My time at Cornell has finally come to an end and so I must conclude this web log. Thanks to those of you who have read — and those who have responded to — the many things that I have written here since May 2008 when I timidly posted my first blog entry. It has been quite a ride.

Although I am moving on, this blog will remain behind as a record of some of my thoughts and experiences as a college student. May it serve as a reference for future readers curious about life at Cornell.

As this will quickly collect dust in the recesses of cyberspace, I encourage you to check out some of the current bloggers featured on the Life on the Hill homepage. Their stories continue to inform, entertain, and inspire — as I hope mine have done over the past two years.


The past week  saw a flurry of activity as the summer architecture program came to an end.  Final reviews were held on Thursday, and we raced throughout the day on Friday to clean the studios and prepare for the closing reception. Parents swept through campus yesterday morning to see the final show and listen to the professors’ closing remarks.


By all accounts, the summer program was intense. Students worked around the clock in the studios: testing ideas, building models, and refining drawings to present in the final review.  Their hard work resulted in some outstanding project, and — judging from the wide smiles at the end of the day — it all may have been worth it.

Many students enroll in the summer architecture program with the idea of eventually pursuing a degree in the field. Some will go on to undergraduate ‘B.Arch’ programs like the one at Cornell, while others will elect to study at the graduate level. In both cases, the summer program serves as a good preview of what will come.

The curriculum this year included a number of two- and three-dimensional exercises that introduced students to architectural concepts such as space and instrumentality. Without divulging the entire course, I’ll go ahead and share a few examples of work produced by students in my section:



After finishing the cube project (pictured in the previous post), everyone in the course received a simple hand-held tool.  They documented these thoroughly and used drawing to investigate and expose each tool’s intrinsic properties. Later, the tools were considered in three-dimensions, and vessels were built to house them and choreograph their movement.


Finally, in the last week of the program, students were asked to design a small single-occupant dwelling based on concepts they had developed earlier in the term.



(from top: tool documentation by katie kelly, tool collage by willow hong, ice-cream scoop vessel by chris yee, dwelling model by katie kelly, dwelling section by noreen wu)


Graduation may have marked the official end of college life, but I’ve landed back on campus for one last dose of Cornell education.

This time, rather than taking classes, I am teaching them as a TA for the Department of Architecture’s six-week summer program. The studio course kicked off last week and we have already raced through our first exercise – the famed ‘Cornell Cube’ project.


Over a hundred students enrolled in the program this year, and they arrived to Ithaca from across the globe; Singapore, Turkey, Ecuador, Dubai, and Beijing are among the many places represented.

The program – which has been led for years by the same two professors – is conceived as a crash course in architecture. It introduces high school and college students to the intensity of a design studio and challenges them to think differently about the discipline.

I suspect that only a handful of students knew what they were getting themselves into when they signed up for this. The majority of exercises in an introductory architecture course are hardly recognizable as architecture, and students sometimes have trouble letting go of their preconceptions. Upon reviewing the first assignment, one girl turned to her TA and asked, “so, when do I get to design my dream house?”

It will be some time before any of these students design a dream house, but – whether they realize it or not – they are beginning to acquire the fundamental skills necessary to do so.

Although conducted slightly differently, the curriculum of the summer studio is similar to what I experienced as a freshman at Cornell. Students learn to think conceptually about space and form, and they learn to generate and convey their ideas through visual means.

As a recent graduate, I’m enjoying the opportunity to teach these fundamentals to a new generation of students. It’s a chance for me to reconsider my own architectural beliefs, and see how much wisdom I have accumulated over the past five years.

So far, we’re off to a goods start.  I’m working with a talented group of students, and they swing at everything we pitch at them. Five more weeks at this rate and we will have covered all our bases.


summer grilling

When the teaching cap comes off, there’s plenty more to enjoy about summer in Ithaca. The locals are out in full force, the Farmer’s Market is booming, and the cool waters of Cayuga lake beckon from afar. I keep kicking myself for not having spent a summer here before.

