Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Final Report: Architecture at ETH Zurich

One of the many good impressions made by Switzerland

Overall Impressions:

When I left the States in June I did not really have any firm expectations from Switzerland. I was extremely excited to come and open to whatever the experience held for me. That being said, I did hope that the architecture work I would do at the ETH would help me as I decide which design path I want to pursue in the future. Other than that, I trusted that three months in Europe could only turn out well. I had just graduated from undergrad and I was and remain completely open to whatever any experience has to offer. I was determined not to mistake challenges and pitfalls for negativity, and overall that strategy worked very well for the few times that it was tough here in Zurich.

Three Positive Points :: Three Negative Points:

Work, especially in the last 6 weeks, became really great. I was deeply involved in one of the projects that is being built in New York City in October and I felt that I could contribute directly to completing what needed to be done. Outside of work, I became very good friends with my Swiss roommates. We made a habit of going to the Limmat for beach volley and also went hiking on a few occasions as well. Thirdly, I had the most amazing time in the mountains here. I went on overnight hikes on a number of weekends and got lucky with the weather each time. I covered a lot of distance on my hikes and saw some absolutely spectacular vistas of Switzerland. I think the hiking really made the trip for me.

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It would be a lie to say that the first week was not extremely draining as a result of the housing crisis that I had. Left to my own to find a flat, I had failed in this pursuit and got on the plane from Philadelphia with literally nowhere to go and 4 days until the start of work. That being said, after three days of complete disorder I did get lucky and find a place that turned out to be perfect. Housing though was definitely a huge challenge. Secondly, I wish that I could have communicated better in German and/or Swiss German. I have no background in German so it felt almost impossible to learn anything useful in such a short amount of time, especially when English, Italian, and French all seem to work. The last thing has to be the money: I was not prepared for how expensive it is to exist in Zurich. And I won’t say live because I didn’t “live” here for most of the time because money was so short. I really had to dip into my own savings to come here, and that was really a disappointment. It is unfortunate that one of things I leave Switzerland with, along with the great experiences, is a fair chunk of debt despite the help from ThinkSwiss.

Research Team Integration

The guys at work were absolutely incredible. They were patient and helpful in terms of getting me up to speed with the projects and despite my not being able to help directly right at the beginning, they coached me through that part so by the end I could really contribute to the projects. The contacts I made at the ETH will stay with me for a long time and I am really pleased with that.
It was an amazing professorship with which to participate. The project that I worked on to be installed in New York City is happening now and I will see everyone from the chair that I worked with when I return home to New York.

Comparison between Swiss and U.S. Architecture:

Architecture at the ETH is radically different from my American university exposure to architecture. The material covered here is much more technically rigorous—some would say much more useful in a professional setting, but it also seems to stunt creativity and replace it with a huge amount of detailed construction knowledge. It is hard to compare, because I feel like the Swiss architecture students lack what I have learned and I also lack very much what they have learned yet we are both the same age and have the same experience.

A Return to Switzerland?

Absolutely. I do plan on returning to Switzerland to visit my work colleagues and friends that I made here. I will come back to go to the mountains in the winter and hopefully will meet up acquaintances from this summer during that time. I can’t wait to come back!