UDM School of Architecture

Spring Break and Routines

May 7, 2011 · No Comments

By Ethan Sims

It is funny how 4 months seemed like such a long time when I was looking at it from the front end. School is in the process of wrapping itself up for us. Deadlines speak to us by rather matter-of-factly replacing “It will end, eventually.” with “It is ending, ready or not.” For some this transition is more harsh than for others. It being our stay, our lifestyle, and those simple little routines that we humans are so good at developing.

I tell you from experience that the routines become a comfort no matter where you are. So if you are reading this and are wondering just how green (exciting) the grass is on this side of the Atlantic, I can pretty confidently say that it is about as green as the grass in your own lawn, they just cut it differently here. If I would be staying over the summer I know that they would continue and pretty soon Warsaw would become home. Because like routines, the comfort of home moves too, right? What am I saying? Of course I will be ready to go home… Maybe I am a home-body (now I can really realize that that past statement was pretentious). Who am I kidding? Home is where I am from, and an inherent part of that is the fact that the people I am fortunate to call family are there. But I am not quite ready yet…

Anyway, as we are all getting back from Spring (yes it feels like that here too) Break we are feeling more than just the weather change. I can only speak for myself here, but I can once again cherish the simple mannerisms of the people here that I will miss, I can feel the simple joy of once again finding myself caught off guard by something that has over time become routine. Like the man on the street corner or at the crosswalk. When he could have just as easily answered his phone “Hello?” to complete my dream, he instead says “Tak, sucham.” And the rest of the world fades away and I realize I have to walk across the street or I might get hit by a biker (which almost happened to me yesterday).

The city is always in a hurry here but now there are bikers cutting through the streets and sidewalks adding a new tier to its constant movement. The movement of cars outside of my window is another thing I am able to smile at while sitting here writing. The cars here are about the size of one of my roller skates back home… only kidding, I don’t own any roller skates. But they are noticeably small (coming from America) and many people drive them quite fast and with sporadic rather jerky movements. Picture moving toward a red light with your foot still on the gas pedal and only breaking (not coasting) until you realize you need to stop or you will remake the bumper of the car in front of you. Even with the size and pressure of the break pedal barely making it to a stop before the bumper of the little car in front of you. This is why I smile while writing here. It is a phenomenon not possible with American cars simply due to their size, and obvious alien mindset to me personally. It is a nice break from the routine and from my storyboards that will help me with the presentation on Thursday.

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The Nature of The Exchange

April 18, 2011 · No Comments

I mentioned in a previous post that there was a high number of students for this exchange and I touched a little bit on what this meant. I found out yesterday while talking to one of my fellow Polish students exactly how this came to be.

After inquiring exactly why so many students applied for the exchange, what I heard was more surprising to me than the sheer amount of applicants. Before I begin I must add that it is a bit of a tragedy, but here is how the story goes:

The beginning of the exchange started meager. So meager in fact that there was only one student serious enough about going (which is 11 too few for a functioning exchange.) So when this particular student learned that he was the only one, he did what any sensible and seriously motivated student would: he proceeded to make a Facebook event.

He began posting the information around, and as could be expected from a viral information giant like Facebook the word got out, fast. In fact I am sure the word got around much faster than he intended, and indeed, instead of getting enough students he got more than he bargained for. When it came time to review the applications there were 40 students which, I believe, breaks the record for the largest group that has applied for this exchange within in the past 5-10 years. In the end individual ended up not being eligible because of the higher grades present in his fellow students’ transcripts. He was pushed right out the list.

I give props to this individual for his decision that made this exchange unique, and my best wishes for him. He has my sympathy, and I hope he is able to find another opportunity where he is able to gain a flavor of how inspiring a foreign exchange program can be.

The way the word was spread I think explains quite a bit about what I have witnessed since I arrived here in February. I previously wondered why there had not been much going out or traversing Warsaw as a whole group. Later I learned that this is because many of them did not even know each other. Although part of it may be from the fact that there are actually still 13 which means that one will not be going. The fact that this is based on grades is perhaps another reason for some of the tension between some of them. It seemed odd to me at first, but I realize what a family it seems to be at the U of D- where everyone knows everyone (which has its own extreme that could be equally annoying to some.) Going back to the Polytechnic where there are 1000+ students, this allows for such an encounter where students that don’t know one another can become acquaintances.

