Like most, I hate the thoughtlessly tossed trash plaguing my city. It feels like a personal affront to every other citizen when one of us simply lets fly an empty bottle, a soiled wrapper, a cigarette butt. But there is at least one kind of litter I am quite fond of and would miss if it disappeared.
Certainly the bloom of these flowers across town after every storm has its intrinsic sadness. Poor craft and materials, exploitation of cheap labor, dependence on an import economy, and a whole host of other ills.
But I imagine the conditions under which these objects appear in our city scape. It is pouring. The wind is intense. You are carrying a purse, briefcase, and two grocery bags (or a child). The umbrella suddenly vomits itself into the air and in your sodden frustration you abandon it to the street.
They are swept up in the stream of the urban storm, left pinned against a fence, under a bench, or most oddly, in the middle of the sidewalk when the wind suddenly dies.
Their shapes like flowers sometimes have the same lurid colors.
If it’s possible to appreciate this undeniable trash as the keeper of small histories, how hard would it be to look more closely at the other flotsam and jetsam in our lives?
We didn’t skip a beat.
Not through the power tools, the fumes, the dust. Not through the parade of Polish construction workers in and out of the office all day long, who mostly conversed in their native language but at times belted out random song lyrics in English and whose cell phones – with various raucous musical ringtones – competed with the whir of the chop saw. Not through the frequent deliveries of materials, the carpet-laying crew with its vats of smelly glue, the chill when the freight elevator sat open while construction debris was carted away.
We sat at our desks and toiled away, smack dab in the middle of a construction zone. Quite an interesting experience.
It all started when the office next door was vacated. We are fortunate to be a growing company, adding a few new positions (including mine!) in the last year. Space was getting a little tight, musical chairs with staffers and work stations was occasionally necessary, the conference room was often double-booked, and, without jinxing anything, I’ll cautiously say the future is looking good. Thus, the bosses capitalized on the opportunity and grabbed the space next door while it was available with an eye to the firm’s continuing expansion, bolstered by the rental of part of the new space to two friendly tenants.
The expansion plans called for knocking down a wall to join the two suites, creating additional office space; a huge storage closet; a new area for the office equipment and another for the materials library; a second, larger conference room – all on the new side, and a small galley kitchenette and second door into the hallway on the original side.
Did I mention that the wall to be knocked down is/was right next to my desk? And that power tools are really, really noisy? And that construction dust is fine, white, and pervasive?
The construction workers started on the “other side.” We defrocked the wall to be demolished, I emptied my large filing cabinet so it could be moved out of the way, and we went about our business. We could hear the workers destructing and constructing on the “other side,” but, in light of what was to come, it was but a muffled distraction. One Monday we returned to work and the wall was gone. In its place was a roughly hung curtain of plastic and a couple pieces of plywood, graciously erected by the construction workers in a (failed) attempt to shield us from the sound and dust.
Soon the plastic and plywood disappeared, the two spaces became one, and we became office workers in the middle of a construction zone – or they became construction workers in the middle of an office? Either way, peaceful co-existence was paramount. We both had jobs to do.
So, I timed telephone calls between power tool usage, buried my nose in my shirt depending on the fume du jour, and covered my computer at night with a trash bag for dust protection.
About three weeks into it, the major construction is almost complete. In addition to the wall separating the two spaces being demolished, new walls have been erected, the new conference room has been created, wood trim has been polyurethaned, and new carpeting has been laid. It’s really looking great. Finishing touches are still pending, as is the other half of the project – creating the kitchenette and cutting a new doorway in the original space.
Thus, for now, I must quell the urge to scrub away the dust shroud covering every single thing on my desk, and continue to throw my clothing into the washing machine as soon as I arrive home every evening. Luckily, however, even though I am not an architect, I do often wear black, which, fortunately, goes well with construction dust.
I’ve always been a person who needed a little white noise in order to be more productive, so the day I interviewed at Metcalfe Architecture & Design and heard music being played out loud I knew this place would be a good fit.
Even though some of us like the music to fade into the background (sparking an all-day battle for control of the volume dial) it seems that there is rarely a time when someone doesn’t have his or her music device attached to the office stereo. My co-workers know by now that if there is more than 45 seconds of silence I will almost always be out of my seat with mp3 player in hand.
For the most part everyone here has diverse and relatively open-minded tastes when it comes to listening material. Through exposure here, I’ve discovered some of the best music I’ve ever heard – everything from Juana Molina to Tom Waits, and from there, my own tastes in music have evolved quickly.
