Want to excel at university education, make sure to do this ONE thing! (PART 1)

Each year around September, I get emails from my undergraduate education, Cornell University that there is a number of highly qualified Canadian high school students who want to apply for architecture education. I would interview the students and write evaluation/ recommendation as part of the admission process. One can predict that such experience would be a rewarding one, however in my case, these chance meetings turned out to be more than “rewarding”….it was a chance for ME to get educated!  I met such a student, Xinyun( aka Angelina) Huang this year. This is her story of how she got prepared for her education.

I signed up for the Japanese exchange without much hesitation. People said it was a great trip– the food was cool (melon pocky, colorless milk tea, etc.), students were really really nice, and there were so many cool experiences such as making washi papers and drawing on Japanese Lacquer that is culturally unique. When I declare my interest in architecture on my request form though, I never really expect to be hosted by a family with two architecture major parents. They got super excited and want to show me Japan’s architectural side.

In the beginning, I was bored…


Ever since I was interested in architecture, I start researching for some architectural exhibitions wherever I go. There are many good exhibitions in Shanghai, where I spend my holidays. However, most of them are kind of boring. I was drowning in walls of descriptions with jargons and I have no idea what I am supposed to know and where I am supposed to look. When I thought every exhibition would be so hard to interpret, my mind is completely changed after visiting Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum (where we went).

So we drove an hour and went to this park that is so far away from Tokyo (where the school is), and we walked into a normal park. Kids were running around, there are little tents scattered around grassland. When I get a little bit confused, I saw a huge ancient Japanese architecture standing right in front of me. I wish somebody could record my time for the sprint because it is probably my personal best.

The museum is like an architectural Disneyland!

It is huge, and from my host family, I know that those are the prototyped architectures removed from their original place because of city planning. For the first time, I am allowed to go into the actual buildings to experience what it feels like to live in that place, and what do people do in those buildings.

The collection of the buildings is really diverse in the sense that it collected all the kinds of buildings that were significant historically wise throughout different eras. There are tiny shops such as “Kodera” Soy Sauce Shop, which is built in 1933 and then moved to the park in 1993; there is a huge public bathhouse; there are private houses such as the house of Korekiyo Takahashi, or a farmhouse of a family. There are brochures in English for tourists to take so I would know the historical significance and also the purpose of its design very well. For example, this “Kodera” Soy Sauce Shop is originally built by its owner, and the park kept its appearance in the perfect shape, even including the living space for the owner’s family! There are many empty sake bottles on the shelves as well, which makes it look so realistic and lively. From my host family’s memory, they could picture it in its original location, and how they go to the shops and buy soy sauce.


Where is the entrance?

Another interesting building is the Tea Arbor “Kaisuian.” The total floor area is only around 17 m2, and at first, I could not even find the entrance. My host mom pointed at a little door, and said, “that is the entrance.” It only came up to my waist, and I wonder if any adult with their traditional cloth could get in. It was said that since tea ceremonies are sacred and pristine, the little door prevents people bring in their swords and start a fight in the room. The ceiling is also really low, which force you to sit down.


Aside from those ancient-looking buildings, there are also many modern buildings around the park. For example, the House of Kunio Mayekawa is really modernly designed, even though it is actually built in 1042. From my host family, I learned that Kunio Mayekawa is a really famous architect who has worked with Le Corbusier for two years. This personal residence has a big living room, and the design makes the air flow freely through the house. There are also many unique designs with the furniture. Even though the law restricted the floor space, the house seems very big because of the compact design and floor plans, such as the high ceiling for the living room and the low ceiling for other rooms. My host mom also pointed out that the wall from the entrance is made of volcanic rock, which is purely decorative and a tribute to the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

As you can see so far, my architecture education has already begun! without even stepping a foot in the university buildings!  Stay tuned for the next post to hear what I realized at the end of trip. Would love to hear your experience!

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