Most Cornell students ventured off campus when classes end in May, leaving the rest of us to live like kings. My friend and I are the only two people living in an eight person house with a wrap-around porch. Our friends visit from their own neighboring mansions to cook food, drink beer, and plan out summertime adventures.

Life doesn’t get much better than this.


So it all comes down to this. Five years at Cornell, ten design studios, countless exams, and one tightly rolled piece of parchment with my name on it. Done and done!


(my housemates: benn, travis, & jamie)

Eons ago, it seemed like I’d be at Cornell for eons. Then five years passed and the grand finale shot off in a blur. Life at Cornell as I had known it sputtered to an end and I finally felt prepared to move on. Classes done, parties thrown, pictures taken, and car packed to the brim with the nuclear fallout of college life. It was all finally over.

Graduation is not an end in itself; it is more of a transition. Many of us have no idea where we are headed, but the family pictures, long goodbyes, and funny hats remind us that we must be going somewhere.


Like an engaged couple whose first challenge together is planning their wedding, I was given the responsibility of orchestrating my own graduation weekend. Several relatives announced their intention to come to Ithaca for the festivities and I set out to find them adequate food and shelter. Four years as a campus tour guide and I thought I’d be prepared for this challenge, but the task of organizing one’s own family can never be underestimated. Keys, maps, schedules — all prepared neatly for their arrival, all somehow misplaced or discarded within hours. Four generations of Liddells roamed around campus — running up hills and darting between receptions without rhyme or reason.

On Saturday afternoon, the architecture department hosted a classy reception at the AD White house with enough wine on hand for conversation go down smoothly. Parents and professors confronted each other for the first time and swapped stories — hoping, perhaps, that their combined insight might paint an accurate portrait of their graduate.

A reception for campus tour guides followed shortly afterward, and I was impressed once again by the noise and energy generated by multiple tour guides in a single room. Volume must be an inherited trait, because the parents in attendance were no less boisterous than their offspring.


On Saturday evening, we retreated from the mayhem of campus to a beautiful enclave at the bottom of Cascadilla Gorge. The Director of the Rome program (a friend and Italian speaking-companion over the past couple years) opened her home to us and prepared an Italian meal with her husband for the entire group. The garden, the food, and the company couldn’t have been better.

Sunday morning finally arrived. I pulled on my newly acquired cap and gown and joined the pilgrimage of strangely clad graduates onto central campus. The architects huddled together in a small group on the Arts Quad in preparation for the big parade into Scholkopf stadium. I must have been nervous because I chomped down an entire box of Wheat Thins and moved onto a bag of Entenmann’s cookies (both purchased at the school store minutes before).

Students retrofit their mortar boards with colors and creatures while Beth Kunz, our fearless leader, draped purple stoles over our shoulders in recognition of the B.Arch (professional) degree. The Dean of our college, impressed by a multicolor boa on one girl’s head, found some feathers for himself and attached them to his hat — where they remained all day.



The ceremony went smoothly with thoughtful remarks by president Skorton, much applause from parents, and conferring of degrees by the deans. Our Dean joked that his boa flew in the face of hundreds of years of academic tradition; but he may not have expected it to blow into his own face during the ceremony. As he invited us to stand to receive our degrees, the strands of colorful feathers blew forward, obscuring his script and forcing him to pause to sheepishly readjust.

kent DD 09

(at my best …and worst… with dean kleinman)

Shortly after the University event ended, the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning held its own ceremony in a big tent on the Arts Quad. We listened to a few more comments from our administrators, then scampered across the stage as our names were announced. As I recieved my hard-earned diploma from Dean Kleinman, he said cheerfully, “I’m glad to see that you’ve stayed out of trouble Tim” — an apparent reference to my run in with the law last spring. I wonder if he knew that by handing me that diploma, he officially cleared my disciplinary record at Cornell. In any case, the diploma and handshake were appreciated.

In short order, family and friends dispersed across the country and I returned home to unpack, unwind, and start the next phase of life as a college-educated adult. Thanks to all who made it possible for me to go to Cornell, and all who made it painful to leave. It has been an incredible five years on the hill and I’m going to miss it.


