The Process Portfolio

This past week, I finished my second term at architecture school!
(BUT, I’ll have more on that later).

At that time, I also finished my Process Portfolio for the term, AND I rebound my old B1 (first term) Portfolio to match my new one. This helped tie the two together, and make it easy for the “year end review” committee.

To summarize, I’ll quote the Dalhousie School of Architecture on the Process Portfolio:

“Design portfolios are records of your design work, research interests, and design abilities… Assembling a portfolio can help you reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and interests. In the BEDS program, the main portfolio is a “process portfolio.” It is a thorough record of your design research and analysis, your design work-in-progress, and your finished design work during a single term.”

Although it is a full term later, I’d like to share the huge amount of work you produce as a student of architecture in a single, 3 month term. This week I’ll be offering up my B1 [First Term] Portfolio – and next week I’ll share B2 (when I finish that video).

You can view the B1 Process Portfolio video with very short commentary here:


Cheers + Stay Creative,

– Matt

First Month of BEDS

All of a sudden it’s October. In fact, it’s already a week into October and the autumn season is full swing!

IMG_2257This first month at architecture school has been insane. So many interesting people, so much excitement, so much to learn, and so much work to be done. Seriously, I’ve learned as much in this last month as I’ve learned in my whole life (only a slight exaggeration).

At it’s core, the program has 5 courses much like any other program. However, they all overlap quite a bit – thus the professors are able to overload you with even more work and expectation. The heart of the program is “Design” class where we sometimes listen to lectures, work with groups, or other – but most importantly, we work with a tutor who helps structure our work. Think of this as a mentor (I know I do).

The biggest advantage is that all 60 students in the program are subjected to the same crushing workload, all at the same time. On top of this, the 60 people are all divided into 5 studio groups. There is Studio East (group 1 & 2), Center Studio (group 5), and Studio West (groups 3 & 4). So, let’s say you are in group 3 in studio West: first and foremost, your group mates you see all day every day; secondly, you see the West side altogether a lot; and finally, you see the other groups a little less. However, all 5 groups take all 5 classes together at the same time. We are already becoming cohesive and like a family.

Without getting too much into my personal work, I also wanted to highlight the fact that long hours are indeed needed. People don’t joke about this idea for no reason. While the days are usually long (10+ hours each day), as it nears a deadline it can get much more intense. In the last week leading up to a deadline I spent 17-18 hours every single day at school (not including the bike ride there and back home), and the last 2 days leading up to the deadline I spent 20 hours at school a day. Seriously.

BUT, it’s a matter of LOVE. I rush to school every day, excited to get back into a project and work. There is much to learn and so little time. My tutor told me last week, “you only get out whatever your willing to put in” (paraphrased), and that struck a chord with me. You have to challenge yourself – immerse yourself.

I couldn’t leave out the fact that coffee is still very important to me. In fact, some days the only break I take all day is to sit with my hand grinder, grind up some beans, load my freiling french press and brew a delicious cup of coffee. I’ve really been digging on Anchored Coffee these days (which thankfully is roasted in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). It’s rock and roll; consistently fantastic every time. I get stoked about each cup I drink, so thanks dudes at Anchored.

I’ll leave you with some snaps from the past month…

First Week - Setting Up

First Week – Setting Up

First Week - Setting Up

First Week – Setting Up

Out in the field sketching

Out in the field sketching



Making light models

Making light models

Halifax Harbour Front

Halifax Harbour Front



Technical Drafting

Technical Drafting

Pin Up for Critique

Pin Up for Critique

Morning Macc at Steve O Reno's

Morning Macc at Steve O Reno’s

More Drafting

More Drafting


Weekend TIBS Excursion

Weekend TIBS Excursion

Even if biking these days is only to and from school!

Even if biking these days is only to and from school!

Stay creative,

/ Matt

“Free Sketching Session”

This past week, I stumbled upon a poster for a free all day sketching workshop (thanks Mark!).

Sketching in the Park!

Sketching in the Park!

Great I thought! A nice primer to get me thinking about school that’s quickly approaching. It was also a nice chance to hang out with a fellow Dalhousie student and Newfoundlander Mark White, as well as trying to learn to shed those ‘sketching in public’ nerves.

But it went even deeper than that. Either it was great coincidence (or the stars aligned) but this sketching session was both architecturally themed, and headed up by Dalhousie professor of architecture Roger Mullin.