Don’t get me wrong though, even though we are usually not offended by each other’s music selections, occasionally a questionable album will be played. I don’t think I’ll ever warm up to Steely Dan or the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but there’s always a way out of those uncomfortable situations.
Using our own headphones is one inconspicuous way we let everyone else know that we’re not pleased about what’s being played, and occasionally, someone may even let out a resounding groan and actively change the music. I’ll be the first to admit that not all my co-workers would appreciate my collection of Modeselektor or Bjork albums.
And, let’s face it, the music that’s appropriate for a Friday afternoon is not always right for Monday morning. Here at MA&D we often start out the week with something like Neil Young and end up gradually transitioning to The Kinks or Nirvana.
In general though, I think everyone in the office appreciates having noise in the background to cover up the quiet din of keyboard tapping and mouse clicking which can drive a person crazy. We’ve all become amateur DJs, each of us helping to create a more lighthearted and pleasant atmosphere around the office, sparking a little conversation here and there and giving us all something to hum along to. Tastes aside, I always appreciate when someone is willing to share their music with everyone else, revealing a little bit more of themselves and helping us all become a little closer on a personal level.
Being an exhibit designer gives me the opportunity to travel to places I might not normally visit on my own. Fortunately, every once in a while, I get some free time to explore. Usually, I seek out non-museum experiences—outsider art and eccentric roadside architecture. And even if I can’t manage a detour, just being somewhere new often brings unexpected sights. Maybe just the unfamiliar quality of the local light will strike me while I’m going to dinner, rushing back with my rental car, or even flying home. Almost always, there’s some reason to grab a photo or two with the snapshot camera I carry along. These are some of those places and moments.
What could be better than a steaming hot bowl of homemade soup, a big blanket, and a comfy sofa on a cold fall night?
As fall fast approaches, I look forward to cracking open my box of soup recipes, a collection I have been building over the past few years. I tend to make big batches of soup, so I can freeze quarts to enjoy on upcoming cold winter nights. I like trying new ingredients while also learning how to pair a certain soup with a particular dish, like a specific type of wine that goes perfectly with a certain dish.
Not to be a soup snob, but I have not opened or eaten a can of pre-packaged soup in a long time. I find it important to use fresh ingredients and in-season vegetables. Homemade soup has tons of nutritious health benefits unlike canned soup, not to mention the fresh yummy flavors.
My excitement at making soup in the fall and winter months has not always been a part of my life. Since I am a native Floridian, soup was not something I tended to crave, due to the lack of seasonal changes in weather. However, I have always loved soup, and it has always crept into my diet in some way or another. For instance, my mom’s chili, beef stew, and Hungarian goulash recipes were frequent staple meals made during the few “cold nights” of winter in Florida. As soon as the temperature dropped into the 60’s, my family pretended we lived in the North while sitting on our cozy sofa eating beef stew wearing over-sized sweaters and furry bedroom slippers.
After living as a transplant in Philadelphia for five years, I have come to experience and understand the changes in seasons and the food cravings that go along with them. I now have to wear the over-sized sweaters and furry bedroom slippers – not just for fun but for survival. Part of that survival, to me, is a big bowl of homemade soup.
Fall is on its way, so I cannot think of a better way to embrace it than with one of my favorite soup recipes. Pasta e Fagioli is perfect on a chilly day when your body craves a hearty meal. Enjoy this recipe (courtesy of Foodgawker.com) while sitting on your comfy sofa under a big blanket on a cold day.
Pasta e Fagioli
1/2 t olive oil
Set a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil, stir in onions and carrots, and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add tomatoes and 1/2 c cannellini beans and simmer 5 minutes or until tomatoes release their juices and beans become soft. Decrease heat to low and use a potato masher to mash the beans and tomatoes until well-blended but not smooth. Add remaining beans, chicken broth, rosemary, and bay leaf and increase heat to high until the liquid just reaches a boil. Add reserved tomato juice from fresh tomatoes (strain out seeds first). Decrease heat to low and keep soup warm.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook ditalini according to package instructions. Drain and mix pasta into the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in torn basil just before serving.
If using fresh tomatoes, remove skins by blanching and shocking. Remove core from the tomato and score an “x” in the bottom. Bring a pot of water to boil and prepare an ice bath. Cook tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 minute then submerge in the ice bath. If the skin doesn’t immediately start to peel away cook it again in the water for 1 minute and submerge in the ice bath. Drain well and use a paring knife or your fingers to remove and discard the skin. Cut the tomato into quarters and remove the seeds. Dice small.
