Saturday, December 17, 2011

Political Implications in the Borghese Garden

Since the Time of Antiquity, Roman estates have been developed to include an assertion of their patron’s wealth and political influence, however it was during the Roman Renaissance era that landscape took on a central role towards this end.  Exemplifying this shift is the Villa Borgehese, commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century and which utilized a vast garden landscape to flaunt and proliferate its owner’s power.  Borghese’s estate was novel not only in the expansive size of its gardens, but also in its organizational layout and emphasis on the landscape.  These new concepts in landscape architecture set Villa Borghese apart from its predecessors and helped to establish trends that would influence landscape architects and painters in the times that followed.1

During the Italian Renaissance it was common for...  (
go here for full article)

Stourhead Gardens: Landscape and Perceptions

The gardens at Stourhead in Wiltshire, England provide an example of how landowners of the past have utilized their landscapes to create a stabilizing perception of wealth and establishment.  Popular 18th century English cultural trends and attitudes are drawn upon to inform the garden’s design, beautifying the space while promoting the owner’s political agenda.  Architectural elements are also incorporated to streamline pedestrian flow while simultaneously establishing the owner’s right of proprietorship.  By successfully achieving perceptions through landscape design, we see that Stourhead influences its contemporaries and becomes part of an ancient tradition in garden design.

Developed in the mid-18th century...  (go here for full article)

Fontainebleau in Migration

The Chateau de Fontainebleau, located about 35 miles southwest of Paris, provides a study in how transposition and migration within landscape architecture can have far reaching effects.  At Fontainebleau we see how the 16th century French emperor Francis I transposes the politically driven siting considerations of ancient Roman emperors to his own era in an effort to solidify the authority of his rule.  We also witness how groups and individuals become vessels that carry design languages across international borders and through time, particularly during periods of political turmoil.  Perhaps most interestingly, Fontainebleau provides an example of how these transpositions and migrations are self-propagating and can move on to influence distant areas.

In choosing to site Fontainebleau... (
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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Master of Landscape Architecture Application Process

As is typical, I'm here at a coffee shop in Austin working on my application to grad school.  I feel that I'm pretty close to finishing up my statement of purpose, although it seems like I've been 'pretty close to finishing' for quite some time.  I really need to wrap this up so that I can start working on my resume and fire it off to UTSOA by the December 15th deadline.

I have realized that it was an important move to resign from my job last month.  The application process has been time and energy consuming, and trying to produce creative work after coming home from a stressful day at the office would have affected my application's quality.  Plus there are so many little necessities of life that come up each day that it is often challenging to work on the application even without a job.  Moving out of my apartment, for instance, which I'll be doing for the rest of the week.  And too much is up in the air right now to sign another lease, so it looks like I'll be staying on a friend's couch for at least a few weeks.  This is not all bad though - my friend is an architectural designer who can probably offer some pointers on my portfolio ;)

“Nothing happens until something moves.” 
- Albert Einstein

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Today I took the New GRE, ticking off another box on my grad school applications checklist.  My verbal and math scores were 165 and 151, respectively, meaning that I scored within the 96th percentile for verbal but only in the 56th percentile for math.  It would have been great to score higher on the math portion, but based on what I've gathered from the UTSOA admissions department and online GRE forums, the GRE scores will not determine my acceptance into a LA program.  Much more important - thank goodness - will be my statement of purpose, recommendation letters, and portfolio.  I really need to hit these things hard in the coming days and 'get in the zone', so to speak.

I have been slowly collecting more portfolio material, and one piece that I'm kind of proud of is this flyer for a benefit concert I'm helping organize for my buddy, Trevor.  It should be a good time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Applying to Grad School!

I had originally posted an excerpt from my application Statement of Purpose here, but after reviewing it today I was just embarrassed by it.  Perhaps I'll post the finalized version if I am accepted ;)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Biting the Apple

Last week I ended my six months of employment with Apple, Inc.  I took this job back in April after it had essentially fallen into my lap - a random call from a contracting company led to an interview and within weeks I had gone from working as a restaurant host to helping manage accounts worth millions of dollars each day.  The Austin headquarters in which I worked was located conveniently close to the Austin Community College campus, and I took the opportunity to audit GIS courses in the evenings.  Being a contractor, my pay was minimal but it was enough to afford my own one bedroom apartment in north Austin, and living alone for the first time has been a welcomed experience.

While I feel that I served the company well and learned some useful things about account management and customer service, not a day went by during my time at Apple that I did not wish I was doing something more meaningful with my life. Throughout my six years of service in the Air Force I didn't always feel that my job was that important, but it was far more challenging and fulfilling than being an underemployed, underpaid cog in a consumer product machine.  And with just one month left to put my graduate application portfolio together and fire it off to prospective colleges, I new my time with Apple needed to come to an end.  On Friday I resigned on good terms and am now setting my eyes to the difficult path ahead.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” - Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dick Pierce's Permaculture Design Course

Today I attended the first class of Dick Pierce's Permaculture Design course here in Austin. Permaculture is a way of designing with nature to create self-sustaining farms at varying scales, and I've become so interested that I actually shelled out $600 and all my Saturdays from now to December to learn about it. I don't recall when or how I was first turned on to permaculture, but I believe it was when I came across the "Permaculture Pack" video collection while searching for Landscape Architecture materials on a torrent site a few months ago. 

