http://www.ExactingEditor.com/architectural-911.html

An Architecture of 9/11
by Chris Loyd, as mostly told to Frank Gregorsky

Two college students -- Chris and Jennifer -- are "commissioned" to create a new structure with references to the atrocity, and exemplify the resiliency and universality of humankind...


WHAT ARE WE GETTING INTO HERE?

Welcome to a step-by-step "almost daily" guide of how a project turns out. This project is timely, and a result of 9/11/2001. The teacher especially noticed a "change" in "how everything and everyone works and feels." Even if the teacher and the class don't know the Howe-Strauss theory of turnings, they can recognize a catalyst when they see it...

<<< DAY ONE: Wednesday 10/24/2001 >>>

In my Design 3 architecture course, we have a new project. The instructor assigned a site in downtown San Antonio, and we studied it. Some students took photographs, others sketched nearby buildings, and I paced off the boundaries.

Afterwards, the instructor gathered us in a plaza, and she told us to write down the first thing that came it mind when she said these words:

Her word Mine
Black Garcia [her last name]
City New York
Edge Boundary
Freedom America
Garden Labyrinth
Earth Planet
Sky Space
Peace Love
Architecture Career [Damn, am I cynical already or what?]
Concrete Grey
Glass Ceiling
Steel Skyscraper
Skyscraper WTC [I knew what she was leading up to by then]
United States Home

Monument

DC

American Dream

"Don't tell me what to do!"

Sept. 11

Flashback [bingo]

Oct. 24

New Normal

The responses that were uncommon or that the instructor took note of were "Labyrinth," "New York," "Ceiling," "Flashback," and "New Normal." She said regarding "New Normal" that it was actually quite good -- "it is what we're living in now, isn't it?"

Here are some notes I got while she was talking in general:

Need to do two case studies on monuments, find some info on the WTC, gather site information, and pick a song. The song I picked is "99 Luftballons" by Nena.

"...in this dust that was a city...if I could show the world that life was once here...I'd set a red balloon, and let it go"

This project will require a site plan, a site section (several, in fact), a model, and proportional-view drawings. Structure is very important. Later requirements will be issued in later class periods. Classes are every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM.

Teamwork is acceptable, and recommended. I'm teaming up with a friend of mine, whose brain and mine closely sync up when it comes to ideas. She does wonderful drawings. I do great models, and can research. She can photograph. Both of us can analyze effectively, and she has me pegged: "You like to know everything, don't you?" Hell, if she knew MBTI, she'd have me down as an INTP in no time flat.

Asked her to lunch on Tuesday. What makes that day special is that, for extra credit in Construction class, you have to show up in costume. I'm going as one of the Blues Brothers. She's going as a Renaissance chick. We'll be eating downtown, after I show her how to use a bus system.

<<< DAY THREE: Friday 10/26/2001 >>>

God, today sucked. Did research on two monuments -- the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty. Then heard from Ms Garcia (*&%@#*) that those two were unacceptable. Why? The former has no relation to the site, other than a symmetrical alignment with the Mall, etc. The latter is something I won't do, as statues are not permitted in this project.

She got all pissy when she found out that the entire class brought material on various monuments (Mount Rushmore, Lincoln Memorial, Brazos River national monument, etc.). Why? Because none of them has a "site connection" and they all deal with specific topics, as opposed to a general "human spirit" ideal.

So, at 1:00, she told the class to hurry up and bring material on monuments/memorials that (a) didn't deal with a specific idea in literal manner; that (b) deal with the site in the forming of the monument/memorial's space, form, order, etc.; and that (c) give information on how the memorial/monument elicits the emotional feelings that it does elicit.

Forgetting that (c) is really subjective (case in point: I felt *nothing* when I went to the Vietnam Memorial Wall; it's a wall with a lot of names on it. When you're done screaming at me for that sentence, consider that I *did* feel something when I visited the Lincoln Memorial: "Damn, he's big"), she gave us a deadline of 2:50 (the time argument is in the next paragraph) to get what was supposed to have been done by 1:00.

