CONVERSATIONS WITH ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL APPLICANTS: NOTES TO OUR STUDENTS ON HOW TO IMPROVE THEIR ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL PORTFOLIOS

The process of developing a portfolio for architecture school admissions to top schools of architecture, is a tough and relatively long one. It requires patience and persistence, and commitment to the development and re-development of design projects so that they fit perfectly with well-designed architecture school admission strategies.

As part of our process, we engage in online correspondence with our students, which takes place between sessions. This correspondence is meant to help the student advance their design between sessions, by engaging in a process of on-going reexamination and continuous design and development of their projects. The following threads are examples of these correspondences with some of our students. [Names of students have been replaced with fake ones, and photos or ideas associating the text to the actual student have been removed]

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SAM

Sam is a 30-year-old student, with a background in business, interested in applying to Masters of Architecture programs in the United States

SAM: Been working on sections 2 and 5a/5b. Do you have any feedback?

COACH:

2A
– Single sentence sounds like an Linkedin profile intro. Focus on your way of thinking – the left-right brain thing.
– Explanation is not specific – what do you mean by background? Describe and relate to the strategy
 
2B
– “To harness my past experience” is not specific enough. You need to be more descriptive – talk about ‘communication of ideas/ideals’ as we discussed
– Instead of describing “excess and discontent” as the things you are fighting against, try to describe what you are fighting FOPR instead. 
– I agree on cultural changes, but don’t define the how so narrowly (sustainability and personal fulfilment (do you mean wholeness or self-realization or completeness?) the HOW will de discovered through the explored in your projects later on
 
2C
– It looks ok so far! I think you need to be more focused on communications, and psychology/ behavior rather than sustainability.
 
2D
– Try thinking of your favorite programs in terms of people: there are three types of people at a program. a) Those who know something and teach it (faculty, through programs, curriculum, lectures etc), b) those who don’t know and are there to learn, and to discuss/exchange ideas (students), and c) those who surround the academic community (people of the city you are in. Then, organize your ideas in the categories mentioned. 
 
5A
– Don’t mention high-paying job, emphasize substance and other rewards other than money
– Do not refer to the things you did not like. Focus on what you liked and connect it to your mission, which you will continue as an architect
–  “it was inherently flawed. I couldn’t continue to make a living constantly pushing more material things on people”,: I like the idea of the ‘reformed capitalist’, and I think we can use it, but not as the central theme of your essay 
– Helping people tell their story is what you should focus on. We also discussed ideas about feeling empowered through fashion, developing self esteem through a sense that they are ‘enough’ and all that stuff.
– Omit any reference to the left-right brain stuff. The strategy is just for us. We need to communicate it indirectly through the essay and portfolio projects. 
 
5B
– Your goal should not focus on material achievements, like owning a desgin firm, but on how you want to effect change. 
– elaborate on how you have been helping people so far through your work in fashion and other endeavors – what have you been doing to reach your goal?
 
Good job so far, keep emailing me progress – let me know if you have questions on what I wrote here. 
 
SAM:

Thanks for your feedback the other day. It was very helpful. I have continued to work and have a few questions for you.

2A: This is where I’ve been having the most trouble. Should I strictly be focusing on the way I think/ how I view the world, and not touch on the social agenda aspect? I do think that they go hand in hand, but I’m having trouble making it not sound like a linked in profile description. I’ve been through many variations, but here’s where I am right now:

  • SINGLE-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION → I am an altruistic and compassionate person that has a balanced, logical and holistic view of life and its nuanced challenges; A jack of all trades.  
  • EXPLANATION → I am a very balanced and calculated person that always takes a step back from any challenge to view the big picture and approach the problem from a multi-dimensional angle.

2B SSD: Feeling more confident in this one, I think because it is less abstract. I rewrote the whole thing and focused on being more descriptive/specific and describing the transition. Is the single sentence description too wordy? Am I tying it all together in a genuine way?

  • SINGLE-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION → To advance from helping people communicate their ideals and achieving a sense of comfort on a small scale through clothing, to helping individuals and communities communicate ideals on a much larger scale, through design, and ultimately push our culture towards one of providence and contentment.  

2B Explanation: I’m unsure if the first sentence is necessary, but I do think it is the first part of the ‘WHY’, ie our culture is fundamentally flawed, which of course leads to why I want to change it. I also tried to tie clothing and architecture together. Is it a complete flow of the ideas I’m trying to communicate? Do I need to go into more detail about the changing of culture, or should that be answered in more depth in 2c? This is where I landed:

  • EXPLANATION →  We live in a perpetual state of crisis, both personal and public, as individuals and a society. Some of the biggest problems are perpetuated by industries, like fashion, that exploit individuals’ insecurities, human labor and the environment for monetary gain. I have spent my career focused on helping others. Clothing is an envelope that has the power to help one communicate their ideals, aspirations and increase the wearers self esteem. They feel that they are enough, they are OK, and that they can go out into the world, live their lives, even aspire for more, yet feel content. Buildings and spaces are also envelopes, and can be used to achieve the same end at a greater scale, not only for individuals, but entire communities. Through this greater and more impactful scale, I believe that our culture and daily lives can be changed.

COACH:

2A: Try not referring to yourself as a person, but instead refer to your thinking process – meaning don’t tell us what you (think you) are, but how you think. You can express this through describing the results of your thinking process, or simply the way your mind works. 

 
2B: “To create environments that empower communities” is an example of how to phrase what we had discussed and then you can elaborate in the description. 
 
2B Exp: Great job! We will improve it even more over time, but for the time being I think it looks good. It also gave me the idea of presenting you as a designer/activist on top of all the other stuff. Remind me next time to show you a portfolio project developed by a former student of mine, where he examined in parallel the famine caused by the fashion industry and the famine of nazi concentration camps in one of his projects. 
 
SAM:

Heres where I’m at with 2Aand 5A:

2.A. PERSONA:

WHO are you … and who would you like the admissions people to believe that you are? 

