Tag Archives: design school

Daybook: Happy International Women’s Day: Project 2, The Beat Memorial Park, North Beach

So I toiled away with the clock project and then presented my design to the jury. For anyone who has never been to design school, just imagine a time when you thought you had a fantastic idea, you hadn’t eaten or slept in two days, and you shared this fabulous idea with a crowd of total strangers dressed in black. You stood, while they all sat  in chairs, yet still you felt smaller. They all wore severe expressions of bemusement, irritation and perhaps that of having smelt a foul odor. Then they talked amongst themselves, not so much about your design ideas, but about something unrelated and about them. A design jury? Same thing. Here are my notes from my first design jury ever:

I think I was too sleep-deprived and distraught from being misunderstood and undervalued for my efforts (Happy International Women's Day) to write in dialogue bubbles for these sketches.

I think I was too sleep-deprived and distraught from being misunderstood and undervalued for my efforts (Happy International Women’s Day) to write dialog bubbles for these sketches.

Only after I earned my MLA did I figure out that it helps to develop thick skin and to separate emotionally from the work. Nearly 25 years into a career as a design educator, I have yet to decide if I agree with this maxim of design, the whole professional detachment thing. Here’s a dilemma of design education: Design is a professional practice as well as a art form. Just like nurses, engineers, or any other practice, it helps if everyone uses agreed upon norms. Every profession has a box and it’s easier to be successful, if you work inside the box. So in design education, we teach people about the box. But where is free thinking in all this? I struggled with this as a design student. I still struggle with it.

On the up side, after the review, you can purge the work from your mind and move onto the next project. I was very familiar with this kind of binge/purge cycle, having spent my undergrad minoring in bulimia (I’d say majoring, but when I sought help from a doctor who specialized in eating disorders, he applied Problem Diminishment Therapy by telling me it could be worse, since there are many more young women way more active as bulimics than I was. Happy International Women’s Day).

So, on to the next project: A Beat Memorial Park. Here’s a feminist dilemma: How does a woman reconcile admiration for a literary movement that did diddly squat to address or ameliorate social oppression of women. And no fair pulling a few female Beat Poets off the shelf to argue the Beat Movement was female friendly. Now pile onto that, the question of how a female student reconciles getting the assignment to design a beat memorial park from her favorite professor, a man who adores the Beats?

This project got to the core of my lifelong quandary about gender. I love men. I love the things men do. I was a major Tom Boy as a kid. I tend to prefer doing things with dudes. My life is a litany of adventures into male-dominated worlds: SCUBA Instructor, Math major, Calculus teacher, Design Professor, most of it fun and exciting.  And yet, as a female, I have witnessed a stream of injustice and cruelty inflicted onto women by men. Inflicted onto me, onto women I know and onto women all over the world. But on the first day of the project, I was filled with the thrill that exuded from my professor as we tromped around North Beach, stood in front of an apartment building where Jack Kerouac once lived, browsed at City Lights Books, and sketched design ideas on napkins in an outdoor cafe. I had every intention of making the Beats look as awesome in my design as Professor Chip Sullivan saw them with his twinkling mind’s eye. Chip Sullivan has infectious enthusiasm for what he loves, which is why he is still at the top of my list of great teachers, even if we didn’t always love the same things. I don’t know what happened to my napkin doodles, but here’s some first musings about memorializing the Beats, with more to come next week:

I often draw my thoughts as cartoons.

I often draw my thoughts as cartoons.

Daybook: It’s About Time: First Project, First Recorded Bit of Design Wisdom

In design school, specifically landscape architecture at Cal in 1988, students need to draw all the time, to use the daybook to record thoughts, sketch design concepts, draw benches and other LA elements that catch our eye, take notes in class, until the daybook becomes an extension of the mind. The first thirty pages of my design school daybook contain my musings about time, the central theme of the first project: to design a garden for a client obsessed with time and with a extensive clock collection he wants placed in the garden. Most of my pages looked like this:

What I see now that I didn't see then, is that, for me, it all comes down to language. I love words.

What I see now that I didn’t see then, is that, for me, it all comes down to language. I love words.

I threw in every thought I could conjure about time. Eventually, I will figure out that design, like writing, is about editing.

My first bit of design wisdom came on page 37 (below left), after the sketch of a nude pregnant woman as big as a hillside (a recurring theme in my daybooks: nude women who are also landscapes) and a sketch of my then boyfriend thinking about two peanuts (recurring theme in college: attraction to men with small thoughts). I also used my daybook as a cheap therapist on whom I would dump my frustrations with the design process (below right) and anything else that got my goat.

The borrowed landscape is a favorite landscape architecture idea, because it connects a site to its surroundings. Fog, sunlight, erosion, really any natural processes are also huge in LA, which is what makes it a rich discipline and practice.

The borrowed landscape is a great landscape architecture concept, because it connects a site to its surroundings. It makes sense that it was one of the first lessons I made note of, along with the J. B. Jacksonesque advice that buildings make good ruins. Fog, sunlight, erosion, really any natural processes, are also huge in landscape architecture, which is what makes it a rich discipline and dynamic practice. Even if the design process can, at times, feel too programmed, the work changes over time and apparently it all returns to coffee stains. Huh.