Dale Winling

Dale Winling
University of Michgan, PhD student in architecture;
soon-to-be resident of Chicagoland

Tottered on: 9 December 2006
Temperature: 39F
Ceiling: partly sunny
Ground: snow dusted
Wind: SW at 9 mph


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TT with HD: Dale Winling


[Ed. note: Here's some links pertinent to the conversations below: Dale's blog Urban Oasis, Murph's blog Common Monkey Flower, the Teeter Talk from back in the fall for Brandon Zwagerman, and the pinhole photographer, Matt Callow's website, and something for folks who are interested in demonstrating Ypsi pride through sartorial choices.]

HD: You'll be on this end.

DW: So what do you do now? I know you've said you've been trying to think of ways to sort of monetize the totter.

HD: Yeah, we're getting close to that. We're getting very close.

DW: Oh, really? So sponsorships?

HD: Something like that. Okay, you know what, let me get my picture out of the way first, and I'll just say, Welcome to the teeter totter! One, two, well, you know what, I'm thinking that maybe that's not the greatest location for the pinhole camera right now. Maybe if you could just hold it up. [Ed. note: standard totter picture-taking ensues] Alright, now explain to me what you're going to do with the pin hole camera.

DW: Okay, this morning I loaded in a sheet of 4 x 5 negative film ...

HD: ... so you have a darkroom or something?

DW: Well, normally I load in the basement of the house that I live in, at night. I block off the windows for any sort of ambient light, but I went out to Leopold Bros last night, and when I got home I didn't feel like doing that, even though I had the plan. Fortunately in my room I have five blankets on my bed, so basically I took the box of film, took the pinhole [camera], threw the covers over my head, and basically opened up the film box, opened this up, put it in here, and then capped it. There's a 'changing bag', which is what some people do, who don't have a dark room. So this is just like a very large changing bag with me in it.

HD: So the idea is that we're going to actually totter, and because it will remain fixed, to the extent that I'm relatively, um ...

DW: ... stable. So it'll be about, I'd say, a 75-second exposure.

HD: So you gonna time that out?

DW: Yeah, I just count it sort of in my mind.

HD: [laugh]

DW: So the totter and you should be basically more-or-less in focus and then everything behind will be totally crazy. I'm just interested in seeing what it turns out as. So let me take this off. [Recording time code: 5:40 ]

HD: This'll work? ... I don't want to affect your concentration in counting by talking too much.

DW: [laugh] One thing with the pinhole is, it's like every shot is experimental, in my mind. Maybe for somebody like Matt Callow, he can sort of visualize when he takes it, what it will come out as. But I don't have that kind of experience ...

HD: ... but you do have some experience with this kind of photography, right? With the medium format, or the large format stuff that you do?

DW: Ah, yeah. Yeah, I got interested in that when I worked for the Historic American Building Survey, which is part of the National Park Service, in the summer of 2005, in D.C. And they have some photographers there who are amazing large format photographers. I sort of learned the basics, got interested and then over the last winter, I got my own on eBay, and just started taking photos around Ann Arbor. Just basically trying to learn a bit more on my own.

HD: So are there any photos that you have left to take before you leave town? That you just really want to make sure that you take?

DW: There's always some. [Recording time code: 7:08] Wait, let me see ...

HD: Okay, so you've put the cover back on [the camera].

DW: So now I'm just going to set that down. Now I just have to develop that.

HD: You'll develop that yourself, or you'll take it somewhere?

DW: I live just around the corner from Ivory Photo, so when I first started taking large format, I used to take my negatives there and get them developed and do contact. A lot of the stuff I've learned is just from asking the people on Flickr. So Matt Callow posts on Flickr, there's a number of Ann Arbor groups, there's a guy named ...

HD: ... so is that now you first learned about Matt Callow, through Flickr?

DW: Yeah.

HD: Really?! Oh, okay.

