The battle between the sexes continues to rage at Apartment B.
My wall. Their wall.
Their soap. My soap.
The battle between the sexes continues to rage at Apartment B.
My wall. Their wall.
Their soap. My soap.
My complaint about not having a chance to meet Peter Eisenman during his visit to Cornell was preemptive and erroneous. On Friday, I sat down with the architect for two hours alongside a handful of graduate and undergraduate students to discuss architecture, athletics, the Ivy League and an assortment of other topics.
We began by discussing the architecture program’s ongoing search for a new Department Chair. Eisenman spoke candidly about who and what he likes about the school and where he sees room for improvement. He urged continued investment in the AAP in NYC program and promised that he and his cousin Richard Meier would teach at the graduate school if it were based in the city (like Cornell’s medical school).
When he started expounding on the relative merits of Yale’s architecture program, I asked him where his academic allegiances lie–to which he responded definitively “I bleed red.” This struck me as a bit ironic considering the fact that, biologically speaking, it would be difficult to bleed any other color, but throughout the rest of the talk he made it clear that as a sports fan and architect he cares deeply for the Big Red.
We talked at great length about Cornell Architecture and his experience as a young student, professor, and professional. His anecdotes and advice were interesting to hear, but the leisurely trip down memory lane almost precluded any substantive conversation about architectural theories or practice. With thirty minutes remaining, he lamented the fact that no one had asked about his most recent book, Ten Canonical Buildings (which he claims is quite good).
In response to one student’s comment about working in a firm, Eisenman poked fun at designers who seek jobsite experience. He claimed that architects have little need for knowledge of construction techniques or structural systems because builders and engineers can deal with those things. He spoke about architecture as a High Art and suggested that architectural ideas need not suffer the weight of pragmatism. Each comment pushed architecture higher onto a pedestal and I grew uncomfortable with his claims.
“You have made a distinction between architecture and building,” I said to Eisenman. “Let’s be generous, and say that 1% of all buildings in the world are works of architecture. How do you, as a leader in the field, expect architects to make a positive impact on the other 99% of the built environment?”
“Imitation!” he replied. Borrowing an unpopular term from the political Right, he admitted a strong belief in the “trickle-down effect,” wherein ideas from the avant-garde are passed down to the masses. While it is true that people around the world frequently copy the work of star-architects, I’m not sure how this benefits our society. Mini-Zahas and McGehrys function mostly on the basis of appearances and fall short of the conceptual strength of original designs. I started to imagine a bad imitation of Eisenman’s early work–a clumsy assortment of fragmented planes lacking both novelty and function.
I tend to believe that the best architecture occurs when designers creatively address real-world constraints (construction, structure, environment, etc). If one disregards function and performance, there is essentially no difference between ‘architecture’ and ‘fine art’ except scale. At his lecture on Tuesday, Peter Eisenman bemoaned the fact that architects only design museums and memorials these days. Perhaps it is because contemporary architecture–and certainly his own work–has already been reduced to a fine art and doesn’t belong anywhere else.
During the fall semester of my freshman year, while splitting time between architecture and heavyweight rowing, my over-worked, under-rested Bangladeshi TA came to my desk and recited a familiar ultimatum: “if you want to be great architect, Tim, you must spend very much time doing drawings. You must choose between architecture school and the crew team… look at Peter Eisenman: he was a swimmer at Cornell but he quit and now he is famous.”
At the time, I rejected the idea of devoting myself exclusively to Architecture in hopes of leading a more normal and healthy existence as a student-athlete. But the story about Eisenman stayed with me and I ultimately left the crew team in my second year to pursue academic interests. If my TA was right, it’s just a matter of time before I become famous like Cornell’s great swimming drop-out.
This week, Peter Eisenman has returned to campus as Cornell’s newest “Rhodes Professor.” During his 3-5 year term in the Rhodes program, Eisenman will visit Ithaca annually for about a week, live on west campus, eat meals among undergraduates, and participate in public lectures, classes, exhibitions, and student discussions.
