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SSCE, Day 2: Abstract Concepts and a Linear Park

June 29, 2010


In what seemed to be a return to yesterday’s agenda, this morning all 55 of us met once again (in the classroom we refer to as the “glass corner”) to receive introductions to and presentations from the heads of each of the Parsons School of Constructed Environments (SCE) design departments.  We met Dean Morrish, the head of the SCE program, David Leven, the head of the M. Arch program, Matthew Tanteri, an assistant professor in the MFA Lighting Design Program, and Alfred Zollinger, an assistant professor in the MFA Interior Design Program.  All four presented on their own disciplines, explaining, in depth, the missions and goals of their respective programs and how they integrated with the other two disciplines in the School of Constructed Environments.  Dean Morrish and professor Leven were the most animated and well-spoken of the four; they clearly have a great enthusiasm for what they do and for working with students.

The remainder of the morning was fairly short-lived, as plans to watch a short film were halted due to technical difficulties with the projection system, so we were let out early.

The afternoon was where things really started to pick up.  After returning to our small studio groups, we first discussed our string-and-paper experiments we created yesterday. Here is a new picture of my final experiment, taken with a better camera. I wish I had taken pictures of the other projects so that I could more easily describe them, however, they were all interesting and unique, contorting string and paper in similar ways and generating a great deal of discussion of form, geometry, use of materials, structure, and lighting and shadows, among other things.  As we were having our discussions I really began to feel like I was in architecture school (a good thing); we were discussing things that I would never have discussed in a theatrical setting, even though the topics were always in the back of my mind.  It is so freeing to finally be able to discuss these things in an open forum, where everyone else is thinking the same things and feeding off each other.  It was actually quite exciting!

Finally, after discussing projects we arrived at the moment we had all been waiting for — our first class field trip!  We all hopped on a bus to the Meatpacking District, where the High Line elevated park system (which I referred to in yesterday’s post) begins.  From there we were given free reign to explore the park at our own pace and take photos, sketch, or do anything else we desired to prepare for another string-and-paper interpretation (this time of a section of this park) due on Thursday.

I have to say, the High Line is one of the most dramatic parks I have set foot in — not for its grandeur or size, but for its contrast to the environment around it: New York City.  Walking up the entrance staircase, you arrive in the park from underneath, as if you were climbing the stairs to one of the many elevated subway stations around the city.  You then emerge into a lush garden of wild brush, grasses, trees, and flowers, with a meandering concrete footpath leading the way alongside stretches of the original train tracks that have been integrated into the landscape.  It really is an impressive feat of design, restoration, and preservation.

The park winds its way underneath the famous Standard Hotel, as well as a few other industrial and residential buildings, on its journey up towards midtown, and features several interesting design elements such as art installations, water features, and a bleacher-style seating area that looks directly down onto Tenth Ave, turning the life of the city into a spectator sport!

Surprisingly, it is actually a fairly serene and peaceful park.  There were a great number of people lying on benches sunbathing, reading books, sketching, or just generally enjoying this small slice of nature in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.  The completed section of the park (the first of three) comprises about a twenty-block walk, but strolling along you don’t notice the distance, as you never have to cross an intersection or wait for a red light.  It is strangely transporting in a way, removing you from the street-level distractions of the city, allowing you to enjoy the spectacular views and swaying greenery.

I, too, sat down for about an hour and a half, to sketch quietly with a pad and markers.  It was probably the most relaxed I have felt in the past four weeks, and definitely since I have arrived in New York.  I will hopefully make my way back here again to relax and enjoy the peace and “quiet” when I have some free time.

I took plenty of photos on my walk, which are now up on my Flickr page, for your viewing pleasure.  Enjoy!

Tomorrow: our first Representation (drafting) class, and a visit to the Met!