I have a good feeling and my own testimony of how programs such as this instigate a healthy interaction. What I mean by that is that everyone ends up getting to know one another whether they want to or not. I am pleased to see some of the relationships that are already developing between all of us. I look forward to spending more time with all of my new classmates as the time, place, and season changes- because those are all new lights by which we will all get to know one another.

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April 11, 2011 · No Comments

Some of us made it to Budapest this past weekend. If I could over-simplify with a gut feeling it would be a mix between Athens and Warsaw, but the culture and experience were pleasantly potent and unique. They were a joy to experience over the time spent exploring the thoroughfares and holes in the walls of this charismatic city.

On the 12 hour train ride I sat with two Romanian Gypsies. Although they did not speak very much English, by the end of the ride we learned from one another and I managed to pick up some fragments of Hungarian. It turns out they were 7th day Adventist and sold cutlery at different Bazaars around Europe.

The train dropped us off under the great arcade in one of the 3 international train stations. The morning light shined down from above on the bustle of shady characters and tourists as a breeze blew on the Hungarian flags hanging along the arcades- Hello Budapest.

The river separated the train station we arrived at from the hostel where we stayed. It is also the collision point of the two parts “Buda” and “Pest” into the city name that many know of.

After checking in we decided to wander through a park across the map. It housed towering statues at social realist scale but with mythological forms of heroic and detailed Hungarian historical figures. The fire was taken from their eyes replaced with mystery. We saw an old castle that reminded me of a fairytale, but we did not enter it. Consequently my imagination left its windows with Princes and Queens watching us pass by before resuming their roles.

After catching a few photos we moved on wandering through the park and out into the rest of the city. While we were still wandering the city turned into an extension of the park. By the end of the day we meandered through about one-third of the city seeing and taking snapshots. Again, never going in any places- I think we all knew the amount of time it would take to go in every one of the famous buildings. It was an unfortunate consequence of only 3 days in a city that brought out the relaxation in me rather than ambition. We managed a trip to a beautiful island where the late afternoon sun made streaks across the damp ground. Perfect for a small picnic. The clouds and bright sky seemed separated that day like milk and oil. Shrouds of shadow sat next to rays of light. It felt as though we wove between the limelight and the stage as we walked back to the hostel to prepare for dinner.

The next night we climbed to the top of an outcropping on the Buda (west) side of the river. It smelled like Athens to my memory but I felt Budapest with my fingers and saw its lights with my eyes. Like still fireflies the lights lit up a beautiful bridge here and there, dotted the streets, and dyed buildings yellow. On the hill I wrote: “I am sitting on a ledge with a beautiful view of Budapest @ night. The lights [far] off flickering to the city haze. I experienced wildflowers under the moonlight, it had such a timid beauty, which ever direction the wind had them point is where their white crowns flitted into and around one another.”

Perhaps the highlight of this trip, next to the beautiful island, was at one of the bathhouses that Budapest is famous for. I soaked in bath water, and watched the kids play in the swimming pool. There was also a cold pool for a strangely pleasant break from the nostril burning sensation of the steam sauna. Now I know a little bit about what a Lobster feels like. In the dry saunas were a pretty good break from the water, even though you leave very wet from all of the sweating. Although, I ended up burning the bottoms of my feet when trying the hottest room. Just now I looked at the conversion and it turns out I stepped on wood that was about 170 degrees, props to the guy in there longer than I stayed in the cooler room next door. It was very relaxing and it was wonderful being able to go next door to have a traditional Hungarian meal afterward. The air was filled with lively birthday music. For entertainment there was good dancing, singing, and even a very happy (rather tipsy) grandma who did pretty well following the fast paced traditional Hungarian dances.