  • SINGLE-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION → I work from inside out to develop a comprehensive understanding to build a box to think outside of. 
  • EXPLANATION → I try to visualize the problem from the inside out, from the smallest detail at first, to understand the basis or root of it. From there, I work back up through the detailed layers, and try to view the problem from the outside looking in. This way, I fully comprehend the calculus of the moving parts. Once I understand the problem, I consider historical precedent vs. an obvious, perfect solution, without any constraints, to determine a choice solution. 

2A- While it is a short description of my thought process, I may have removed “myself” out of it too much, and potentially doesn’t actually answer the question.

2A Explanation- I actually think this is a pretty accurate description of my thought process.

5.A. WHERE AM I

DESCRIPTION OF PERSONA:  I work from inside out to develop a comprehensive understanding to build a box to think outside of. 

25 words per cell, max

INFLUENCE 1

INFLUENCE 2

DESCRIPTION

My father, a supportive, pragmatic, calculated and frugal engineer. Never too serious. He is resourceful, doesn’t waste anything 

My mother, an empathetic woman who has dealt with mental illness perhaps for her whole life. Librarian, interested in fashion and art. Nurturing, and generally wants to help others. 

CONNECTION W/ PERSONA

Influenced the way in which I think and solve problems; a rational, calculated, and well thought out approach. Stern, disciplined but supportive.

Influenced later in my life to be more of a risk taker, use my artistic side. Learned the impact self esteem has on a person. 

ANSWER ( →  250 words) → I left a fun and fulfilling job. I learned a ton about people, boosted their self-esteem, and helped them feel empowered in their personal and professional lives, but found myself wanting more. I was helping people, but it was inherently flawed; I couldn’t continue to make a living constantly pushing more material things on people. I could, however, continue to help people tell their stories, boost their self esteem, even aspire for more, but also, most importantly, feel content. 

 

COACH:

2A: It is an interesting description, but I recommend that you include people in it. I mean, do not just focus on the way that you think, but on how you involve or affect others. If you realize that there is no way to do so, then take what you already have and refine it. Overall, it is ok for now. 
 
5A: you forgot the HOW! How did you have fun? How did you affect people? How did you help them with their self esteem? How will you transfer your experience to architecture? 
Also, again, do not focus on the flaws of the fashion business, but the ways in which it benefits others. Celebrate the good things about it, focus on describing and then explaining how they will help you in this new extension of your career (architecture). 
 
—–
SAM:

Here is what I have for 5A after our “Storytailor” discussion the other day:

 

When I was 8 or 9, my grandfather took me to the top of Petit Jean Mountain, a small mountain adjacent to the Arkansas River. The mountain is named for the colonial explorer buried at its top, whose death is a source of local legends. “Grab a branch near her grave, ask her what killed her, and she will tell you, ‘nothing’”, my grandfather promised. The youngest of 12 in a poor farming family, storytelling was their way of entertaining, catching up, and coping with life’s hardships. Their tradition continues to this day, despite the generations passing. The give and take of storytelling strengthens a community by empowering the individuals. They feel connected to their roots, more certain about their future, and confident in their own worth. It makes us feel acceptable the way we are. Hearing the stories of my family’s youth allowed me to understand my relatives as real people, rather than an abstract, and relive the experiences that made them who they are today. It was my connection to the past, to my identity as a person and to the community that is my family. I came to realize that while the stories were fine, it was the embellishments that made them great. Small bits of stretched truths synergized with the facts to deliver a story that was greater than the sum of its parts. This transformed storytelling into an art. A way to express who you were, how you got there and what you wanted to be. An envelope to drape over yourself to show the truth beyond the simple facts. To my disappointment, my grandfather was right: Petit Jean said nothing. 

  1. Does it adequately answer the question of “Where I am”?
  2. Is the connection between stories, envelopes, and clothing enough? If not, should it be expanded upon here, or in 5B?
  3. Does it establish the persona of a storytailor?
  4. Any other comments you have after reading it?

 

COACH:

1. No, I do not think it adequately answers the question yet, although it sets up strong foundation for answering it. It discusses your family’s story-telling as your background, the idea of transferring stories and creating a sense of cohesion in the family and a sense of belonging, but we do not see you in it yet. Try to describe the same stuff you are describing already, but do it from your own perspective, meaning instead of mentioning your observations purely as an observer, talk about what they mean to you more deeply. (Some of that may actually be better to discuss in paragraph 2 as well). Overall, good job so far, but you have to bring yourself into it more. 
 
2.I don’t think the connection to envelopes and clothing is strong enough yet. The story-telling tradition is clearly established, but the reference to fabric seems like an afterthought. I think you need to integrate the discussion of clothing into the story. See my next response (3) for some ideas. 
 
3. I think that there could be an introduction to the use of clothing as a storytelling device in paragraph 1, and then you could be more specific later on in paragraph 2. Perhaps you could tell a story about your Grandfather and how he communicated his emotions through what he wore. The clothing, paired with the stories he told, perhaps created moods that you want to talk about. Paragraph 5B is more specific, meaning that you need to begin telling us about you, and your role in this story-telling tradition. 
 
4. Overall it looks better than I expected. It creates a feeling we had discussed, of a tradition like that of  the old men in that old Jack Daniels commercial (I looked it up. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knHf6BVgMzI). You just need to bring yourself into it more, and try to connect it to clothing. 
 
SAM:
Here is my progress on the Piranesi:
With the kebabs, I started cutting it down to a shape that was at the core of what I had before. I have sketched it out in pen, charcoal and graphite, but none of the sketches are very good.
COACH:
The Piranesi: looks good in terms of attention to detail and rendering technique, although so far you are making all surfaces too dark… and the reason for that, is that you did not follow the direction I suggested, which was to NOT focus on an element at a time, but instead to look at the whole document as one, and shade in layers. If you did so, you would avoid arbitrarily over-darkening some surfaces. If you continue this way, your drawing will end up being twice as hard to finish because you will not be able to balance it with all these super-dark elements – remember, you are not able to erase, so if you decide down the road that (for example) the bottom of the bridge needs to be lighter in order to pop out from a darker background, you won’t be able to do it, so you will end up darkening everything else just to integrate that one element. Whereas if you begin by slowly establishing a dialogue among the different areas of the drawings, then it will not only be easier and faster, but the quality of your drawing will be much better.
The model: There is a long way to go. I am not sure what to tell you at the moment other than ‘keep buiding’
 
 
SAM:
Per our discussion, I’ve focused mostly on the left tunnel but have also done some work on the rest. Do the edges look any better? Anything stick out that I could improve upon?

