Sunday, June 7, 2009

In the last three days, I started work at kilo, visited Le Corbusier’s Pavilion Swisse, went on a picnic with people at work, bought gorceries and the pass Navigo, and met up with some old friends. Yet while I am very much in Paris now, my heart is still in New York.

Le Corbusier's Pavilion Swisse at the Cite Universitaire

Thursday was my first day at work. The people at kilo architectures are very friendly and almost everyone speaks English. There are other students from Yale and the GSD but it seems like I am the only undergraduate. A few people only speak English and I got along rather well with them. Despite all this my first day was a little frustrating. I was assigned to make a cardboard model for one of several iterations of a residential project. The scale of the model was 1:200 (tiny) and I was using traditional an x-acto knife instead of a laser-cutter. So I felt incompetent as I struggled to understand the project and work on it at the same time. But because Lee Wen (my supervisor) was extremely helpful and supportive, I kept going. All of us had lunch together in the office at 1pm (we ordered Thai salad from a nearby place) and that was fun. By the end of the day I was sick of the little model and my slow progress on it. Somehow I felt I was not good enough for this job.

The second day, I had a secret resolve: I wanted to match Princeton’s laser-cutter and its effortless precision and speed. I know it’s silly to compete with an anthropomorphized machine but it worked. I did my Princeton thing where I get up and take a short break every hour. I finished it by the end of the day; it wasn’t perfect but it was good enough to get a complement from Lee Wen (which meant a lot to me). The best part was that I was learning and enjoying the process by then. As I sat there inserting walls using tweezers, cutting out windows, and laying out the landscape around the building, I was beginning to understand the scope of the project by psychologically inhabiting it. We also had a discussion about the merits of the concept behind the design.

At the end of Friday (Day 2), we had a “picnic.” We all went to a nearby park with a lot of food and drinks. This was a good opportunity to talk to some of the other interns. We may be going together to Marseilles to see Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation! And Emily (from Yale) even said she might be interested in going along with me to look at the public housing projects in the Paris suburbs.

On Saturday I met up with Gregoire and Stephanie, my friends from a New York internship in 2006. We met at the great arch at La Defense, which I had not seen before. It was enormous. I felt like a tiny laser-cut person in an architecture model of a scale out of this world. The horizon was expansive and in the far distance I could make out the Champs Elysees.

It was great to meet my friends again. All of us were surprised and pleased by my French. As we walked to another café in central Paris, Stephanie’s boyfriend (Etienne, whose English is as good as my French) and I talked in a mixture of English and French and it helped us both practice the other language in a very, very practical way.

Earlier in the day I had gone to walk along the Seine and get a coat for these unusually cold summer days in Paris. Of course, central Paris bombards one with it majestic grandeur, architectural detail, and strong sense of history. But I felt a change in the air as well. Near the Hotel de Ville there were people gathered in a square with a huge outdoor screen projecting the French Tennis Open. There were smaller enclosures where children were playing tennis. Behind the screen, in the distance, you could see the large side façade of the Notre Dame. This juxtaposition between the old and new made me aware of the past, presnt, and unseen future at the same time. Close by was the Centre Pompidou, which now seemed at home in this city, a shrine no less than the Notre Dame. I realized how expensive Paris is, and I was humbled to think that the opportunity for me to be here was made possible by Princeton.

Speaking of which, it made me happy to find out that everyone in France knows about Princeton and they get really impressed when they find out I am a student there.

Tomorrow, I will return to my 9-7 workday. Deep down I am a little scared about it. I told myself I am an undergraduate and I'm not getting paid for this. Yet someone is paying for me being here so I know that I will try my best. I think this internship is really the best place I could be right now, but I know I want to go to design school and become a real architect as soon as possible.

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