From what I understand so far, a Japanese man named Fukuoka became critical of destructive Western farming practices imported to his country following WWII. He reacted against these new non-traditional methods by forming his own farming system centered around working with nature to do as little work as possible. Fukuoka's insight and success was paralleled by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who in the 1970s worked to develop and popularize "permaculture," a system of organizing nature's naturally occurring systems to foster self-proliferating soil fertility and yields. This type of farming has been expounded upon by highly successful small-scale farmers such as Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, who was featured in the critically acclaimed book The Omnivore's Dilemma (one of my all-time favorites.)  

Permaculture seeks not only to create self-sustaining farms for personal and community use, but to begin reversing the damage being done by humans to the planet's ecosystem and to ourselves. It is also focused on developing a more harmonious and fulfilling human lifestyle and has ethical considerations at its core.  I realize that this all seems a bit hippie, and being hippie in any capacity is not something I've ever been much interested in.  Yet permaculture has strong scientific backing and empirically measurable successes, and to me it just makes good common sense. Why should we create an ultra-complex system of petroleum-based farming that is costing us billions of dollars and exploding our rate of debilitating disease? Does the sun not provide enough energy already? Can we not use the hard-won fruits of our intellectual evolution to organize natural patterns into a highly efficient system while at the same time eliminating pollutions and wastes? 

We can. If we can develop a new iPhone every year then we can figure out a way to feed ourselves sustainably, and permaculture offers a path towards that end. Ultimately, I would like to utilize the knowledge gained in Pierce's Permaculture Design course to create a sustainable farm on my father's modest acreage in Montgomery,  as well as on future clients' properties as a Landscape Architect. In the shorter term, I hope to use some of the designs I create throughout the course in my MLA application portfolio.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Becoming a Landscape Architect by Kellean Foster

Earlier this month I read Becoming a Landscape Architect by Kelleann Foster, RLA, ASLA.  The book is essentially a compilation of excerpts from interviews done with landscape architects and students from around the country, and provides information about job opportunities and the skills needed to succeed in the profession.  It provided me more insight into the key skills I should try to develop and emphasize as I work on getting my foot in the door at a firm, and offered motivation and inspiration through personal testimonies.

I enjoyed how Foster points to the diversity of backgrounds in the profession.  Due to my age and my current lack of experience in landscape architecture, I keep a keen eye open for instances in which an architect has overcome a non-traditional background to become successful in landscape architecture.  One such architect profiled in the book is Douglas Hoerr of Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects in Chicago, who "wrote a cold-call letter to the most famous gardener he had heard of in England" and gained real-world experience over eight years.  He went on to become a registered landscape architect and now partners a successful and respected firm.

Also inspiring is the fact that almost every architect questioned about the axiomatic qualities a landscape architect should possess gave essentially the same responses; creativity, artistic skill, the ability to empathize with people, personal charisma, a passion for the natural environment, and a love of learning.  For years now I have craved the opportunity to develop these exact qualities within myself, but have felt constrained by the lifestyle I obliged myself to.  My six years in the military, for instance, made me a much more effective leader but did little to promote my artistic talents.  The idea of being able to use and develop these skills as a landscape architect adds fuel to my fire as I pursue this career transition.

Does Foster's book actually lay out step-by-step avenues one should take to become a landscape architect?  No, not really, and I must confess that this is what I had hoped for when deciding to purchase the book.  The book does, however, provide a wealth of raw, first-hand information about what is important in a successful landscape architect, and allows the reader to read between the lines to interpret how he or she might go about developing these skills.  This allowance for interpretation is perhaps more valuable than a cookie cutter recipe for becoming a landscape architect, because (as expounded upon in the book) landscape architecture is anything but a cookie cutter profession.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Learning Photoshop and Building Design Portfolio

Learning photoshop, little by little.

From Wikipedia:

"John Claudius Loudon (8 April 1783 – 14 December 1843) was a Scottish botanist, garden and cemetery designer, author and garden magazine editor.

Loudon was born in CambuslangLanarkshire, Scotland to a respectable farmer. Therefore as he was growing up, he developed a practical knowledge of plants and farming. As a young man, Loudon studied chemistry, botany and agriculture at the University of Edinburgh. When working on the layout of farms in South Scotland he described himself as a landscape planner. This was a time when open field land was being converted from run rig with 'ferm touns' to the landscape of enclosure which now dominates British agriculture.

Loudon was instrumental in the adoption of the term landscape architecture by the modern profession. He took up the term from Gilbert Laing Meason and gave it publicity in his Encyclopedias and in his 1840 book on the Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphry Repton."

This Giraffe has absolutely nothing to do with John Claudius Loudon.

