Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Returning with new eyes.

"I would be amazed if someone who went on this trip said that they weren’t at all changed. From navigating the rail system to navigating a foreign language, we have all traversed as many challenges as we have boarders, and it is in facing these challenges that we have grown.

I now understand how different visiting a foreign country is to living in a foreign country. To visit a foreign country, one must plan ahead, arrange flights, search for places to eat and sleep, and structure the trip in order to get there, return, and in-between experience all that one hopes to experience from that city. To live in a foreign country means to not know what each day will be like. It means to not know where one will be in a week’s time or what challenges she/he will have to face every day. When one lives in a foreign country, his/her future is almost entirely unexpected.

When faced with the unexpected one can only rely on what resources his/her city provides.
Countless times we were faced with these unexpected challenges and we had only our knowledge of Lille to pull us through. When getting to school, we had to learn the city’s metro system. When getting food and supplies for our apartment, we had to learn where there was a reliable market and how often to go. When traveling to and from Lille, we had to learn through trial and error when to book train reservations, when and how to catch the train and how to get back. Even something as simple as getting a cup of coffee becomes a new challenge in a foreign country. Before we arrived in Lille we had no idea how to meet these unexpected challenges, but now, having lived in this city for three months, when the unexpected train journey must be booked or we search for a spontaneous cup of coffee, we have tools at our disposal to navigate the city and face any unexpected challenge without fear.

To face these challenges is the reason students from all over the world choose to study abroad. To study in a foreign country means facing challenges one would could never experience at home. When studying abroad, everything we take for granted becomes a challenge. Food, coffee, sometimes even using the restroom becomes a challenge. However, this is why we chose to study abroad; to rise to the challenge and change the way we experience and understand everyday life.

As students of architecture who have studied abroad, we now have a deeper understanding of what it takes to live. We understand how a different city changes the way people live and how a different language changes what me must do in order to live. We all have survived our three months abroad. We have all changed the way we live in order to meet the most unexpected challenge of all... everyday life. It is impossible to live for three months in a foreign country and not be changed. In my three months I have met incredible students who have thought me things I could never have learned anywhere else, I have learned things about myself I had never known before, I have embarrassed myself countless times, I have seen things which have taken my breath away, and fallen forever in love with the city of Lille. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have changed, and I wouldn’t give up that change for anything."             -  Ari Anderon

Sunday, April 22, 2012


"I have been in Europe for 79 days now.  I would say that it has been something more than just an experience.  There have been challenges, such as the language barrier, but through these challenges I have grown as a person.  I knew from the start that I would see a lot of new and interesting things, but as I near the end, that statement becomes more and more of an understatement. 

After the submittal of our final project for the semester we have had free travel time since April 9th.  From the beginning of the trip I had wanted to go to Barcelona.  So to start out this free travel time myself and three other classmates decided to go to Spain.  We booked an overnight train from Paris to Barcelona, and arrived on the morning of April 10th

My first impression of Barcelona was that it was a dense clean city.  The palm trees were a change from the vegetation of northern Europe that I was used to. As we roamed the city searching for our hostel we learned of the underground metro.  The metro system in Barcelona connects the city and makes traveling without car very simple.  The system even links to outlying areas of Barcelona, which would be rather inaccessible otherwise.  We eventually found our hostel and made our way to the roof deck where you could get an amazing view over the city.

One of the first things that I wanted to see after arriving in Barcelona was to visit the Sagrada Familia designed by Antonio Gaudi.  It is an architectural example of an artist’s masterpiece.  Upon arriving at the basilica which is still an active construction site, the ornamental carvings and towers are humbling.  But the real experience of the Sagrada Familia is on the inside.  It is a space that is hard to capture with words or even pictures.  The composition of both grand gestures and extreme detail kept me silently interested for an extended period of time.

The historic center of the city has narrow streets and an even higher density than the newer surroundings.  This area is composed of shops on the ground level and mostly residential above.  The cobble stone streets give you a sense of the rich history of the city by the sea.  The Mediterranean is vital to forming the identity of Barcelona.  Sea food is abundant as you walk the streets especially as you get closer to the beach.  An expansive beach paired with the paved walkway with shops, makes Barcelona’s beach special.  We were there for the start of the beach season, but as the weather warms in the summer the beach seems as if it will become more and more vibrant.  Watching as Barcelona transformed from their somewhat quiet winter to their exciting summer was well worth the trip. 

