Favorite GSAPP Classes

April 26, 2013

As I finish my last day of classes ever (I can hardly believe it!), I’ve been thinking about what have been my most valuable and/or memorable classes here at GSAPP. They might be a bit surprising. Here they are in no particular order, but divided into theory-based classes and technology-based classes.


Philosophy of Technology with Bob Silman (Robert Silman Associates): Bob is both a real structural engineer and a real philosopher, having had John Rawls as a teacher and having run a structural engineering practice for decades. Although this philosophy class seemed to rest a bit uneasily within the context of GSAPP, drew a number of students from outside the school, and had to accommodate many students who had no prior philosophy coursework, I really appreciated this chance to think through some of the philosophical background to and implications of technology as used in architecture. The kinds of arguments we discussed are going on implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) in most contemporary architectural discourse: can we solve our technologically-created problems with more technology, or will that only create new problems? What is the most responsible way to use building technology? What are the ethical implications of building? etc. It was a joy to engage in a class about architecture that allowed me to think in a more abstract way about the profession and its responsibilities.

Architecture, Human Rights, and Spatial Politics with Felicity Scott: In some sense this seminar was a continuation of what I liked about Philosophy of Technology; here we considered the ways in which architectural practice intersects with contemporary issues of human rights and (spatial) politics. The class was organized thematically and gave us a wide range of ideas to explore. I’m glad I had the chance to broaden my understanding on a variety of important ethical and political issues relating to architecture, from concentration camps and Israeli/Palestinian walls to UN courtrooms and Tahrir Square.

Colonial & Postcolonial Architecture with Gwendolyn Wright: Another seminar, in which we also traversed a wide range of material thematically while trying to touch on the most important literature around (post)colonial architecture. Gwen was also a fantastic professor, pushing each of us to develop better presentation styles and research agendas. She even has her own TV show, History Detectives, that I suggest you check out! She’s a fascinating researcher and someone I greatly admire.


Advanced Curtain Wall with Bob Heintges (Heintges & Associates): Bob’s class is where I actually learned how to build things, although by “things” I only mean custom curtain wall assemblies. But these were interesting and complex enough that I think this study will stand me in good stead. Our final class was on sealants: “[It’s a] critical material and has to be treated with respect.” That’s just the kind of class this was: down-to-earth, dealing with real building materials and real forces, all turned into drawings that must display the clearest and most elegant lineweights. Roller wave distortion? Nickel-sulfide inclusions? Gaskets? All covered. Now if only I could finish drawing my details in time for the final review…

Architectural Technology V with Jay Hibbs (Arthur Jay Hibbs Architect): Jay, Pat, and Jeff were great to work with and really helped my team understand how all the structural, mechanical, and, yes, architectural parts of a building work together. We went through everything from structural load calculations to thinking about how ground source heat pumps work to a (primitive) curtain wall design. We attempted to design an elevated ice manufacturing building that produced its own cooling for the office spaces. Long live the “ice palace”!

Professional Practice with Paul Segal (Paul Segal Associates): Paul, more than anyone, tried to teach my class how to be real architects. He tried to show us all the many ways to be an architect (eg: work for the government and write the building codes - you’ll have more influence on architecture that way than you ever will as a “regular” architect) and tried to push us to strive for better pay, better relationships with clients and contractors, and a generally more humane mode of practice. As Paul said in nearly every class, “stop being so passive!” If you’ve ever wondered what being an architect is really about, check out his book (the aptly named Professional Practice). Thanks, Paul, and I hope we all remember your architectural anecdotes when needed!

What about studio?

Although I enjoyed my studio classes for the most part, despite struggling to keep up with my extremely talented and possibly over-qualified classmates, I find myself most often reflecting on and remembering my non-studio classes. While the learning I experienced in studio was more internalized, involving workflows, a wide range of software, and intuitive learning about how to shape spaces and circulation and program, my highly rational side has benefited from the analytical thinking required in my tech and history classes. I should also say that I enjoyed my fabrication classes - Craft in the Digital Age, Parametric Realizations, and Beyond Prototype - since I like learning how to make stuff and how to use exciting digital fabrication equipment, from CNC routers / mills to standard wood shop equipment like saws, drills, and biscuit cutters. And let’s face it, most of us are here in architecture school because we like stuff and want to make more of it. Especially stuff we can sit/stand/lean on or go inside of. (Pardon my technical terms.) Also, few of my studio classes managed to get to the same level of detail as my tech and fabrication classes, since the focus is more on schematic/conceptual design.

I hope to post separately about my thoughts on the studio model of education, so look for that in the weeks ahead… after final reviews/final exams/portfolio/End-of-Year-Show are over! Just three weeks to go!