The outdoor sketching session focused on orthographic sketches (or representing a three-dimensional object in two dimensions) and ran from 10:00am – 5:00pm. It was a joint effort project funded by the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Architects with the Canada Council for the Arts, and was all draw together by the good folks at Woodford Sheppard Architecture (Chris Woodford and Taryn Sheppard).

“This workshop invites participants to draw views directly as a means to represent architecture and space in detail, form and context. The session will begin and end with an introduction, drawing review and discussion.

The architectural sketch remains one of the most energetic and agile means of representing architectural space and form. The goal of this workshop is to study and appreciate the complex conditions landscape and building that make up beautiful architectural structures in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

All necessary materials will be provided. ”


The morning started with an hour lecture. From there we were all given large wooden boards and 10 sheets of some nice paper. Here we are walking along on the way to the park.


Lunch at Fixed Coffee & Baking just next door:

Fixed Coffee

Fixed Coffee

The first and second half of the day ended with everyone spreading their work out and chatting.

The Groups Work.

The Groups Work.

I really enjoyed the afternoon, as well as Roger Mullin’s thoughts and ideas [build and design process]. Perhaps I’ll write more on that another time.

Thank you to everyone who organized.
What a great way to kick things off!

/ Matt

Accepted into Architecture School

This blog has been on and off for the long and wandering journey that has lead up to my acceptance into Dalhousie’s Architecture Program. In fact, as I look back at some of the posts- well, they seem a little silly now. Yet, it’s proof that I got here.

Going forward, I plan to publish notes and photographs of my journey through architecture school. To begin, this evening I did a HUGE overhaul on the look of this blog, and rewrote a brand new About section that goes a little something like this…

On August 3rd, 2013, I was accepted into the Architecture program at Dalhousie University. It was one of the most exciting days of my life- if not the most exciting day.

The goal of this blog is to document the madness that ensues leading up to architecture school, and more importantly, the madness of architecture school itself.

* * *


A VERY short synopsis of why I wanted to become an Architecture Student

My training prior to admission lies in five years of schooling at Memorial University of Newfoundland as a Double Major in Anthropology and Folklore (Bachelor of Arts). Let it be known, however, that I was one term short of officially completing that B.A. I have long been interested in photography, and in combination with the training I received at University I am equipped with the tools needed to do great fieldwork. I was able to study under some excellent professors, and push the boundaries along the way with architecturally-themed projects.

Outside of school, I have long held interest in legos (cheesy right? But it’s true). Before venturing into Folklore and Anthropology, abandoned buildings piqued my interest and I was always fascinated by how these structures both previously and currently function in the community. I have also held interest in quality coffee and espresso for over ten years, and have most recently taken on wine in a big way: I’m a certified International Sommelier Guild Level Two.

The relationship of space and place, terroir, and the study of vernacular (local) building styles all lie near and dear to my heart.


Follow me on twitter if you’d like to keep up on my life (inside and outside architecture school).

/ Matt

Exploring Obscure Places

Last term I spent some time investigating on the subject of Urban Exploring.

I explored into what it meant to be an urban explorer, aesthetics, and more. I eventually settled on a paper title of “Transgression and Art: Exploring Obscure Places”.

The paper was relatively long, but ever since it was competed I have wanted to share it with others. The easiest way to do this I have decided, is in a series of shortened posts breaking down exactly how it came together. This way I can also throw in some photos and such.

The table of contents is as follows:

1) Introduction and Context
2) Aesthetics and Spatiality
3) The Informants:
I.        Defining Urban Exploring
II.       Preparing and Equipping
III.     The Exploration
IV.     Why?
V.       Ethics, Values and Illegality
VI.      Identity and Aliases
4) Urban Exploring, Sub-Culture, and the Internet
5) Conclusion
6) References

The final length is about 15 pages of writing, so I think I’m going to break it down into 5 sections.

They will be released over the next week or two, so keep an eye out. I’ll do my best to update all my sources (facebook, twitter, etc).

Here’s a photo to leave you with for now:

urban explorer - click for larger version

urban explorer – click for larger version

Keep inspired!

– Matt

Exploring Obscure Places – Part 2 of 5

The second in a series of five on Urban Exploring. In this I explore aesthetics and spatiality.

