Texas is the reason, 9th edition

It’s March, and that means it’s time for South by Southwest Interactive. This will be my ninth consecutive conference, and I’ll be speaking on the “Cyberplace– Online in Offline Spaces, and Vice-Versa” panel, with Heath Row of Squidoo, Dennis Crowley of Dodgeball, Michael Sharon of Socialight, and Scott Heiferman of Meetup.
As far as I know, I’ve been consecutively going to SXSW Interactive longer than anyone I know, which isn’t to say that I top everyone at the conference, but certainly most people. When I first went in 1998, I met people who changed my life and who became a core part of my group of friends for many years (though I suppose this is less the case since I’ve moved away and left a 100% Web/mobile career). I’m thrilled, as always, to be going back. This year, I’m bringing Enrique, and we’re staying with my friend Justin — no Hotel San Jose, except for cocktails. And I can’t wait. It’s my favorite time of year.
We’ve gotten a head start on Texas springtime now, enjoying the warm weather and good company of Enrique’s family in San Antonio. It’s been lazy in the nicest way, with books, Sudoku (yes, I am an addict when there’s time), shopping sprawl, novellas, Lost, and doggies. We arrived Sunday night late, but today, we’re back to schoolwork.
Today, I’m writing my paper on nostalgia, memory and the postmodern, which I’m going to flesh out into the longer piece I need to write for my thesis this semester. Postmodernism? Indeed. Bob Stern, the dean of the school, believes it’s coming back. I do too, in some sense. It’s relevant again, though not the part of the theoretical conversation that totally collapsed upon itself.
I’m off for some pancakes and some sitting on the back porch. More from Austin. Yay.

A SF decade

A decade ago today, I closed up my bags in New York, got on a flight, and moved to San Francisco. I loved the view of the Noe Valley hills out the front apartment windows. I loved the nature of the light and the air, the colors of the buildings, the coffee shop around the corner. My commute to Electric Minds was a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to Howard’s house. Cyborganic was my ground zero (and seven years later, it would be my house). Many of the friends I made then, I still know now. Many of the friends I introduced to each other married, started businesses, lived together.
It’s odd to not be there, and I would have liked to have celebrated this date on the West Coast. But 10 years ago, I also didn’t expect to be going to Yale for an architectural theory and history degree (and here, there’s a blizzard out the window in New Haven).
I’m not sure when I’ll be living in San Francisco again. When I finish my masters here, my plan is to do a Ph.D., probably somewhere on the East Coast. But 10 years ago, one thing became clear: it’s the place I feel most at home.