As promised: I dare you to go to the biggest library in your town and give yourself one hour-fifty minutes to accomplish the above task. Did you accomplish it? Didn't think so. Neither did Jennifer (my mind-mate, we're so mentally synchronized, and she's such a flirt...) and I.

When we returned to class at 2:45, Ms Garcia was on the warpath. It turns out that she said "two-fifteen," not "two-fifty," Oops. I tuned out the screaming, and focused my attention on what was written on the blackboard:

DUE MONDAY FOR ARCH DESIGN III:

TWO case studies
Concept: college [sic: collage; I was confused for about 15 minutes.
     Forgot to tell you that Ms Garcia has poor spelling]
Site plan drawing of major features at 1" = 20'
Selected music [done, Nena's "99 Luftballons"]

Ms Garcia wouldn't speak to Jennifer. I got my grade from the first (and hated) project and it was a 79. Jennifer got the highest grade in that other project: 81.

Stupid day. Jennifer's all mad, and I was depressed for about 30 minutes. Outside of our class group, Rick had his wisdom teeth pulled today, so he'll be all puffy and sore on Monday, and Jim is going thru a little crisis of his own.

Is this what being adult is about? Having three crises going on, and trying to get thru them without losing your mind?

Gregorsky to Loyd -- Wednesday 10/31/2001

Chris -- Five reactions to the first two installments:

(A) You are assaulting the reader with facts, while sneaking in opinions in a lighthearted -- well, more heavy on 10/26 -- manner. Much better mix than past reportage! Heavy on facts, then adorn 'em with your views...but keep piling on the facts.

(B) No problem with your reaction to the Vietnam Memorial. In 1982, the first time I read about the design, I thought it was bizarre. Never did acclimate to it. I can understand the theory, and knew something "different" was in order, but that doesn't make it come alive for me. By contrast, the Lincoln Memorial I can only visit alone, so overpowering is it. (Remember, I have a full-sized Lincoln bust in the den. Picked it up at an estate sale for $175. God is that thing heavy...)

(C) "Is this what being adult is about? Having three crises going on, and trying to get thru them without losing your mind?" No, adulthood isn't quite that bad. Your Day Two is probably a good rehearsal for twentysomethingdom, but beyond that you get this strange awareness that many crises can be simply put on hold. This doesn't apply for CEOs or firefighters or veterinarians or my dad's quadruple bypass a year ago, and maybe it's mostly a boomer thing, but...often I draw solace from what Calvin Coolidge said: "When you see 10 troubles coming down the road at you, nine of them will probably fall into the ditch before they get here." He is exaggerating -- but, three of them will go away, and another three you can probably negotiate with. The best situation is when two problems combine to solve themselves.

(D) Having played "99 Luftballons" at least 50 times, despite my cold-war Reagan residuals, I dig your deployment of it here.

(E) Keep tracking this odyssey -- facts, opinions, even the occasional feeling. My reader's reaction so far: "Hmmph, how will this really turn out?" I also have the sensation of learning a lot, and without much effort: Seeing how a college class works these days, while also seeing how young architects are trained (or conditioned). I'm swept along, and this is good. The facts support the wisecracks, the latter not weighing down the former.

-- Frank


<<< DAY THREE: Monday 10/29/2001 >>>

Not as bad today. Granted, the concept Jennifer and I were shooting for was shot down -- but some remnants remain, and it's probably best that we trim down the 140-page book we were writing to a few sentences and diagrams. Also, Ms Garcia is a bit weirded-out by our choice of music -- "99 Luftballons" by Nena -- to represent the Sept 11 attacks.

Jennifer busted her behind [rather than the original "ass"] all day, while I ran around doing errands. One errand was trying to find a fedora hat. Three hours later, my knee hurt from pushing the clutch pedal over and over again, but I made it home with a fedora hat.