(full pews at Sage Chapel and the Berlin memorial)
Last night, Eisenman presented his firm’s recent work at a public lecture in Sage Chapel (a strange, but relatively pleasant venue). He spoke at length about his design for Berlin’s memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe and shared personal anecdotes about his peculiar relationship with politics and international media. Attending Eisenman’s events this week and seeing him around Sibley Hall has been exciting, particularly for the architecture students who might describe him, in the words of Ron Burgundy, as “kind of a big deal.”
As with other prominent visitors, Peter Eisenman’s presence on campus gives students the unexpected amusement of “celebrity sightings” in Ithaca. (Spotting Donald Rumsfeld at the Green Dragon Café and eating lunch with Bill Nye “the Science Guy” rank at the top of my list) But more than his fame within design circles, Eisenman represents the possibility for success after years of hard work in Rand Hall. Along with Richard Meier, Rem Koolhaas, and a handful of others who attended Cornell’s architecture program, Eisenman affirms our hope to someday gain traction as legitimate architects.
(photo credit: wikipedia)
I wish I had the opportunity to speak to Eisenman directly, but I have had no such luck. We received an email on Monday announcing a round-table discussion with him that would be open to students on a first-come first-serve basis. I responded to the email within a half hour but received notification yesterday that my response was too slow. I hope Eisenman enjoys his talk with all the students in our department who own Blackberries. I will wait until next year.
In an effort to avoid the Valentine’s Day rush on fine restaurants in Ithaca, I decided to pick up some provisions at the grocery store and go camping with my girlfriend. The idea was not altogether bad, but when I awoke this morning in a damp and frigid bag of down feathers it occurred to me that winter camping might require a bit more planning. Although Ithaca has thawed almost entirely in the past week, the Virgil portion of the Finger Lakes Trail remains covered in a thick blanket of snow.
Without the assistance of Nordic skis or snowshoes, we didn’t cover much territory–but the silence of the snow-covered trees reminded me why I enjoy winters in the northeast. At 7:30am, the day started off well with a bit of warm oatmeal and an impromptu foot-warming dance.
Sometime between sunrise on Mt. Virgil and sunset in the Rand computer lab, reality set in. I have an important studio review tomorrow that will require a few more hours of diligent work. So now, the procrastination must come to an end…
As men around the world pledge themselves to the idea of romanticism, I want to take a moment to reflect on some pragmatic issues regarding life with the finer sex. One might think that the collective wisdom passed down to men through cultural means would prepare us for co-habitation, but I’m discovering that nothing substitutes for empirical knowledge of women and their habits.
At boarding school and college, I have learned many things about sharing a room, bathroom, and house with others. But, in each of these instances, my roommates and housemates have been male. I have grown so accustomed to life among 30 guys in a house that less rowdy and disordered environments seem strange.
This Spring, I chose to sublet a small apartment with two girls–and good friends–from my architecture class. I arrived to Collegetown before the others and decided to act preemptively against the girliness that I expected to ensue. The purple wall of plastic in the bathroom needed to be removed, so I replaced it with a new shower curtain from Target with a pattern of cars, trucks, and helicopters.
When the girls arrived, they retaliated with a whole host of female products and household supplies. With help from a visiting mother, they cleaned the entire house–using Clorox in places that I never thought Clorox could go. None of this challenged my masculinity as much as the decorated nameplates that they made for our three doors. Visitors to my room are now welcomed by miniature pink pom-poms and googly eyes on a wooden letter “T.”
After a few weeks in the apartment, there is much that remains to be learned about living with girls. A retroactive cleaning schedule just appeared in our bathroom with my name next on the list. Friendly notes have begun to populate our walls, suggesting that the immaculate cleanliness of our house will now be a group effort. I’d like to think that this experience will prepare me for marriage sometime in the future. And when the girls grow frustrated with me, I like to remind them that someday they might have husbands that need training too.