Classes complete, thesis book submitted, and graduation around the corner: there’s no time to catch one’s breath around here. I’ve got commencement this weekend in Ithaca, my fifth year high school reunion next week in New Hampshire, then two weeks on an excavation in Italy, and my best friend’s wedding down in Richmond, Viriginia.

After that, a bit of peaceful unemployment? The prospects don’t look good; I think I’m heading back to Ithaca at the end of June to teach Summer College. A full report of activities will follow…


This Spring when fences sprung up along our campus bridges, my friend and I initiated a competition to “Re-Think the Fence.” We didn’t know what this meant at the time, and when asked for clarification, we remained vague. Something was unsettling about those austere chain-link fences and we wanted people to give them some thought.

Is a physical barrier needed to prevent students from committing suicide? If so, how impenetrable must a barrier be? Can all risk be diverted or could it be mitigated in some other way? These are difficult questions and — although the administration had already weighed in on the situation, — we were not prepared to do so. The competition therefore remained open, and we invited both literal and figurative solutions to Cornell’s apparent ‘bridge problem.’

The most striking images were those that challenged our conception of the bridge, and bridge fencing. They are, for the most part, imagined and extreme. Too many people jumping into the gorge? Cover it. Too much stress? Relax and play games. Questioning the purpose of life? Turn to religion. Is Cornell a suicide school? No, we’ve got blue lights.



Rethink the Fence



Blue Light Bridge.psd

Or could we do without the fences entirely?

Ives 1

Ives 3

(image credits from top: chris ryan, ken bongort, benn colker, mike esposito, mj raub, myself, noah ives)

The University has defended the fence and plans to commission an architect to design permanent barriers along the many campus bridges. I hope that this designer, and the community as a whole, recognize that a physical barrier — in whatever form — can only do so much. The most effective ‘fence’ to prevent suicide at Cornell might not be physical at all.


prosthetic bw

I woke up at 4:00pm after my final thesis review and texted my friend in embarrassment. “Sixteen hours of sleep? How long does it take to recover from thesis?” She responded from bed three hours later: “I’ve heard it takes about six months.”

Some time has passed since that final, blistering lap of my architectural education and I can look back on it now with some pride and amusement. Why did we take ourselves so seriously? None of us failed our thesis, and the primary measure of success was the amount of fun a student had with his or her project. In hindsight, the unrestricted nature of the thesis semester is truly a luxury; it ought to be exploited and enjoyed.

Admittedly, the hysteria that plagued our class took its toll on me, and I made more bad decisions in the last three days before the final review than I thought possible. But, for the most part, my project emerged unscathed. It took on a life of its own, and the ideas that had been floating around my head for months somehow coalesced around a single architectural project.



As I introduced in an earlier post, my thesis dealt with issues of variability and permanence — of material and cultural life-cycles. I chose to address an auto-demolition facility situated alongside the sprawling Park of the Appian Way in the outskirts of Rome; the uncomfortable proximity of industrial waste and Roman funerary monuments in this location fascinated me. I wanted to orchestrate the convergence of these two disparate worlds: the changing and the unchanged. I suspected that the funerary traditions practiced on the site for thousands of years might lend themselves to the proper display, disposal, and re-cycling of waste in the consumer culture of today.

The car became the subject of my exploration and I discovered parallels between it — as the object of worship in a consumer culture — and the human body — as the object of worship in the religious culture of early Rome. In this vein, I identified a strong correlation between the original Appian Way and the modern highway that has replaced it.  While the former plays host to dozens of celebrated tombs, the later is characterized predominantly by gas stations. Both tombs and gas stations serve (or served) as waypoints for travelers along a busy road, with prescribed services and signage to attract new guests.  Yet a tomb (as conceived by the Romans) holds a much more significant position within society than a gas station — it maintains ritual, structures the system of belief, and challenges the living to think beyond the scope of a single life-cycle.

Plan Sketch (2)

Section sketch


Like the human body, cars have a finite life-cycle and must ultimately be disposed of. I resolved to build a funerary monument for automobiles — one that could sponsor rituals to celebrate the car and, in doing so, determine its material afterlife.