What can I say about this past weekend? Jennifer and I developed a mega concept that is at the same time too vague and too precise. Can't reproduce the concept here because I don't have all night to type. Drawings -- oh God, drawings -- were produced by the armload. Plans, elevations, and sections, and roof plans. Several, several iterations, centered on the one flawed concept. Hours were spent drawing, going to the store, arguing, eating ice cream at 11:15 PM, reading on the symbolism of death and life, arguing, looking up words in the dictionary, and finally calling it a night when both of us forgot how to spell the word "of." Example:

Jennifer:

\"...and this room is a representation of...Chris?\"

Chris:

\"Yeah?\"

Jennifer:

\"Are you writing this down, too?\"

Chris:

\"No.\"

Jennifer:

\"Thought so.\"

[Silence]

Chris:

\"So?...\"

Jennifer:

\"Um, how do you spell \'of\'?\"

Chris:

\"O...\"

Jennifer:

\"O...\"

Chris:

\"Hmm, \'of\', it sounds like a V at the end, but O-V?\"

Jennifer:

\"Let me write it down...it doesn\'t like right.\"

Chris:

\"Uh, gee.\"

[Silence]

Jennifer:

\"I quit.\"

Chris:

\"See you tomorrow.\"

Class went by faster this time. For Wednesday, a site plan and a site section are needed. Need to find out more about the WTC site, and I think the architect's original site plans are available on-line. Jennifer and I also need to refine our concept more, and apply it to a building program. Jennifer is actually writing a program.

All in all, not a very exceptional day in terms of human drama, but it was a busy day, and much fog was cleared. High productivity => low human drama. You can bet that, when the fur flies again (maybe Wednesday, but definitely something by Friday), productivity will drop to near zero. This is of course why architect students stay up for 47 hours trying to finish their projects.

<<< DAY FOUR: Wednesday 10/31/2001 >>>

Today was even worse than Day Two. For starters, let's say that almost everything we've worked on since Day One has come to naught. I say "almost," because, out of the piles of drawings and notes, the only thing left standing is two sentences from Jennifer's and my concept:

"The moment of darkness attempts to break the circle [of life]. Attempting to divide, the darkness only makes us more aware that we are whole and what makes us whole."

Pardon me while I scream. Done.

So, after four different iterations of drawings failed to please Ms Garcia, we are trying two different things.

First, instead of working for 30 to 60 minutes to create a single drawing, Jennifer and I will spend five minutes each, going back forth and working on a drawing. We don't watch the other work, so one person draws while the other steps out of the room, keeping time. I must say that, after a total of 15 minutes, we've come further in developing a concise plan than we have in six hours, in a previous iteration.

The second approach is to start working on the model, as sometimes drawings do not communicate well. I know that ours didn't. So, tonight and early tomorrow, we're going to develop some drawings (plans, elevations, and sections), and then *I'm* going home to haul ass on building the model, and *she's* going home to haul ass on the collage.

What was talked about in class today?

The former requires that people (all of humanity being represented by Ms Garcia, apparently) approach this building and ask, "What is *that*?" She thinks it would be nice for people to question the building's intent, and then try to guess what it is.

Allow me to be blunt: She's wrong. No one I know has ever followed a thought pattern where you stop, wonder what it is that you're looking at, and then proceed to try to guess its function. I mean, it almost happens verbally: "Oh, wow, I wonder what that is" -- but that's where it stops. There are perhaps only a few buildings anywhere on the planet where more than a few people would stop, stare, and wonder. Maybe that's because most buildings are unexceptional, common, or ugly. Or maybe it's because most people don't know much about architecture and don't care.

So much for Ms Garcia's "Inventing a new kind of architecture." But her "references, not representations" works fine. I like subtle hints, but if I'm not paying attention, then the building needs to work fine anyway.

This is where function and form almost *must* combine. There is no archetype for a monument. Most people all over the world could draw you a house if you asked, but what does an archetypal monument look like? How does it function? One of the problems with monuments is that they are functionally useless, unless they serve as a meeting place, or a focal point, or something other than referencing an abstract concept.

The most famous monuments that are also old are some arches and columns in Rome? Why? They are quite literal. They say explicitly why they were put up. They commemorate victories.

This monument we are to design references an atrocity, as well as a triumph that has yet to occur.

The whole class is in big agreement with this last statement. It is far too early to discuss monument-building. It's like building a monument dedicated to whatever in February 1942, referencing Pearl Harbor. It...doesn't work like that. The process is forced. The feelings are raw, new, and not nearly reflective enough. How can they be? It happened not even two months ago. I think at least 20 years should pass before we seriously talk of a monument -- but then it wouldn't be much of a student project.