DW: There's a guy named Mark O'Brien, who works for the University, he does a lot of photography and posting on Flickr. Then there's one guy named Ross Orr, he does a lot of pinhole photography. They just sort of talk about what sort of experiments they did. A couple of people have put up basic instructions for developing. In fact, Ross had a workshop a month or six weeks ago on developing black and white film, and we went to Kiwanis [rummage sale]--Kiwanis is great, it's one of the most amazing things about Ann Arbor. All this stuff, which 15 years ago, all this equipment new, which would have cost 150 or 200 dollars, basically the basics for developing film: we got for about 10 dollars. It was just a matter of getting the chemicals, which I got for very cheap from some people on campus. There's two, I think, functioning dark rooms on campus still. So now I develop all my own film. And I just started printing, because I got access to one of those dark rooms. To develop the film, you really only need a changing bag, or you only need a darkroom for about 30 seconds. However long it takes to get from whatever your film container is--like a 35mm little canister--into this--I don't know if you do your own photography--but this black, plastic light-tight developing tank.

HD: Huh.

DW: And what you can do is, there are a couple of baffles, so that you can pour your chemicals in and out without worrying about the light ...

HD: ... seeping in there ...

DW: ... hitting it, exactly.

HD: No, I don't do my own developing at all. In fact, when I was at the Shadow Art Fair, I thought, Hey, a pinhole camera for five bucks, you can't beat that, I'm gonna get me one a those! But then in talking to him [Matt Callow], I realized that there was going to be a whole lot to this that I probably don't have the patience for.

DW: Yeah, 4 x 5, it costs about a buck a sheet. I think the best price I've seen is like 80 cents--40 dollars for a 50 sheet box. So I mean, each shot is an investment, whereas with 35mm, it's probably ...

HD: ... just shoot, shoot, shoot, ...

DW: ... yeah, if you get a really expensive roll of film, it's like 10 cents per exposure. And then you know the development is just a couple of cents per. But with a 4 x 5 sheet, you've got some built-in cost, and if you print, it's probably a little under a buck per piece of photo paper.

HD: On your blog you do mention the pinhole camera as something you purchased at the Shadow Art Fair, and then you're a little bit cryptic about some other items, ...

DW: ... oh, yeah, right.

HD: And you say that that's because you think that some readers of your blog might be receiving those items as Christmas gifts. But I was wondering if it wasn't perhaps that you just didn't feel quite comfortable saying that you bought a big stack of Ypsi-panties?

DW: [laugh] No, my wife was in town for the weekend, so I entered her name for the raffle for the Ypsi-panties. We haven't heard yet, so I don't know, maybe she didn't win. No. There was a bunch more stuff that I would have liked to buy. Particularly, there was this group called the Detroit Craft Mafia, where basically they had ties with stuff that they had embroidered or cross-stitched on there, in some cases were sort of ribald or ...

HD: ... irreverent ...

DW: ... yeah, and I was like, Hmm, 25 bucks, maybe, maybe ...

HD: But are you even a tie-wearing kind of guy, though?

DW: Unfortunately, not on a regular basis. But I love it. In fact, I wear bow ties as much as I wear regular neckties.

HD: Really! So you know how to tie a real bow tie?!

DW: Literally, I tie it with my eyes closed, because it's literally like tying a bow in your shoelaces. So what I do is tie it with my eyes closed, and then it's just a matter of sort of straightening it. It's incredibly easy. You know, I thought this is going to be the greatest challenge of my life, and when people see that I'm wearing a real bow tie, it's like women will fall in love with me!

HD: [laugh][laugh]

DW: I don't think that that happened. But it turned out to be incredibly easy.

HD: Yeah, okay. Well, actually the reason I brought up the Ypsi-panties is that there's a connection between panties in general and your thesis.

DW: ??

HD: Where you document the first ever panty raid?

DW: Oh yeah, that's right.

HD: So I thought that was fascinating, a very interesting bit of narrative.