Parsons Summer Studies in Constructed Environments, Day 1: Revenge of the Art School

June 28, 2010


There is no stranger institution of higher learning, in my experience, than an art and design school.  I should know, I’ve been through one (technically, two) already: a summer of pre-college at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, and four full years at Emerson College in Boston.  For those who have never attended one, it is pretty much everything you imagine it to be: a collection of highly creative, talented, and stylish individuals who, with drawing supplies, sketch pads, and large black portfolios under both arms, scurry about from art studio to design classroom working on crafty projects involving paper and glue and foam-core.  Parsons, after my first day, was true to form in a lot of ways, but then surprised me in a number of others.

The first thing that surprised me was the welcome.  Let me preface this with a disclaimer: I attended orientation at Emerson College, which is one of the most exciting, energetic, fun, and welcoming programs of its kind anywhere; I have extremely high expectations as a result.  Now, having been treated to a pep-rally style clap line at Emerson, I knew that I wouldn’t be receiving anything near that kind of welcome, especially for a summer program, but I wasn’t expecting expecting nearly the amount of confusion and disorganization that I saw during my first few hours there.

This may just be my opinion, but I believe first impressions are extremely important when meeting new people.  The first impression can make or break a relationship, business deal, or any other kind of interaction.  Colleges and universities should know this; they thrive on it!  College students often know instantly (or at most a few minutes) after they set foot on a campus, whether or not it is the place for them.  It is crucial for the school to market themselves in their best light possible — they are businesses too, after all!

I’ll admit, my first few minutes after arriving at the Parsons welcome presentation were not the most impressive experience, especially for the national and international reputation that the school holds.  Everything was fine until I walked up to the check-in table to get my class assignments.  I quickly discovered: my name wasn’t on the list!  Easily forgivable, a minor administrative error (or so I thought).  Little did the check-in helpers (or the person directing us to the tables, or I) know, that my specific program was not supposed to check-in at the tables and receive a class schedule; so I continued on into the auditorium for the orientation presentation, slightly confused.

The orientation presentation, delivered by the coordinator of the entire summer program, was fine – standard, but fine.  The second thing that irked me about the welcome, however, was when the coordinator invited the heads (or representatives) of each of the student services departments to the stage to speak about their offices, only three of the ten or so offices were present.  Again, I know it’s just a summer program, but the first impression was very weak as a result.

The presentation over, we were then informed that my program (SSCE) was not supposed to check-in before the presentation, and that we were to meet near the stage to receive more information and then walk over to our building as a group.  Great.  My drafting supplies and T-square in hand, I walked up to 13th Street with the group.

After arriving at “Parsons East,” the 55 of us in the SSCE gathered in a conference/class room on the second floor to discuss the program.  We met the coordinator of the SSCE program as well as few of the summer professors and all of the T/A’s, and were handed a booklet with all of our class information.  Again, while everyone who presented information was very nice and helpful, the presentation itself was unclear and a bit disorganized, with topics presented in a somewhat illogical manner.  Nevertheless, I was able to follow along and figure out which T/A I was assigned to; this person would lead our small groups for the next few weeks.

The disorganization continued after the presentation about twenty minutes later, when all 55 of us walked over to the Student ID office to get our new ID cards for the summer.  Granted, 55 people is a lot to handle all at once, so I don’t blame the traffic jam at the door.  Since we were free to go to lunch after that, I decided to skip the line and grab some food while the line died down.  When I came back, I was merely expecting to pick up my card and leave, as I had already sent the office a photo via e-mail so it would be ready when I arrived.  Well, it wasn’t – they never received my e-mail.  Even after following the directions to a T, the process still backfired.  Again, I was a bit annoyed.

After that, thankfully, the day started to turn around.

When the SSCE group reconvened at “Parsons East” we broke out into our smaller groups to grab desks and lockers and meet our Studio professors who would introduce our first project.  Eva, my studio professor, as well as my T/A, Magnus, sat down with the ten people in my small group and introduced themselves to us.  They both turned out to be very nice, friendly, and helpful, which I was thankful for.  It was also fun and interesting to meet the other members of my group who come from backgrounds as varied as economics, interior design, and mathematics, and countries as exotic as Mexico, Venezuela, and Korea.  I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about these people and how their backgrounds influence their work (as well as mine).

