Love Letter to a Required Course


As a veteran cheese consumer, it came as a delight when my Space & Materiality professor, Jim, used different types of cheese to explain the correct formula for making a plaster model. "It should look like finely grated and slightly cool parmesan," he said as he filed a block of plaster using a surform (a tool which aptly looks like a cheese grater). Stringy, off-white filings, which resembled a certain nutty-flavored dairy product, passed through the tool and collected onto the table. Plaster, a temperamental substance which I had no exposure to prior to that class, I did not understand. Cheese, however, I did. Nonetheless, Jim's light-hearted analogy made plaster seem less intimidating.

This was how every Space & Materiality class went; and by the end of it, the abstract became somewhat familiar. As this happened, the definition of the course's name became clearer, too. A "required 3-D object design course" was what I thought it was, and how I described it to my brother over FaceTime, at the very beginning of the semester. A collection of lessons about the world and what it means to live in it was what it actually ended up being.

It's difficult to separate my easy, yet creatively challenging experience with the course from the type of person Jim was in class. His critiques ranged from pointing at a particular detail in someone's project and saying, "This is really doing something for me," to using words like "anthropomorphic" and "façade" (okay, 'façade' isn't that impressive... however, when used in such an unexpected way that does not describe human emotion but instead refer to the psychological relationship of interior and exterior architectural forms, it is!). His comically deep New York accent paired well with such dichotomous articulations.


Jim offered no deadline extensions (even when the bags under our collective eyes sunk as deep as the Titanic the day before our polyhedron projects were due), but gave us generously long breaks and left it to us to decide when to have them (because "it's artist's job to learn how to manage your own time"). He sent us email reminders just as any other professor would, but also asked whether we were going to the little coffee shop across the street (because he was and wouldn't mind company, I assume).

However, out of all Jim Osman's contradictions and quirks, his aphorisms were the most appreciated. Here are some of my personal favorites along with my ~interpretations~ of them:

"There needs to be some sort of visual element that signifies both the beginning and the end. Otherwise, someone could get lost looking at this [piece]."

My interpretation: 

As humans, we're hardwired to perceive (or think about) the beginning and the end. Inevitably, it's a source of uncertainty since nature often makes these decisions (and sometimes without warning). Paradoxically, we can provide some sort of sense of certainty by designing beginnings and endings when we can. After all, design is a luxurious yet essential practice of agency and control exclusive to humans, who occupy an unpredictable environment.

"I want you to think about how a building's external façade relates to the function of its interior."

My interpretation: 

(Now, here's me using the word 'façade' in the not-so-surprising way that I spoke about three paragraphs ago...) This interplay between the external and the internal that Jim has spoken about is not limited to public and private spaces, and how they're formed and distinguished from each other––walls and doors. This notion of how the interior and exterior relate to one another can be applied to anything, from teacups to people. Sometimes, they're called affordances (to get technical). Decisions of inclusion and omission happen every day, whether unconsciously, briefly, or contemplatively. The ones that we acknowledge tell us what we value.