DW: I should say, that's not something I discovered on my own. There was an undergraduate thesis from a year ago that I drew upon, about the politics of housing and university policies towards women in the 40's and 50's. So right. This was in March of '52. Basically there was just some sort of verbal sparring between people who lived in West Quad and South Quad, I guess. That's Madison Street. It was a warm day, and their windows were open, and people started yelling, and it intensified, and then people gathered in the street, and then for some reason or another that isn't exactly clear, people were like: Let's go to the Hill! And all of the dorms on the Hill at that time were women's dorms. Markely wasn't built yet, but Stockwell, Mosher-Jordan, Alice Lloyd--which were women's dorms--Couzens was also. That may have just been for nursing students at that point, but it was women only, at the time also. Nearby just on Maynard was Newberry. And Betsy Barbour. And basically they started calling for women to throw their panties out of the windows, and in fact they got inside in some cases.

HD: As best you can tell from the historical record, were any panties actually thrown voluntarily?

DW: I haven't found any acknowledgements or quotations or sources where they said, Yes, I threw my panties, or Ah, I got a woman's set of panties and this capped my college career! So nooo. I mean, it's interesting because there's multiple characterizations of this event. One is sort of the 'nation's first panty raid'. But within the press and within the University's official response at the time, very different characterizations: one playing off the idea of the panty raid; and one saying the students were just a little bit rowdy because it was a warm night after a long winter or something like that.

HD: You characterize it in the thesis as evolving from a general dissatisfaction with the University's control of social life?

DW: Yeah, absolutely. In the period there were a number of also sort of 'food riots' where kids were basically sick of the quality of the food ...

HD: ... food being served in the dorms ...

DW: ... exactly. In fact, on two separate equations they basically started banging plates and chanting, and they basically blocked off the cafeteria to express their dissatisfaction and try to take control of the space, because they were so dissatisfied with this element of their life and the lack of options and input that they had. There were a number of instances of this. So Tom Hayden, who was this New Left 60's radical--he went to school here between '56 and '60--he was involved in one of these. He used to say that South Quad was a really 'crappy experience' as he termed it in his autobiography. South Quad, with its 1200 students, with its twin lack of community and privacy. It was too big to provide intimate learning atmosphere, but people were so crammed in together they couldn't have privacy with the doubles and triples and so forth. And one of his issues as a student was essentially trying to change this power- or control-dynamic between the University administration and the students.

HD: So the basic theme that runs through the thesis or maybe even the basic theme of the thesis is the perception of the responsibility of providing housing for students and how that's changed. So when the University was first founded, the idea was that all these men would live on campus. And then President, what was his name, I forget, Tappan?

DW: Tappan, yeah.

HD: Tappan came in and said, We're not going to do this like the British do it, we'll follow the Prussian model instead. What with all this housing out around the University, we have this community around the University, we should take advantage of that. Then President Little came in and tried to reverse that trend, lost his job over it, but I guess in the end, that concept--of the University bearing the responsibility of providing housing--that won out conceptually anyway up to now. I mean, I guess my notion as a resident of Ann Arbor, if you ask me whose responsibility is it to provide student housing, I guess I'd say the core responsibility falls to the University. I mean if students want to find something off campus, then that's up to them. That might be colored somewhat by the fact that when I was an undergrad I thought, I do not want to complicate my life by trying to live off campus. I basically wanted to spend all my time studying. And I saw the idea of living off campus as interfering with that goal.

DW: Did you go to school here?

HD: No.

DW: Where did you go to school?

HD: Washington U. in St. Louis. So you know, I lived in St. Louis for four years, but not really.

DW: St. Louis and Washington University have sort of a different dynamic with the community. But my interest in framing this thesis arose from the fact that almost every conversation that I have with someone about student housing, they say, The University hasn't built a dorm in 30 years! And it's almost universal. Multiple times when I've been talking with the Mayor about the problems of housing in the community and the politics of housing, this is what he comes back with. And one of the thrusts of this thesis is to illustrate that over the majority of the life of the University, that was not the expectation by people within the community or by people within the University [that the University would provide housing]. And it was only because of the mid-century subsidies provided by the federal government that allowed that, and so now the policymakers who went through the system subsequent to that, they think, Everybody lives in the dorms, Everybody should live in the dorms!

HD: It's best for studying!

