Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999: This was the “last-chance” day–last chance to get the Akron project (The project is a competition. We have not been awarded the commission yet. The project is to develop a design for an entrance to the University of Akron campus.).
Let me explain. When you’re writing a diary to be seen by others, you have to step back and explain yourself (I know my story by this time, but you don’t); you have to give reasons, and live by cause and effect; you can’t just cry, or cry out; you have to give a history of tears. It’s as if a lyric poem is forced into the category of an epic poem.
The Akron site is the entrance to the university: The road from the city enters the university and ends at a traffic turnaround–from here on in, you can’t drive through the campus, so you turn around here and drive out. Our site is a 60-foot diameter circle of grass, the middle of the turnaround; surrounding it are three buildings, two about 30 feet high, one about 140 feet high (this is the Polymer Science Building–it’s a recent building, mirrored, it’s the sign of the new here–polymer science is what this school is based on, polymers are what has kept Akron from becoming a ghost town).
I saw this site in the beginning of the summer. We let the material rest; we didn’t look at it, didn’t think about it. We had an excuse: We had other projects to work on, with more immediate deadlines. But there was another excuse: It’s not the right project for us.
Let me explain again. Our stuff works best when people use it; our stuff provides occasions for people, and events, and interaction. But you’re not supposed to walk onto a traffic island; this is a place to look at, not to use.
Anyway, for whatever reasons, we hadn’t touched the project. And now we have to have a project; I have to go to Akron on Wednesday to present it.
So we all–the whole studio–started looking at it Friday; we threw ideas around; we all had something to say; we had nothing to say; we didn’t have any ideas.
But let me get to Sunday, the day I’m writing about. But it’s hard to get to Sunday without saying what happened Friday, because Sunday started there. So here’s Friday, quickly: We extruded the traffic island into a spiral, pulled it up into strips of grass (maybe there’s mirror on the underside of the grass, maybe light)–but it felt like a sculpture in the middle of the island that functioned like a pedestal; and we hate sculpture, and I hate art, but let me tell you about that another time–so then we extruded the island into a building, a columnar building (you enter from the sidewalk, you go through a tunnel under the street and come up into the building, from below; an elevator takes you up the building, the building itself is an elevator that takes you up to lounges on different levels)–but then we remembered our budget, $300,000 (no, we hadn’t forgotten it, but then again, talk is cheap, and ideas are free). At the end of the day, when everyone was gone except Sergio and Sara, Sergio called a halt to our far-fetched ideas (Sergio is the person in the studio who manages model-building; but we’ll talk about that later in the week–at least I assume we will, because I hope we’ll be working on some model or another); Sergio tried to bring us back to our senses–he reminded us about the Marienhof project that we proposed in the summer of ‘98 (a system of open-structure spheres in the middle of a town square–in the middle of the surrounding buildings, it’s as if the spheres are rising up, rising through, like bubbles–you walk on spiraling walkways around the spheres, from underground to above ground, from one sphere to the other–the spheres have different functions: One is a park, one a parking garage, one a market, one a theater, one a swimming pool, etc). So Sergio said: Let’s put a sphere, 60 feet in diameter, on the traffic island–trees grow through the sphere–from the surrounding sidewalks, you walk on ramps that rise up over the street and attach onto the outside of the sphere–there are benches at the inside edge of the ramp, so you sit within the foliage of trees). OK; we were relieved: We had something we could focus on; something we had a chance of finishing, in embodied form, in model form, by Wednesday. Sergio went home; Sara went home; they would come back on Sunday–Sara to draw out plans and sections, Sergio to work on the model.
So now we’re at Sunday finally.
I woke up about 9 a.m., after having gone to bed at about 6 a.m. (What was I doing up till then? Organizing the studio, cleaning up, rearranging slides–but I’ll tell you about that another time, because there’s always another time, that’s what I’m always doing, that’s what I do, it seems, while other people work on projects). So, I got up. Should I tell you about the pasta-pot showers, the gagging while brushing my teeth, the out-of-one-pot-and-into-another routine?–maybe later, once I get used to writing this diary. Back to getting up: Once I got up, I came to my senses on my own this time, and realized that we were on the wrong track again. The spheres made sense when they were surrounded by buildings; they needed resistance–they needed a field to rise up through. On the traffic island, the sphere didn’t have anything to do except sit there. And besides, why would you want to go out over the street in order to sit on the edge of this sphere? There are plenty of seats already on campus; why would you come up here to sit on high–are you King of the Campus?–not even that: Are you King of the Entrance?
So, I thought in another direction. Imagine the island extruded up into a tube, 60 feet high. Now the tube has an open top; more precisely, the top, instead of being on top of the tube, has gone over to the side, around the edge (an easy way to say this might be: Think of an upside-down top hat). Now cut into the pipe/tube part of that upside-down top hat: Start low, 13 feet high (the height you need for a fire truck to go under), and rise up to the full height, 60 feet. The rim, 30 feet wide, extends over the street, on all sides of the island. Cut the rising edge into segments, so that the edge is faceted and not curved. These segments are mirrored on the underside; they reflect what’s below, in fragments. The upper side is a light box; at night, light glows above; the light rises, it can be seen from far away, in the city itself (I forgot to tell you: This is the program for the project–it has to be something of substantial height, something that can be seen when approaching the campus). But, if there’s a tube, it has to enclose something (as if there’s smoke in the middle of a chimney). So, maybe there’s no tube, but only the shape of a tube: a structure holding these overhangs rising over the street. But there’s still an inside, tube or not. What’s inside, what’s at the bottom of all this, what’s the core, what am I thinking about, anyway? Maybe the structure holds solar panels; the solar panels provide the electricity for the light on the top-side of the overhangs.
Then Sara came over, about 4 in the afternoon, and it was obvious to both of us that there was nothing here to work on. (Sooner or later I’ll tell you about Sara; Sara’s the new person in the studio; she’s been here only two weeks; she comes early and stays late; she might be the most concentrated person in the studio; sooner or later I’m sure I’ll tell you about Sara.)
So, Sunday wasn’t the last chance after all. We have to pretend that we have another chance, on Monday; we have to take that chance; we’d better; we have to be incurable optimists, and we have to work to make optimism come through.
Sunday night I went to Steven Holl’s wedding. Preacher-talk about souls, and about the whole community having a stake in a marriage; I got queasy; I left before dinner. Before going to sleep, I talked on the phone to Julia (I don’t think I’ll tell you about Julia).