10 things

Okay. Maggie tagged me and wants me to name 10 interesting things about myself. In turn, I’m tagging my friend Fred, who may be looking to procrastinate before his final review.
1. My favorite thing to ask people is, what’s the thing you know a lot about, that no one ever asks you about, or you don’t get a chance to talk about? I’ll strike up conversations with strangers in line at a bar to discuss this. The genesis of this question was at eTech in 2004. I was tired of discussing work and dotcom stuff with my very interesting and intelligent friends sitting around a table. This question yields many more interesting answers than the average work-related conversation. I’ve learned about the chemical composition of clays and glaze in attempting to get certain hues from the Ming Dynasty, about the Civil War, comics, stripping and stealing bikes, sex, geology, the feelings of the person I asked, the person’s family, airplanes. My answer? I know a lot about this question.
2. As a kid, I had a knack for getting media coverage. I reviewed movies on Twin Cities Today and then on Good Company, two talk shows of the 70s/80s in Minneapolis/St. Paul. (The people behind these shows are the same people who started HGTV). I was on the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, reading Twas the Night Before Christmas. My brothers, friends and I were in the newspaper sending off a helium balloon with a note on it, ostensibly to welcome springtime. And I was part of a big spread in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the Nova program, the gifted kids program I was in for grade school.
3. There are five languages I speak (or used to speak) fluently: German, French, Dutch, Italian and English. I’ve also learned some Yiddish and Japanese. I will learn Spanish next, and intend to become fluent in it as well.
4. Keller seems to be a theme in my Yale career. Last semester, I was a teaching assistant for Keller Easterling. This semester, I am a teaching fellow for Sean Keller.
5. I’m a classical guitarist, but I’m out of practice and fear playing for other people. I began teaching myself from guitar books my dad had when I was 6. For my 8th birthday, I got my own guitar and lessons. I played and sang “King of the Road” for my birthday party that year, missing the irony of it. I took lessons from Dave Lemay till I was 17 (with a several year break when I moved to the suburbs). Sadly, he died of a massive heart attack before I finished learning all the minor scales. Some of my favorite music is Catalan — Miguel Llobet and Fernando Sor. My favorite Llobet piece features a melody played in octave harmonics.
6. My interest in architecture used to surprise people in the dotcom world. The first time I asked the question in #1, my answer was architecture. People had no idea. But now, I’m attending architecture school and studying history and theory, and nobody’s really surprised about it anymore. I wonder whether people think it’s strange I’ve gone this route, but it made sense to me.
7. I’ve lived in 5 countries (US, Germany, Holland, France, Italy) and 12 cities (St.Paul/Minneapolis, Madison, Düsseldorf, Utrecht, Montpellier, Hoboken, San Francisco, Chicago, Ivrea, New Haven). In the US, all the cities I’ve lived in are in blue states.
8. When I lived in Montpellier, France, my friend Soonie and I got flashed, at about 3 a.m. when we were walking home. She laughed. I kicked him in the balls four times. He didn’t follow us. I guess it was effective.
9. I work and study in the best/worst piece of architecture, Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture building. It was immortalized on a postage stamp. Some people love it. Others hate it. I like it, but it’s in bad condition and will be a lot better when they incorporate air conditioning. Sadly, that’s after I graduate.
10. I wrote for the Onion’s AV Club when I was in college.

Gespenst der Republik (Spook of the Republic)

I’m back from Berlin, with a bad cold in hand (as well as several new books I couldn’t get in the US on the Palast der Republik and Plattenbau). The trip was very fruitful … we were lucky enough to go inside the Palast der Republik, and for those of you who read German, you can read an article by the journalist, Klemens Polatschek, whose visit coincided with our group’s. Small talk with him during the visit yielded a typical Molly small world moment: it turns out I knew him– we had met over brunch with Sabine Fischer in 2000. Our group got a brief mention in the article, too (“eine Gruppe von Architekturstudenten der Yale University”).
At any rate, as the pictures show, the Palast is stunning and sad, a huge standout in the middle of a very ordentliche Berlin. I don’t understand why there’s a move to building a long dead Prussian symbol on the site of the Palast der Republik, but I find it alarming and strange. Since WWII, when Germany hasn’t known where to turn for its architecture, it starts over with its modernists. West Germany veered back to the Bauhaus; the German Democratic Republic, post-fascism, went back to the Bauhaus and its denizens– at least the ones that didn’t leave — for its design and architectural direction, when the direction wasn’t otherwise provided by the Soviets.
Now, Germans don’t talk of destruction of the Palast der Republik, they use words like “Rückbau” — which means deconstruction or revitalization, not destruction (with Zerstörung or the what-it-sounds-like Kaputtmachen as some alternatives). The use of language is peculiar, and doesn’t talk of what’s really happening with the destruction of the Palast or some of the other landmarks of East Germany. It’s more like an erasure. I have doubts that euphemism or Prussian symbols will take away the post-reunification problems in Germany. The one hope for people who don’t want to see the imperial castle rebuilt is that the city of Berlin is bankrupt, and can’t afford to rebuild the Schloss. As several people I spoke to said, perhaps the space will lie empty for 10 years, and when the city has money again, maybe they’ll want to build something different. One can hope.
I had breakfast the day I left with my old friend Jörg, whose fault it is that I’m very interested in East Germany (we met in 1994, he gave me an East German’s perspective on Berlin), as well as his lovely girlfriend and a rather multifaceted friend of theirs, and their two dogs. Also got a chance to have dinner with Vicky, meet up with Felix and the Plazes contingent, and go out with Steven from Ivrea.
Overall, I looked at Berlin more closely on this trip, especially in terms of its buildings and sites and plan, than I have on any of the last 17 or so visits of paid the city since 1990. Having spent the three months previous immersed in GDR design and architecture culture, I was prepared to see more. Other surprising things: Motorola projections on Alexanderplatz (and its horrid, gaping hole that will house more Potsdamer Platz development); the wonderful proQM bookstore, whatever the street was where I went out with Steven … but above all, that visit to the made an unshakable impression.

