Pittsburgh: A Day in the City

Pittsburgh, a city of bridges, the place where three rivers meet, is a lovely city to stroll through on a day off.

As nice as the city is the trip there takes some planning and time. The trip is roughly 5 hours by car, 7 hours by train, and 1.5 hours by plane. I took the train as the time on the train can be used to study and there is more scenery to take in. Both going and coming back I enjoyed the scenic and peaceful trip on the train. This photograph is of the Horseshoe Curve, a unique turnaround in the railroad tracks and also an unsettling image of the contrast between a natural landscape and fertilized/daily-watered and unsustainable landscape.


My day in Pittsburgh started with a simple breakfast of fruit at the hotel. Soon after I enjoyed a cappucino along Penn Ave while waiting to speak with architect Andrew Moss at the reccomendation of a family friend. The hour long “interview” if you will was a nice informational meeting in which we discussed Moss Architects (http://www.mossarc.com/) work, process, recent move, and involvement with the Pittsburgh community. I enjoyed the time getting to know more about the firm, revealing a more active side than portrayed on the website.If you are going to go to firms for informational meetings be sure to make a list before of what you hope to obtain from the meeting and how the firm benefits. I feel that this will help you keep the meeting on track and not stall out at any point.

After bidding goodbye to Moss Architects a day of leisure ensued. A quick trip to the Aldi nearby allowed me to stock up on snacks and apple juice for a picnic in the Pittsburgh Zoo. Of all the exhibits I loved the red panda, shadow leopard, and the aquarium all pictured below.



A short break in the hotel room to recharge my phone and plan the next visits. The only way to visit Mount Washington is to go up the incline train. I chose to go up the Duquesne (https://www.visitpittsburgh.com/directory/duquesne-incline/), walked along the Mount Washington Park trail overlooking an amazing view of downtown Pittsburgh, and then took the Monongahela down (https://www.visitpittsburgh.com/directory/monongahela-incline/). The trains were not half as scary as I recall, I went on a similar train in Chattanooga on a family trip years ago. Once at the bottom of Mount Washington I walked over one of the many bridges towards Mellon Square (https://www.pittsburghparks.org/mellon-square). Mellon Square is a lovely urban landscape. I feel like that plaza is the kind of work I hope to one day produce. At the street level there is sidewalk which opens right onto one end of the plaza. The other end of the plaza is elevated creating more private bench space for the public to use as reading and relaxation space. The sidewalk below is entry for the commercial space underneath the park. While the fountains were down for repair while I visited the park still stood out as a peacefully urban landscape. The photos don’t do justice to the holistic manner in which building, land, and cityscape come together to create this place.



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From Mellon Square I meandered through downtown towards Point State Park (http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/PointStatePark/Pages/default.aspx). This park could not be more symbolic of the city of Pittsburgh. The landscape traces the footprint of Fort Pitt and leads towards the ironic bridge beneath a bridge which guides you to the final point of the park. The end of the park points directly into the area where the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohio river meet. This most magical place is one I didn’t know existed and am so happy to have been told about by all my uber drivers as well as Andrew Moss. Water is one of our most important resources and this mixing point has an incredible impact on the design of Pittsburgh and the waterways of America. I will remember this point fondly with the next tea I enjoy and each one after.



After a long day traversing the city of Pittsburgh a good nights rest prepped me for another beautiful scenic train ride back to Philadelphia.



Days Off

A few days off before getting back to studying is always nice. But what can you do with those days? Here are just a few suggestions outside of sleeping and nothing at all to enjoy your few days of break:

  • Wharton Start Up Challenge: Friday, April 27th from 12-3 pm one of our own PennDesign students Laura Colagrande will be competing for votes to win crowd favorite in this challenge. A separate panel of judges (investors) will vote on the final winner of the challenge to recieve a cash prize to officially start their own start up! For more information on the challenge see the link: https://entrepreneurship.wharton.upenn.edu/startup-challenge/
  • The FitExpo: https://www.thefitexpo.com/
  • The Science Festival: https://www.fi.edu/psf
  • West Philly Swingers Performance: https://eventsatpenn.com/events/5697
  • Penny Loafers Presents: Flour Power: https://eventsatpenn.com/events/5695
  • Improving Health Outcomes Conference: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events/improving-health-outcomes
  • Lake Break: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events/lake-break
  • Climate Change Surprise: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events/climate-change-surprise
  • Spring Exibition Opening: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events/spring-exhibition-opening
  • Arbor Day Family Day: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events/arbor-day-family-day
  • Dogs and Barks Tour: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events/dogs-and-barks-tour
  • Jazz Epistles: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events


The list is endless really just checkout https://penntoday.upenn.edu/events. Scroll down towards the bottom to see a full listing of each days activities. I have only listed available activities from April 27 to April 29.

Enjoy the time off!!

“History” References

Probably one of the most interesting history classes this semester was the last one. Rather than lecture for roughly two hours on a topic most students have not yet begun to understand through the readings, the professor decided to share links to modern day organizations making an impact on architecture.



If you know of any other references of interest comment below. Help others find resources the expand their knowledge of the field of architecture.


Finals Week Pop Ups

Admist all the drawing, modeling, and building going on in the School of Design everywhere else there are pop up surprises of all kinds! Below are a few photos with short descriptions of the many surprises I encountered during the days leading up to the final.

A student major fair! Likely for incoming undergraduate students to begin deciding what they would like to do while at Penn.

Strawberries?!? Not sure but this is the best looking weed I have ever seen show up in sidewalk-building cracks.


The most wonderful storm brewing! Looks almost like a Florida thunderstorm!

A crane truck packing up after finishing work. Entire street blocked off to allow the work crew to move materials and quickly use the machinery necessary.


Student Government brought Federal Doughnuts and coffee to cheer on students working towards the final. Also featured on my Instagram, see link above in menu bar.


Bounce houses, dogs, maybe a cotton candy machine… Looks like summer fun has come at last! Not sure what this was for a Drexel Open House, a Fraternity just having fun, some random Penn Stress Relief Event, no clue but fun to walk by on such a nice day!

Landscape Students setting up an exihibit on interpretive drawings of watery landscapes. Very interesting work and fascinating topic!


Last but not least, one of many drawings on the whiteboards in the computer lab upstairs, can you tell it is finals week? If not check out PennDesignZZZ’s latest posts on Instagram for some classic finals photos.

Finals Finished-ish!

With studio complete there is a little time to relax before the next wave of final exams. However I will worry about those later. For now let’s review the review!

As any final is bound to go pinning up is the hardest part. No matter how early you start there is usually a hitch. This time around it was the walls, too hard to press pins into by hand so a handful of hammers were passed around to ensure no work would be falling off the walls. This was a little trickier than usual only becuase my studios work this semester was mounted onto foam boards. If the pins weren’t equally pressing the foam to the wall one end would pop off and the work would tilt or fall necessitating a restart. In the case of pinning up mounted work, doing so the night before would really be helpful and would relieve the stress of starting late the day of the review. Once all the work was done, of which the most difficult was pinning up not drawing, the review began.

The reviews at Penn typically have seven jurors, not including the professor. The list of studios and jurors, along with the jurors affiliations (work place, organization, etc) is typically released the day before the review and is posted on the door of the Architecture office for everyone to see. Below is a sample of this past reviews juror list.



It is nice to have a list of the jury you will have as you can then research the jurors later, or before if you are so well organized as to finish early. This can help give you a sense of what the juror will be looking for in your project, may comment on, or can allow you to tailor your review to engage a particular topic of dicsussion. Knowing your jury is also helpful should you find that you fit in with a certain juror well. Maybe you love the work they produce or you would like to know more about their principles in design, having researched in advance can help you strike up conversations with them after the review which could lead anywhere.