Also, any advice on starting this model? Determine scale and just generally getting started on it?
 
 
COACH:

——Piranesi:
The Piranesis looks great! Excellent work so far, but it stull needs some. The biggest problem is how complex it is and how confusing it gets when there are many overlapping elements in a section. for example, if you look at the bottom, it is really hard to tell what is happening. Another example is the far left vision tunnel. the best way to proceed is by thinking how to properly organize the different parts of the drawing as opposed to articulating them. You have done a good job articulating them so far. Now it is time to think ‘which part of the drawing do I want to push forward, and which do I want to push in the background’. By doing this, you can mute some areas but bringing the tones of elements and backgrounds closer together, or exaggerate other areas by creating higher contrast. 
For example, in the far left tunnel, the dark arches are all the same tone, even though they are positioned at different depths of the drawing. This confuses the eye because on the one hand it reads their perspectival relationship and understands that there is depth, and on the other hand it reads their relative tones and sees flatness. If you darken the front arch even more so that it can be darker than the other two, then their architectural relationship will be clarified. 
A different example is the bottom part, where the arches and columns are all the same tone, and then the background is very bright throughout. You need to create a hierarchy there as well. 
As you are working on the different sections of the drawing, you need to keep an eye on the overall piece, to make sure that the relationships among the different sections of the drawing are well organized and that there is a clear hierarchy. And, regarding details: try to vary the background, don’t necessarily leave it all white, because unlike most of Piranesi’s work, your drawing has a lot of background, and if you leave it all super bright, then you will end up with much more of what is happening in the bottom part of the existing drawing. 
So: 1: hierarchize and organize, 2: selectively reduce brightness of the background in order to reduce contrast, 3: selectively increase contrast of middle-ground elements (arches, columns, buttresses, bridges etc) by negotiating their relationships and darkening some elements (the ones closer to the viewer).
—-Model:
Regarding the model, you can use a 0.25″=1′ scale. This means that 1 inch in your model represents 4 feet in real life. So, if the height of a single story is about 12′ in real life, in your model it would be 3 inches. so, an 8 story building would be about 2ft high in your model. Begin by building the model itself. Get regular cardboard (use amazon boxes if you don’t have anything else). After you select the location, cut out the base, measure it so it can be approximately correct in terms of proportions (i.e. the street vs the sidewalk etc), and then attach two vertical walls (one on each side), to represent the buildings framing that portion of the street. You do not need to do more than that. You can use a sharpie to quickly draw windows, and perhaps shape the facade of one of the buildings to make it look like the stock exchange, without worrying about details. on these buildings (approximating once again), just so that we can get a better sense of scale. Then you can begin to attach your sticks and build your actual model. Let me know if you need more clarification. 

—-Nest Session: 
It looks like you need more time. You need to move a bit more forward before we meet, and go back and forth with me a couple of times, so that you can get the necessary value out of your upcoming session. This past weekend was not a good time of course, combination of your trip and our server problems, so I want to postpone our session to Monday at 11am (let me know if that works for you). In the meantime, please do the following: 1: please complete the Piranesi by end of day tonight, whatever it takes. 2: starting tomorrow, work exclusively on the Broad Street project. Try to complete the base by mid-day tomorrow, and then begin the development of the actual model / have something to look at by end of day. Please email me your progress daily, and let’s try to move forward. 

The work you have done on the model is ok, so just go on. I do not really want to focus too much on the analysis of the trail yet. I would rather you focused on the model, and completing it asap, and as well as possible. Overall it looks good, so please finish it and then open the whole in the building and develop the cave. 
Regarding the cave, It is supposed to get its character from the actual cave of the trail, so one thing I would do is to try and understand what it is about the actual cave that you are trying to capture, or what it is about an emotional reaction to being in the cave that you are trying to capture. 
The sketches that you did on the cave are a good beginning, but I would recommend being a bit more active with your sketching. Do not draw 3 sketches. Draw 30 sketches, of different types: plans, sections, perspectives, analytical, etc, and try to capture what you have in mind, one idea at a time. To get a sense of what kind of sketching I am talking about, google sketches by the following architects: le corbusier, louis kahn, renzo piano, alvaro siza, tadao ando, shigeru ban. 
The only way for me to have real input is if you do a lot of sketching. You can also begin experimenting with some quick paper models. 
Remember that the trail analysis will be based on your model, not the actual trail, so when done with the path, put together a graph showing the transitions of the trail as we had discussed them in session.
Regarding the Piranesi: it looks great, just ink it and complete it. 

 
 

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JUN

Jun has a B.Arch and is planning to apply to MS.Arch. programs in the US and England.

JUN: Just churning out ideas and doing my absolute best while enjoying the process. There’s a lot in the recording of our session, but I get that the main point being that Nostalgia/memory is the umbrella theme. The methodologies/ tools are water, landscape/earth and light. Currently studying Danteum for Project 3 ( the housing for artists in Canton ) and I can see why you mentioned Danteum as four unique poetic experiences. Maybe I will think about how each four artists convey light in their paintings. Still researching for Project I, I found some local water village from Malaysia and China that may serve as inspiration. But I also looked into some of Welshpool’s historical photographs of coracle and the canal. Will continue tomorrow, gonna rest for now.