Aesthetics and Spatiality

The concept of aesthetics is extraordinarily complex, highly debated and entirely relative. It would be ridiculous to try and tackle a topic so huge in a paper so short, but I do feel that it needs addressing before I actually get into in investigation.

In the case of most urban explorers, the definition of ‘beauty’ clearly draws outside the lines of the social norm. To understand the discourse of beauty in decay, it is import to understand that aesthetics are highly subjective. When we look at a building, a seemingly endless number of factors need to be taken into account. Location and perspective are obviously important, but we must also take into account our own experiences, age, where and when we grew up, and so on. The relationship someone shares with a building is not only physical, but also relative in terms of personal experience. Henry Glassie represents this well in Vernacular Architecture:

“All architects are born into architectural environments that condition their notions of beauty and bodily comfort and social propriety. Before they have been burdened with knowledge about architecture, their eyes have seen, their fingers have touched, their minds have inquired into the wholeness of their scenes. They have begun collecting scraps of experience without regard to the segregation of facts by logical class. Released from the hug of pleasure and nurture, they have toddled into space, learning to dwell, to feel at home. Those first acts of occupation deposit a core connection in the memory” (2000, 17).

St. John's Adventist Academy - Click for Larger View

St. John's Adventist Academy - Click for Larger View

The idea of space, called spatiality, is complex to explain but intuitive as an experience. Leland Roth suggests, “the reality of architecture lay not in the solid elements that seem to make it, but rather the reality of a room was to be found in the space enclosed by the roof and walls, not in the roof and walls themselves” (1993, 45). With this, he continues to break down space into numerous categories: physical space, perceptual space, conceptual space and behavioural space. For an urban explorer, the most important is “behavioural space, or the space we can actually move through and use” (Roth 1993, 45).

Behavioural space can further be broken down. In it, we can examine positive and negative space, directional and non-directional space, and public versus private space. In a normal building, we usually pass through negative space (a lobby, porch, etc) and tend to dwell in positive space. Once inside, we can be free to move around (non-directional space), or “in the Gothic cathedral the emphatic axis directs movement towards the single focus – the altar” [directional space] (Roth 1993, 51). Urban exploring meshes all of these ideas instead of suggesting strict dichotomies like Roth suggests.

An abandoned space instead functions on a continuum, up for debate if it is public or private. It can also be directional or non-directional depending on the level of decay. For instance, the loss of dividing walls and furniture can be disorientating. It can change how an explorer moves about the space, and shift its interpretation. The same goes for the debate of public versus private space: explorers often compare the level of difficulty involved in ‘getting in to a building’ to its legality.

Lastly, it is important to explore perspective. Most urban explorers choose to document with photography, and this can range from rudimentary snapshots to photography as an art. While the result can be moody, scary, sad, happy, inspiring and interesting, it is important to note its compression into a two dimensional object. Hazel Conway and Rowan Roenisch explain, “no photograph, film or video can reproduce the sense of form, space, light and shade, solidity and weight that is gained

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next part!

– Matt

Exploring Obscure Places – Part 3 of 5

The Informants

Pete Löfstedt was the only informant of a potential six I was actually able to get a consented formal interview from. This was highly disappointing as I wanted to represent a balanced demographic. I spent countless days begging and pleading with others to consent and participate over the course of this term, but to no avail. The most disappointing informant of all was the one and only female I had lined up to speak with. I spent hours and hours communicating with her setting up interviews that she would fail to attend. This does effectively crush my idea of studying gender with first hand sources.

In order to get a balanced result, I decided to use two short films (both in bibliography). Between Pete and the videos, I fill in the gaps and expand with both a book entitled Access All Areas: A Users Guide to the Art of Urban Exploring and a bricolage of my own personal knowledge. The data is broken down into categories for clarity.

It was interesting interviewing Pete because he had his own interpretations and had not researched in depth about the subject. In fact, until the actual point of interview Pete had not thought about his experiences from an academic perspective. With this, his answers were very organic. I started by asking Pete to define urban exploring in two different ways to start the conversation, and then get straight into the full interview.

Pete underground exploring a pitch black drain hole (lit by flash). Click for larger.

Pete underground exploring a pitch black drain hole (lit by flash). Click for larger.

