Prayer of the Children

After the incident at my Alma Mater, I remained purposefully silent on my blog.  That post was one of my most widely reaching posts, and I previously had decided that I was going to post personal blogs more often, but the events that have occurred since then have deterred me from doing so.  After that event, my social media news feed was bombarded with strongly varying opinions, ambiguous news stories, highly romanticized and exaggerated information, and ultimately a tense and racially charged election season.  I know that I personally shared information that after the fact people proved to be wrong, and I also shared information that was proven fact but people chose not to believe.

2016 was a trying year for minorities.  We discovered the best and the worst in people, and many groups of us have decided to either unite with others, or retreat into our respective demographics.  I discovered existing activists and watched new activists emerge.  I also found that even through all of the conflict of the past year, the majority of us still have faith that our country is working towards equality and equity for all of its citizens.  That being said, we as a country have a lot of work to do.

I really began to understand that our beautiful red, white, and blue country had flaws in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks on September 11th.  I was in middle school, and although we didn’t talk about it at home, at school I learned the significance of the event the next day.  My way of trying to process it was to use an assignment in my computer class to explain how I felt about it.  I found a CD of monk music among the resources our teacher gave us, and I did a slideshow of pictures I found on Google.  There was a song on the album called “Prayer of the Children,” which I believe was written about children in second and third world countries of conflict, but I felt it was meaningful for the feelings my twelve-year-old mind was having. Of course, I was the weird kid who didn’t do a normal, fun video, and everyone was like “umm… that was depressing,” and stopped talking to me for a while.

But in my head, growing up in post-Columbine America, where school shootings went from a handful per decade to a handful per year with no signs of slowing down, an increase in known (and unknown) terrorist threats, and an uncertain economy, I wondered how much our prayers as children were heard.  I wondered why it seemed as though children suffered at the hands of adults, and I began to understand that the Earth that we were to inherit was broken.  In the years to follow, I learned that fear is a powerful tool, and as much as we could, we as a society could not succumb to this fear.

As much as I would love to say that people in my generation and those a few years older all came to the same conclusion as I did, 2016 was the biggest manifestation of our fears that I have seen yet.  This fear did not come out of nowhere.  It came from event after event, decade after decade of worries and doubts and exclusion.  Fear has sent our country backwards, to where people are genuinely worried for the safety of themselves and their loved ones every day.  But here’s the problem.  I don’t think people realize that what they are experiencing is fear. Manifestations of negative biases like racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, microagressions, oppression, and so many others are rooted in the fear of others that are not like us.  Denial of scientific facts and proven data are rooted in the fear of change.  Crooked regulations on our health and economy are rooted in the fear of loss, whether it be loss of assets or otherwise. And unfortunately when we look to our news outlets and political leaders for security in our country and its stance as a world power among nations, we are met with sensational statements that border on truth and are laced with bias, which causes more fear.

The good and bad news is this: the fear that many of us are feeling has been dismantled by knowing that we are not alone in our fear.  The difference is what we do with this information.  We can be safe, hide in our homes, with our friends that we know and love.  There is nothing wrong with this, if the people you surround yourself with are loving, compassionate, empathetic people.  Those qualities are not fear driven.  However, when we come together in our fear and our fears compound, they will eventually explode.  We have to be careful that we recognize our fears and learn to conquer them.  This will be an uncomfortable experience.  That is inevitable.  If you have ever seen someone who has a fear of insects or heights, you can see their discomfort.  You can feel it.  People of color experience this in stares and body language, words and actions.

But here’s the thing.  If you look closely enough, most people are just like us.  They are living here, working here, having families here, and that in and of itself is not a crime.  The best part about this country is that we take the best of what makes us different, find common ground, and celebrate our unique contributions.  There is nothing to fear in being different, because even in those who are similar we can find differences.  And when we come to recognize that fear is just a feeling, and that it can be replaced by love, we will become a better nation.

Building of the Day:
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Washington, DC, United States
Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond
2016

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You, Architect

It seems as though in order to understand what a modern-day architect is would take a lot of effort alone.  As previously noted, the term “architect” can refer to a lot of different things, and understanding the place of the contemporary architect is being continually debated because the scope of work now is so broad that no one person can possibly know everything there is to know about the built environment.  I think that the biggest shift in our idea of what architecture is has come in tandem with a shift in what we as a society have come to recognize as space.