For this project, I thought about the project from the beginning, a special feature of Canton, Cardiff is its significant Asian population, although its only 9% of the district population, mostly Bangladeshi (3.3%), Pakistani (1.1%), Indian (2.5%) and Chinese (0.8%), so I want to focus on that and it is also relevant to me since I come from Malaysia, a multiracial, multicultural and multireligious country. And I think this is relevant to the development of the concept of landscape.
In terms of the cultural landscape, I have researched on pictures as inspiration to kickstart the project. Firstly, when you mentioned a landscape as an environment that integrates diversity, my mind linked me to Superkilen by BIG, a park trying to promote diversity. I also looked at traditional architectural elements from Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani and Chinese vernacular architecture to bring them in as a form of affirming each racial identity. This integration is seen in a lot of Malaysian architecture, such as in Peranakan architecture that fuses Malay, British and Chinese architecture in a single shophouse. So I think this is an interesting element that I want to share to a place like Canton. In terms of the natural landscape, l also see a connection since Indian, Pakistani and Bengali landscape basically lies in the Indus plain. I thought materials of vernacular architecture can also present a potential for memory and identity. Without diving too deep into the research, I present some images below to get the ball rolling.

COACH: the concept that you are describing sounds along the lines of what we discussed, and looks perfectly good to me so far. The images that you submitted are interesting, although I have a hard time understanding what you are keeping from them. Most of them look like man-made natural environments, not natural. Is that what you have in mind? or are you thinking in terms of green roofs over intriguing spaces that change in height, creating changes in elevations above them? If so, then I definitely think this is a great approach, and the images help in visualizing it. The sketch that you submitted is very accurate and interesting so far. I think it encapsulate exactly what you seem to have in mind. It is a great first step, and I would encourage you to keep sketching because I am  sure you will be able to discover lots of new ideas through this process. If no ideas come up for sketching, begin to work on the actual building – meaning, print the drawings out pretty small (sections, plans, elevations), use trace paper, and begin sketching over them with pencil or ink. This is usually the best way to rework a piece, and try to get the concept in the images above to merge with your building by making the changes you need to make. During this process, smaller ideas will pop up in your mind, which you can then explore by making quick 30 second sketches in separate sheets. In this way, you can engage in a fun process of not only reworking the project, but reworking the overall strategy and narrative of the project, as well as producing material that will tell the story of how your project was conceived and developed. 

 

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JESSICA

Jessica is a 26-year-old woman, with a background in business and property development, interested in applying to Masters of Architecture programs in the United States.
 
JESSICA
1. Architecture School Essay – rough draft: This is definitely a rough draft and the language needs quite a bit of work. I will also need to cut this down. At the bottom of the essay, I’ve included some project ideas that could fit with the theme/story. Please let me know your thoughts. 
 
2. Stick models: I decided to start from scratch, feeling uninspired by my last project. I like where it ended up; although, I’ll admit it’s not easy for me to draw. Taken a stab at some drawings; they are definitely not proportional but I wanted to produce more than spend so long on one. I will upload later this afternoon. 
 
3. Piranesi: I only have 18 x 24 paper; it’s been moving slowly. I’ve been called into work this week (not tomorrow) which has made it difficult for me to commit time to all of the items above. I will also upload my progress tonight. 
 

ESSAY:

I am a walker, but do not confuse me for a saunterer. From a young age, moving in a hasted run-like-walk through the megacity of New York yielded a sense of personal autonomy. This freedom gave rise to a self-awareness of how my surroundings and physical environment were and continue to shape me. In other words, the not so particularly beautiful sidewalks of New York construct my psyche. Walking serves as a means of discovery of the conglomerate that is New York where my burning calves is my only boundary. The lack of physical uniformity represents the diverse thinkers, cultures, languages, ethnicities of the city. The physical disparity encourages individual expression; the skyscrapers, ambition; the subway, competitiveness. Passing through blocks, neighborhoods and boroughs is passing through people and communities, even in emptiness of night.

One of my regular short routes is walking from Chinatown to Downtown Brooklyn and back via the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge is easily trumped by its infamous counterparts, but its narrow walkways with abrasive lights and adjacent deafening, often slow, crossing of the BDN&Q subway lines remain as a relic of New York’s uncomfortable, displeasing disposition. The littered neoclassical arches emerge from the chain-link guard; the crumbling masonry buildings of my neighborhood lurk in the shadows of the glistening curtainwall towers above; reverberating steps do not diminish my unilateral faith in NY engineering. The overwhelming sensory experience yields a sense of comfort and familiarity with the foreign, non-homogeneity that is New York.

My relationship with New York is so fundamental to my identity that although I knew I wanted to attend university in an urban center, I did not realize until my second year that I could pursue my interest in this relationship by majoring in Urban Studies and minoring in Psychology. After experimenting with a multitude of disciplines, the course Industrial Metropolis, taught by walking through Philadelphia and observing/comparing/studying structures, plans, people of present to past fit with my curiosity of cities and tangible (economic, political) impact on communities and intangible (sensory, psychological) impact on individuals. The drive to understand the interdisciplinary relationship between environment and humanity led me to study in Paris for my third year of studies. From Urban History to Economy of Sex to History of Jazz to Gardens insert course name, the courses centered on Paris and its history to formulate a complete story of how present day Paris exists. This year solidified my understanding that cities are puzzles of complex history and it is imperative to understand this history from as many angles and perspectives as possible to have a truly informed idea of a city today.

