30 November 2009

You Can Tell its Crunch Time

I was just looking through some of the other Ball State blogs and I realized most of us haven't posted very much recently.  It occurred to me that the last four weeks of the semester are quite demanding.  While my fellow blogger Mike has some excellent tips for success, even they are not enough to ease this time of the semester. 

For example, my studio final project is due in a week-and-a-half and my engineering construction documents are due the day after that. Now, those two projects consist of a LOT of work!  But then I have projects for my plants class and my geography class.  Not to mention studying for finals, finishing up my Brazil application, and taking care of random stuff that pops up around my house.  Whew!  I'll be amazed if I can get it all done without some major late-nighters. 

I'm not really sure where this blog is going other than in general trying to wrap my mind around what's expected of me in the next few weeks. I expect it to all go by in a blur.

So seriously, just bring on Christmas already!

29 November 2009

Paper and Markers and Pens, Oh My!

The Department of Landscape Architecture does the craziest
thing: once a year we invite a well-known landscape architect to Muncie, cancel
all architecture related classes (including studio- Yippee!), and engage in a
days-long, intensive design “charrette,” which is just a fancy word for group
design done at the speed of lightning.  We call this lovely ordeal "Design Week," and it is both loved and hated by its many participants. 

So, the way Design Week works is the ENTIRE department gets separated into "vertical teams," which means there are students from every year on your team.  For example, the team I was on had two graduate students, a fifth year (who unfortunately didn't show up), two forth years, two third years, and two second years.  After the initial kickoff, the teams assemble in the main atrium of the architecture building and design like its nobody's business while professors, stakeholders, and community members stroll around offering advice and recommendations.  Joining the general hustle and bustle is our guest project leader and keynote speaker, who is generally a prestigious landscape architect from anywhere around the world. 

year we were pleased to have Mr. Fumiaki Takano of Takano Landscape
join us from Japan.  He's a pretty amazing designer.  If you check out his firm's projects, you may come across the Children's Playground in Takino Hillside Park, which is definitely the coolest park I've ever seen-- I can't wait for an opportunity to go see it in person. I also really like his approach to design-- he showed us pictures from his projects and described his design process, which includes HEAVY community involvement, extremely intricate designs using on-site materials, and creating 1:10 scale models in the dirt outside his firm's office just to watch how the sun sets on it.  Basically, the guy is pretty baller.  

The project site is in Muncie; there are a few closed industrial parks in the area that are to be rehabilitated to create a "gateway" into Muncie plus some connections between the greenways in the area.  The problems we were addressing involved how to successfully redevelop a brownfield (in other words, what do you do with land that's been contaminated by decades of industrial waste), how to alter the aesthetic of the area to create a more welcoming atmosphere, and how to protect-- if not enhance-- the ecology and natural environment of the area.  It was actually a really interesting project with a ton of potential, especially to me since my preference is in urban design (whereas I've been laboring through regional design all semester, but more on that some other time).  This semester's design work has been mostly on the computer, so it was such a relief to get back to doing hand drawings and messy concept ideas.  Those are the things that make me really enjoy my major. 

 Design Week Site - Along the White River in some of Muncie's Brownfields

Now for the nitty-gritty; Design Week is incredibly time consuming, tiring, and frustrating.  For starters, it began this year on Sunday at 1:00, and it continued well into the evening (many stayed until 9:00 or later; last year I remember staying until 2 in the morning working on some rooftop design), lasting all day Monday and finally drawing to an end Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving Break.  I admit I did not stay very long on any of the days-- one of the difficulties of vertical teams is that you suddenly find yourself on a design team with people you know nothing about with varying interests and skills.  Normally I would find such a situation exciting and challenging, but this year it was just challenging for me.  From my perspective, the best design contributions came from the second year students (they had probably the strongest designs), but they were a little shy at first (thankfully they got over that).  The challenge for me came from someone who we'll call "The Team Member," and let's just say The Team Member had many good ideas, and it was best if the rest of the group just went along with them.  Since that type of "teamwork" is not my favorite, I ended up not spending very much extra time at Design Week.

So my actual design experience was a bit of a letdown, but I still gained plenty from Design Week.  I have to say that I absolutely applaud whoever decided to bring Mr. Takano to Ball State.  I found his work completely inspiring, I thoroughly enjoyed his lectures, and I learned new ways of tackling design problems during his critiques with our group.  I am especially interested in his community-based design methods, which seem to be what makes him unique among landscape architects.  While most landscape architects base their design in community interests (hopefully), Mr. Takano actually gives community members paper and markers and asks them to help in the preliminary design schemes.  He has community members so involved in every part of the process that they apparently help build and maintain the spaces as volunteers.  They take complete ownership of the space, and that-- I think-- should be every designer's goal.  If absolutely nothing else, I feel like Design Week was worth it because of Mr. Takano's presence. 

