Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why the Picture?

Romulus and Remus counted vultures, not the Eagles of Jupiter. It's a little piece of dramatic foreshadowing. Remus saw 6 (or 8) and then Romulus saw 12 (or 16). Remus said he won since he saw them first, Romulus said he won because he saw twice as many.

Both right, both wrong.

Remus and his followers come down from the Aventine and make their way to the Palatine to dispute the issue. In the resulting melee Remus is killed - "There is a storm of blows, Remus fell".

So the vultures, who appeared on spec, predicted correctly and wound up with a meal.

This is going to end up in my thesis word for word. Thanks Pooya.

Is it me?

If I want to graduate by September (and have the possibility of getting the Visiting Lecturer position in Rome) I have to complete one spread a day for the next thirty days. I guess each spread will take between ten and fifteen hours.

By the logic of this school, I should need no more information than this - my course becomes absolutely clear. I work between twelve and seventeen hours a day for the next thirty days and then I will work without stopping for three or four days to complete formatting, lay out, text, and redlining.

By any other logic deserving the name, the task is impossible. The total hours between me and completion are around 450 - 500. That is a quarter of a working year, not a month. Forty hours times fifty weeks is two thousand hours. Five hundred is one quarter of two thousand.

The advice I get from people within the school is - put in the time and graduate with what you have. This seems morally wrong to me. I have been working on this for the past twenty months; do I really want to do less than I am able just to meet and arbitrary date?

Of course, there is something very significant attached to this otherwise meaningless date. Two things if you count tuition.

Is my task to finish or to finish the best possible product?

Is it better to live a in a self-destructive way for a short period (and hate doing it) or allow myself longer and work in a way I enjoy? If I allow myself this latitude am I ever going to finish?

Given that I am here so that I can continue on the cursus honorum towards a professorship, does everything else become secondary to whatever advances me on that path?

Is it me or is this becoming much more complicated than it ought?

I try to live by simple precepts - don't cross picket lines, don't touch women who are already with someone, don't fuck with a streak, do what's in front of me to do, eat when I am hungry sleep when I am tired. And so on. The great secret of most things is while they are all enormously complicated, what we ought do about them is very simple. In most cases we ought do nothing. In this school I have never found the advice "get some sleep and eat more" to be inappropriate. I find it very perplexing to be in a situation that perplexes me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Roman and Us

I've been trying to define when we stopped being renaissance and became "modern". To illustrate the continuation of acquisitiveness, Imperial pride and gluttony I made a Triumphal Arch for George Bush. It's based on the Arch of Septimius Severus (who also conquered Parthia).

I think it might be too subtle. And, in homage to Rob Krier, here is a drawing of the Arch of Constantine.

More Spreads

This is the Republican Forum after Augustus finished the basilicas begun by Julius. The reason for the drawing is to highlight the relationship between the Curia (on the left, beside the plan lines) and the Julian Forum.

This is looking the other way. The buildings in the front are the Curia Julia and the chalicidium. The drawing shows how the center of Republic government was reduced to the lobby of Gaius Julius's monument to himself. The temple in the Forum is Venus Genetrix (Venus, Ancestor of the Julians).


The format for my thesis has been finalized as one spread per idea - that's all I get. The editing is going to be pretty fierce.

I've been concentrating on creating images that will explain some of the arguments and that's taking most of my time. But I will put a few of them up now.

These two are about the way Sulla (first Roman General to attack Rome) used the idea of the crowd to forward his political program.

The images are approximately the same scale. And the constructions are huge - the top podium on the bottom image is more than five times the area of the floor of the coliseum. They were built in small towns (Praeneste and Tivoli) that could never fill them - people were meant to imagine the crowd. This imagining created greater effect than an actual crowd would, since you wouldn't be swamped in an ocean of people.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Other people's blogs have way more pictures than mine. So here are some pictures.

Results of the Sacrifice

The ritually immolated ox revealed a very bad sign - now I have to take antibiotics.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ultra-Low Intensity Education

As my brother frequently reminds me - Hell won't raise itself.

Those of you who have been a part of the WAC community for a few years might have begun to miss my frenzied and furious rants about anything incurring my wrath. I stopped because I lost faith in the institution.

