I finally got to meet with Victoria Keichel on September 24th in the SIS atrium; we talked for about an hour. First, she let me know that she had never mentored a student for the Olson Scholars program before, so I took time to explain to her what is required of us: namely, figuring out how to frame our projects in three distinct categories, and I identified some of the quintessential aspects of each category as well as some potential challenges I anticipated with each. Then, we dove into the subject matter.
What I would, ideally, love to research, I told her, is how the material design choices of certain architectural spaces both inform national identity and convey a particular identity abroad. To my surprise, she understood exactly what I was talking about. “Oh, so you want to evaluate the intention of the aesthetic—like how the architects who rebuilt the Reichstag chose to do the ceiling in all glass to convey political transparency to the rest of the world,” she suggested. I was dumbfounded—she got it. We talked about materials analysis, which is the study of both the functional and symbolic purposes of architectural items like stone, brick, and steel, as well as how they get used in a physical way, such as to build a religious dome, a multi-story commercial space, or a government building. It was in this moment that I was particularly glad our meeting had been postponed for so long. Now, I have a solid understanding of different methodological approaches and techniques for data-gathering, so I could keep them in the back of my mind as we spit-balled ideas at each other. If we had met within the first week or two of the course, I wouldn’t have had any idea how to actually implement these ideas in my research.
In addition to providing me with several historical examples that applied to my area of interest, she also agreed to send me a reading list of items she thought would be imperative for me to understand and digest for my next steps. “There are the classics, you know,” she said with a flippant wave of the hand, and I had to stop her and tell her that no, I didn’t know what she was talking about. “There are things you know, and you probably don’t even remember a time when you didn’t know them intuitively,” I told her. “What I ask of you is that you try to parse through those and figure out where you learned them, and then show me where I can learn them, because I can’t begin to draw these meaningful and complex conclusions about architecture in the world of IR if I don’t even know the basics of architecture itself.”
The nagging question going forward for me is how to begin to compartmentalize the schools of thought in architecture—I have begun to do so with my Article Comparison, but those two theories barely scratched the surface. This question is more complex than I realized, because architecture theories can be categorized by philosophy and mission, by aesthetic preference, or by functional purpose, so my next steps will focus on how to group these most efficiently for my own purposes. I also, going forward, want to expand on Victoria’s idea of glass representing transparency—if I can figure out more examples of this, I can begin to code certain materials as representing certain things, though this may be largely up to interpretation. This also will satisfy my itch to create something less interpretive and more concrete; by developing a code for these materials, I will feel that I have created a meaningful set of principles and definitions.