My thesis, entitled “MONUMENTAL DISPOSABILITY,” sought to undermine the apparent conflict between change and permanence by showing that one cannot exist without the other. I proposed a facility that would service cars, transform them, and — in certain cases — dispose of them. It employed a prosthetic logic wherein parts could be removed and replaced. The constant exchange of parts within a car actually sustains the whole. And so I imagined the structure of the facility itself to transform and evolve over time.

The underbelly of the project services the car and contains repair shops, storage, and networks to allowed materials to flow throughout. The upper portion functions as an arena, primarily intended for demolition derbies.

The inclusion of a demolition derby started as a joke but quickly became integral to the project. I would argue that the tradition of crashing cars into each other for sport — a common practice in the rural America — is well suited for Italian drivers. Like gladiatorial fights that were once arranged to bring crowds to important tombs, the occasional derby would bring people to the industrial site to see and experience automobiles in every state of action and decay.




I presented my work in Hartell Gallery at the end of a long day of thesis reviews. After I spoke, members of the jury asked questions, voiced their opinions and debated the merits of my project. Reviews in other rooms ended, and the small crowd surrounding me swelled into a large one.

The showdown lasted an hour and, for the most part, it went well. I was pleased to be finished, and pleased that my project provoked some spirited remarks. One of my friends told me that he had fun in the audience, and thanked me for  “putting on a show.” I’m not sure that was ever my intention, but I’ll take debate over boredom any day.

The department hosted a dinner for all of us afterward and we awkwardly unwound with our professors and critics at the Miller-Heller House in Collegetown. It didn’t take long for most of the group (faculty included) to migrate up the street to the Chapter House — an old favorite among Cornell architects. In the din of the bar, with drink in hand, one of the most outspoken critics on my review pulled me aside.

“I liked your project” he said “It was ballsy.”


I’ll take that as a compliment.


Earlier this semester, my fellow thesis students and I were corralled into the college’s main lecture hall to listen to the wise words of three professors and our new department Chair. The explicit goal of the session was to discuss the significance of an undergraduate thesis. And, while most of us had already launched headlong into our projects, questions still loomed. What’s the purpose of a design thesis? Is it an exercise in liberation or masochism? What’s the value for ourselves, and for our school?


(an image from my thesis… before I actually knew what I was doing)

The faculty couldn’t make up their mind about thesis, and they passed this uncertainty onto all of us. When the opportunity arose to establish some common ground — to agree on the purpose of thesis at Cornell — we were cautiously optimistic. A loose consensus on the subject could offer us that thread of structure that had been missing from our lives. I had hoped that this discussion would happen before the semester began, but good ideological sparring is better late than never, and we were eager for any guidance we could get.

The discussion, however, couldn’t have been more vague. Thesis at Cornell, it appears, is anarchy; strong opinions abound, but no one has the authority to do anything about them.

The most revealing presentation came from one of my own thesis advisors, who had taken it upon himself some months earlier to gain perspective on the word ‘thesis’ by gathering opinions from throughout the architectural community. He sent an email to colleagues and friends asking them to complete the sentence: ‘thesis is…[blank]’

The responses were wildly diverse, amusing, opinionated, and contradictory. Some were extreme: “Thesis is…the most important project of your life; the start of your career.” Others were blunt: “Thesis is… don’t remind me”  A few were remotely inspirational: “Thesis is… what you make it.

The meeting was decidedly inconclusive, and we continued on our divergent trajectories. The purpose of thesis would remain a mystery at Cornell, but we could strive to make the most of it. The weeks wore on and as we approached our final review emotions ran high. Excitement, depression, and uncontrolled hysteria spread like wildfire. Thesis was a lot of things; for a good portion of the spring semester it was our life.

