09 February 2010

Studio Royale

The lottery--every architecture student’s education boils down to it. It is the architecture department's method for dividing the class into each professor’s studio, and studio is the core of architectural education. The studio you draw shapes your explorations, focuses your interests and influences your thinking about architecture for the extent of your education and career. Today is my final architecture school lottery. And I want Cecil Balmond, a structural engineer.

It's not typical for an engineer to teach a design studio, but this is not a typical structural engineer. The Birds Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics and the Seattle Public Library are two better known projects of ARUP where Mr. Balmond is the deputy chairman. In addition to their built work, Balmond opened an office branch called the Advanced Geometry Unit(AGU) that explores new ways of designing building structure using complex geometry and computer programming. Their work forms the basis of his architecture studio at Penn and the reason I want to get his studio in the lottery.
For the lottery, students submit a ranking of all the offered studios, and the administration assigns the groups based on the rankings. In my class there are eight choices. The lottery is a process that I don’t think anyone truly understands, but it is intended to give as many students as possible one of their top three choices rather than giving half the students their first and the other half their fourth choice or lower. My chances for getting Balmond’s studio are about as good as winning from a Pick Four scratch off ticket. Not only is the selection based on making as many people as possible happy, but some students have priority over me because they were selected for the prerequisite class last semester. For me to be selected for the studio, enough of the students with priority have to rank other studios higher, and then I have to be randomly selected from the non-priority students that put Cecil Balmond’s studio first.

The rankings were due at noon, and now I wait. Results will be posted in an hour or two and they are final, no negotiations or alterations.

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