I remember climbing and falling into the waters Budapest is famous for. I experienced the feeling of white crowned wildflowers in the moonlight after taking the road less traveled. The buildings from the hills at night are photogenic and like a different emotion they are beautiful to take long dramatic snapshots of while walking in their daytime shadows. Art-Nouveau curves and Neo-Gothic spires poked out like a child playing peek-a-boo after taunting at me by jutting out here and there around the other rows of tremendously old buildings. I can still hear the lull of horns and Solidarnosc flags that brought crowds in to the park we walked through… Higher wages please.

The lull of the return train gliding over the cracks between heavy rails guided me as I drifted into a rather deep sleep. I woke up this morning 20 minutes from Warsaw. After hopping on the crowded number 9 and two techno songs from the earphones of girl next to me I was back in front of that same traveler’s shop that marks the familiar tram stop- hello again Warsaw.

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Ethnography and Culture

April 5, 2011 · No Comments

By: Ethan Sims

On Sunday I went to a special market celebration that happens every year around Easter. The first thing I noticed was the smell of smoked meat that led me right to the outside of the Museum of Ethnography. This was a good thing, but even better because it happened right at one of those times where I was unsure where Google maps was actually leading me.

Lining the rough brick facade of the museum where tents were set up like trees sheltering the wares brought in from all around Warsaw. It was a very fitting celebration that melded the overarching atmosphere of inquisition about culture and the season of Easter in Poland into an enlightening and exciting atmosphere.

Walking along the market I saw almost everything I could think of from cooking utensils and hand made baskets to spirits made from stinging nettles (no joke). Lining the tables were jars of more honey than I knew existed. Each of the individual jars held a honey with a distinct flavor and color. I learned these attributes come from a simple difference in flower, place, or storage time. Perhaps one of the most notable things outside was the smoked cheese from the mountain region of Poland. It is a very salty cheese made from goats milk roasted on a special grill and served it with a sweet cranberry jam.

Once we were finished outside, the steps leading through the massive doors carried us inside of the museum. After paying for our tickets we entered into an exhibition space with rows of tables set in a circle. The people seemed to be driven around them by the music of traditionally dressed local musicians.

I enjoyed one particular, exceptionally photogenic, man playing the classical guitar and harmonica. His wooden shoes fitted with bells were tapping to upbeat melodies and undulating smoothly to mellow Easter music. It is a lively improvement to shopping at department stores to smooth Jazz.

The highlight of these festivals to the locals is the eggs that only come around this time of the year. It seemed I arrived right at the place to be. I always found it fun dying eggs as a kid with crayons and little packets of dye powder, but what I saw here was art and these women were serious about it. I saw a craft to it that (if I could guess) was forged both by tradition and by a very keen fine motor skill developed by years of practice. There was conversation and concentration happening as some women continued to scratch away at eggs and explain their craft to the buyers. What surprised me was the variety of different techniques and types of eggs that were used in the hundreds that were present. The sizes ranged from Ostrich eggs to Chicken eggs and there were monochromatic eggs as well as brightly colored eggs matching the colors of their traditional dresses. My favorite were the ones that were first dyed in onion-skins and then scratched to form a deep woody brown colored egg ribbed with white intricately detailed floral patterns. Some were gilded with tightly rolled paper, and the more traditional were covered with cut out paper in the shape of roosters and flowers.

After looking through the rest of the museum (since it was free with the market-entry ticket) I grabbed some “chlep i smalec w ogórek” or bread with lard and pickles for the trip home. I walked by all of the places I found from exploring previously this weekend. Passing by them they felt more like familiar faces than the sides of a pathway I was uncertain of. Plac Bankowy seemed to smile, still in the sunlight, at all of the bustling little people around the Metro. Tram #18, my tram, jostling through the square lead the way back to Babilon where I looked forward to resting my tired legs.

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Art X Detroit

April 2, 2011 · 1 Comment

It being the end of the term, everyone is swamped with work, however there is never a better time to take a break from the SOA and check out some great design about town. Art X Detroit, April 6-10 will be a perfect example to do just that. Just as the flowers will start blooming this spring, Detroit, too will bloom with art.