As a campus tourguide, I have grown accustomed to answering tough questions about the Cornell experience. Most of these questions come from over-zealous parents on a mission to embarrass their children. They can be harmless (do you have small classes?); they can be unexpected (do you have a girlfriend?); and they can be misinformed (do lots of Cornell students commit suicide?). I am a tourguide because I enjoy answering these questions and–for the most part–the answers are quite simple: Yes, My classes are small. Yes, I am not interested in your daughter. No, Cornell’s suicide rate is below the national average.
The most difficult question to answer is one of the most common: “In your opinion, what is the worst thing about Cornell?” I can be honest to a fault, so my fumbled response to this question is not an act of deception. The truth is that–like any institution–Cornell has many problems and it would be nearly impossible to qualitatively or quantitatively assess which is “the worst.” How the **** am I supposed to know the answer? Do you really want my opinion?
My complaint-du-jour is usually addressed toward my own department and is hardly relevant to most prospective students. The temptation, therefore, might be to say something generic about the weather, the Greek system, or campus parking. But such complaints tend to be trivial, vague, irrelevant or easily disputable.
After some deliberation, I have decided on the thing (in my opinion) that is worst about Cornell. Quite simply, it is the fact that all gyms on campus require a membership fee. I understand that the fee is small ($145/year) and that it helps to pay the bills, but it is the University’s most profound example of shortsightedness.
Think, for a moment, about the amount of money that Cornell invests in community health initiatives. Counseling, free condoms/lube, and health seminars each receive a portion of my tuition and student fee. In spite of all the programs on campus, some students, faculty and staff remain unhealthy.
One should not overlook the fact that even a minimal fee stops many members of the Cornell community from using gym facilities. The barrier is greatest for individuals of lesser financial means and those who might not use the gym regularly in the first place (but need it the most). For the benefit of these people, the gyms on campus ought to be completely free to community members (as is common at other Universities).
Obviously, during our current crisis, the financial burden of such a change might seem insurmountable. But higher productivity and lower health provision costs among employees would pay big returns on the investment. Cornell should make the change and we will all profit from the improved quality of life.
I think it’s appropriate for me to follow cyberspace tradition and apologize for being a delinquent blogger. My only consideration in doing so, however, is that I have no idea who I am actually apologizing to. You see, the funny thing about blogging is that it is never very clear who reads one’s content. The “ARCHIVE” apparently gets a few thousand hits per month, but I imagine that most of that traffic speeds past like the cars at exit 8 on highway 81.
That is neither here nor there. I’d like to try to vindicate myself — at least partially — for falling below my blogging quota. While traveling for several months in Italy and Spain, I had no shortage of stories to share with everyone back home. Everything felt new and worthy of documentation in photographic and written form. Now, I am back in Ithaca and the town’s most striking feature is its profound familiarity. As a freshman, I looked at the campus map and expected the sprawling assemblage of buildings and paths to always remain a mystery to me. As a fourth year, it has become as familiar as the sound of my Sony alarm clock each morning.
It’s a little strange for me to write openly about all the various aspects of Cornell that surround me. It would be like writing a detailed account of the veins and freckles on the back of my hand. There are probably a hundred things a day, which I experience here, that might be notable for prospective students, parents, strangers, friends, and family — but it will take me some time to figure out what those things are.
The past couple weeks in Ithaca have been a bit difficult for me as I attempt to jam a few remaining requirements into a feasible schedule. On top of that, I have been racing between various extracurricular activities: assembling slideshows and grading papers as a TA, attending meetings with Solar Decathlon, working at Day Hall, and ducking in at the fraternity on occasion. If my stress level were plotted alongside productivity, I have far exceeded the point of diminishing returns.
That being said, I retain some hope that things will run much smoother in the coming weeks. Classes and assignments are becoming more routine and I plan to reign in the extracurriculars. Maybe if all goes well I will find enough time each day to reflect on Life On The Hill with all of you.