Oh yeah, Jennifer thinks I should wear my hat more often. :-)

<<< DAY FIVE: Friday 11/2/2001 >>>

*sigh*

The third or fourth iteration of our concept-into-design fell flat. The main problem overall is that Jennifer's and my concept isn't translating into a coherent design. We tried building a model, but something was lacking.

One bright spot was the collage. Jennifer did a painting-collage, which actually translated the concept into art pretty well. Ms Garcia recommended that we take the shapes, the look, and the feel of the artwork and transLATE (not transLITERATE) that into a design.

Jennifer went out to buy some cardboard, to build a more solid site model than the one we have. I sat down with some scrap museum board and chipboard, and started to take elements of this painting and translate it into a design.

Ms Garcia encouraged me to have some fun with the design. Despite all her personality flaws and poor timing of this project, the least I could do was have some fun with whatever it is that I'm supposed to be doing. I took an X-acto (pronounced exacto) knife and cut up shards and weird shapes out of the chip board. I stacked the shards into various arrangements, arranging them as if I was building a house of cards. Sometimes a section would collapse, but the rest of it would remain standing. I kept building, and stacking on top of it.

Jennifer came back, and liked what she saw. She more than liked it, she fell in love with the design. While I worked on what we called "darkness/adversity," she worked on "light/triumph." The two parts grew together.

Ms Garcia took us into the architecture gallery near the architecture hallway. She showed us this model of a part of downtown, with a removable section that represented our site. She instructed us to build a site model that would fit into this larger model.

She then showed us how an older site model, when placed within the larger model, could create an urban edge. The building (which was supposed to be a concert hall; it looked more like a sci-fi oil refinery) had density. It was a COMPLEX, not a block nor a vacant park. She said that major challenge was trying to fit our not-memorial/not-monument onto our oddly shaped site while trying to prevent the parking lots in the surrounding area from creating a bleeding effect.

After that lecture, I asked my Design 2 instructor for his opinion on Jennifer's and mine design. He said it was Frank Ghery-ish (look up the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain), and that was very contemporary, which is fine and, indeed, encouraged. He did say that our layout, our circulation, was very linear.

Paraphrasing him: Having a linear arrangement is fine, but this structure tells a story. How can one experience this story if someone is standing on the two sides of the site that aren't fronting the darkness? Try to arrange the story -- your structure -- such that darkness is the something that is experienced no matter how you view into the site. Try making the pathway, the circulation, something that is experienced regardless of where you enter the structure.

<<< DAY SIX: Monday 11/5/2001 >>>

Today was a preliminary review, which is about half our grade. On Friday, Jennifer and I had one-third of a collage, no model, and no drawings, with desperation and frustration as pardners 3 and 4. We spent hours, untold hours, late into the night, all weekend, trying to get it right.

I think we got it.

We have a model, one drawing, a full collage, and immediate *certain* problems that need to be solved. No more grasping for straws. We have pay-dirt. What got us there? We took the plunge. It is the feeling of "I think this is the right way to go about it, though I'm not sure yet, but I'll never know unless I try." (Substitute "I" for "we" in cases of teamwork.)

Other teams had drawings, models, but today...I wonder what happened. Jennifer and I worked frantically, thinking that everyone else was polishing up their designs. There are two other teams. One team had drawings, but no model, and not much of a collage -- so, much to discuss. The other team had all of the above, but they had other problems (the use of Biblical verbiage and Christian symbolism, the intricacy was lacking, etc).

Our team was last, and we had our model, that went into the larger model of downtown (I must get you a photograph of that!). People got up and gathered around to look at it. Ms Garcia liked what she saw, and had some issues, such as making some spaces "less boring," and indicating more structure.

If the major complaints are about that, and not how problematic a given design expresses a concept, then you're on your way.

There seems to be three stages in creating a design based on a concept: The actual translation part, the working out of some major-minor problems (this is where we are at), and finally "finessing." If you hit the last part, you are basically "done", but the design can be made more pleasing. This is a point where major changes are not usually done.

Right now, only a few major changes need to be done.

