Documenting a Monday Pin-Up; Architecture Is Just Like Poems 

Ziye Zhu is a Dance Major in the Columbia University Shape of Two Cities exchange program.

Ziye was sorting through her new identity as a student learning architecture. She talks about embracing a studio mentality by introducing a specific experiencing of designing new installations for the site of Paley Park in NYC.  

Learning architecture has been my vision since high school. Confused about the core existence of myself (that’s how I found yogic philosophy), I did my final research on cubism in the post WWII European avant-garde world, I was fascinated by the rhythm of geometric shapes, the patterns of music displayed through visual blocks of color, and the frivolous metropolitan energy flowing just in the simplest combination of lines.  

A view of Paley Park in the rain. It’s located on 3rd East 53rd Street.

It’s Monday again, the usual day for Design Studio that we’re required to attend. Even the concept of having a “core” class is new for me. Thomas De Monchaux is the class instructor. My general impression of him is that he is so expressive using words. This Monday, facilitated by Thomas, we’re having pin-up on architectural plans for Paley park which resides in lower Manhattan. It’s a pro-version of the prosthetic (wearable device) that we made a few weeks ago — we’re envisioning a new installation at the site for vegetable planting. The cue is that IT HAS TO DO WITH WATER.

This is where it gets annoying: architecture is a profession that’s constantly fighting with constraints. Looking around the classroom, my classmates and I were all dealing with it. Eunice made a crouch using white fabrics and I, thrusted by a specific “hatred for all forms of chairs”, made a plan centered on replacing all chairs with a climbing machine. It intended to encourage more forms of movement. 

The pin-up wall in our discussion place. Up there are the works of my classmates. Each set consists of a plan (looking down view), and two sections (sideview).

I was a little bit sad that Lindsey, one of our guests, didn’t really comment that much on my drawings. I was still kind of sick, wearing an N-95 just to be safe. My presentation was short and quick, using Keynote instead of pinning up everything on those stereotypical white blank walls that reminds people of either hospitals or buildings for architectural renovations. Along with my journey of adjusting this new identity as a GSAPP student, I’m aware that there is something that’s been bothering me, that’s conflicted with my values. The entire building of GSAPP still seems to encourage an attitude of overworking or rapid creating. Thomas, along with our TA Max Goldner, always said that “you just need to create something that’s quick and dirty”. I mean: yes, people say 80 percent of the work actually only takes 20 percent of the time. But good work cannot be just 80 percent, right?

Fortunately, I can handle lingering questions now. I remember complaining to Max, about how being in the hub of grad students needs my mind’s ability of jumping between totally different topics. There’s no set answer within each of these “topics”.

Thus, on the same note, I want to cherish two things that I learned from the so-called “graduate mindset”:

  1. It’s better to learn as a member of a community than being a loner.  

Developmental phases of creating my “plan”. I was sketching my prosthetic and combining it with tracing mists, the shape of water.

It sounds like an easy lesson, but somehow after being an insider of the pandemic, I’m more reserved in terms of learning in a relatively social environment. I’ve been somehow used to opening my zoom camera 7pm, and zoom dancing with my fellow classmates. Surprisingly, regardless of how small this New York/Paris program is, it’s diverse in terms of age group and nationalities. Hanna is German and I love talking to her. She has that capacity to unravel my emotions in the most non-judgmental way. She also has all the technical skills as an architect, which I lack. Even photoshop is relatively new to me, and it was kind of scary during our first studio to hear about switching between softwares that I had never even opened. Three months later, I’m still very old school, drawing lines digitally using my new-bought iPad mini, but I’ve made that “digital leap”. What’s more important is that inside this NYP community that our instructors have been carefully cultivating I’ve learned to appreciate how fresh I am in the design world. There’s value in coming from a place of not knowing — every step can be a blessing. 

  1. It’s not about me. It’s about my work. 

My friend Hanna was helping me with photo-shooting the hat that I made.

I’ve been rehearsing a piece by Jennifer Archibald, a New-York based choreographer teaching at Barnard, for three months. It was a dance style that combines contemporary and hip-hop. If I’m not in the dance, there’s no work because I’m part of the work. This conception of “the work cannot stand without me” doesn’t really exist in architecture. We as designers can get personal when doing the work, but ultimately this exertion of energy should be self-explanatory without the presence of us. “If you plan to spend x amount of time in doing this project, double it”, said Thomas. Reluctantly, I agree with him now! 


Ziye Zhu (she/her), Class of 2024, Mathematics and Dance,