The reviews typically run about 20 minutes. You will have maybe 5 minutes to present and another 15 mintues for jury comment. Some studios time the reviews to ensure that the review is kept to a 4-5 hour timeframe between 2 pm and 6 pm. Other studios may not, as was the case for one of the reviews which started at 2 pm and finished at 9 pm. Whatever the case I suggest practicing before the presentation and keeping it short and sweet. This time I had a friend, Zoe,  listen to my presentation two times to help me clean it up and ensure that I wouldn’t stumble during the real presentation (which I also did for her later in the day as her presenation neared). This was super helpful as my first version was a trainwreck. After the first one we discussed alternate words to avoid negative connotations, reorganized a few of the points I made to make it more cohesive, and discussed whether to mention certain points or to allow the jury to ask about it should they arrive at a similar conclusion. The second version was much smoother and felt more natural. When I finally presented, though still nervous, I feel that I was able to get across the main points clearly which resulted in a much more interesting coversation rather than a Q&A about the design. The jury brought up intersting points about accessibility, landscape, community politics, temporality, and alternate design strategies to continue to explore the project. I found it a very interesting if not a little sad but excited that some of the strategies mentioned were earlier stages of my project which had been voided after conversations with my professor. It led to a conversation with friends though on how to push back on professor opinion without being rude or stubborn in appearance. One strategy was very appealing, the WHY strategy. A little like a two year old always asking why?, why? , why? to every comment it may seem annoying but then at least a professor will explain themselves. It is then up to you to determine whether their statement provides valid reasoning for the changes suggested or if you will continue to do what you know in your gut you should do.


Overall I feel my review went well and I am happy to say that for the rest of my classmates reviews. After all the hard work what could be better than staying up 6 more hours to celebrate even though you are 3 silent seconds away from falling asleep. This time the entire year went out to Frankfurt Hall in Fishtown to share a few beers, or a cider in my case, some pretzels and sausage, discuss the results of the review while playing games. The professors this time kept to themselves a bit, but a few mingled, and invited students into their ping pong tournament. I was very focused on the mini jenga match in progress in which I learned an incredible skill from Macy who impeccably picked the least structurally dependent member, quickly pulled it out, and then could put it back in and out again. Meanwhile I am poking around trying not to topple the whole thing.



The night finished with a ride home Rebecca who had kindly driven us there and took several of us home saving us the Uber money.

Overall it was a productive review and a lovely evening out with friends!

Professors in Review(s)

Professors are here to guide students through the design process. Along the way the student will learn about the professors style, opinions, technical knowledge, and gain an understanding of architecture through the perspective of the professor.

Should you decide that you are going to follow a professors guidance and suggestions in order to learn from their viewpoint be sure to pursue it wholeheartedly. However remember your decisions are your own as not every professor will admit their influence.

In review, the professor, theoretically, should defend the decisions made by their influence. At the very least if you have designed certain things into your project at the suggestion of the professor that should be declared at the review if it falls under ‘attack’. For example, if you had planed to produce three small sections but the professor mandated a single section perspective to show the entire project, even if it doesn’t show everyone’s work equally well, then that should be made known when the jury decides your perspective is meaningless. Not all professors will do this.

If you, the student, have specifically made decisions on the project or you, the professor, have pushed a student a particular direction then as the professor realize this and own up to your influence! You aren’t taking the blame for project errors but giving context to the decisions made and the dicussions that the project generated. This can then bring up an even richer conversation about decision making in design, style, context, and experiences (in design or walking through existant designs).

It is beyond infuriating to watch students or hear about students, who are well organized, dedicated, inquisitive and have strong projects, get negative or less constructive reviews because certain influences aren’t acknowledge and the conversations which led there are omitted.

It is even worse when a professor, who has pushed a certain direction all semester, has encouraged you all semester, decides to switch sides during the review. Rather than support or aid in giving context to decisions the professor works with the jury to invalidate your project, not even constructively critize.

The reviews aim for constructive criticism. The comments should aid students in continuing to work through the prompt and develop the design. They shouldn’t make students feel that their project is meaningless, irrelivant, just plain wrong, or just not an assest to their portfolio. A student’s portfolio, at least in the field of design, is their one representation of their skills and key to getting work later on.