By means of these walking revelations, it has become clear that community development and neighborhood revitalization speak to me most. The challenge of striking balance between ameliorating conditions for local individuals while preserving their essence exhibited by the built environment fascinates me, and selfishly, as I see New York become ever more homogenous, is a driver for me that I wish no city to fall fault to. This interest led me to West Harlem affordable housing and commercial developer and owner, Janus Property Company. To be apart of a private developer so deeply entrenched in the community was incredibly unique experience in NYC. My first project fresh out of school with no design/construction/handiness experience was to build out offices in a small 1000 sf storefront space on 130th Street and Amsterdam Ave for local not-for-profit, PA’LANTE Harlem (People Against Landlord Abuse and Tenant Exploitation), serving the community for decades. With no architect or engineer, I ran the full gut job, building an ADA compliant bathroom, private office and x number of desks. I was suddenly the designer, engineer, construction manager, super, electrician, plumber and tenant manager. I may have bothered the seven person firm and contractors with too many questions, but facing and completing this challenge, providing space for Elisa to continue her impertinent business for the community, brought so much satisfaction. I continued this purpose by moving to planning/design/construction project management for a major healthcare system to again serve communities around New York and continue expanding my breadth of knowledge in construction and complex design.
Project ideas that follow this essay:
  1. All projects touch on theme of environmental psychology?
  2. Cognitive map of NYC or Chinatown or elsewhere: “A cognitive map is a type of mental representation which serves an individual to acquire, code, store, recall, and decode information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in their everyday or metaphorical spatial environment. The influence of cultural, social, and gender-specific factors on an individual’s representation of space is now also acknowledged in cognitive psychological research.” – this is overall can be about my relationship to/perception of environment ; example of art project as example http://ivanasidzimovska.com/projects/11-mental-maps-kreuzberg/
  3. Kebab stick project thoughts – Overview reminds me of the shape of Paris even though I did not have that in my mind consciously at all; From this, I’m not sure exactly where to go
  4. Something related to these 20th century type buildings I am familiar with; Study of decay?
  5. Creative manipulation of existing plans?
 
COACH
Comments: 
 
1: (Essay): 
I see that you are trying to use the Walt Whitman approach we discussed, of listing things as you walk. Interesting so far, although I am not sure where it is taking the first part of the essay, the description of your persona, yet. THe influences that you are trying to use are revitalization/historic preservation, and the urban environment of a large metropolis. However, what does that say about you? You are a collage of all these influences, so your persona is generalist, not focused, and that is not a bad thing, but the danger is not leaving them with a clear idea of what you really stand for. I think this is what you really need to work on for the first part of the essay (the ‘Where I am” part). 
 
The third paragraph is also ‘where am I”, but this time you use more of the format of a CV rather than the poetic narration of the first two paragraphs (which was pretty interesting by the way). I would recommend that you find things in this paragraph, which support the main points made in the first two paragraphs, and then try to integrate them together so that you can tell us about your academic career while defining your persona. Right now, the paragraphs are too disintegrated. 
 
Projects: 
– I like 1, the environmental psych theme. We can discuss it as a portfolio theme or part of it
– 2: It depends on the overall charactr and theme of the portfolio.
– 3: I think you will get lost and confused dealing at such a large scale and in such abstract terms. Try some readings of possible smaller scale projects. 
– 4: Would not recommend it.
– 5: No
 
 
2: Stick Model
Looks good so far. 
The point of the sketches is to try and interpret what your model could become, and then try and develop it slightly. Do not just sketch the model like a still life. Instead, try to look at your model carefully, from a specific point of view and using a specific base, and then ask yourself:
– what am I looking at? What could this be? Is it a chair? Is it a cabin? Is it a building? Is it something larger, like a landscape? 
– How big is it?
– Where is it located? in a city? which part of a city? in thje water? under water? On a hill? Overlooking something? On top of a tower? You can place it anywhere
– How do people use it? 
 
And then, begin to actually imagine how this thing looks. The final definition of your space should be with paper, so it can go through the structure, not necessarily just cover the exterior. Think about the sticks not as a structure, but as a framework for you to think. 
 
Finally, try to play with the two models that you created and see if you can combine them into one. You can take photos of them in different positions to see how they fit. 
3: Piranesi
It looks good so far, but I recommend that you extend some more guidelines first, and then extend some guidelines of your own based on these extensions. Just like with the stick model, this approach will create a framework for you to think, and within that framework you will then be able to make multiple readings of what you are looking at. Then, you can go ahead and add your elements based on Piranesi’s drawing. This approach will also allow you to see the entire drawing as one piece, as opposed to a collage of multiple different ideas. It will help you balance it and build a vignette that shows interesting spaces and architectural patterns. 
_____
JESSICA
 
At this point do I continue more lines or start filling in more details? Start with pen or pencil? 
 
COACH:
I just noticed your email. For some reason it ended up in my spam folder. From now on, please text me as well as email me, just to make sure I know. 
The Piranesi looks ok so far, and definitely better than last time we looked at it. I like that you extended the lines first and then tried to develop some kind of a framework for the development of ideas.  I would recommend that you try to add depth to your drawing, by exploring what happens beyond the middle ground. The background is key because it will allow you to understand the drawing three dimensionaly and achieve balance along the Z axis. 
In terms of details, be careful when you are drafting elements that Piranesi is using in his work, like arches, doors, bridges etc. Try to learn from him and in the beginning try to imitate him. Be as precise as possible when drawing. Some of your arches for example are unclear and not well defined.
Finally, Some elements, like these arched openings, need to show depth. Right now in most cases you are just showing a profile. Try to spend a bit more time thinking if the elements you have added to the drawing make sense, (and if they don’t, you will know it), and then fix them. Look at Piranesi’s work for guidance, or simply look around you. 
I think the next step after you are done with the corrections is to move forward with the rendering of the drawing. Email me when the pencil is complete, and just go ahead and start inking.
____
 
JESSICA:
today I focused on my essay the stick project as well as thinking about the references a bit more. Piranesi will come in the next days; I understand I won’t be getting feedback. 
 
Sticks: As I was cutting away, an arc shape came forward (perhaps Piranesi on my mind), but as did a climbing structure. Somewhere in the evaluative/strategic documents, I’ve written about rock climbing (as it is one of my passions). It felt natural to me for a climbing structure with mediative nooks to emerge. I will work on sketching and seeing other forms/uses of this and share w/ you over the next days. Photos uploaded to dropbox. 
 
Essay: I’ve pasted this draft at the bottom of the strategy google doc 
 
References: I’m certain of two references; the third is up in the air. 
 