For two weeks every September Philadelphia plays host to the Live Arts and Fringe Festivals, a schedule of events I eagerly anticipate and religiously attend. This year marked an exceptional level of quality performances from dancers, choreographers, theater groups and individual presenters hailing not only from Philadelphia, but a number of other national and international cities, primarily New York, with overlaps and collaborations among the artists from these cities.
The most striking show for me was a remounting of a collaborative piece originally performed in the late seventies. The piece being such a benchmark in the world of modern dance, combining music, film with live performance in such a simple and pure ensemble, that it has warranted its showing three decades later. Dance seamlessly integrated the choreography of Lucinda Childs, the composition of Philip Glass, and the film of Sol LeWitt.
Distilling the costuming of the dancers to pure white leotards, the dancers are recognized for their programmed repetition of movement in complicated patterns that would seem almost robotic if not for their fluidity and elegance. Performed in three parts, the patterns initially track in linear steps across the stage in four receding planes from right to left and left to right. The second part, then breaks this line for a single perpendicular trajectory from front to back and reverse. The faces and fronts of the dancers constantly registering forward to the audience, thus far. Then, into this second part, this sole performer rounds the floor of the stage in a counterclockwise ring using the full depth of stage. Both jarring and exhilarating, just as the starkness of the sight of a single dancer at the start of this section, the break in pattern marks a new freedom and divorce from the rigid repetition established earlier in the sequence.
The third part simply combines the choreography found in the first parts to culminate in a grander viewing of the two simultaneously. The dance is repetitive but never monotonous. It reads in the same way the ocean’s wakes, swells and crests lap the sand on a day at the beach.
The film component synchronizes the black and white visual of the same dance performed on a white gridded plane with a stark black background. Here the human figures, even more lucid in their movements of the same patterns. The talents of these dancers are even more mesmerizing. Their shoulders are relaxed and the their arms seem to float in a light sequence. The brows of the dancers show no concentration, no strain, no forced focus, just natural.
The stage, donned in a translucent scrim framed by the proscenium, provided the surface for the projection of the filmed dancers, larger than life, sometimes in full-frame, other times in two or three frames at once. The live performers accompany the film at times, at times working alone and at times featuring the movie pictures themselves.
The continuous thread through the entire piece being the music. Joining each of the patterns into sequences and sequences into parts, the pattern and repetition found in the choreography mimic those same patterns and repetitions of sound, in an audible and visible illustration of one another. The sounds of the music are a layering of instruments, each distinct in their character, but all consistently regimented in their delivery.
As a viewer you have a structured platform for a constant comparative analysis between the dancers on film and the live dancers, the music and the dancers, the dancers and the grid, and the combination of these items.
After seeing the piece I found this diagram by Lucinda Childs. Summarizing Dance with a single image, rendered with the same light yet deliberate hand, the structure of the graph paper doesn’t seem so rigid with its delicate blue lines, penciled coordinates labeling the perimeter of the page, and dotted matrix marking the pattern of movement.
Ever since I can remember I had a soccer ball at my feet. Coming from a family of soccer fanatics I was grandfathered into a sport that I continue to play and learn from to this day. I have been playing since I could walk, from recreational games when I was a kid to collegiate ball. Throughout the years there were championships and there were games I only remember for how cold it was outside.
No matter the importance of the game I always brought the same energy and competitive spirit every single time. As a competitor in general there is nothing more exciting than playing in front of a huge crowd of people and feeding off their energy. As a player on the field you have the opportunity to dictate the pace of the game. You grab the spirit of the spectators and take them on this ride. It’s a roller coaster of emotions dictated by your instinctive decision on the field. There is something so raw and true about sports. You trust your knowledge of the game from practice after practice and have the confidence that it will carry you to victory. My coach once told me that sports reveal your true character, and this revealing is what fans connect with.
There is this link that is created between the player and the fan strictly based on energy. Players hold a certain power over the spectators, as if we are puppet masters. Fans watch your every move, throw their drinks when you miss a wide-open shot, and stomp the bleachers in unison when the ball goes in the back of the net. But, fans underestimate their impact on the game; players thrive off the fire and excitement that they show. We seek approval from our fans and their involvement or burst of emotion can spark the intensity to make that tackle or shot to win the game. This relationship between player and spectator is one of the longest and well-known relationships in my life next to the one with my family. It wasn’t until recently that I have learned its importance to me in my profession.
You see, as an architect the collaborative process of design truly thrives on creativity, instinctive decisions, and the emotions of design. When the stake of the game is an $800 million skyscraper, I would say you are truly going to “feel the energy” between you and the client. You both are in this process, where feeding off of one another’s excitement can be the gel to hold the project together. The client must trust you as the architect to take such a feat on, but at the same time it’s the client’s raw emotions and reactions to the design that dictate how the game is played.