Besides space being the final frontier, it has become as much a metaphorical context for human connection as it is a physical location.

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In other words, space is as much this concept in our head as it is the place where we are.  It is also something we can all agree that designers have the ability to manipulate.  This is where connections can be found.

Ok, so what I’m getting at is that space can be created digitally, musically, structurally, metaphorically, etc.  Close your eyes and listen to Handel or Mozart, and the spaces created in your mind are automatically different than Lil Wayne and Big Sean, who of course architect the flow, rapping stories on stories.  There is also digital space, with programmers building chat rooms and web sites and hard drive locations, all with their own intricacies and parameters.

So yeah, the world has stolen our profession.  But I think the world has also figured out that the deviser, maker, or creator of anything is whatever it needs to be, because my degree requirements definitely did not cover software architecture.  What do you define it as?  Has your opinion of Architecture changed?  Let me know in the comments below.

Building of the Day:
Nazi Resort Rennovation
Architect Unkown
Rügen Prora, Germany
1936, 2022

I, Architect

Being the grammar Nazi that I am (and please know that my grammar isn’t perfect), I wonder about words in that mystical, philosophical hour before dawn (which has been universally agreed upon by the powers that be as 4am).  Designers, you know 4am.  The wee hours after working hard on a project when most people have visions of sugarplums, we live inside our Revit and Sketchup models or write and rewrite that spec we forgot about.  It was here that I began to think about what it means to be an architect.  So I began to google just what an architect is.  What I found was amazing, and a little surprising.  What, praytell?  THE WORLD HAS KIDNAPPED OUR PROFESSION!!!

Im serous.

Having had to look for jobs recently, this is what I found:

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 9.33.07 PM

So my first thought is yes! there’s literally thousands of jobs I can apply for!  And then I look at the descriptions which have anything but what the textbook definition of what an architect actually is.

Or so I thought.

Besides the universal idea that an Architect is a divine manipulator of space that designs great monuments to creation, I also found this:

def.architecture.n

Anything.  Like the Constitution.  Or a shoe.  Or a garbage bag.  But really, when you look at this definition, it can apply to a lot of things.  So what does that mean for Architects?  If other professions have now claimed the right to call themselves by this name, which many perceive to be a prestigious title, of what use is it?  How do we use it?  How do we explain and describe what we do others? Because quite frankly, my parents till have absolutely no idea what I do every day at work. For all they know, I could be a Software Architect or Solution Architect.

I guess the biggest question I have at this moment is, what is an Architect, and what does an Architect do that makes him or her different, or the same, as other modern professionals?

If if were up to good old Vitruvius, an architect has to create things that are: strong, beautiful, and functional.  Translating to today’s standards, does it work, does it look good, and is it durable, long lasting, timeless, etc.  Now, Vitruvius had all the time in the world to become an accomplished Renaissance Architect, Philosopher, and Artist,  mostly because Instagram and Twitter didn’t exist yet.  Otherwise, he would probably just be working at a university somewhere and making his rounds doing Ted talks and creating cool, confusing installations for museums of modern art.

But since Vitruvius isn’t the be all, end all of architectural philosophers (and trust me, there are hundreds of thousands of people who have put in their two cents about what is and isn’t architecture over the centuries), somehow this mad race of technology has redefined what Architecture is, and what Architects can do. So, I decided to do some research and see what the heck an architect really is, because some people don’t know.  Not everyone can be Mies now.  I mean, you could try.  I have perfectly good step-by-step instructions on how to be the next Mies, Frank (there’s a few Franks), or Zaha.  Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

Building of the Day:
Gebeze Industioal Vocaitonal High School
Gebeze,Koaceli, Turkey
Norm Architects
2015

A Blank Canvas

As part of my explorations on achieving Domus, I used Iowa State as the background for a spatial study.  As previously mentioned, the ISU campus is home to dorms that are over a hundred years old, as well as those that are currently under construction.  Many adult lives began in these resident halls, and many more will be shaped and molded through these transient spaces.  Because my educational background began in Interior Design, I understand buildings as a series of moments.  Small spaces build to create bigger ones, and so I have focused my case studies on a single unit within a building as a way to create guidelines to aid my design process.  Below are my findings.