Mile high post

It’s one thing to write a blog post while flying.
It’s another to post from 39,000 feet, ostensibly somewhere above Iceland, on my way to Berlin. To make matters even better, it’s free: the authentication server was down. So I’m getting free wireless all the way there. (I plan to sleep most of the way, so it doesn’t really matter. But still.)
This is my 1995 equivalent of calling someone on your commute and saying, “I’m driving home and talking to you! Wow!”

Berlin tomorrow

It’s a few weeks into the semester and tomorrow is the Stefan Behnisch studio trip to Berlin. It’s my second time there since November’s Design Engaged. We’re going to be looking at the Palast der Republik, and I’m going to be scouting archives, Plattenbau, and ornament. Also, the Transmediale is happening, which will be good, too. I’ve never been. The people in the studio, for the most part, haven’t been to Berlin before (or if they have, it was a while back). I love seeing Berlin through other people’s eyes.
I really can’t procrastinate anymore on packing and writing my journal response for Peggy Deamer’s Contemporary Architectural Theory class (this week, it’s Foucault on heterotopias, Tafuri on the avant-garde and Althusser making me doze off as I get lost between his sentences on humanism-inhuman-antihumanism). So. I’m off to write and pack, sleep a bit, and fly. More photos — I swear — too. But in the meantime? Running around one of my very favorite places anywhere.

My 2005 cities

Jenn, inspired by Meg and Jason, did her own year in cities. In turn, she inspired me. I was on the road a lot this year. Five countries. Lots of cities, lots of long stays in places. This year, I’ll probably travel less. Cities with asterisks were visited on multiple occassions on non-consecutive days.
* San Francisco*
* Ivrea, Italy*
* Turin, Italy*
* Milan, Italy
* Amsterdam, the Netherlands*
* London, UK*
* Los Angeles, CA*
* Valetta, Malta
* New York*
* New Haven, CT*
* Austin, TX*
* Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN*
* San Antonio, TX*
* Realitos, TX
Update: Andrew reminds me that of course, I went to Berlin! And for that matter, I went to Düsseldorf. So that makes an additional country visited and two more cities. How could I forget?

School starts

We’re now in the shopping week for classes. I’ve explained this before: we show up for all kinds of courses, and decide what we want to take (as our courses decide if they want us). This is proving trickier since this semester, everything I’m taking is either an architecture course, or an history of art course dealing with architecture… that wasn’t the case last semester. Some of these courses will accept one person for every five that shopped the course, including the one taught by my advisor. (More on that soon.) Still, this stuff has a way of working itself out.
This semester is proving to be multiply busy. I’m a teaching fellow for Architecture Since 1945, which means I teach a section. I’m unofficially involved in the Stefan Behnisch studio on the Palast der Republik in Berlin, which is my thesis topic, so I spend most of my free time with the students there. Then, there are the three classes I’ll be taking, which I should be able to name next week.
We have advisors, and I’m going to be working with Emmanuel Petit. He’s a young faculty member (younger than me, in fact), who just completed his Ph.D. from Princeton. He’s also very bright, talented, and focused. We had our first meeting yesterday. I haven’t taken a course with him previously, so we’re just getting to know each other. It’ll be good. It’s also just good to have an advisor — it was hard to figure where to focus my research without working closely with someone.
It appears that I’m going to be in Berlin again at the beginning of February, for research and the studio trip. It’s a lucky stroke that I’ll be able to attend.
FInally, Enrique has an Archincect school blog! He’s one of the few people from a research/theory/history perspective to be keeping a blog there.