Saturday, August 31, 2013

Drawing and Learning, Learning and Drawing

On Friday, we started the day at 8:30 and headed towards the Potsdamer Platz block. Potzdamer Platz was one of the most heavily bombed areas of Berlin, where almost the entire area was demolished. The area now is home to some very famous names in architecture and their buildings- Richard Rodgers designed the master plan and some of the buildings, and Renzo Piano has some buildings there as well. Both men worked on the Centre Pompidou together in France, so this was an interesting project that they got to work together on again.

Piano developed new technologies for terra cotta tiles. You can now use them as a facade on exterior walls, and even as sun shades.


Some shots of Piano's buildings

A view of the skylights at the mall at Potsdamer Platz

The yellow slats are a movable louver system, that can move around during the day to always deflect the sun.

We visited the Otto Bock building next. Otto Bock is a company that makes prosthetic limbs, and is currently working on neurological prostheses. their building was built in 2007, and the exterior facade resembles muscle fibers as seen under a microscope.

The entrance, and my excited face.

I really liked the building and the thought behind its design. I also realized that the building is not square in plan, but is in fact an irregular shape. I don't know why the architect chose that shape, but it seems to work for the building. Heiner wasn't impressed really, the only aspect he had to praise was the triple height atrium space. But he thought it was just a boring steel framed building, nothing special.


Those stairs, man. Gorgeous.

I was very excited about a little sketch I did of the interior, but as soon as I left the building, Heiner reminded us that we should be drawing the plans and sections of the buildings we see. Well, shit, I didn't do that. Like at all. My drawing skills are still very rusty too. I tried to draw a section later, but it just looked like a dog drew it. What on earth am I going to do?! Honestly, I should stop comparing myself to my peers. People will be better than me, that's a given fact. I just need to work more at being the kind of architecture student that I want to be. 

Next, we wandered to the Sony Center. It's many public space and housing buildings, surrounding a plaza and fountain. It's covered by a magnificent shade structure. A truss ring runs in compression around the perimeter, while cables hold each support in tension where it meets the structure. That leads to a very stable shade structure.


I kept taking creeper photos everywhere in the city when I saw this building.

Our next stop would have been the Philharmonie, but practice was going on, so we headed to the National Gallery, designed by Mies Van Der Rohe.

Story says that Mies was excited to win the competition, but really didn't feel much like designing anything. So he repurposed designs for the Bacardi Rum factory (that was never built) and placed it all on a plinth in Berlin. The plinth is a physical and symbolic barrier- by building on a plinth, Mies emphasized that there is nothing natural about the space, that it is entirely man made. Plinths are not found in nature, after all. 

The building is made of steel and glass. The thick black roof plane is supported at only 8 points by thin columns, and a glass curtain wall runs around the perimeter. The glass and simple columns make the building feel as if it is one plane hovering above the ground. It's a beautiful architectural expression, and is actually regarded as the best proportioned building in the world.


I took a leaf out of Flash's light painting book and played around with the exhibits in the museum.

Next, we visited a research library, where we were only allowed in the lobby. We talked about the board formed concrete columns (you can see the seams from the boards used as the formwork for the column), the lines laid out on the floor (which brought to our attention the fact that the floor was designed too, an often overlooked part of the building), and how the space felt in general.



Love that column.

The last stops of the day were the DZ Bank by Frank Gehry, the Art Institute next door, and the Jewish Memorial.

Frank Gehry is notorious for being absolutely insane in his designs. The city of Berlin has lots of restrictions on building facades though, so Gehry just brought his imagination into the building, rather than displaying it out front. 

The front, with angled windows, and the interior, with a weird metal horse head or something.

Every building designed in Berlin must allocate 20% of its square feet to housing, so this is the housing side of Frank Gehry's DZ Bank.

Stairs in the Art Institute. Absolutely beautiful. Code is different in Europe, so they only require handrails (no guardrails)

The Jewish Memorial is striking. Words don't do it justice. Also I'm tired of typing.

Day three was museum day. We spent the entire day in the Museum part of town, visiting the Pergamum Museum, the Neues Museum, the Altes Museum, and a private gallery.

By accident, we showed up at a library we wanted to tour an hour before it opened, so we went to the German History Museum to sketch. It was designed by I.M. Pei, and had a very wonderful glass facade. I tried my darndest to sketch it, and was getting a little more confident.

So cool, right? Who knew buildings were awesome.

The Pergamom museum was specifically designed around five different Roman and Greek ruins that were shipped over to Berlin. The Pergamom Altar was the main attraction, but the entire museum was full of statues and works of antiquity.