I hope I never forget how important it is to trust my design intuition as I do on the soccer field. I know the game of soccer so well I don’t even have to think about my next move, there is a level of confidence, poise, and passion that I have while playing soccer. I am quickly realizing the importance of these qualities in my professional life. Never underestimate how your excitement and expertise can inspire a fan or a client, it is this energy that allows them to buy into the design or game and jump on board for the ride. At the same time, for me as a professional one of the most inspiring things can be a client’s approval or smile. The raw emotion of approval will be more of a driver than ever to push the design.
When I was a wire service reporter, I could write about anything. It was the nature of the job. Politics, casino moguls, presidential visits, natural disasters, court trials, the Miss America Pageant, even, most terrifying to me, sporting events. I am sports-illiterate yet covered Tyson vs. Spinks and LPGA tournaments, and took dictation from short-fused sports writers calling in on deadline from NHL, NFL, and NBA games.
Eventually I took my journalism skills into the non-profit cultural world as Director of Communications at first, a historic house and garden, and later, a maritime museum. At the former, I quickly became adept at botanical names; at the latter, I mastered such nautical nuances as the differences between a skiff, a sloop, and a ship.
In my new position as Communications Manager at Metcalfe Architecture & Design, however, I fear I have crossed over into a whole new dimension of being out of my element. Let me count the ways.
First, there is the considerably intimidating architectural realm. My only architectural experience is that I live, work, and shop in buildings. Oh, and I did once rent and enjoy the film My Architect, about Louis Kahn. Thus, I am scrambling to learn about proposals, renderings, elevations, construction sketches vs. design development vs. schematic design, 3D, Sketch-Up, and competitions (BIG in the architectural world). I am also perplexed by the notion that anyone would attend a lecture on “The History of Concrete.”
Then there is a whole new set of office procedures and etiquette to absorb and new office co-workers to get to know. Timesheets, cleaning duties, keys, passwords – the usual. Similar names here add to the confusion – the first names of the two bosses both begin with “A,” two of the architects’ names begin with “J,” two begin with “D.” Although I know who is who, inevitably the wrong “A” or “J” or “D” name comes out of my mouth. Like parents who run through the names of all their children and sometimes the pets until they get to the right kid. It happens.
There’s also the gender gap. Initially I was the only woman in the office except for a part-time bookkeeper who comes in once a week. Admittedly, the extravagance of men is handy, like when the occasional creepy crawly invades the Ladies Room. It’s easy to be the damsel in distress with so many knights in shining armor available.
There’s also an age thing. I reluctantly include this, but there it is. To mix metaphors, let’s just say I’ve been around the block and sometimes wonder if I am too old of a dog to learn new tricks. (Which might account for the mixing up of names, mentioned above?) While the firm’s principals are in my age category, out here in the big room it’s me and the boys. I say that with respect and fondness towards my esteemed architect co-workers, as any male under 30 is a boy to me. With the age, gender, and professional (they’re architects, I’m not) differences, their conversations are mostly unintelligible to me. On the other hand, sometimes when they get going, the tidbits I catch here and there are often hilarious and I find myself chuckling in my little corner of the office.
The gender/age gap combo presents the “Office Den Mother” danger. For a long while I battled the urge to defrost the office fridge because that seemed just one step away from making the coffee (which, actually, the architects do). But I got tired of the freezer dripping on my sandwich every day so I did it. Although I organized the “Great Defrost,” the “boys” took over chipping away the iceberg that took two days to melt.
There’s also my geographic location. The main office is a big open loft with a wall of windows; quite nice, in fact. It’s just that the workstations are set up in quadrants divided by six-foot walls. I sit in the farthest quadrant (I do have a “corner office with windows”) and so am visually cut off from my co-workers and can’t easily join in their banter. This makes it difficult to become “one of the boys.”
Then there is profit vs. non-profit world. Let’s just say it’s MUCH easier to get free PR when you’re shilling for a cultural institution than a commercial company.
But it’s mostly that I don’t think anyone here – sometimes even my bosses – REALLY know what it is I do. PR and marketing are not bricks and boards and nails and sheet rock. The PR field is notorious for its dearth of demonstrable results; the architectural field is notable for its accountability through billable hours. At the end of the day, I don’t have an elaborate blueprint or a lovely building to show. A tweet, maybe. Breaking into the firm’s project loop (I can’t publicize what I don’t know about) has been a bit of a slow process. And I’m aware everyone knows I’m the only staff member whose hours are non-billable, except for the bookkeeper, and she hands out paychecks. Could I perhaps be perceived as a, gulp, parasite?