DW: Right, and so what I'm illustrating is that expectation only arises from the result of this basically 30-year period of federal investment. The University has been in Ann Arbor since 1837, so what is that? That's 169 years. It's only because of this 30-year period of subsidy from the federal government that we have this totally changed expectation, which reverberates into local politics, into the economics of the local housing market, and into things like housing conditions, density and things of this nature.

HD: So you focus on this 'Thompson Block' in the thesis and I just wanted to first ask you for a clarification of the semantics. A 'block face' is included in order to define a 'block cluster'. Is that just that side of the street, or is it the whole next 'block'? So the basic 'Thompson Block' starts at the corner of Liberty and Thompson, you go down Liberty to Division, down Division to William over on William then back up Thompson.

DW: Yeah.

HD: Okay, so that's just the basic block.

DW: So when you'd think of a block, you'd think of almost like a square or rectangle with four faces.

HD: So then you include the south face of William?

DW: Of William yeah, so just the houses that face onto William and then there's one on Division. I borrowed this from a professor who used to be at the University of Michigan and a member of the Society of Fellows and is now at Virginia. His name is Olivier Zunz. He did really a landmark study on Detroit from 1880 to 1920. He devised this idea of all six of those faces, which he called a 'block cluster'. Because if you take a block, which is very popular-- it's the basis of the census, and many types of analysis--you don't really get the social component or understanding, because people who are on opposite corners of the block may have no social interaction or sense of community, and so forth. So the block is not adequate for social and economic analysis, both of these. But if you throw in two of these other faces, then you get people living across the street from each other, and you get more of a sense of what's going on socially as well as economically in closer proximity. So a single block face really is not enough, and may only be six or eight houses. A block is not adequate, because you don't get the idea of the social relations. So he chose the block cluster, because it's an intermediate between the block face and the neighborhood, which would be very difficult. In his analysis of Detroit, he couldn't do every neighborhood, so this was sort of an intermediate way of getting a sense of how people live together and near each other.

HD: Did you spend a lot of time just physically walking around that block specifically in connection with the thesis? Just to try to get a feel for the area?

DW: Yeah, both in the course of research and leading up, and in thinking, How do I want to do this and would this be a good candidate? [laugh] Oh, you're getting attacked by a squirrel! [Ed. note: projectile from a squirrel scampering overhead; safety record of the totter remains intact, however]

HD: Yeah, that squirrel dropped something, I wonder if it was intentional.

DW: I'm trying to sleep here! Yeah, I photographed every structure on the block cluster, multiple times ...

HD: ... will those images be included in the thesis at all?

DW: Probably I'll include some of those images to illustrate some of the changes. But it's a planning thesis so it's not necessary to get down to architectural analysis of individual buildings. So what I'll include, I think, is on Division, next to the back edge of the Library Lot. I think of it as the Cowie Hospital, from the 1920's. This is someone who went to med school here in 1900 or 1901, and evidently founded his own private hospital. This is the wine-and-green colored three-story building on Division, where it's got a really intricate roof, three stories, brick, and it's chopped into probably 25 apartments now. So illustrating its changing use from a hospital to an apartment building will be a part of sort of this visual and architectural analysis at a very preliminary level. But for the master's thesis, no, because it's for planning and sort of takes a larger scope. Although for my PhD dissertation, which is in architecture, I'll start from a fine-grained, individual household level and work from there, up to the community level.

HD: So you're going to continue here for the doctorate?

DW: Yeah.

HD: See, I thought you were leaving town!

DW: I am, I am. So I got here in the fall of 2004. I applied to and was accepted to the PhD program in architecture. That's sort of my 'first' program. And then when I got here I lived with Brandon Zwagerman--he was an MUP--and I got to know Murph pretty well. And I was very interested in the tools of analysis of planners and their engagement with community. So I said, Why don't I try that?

HD: So this is like a little side-line for you.

DW: Yeah, exactly. It's both for my personal interest and also for professional development, because prior to the MUP, I wouldn't have had a professional degree. If I ever wanted to teach at a planning school or an architecture school, they probably require or look very favorably upon a professional credential.

HD: You'll be able to do the doctorate, though, from Chicago?

DW: Yes.

HD: Because you've finished all your course requirements?