 

Oak Hall

Built in 1938, this historically all-women’s dorm has been home to thousands of students over the course of almost a century.  The building features hardwood floors, traditional dorm-style living, and with it’s adjoining twin Elm Hall, there is a dining hall right there in the building.  The typical two-person room is about 180 square feet and offers a closet for each roommate.  Many rooms come with a lofted bed for added space and ISU’s standard dorm furniture is provided.  The advantages of this layout are that there is designated space for each tenant.  The disadvantage of this space is that the space taken up by two closets could be used more productively.

Oak Hall

Helser Hall

The building on the site currently is Helser Hall.  In the 1950’s, construction boomed on campus as new additions, research centers, and new dorms were being built in the greater Ames area.  The population had grown by about two thousand students since 1940, plateauing at about 8,000, and tuition was about $65 per quarter.  Helser was a phased project, with ground breaking in 1957 and again in 1963.  These dorms feature 170 square foot rooms with a built-in closet partition, desk, and dresser unit.  This gives the rest of the dorm space for two beds and one additional desk.  Beds are not lofted, and they are metal framed instead of the newer standard of wood framed furniture that take up more space.  The advantages of this dorm are similar to Oak-Elm.  There is designated space for each roommate, and there is some freedom to customize within the unit.  Its location is also ideal, sitting at the heart of campus, with close access to State Gym, Union Drive Community Center, and many study buildings.  Disadvantages are the same as the Oak-Elm unit.  The built-in wall unit limits where furniture can be placed in the room.

Helser Hall

Eaton Hall

Built in 2003, Eaton Hall and its younger brother Martin Hall are the most recent new construction additions to the ISU Department of Residence, besides Buchanan II, currently under construction.  Eaton Hall is home to all suite-style dorm rooms, where singles, doubles, and two-room suites all have access to private bathrooms.  Right next door to Helser, Eaton has all of the convenience of Union Drive living and the luxury of a more private dorm experience.  Rooms are a minimum of 300 square feet for two people, with the coveted corner suites having maybe twice that, and some of the rooms are handicap accessible to accommodate students with mobility challenges.  Advantages are that the quality and location of the building make it in especially high demand.  Disadvantages are that students have to be responsible for the cleaning maintenance of their own bathroom facility, which can cause conflicts among roommates.

Eaton Hall

Findings

From my research in dorm trends, what college students need, and what they want, and what administration is interested in, I have combined my spatial studies with this information to develop a template for student housing for both traditional dorm and modern suite housing situations.  I have had a chance to do some digging, and a traditional dorm with closets like Oak or Helser Hall is not reasonable with modern requirements.  Dorms need to be open, flexible, and essentially a blank canvas for living and learning.  For traditional dorms, I believe a clean,  open space with a little more elbow room will be sufficient.  Having lived in Eaton Hall, I believe that there is a lot of wasted space in these rooms in the entry area near the bathrooms.  I am proposing a tighter configuration with a similar layout to Eaton Hall for suites.  If these rooms are to be housed in the same building, I am designing with a consistent dimensional width of 20 feet.  Below are my proposals for single rooms, suites, and a community bathroom.

Single/Double Unit and Community Bathroom

At 200 square feet, this layout allows for the university’s standard furniture to fit comfortably, lofted or unlofted.  It has room for the bare essentials and a few more things, if wanted.  The restroom is designed to accommodate about ten to twelve of these single units.  The current standard on campus is about a student-to-shower ratio of about 6:1, with some being more or less depending on these age of the residence hall.

New Dorm Double

New Dorm Bathroom

Suite-Style Living

In order to integrate suite-style housing, I have proposed a floor plan that is a combination of what has been seen in Eaton Hall and what can be seen in the current Buchanan Hall floor plans.  The difference being that the layout is tighter than what is seen in Eaton Hall, but has a more accessible bathroom layout than is seen in Buchanan.  The 250 square foot unit keeps space and privacy in mind.