The four different column types on the exterior.

I was whining to Lindsey outside the museum about how I was sad about my sketching, and she offered me her pen. My pens are all kind of thick, and this one was a very fine pointed ballpoint pen. HOLY POOP that pen changed my life. ALL of my sketches looked so much better. Who knew that a PEN would be what was holding me back? But it makes sense, I'm a very detailed sketcher, and when I use a fat pen all of my details run on top of one another. It's the worst. But Isaac gave me TWO pens to keep, and my sketches did a complete 180 today after using them. Incredible.

Pergamom Altar

Really, the highlight of my day was that pen. All of the museums were wonderful, and I realized very quickly that I wasn't even looking at the works, but the architecture. Museums are a special breed of building. The architecture has to be grand enough to feel stately, institutional, and respected, but also unassuming so that the works are what is on display. The Neues Museum had the most ornament out of all the museums we saw, but each space inside worked well with the artifacts on display.

Shots from the Neues Museum

And the Altes Museum!

We also visited the construction site of the Berlin Palace, where they are building a reconstruction of the building demolished in the war. Apparently, it's a very controversial reconstruction, and our professor is super opposed to it. But it was neat to learn about.

I'm so happy I found my pen soulmate. Flash described it as having climbing shoes that were too big, they work but it's just not a good fit. That's me and all the pens I brought. But now I have one that FITS ME. I could die I'm so happy about it.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vacation is over, School has begun.

Wallace and I spent our last day in Iceland taking it easy. We walked around town one last time in the morning, waiting for our lunch restaurant to open up. We fed the ducks at the pond and sat in some plaza, just talking and reflecting on Iceland. It was a nice way to spend the last morning there. Then we went to Pisa for lunch, an Italian place that offers a seafood buffet at lunchtime for 2000 kr.

SUPER good fish. Like, Iceland is an island, so they have lots of fish at their disposal. But lunch was awesome (at the time, it actually made me sick later) and we were the only people there, so we had the whole buffet to ourselves. Then we headed home and on the bus to the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is a semi-mandmade hot spring spa resort that Iceland advertises like crazy. It's located 20 minutes from the airport, so lots of people will either spend a layover there, or go spend the day there before their flight. And every single bus company in the country offers trips from your hostel to the lagoon, and to the airport from the lagoon, etc.

As you can tell from my last post, I'm more of a mountains enthusiast than a pampered young lady. So a day at the spa was a first for me. I had paid for a wellness package, which included a bathrobe and massage and other nice things. Everyone has to shower without a swimsuit on before entering the lagoon, so that was a cultural first for me. But once I was squeaky clean, I headed into the water!


I'm pretty sure the Blue Lagoon was originally a natural geothermal hot spot, but since making it into a spa and importing visitors from around the world, they have to help artificially heat the water in order to keep up with the amount of guests they see per day. But it was very nice, the water has silica in it which leaves your skin feeling very nice at first, but you just want to crawl out of it and die while sitting in the airport at 6am and you can't shower until you get into your hotel in Berlin around 10. But it's not like I'm speaking from experience.

My massage was heavenly. They float you in the lagoon on your back on a raft and massage you in the water. It's not a very deep massage, because they can't exactly push into your shoulders or you'll sink, but it's a very relaxing experience. I am pretty sure I fell asleep for a snap during mine, because I remember waking up and thinking, "Did she skip my right leg, or did I just sleep through it...". But I left the lagoon feeling light as air (except for my hair, which felt like a slimy silica-laden mess, which still hasn't all washed out yet).

I made a friend on the bus ride over to the Lagoon, Andre the American from San Diego. He was staying at my hostel, and we bonded on the bus over beers from California. We arranged to meet back up around 8 (my bus to the airport was coming at 10) at an Ice Bar in town, but after walking around for a good half hour, I found out that the Ice Bar melted a year ago. For real, Iceland?! But I ran into Andre as I was walking back, and we went back to the hostel to drink instead. Andre had bought 5 local beers and a Belgian Trappist Quadrupel, so he, his roommate Eric the Swiss Man, Bill the German, Wallace and I all shared beer and carried on as new friends do. We finished our last beer, donned our backpacks, and Wallace and I left to go fly to Berlin.

Flying was GREAT for me, I had a whole row to myself on the 2 hour, 40 minute flight from Reykjavik to Copenhagen. So I got to lie down and sleep. I think yesterday I got a total of 4 hours of sleep, and we jumped straight into school when we got to Berlin, so I was dead last night.