Expressions of distress and encouragement started shooting between thesis students in a group email chain. In the heat of the moment, we took it upon ourselves to complete the sentence “Thesis is…”

The sentences completed by our class in the days leading up to the final review couldn’t be more revealing of our strange mental state. Here is a sampling:

(5 days to go)

  • Thesis is… lonely, sweaty
  • Thesis is… almost over. 🙂
  • Thesis is… Like the movie Tron…you get sucked into the computer and can’t get out

(4 days to go)

  • Thesis is… like being pregnant: nausea/morning sickness, random food cravings, weight gain, crazy irrational mood swings, and a thesis/baby at the end.
  • Thesis is… A premature baby
  • Thesis is… [frog fail]

(3 days to go)

  • Thesis is… [in braille] bump, bump, no bump, bump, three vertical bumps, four bumps in a square
  • Thesis is… [walking on water]
  • Thesis is…


(2 days to go)

  • Thesis is… Intellectual Bulimia
  • Thesis is… [all by myself]
  • Thesis is… Sleeping Disorder, Eating Disorder, Sex Disorder

(1 day to go)

(This morning)

  • Thesis is… OVER!


As if things couldn’t get worse, the Daily Sun published an article on Monday discussing the average starting salaries of Cornell graduates. As you can see, the future is rather bleak for those of us in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (#4) who can expect to make significantly less than our collegiate peers. Although the numbers are difficult to refute, the graph itself is misleading and I decided to write a letter to the editor expressing my concerns.


Here’s my letter as it appeared in today’s issue of the Daily Sun:

To the Editor:

Re: “Cornell Class of 2009 Grads Find Fewer Jobs, Earn Less Than In Previous Years,” News, April 19

I glanced at the cover of Monday’s Daily Sun and was dismayed to see a bar graph entitled “Starting Salary for Cornell Grads by School.” Not only does this chart point out that my fellow architects and I will be getting paid far less than other Cornell graduates next year, but it does so in a graphically irresponsible manner. The problem is that the bottom of the graph has been chopped off without indicating a new baseline value. Believing that the x-axis of the graph is zero, we get the impression that students in AAP earn a mere quarter of what one might earn after graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences, and only 8 percent of the starting salary of engineers!

The fifth-year architecture students are stressing out about thesis right now, and this visual affront on our livelihood is unfair. My best friend nearly cried when she looked at the graph and I had to explain to her that the situation is not as bad as it may seem. We can expect to earn about $37,000 next year, which is more than half the starting salary of our rivals in Duffield Hall. And although we are doomed to a low-paying career, it is clear that there will always be a need for our graphic skills.

TL ’10


If I were to describe my stress level right now using the Homeland Security color code, I’d say bright red. The severity of the situation is mostly due to my thesis project, which must be completed before the final presentations on May 11th. If the next three weeks aren’t miraculously productive, my five year tenure at Cornell will be extended to six, and a serious damper will be placed on the impending graduation festivities.

So far, things are not going very well. Let me list for you some of the set-backs that I have experienced during the past two weeks.

  1. I walked into my first job interview and managed to catch the interviewer off guard. He literally jumped out of his chair in surprise when I entered the room. Talk about first impressions!
  2. Our college hosted an alumni career forum and I showed up before my classmates to sign up for an open interview. I got the time slot I wanted and stuck around for a couple hours to listed to the panel discussion. To my dismay, the people at Career Services had made a serious error; they posted two identical sign-up sheets and ended up with twice as many names as they could accept. They discarded the sheet that had my name on it.
  3. I told my parents over the phone that I am looking forward to a healthy period of unemployment and the line went silent.
  4. I woke up on Friday evening and couldn’t find my car in the parking lot behind our house. Apparently I drove it to campus on Wednesday, forgot about it, and walked home with friends. I finally found it with two days of tickets on the windshield; luckily it had not been towed.
  5. As noted in #4, I have become nocturnal. I wake up between 8pm and 10pm and work until the following afternoon.
  6. I gave a campus tour on Saturday and a girl asked me how I pull it off. How do I manage all the work at Cornell? I almost admitted to her that I was nocturnal and hadn’t slept for 26 hours, but realized that it wouldn’t go over well with the moms. So I spoke about academic advising and time management, admitting only that “I lead a strange life.”
  7. Today I deposited birthday money from my grandparents and mailed a check to Commuter and Parking services, suffering a net birthday-week loss of $10.  Sorry Grandma.


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