After introductions they handed us our first project, which was to be an abstract conceptual presentation of individually-assigned sections of the abandoned elevated High Line railway tracks, which the city had recently begun converting into a linear urban park, inspired by the grasses, shrubs, and overgrowth that had overtaken the tracks since their abandonment.  We are to analyze our section of the site for one of several abstract architectural concepts such as movement, density, flow, tension, texture, or others, and then present that analysis to the class.  The kicker is that our only means of presenting our thoughts and ideas is through the mediums of paper, string, and pins, the idea being that we use these materials to represent our abstract thoughts in a concrete, visual, three dimensional way.

Since none of us had purchased these materials prior to the class (these fell under the “as needed” category on our lists), we spent the next hour and a half trekking across Greenwich Village with Magnus to find them.  Unfortunately we had to go to three separate stores to buy the paper, pins, and string, a journey which was made more difficult by the humid summer day, but I didn’t mind – it gave us all a chance to chat and get to know each other more.

For the final hour of our class we experimented with the new materials by producing three abstract “experiments,” basically a stream-of-consciousness exercise but in three dimensions.  We were to explore how we could use the materials in creative, three dimensional ways.  Below is a picture of my three (apologies for the poor quality of my phone camera, I will take a better one tomorrow):

As you can see, I progressed to increasingly complex work as time went on.  My final “experiment” (right) was my favorite, combining unique twists and contortions of paper with layered string to produce an almost topographical “surface” or “landscape”.

So, after a long and slightly stressful day, this is what I have to show for my efforts.  All sarcasm aside, I am excited to see what the next few weeks have in store, because even though the beginning of this day got off to a rough start, the end of it — meeting my professors, classmates, and spending some quality “in the zone” studio time (which I haven’t done in years) — made up for it.

Tomorrow is my first “Into the City” class where we will visit the New York High Line site as a group!  Get ready for some photos!

Safe Travels Need a Guiding Light

June 19, 2010


The trials and tribulations of finding an apartment in New York City have consumed my life for the past few days, involving phone calls, e-mails, and lots of leg work; unfortunately my efforts have yet to pay off, but one fortuitous side effect of the experience has been that I have quickly learned the basics of navigating the NYC subway system.  I learned, for example, that there are certain unspoken rules to be followed, such as:

Always stand immediately in front of the train doors before they open so that you can move into the train before anyone else even attempts to get off.

Keep an eye out for MTA announcements posted in obscure or unnoticeable areas notifying you that the train you are about to get on is not actually the letter or number it claims to be, even though all other visible signage says otherwise.


Do not, under any circumstances, break stride or stop when exiting a station platform during rush hour.  You will immediately regret your decision.

I know I now feel like a more complete human being for learning and knowing these rules, don’t you?


Regardless of the complimentary life lessons offered by the New York City subway system (and my propensity for wanting to refer to it as “the T”), I believe the system appears so complex because it lacks a simple compatibility with the human experience — a problem that could potentially be addressed with lighting.

Think about it: what comes to mind when you think of a subway system? Trains, loud noises, steel, heat, confusion? Chaos?

Subway systems are certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing of places due to their typically utilitarian nature. I believe, however, most of them lack a certain design feature that would not only make them easier on the eyes, but infinitely more usable: focus.

Focus is a big topic in theatrical lighting.  Some would say the entire purpose of theatrical lighting is to direct focus.  A lighting designer must direct the audience’s eyes to the important action on stage, or risk losing their attention and interest almost immediately.  This is usually accomplished by varying the intensities of the pools of light on stage — increase the intensity in the area of action, decrease it in the background and all other areas — a simple and effective technique.  The iconic theatrical followspot functions on the same premise, providing a precise, controlled, extra punch of light on the featured performer to make them stand out.