Exhibitions are already gearing up, with the earliest shows and events starting on April 1, such as the Wire Cruise Car Parking Lot, in Tech Town. The majority of programing however starts on April 6, with the opening of the Art X Detroit Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD). The show will run through April 24th.

Music performances, live painting, sculpture unvailings, installations, poetry readings, and discussions  by artist like Cedric Tai and Tyree Guyton will take place throughout the week and the month of April.Be sure to take advantage of the situation and get out and explore art in and by Detroit.

Art X Detroit: Kresge Arts Experience is a five-day multidisciplinary celebration that will exclusively present newly commissioned works created by the 2008-2010 Kresge Eminent Artists and Artists Fellows, from April 6-10, 2011. An exciting program of dance and musical performances, literary readings, workshops, panel discussions, public art and special exhibitions, Art X Detroit will be hosted at more than a dozen venues located throughout Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center and is free to the public. Art X Detroit is being supported by the Kresge Foundation.

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Ruminations @ the “Bucks” in Warsaw

April 1, 2011 · No Comments

Process "Cartoon" SketchesPalladio's Inspiration...

There is a distinct and very familiar smell of coffee that is signature to the Starbucks coffee shops back in America. A very similar smell greeted me today as I entered my first Starbucks here in Poland. It is on the corner of Plac Bankowy, a large square with beautiful reconstructed architecture and a busy Metro stop. I am hearing the voices of students chatting, business people meeting, and friends talking. The similarities are astonishing, usually I try to order in Polish, but today I decided to order in English as it seemed most appropriate.

Most of the American students are in Amsterdam this weekend. The four or five of us that are here in Warsaw have been invited to dinner tonight by a group of international students that we know through the Erasmus program.

The Erasmus program is one network that I am very glad to have here in Warsaw. It has connected a few of us with students from all over Europe. We talk about politics, economics, and culture with them (mostly driven by our fundamental naïve curiosity) but also shoot the breeze and hang out. I have gained a better understanding and feel of the world through this, but have also made some friends. That is what tonight is about, and why I am excited about this dinner.

I stumbled across the Bucks here on the corner from a spontaneous feeling to explore. I got off of tram #7 to walk toward an indie-coffee shop near Old-town, but decided to take a different way. One or two more decisions spurred by a building or a park that looked interesting lead to me making a wide detour. Along this detour I discovered and experienced at least 4 buildings from our history lectures, talk about a practical education. If that wasn’t enough I also took a 5zl lunch break with some yogurt and chlep razowy, a dense bread we just learned about in our Polish Language and Culture class.

In studio we are working on laying out floor plans and programming our various structures. The architecture I chose to explore is a design school and a culinary arts school. One of the things that makes this studio project intriguing to me (though it is purely conceptual) is the dynamic culture that can happen within a building because of the combination of different programs. I am also excited by how a vision of architecture can come out to initiate activity in the community.

When I was reflecting on the project presented before me I remembered what a professor I had said “There is a closeness that happens when you are a part of a neighborhood” this makes sense because you go through the same things, and eat at the same block party tables. I remember thinking about the dilemma that “I don’t know if architects can enter this, in fact it almost feels like the role we have is inherently outside of this closeness.” It is like we as architects are viewed as the Sherriff of Nottingham going in to rob the poor and take from the little happiness they have, after all in and around architecture is where many our memories are made. It made me wonder if there is a way that the Architect as the Visionary can collaborate as part of the neighborhood, as Heidegger would say “with things” only I would suggest “with people” because in collaboration there can be a building of a vision within the people, not just a buildin. This is what made me think about the running of this institution. A hands-on approach to design was what came to mind, I have a hunch that bonding happens working with rolled up sleeves, not just at architectural conventions and client meetings. It got me thinking that one thing I really admire about going to school in Detroit is that all of our projects are in Detroit. This is one reason I am becoming so connected to the city. I then translated this approach to my school so that the learning happens by designing according to the Praga area (think Design + Build). The board members are mentors, and the students become the innovators and hands of community activities. I want a garage to fabricate an architecture signature to Praga, think Bazaar (nomadic market) architecture for a first year project.