After Barcelona we traveled through southern France, and are now on our way to Venice and Rome before flying back to the U.S.  As I look forward to my final week abroad I can only feel thankful for the opportunity to see what I now realize is only a small part of the world.  If this trip has taught me anything it is that the world is vast and diverse.  It has been a humbling learning experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life."      - David Booth

"A three months exploration of more than 10 countries, 10 cultures, 10 architecture worlds, and 10 nations as well as different languages is very challenging to sum in one paragraph. But I can definitely say the journey was an experience that is absolutely beyond what you may hear from people or watch on TV or the internet. Yes this trip have dropped my bank account by many digits but what I have learned in this trip exceeds what I have spent money wise on it. This trip is an experience I personally and many of my classmates agree that it is an opportunity every student should experience before getting in the real architecture world for a number of reasons.

As students, real world is another class in architecture and design except for a bigger one. We students learn from architects/designers who have been in practice for a long time or more than us. Especially from architects that have engraved their names in architecture for decades and some for centuries. Why “re-invent the wheel”, learn from experiences so we won’t go over the same issues that some nations have been through.

As designers, we need to be exposed to as many design techniques and skills that have been in practice before us as possible in-order for us to be able to pick the path that would be in favor for us. Watching designs in books, magazines, internet…etc is not enough. Architects are designers and design is beyond what you may see, in fact, architecture is all about feeling and responsibility towards the environment. Unless you feel the design you will not get as much as you should from the design.

As architects, we need to live with people, experience their life-style. Clients can come from absolutely different cultures and different worlds. We don’t have to learn about all the cultures in the world, however, we need to learn how to react with new ones. We learn new things every day, we can’t learn everything. As architects, we need to know a little bit of everything, not everything about one thing. Even dealing with people here in Europe taught me that the architecture that I would plan to do for myself after graduation is not as easy as just showing a portfolio, in fact, it is how you react with those clients that make them think you are worth the money they are willing to spend on.

And the list goes on and on. European architecture is very different from the US scale wise, materials, roads and city layouts and geometry, uses of places and many other characteristics. Almost every city I’ve been to had a different feeling from the others even though some were from one country. I believe if I was taken back to Europe to any of the places I’ve been to without telling me where I am, I definitely would be able to name the place even if there was no signs of the identity of the place such as language, car plates…etc. The environment and characteristics of each place I’ve been to was unique and exclusive.

To sum, I would like to take the opportunity to highly suggest everyone in the ALA program take this semester abroad term before graduation. It is an opportunity that will never happen after graduation since responsibilities become more and more after getting a job.

Also, if you’re thinking of working with any of your classmates and would really want to commit with them, this travel reveals all the hidden about your classmates! Good things and bad things. If you want to know people better, travel with them. Yes it is expensive way but think how 3 months may and may not change your life decision to commit with someone."     -Ali AlQattan

Sunday, April 15, 2012


"It is one thing to reads in text books about the architecture of Europe, but it is another to be up close and interactive, and experience the culture that lives within it. In the time that I have been here my view and perception of this architecture has grown stronger. Stepping out of the train at the station the first day many of us were in awe… at the large exposed structure of the train station simply because it was a new experience. It wasn't new though, we have learned about this form of structure in class and the history behind it before. But the experience was the one that connected the dots. Because you are in an unfamiliar place your senses and attention to detail are amplified. The materials, the size, the use and the sense of place as a whole convey a different story than the one we are used to back at home. Here, dirt and dust are architectural characteristics and details, as a common build houses are no wider than 15meters, the relationship ratio of person to building is generally of no more than 5-6 stories tall, and single dwellings are rare. The attention to how different cities in different countries show their characteristics is very interesting and for being a smaller area (Europe) each country details something different.

A couple of weeks back Craig and I made a trip to Switzerland. While we were there we decided to visit Peter Zumthor's - Thermal Baths at Vals. The town itself is a remote town- a little more remote and on the smaller scale of what we were anticipating. Starting with the location, you get to the town after the bus drops you off and you wonder, "This is an interesting location for a Pritzker Architect to design in."  The building itself is in a location in the town that never allows for a full view of the building. From street level the building cannot be scene and even when walking to get to the bath it really only reveals itself from a couple of angled views. In actuality the building itself is fairly simple composed of square shapes but the detail and depth of space and form for the openings makes the building of simple elegance from the exterior.