Fast Forward. It’s now almost five months since I joined the firm. I still have a lot to learn but I don’t feel quite as befuddled about the architectural world (although I’m still puzzled about the allure of “The History of Concrete.”). I finally feel like I have a grip on the firm’s important projects, have made contact with clients, and am avidly doing what I do best – publicizing. And, happily for me, MA&D is a firm comprised of architects and designers and focuses as much on museum exhibit design as building buildings. This I know about and enjoy frequently crossing paths with people from my past life in Philadelphia's museum, cultural, and tourism worlds. I think I’m making headway in getting ”the architects” to understand and value what I do. (Seriously, have you ever had to convince someone that Facebook and Twitter are IMPORTANT?) And recently a female graphic designer joined the staff so the testosterone tide has ebbed slightly. Even though she is just a bit older than my college-age daughter, she is already a dear friend – we both love Glee and So You Think You Can Dance. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my colleagues at after-hours office gatherings. They are a fun, friendly, smart, and witty bunch. Plus, we have an office dog.
What’s not to like?
This story was written as a test for a project MA&D is working on with First Person Arts. The project, First Person Museum, will open in early November 2010 at the Painted Bride Art Center. The museum is an experiment in establishing value.
I can’t remember when I got my first pocketknife or who gave it to me. It was probably my father, and it had to be in the early '60s as he died in 1965. It was also probably a Swiss Army knife. I’ve owned many over the years; a couple of Buck knives, a few no-name folding knives and several hunting knives in fancy leather sheaths. Those, in spite of their fantasy potential, always proved impractical. In the end it is the Swiss Army knife that has my undying loyalty.
I don’t have one story associated with one knife. I have almost 50 years of carrying these things around. They are part of who I am. Once, in a fit of self-reinvention, I cut my long pony tail off with a pocket knife. One Thanksgiving I carved a 22-pound turkey for our dinner with 15 people using one – as no “real” knife could be found.
Tight security around air travel makes it tough to travel with one. Once I forgot the knife in my pocket until getting into a taxi on my way to the airport. I shoved it into a convenient park flower bed. It was there when I returned four days later.
It makes me happy to know my daughter carries one.
Wayne Coyne is fearless. I attended a Flaming Lips show on the eve of July 4th in Atlantic City. I had heard the buzz about them for years, and had been trying to attend their annual show in Philadelphia. I finally made it there along with our 22-year-old office intern Carter, and my friend, Frank.
Sure, it was a terrific show. All the props, the confetti cannons, the exploding inflated balloons loaded with confetti, the LED laser tricks with the huge disco balls, the DIY look of the stage that was simply covered in orange paint and orange duct tape -- EVERYWHERE. The inflated seven-foot-tall catfish and caterpillar, especially the eight-foot-diameter clear inflated ball that Wayne steps into and confidently crowd surfs in a controlled free fall dance.
But what really got to me? I was totally inspired by the artistry and passion he and the band bring to their show -- we can apply some of his ethos to our lives as designers. And they still have it -- they have been doing this since the ‘80’s.
I first noticed their passion for their craft during their sound check. Wayne kept reappearing on stage, fussing with the setup, acknowledging the crowd, getting them excited then walking off. He let them know that he was there for them and that he was going to take them on a trip with him -- although many, including the kid behind me who collapsed to the ground, had gotten started without him. He turned the mundane and reviled sound check into an event.
And on came the LED screen of the tastefully naked dancing woman with the band emerging from a door in her crotch to take their places behind their instruments. And on and on.
All of that is fun and theater, but his art was passionately connecting with his audience through his show. Performing and improvising songs that require the participation of the audience. His vibe is warm and engaging, ironic, full of love and a dose of anti-war political theater thrown in.
He confidently lets the world into his head. Displays it in all its “freakiness (his word)” and dares, no welcomes, them to hum along.
It was all a spectacle; much of it rehearsed, much of it left to chance. Surfing across the crowd in his human-sized inflated balloon was only a little risky. Fully committing himself to the crowd, letting them drive and push the show, telling them and showing them how much he believes in the human spirit. Letting them see the world inside his mind. That is fearless. That is fun!
What I got from Wayne and the Lips is a reminder of how all things can be artful. When you have something to say and when passion from a performer (or a designer) is genuine, you can most successfully connect with your audience. Showing your audience that you care about them and are interested in them (not bored -- the affect of cool) is the way to their hearts and the way to a long and successful career as an artist.
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