On architecture and architects

What a schlep. Today was the School of Architecture BBQ, held at the department head’s studio in Polish Hill. Daisy-chaining the buses perfectly from Squirrel Hill should have taken an hour, but after getting off at the wrong stop, walking the wrong direction and waiting for a bus that doesn’t run on Sundays…well, let’s put it this way: Sometimes my iPhone feels more expensive than it was worth – and other days, like today, it saves you from being stranded in the middle of nowhere for hours on end.

Anyhow. It was worth the trip – good food, interesting company, and a long lecture on the nuances of how their old studio was transformed into a swanky, energy-efficient studio suitable for even the most hipsterly of architects. I’m sure it was made sense to the vast majority of students who were actually in the Architecture school to study *architecture*- but alas, it went completely over my head. :/

But seriously, sometimes I think I’ll never understand architects. I used to joke with my friends in the field that architecture firms always had the most poorly designed websites – and that their gratuitous overuse of Flash implied not just a casual misunderstanding, but rather an active disdain for their intended audience. The sort of utter contempt for human life that might, say, cause someone to design a very steep, very *hip* staircase entirely out of glass in the middle of a city known for its slushy winters. Oh, that’s right Apple Store Boylston. I went there.

Fast forward to now – as I’ve gotten more into design for public settings, I’m realizing that yes, there is actually something to this practice of architecture (and its red-headed step child, urban studies, which is really growing on me as a field.) But actually becoming *part of* an Architecture school has been a bit strange and surreal.

Fortunately, this is a feeling I’m slowly getting used to. I seem to terminally be the odd one out – first as the resident designer-type in my computer science classes learning HCI, then as the resident hacker-type in Federico’s design lab learning interaction design. I flatter myself by thinking that maybe I’m actually some sort of trend-setter: after all, since I’ve left MIT, the computer science department seems to be attracting a lot more undergraduate designer types – and Federico has hired some fantastic hacker types full-time to bring his team’s creations to life. It’s a much “cooler” thought than the possibility that I’m just a dorky kid who simply wants to be friends with everyone. Hey, I’m trying to be hip – maybe I’ll understand architecture yet! :P

Ok, ok, I won’t end on such a cheap shot. I’ll end by recommending a few general-purpose books in urban studies I’ve been reading recently, and that I’d recommend to anyone interested in understanding how cities really work. It’s getting late – if I get time tomorrow, I’ll add more about each of these books, but for now, Amazon reviews will have to do.
“The Death and Life of Great American Cities” – by Jane Jacobs (The version I have is paperback, but I couldn’t find that on Amazon.)
“A Pattern Language” – by Christopher Alexander (Expensive – I had to get this first from MIT’s Architecture library before finally coming across one at a used bookstore.)
“The Works: Anatomy of a City” – by Kate Ascher (Again, mine is paperback – but Amazon’s hardcover price is so cheap, go for it!)

Just, tap me politely on the shoulder if you catch me wearing all black (unless a roof or a tunnel is involved.)

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