What if subways were thought about in the same way? What if, instead of glazing over every platform, corridor, stairwell, and track with an uncontrolled wash of light, the light was focused on the important areas of the station, highlighting exactly where people need to look and go?  What if the lighting directed travelers’ eyes using intensity or color?  What if the sources were hidden or disguised so as not to divert attention (or cause temporary blindness and/or eye fatigue)? Would such an improvement make subway travel a more pleasant experience? Would it improve safety? Would it attract more travelers?

Boston, and the MBTA, have already taken a big step in this direction.  Pictured above are recently completed improvements to the Arlington Street station on the Green Line, one of several subway stations to undergo a complete overhaul in recent years.  While focus is not necessarily addressed to the degree that I have suggested, these upgrades appear miles ahead of any of the MTA stations I saw during my few days in New York so far.

What makes this example such an improvement?  The human element.  This is an environment that humans can easily interact with. This station is bright, clean, and easily navigable.  The lighting clearly illuminates both the signage as well as the most important part of the station: the track.  It doesn’t work against or assault our sense of sight (at least, not as much as other examples), and it allows travelers to focus more on their trip and less on distractions.  I can’t say the same for some of the New York subway stations.

What do you think?  Any New Yorkers (or other subway riders) out there?  What have your experiences been with the subway?  Do you think improved lighting would be beneficial to the ease and safety of travel?

Lighting Design 2.0

June 14, 2010


Today is the start of something new.

After years of study and practice, building a design portfolio, and making friends and industry connections as a theatrical lighting designer, I am about to start everything all over again —  this time in the field of architectural lighting design.

Why? The big news is that I was recently accepted to the MFA Lighting Design program at the Parsons New School of Design to study architectural lighting in one of the biggest and brightest lighting laboratories in the world: New York City!

Architectural lighting has been an area that has interested me for some time, ever since I spent a summer as a systems integration intern lighting up casinos and hotels with Production Resource Group (PRG) in Las Vegas, NV.  The installations of light in that city are unparalleled in scope anywhere else that I’ve ever been. My favorite is the Fountains of Bellagio.  Most of the nights I spent in Las Vegas were spent watching the fountain shows for hours on end.  The choreography of light, water, movement, and music is simply mesmerizing to me.  It is so simple, yet so beautiful.  It doesn’t need anything more, nor anything less.  It is a perfect union of elements that stops anyone on the adjacent sidewalk (or even across the street), making them pause, reflect and wonder.  As someone with a background in theatre, it is a lighting designer’s dream project — it is pure theatricality — but, unlike theatrical designs, it is a permanent fixture in the urban landscape of Las Vegas.  How incredible is that?

The permanence of such a project is probably what interests me the most about this field.  Everything I have designed up until this point in my career has been temporary: designed, set up, displayed, and taken down.  What would it mean if I could design something and see it day after day for years, or decades, on end?  I’m interested to find out.

This is only one inspiration of many for my decision to study architectural lighting.  My main motivation is that I simply love to learn.  I have a natural curiosity for learning new information and skills, and that curiosity drives me in most of what I do, which is why I am thoroughly excited for the possibility of learning about something I know almost zero about.

For those concerned that I am somehow betraying or leaving behind the theatre world, not to worry.  I am first and foremost a theatre person, and I never plan to leave theatre behind me for good.  There is nothing that can compare with the feeling of being part of a live performance.  Especially in today’s communications- and technology-driven society, I actually think theatre is what keeps me sane.  The outcome I am currently hoping for at the end of this experience is to blend these two fields into a career that satisfies all of my interests and needs, such as designing community arts and performance venues, with maybe a few theatrical designs sprinkled in here and there.  Who knows what opportunities I will find? A career like that doesn’t sound too far off in New York.  I can’t wait to see what Parsons has in store for me!

I hope to use this blog to document and reflect on my experiences in New York, so I invite anyone with an interest in following what I do to check back often!