational and could possibly fuel ideas for your own personal projects to save the world. All are there to spread the love. =)

So come on!!! Give it a go!

For Peace, don't take "No" for an answer,
Lesley Ann

Monday, April 5, 2010

Progress.....and an online portfolio!!

Hello All,

This will be my first post after over 6 months of having my Blogger membership! My apologies for the delay. I've pasted a link to my online portfolio below. In it, you'll find a few projects I've done when I was an undergrad architecture student at the University of Southern California; and a project I had just completed at the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland for the Masters of Landscape Architecture program. I also posted a few modeling images I did pro-bono for Trudy Miller: Layers (aka Clinch Design) in Brooklyn, NY. Some of the originals were washed out with white, so I've retouched them to bring out the texture in the fabric.

My goal is to have a more professional, custom-made portfolio done in Flash or Dreamweaver, and that'll be up as soon as I sort out all the coursework that needs to be done for ECA, and definitely after I learn Dreamweaver or Flash. Until that happens, this will serve as a temporary online portfolio. I hope you find it well.

Best Regards,
Lesley Ann