You had asked me to free-associate on things that fascinate me and group them. Here is that: 
 

Chipped plaster/stucco 

Condensed Terra-cotta flat arches 

Mold markings on Sheetrock

The scratchy, Uneven texture of the face of worn limestone 

Dirty, dark bricks and stone

Pile of pavers 

Crumbling stucco/plaster with moss 

Faint Cracks in materials 

Dented metal roofs 

Corroded Cast iron columns 

Demolition; materials falling on themselves 

The sound and form of rope dropping on the ground or tensioning around wood 

The streets that do not conform to a grid; alleyways 

Small entrances 

Dirty bodegas 

Dense, local business of locals in chinatown selling spices and eastern medicines 

Winding streets overlapping others, access to other streets via stairs 

Warm, fuzzy light 

Candles 

Wax dripping 

Smoke formations 

Fog 

Tree roots sticking out of the ground

Lumpy, bumpy, massive trees 

The circular dips in rock formed by water 

Wabi sabi 

Dried dead plants and flowers 

Water receding 

Ripples in body of water 

Sun reflection off of water 

Algae on rocks and flowing with the water 

Cowhides 

Cats 

Zebra print upholstered chairs 

Bird feathers 

Wrinkled fabric 

All shades of brown and cream 

Stack of raw linen paper 

Translucent materials

Christo and Jeanne Claude 

Curves and softness in shapes 

Stone Staircases that show wear of use 

Spiral stairs 

Caves

Velvet couches

Noguchi  

Xavier Corbero 

Gaudi 

Richard serra 

Piles of books, magazines 

Parallelograms

Tatami mats 

Heavy, Grand wood doors  

Ornate wood carvings 

Cornetto 

Red rocks and dust

Vertical crag, imperfections in rock as holding points to climb 

Worn down seashells 

Mugler suits 

Corsets 

High heels 

Femme fatale 

MIsc.

Baroque music 

Airy early 2000s dream music 

Simone de Beauvoir 

Pina bausch 

Araki 

 
My plan for the rest of the week until our next session is to sketch the stick and free associate more with it as well as accomplish more with Piranesi. Once I receive feedback, I will work on that as well. 
 
COACH:
 
I went through your essay, and I think it is moving along well. I think we should discuss it in session. I’d rather not offer feedback on it right now, because something tells me that if I do, you will start working on it again and forget about the design projects 😉
 
Sticks: “A climbing structure with meditative nooks” – sounds terrific! Perhaps a meditation space for climbers? Or a house for Alex Honnold? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Phl82D57P58) – A rockclimber’s townhouse! Or something more public, like a 3D, vertical park, accessible with stairs, perhaps attached to the highline, or a vertical extension to the highline, Next time I will show you some similar examples so that we can clarify a vision for this. I think it’s great, so go ahead with it. 
 
Piranesi: I think it looks much much better. The elements are clarified, the arches look good (most of them), etc. Overall, it is a bit unclear what it “wants” to be, but that’s ok, you can slowly clarify it as you develop it. It feels a bit like a cubist composition, with different chunks of the drawing having different vanishing points. I like it! There is one other student’s work that comes to mind, and I will share it with you next time. For now, try to develop as much of it as you can in the way we discussed. 
 
Regarding free association: I meant free associate as you are exploring possibilities for the stick project, however, it is very interesting that you put yourself through this process of free-association. A theme pops out (so far): raw material with strong textures something you can touch and feel deeply, how light hits it – Sensuality of material. If you agree with this, try to think how it could fit in your story, and then we can discuss further in session (take some quick notes if they come to you).
 
Let me know what you think about my last paragraph, and keep working and updating me on Piranesi/sticks progress. 
—–
JESSICA
– 
I uploaded piranesi progress from yesterday to dropbox. There’s definitely plenty of mistakes, but I’m embracing them for now. 
 
Re the climbing structure – glad you like the idea. I think public space sounds more appealing, but I’m open to any ideas. Re location – since it takes on an arch shape, I thought near the Manhattan Bridge on Manhattan side could work. 
 
There’s a cluster of NYCHA buildings there (see attached from google maps) and not far away a new horrible condo building in my opinion. There is a parking lot bordering the nycha property, and I thought maybe this climbing structure could somehow be more dedicated to the public housing than the new developments. Maybe the meditation nooks face the public buildings .. not sure. We’ll discuss! 
 
Re sensuality of material – I think you’re spot on. I’ve been thinking of this, and a common thread between what I’m interested in left brain vs right brain is a sense of authenticity. It’s funny you mention the high line because although it is definitely nice, there’s something plastic, inauthentic about it too. Something I wrestle with in my head is how often new developments including public beautifications of urban environments brings in a privileged crowd and pushes out existing communities ; this thought reminds me of my interest in existing buildings and historic preservation. There’s something about authentic materials that give a sense of fullness of life /history through sensuality. But I’m not sure – I’ll probably have a thought later that contradicts this completely but throwing it out here.   
 
ASR COACH
 
Regarding your idea for the site, I know the area you are mentioning, and I like the idea of creating a public space for public housing, BUT, it is not weird and fun enough as a location as all the other stuff we discussed. I am not saying you need to force yourself to pick something else, but I remind you that this project is still at the ‘childish play’ stage, and if you lose that and start addressing too many real issues, your creative side may suffer. If this was a real project, it would be a great site, however, it is not – it is a project meant to help you build the best possible portfolio project, and help you get excited about the process of designing environments, so the site is not my favorite. Having said all that, you are welcome to choose this site. I have no problem with it. 
Regarding the Highline, we agree on that. I think the way it was developed represents one of the greatest missed opportunities in the field of landscape design. And yes, it was what started the gentrification of that once terrible area. I think gentrification is a great issue, so discussing it in your projects is a good idea. the sensuality of existing buildings (whatever that means) sounds good too. The problem is that both these ideas are hard to understand in terms of projects. Meaning, it is hard at this point to present a planning project about Chelsea/Meatpacking, or to present a research project. We could, however, develop a critique of gentrification as a phenomenon. Or we could develop a project that critiques the adaptive reuse of former factories and soho loft spaces into condos that cost millions. Overall, we are talking about the soul of the city. ‘What is a city’? Is the question we should be asking ourselves perhaps. The New York phenomenon of the early 20th century, the cultural melting-pot, the immigrant’s home, is gone now. What is left of the real New York? In a way it is just the buildings; the sceleton of the life that used to occupy it. Like the Parthenon in Athens, these buildings are representatives of a different era. And ironically, the people who visit New York or move to New York, are here because they were attracted to what that era once represented, but it is not there anymore. So, these historic buildings may be ‘sensual’, but they pretty much do not really belong in this city any more. Most of them in fact are brand new, and all that is left of the old buildings is their facades. They are hollow, like the stage-set of a theatrical production. Therefore I cannot see how you could create something that criticizes the real social issue of gentrification and at the same time celebrate the very thing that is responsible for it, these buildings and their ‘history’. You kinda have to make a choice between the two If it were me, I would choose the social issue, BUT, as I mentioned in the beginning, it is hard to present a planning project or a research project at this stage. You are doing an excellent job thinking about it though, so continue doing so and you/we will get to it. I think you are very close. 
—-
JESSICA
I’ve uploaded progress to the dropbox folder. Wanted to get your thoughts. I decided to start the journey from the courtyard to the left side of the structure, progressively the floor inclining and the ceiling declining to create a very condensed space in the middle of the structure, followed by an open space, followed by an open decline on the right hand side. 
 