I also learned something about process. I find that I need to keep going back to what has driven me to the excitement that has wanted me to put a building into existence. This time I began by writing out the mission statement of the school (which I was fortunate to be able to do). Then I proceeded to draw cartoons of all of all of the social aspects that I wanted to touch on, followed by cartoons of the architectural aspects.

The purpose of the cartoon is two-fold. In one way it is a simple diagram of a movement (think children’s cartoons- exaggerated explanations of storytelling to express emotion like Tom’s finger throbbing after being pounded by Jerry’s hammer). The second fold is that it is a way to remind me that my thought processes can be simple and fun but still have a coherent meaning as a link in my process. It is an exploration about how to communicate architectural thought. From this I was able to create a program and move my design into physical contextual space.

My tea is almost done now, so I will be going.

I want to dedicate this entry to two close friends back in the D (you know who you are), with whom I have shared the atmosphere of many various “Bucks”. Also to my brother who is connected in my heart and in my mind with the smell of coffee, among many other things. And to whom also want to wish a late Happy Birthday.

-Ethan Sims

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Media Roundup

March 30, 2011 · No Comments

Is affordable housing all that it is cracked up to be, in preventing gentrification? The Gotham Gazette doesn’t think so, according to their research in Brooklyn, CDC affordable housing developments may be further segregating poor individuals and aiding gentrification. Great report for anyone interested in mixed income housing.


Amazing photos of the development of cities over the last 100 years. The urbanization of the world is happening at a stunning pace and here is some fantastic photo evidence.


Development done right? Fasinating interview with Greg O’Connell, the progressive developer responsible for the amazing turn around of Red Hook, in Brooklyn.


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Plains of Poland to the Hills Athens

March 28, 2011 · No Comments

Outside the Acropolis Museum

By Ethan Sims

Four of us just got back from Athens, Greece. It was a national holiday while we were there, which meant a lively atmosphere (I really have nothing to compare to since I have never been there before) and no open shops to buy sunscreen at.

The first thing you notice about Athens is that it has this haze of a country constantly confronted by the sun. The colors become bleached out and dull as they become the background for the massive outcroppings and parks that played peek-a-boo with us as we climbed up and down the face of Athens. “Guess what?” we would say with red faces and a thirsty curiosity of just what would come next, “We are in Athens.”

We conquered nearly the entire city the first day, smashing our modest appraisal of our time over places to see ratio. We saw the Acropolis with its silent stony presence. It was shrouded in mystery and modern installations. I feel like it was easy just snapping the picture and moving on without even giving thought to how old it actually is. The fences and scaffolding made it feel untouchable, why should I even believe this thing is in front of me when I am walking on these sterile platforms of wood and steel? The signs reminded me not to touch it, ok I thought- at least I have my pictures. I can’t, however, imagine the immensity of emotion being the Archaeologist who uncovered these ruins.

Next we saw the Acropolis Museum that is built on the ruins of another building. It was a great example of getting design out of the way. It was modeled on being a showcase for the Acropolis so there were stands and openings that held the ancient relics like a little boy holds a piece of his broken toy that a bully just smashed… Many others used the Acropolis, and the ruins is what we see because of it. The museum reached out in salute to solemn yellow outcropping that watches the upside down cake of Athens bustle around- the frosting like substance is below and the “fluffy” newer buildings, that mostly lack substance, sit above it. I wonder how many relics we would find digging under one of the thousands of apartment buildings along Athens’ busy streets.

We traveled to the Temple of Zeus whose magnificent size was the most impressive characteristic. The detailed floral capitals waving to us as we took pictures that made it look like we were leaning against it. I wonder if it made us look big or if we made it seem small… The Olympic stadium was next. Being a runner in high school I found the moment of arrival more than appropriate for a lap despite my sore feet. I left with a deep satisfaction and a strange counter-intuitive invigoration.

As tourists we floated along the streets speaking only English, but there was still a sense of an underlying political discomfort. We saw the changing of the guard on the way to the Archaeological Museum, but we also saw what appeared to be a student protest in front of the Technical University. Spray paint, locked gates, and solemn faces watched us as our large backpacks swayed on our shoulders. The Archaeological Museum also felt a bit untouchable. After all what is history if it is merely behind glass in a modern age? Maybe it was because it was partially closed off because of the holiday, but I cannot help but feel the history covered by a modern vibration the pictures of Athens often sterilize.