New Dorm Suite

Next Steps

Using these as guidelines, I will combine these rooms with site and context to find a design draft that works out for everyone.  My next and final steps will be taking this research into Revit and applying it in virtual space.

Building of the Day:
Orestad College – Tietgen Dormitory
Copenhagen, Denmark
Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects
2005

Learning Happens Everywhere

In order to understand how to create the sense of Domus that I described earlier, I had to research a little bit about campus history, and campus future.  The college dorm room is a multi-use, multipurpose space, and trends in buildings have ranged from the utilitarian, one-size-fits-all model to a blank canvas, open to anything and everything.  Just on the Iowa State campus alone, you can do everything from share a small room with one stranger and share a bathroom with thirty strangers, to moving into an apartment where you and your children can live until your degree is done.  Because a college student isn’t always your straight out of high school teenager, campuses are accommodating to a variety of student lifestyles and issues.  I have chosen to focus on traditional 4-5 year student living.

Trends are shifting constantly in college dorm design.  However, one thing is clear: Dorms are no longer just for sleeping.  Building Design + Construction Magazine Online says it best when they write “They’re not just dorms anymore.”  Millennials want more, and expect more from the college experience. BD+C notes that if you ask them, things like WiFi and a little elbow room are essential.  Many of them come from homes where they have gaming systems, smartphones and tablets, and wireless connections to everything.  When I worked in student services at Iowa State, I could remember hearing the simultaneous groans of the students whenever the network went down on campus, or when a fuse blew from too much power being distributed from an outlet.  On the other hand, College and university staff are more focused on rentable space, functionality of the buildings, and whether or not parents are going to be willing to spend the money to send their kids across country to live on their campus.  Residence halls have just as much impact in the decision making process for parents and students as the major of study or classroom resources available at a university.

Jeff Vredevoogd of Herman-Miller understands the importance of university resources and their distribution across campus buildings.  Herman-Miller’s published concept of “People, Place, and Pedagogoy” emphasizes the quality of the in-between spaces.  Social space is just as important as classroom space because learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom.  Collaborative learning happens everywhere, from tutoring sessions in the library to impromptu midnight cramming in the dorm hours before an exam.  Learning is a social experience, and architecture should reflect that.  Many newer dorm buildings are providing versatile common spaces that can be used for both recreation and auxiliary education.  This may be as simple as adding a whiteboard and table to small room, or building open-use cubicles where students can work alone, but not isolated.  The theme that I took to heart the most is that living and learning both involve community.

Gensler echoed Herman-Miller’s theory on living and learning, but raises a crucial question in the design of dormitory structures: How much space do we actually need in the dorm itself?  Millennials, being children of the Baby Boomers and post-boomers, are looking for special features and extra amenities, but as I mentioned in my previous blog, dormitory buildings are transient spaces.  Students live in them for a few months, a year, maybe two, and then move on to the next stage in the growing up process.  Gensler thus emphasizes the importance of the purity of campus housing.  College dorms do not need to have the works.  They can be simple, versatile spaces that do their job, without all of the swimming pools, and game rooms, and workout centers that some buildings provide.  Housing facilities should blend into the fabric of the campus, and connect students to amenities and resources that are already available elsewhere.  A good design will provide students with what they need, and give access to things that they want.

Understanding site context will be key in my next steps.  Although I have been a student at Iowa State for eight years, looking at it from a designer’s perspective as opposed to a student perspective will prove to be difficult.  What are the bare necessities for college life?  What has been proven successful at Iowa State?  How can I add something new and positive to the campus fabric? In any case, I know that a student will always find a way to make these spaces their own.  My goal in these next couple of weeks is to design a building that allow students to be themselves, learn, and grow.

