Following the awe-inspiring and terrifying lecture, the troupe was shuffled into another trailer. Outside, a small Mexican in a blue jumpsuit was down on his knees painting over graffiti. All over the flimsy plywood gangway connecting the various trailers and shipping containers that comprised the little architecture colony, huge letters had been rolled out in red paint. It seemed to be an inside joke. “We encourage bad behavior here,” The Director remarked. “You are here to make meaning. Hopefully you can do better than that.” Dean was still feeling it was a little early to make any meaning.
The letters were huge as if designed to be read from the air. They were intentionally written at such a huge scale, for what reason Dean could not discern. There was nowhere to get above them. He walked along the gangway with the others as they chattered.
“That was amazing!”
“No, the architecture. The lecture. I mean, it will be when it gets built.”
“I doubt that will get built. Way too expensive.”
Positions were already being staked out. Their careers already marked out before them. They brought their lives here and their lives would roll on and gather architecture like the tumbleweeds gathering the bits of garbage in the dirt lot. They would roll on until they hit some fence, whether real or in their heads. But their lives were unavoidable and ever-present, even if gearing up to be temporarily altered.
Along one gangway were the letters O C C U P I E R S. Along the other, running perpendicular like a crossword puzzle, starting at E were the following letters: N E M Y. Along another gangway, running out from Y were the letters O U R F R I E N D S.
Across: Occupiers. Down: Enemy. Across: Your friends. Yes. Positions had been taken up. Despite the informality of the institution there were cracks and tensions. As Dana Cuff noted in her book, Architecture: The Story of Practice (which Dean purchased and read cover-to-cover in the attempt to better understand what he was getting himself into): “My own work indicated that in school, preprofessionals learn the roles, values, vocabulary, assumptions, and set of reasonable expectations appropriate to the subculture.” (1995: 44). Frightening.
The Mexican custodial worker continued to travel along, covering the wide legs of the mega-lettering with tray-after-tray of paint. The group, content to watch, was ushered into another trailer, an empty trailer.
The Instructor (the guy who had rumbled in with the hardhat and coffee) and his TA (a thin boy-man of indeterminate age in a Lacoste shirt) welcomed us and commenced to hand out wire-bound notebooks.
“Well, as you can see from the room, the first assignment is to make some desks,” said The Instructor. Reasonable expectations, thought Dean. He was also assuming there was a place to do this, which there was. It was down an alley, just a short walk away. More mega-lettering, this time along the alley itself. It was so large it was impossible to read without walking the entire distance: O C C U P I D. In the late night of painting somebody had forgotten the E. Probably too tired and crazy with exhaustion to bother going back and editing. “The test is to see how many consecutive nights one can work without sleep.” (Cuff, 1995: 126). People had gone mad here, in this alley, in the night. This he guessed. He would. With access to paint and sleepless nights he would have written much more and surely have been arrested for it. In this context, it seemed tolerated and understood and this gave him some reassurance that he was in the right place.
The shop was a former chicken hatchery. It keeps getting more surreal. There were chicken ranches down here amidst the factories. It was pure Dickensian with the trains, the handcarts. At one time, horses, farms even. Now given way to concrete, graffiti, and hipsters.
There were remnant feathers in the floorboards like the shop had been the scene of gigantic pillow fights. “The academic rendition of design problems fosters professional values and unity.” (Cuff, 1995: 65-66). Men with beards and safety glasses were pulling out sheets of plywood. Everyone was assigned two. The group was asked to open their notebooks to “Operation One, entitled “Surface Operations: Considering the Platform.”
“You have two sheets of plywood and the first operation calls for you to design and make your desk,” said The Instructor. “Conner here (nodding to the TA) will be here to assist and offer guidance.” Dean was thinking how he had dropped thousands of dollars into this and they were now asking him to make his own desk. In his entire life of educational experiences and rituals, the desk had always been a given, always provided by the institution. This was entirely different. He wasn’t yet sure if these people were his friends or his enemies, as the signs outside suggested. They seemed nice, but there was also something fundamentally wrong with all this.
Consider the desk. His desk, he thought. He had never had a plywood desk, but plywood seemed to be popular amongst the architectural set, from what he had seen. All those offices he had visited had lots and lots of plywood, on walls, as desks, shelves, benches, chairs. Chairs! He noticed there were no chairs in the trailer. Where were they supposed to sit? He flipped to “Operation Two.” No chair. Thank God. Maybe that was provided. “The school as a physical setting plays an important part in the profession’s socialization process…” (Cuff, 1995:128).