We ate at a hole in the wall the first night that served food not fitting to our preconception of what “Greek food” was.  No veal and beef combination, no cucumber sauce, no olives… but to the Greeks the tender pork with soft savory potatoes and cheese was theirs, so we ate like Greeks. Our worries of getting a Gyro were later inexpensively resolved however. The people who said “I will take care of you” do, but for a price. Remember, if you have a choice to get a Gyro standing or sitting, decide first if you are willing to pay three times the price for a piece of wood to sit on. On the other hand, I was moved by the generosity and warmth of many Greeks. I was given Greek coffee by a nice fellow at a coffee shop, a free pin by a tourist stand, and the man at the hostel gave us money back after paying the agreed amount.

In the end the trip was a marvelous success. Many more miles on our shoes, pictures on our cameras, and easy breaths from a smooth [warm] trip. We learned an city but also about a new culture. I was happy we walked past our comfort and soreness, we climbed the hills and experienced Greece.

The cool Polish breeze greeted our sunburned faces and reminded us that we had school the next morning. The delicate clear sun made the 175 bus swim along the road brushed by the shadows of the trees soon to begin budding.

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Detroit 713,777

March 26, 2011 · No Comments

By this time I am sure you have heard the news, Detroit’s census count for 2010 is down to 713,777. That is a drop of 25% from 2000, and the cities population has not been this low since 1910. Most undoubtedly every mention of this story is bad news, however is that really the case? We all know that it is very dangerous for Detroit to continue on this path of huge losses.

The reality of the situation is that until urban policies are changed in the state of Michigan, Detroit will have a hard time stemming the tide. To clarify the type of change I am talking about is not fiscal managers, huge business tax cuts, and cutting historic tax credits. Instead, the change must bring the cost of development in green fields in line with that of working in developed areas. There must be a larger regional and state land use plan that does not allow the continued sprawling of stagnant metropolitan areas all across the state. Finally it is a plan that must take into account the harms that have been done to the urban environment over the last half a century. Without any of these actions the numbers are sad, but will not change.

In case you have been under a rock, or trapped in studio doing work, which is increasingly likely here is a round up of some other newly released census data, and opinion pieces on what 713,777 means.

Census map showing loses and growth by county in Michigan.


Editorial: A smaller, stronger Detroit.


Governor’s Response


Analysis by Crain’s Detroit


A statement from Declare Detroit


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On the Radio

March 23, 2011 · No Comments

Designing is difficult business, it requires the right combination of atmosphere, motivation, energy, and of course music. When I am designing it is the one time that I can, or even like to work with music, but just any music won’t do. It seems like each persons design process is aided by different music. Once you get a room of eight to twelve people all needing different types, styles, and volumes of music it can get a bit tense.

Of course everyone should just be listening through headphones, however you can only do that for so long before it becomes uncomfortable. Then your ears hurt and you just want some space between the music and you. Even scarier than the space between, is when you are wielding and exacto blade and you are tired wearing headphones, I am certain some day I will cut the cord. I haven’t done it yet in my five years but there is still six weeks. Inevitably everyone wants their music and doesn’t want to wear headphones.

Solutions to the great musical debate are a vast as the types of music you will hear in the architecture building. Some studios resort to a time sharing plan, where each person listens to their music for an hour and the ‘dj’ rotates. Other studios don’t care who plays the music, and instead opts for a broad framework of styles that are acceptable, like anything but country. The benefits of these approaches is in allowing everyone to still be able to talk and the exposure to different types of music, which can be great for expanding your library. Others, however, do not use such peaceful approaches and instead individuals try to out volume each other for music dominance, this is the one realm where owning a Mac will put you behind. Yet others just break down and all confine themselves to headphones, which is the saddest state of all, simply for the loss of communication created.

Music is a beautiful things, that seems to greatly influence everyone’s design process. However, your studio chooses to resolve the great music debate, do it peacefully.

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