I. Defining Urban Exploring

In the past, urban exploring material was transmitted through informal culture to other explorers. Perhaps the largest breakthrough in exploring research, while not considered academic in the traditional sense, was a book published by a life-long explorer Jeff Chapman.  Jeff was extremely active in the exploring world, and was especially focused on rights and procedures of an explorer. Unfortunately he died months after his book was published in December 2004, and it was re-released as an official publication in 2005. Chapman often went by the (now) massively popular alias ‘Ninjalicious’, and his book reflects this. In conducting any form of exploration, this is the handbook and manual, so it was appropriate to use this in my study.

Chapman was clever and articulated his thoughts quite well, and he often talks of the “social engineering” aspect of exploring (Chapman 2005, 29). With this, it seemed only fair to include his definition of urban exploring,

“[An] interior tourism that allows the curious-minded to discover a world of behind-the-scenes sights like forgotten subbasements, engine rooms, rooftops, abandoned mineshafts, secret tunnels, abandoned factories and other places not designed for public usage. Urban exploration is a thrilling, mind-expanding hobby that encourages our natural instincts to explore and play in our own environment” (Chapman 2005, 5).

This answer is less organic and animated than Pete’s, however. While it holds great value, it lacks the spontaneity involved in urban exploring. Pete takes my question quite literal when I ask him to define the subject, and addresses the issues of illegality head on, “I would say that it’s like breaking and entering, but with rules. And… it’s just going into places where you wouldn’t ordinarily see or even particularly think of. Places you wouldn’t, or most people wouldn’t really want to be …just to see it before it’s gone. Or, just to see the way things have degraded since they fell out of use” (2010).

Next, I asked Pete to define it again, but this time to an outsider (I used his grandmother as an example). His response, “Probably would just avoid explaining it… I think I would present it a little differently… going to a place to document it” (2010). After some fumbling with words, Pete finally settled on, “you’re basically preserving something through documentation and kind of going in there and doing the dirty work yourself so other people can see” (2010).

II. Preparing and Equipping

Pete explained his attire and methodology hinged on the location he was planning on visiting. “If you are going out somewhere in the countryside you probably don’t need to do it at nighttime because there is no security of any type… you don’t have anything to hide from. Depending on how far you are going, I mean yeah you make it a day-trip. If it’s someplace you can stay for a day without getting in any trouble… and you are not going to run out of things to look at. I would say in the daytime you don’t even have to worry how you are dressed as much because you just look like a casual walker, or hiker, or something like that. But at night, you kinda gotta change your attire a little… you are going to want to throw in a little more black. When you are downtown and there is a lot of people around you would definitely want to do it at night, and, like, the later the better” (2010).

“Things to take with you, I’d say, maybe a crowbar [laughter], I don’t know it depends – only for gentle nudging, not for actual forceful breaking. …I like gloves because there is a lot of, you know, rusted metal around in these places and just things you do not want to touch. …If you are going into a building that’s been abandoned for a long time there is a lot stuff inside of it that’s probably got some nasty smells going on so you’re going to want to have, probably, a mask of some type – just to keep you from getting asbestos poisoning or lung damage from mould, or whatever the hell else happens to be in there” (Pete 2010).

Inside a typical abandoned home. Click for larger.

Inside a typical abandoned home. Click for larger.

III. The Exploration

Being an explorer myself, I tried to find a way to distance myself from the interview and this research. I decided to not ask the question of how an exploration unfolds, but instead asked what makes for a ‘good’ exploration. Pete responded,something that’s not too hard to get into, and something that’s got like, a lot of floors that are not full of holes, maybe – something that’s got like a lot of old artefacts. [A] snapshot of in time kind of thing, where there is, you know, everything that people were using every day and it’s just suddenly abandoned for some reason. I like places that look like everybody just got up and left, immediately, and didn’t really take anything with them” (2010).

Next I asked Pete about active buildings versus abandonments. “I’m not very daring with the active buildings… I don’t really like altercations with security personnel and especially not the police. …I find abandonments more interesting, just because people leave like little pieces of their lives behind and you can kinda have a peek in and try and figure like out what someone was like, or… what they were doing when they left got up and left” (Pete 2010).