We met up with our group at 2 in the lobby of the Hotel Bogota, the place where we call home in the city. Our flight got in at 9, so we all had some time to kill.

What up, Berlin.

Wallace and I went out for lunch to meet a cousin of mine, Nina Schaffernoth. My uncle Tom started looking into our family history a few years ago, and found a branch of Schaffernoths over here in Germany. Nina is 33 and an architect in Berlin (funny, there's architecture in the family!) and she agreed to meet me for lunch. She's very nice, and self conscious about her English. But we had a great time, and Wallace and I got to navigate the Berlin Trains on our own. Fun stuff!

Kitty and Nina Schaffernoth

Our study abroad program formally began at 2, where we met up in the lobby of the hotel. Our professor for Berlin/France is Heiner, and he very quickly (and overwhelmingly) went over our schedule for the next six day. I just sat there wide eyed, nodding and not comprehending ANYTHING he was saying. But luckily, none of us did, so we were all in the dark together. 

We hit the streets around 3, and stayed out until 8. It was a LONG day, especially considering lots of us had taken red eye flights into the country that day. We spent the day focusing on the Berlin Wall. We went to 
Friedrichstra├če, where there was a whole park dedicated to the wall. Parts of the wall were still up, with vertical corten steel bars continuing the line of the wall, representing the rebar in the concrete wall. 

I can't believe the wall came down before I was born. This was never a thing in my life.

What shocked me most about yesterday and today is that Berlin is a relatively new city. The entire downtown area was completely demolished in the war, so the majority of the buildings and architecture here is younger than the war. A lot of famous architects are drawn here to Berlin to work, probably because there's still a need to fill in the gaps left over from the war.

The first visit we made was to a wall memorial museum (forgot the name), designed by some young architects a few years ago. Heiner tossed us into academic mode immediately by asking us what it was made of, what the wall section would look like, what the idea behind the building was. I was completely overwhelmed and just tried walking around to take photos, but even those I wasn't happy with. And I just wanted to sit down and cry after doing my first sketch of the building (first sketch on the trip!)


Completely overwhelmed.

The whole day was a struggle for me. I was tired, I hadn't eaten fully in days because I didn't want to pay Icelandic prices for food, and I wasn't feeling very well. And I couldn't even draw a building right! I felt like the worst architecture student ever. I really just wanted to sit somewhere and cry and then go home to America. What on earth was I doing here? I couldn't answer Heiner's questions.

Next, we went to visit a chapel built in the memorial park. It was built with the rubble from an old church on the East German side of the wall. The architect wanted the new building to really be part of the location and have something of the old church in it. So they used the rubble from the old church, mixed it with concrete, and made a rammed earth chapel with it. 

The chapel is made of two ovals- an outer oval made of wooden slats (completely open to the air and elements) and an inner oval made of the rammed earth. The two ovals were offset.

It was a beautiful space to be in, the chapel and the space in between.

We went to another museum and a memorial as well, and then headed over to the Reichstag building, or the German Parliament building. The dome on top was designed by Normal Foster, and we went up to the top in order to visit it.


There was a contest for the redesign of the parliament building post WWII and fires, and Foster won the competition. However, the judges really liked Santiago Calatrava's submission, so they sneakily asked Foster to make something similar. I thought it was stunning. We also were there at the golden hour, so I got some nice photos. 

It's a glass dome, held in tension by the roof transfer beams and in compression by the circulating ramp. I'm really enjoying analyzing the structure of buildings here. I love the bones of architecture.

This is the reflector pillar, which brings natural sunlight into the parliament room below.

Oculus at the top

Sunset :)

Wallace went up to a security guard outside to ask where the best bratwursts were, and he directed us a street over to a little kiosk called "Wurst :-)". Nine of us went up and ordered brats and beers, and we completely bought them out. And they loved us! The guy behind the counter wanted to be an American. He gave us little VIP gift cards, brought us a free sample, and even let us into the kiosk for a group photo. Nothing like some wholesome shenanigans to start of the travel program, right?!

I have honestly been very overwhelmed these past few days. I've always been self conscious about my work as an architect, but my insecurities really come to light here. I haven't sketched or drawn in forever, which is becoming apparent as I try to capture the world around me on paper. Everything comes out looking like pen barf and I hate it. Also, I just don't have much of a knowledge base when it comes to architects. I know a few ones, but am usually overwhelmed when Heiner starts firing questions at us. I really don't want to be the worst student on the trip, and I'm going to work very hard to make sure that isn't the case ever.