02.20.2014 Journey Map / We are the landscape of all we know

IMG_5654 We are the landscape of all we know.  Isamu Noguchi

The journey that has brought me to CCA has been a non-linear linearity.  It's linear by default, in the meta sense.  Life and time, at least as we experience it, only move in one direction.  But moving past that, it's been a non-linear path.  There's always a beginning - I could say it was my artistic bent throughout my youth, my desire to create (and destroy) things, to take them apart, see what they're made of, remake them, legos, the whole thing.  But I think the interesting bits come later on.  I graduated from an alternative liberal arts college - Hampshire College - and moved to San Francisco in 2005.  In college, I studied literature, critical theory, architectural theory, and some video thrown in for good measure. A theoretically based grab bag.  My thesis was a self-published book dealing with themes of how we move through the space of, and construct memories in urban environments.  I made an accompanying video project dealing with themes of movement , space, and duration.  It was my first "piece" as a designer. Leaving Hampshire, and making the decision to move west, I wasn't sure what I was going to do.

I had fallen in love with bicycles, and managed my way into the lead mechanic position at a bicycle shop.  This was my first experience with design on a business level.  I dealt with parts, specifications, well and poorly designed and crafted things on a daily basis, colors, branding, tools.  I worked there until it no longer satisfied my intellectual curiosity, went on a bicycle tour across the United States, and came back to San Francisco, again, unsure exactly what I wanted to do. But inspired.  I found work at first as an office assistant, moving up to an assistant project manager  and office projects manager at a boutique Landscape Design firm.  There were only four people there, and I was involved with everything. Thrown into design.  Head over heels.  Fabrication.  Huge scales.  Art.  Plants.  The land.  Communication.  Clients.  I made the decision at the end of my time there to apply to graduate school for landscape architecture.  I left the job, and began landscaping - physically integrating myself into the work that went into maintaining designed projects, assisting with some design work, and crafting my portfolio and entrance material.  I was accepted into the four school I applied to, and choose Harvard's Graduate School of Design for my Master of Landscape Architecture degree.

The GSD, as it's known, was brutal.  A  controlling pedagogy.  Stifling educational infrastructures.  I was unhappy, but performed very well.  I was offered a sumer internship with a prestigious firm in New York, and took it.  I spent the summer doing what I do best - conceptual and schematic design, as well as research, for a major competition we were entering in the Mid-West.  A dream position - no coffee runs, no technical drawings - pure imaginative (hard work) fun.  But it was also here that I learned what working for a major firm would be like.  Not making interesting design decisions for years.  Hierarchies.  Landscape architecture meant, for your first many years (if you wanted to be working somewhere cutting edge and powerful) sitting in front of a computer manifesting other people's designs.  The summer work over, mind buzzing, I visited San Francisco, my adopted home, and realized that I wasn't happy at school, that I didn't want to be a landscape architect, that I knew that I had had to have tried it, and I found it wanting.  Leaving Harvard was the hardest and best decision I ever made.  But I knew it was right.  I came back home.  How could I be a designer when I had hardly designed anything?  Who the f was I even?  I was forced to look into the mirror. To reassess myself, my life, to once again try and suss our my dreams.

After messing around for a few months, I decided to follow a life long fantasy, and start building custom steel bicycle frames.  I had no experience with fabrication on any personal level.  No metal work, no real shop experience even.  But I bought tools, found a space, and started building.  I developed my own brand, Raphael Cycles, and started my business, and sold bicycles.  It was hard.  Brutal again.  I paid in sweat, frustration, blood, frayed nerves.  Every day, every weld, every cut with a hacksaw, every alignment, every mistake, was like looking your self in the mirror, and seeing every imperfection.  Failure and success recognized in millimeters, in tenths of millimeters,  in the stark honesty of numbers.  The bicycle is a perfect form, essentially unchanged for over a century.  Working within constraints, and finding the opportunities within, the small places for individuality in form giving. The understanding and nuance that are attached to the process of making, where almost imperceptible changes yield massive conclusions.  Never being satisfied with my work, always pushing harder.  Being self taught and owning all of my results, my mistakes, and my triumphs.  For better and for worse, the work was mine.  But I learned how to design, how to see the perfection in imperfection, how to value craft, how to truly value time, effort, determination.  Iteration. Work.

As time went on, I knew that I wanted to have a deeper impact on the world at a larger scale, but that I was not through with bicycles.  While working, I was offered a summer teaching position at CCA, teaching bicycle frame fabrication.  The experience of being back in an academic setting, this time three years removed from Harvard, was profound.  And relaxing.  I felt like I was home.  So I applied to CCA and CCA alone - I knew I wanted to stay in San Francisco, no commuting, no relocation.  I continued at my shop and developing my craft, as well as teaching a Spring undergraduate Investigative Studio at CCA. There is nothing like teaching your craft to demonstrate your competency.

I was accepted to both programs I applied to at CCA -  MFA Design and dMBA.    But I did not get into the dual track.  It was a hard decision, but I knew what I wanted to do in my heart,  Make things.  Create.  So I choose the MFA Design program, and here I stand.  Pain points?  Everything.  Ha.  Not really though.  They're in there, up there, what you've made it through so far.  Everything I have done - art, making, literature, theory, architecture, video, bicycles, landscape, the land, bicycles again (the most perfect object, so why not twice), Harvard, losing myself, finding myself, my own business, fabrication, teaching, striving, has brought me to this place where I can think, create, find my place, develop my perspective, my craft, my voice, and my process.  Pushing forward, always thinking, always listening, pen in hand.  Process is progress.  Progress is process.

Ideals, others: The simplest solution is often the correct solution. (Occam’s Razor) Imperfection is perfection. (Richard Sachs, bicycle maker( Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there. (Bruce Mau, An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth)

Ideals, personal: To become clean, sometimes you’ve got to go through the process of getting messy first. Leave the world a better place than when you found it. Leave your workshop cleaner than it was when you got there, and put your tools away. Times are fluxy. Process is progress, and progress is process.

Goals: Find and create meaning in my own life. Increase the net amount of positivity in the world. Contribute as a leader in my field. Seek joy and have fun. Be present with what is.