Building of the Day:
Buchanan II
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa, United States
The Opus Group

Domus

Dormitory (n) eng. inf. “dorm
1. a building on a school campus where students can live
2. a residence hall providing rooms for individuals or for groups, usually without private baths
3. from latin dormitorium “sleeping place” from dormire “to sleep”

Domus (n) latin. f
1. home, household

Common (adj) eng.
1. belonging equally to, or shared alike by, two or more or all in question
2. pertaining or belonging equally to an entire community, nation, or culture; public

Every adult who was a traditional college student has memories of their first dorm.  From the posters we put on the walls to the things that happened in the spaces between them, college dormitories hold experiences.  There’s a lot of firsts, a lot of lasts, and a lot of growing up.  Dreams are made and broken, and others are achieved.  People fight and fall in love, get serious about studying, get drunk on weekends.  There is loud music, epic movies, and anything microwavable.  And now, you can find the greatest of these shenanigans on YouTube.

The one thing that these buildings all over the world have in common is their sense of home away from home.  There is an entire commercial season dedicated to creating a sense of home. Back to School has been partnered in recent years with Back to College or Back to Campus campaigns at most retail establishments. College students can now buy cheap, colorful furniture just for school.  Target even made an app for it!

College culture has changed over the years, but a few things remain the same.  The relationships that we make during our college years are the one which will last us a lifetime, and many of those relationships are made during late night study sessions, trips to the dining hall, or over a load of laundry.  Interestingly enough, however, dorm life is transient.  It is temporary.  Students don’t stay forever.  They live in these buildings for a few years, and then go on to other housing, whether it be an apartment, new house, or back home to the parental units.  A college dorm must fit the needs of individual students, but at the same time be standard enough to fit the needs of college life.

Iowa State University is a great documentation of how dorm-style living has changed over time.  With facilities over 100 years old and buildings built a decade ago, we can see the progression through time of what still works for student populations, and what doesn’t.  We can also see what upgrades have been made to buildings to accommodate modern student life. Oak Hall, for example, was the first female dormitory on campus, built in the 1930’s.  It was eventually joined with Elm to create today’s Oak-Elm all girls dorm and has individual rooms with common bathroom facilities.  It also features a dining hall built into the basement of the building.  Eaton Hall, built in 2003, is a co-ed dorm with individual and shared suites.  These suites have semi-private bathrooms and large common areas.  It is one of the only a few completely handicap accessible dorm-style buildings on campus, and students with mobility impairments have first priority on room choice.  Friley Hall, the oldest, largest, and most altered building on campus houses over 1200 people and is a small village in its own right.

My latest project takes us next door to Helser Hall.  Helser was built in 1957 with an additional four wings being added to the south in1963. A few wings on the north end were demolished to make way for the Union Drive Community Center, which was built in 2003. The four story traditional dorm‐style structure is currently home to four learning communities and has a total capacity of 713 students. All units are either double or triple units. It currently has no elevator, no air conditioning and no other promotable amenities, unlike many of the other residence halls near it on campus.

The goal of this project is to design a new housing facility for the Union Drive area. The new dorm must increase the living capacity to approx. 900 students and add amenities that will increase rentable value. Required amenities are laundry facilities, a computer lab, community kitchen, small meeting rooms, and lounge/study area. The building should have a combination of single, double, and triple rooms, suites with private bathrooms, as well as community bathroom arrangements. The buildings should also include a Hall Director suite and a guest housing suite on ground level and office space for Resident Assistants. The site should maintain 50‐70% of the current parking spaces, incorporate an outdoor courtyard area and replace any felled trees.

More details to come later.

Building of the Day:
University of Twente – Calslaan Dormitory
The Netherlands
Arons en Gelauff Architecten

BLACKfemalearchitect.

Last night I dreamed I was white.

I was a slim, strong, blonde-haired teenager without a care in the world.  I had a boyfriend who loved me and a group of friends I had known since preschool.  We went swimming in a lake at night, and my dream ended in watery moonlight.  When I woke up, I was sad.  I was sad because that has never been, nor will ever be me.  Not the white, blonde part.  The carefree life part.

I was seven when I discovered my race.  We had just moved to a new town, and I began going to a new school.  I stood out from the rest of my class.  I was the tallest, darkest, biggest kid there, or at least, that’s what it felt like.  Although I eventually made friends, a few kids in my class would always stare at me.  I never thought anything of it.