...or does it?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Book Review - Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon

Today I finished Gene Logsdon's Holy Shit (2010) as part of an ongoing effort to education myself on sustainable farming, which I intend on incorporating into my designs as a landscape architect. The book was entertaining, and provided both philosophical and practical advice on the handling of manure from various sources (cow, pig, man, etc.) I appreciated the author's tongue-in-cheek humor throughout the book, which helped make it an easy read. I also appreciated the short but concise chapters, which suggested to me that Holy Shit was formatted to be read in short sessions in which the reader had some, ahem, quality time on his hands.

The book was especially interesting to me in that Gene seems to be someone who has 'been there' in a way that I have not, though I wish I had. He provides real-life examples of how manure was used and managed during his childhood years as a farmboy, and the imagery is both pleasantly and inspiringly nostalgic. I would love to implement some of the suggestions from the book on my father's few acres in Montgomery, such as using chickens and goats to rejuvenate the soil and building a part-time use outhouse to produce additional compost.

For me, one of the book's most important contributions is the author's support of my ever-growing belief that Landscape Architecture (which often involves creative solutions to ecological problems) is a profession truly and deeply important to the stability of first world countries like mine. I immediately recall Jared Diamond's Collapse as I read Gene Logdon's comparison between the agricultural management practices of ancient fallen civilizations and those of today's first world countries:

"But why did these civilizations fall? Although much more evidence awaits discovery, from this new knowledge of prehistory emerges an unmistakable pattern. Invariably, at the root of every collapse was an agricultural mistake."
And also:

"Societies, becoming successful - that is, being able to dominate their environments to suit their own comforts - lose sight of the vital connection between their daily lives and farming."
Holy Shit provided me knowledge, ideas, and entertainment regarding organic waste recycling practices, and I recommend it to anyone interested in small-scale organic farming. I see it as an important addition to my small but growing personal agricultural canon, and it inspires me to continue my education on the subjects of permaculture and organic recycling.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Windfalls on the Sea of Change

After speaking with staff and faculty at a few colleges and consulting with one of my most trusted friends, I am now leaning heavily towards pursuing an Associate of Applied Science Degree in GIS at ACC in Austin. It's much cheaper than any MLA program and geared towards providing the skills that employers are looking for. It also saves me from having to exhaust the last of my GI bill, which I plan to use for a Masters of Landscape Architecture.

The more I look into GIS, the more I get the sense that this is an extremely valuable degree to have. The skills can be applied to exactly what I want to do in the future, but also to a myriad of jobs and projects that I may find myself interested in or needing under unforeseen circumstances. I also like the idea of its versatility; such a degree would enable me to live securely pretty much anywhere in the world within just a couple years :)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Window Shopping

I've beed doing a lot of soul searching these past few weeks. My plan to live in Austin and apply to MLA programs has been unfolding essentially as I had conceived, but the realities of job hunting as well as talks with architecture school graduates has placed some doubts in my mind as to the job security of architecture.

Recently, I have been tossing around the idea of pursuing an online masters degree in Geographic Information Systems from USC or Penn State. Jobs in GIS are plentiful and will be so for the foreseeable future. Also, while in the Air Force I used GIS programs and could add that experience to a GIS job resume. An online degree would allow me to continue working at my current job, plus the knowledge and skills learned would apply to Landscape Architecture and look good on college application portfolios.

I still have many questions that need answering before I make commitments. Today I am taking a trip to A&M to find out more about Landscape Architecture and future options. Hopefully I will return to Austin with a greater perspective and more prepared to make my next move.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Winding Road

I arrived in Austin on Friday, March 4th with no job, no real civilian work experience and no place to live. My plan was - and still is - to eek out an existence in Austin while pursuing the skills and experience needed to enter into a Landscape Architecture firm and/or graduate program. Since that Friday, I have secured a hosting job at a highly-frequented Austin restaurant and found a place to live for the next few months. My hosting job pays very little, but, fortunately, the room I will be renting also costs very little, despite its prime central-Austin location. As an added bonus, my new landlord expressed interest in having me design and work on her property's landscape.

Additional work opportunities have also presented themselves, although they are not yet secured. I have been offered part-time work at a growing landscaping and design company owned by a friend of my cousin, and hopefully I will begin that job in the coming weeks. Most promisingly, I have been asked to interview at the Austin corporate headquarters of a MAJOR computer company as a contractor. This job would be a big pay increase with steady, flexible hours, and provide opportunity to be hired directly into the company.

So, all in all, I would say things are going well here in Austin :)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Job Time

Tomorrow I go to Austin to look for a job. I'd like to find something that will teach me skills related to landscape architecture, although I may end up just having to take whatever is available in order to survive. At any rate, it should be an adventure.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New building project!

This shoe cubby will provide a better place to store our myriad shoes as compared to the plastic bin we are currently using. Hopefully I can finish it before Superbowl kickoff.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Learning CAD

I have decided to use January to learn AutoCAD, and have downloaded the new 'AutoCAD for Mac' from the AutoDesk website. It is listed as free for students, however it keeps reminding me that my trial version will run out within the month...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

DIY Recording Studio

Looks like I'll be staying at my father's house for a couple months until my brother and I are able to move back to Austin. In the meantime I have some projects I'd like to do, including converting the upstairs "jam room" into a more capable recording studio.