Exploring Obscure Places – Part 5 of 5 (and references)

Urban Exploring, Sub-culture and the Internet

The most peculiar aspect of Urban Exploring is that it has existed for some time, but only emerged as ‘something’ with the invention of the Internet. Interestingly enough, the Internet did not function as the main interest of this group of people, but merely a tool which everyone discovered each other. With the explosion of the Internet, there was also the explosion of many terminologies as to what this sub-culture could be called (refer to Venn-diagram in appendix page 20).

As I stated in my introduction, studies in Urban Exploring are far and few. Given this, I was forced to be resourceful and draw upon related academic works. It quickly became visible that easy parallels to graffiti sub-culture could be drawn. Much like exploring, identity was a central theme. With exploring, identity was something intangible, but in graffiti culture it is physical and tangible. In order to draw direct ties, a little more stretching was needed: I decided to use urban exploring photographs as something tangible to compare to ‘tagging’ (a graffiti mural).


Abandoned building with two perpendicular wings. Bell Island, Newfoundland.

Abandoned building with two perpendicular wings. Bell Island, Newfoundland.

Both of these groups function as subcultures, highly fuelled and members seek to attain higher statuses within their peer group. “There’s no financial gain, I suppose getting the respect of total strangers is payment enough really” (Macdonald 2001, 65). On top of this, they frequently inter-mingle: graffiti present in abandoned locations for example. In present day, sharing graffiti has now also reached the Internet and photographing that too can be equally challenging as a ruin. Both include issues of light, space, and mood, and feature rebellion as one of the main components of its members.


Urban Exploring is just a hobby [at the end of the day]. It is strange, and it is most certainly not for everyone. However, it is immensely interesting, and a goldmine of potential research. While I did my best to put forth as much as I could with a time constraint and as much information as available, there could be so much more.

If I had more time, I could examine the pursuit of identity, presentation of self, gender and gender roles, the body in terms of exploring, and more. But I didn’t, and I had to target something in order to meet my timeline. Within the context of this paper, I do feel I represented the sub-culture correctly and provided a springboard for future investigations. In this urban industrialized world it is most important we break away from accepting our surrounding and assess them closer and in more depth. We do not need to be afraid to physically explore the past, because in turn we can discover ourselves along the way.


Abandoned House in Ferryland, Newfoundland. Click for Larger.

Abandoned House in Ferryland, Newfoundland. Click for Larger.


Chapman , Jeff ‘Ninjalicious’. 2005. Access All Areas: A Users Guide to the Art of Urban Exploring. Toronto : Infilpress.

Conway, Hazel and Rowan Roenisch. 2005. Understanding: An Introduction to Architecture and Architectural History. New York: Routledge.

Löfstedt, Pete. 2010. Interview by Matt Reynolds. November 9th. Digital recording for Newfoundland Folklore. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

Macdonald, Nancy. 2001. The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York. New York: Palgrave.

Roth, Leland M. 1993. Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History, and Meaning. New York, NY: Icon Editions.


Bennett, Andy and Keith Kahn-Harris. 2004. After Subculture: Critical Studies in Contemporary Youth Culture. New York: Palgrave.

Garrett, Bradley. L. 2010. “Urban Explorers: Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning”. Geography Compass. 4, no. 10: 1448-1461. [accessed Nov 16, 2010].

Garrett, Bradley L. 2009. “Urban Explorers: Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning”. Geography Compass Journal. Video article. [accessed Nov 12, 2010].

Gilbert, Melody. 2007. Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness. DVD. Frozen Feet Films.

Trigg, Dylan. 2006. The Aesthetics of Decay. New York: Peter Land Publishing Inc.

Zevi, Bruno. 1974. Architecture As Space: How to Look at Architecture. New York: Horizon Press.

The Next Month

So its been busy.

Very busy.

The next month holds may sleepless nights, lots of work, and some defining my life. I have many, many, many projects on the go (yes it is essential is reiterate this three times). I will be targeting a few things in particular:

– My portfolio for Architecture school (this is high priority)

– My academic term (especially the visual anthropology section)

– A decision on opening another photography project (on top of 100 Cyclists which is on hold for the winter AND a publication called Hula Magazine I am working with)

– Publishing some of this to the internet on this blog!

Warning: sketch a day will take a hit. I am going to try and include a bunch of work to catch up as best as I can.

Stay tuned, much to come. In the meantime, have a look at this photo and think about weight, light and lines…

click to view large

click to view large


– Matt