Within the interior the buildings elements were pleasant. The infamous void detail that Peter creates within the ceiling and where wall meets plain is carried out all throughout the building. Simple details such as the lighting and the two post mounted clocks are elements that help complete the elegant design. What is one of the more framed elements of this structure is the roof and how elements are un-joined creating reveals. In combination with the roof and the body of the building a view is created and framed for the outside pool. Unfortunately, because the experience needs to be experienced there are no photos allowed to be taken within the bath. Everything from the location in Vals to the approach of the building to the building itself all had detail characteristics in the way they were to be experienced.

Because we are designers we need to remember detail is what makes a statement about our work. Whether it is as extravagant as the hand carves statues that tell a story on exterior of a cathedral or a simple detail of reveals and depth. These details make our projects stronger and characteristic of what we as the designers are implying and how a structure should be experienced."     -Whitney Feimer

"Oh but all too soon, our semester abroad is over. It may not be in the academic sense as our return to the United States will be met with more work, but for now we have parted ways and seeked out our own endevors in Europe. Although we would love to come back to our friends and family back home with tales of adventure and regale them with stories exceeding a modest tone, it would only fall short as to how influential it had truly been. And by the influence that I speak of, I don’t necessarily mean the sights and sounds of Europe as a whole, but more importantly the architectural experience that had brought us here in the first place. As many of us would agree, these past two weeks have become more devoted to our urban design project at hand than touring the rest of the continent. After five weeks our redesign of Square Foch in downtown Lille had quickly come to an end and suitably, many people’s plans for travel had to be set aside. After a celebratory cigar, we soon found ourselves in Cologne, Germany for a final field trip and a poetic parting of ways.

But since it is already mid-April and the journey has extended itself hastily into its third trimester, it does lend itself to one more important note. The summer will soon be upon us and many of us (myself included) have been working feverously to send out our resumes to firms for an internship. The uncertainty of if and where one will work in the next month has had its way of somehow putting this trip in perspective. In a sense, it’s not going to be over just yet, for as soon as we make our way back to Fargo, many of us will travel off yet again on our own adventures.

If this blog that I write is to have any importance beyond that in which it already imbues, I believe that it should be used as moment of personal reflection. Nine long weeks ago, when we travelled here, I had the idea in mind that it would be easy to lose oneself in the chaos of a new living. Unlike a vacation in where you are already gone before it has time to seep into your mind, living for an extended period can in many ways bring a bit of a panic. In a way, it has almost felt like being on a tropical island. It’s great if all you want to do all day is enjoy the beach and the sun, but when it dawns on you that there’s no way off, the island doesn’t seem to be so pleasant anymore. And that’s the way I have felt. Not to say that I haven’t lavished in this rare and very unique experience, but after so long a little part in the back of my mind starts to tell me that it’s time to come home, at least for a little while.

I am not writing for everybody by all means. I think that plenty of the students in this trip have enjoyed it a little too much and it may hard to drag them back onto the plane. And that’s good to know. This experience that we have all undertaken has been worth it no matter how one may feel. Despite the money or the daily linguistic inconveniences or the stress of booking here and there, it will stick with us for hopefully forever. In the workplace, it displays not only a unique experience that may help us in later designs, but it shows a willingness and eagerness to travel. We all love to travel, but this can be a deciding factor in a large, international firm as to whether or not you are hired. Those two points right there, at least to me, are why I could spend twice as much as I did and still say that it was worth it.

Hopefully for successive study abroad students, it is for them, too."     -Aaron Blaha

Friday, April 6, 2012


 "Over the past weekend I was fortunate enough to have the chance to travel to the northern coast of France, to the region know as Normandy. Since I arrived in France I had wanted to visit the beaches of the D-Day Invasion and the site of the American Cemetery. However, I managed to include a few other sites as well.

The trip began on Thursday as we headed over to Paris by train. We stopped to see an Art Fair at the Grand Palais, a magnificent piece of turn of the century architecture. The Grand Palais was originally constructed as an exhibition hall the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Its glass roof and art nouveau iron structure were a marvel for its time. It was very entertaining to view art in such a grand space. The art pieces on display were presented by a number of prominent local artists. After spending a few hours exploring the exhibit, we departed for the train station. Our next stop was Bayeux.