The right side needs to be modified the most thus far. A good portion of the paper throughout has not be glued down as I wanted to play with spaces, so they can easily be altered. 
 
I want to make the most “confusing” or cluttered part of the structure to align with the most condensed area, signifying the concentration camp.
 
COACH
The development of the model so far looks great. I like how you are thinking rationally and poetically at the same time. The idea of slowly compressing the participant up to the point where they reach the space where compression, confusion and perhaps … darkness? coincide. If I were you, I would begin using sketching a bit more.  and I would also keep in mind that the framework of the model is not set in stone. So, for example, on the left side, where now the process is beginning, you had originally created a very interesting space – a little mezzanine over an interesting bottom. You could have preserved that space and simply extended the model to create the ramp that you need to bring the participant up towards the center. By sketching things out on a moment by moment basis, in a focused way (spasce by space that you want to study) but without overthinking it, you will be able to work things out in your head without the need to adjust the entire model all the time. Having said that, working with the model the way that you have so far (by temporarily applying surfaces in places to test things out), is a very good idea and you should continue it. If you combine this approach with some sketching, as a way to keep record of all the possibilities, test them and compare them to each other, it would probably improve your process greatly, and as a result your product will be better. Anyway, overall you are doing well. Send me the latest later today. 
 

____________________________

____________________________

EDITH

Edith is a 24-year-old woman, with a background in graphic design and three years of work in the field, interested in applying to Masters of Architecture programs in the United States.
 

EDITH

Here is the latest version of my essay. It is also in bold right under the section 5 header in my strategic statement document. It definitely still needs work, but is it better structurally? What do you think?
 
Do you think structuring the portfolio around games still makes sense if this is the essay topic?
 
I will send photos of the kebab project tonight.
 
Thank you,
Emma
 
 
 

The way my mind works can be clearly delineated by the structure of my family. The left part of my brain is logical, thrives on facts, and thinks linearly like my intellectualist father. The right part of my brain allows me to be intuitive, creative, and think holistically like my expressive mother. My brother with Autism Spectrum Disorder has inspired me to be empathetic as fiercely as any of these other inherent traits. These influences are ever present in my design work, in which I direct my thinking and creative processes back and forth seamlessly from one hemisphere to the other, and always with social and service based impact as a foundation.


Throughout my education at Washington University in St. Louis, I was able to begin to explore ways in which design can have a social impact on its audience. I took courses that focused on community based design solutions, and continued that learning outside of the classroom.


  1. During all four years I was heavily involved in the Thurtene Carnival, which is a student run community event for the community surrounding the university. During my final year I was the design lead on building one of the structures to be showcased during the event, and created a gallery space filled with student art. The community had never had the opportunity to see or purchase student artwork on such a large scale before and the students were thrilled to get to better connect with ____.

OR


  1. During all four years I taught bi-weekly graphic design classes to underserved high school students at University City High School in St. Louis. I worked to create curricula, explain graphic design techniques, and work with individual students to improve their work and prepare their portfolios for the college application process. I was amazed at how this exposure to design so deeply impacted the students and has inspired me to want to teach.

My experience volunteering on the Exhibition Design team at the Design Museum of Chicago solidified my desire to creative innovative and interesting design that also has community impact. The mission of ChiDM is to make design accessible to an audience that does not usually have access, which has informed my thinking about my own practice and goals for the future. On nights and weekends I designed and installed shows from ideation through to completion, strengthening my knowledge of architectural programs and using complex construction methods to physically build exhibitions but also creating a direct impact on the community around me. The museum showed me that the quality of the design elevates its impact rather and should be emphasized. 


After feeling so inspired by the impact of the work at the Design Museum, I co-founded a design collective to work towards a similar objective. Our first endeavor was to transform a home into a site-specific installation and alternative gallery space to host a show made up of the work of 50 emerging artists, many of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorder and are represented by Pure Vision Arts, a gallery and studio that represents artists with ASD. We designed and curated a space with interesting and dynamic exhibition design that showcased the work of artists and gave a platform to artists that are not usually able to show work in. The event created drew over 300 guests and created an inclusive space for artists of all abilities while still retaining a high caliber of design and art.


I currently work as a designer at Stefan Beckman Studio, a production and set design studio in creating large scale experiences for the fashion industry. We aim to turn fashion into art and use the sets to create interesting and unexpected experiences for our audience. I would like to take the incredible design skills I have learned at Stefan Beckman and translate them back into communities they could help improve. 


Architecture school will allow me to move towards my goal of working on design projects that are both innovative and community focused. I would like to build on my design education and learn how to practically apply my way of thinking to the built environment so I can have more of a widespread and lasting impact on the world around me.


I am a designer who interchangeably uses poeticism and rationalism to inform my work. I like to take on complex, multidimensional projects with many problems and components and complete them using an integrated thinking approach that incorporates both imagination and logic. My goal is to bring together multiple disciplines under the umbrella of strategic design, to create innovative systems that impact the lives of communities and individuals.

