Crumpling Paper with Frank Gehry: Legos, Turntables, and Novel Building(s)

Wherein I answer the question always asked…

Back in my days at Parsons School of Design, the faculty would play a little game when reviewing applications for admission to the architecture school. The first faculty reviewer who came across an applicant’s Personal Statement that began with something like: “When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Legos…” won a round of raucous applause and a prize.

I can’t recall exactly what the prize was; it varied over the years, and the applause was never mean-spirited since it was tempered, I suspect, by cringe-worthy remembrances of our own youthful Personal Statements.

But Legos?…Yikes, bad form; invoked unwittingly by the applicant as if those snap-together pieces of primary color plastic were the building blocks to a career at a drafting table, crumpling paper with Frank Gehry.

And speaking of bad form and crumpled paper, I’m often asked how my training as an architect prepared me for writing fiction.

The crumpled paper is the easy part. My writing studio is littered with the vestiges of bad writing, as was my architecture studio – in that case, crumpled yellow trace with the vestiges of bad form.

But I think the real answer lies in a 180 degree turn of Frank’s drafting table…to wit: how does writing fiction prepare one to be an architect?

From where I sit, it seems that every MFA creative writing program tries to teach their students the following:

…how to create the space of a story

…how to structure it

…how to enter into it

…how to move through it

…how pacing, stylistic expression, and details matter

…and all of this while the writer must “picture” things in his or her head to be true to what “takes place.

Do you see my point here? – Architecture tropes, every last one – and every first-year architecture student learns them quickly, or they’re either booted back to the Legos or into an MFA creative writing program to re-work their Personal Statement.

So, yes…Princeton University School of Architecture** helped me become a writer. And, to paraphrase Le Corbusier, I hope my novels display the magnificent play of light and shadow on inert form…er, words.

And Princeton? I apparently can’t shake the place loose. It plays a big role in The Door-Man.

** P.S. – Look for me as “Tiger of the Week” in the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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