Second grade was easy for me.  My reading and math were above most of the class, so I often read ahead or daydreamed at my desk.  One day on the playground a third grader came up to me and started yelling at me about how my sister needed to leave her sister alone and stop bullying her.  I was confused, because my sister was only in kindergarten, and she went to a different school.  There was another black girl on the playground and this girl kept pointing to her and telling me to tell her to back off.  I had no idea who she was. It took me a good three uncomfortable minutes to explain to this third grade girl that I wasn’t related to her, or any other black kids at this school.  Still angry but now embarrassed, the girl just walked away.

I went back to class wondering what would make this third grader think that I was related to that other girl.  Being new, I had never seen this girl before, and I didn’t think we had anything in common.  When I told my mom, she said that to some people, we all look the same.  I was confused.  What did she mean, “we”?  And all of us?  All of who? Who are we?  I went to class the next day meditating on what my mom said.  At one point I looked up and realized that I was the only little black girl in my class.  I went to the playground at recess and counted four other black kids and about fifty white kids.  I saw the girl who was supposedly my sister, and although I thought we looked nothing alike, we had more in common in appearances than most of the other kids there.

I have gone my whole life being reminded that I’m not quite the same as everyone else.  From being called a nigger by the pastor’s son when I was in middle school to girls pulling my braids until the weave came out, my difference made it difficult to connect with some people.  Even one of my best friends whom I still love dearly didn’t quite understand why I was upset when she asked me what country my family was from, after explaining her family’s long and complicated heritage.

My parents thought that my sister and I would be better off if we found the historically black church in town and connected with some good, Christian black folks.  My parents made a few friends, but my sister and I didn’t make any at all.  The kids told us that we acted too white.  We were stuck up, and acted like we were better than them.  They made fun of the way we spoke and the clothes we wore.

On both sides of the race line, I was too much, or not enough, of one or the other.  Because of this, I rarely liked kids my own age.  I was expected to know and love Tupac and Nelly more than I was the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Brittney Spears.  A kid in fourth grade once told me that I could only drink chocolate milk, because I was chocolate colored.  White milk was for white kids.  I hated chocolate milk.

During adolescence and through my young adulthood, I never realized how much these events affected me.  I have countless others, more than are relevant to this blog, and the weight of these experiences was something that I had to carry alone.  From the color of my skin to the way that my body is shaped, to the way that I wore my hair, the way I walked, talked, spoke, dressed, I spent the majority of my time trying to pinpoint exactly what was wrong with me.  I spent the majority of my life aiming for an impossible perfection.

My dad once told me that I had to be twice as good at everything to be considered half as good at something, because of who I am, and what I look like.  After that, I spent a good part of my life trying to be everything to everyone so that I could be something to someone.  It wasn’t until this year that I realized why.  During a discussion with a group of students and professors of color at Iowa State, one professor said something that gave me the greatest level of understanding I had ever had about my experiences while being black.  She said that she has to constantly remind her kids every day to say “you are good, and you are capable.”  This statement struck me because having to be reminded that you are good implies that you first must think there is something bad about you.  This thought, that being who you inherently are is bad comes to us from media, pop culture, society, friends, and even family.  It says that some of us are born with this obstacle to overcome, and that obstacle is our appearance.  It was then that I realized how blind I had been to my own self loathing, and self criticism over something that I could not, and would not want to ever change about myself.  I came to own my differences, and not see them as the leech holding me back from life, but as something to be celebrated as something to be proud of.

My experiences haven’t changed.  I still frequently feel singled out and isolated and self-conscious.  What has changed, however, is how I respond to my experiences.  Questioning the sources behind microaggressions that I experience on a daily basis and sharing them with others allows me to process these events with the hope that one day they will cease to exist.  For now, however, each new experience feels like a moment when I rediscover the paper cut that I thought had healed.  It stings, it fades, it stings again.  Never fatal, but always there.

To my friends at Iowa State who have received both positive and negative attention for addressing the issue of having experiences just like mine, stay strong.  Your experiences are valid.  Your concerns are valid.  You are good, and you are capable.

Building of the Day:
Jack Trice Stadium
Ames, Iowa, United States
Finch-Heery & DDKG Architects (1975)
Rennovations by RDG Planning & Design (2015)