In Bayeux we spent the night and woke Friday for a tour of several D-Day sites. The tour started at Pointe du Hoc, where a group of U.S. Army Rangers climbed a cliff to assault a Germany fortification at the top. The fortification is one of the most well preserved in the region and many of the bomb craters are still there. After that we went down to Omaha Beach where 3000 some American Soldiers lost their lives. The beach had few historical treasures left. Only a few remnants of German bunkers in the hill side, but it was not hard to image what it would have been like to run across that beach into the storm of chaos. After leaving the beach, we visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Many my recognize it from the movie Saving Private Ryan. Visiting the cemetery was an almost surreal experience. I wish I gotten to spend more time in these places but our tour did not allow for that. After the tour was over, we took a train to a town called Pontorson to visit the Abbey at Mont Saint-Michel.

Mont Saint-Michel is a fortified monastery built on a rocky tidal island. The island is surrounded by extraordinarily flat ground. When the tide goes out, it goes out for miles. The monastery was a marvel of human construction. The spire towers over the barren landscape. From inside the top of the monastery, you get the impression that it was literally built among the clouds. I found it hard to believe that humans were capable of building something so fantastic. When the tide goes out it becomes possible to walk around the outside of the fortification.  Walking among the barren sands gives an even greater contrast to the towering structure. After spending an entire day exploring in awe, we had to depart and head back to Lille.

The weekend was full of experiences I could only dream of back in Fargo. In the end I experienced both somber tragedies as well as unparalleled awe. I wonder what next weekend will bring."     Joseph Conway

The City of the Bicycle: Amsterdam
Michael Galloway

The automobile has transformed the urban landscape of most European Cities.  In many places it has choked out the pedestrian and created a disconnect between the individual and the physical city.  The pedestrian has become something of an afterthought while the car dictates the urban fabric of the city.

Amsterdam is not such a city.  It has resisted the car and given way to the bicycle which has consumed it almost entirely.  There are more bicycles in Amsterdam than residents and this is blatantly recognizable upon entry into the city.  Opposition to the car coupled with the surrenderence of the city to the bicycle creates a distinctive urban atmosphere unique to Amsterdam.

Much of the hardscape of Amsterdam has been given to the bicycle.  Usually this is done by providing a separate road for the bicycle.  In other places bike lanes are placed within the automobile streets with clearly marked paths.  Cyclists are also given their own traffic signals separate from those of automobiles. The versatility of the bicycle allows for a variety of paths to be utilized to meet the specific needs of particular environments.
The exchange of an automobile dictated city for a city liberated by the bicycle has created a much more interactive city that is free from the limitations of concrete and traffic signals.  The city becomes much more dynamic on two wheels.  Unique relationships to the urban environment become possible when the car is put on the backburner and the bicycle takes control of the city.

The bicycle has created a city that has more freedom over financial stratifications in that a much larger portion of the population can afford bicycles as opposed to an automobile.  It is not seen as a less attractive alternative to the automobile for those who don't have the means to own a car.  The bicycle has become part of the culture of Amsterdam.  The locals take pride in their freedom from the automobile and all of the negative attributes they entail.
Amsterdam contains other unique modes of transportation that allow for the minimization of the automobile as a leading force in the shaping of a city.  The extensive systems of canals enable boat transportation as a means of travel.  Amsterdam has more length of canals than Venice.  This large amount of waterways within the city allows for effective boat transportation to almost all of the old parts of Amsterdam.  There is also an efficient tram system that services much of the city.  Busses are given their own lane on many of the main streets, providing freedom from roads congested by cars.  This weaving of different modes of transportation  creates a dynamic urban landscape.

When in Amsterdam a group of us students took a day and biked around the city.  We immediately realized how quickly we could eat up a map of the city.  We were able to seamlessly traverse urban plazas, business districts, and vast parks with ease.  We felt a much greater connection to the city than we did when we took motorized means of transportation.  The bike allowed for incredible freedom to go through a wide variety of environments that would have been impossible to navigate by car.  We were able to go to a cafe without having to search around for a parking spot as one would be required to do if in a 
car.  The excitement of riding a bike through a city that was designed for two wheels was incredible.

As designers of urban environments we need to be aware that "alternative" modes of transportation have the ability to become the dominate form of transportation that facilitate a more efficient city. A city designed for the bicycle has the potential to move a much higher number of individuals much more quickly.  An automobile based city moves a much smaller population quickly while the rest are slowed by the constant traffic common in most large urban environments.  Providing bicycle streets as opposed to simply inserting "bike paths" into automobile streets greatly improves the effectiveness of bicycle traffic.  In the I plan on incorporating the lesson I learned in Amsterdam to urban design plans.