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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!


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