It was hard, I was a true believer. I really thought I had stumbled into the one place the smiling bastards had somehow overlooked. I believed if I saw something wrong with the School and I pointed it out then I would be thanked and the problem fixed. Unbelievably naive. Still it seemed to be the situation for long enough to convince me people gave a shit.

Or maybe I was deluding myself then too. Well, I stopped because for every person who thanked me or agreed with me privately there were five who took offense publicly and were determined to get back at me (even if only in the most petty ways). I remain proud of my victory over ClipArt inside the School - no small thing.

What I have been thinking about lately (as a result of my enforced absence from the School) is the level of engagement between Grad students and the institution. Perhaps everyone else is more connected than I am but I doubt it. My current level of engagement with the School is such that if I never showed my face there again it would only be once a week less than it is at present.

I have been diligently (semi-diligently) on my thesis but I have no way of knowing a) if someone else in the School is doing exactly the same work b) if everything I am doing has been done twenty years ago and thoroughly debunked ten years ago c) is totally inappropriate for an architecture degree.

I understand the argument that, at this level, students are supposed to take much more responsibility for their own education. However, as any Grad student who has ever tried to arrange a committee meeting will tell you, trying to get the members of your committee in the same city at the same time can be nearly impossible. To get three professors (or a professor, the Director of the Graduate Program, and the Director of the School) to sit in a room together for the exclusive purpose of discussing your work (which they may or may not give a fuck about) seems like a tremendous imposition on the part of the student. So it is avoided.

Why do we have three committee members? I understand the purpose for a committee when it is time to defend, but why before? Surely a single professor is sufficiently able to assist in the creation of the (largely complete shit) theses we produce. Why not bring the other two committee members on at the same time as the external reader? Or, even better, why not let your adviser choose all three and not tell you who they will be until your defence? Because, let's face it, the defence as currently instituted, is a victory lap. I would like it to be a real defence where your work either stands or falls.

And to those who take offense at my categorization of the majority of accepted Masters theses as complete shit - go to the library sometime and look at them. It is very possible they mark the true index of achievement expected of this program and I am inflating it out of vanity (since I haven't finished yet and so can dream my finished work will not suck). And when you are looking at them think "three years" or "five years" or however long that was the exclusive objective of the candidate.

When we work in isolation, when we are given the prerogative of scheduling for ourselves, when there is no competition to drive us - the results are the lowest common denominator. I consider the work of my colleagues and me when walking through the student work exhibit and I think there are only a few theses I am aware of than can compete with the level of achievement demonstrated by the third year studios (and above).

I can hardly believe I am arguing for more rules, not less. But I am not certain that is my point. I guess the real point is we do our best work when we work with others - perhaps we are competing or maybe we are inspired. Whatever the Studio vibe so difficult to define but easy to perceive is, that is what the Masters program lacks. And, in large part, why the work we do is so far below our potential.

Ill Health, Pt. 2

Running a temperature and an ill-omened flight of birds - the augurs advise caution. But still have no specifics.

Tonight I plan to sacrifice a hotdog to Mercury (in his incarnation as the healer) in return for better omens.

Did you ever wonder where the caduceus symbol came from? The snakes woven around a wand, symbol of Doctors and Apothecaries? The wand has always been a symbol of Mercury/Hermes - in his incarnation as Psychopomp he uses the wand to lead the spirits of the dead to the underworld. The Roman spin is an adaptation from the Homeric story of Lacoon. The Tiber Island was originally a ship arriving from Greece carrying Mercury. There was a plague in Rome at the time. Two snakes slithered off of the ship and up the Velabrum Minus into a hole under what is now the ruin of the Apollo temple beside the Theater of Marcellus - thus did the healing arts arrive in Rome and the plague lifted.

So if you think I'm slightly mad associating Doctors with magic of the most imprecise kind, check out the AMA website and see the twin snakes of Mercury right at the top.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Lazy Man Posts

Here's another interesting thing about Rome:
The Porta Triumphalis had elephants on top. Rome must not have created it until some time after 264 BCE when they first started fighting Carthage. And the best engraving of the Porta Triumphalis I have seen shows the soldiers marching into the open gate - why is it a porta not an arcus? The conclussion of the first Punic war marked a tremendous change in the composition of the Roman Empire but I'm not going to explain it. Figure it out for yourself. I'll give you a hint, it concerns the area of Sicily not ceded to Heiro.