I'm glad that we've advanced this far, so soon. I'm also glad that the design we put forth is quite mature, I think.

Ms Garcia had one instruction for us (beside the specific design issues): "Keep hauling ass." Direct quote -- that's just how she talks.

<<< DAY SEVEN: Wednesday 11/7/2001 >>>

Today was an unexceptional class day. Few of the teams made much progress. Only ours made a new model. Ms Garcia criticized our new model in the following areas:

What I have to do is simultaneously build the study model and final model, which is due Monday. Jennifer is developing the stair system, which I will construct in the final model, only. The final stretch is on.

<<< DAY EIGHT: Friday 11/9/2001 >>>

Not much to say today. Everyone was busy trying to refine their study models for Monday. One team split into two. One woman said she could get everything done by Monday, and the other two said bye. Ms Garcia almost expected this, as the woman who left was perhaps doing the least participation.

Because of this situation, Ms Garcia said that she would grade everyone individually. This concerns me, as she thinks she knows how much everyone contributed to their respective teams. I also think it's a bit late to change the grading policy at this time. Oh well; nothing I can do about that.

What I can and will do over the weekend is build the final model. Jennifer will help, of course, because there is little she can draw until the final model is done. We're going to photograph the model with her camera, develop the photos, and blow up the photographs to scale so she can trace them. Aren't we sneaky? ;-) I will photograph the final model every hour on the hour to show our progress in building the model.

This is it. The next time I will see Ms Garcia is when we present on Monday.

Oops, did I say Monday? Ms Garcia said she wanted either the model or the drawings turned in on Monday, and the rest will be turned in on Wednesday. Ms Garcia said she was being nice; I think she couldn't get an independent jury before Wednesday. Since Jennifer and I need the model before we can do the drawings, I told Ms Garcia that we'll have the model done first.

I will also not tell Jennifer about this. She left class early, before the announcement of the change-of-dates, so I'm the only one in our team who knows about this. Am I sneaky? You bet. I *want* Monday and Tuesday night off, and I hope Jennifer sees why I did this. She's the drawer; I'm the model-builder. She can do really nice drawings, and if she wants to spent her evenings making the drawings better, she can do so.

It won't affect our grade any, since Ms Garcia said she would grade us on Monday anyway. We'll have everything done by then.

<<< DAY NINE: Monday 11/12/2001 >>>

Exhausting weekend. Waaay tired.

Model is done. Drawings aren't. Drawings will get done on for Wednesday.

I saw Shrek and Batman twice. Mom and Dad bought a DVD player. Talk about distracting.

Jennifer and I were so delirious, we ate potato chips, drank tons of soda, and rocked out to Blondie at 3:00 a.m. That was after we played Super Mario on the old Nintendo.

That was before we resumed our hurried pace.

I'm exhausted.

<<< DAY TEN: Wednesday 11/14/2001 >>>

Today was supposed to be the presentation, but Ms Garcia is very ill, so it was canceled. Another instructor came into the gallery to see what had been completed by each team, and record his findings for Ms Garcia. The presentation is scheduled for Friday.

I think (and this was proposed by the other instructor) that this extra time be used to ameliorate our projects. Jennifer and I are effectively done, though there are several minor improvements to be made. Some labeling, some more overall organization, etc. More finessing, essentially.

So of course Jennifer and I took the day off. We went to the mall, then to dinner at a Thai restaurant, and then to see Monsters Inc. Cuuuute movie. I really liked it. There is an organizational aspect to the movie's character's workplace that is really quite GI-gen.

Anyway, I hope Ms Garcia gets well soon. Better for her health, but also our Final Project will be due the *second* week of December -- which is *not* a lot of time, when you add in the Thanksgiving four-day holiday. If Ms Garcia is still very sick on Friday, then the final will be a nightmare.

<<< PRESENTATION (the day after): Saturday 11/17/2001 >>>

Jennifer and I finessed the presentation for Friday. We left the model at school, along with some of the information we didn't need (case studies, etc) at the time.