This is not a rant about my own professor but my experiences with professors in the past and stories of professors from other students. How do you think professors should interact in the final, or any, review?  If you have any stories, positive or not, or feel differently please comment below. I would love to hear what you have to say!

Finals Week…

The pressure is on and even the glass is cracking under it. With the serious focus on drawings and models as the clock ticks closer to printer lock down many everyday actions are temporarily suspended. The usual good nights rest of 6-8 hours turns to power naps gone too long, lunch and dinner become hurried and timed events, and the gym won’t be going anywhere but you certainly won’t be there to find out if it does move. These ‘superstitions’, if you will, tend to occur in the beggining of a persons architectural experience and over time the person will become accostomed to it learing to prepare for the week prior to finals. One thing didn’t make this list, checking email. This seems like the least important thing to be doing, honestly who would be contacting you in the middle of drawing number ?. Just hear me out.

This morning, with a beautiful sunrise, birds singing, a crisp morning air welcomed my walk home from a long night of work. I embraced the walk and looked forward to my short nap and then the gym to relieve some stress, wake me up, and get back to those drawings! Upon getting home I changed into gym clothes, fed my fish, and settled in for a timed nap (several alarms were at the ready). Naturally I slept through all of those until one distinctly unique alarm went off: the apartment building’s emergency alarms. I awoke from my restful nap to the enchanting screech of an alarm followed by the masculine robotic voice shouting out the annoucement,”Evacuate the building. Do not use the elevators.” Naturally I jumped out of bed, scrambled about my room grabbing random clothing pants, two shirts, a pile of jackets and scarves on the couch. With my backpack swung over one shoulder, purse in hand, keys jangling about somewhere in the mess of clothing clutched in my arms I scurried out of my apartment, locked the door, and headed for the stairs. Two men were walking the hallway reporting back about rooms. They thanked me and I nodded and ran down the stairs. A half block later I stopped at a bench to assemble myself and began to wonder why I was the only one running out the building. Shrugging it off I made my way to studio arriving a short while later. Naturaully I strike up conversations with those classmates using the elevators and waterfountain which I sit by and this little morning mishap is good for a laugh. Meanwhile I have messaged my family to alert them of the day’s unique turn. There is concern and well wishes for safety. Feeling much better having shared some laughs and relaxed a bit I begin to check my emails. I found this gem in my inbox:



Needless to say this day before the final is going swimmingly! If there is anything to add to the finals checklist it would be to check your email. It just might save you from the clown you will become.


Good luck with finals everyone!! Stay safe!

VR Showcase

This Friday’s Happy Hour at PennDesign was held in the lower gallery despite the nice weather. The reason being a Virtual Reality showcase! The showcase consisted of student work from one of the graduate level courses Semi-Ficticious Relams taught by Christopher McAdams. More on the course can be found at the following link: https://www.design.upenn.edu/architecture/graduate/courses. It was a really neat showcase to experience.

Spring is in the Air?

The weather during the months of March, April, and May were said to be unpredictable. I feel that is a statement one should take literally. Two beautiful days of blue skies, flowers abound, and long missed 80 degree weather!

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In contrast the week before the studio final is starting out with the right weather for work: cloudy, cold, and possibly rainy.


Time to pour a cup of tea for the work ahead!


The Designer’s Library

In school there is plenty to read, not always what you would prefer to read. Over the years I have acquired a number of books, some gifts, some recommended or required texts for class, and so me which I selected on my own. Either way a designer’s library can be a great place to learn more about a designer’s style, interests, and hopes. I am always searching for a good read and so was delighted to find that the School of Design keeps a reading wall in the entry to the dean’s office. These books range from all disciplines and, as in the case with the current selection, work to merge the fields of study. The images below depict the schools reading wall and beneath that my own mini library.


Do you know of any good design books? Or maybe an ‘unrelated’ book that you think could impact the design field? Comment below and help grow the library!