I guess we'll just see how next year goes!

12 November 2009

My Cozy [Mouse-Infested] Off-Campus Home

"Oh, God!  Oh, God!  Oh, God!  Oh, God!"

Is what she said. . . Except she said it because she found a dead mouse in her sink. And yes, I am said "she."

Living off campus is full of ups and downs, as is living in the residence halls.   I lived in the Johnson complex for two and a half years in Botsford hall.  Until this year Johnson housed the honors students, so I was in good company.  I permanently moved out of the dorms last winter, unless you count my dorm life in Mexico.  Meh.

Anyway, now I live in a hundred-year-old house off campus.  It's a great living situation for me-- I live with four other people, three guys and another gal.  My landlord is a student my age at Ball State, and since he lives in our house the repairs are done fairly quickly.  He's also super understanding about issues like rent.  His younger sister also lives with us (she's the other gal besides me), and she gets this week's prize for innovation: Needing more storage space for some chili she made for the week, she put it in a beverage container.  It's pretty fabulous.  One of the guys is from China, so he's really interesting to talk to when I can catch him-- which unfortunately isn't often since he seems to spend most of his time on campus.  My last roommate studies landscape architecture and is in most of my classes.  This works great since we end up working together on some of our coursework.  

Landlord and his dog in our backyard, which is HUGE!!! 

Another roommate at a football game-- Go Cards! 

We also have a cat, Lord Watson Bartholomew, and a dog, Sam.  

Lord Watson on our roof; he seems to like it up there. 

I like living off campus much more than I thought I would-- and I went into it thinking I'd love it.  My lifestyle is basically the same as when I lived on-campus, but I get to come home to a home.  I think I took that for granted.  When I come home I see my "family," clean up around the house, play with my pets, and cook food with ingredients I bought.  Especially as one prone to wandering, having a home is priceless.  Don't get me wrong, the residence halls do everything they can to create a "homey" feel, but it's still a dorm.  You're still sharing some sort of space with perhaps 50 other people, and you can't decorate however you want.  (Funny story, my sophomore year I painted my dorm room gold to try to "home-ify" it a little, and while I was largely successful, I still had to pay $200 at the end of the year.)  That said, I still think everyone should do at least one year on-campus.  I'm glad I did.

Now, to make off-campus living worth it, I offer these three tips:

- Live with students, and with at least three people:  Students study, and they are respectful when you need to study. Go for at least three in a dwelling in case there are any disagreements--- I have friends living in twos, so when something goes wrong there's no neutral third-party to mediate the situation.  So to make life easier, go for three.

- Live within walking distance to campus:  If you still want to drive, fine, get a parking permit (I personally don't have one), but it's nice to have the option of biking or walking to campus on nice days or when your car decides to die.  Plus you can save TONS of money in gas expenses if you're not driving everyday. 

- Live with people you wouldn't classify as your best friends:  You hear this all the time as a freshman choosing a roommate, but that's because it's TRUE!  For some reason best friends usually don't do well in living-together situations.  The nice thing about living with good friends or casual friends is that you get the opportunity to develop your friendship while living together; I think it makes it easier somehow.  If you're getting to know each other while living together you can learn to live with them.  And if your friendship doesn't work out, then you can grow to be considerate roommates instead, and there're no hard feelings since you weren't great friends to begin with.

 I lucked out in my house quest in that I landed all these things in my first time off-campus.  From talking to my friends I've learned to value these things quite a bit.  Now that I have my home in Muncie, I want to keep it as long as I'm studying here.

Even if there was a dead mouse in my sink. 



05 November 2009

Studying Abroad. . . Busting out the Portuguese

So, as some of you know, I'm planning to study abroad next semester in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  I'm going through a College of Architecture and Planning program.  The way the program works is this: I receive a grant to help me buy my plane tickets, to cover the cost of housing, and to have a little left over for traveling.  When I get to my host university, I find the coordinating professor and together we set up my coursework, which is all related to sustainability and landscape architecture.  The "catch" is that I have to coordinate nearly all of it myself.  Thankfully, I studied abroad on a similar program last year, so I have an idea of what I need to do.  Right now the most pressing matter is applying to my host university; however, the application is completely in Portuguese.  

My Future Home. . . Kind of. 