Thursday night, I drew the site section, indicating the relationship between the structure and the ground (i.e., the foundation). Jennifer loved the drawing. She tried to do a section, but our structure is so irregular and chaotic that drawing it wasn't so clear-cut. An exact section would have been very cluttered. The clutter would have contained mostly detail that the elevation and perspectives covered quite clearly, so I omitted most of what wasn't needed.

What I did draw was the poche (pronounced "poe-SHAY") of the nearby buildings, the street, a little of the chaotic parts of the structure, the centerpiece, and the foundation system. The centerpiece was in fact the only part of the structure that wasn't clearly explained in the other drawings, so much emphasis went there.

Jennifer put the drawings together in a way that was reminiscent of the structure itself. She cut out the undrawn-over parts of the paper, cut out various chunks of black foam board, and pinned the whole thing together with X-acto blades.

When presentation time came, we found that there would be no critic. But student reporters from http://www.theranger.org were on hand, and they photographed the models and the drawing-displays and got Jennifer's phone number.

During our presentation, when I described our concept and our structure's relationship with the site, I rediscovered for the 12th time that my public-speaking skills stink. I quickly gave Jennifer the opportunity to say all she wanted about the model, while both of us fielded questions from the class and teacher.

Talk about controversy. The class had a very mixed reaction, and everyone's reaction wasn't academic or intellectual at all. Their reasoning behind (dis)liking it was very personal. While useless in a design aspect (not everyone can be pleased by a given building, or any man-made object), it did illustrate a very important idea about the events of September 11: Everyone was affected differently. Some -- okay, almost everyone -- recoiled in horror, but our versions of horror varied. No one's experience of that event, or this structure, is exactly uniform.

<<< RUMINATIONS/LATER THOUGHTS >>>

I wanted this to be a blow-by-blow account of how the architectural process works, at least in Architecture Design 3. This was very emotional for me, as I was required to think about all these issues.

I felt angry because there seemed no point to this project. The case studies resulted in nada. The site studies weren't used. The music was treated as merely background. No required spaces. No minimal or maximum anything. This wasn't art nor "current" architecture or "old" architecture or "futuristic" architecture. This wasn't a memorial nor a monument nor a museum nor a restaurant nor a discotheque nor anything.

People on the bus called it the "Not-not-not-not-not" project. Everyone gathers around it asking: "What *IS* it??" and all Jennifer and I can is say is "new architecture" or "structure" or "something never seen before."

All this true, but so what? Ms Garcia -- born in 1961, I just found out -- thought it was great: "San Antonio would NEVER build this [laughs]."

I like my model-building skills. Jennifer likes her drawing skills. I can analyze. She can shock and distort. I have ideas that people have never thought of before (or so those people tell me) and Jennifer has style and grace and attitude that floors others (or at least those who hang around with us). She's for real, the real thing. I'm out in the twilight zone of connecting distant, unrelated ideas and making them fit into the same picture, and making them coherent.

She has much more ambition than I do, at least in the Sensor sense. She's an SP for sure. Isn't rational or idealistic for the sake of being rational or idealistic. Isn't an SJ because order isn't her cup of tea, and in fact she's as disorganized as me. Working with her is like working with my sister (an ESTP, by the way).

I like that there will be at least one dynamite project to have in my portfolio.

I like that Ms Garcia didn't chew us out for any reason.

I like that I can sleep some more before the rush begins again.

I like that I've accomplished something. I can point at something and say "I had a part in making that, and isn't it fantastic?"

I like that I'm done with this. Fin. Es el terminado. No mas.

POSTSCRIPT >>> Loyd to Gregorsky, June 2002

You requested that I explain my "wider course of study," which is presumed to be more than "earn a Bachelor's in Architecture." OK, here goes:

An objective standard of good design exists, against which all human creation can be judged, and it is to this standard that I aspire. I seek recurrences, patterns, and systems of good design, both aesthetically ("pretty") and programmatically ("where are the bathrooms?"). As life is fluid and changing, so are the demands on human creation. The long-term survival of all that is built hinges on its ability to maintain its relevancy to the needs of the user. I seek methods of construction that makes buildings adaptable by their users, for they know best what their building needs.

Call that a manifesto, call it a personal code of ethics, call it sushi. It's what I believe, aim for, and try to do, as of mid-2002.


2002, Chris Loyd