EDITH

So essentially a made a bunch of iterations of the spiral that did not come out well and ended up here. 
 
I’m thinking the well really is the center of the spiral. I’m not sure how to escape it though and come out of that model to the liberation which i think i can reuse some from my past piece and make simple, open, linear. This goes to a womb like shape that’s fairly open (still in progress) as building a family, home, etc. i’m struggling to incorporate the idea of the spiral (as ptsd) without it being an actual spiral 
 
 

COACH

I really like the models. Integrating the spiral and the well is interesting. The visitor descends to the bottom of the spiral and then enters it only to go back up again. This is particularly interesting because it shows the enormity of effort that your grandmother put into surviving that period, and in the end, when she came out her life (and the lives of others) had not progressed at all. It was a 5-year-long moment. I am not sure how much of this was intentional or accidental, but I think it is brilliant. How you handle the spiral, whether it is vertical or changes directions, shapes and diameters, is the next step in this segment, which you can examine after you have established the basics in all ther other segments. 
 
Regarding the womb-like model, I am assuming you mean photos 0829 and 0826. It is interesting. Try completing it and let’s see where it goes. Send me the latest later today so I can see where you are, and let me know what you think. 

__________________________________

____________________________________

KATHARINE

______________________

KATHARINE:

Here is the latest version of my essay. It is also in bold right under the section 5 header in my strategic statement document. It definitely still needs work, but is it better structurally? What do you think?
 
 
The way my mind works can be clearly delineated by the structure of my family. The left part of my brain is logical, thrives on facts, and thinks linearly like my intellectualist father. The right part of my brain allows me to be intuitive, creative, and think holistically like my expressive mother. My brother with Autism Spectrum Disorder has inspired me to be empathetic as fiercely as any of these other inherent traits. These influences are ever present in my design work, in which I direct my thinking and creative processes back and forth seamlessly from one hemisphere to the other, and always with social and service based impact as a foundation.

 

Throughout my education at Washington University in St. Louis, I was able to begin to explore ways in which design can have a social impact on its audience. I took courses that focused on community based design solutions, and continued that learning outside of the classroom.

 

  1. During all four years I was heavily involved in the Thurtene Carnival, which is a student run community event for the community surrounding the university. During my final year I was the design lead on building one of the structures to be showcased during the event, and created a gallery space filled with student art. The community had never had the opportunity to see or purchase student artwork on such a large scale before and the students were thrilled to get to better connect with ____.

OR

 

  1. During all four years I taught bi-weekly graphic design classes to underserved high school students at University City High School in St. Louis. I worked to create curricula, explain graphic design techniques, and work with individual students to improve their work and prepare their portfolios for the college application process. I was amazed at how this exposure to design so deeply impacted the students and has inspired me to want to teach.

My experience volunteering on the Exhibition Design team at the Design Museum of Chicago solidified my desire to creative innovative and interesting design that also has community impact. The mission of ChiDM is to make design accessible to an audience that does not usually have access, which has informed my thinking about my own practice and goals for the future. On nights and weekends I designed and installed shows from ideation through to completion, strengthening my knowledge of architectural programs and using complex construction methods to physically build exhibitions but also creating a direct impact on the community around me. The museum showed me that the quality of the design elevates its impact rather and should be emphasized. 

 

After feeling so inspired by the impact of the work at the Design Museum, I co-founded a design collective to work towards a similar objective. Our first endeavor was to transform a home into a site-specific installation and alternative gallery space to host a show made up of the work of 50 emerging artists, many of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorder and are represented by Pure Vision Arts, a gallery and studio that represents artists with ASD. We designed and curated a space with interesting and dynamic exhibition design that showcased the work of artists and gave a platform to artists that are not usually able to show work in. The event created drew over 300 guests and created an inclusive space for artists of all abilities while still retaining a high caliber of design and art.

 

I currently work as a designer at Stefan Beckman Studio, a production and set design studio in creating large scale experiences for the fashion industry. We aim to turn fashion into art and use the sets to create interesting and unexpected experiences for our audience. I would like to take the incredible design skills I have learned at Stefan Beckman and translate them back into communities they could help improve. 

 

Architecture school will allow me to move towards my goal of working on design projects that are both innovative and community focused. I would like to build on my design education and learn how to practically apply my way of thinking to the built environment so I can have more of a widespread and lasting impact on the world around me.

 

I am a designer who interchangeably uses poeticism and rationalism to inform my work. I like to take on complex, multidimensional projects with many problems and components and complete them using an integrated thinking approach that incorporates both imagination and logic. My goal is to bring together multiple disciplines under the umbrella of strategic design, to create innovative systems that impact the lives of communities and individuals.

 

COACH:

Here are a few comments:

Part 1, ‘Where am I’:

First of all, it is a good start. In the version you sent me you are stating the basic points you are trying to communicate (directly or indirectly), and you are establishing relationships among them, which you can elaborate on later. Essay as an essay is far from complete. For example, it is not ideal to describe that xyz inspired you to be more empathetic. Instead, it is better if you tell us what you did and let us conclude that you are an empathetic person. This is the next step in the essay development process, and it is not that easy to build, so for now I think what you have is a strong foundation for developing the actual first paragraph. 

Part 2, ‘Where I want to go’

Right now it is a CV-like paragraph, and does not help us what you are trying to achieve. It is just listing the things you have done, offering occasional glimpses of what you appreciated about these experiences. What you need, however, is an overall umbrella idea that you are trying to describe. Something that you feel you want to achieve in your life that transcends the material world. This is where the ideas of empathy, and how you want to use your design to address needs, problems, or the human condition, are all very useful and need to be somehow combined. 

Part 3 and 4: 

Scrap them and start over. Try to develop paragraphs one and two first, and then see how architecture school fits your needs to describe ‘how architecture is going to help you get where you need to go’. The reason why you are unable to write anything of substance in parts three and four is that your first two parts are far from complete.