So, in order to apply, I need to master enough Portuguese to fill out an application and write a one-paged essay about why I want to study in Brazil.  My coordinating professor here in the States has set up a Portuguese class for the three of us who are going to Brazil this spring, and we've been learning a LOT.  Portuguese is my fourth language, but since my second language is Spanish, I'm learning Portuguese pretty quickly.  Already I can read most Portuguese, or at least guess the meanings of words I don't understand.  I suppose that's good for filling out my application; however, I have trouble when speaking Portuguese-- I mix in tons of Spanish, which sometimes works and sometimes fails miserably.  Writing the application essay is going to be challenging, to say the least.  And I'll have to have my professor proofread it several times before I'll be willing to send it in.  I guess it's all a part of the process.

My other big dilemma is trying to decide which classes I want to take.  I'm 99% positive I want to go on CAPAsia next year, which should be my last semester at Ball State; however, if I do this I may not graduate on time.  I've been putting off some of my core classes, so if I can't get credit for these in the next two semesters I'm stuck here for another year.  My biggest concern is an Engineering 2: Materials class I didn't take last spring (since I was in Mexico).  As of last year the professor was of the opinion that I need to physically be in Muncie to learn the information.  Now, she is the professor and knows much more about the subject than me and therefore is in a much better position to decided whether I could learn the information in an independent study, but still.  The more I hash out the numbers, it looks like the only class that has a good chance keeping me from graduating. And it seems silly to finish all my coursework but one class in the spring of 2011, start working, and a year later take the one class in the spring of 2012. (Did I mention the course is offered only in the spring?) Silly as it sounds though, it may be worth it. 

So that's where we are as far as studying abroad.  Step 1: find a program and funding. Check.  Step 2: Apply for admission and decide on classes.  Working on it.


01 November 2009

Why am I studying Landscape Architecture?

Me: Why am I studying landscape architecture? 

Myself: Because you want to be an architect. 

Me: Well, do I? 

Myself: I don't know, don’t you? 

Me: I don’t know. . . maybe.

Myself: Well, it's a little late for this now, don't you think?

Me: Yeah, I guess you're right.  

This is a conversation I have with myself about once a
semester as I’m panicking about my chosen major, as I did early last week.  What if I want to be a painter?  A musician? 
How about a tornado chaser?  I do
like tornados.

I remember feeling this way a lot when I was a senior in
high school and a freshman in college—which is probably why the feeling stands
out so vividly to me: shouldn’t I be over this by now?  I mean, really, I’m in my fourth year of
school.  I’m graduating next
year.  I feel like these questions should
be answered by now.  But try as I might,
tornados are still cool.  And they always
will be.

The good news is I’ve had these feelings enough that I’ve
developed a system to handle them when they do come.  First, I completely freak out: I investigate
other majors, look into other career options, frantically hypothesize different
career paths with my [unfortunate] friends.  I
make firm commitments to go to the authorities and change my major.  Then I go to sleep.

Perhaps your parents used to tell you to “sleep on it”
before making an important decision? 
This is a GOOD IDEA!  Apply its
principles to your life and you will find you make fewer mistakes.  The next phase of dealing with my cold feet
is to focus on the reasons I decided to study landscape architecture in the
first place.  Last week, I decided to go
through some of my old sketchbooks; do some reminiscing about the days when
everything was fresh and new—you know, young love.  

So that’s how I ended up finding some of my old studio
work.  I thought I’d share some of it
with you.  I hope you enjoy it. (Please note how the drawings get progressively better. . . I'm learning!)

 2nd Year: Interior Perspective of a Proposed Peace Garden

This is the interior to a Peace Garden I designed in my second year.  I pulled some inspiration from Jerusalem's Western Wall.

2nd Year: U Street Urban Plaza

2nd Year: Detail of Fountain in U Street Urban Plaza

2nd Year: Section of Neon Light Sculpture in U Street Urban Plaza

These are images from an urban plaza I designed for the U-Street district in Washington, DC.  I rendered the images with bright colored pencils on my boards-- nearly every surface has some sort of neon lighting (including the entire spindly-thing in the bottom image-- yeah, it would be cooler than anything ever if they built it).  :-)

3rd Year: Community Plan (North of Muncie)

This is the plan for a community I designed my third year.  It's supposed to be located just north of Muncie.  There's an elementary school near the southern-most round-about;  the neighborhood has townhouses, apartments, and single-family homes.  The reddish roads are woonerfs, my favorite kind of street. 

3rd Year: New Rail Station (North of Indianapolis)

3rd Year: New Rail Station (North Side of Indianapolis)

3rd Year: New Rail Station (North Side of Indianapolis) 

This is a project I did my 3rd year for a new rail station for Indianapolis's proposed Greenline project.  I did all of it in Google Sketchup, which is a free download if you want to give it a try yourself!