DW: Yes, exactly. My wife has already moved, for a job. So I'll live there and basically come back about once a month to talk to the people on my committee and stay engaged with the department, but I won't live here on a day-to-day basis.

HD: Will you be taking the train?

DW: Yeah, in fact, my wife teaches at a university in the Chicagoland area, ...

HD: Chicagoland?! [laugh] You've added that to your vocabulary?

DW: This is what they say ...

HD: ... is Michiana a part of your vocabulary as well?

DW: Not that I employ, not that I use. I used to work in St. Joe on the lakeshore, which that wouldn't really qualify, it's far enough away. But getting down into Niles and sometimes went to South Bend and places somewhat farther afield, I'm definitely familiar with the concept of Michiana.

HD: Okay, so you'll be commuting once a month.

DW: Yeah, and because neither my wife or I have a car, the train is an absolute necessity. I think it's great. It's better than driving. People complain about Amtrak, you know, Yeah, grrrrr, delays, arrggghhh, I was waiting on a train for 22 minutes! But I would rather sit on a train and have books and my computer in front of me, even if I'm waiting, than to sit on a parking lot on I-94 basically around south of Chicago.

HD: Do you typically pay the extra ten bucks for business class?

DW: No. I mean, I don't even know what it gets you. I guess, maybe some more space?

HD: Let me tell you, it's way better.

DW: Really?!

HD: Yeah, my wife and I went to Chicago over the summer to see a baseball game as sort of like a mid-summer mini-vacation and we thought, Yeah, we'll pony up the extra ten bucks for business class, it's vacation. And we got on the train and we found some seats and we thought, Yeah, this is okay, not bad. And then the conductor came along to check tickets and said, You can sit here if you want, but business class is the next car up. So our standards are such that regular coach seemed extra nice to us somehow.

DW: [laugh] Yep, upholstery is all intact, and look at this swell armrest!

HD: Yeah, it was completely adequate. But boy, business class, a lot more space. And they've got outlets for your computer.

DW: Oh right, sometimes it is hit-or-miss in the coach class.

HD: You ought to just splurge sometime.

DW: I'm worth it!

HD: I think you are.

DW: Maybe I'll impress my wife: We're going business class today, honey!

HD: Yeah, well, put on a bow tie and climb aboard.

DW: [laugh]

HD: Well, one thing I'd suggest you might do--maybe you've already done this-- before you leave for good, probably be a good idea to wait until the warmer weather so that the sidewalks aren't icy. But, you know, the Thompson Block, I measured it out, and it's just a smidge over a quarter mile around, so you could do two laps around there and time it. See, I found an old 800 meter time of yours online: 2 minutes and 8 seconds, which is moving pretty fast.

DW: Oh my gosh!

HD: Is that your PR for 800 meters?

DW: What was the exact time that you found?

HD: 2 minutes and 8 seconds. It was some sort of intramural thing?

DW: Oh right, I was here for part of my undergrad. Let's see, no my PR is 2:04.6

HD: Wow.

DW: Yeah. I'm nowhere near that capability anymore.

HD: But you should do two laps around the Thompson block and just note your time for the historical record.

DW: You know, actually, I'm sort of getting a vibe like, now I remember that was in a relay race as a part of the Ann Arbor Track Club, I think?! Now ...

HD: I used to run with the Ann Arbor Track Club.

DW: And it was some sort of intermediate medley, it was a 400 and 800, ...

HD: ... oh yeah.

DW: And there was a dude who had like a long beard! This is way back in the day, maybe like '96 or '97.

HD: Hmm, maybe '98 or '99? I think that is when I ran that. Sounds right. There was a guy, Ryan White, who ran with the Track Club and I used to run with, who had some kind of University affiliation and through that connection he put together our team. Or maybe I was working at the U. at that point, and that's how I was on, I forget. Huh. Yeah, that was um, there were some very fast people there.

DW: Yeah. I ran the opening leg, which was the 800 and I was in pretty good shape, because I ran adequately seriously at the time. I thought, I'm going to win this leg! And then some dude, I don't know, he ran like a 2:02 or something, and I was emotionally destroyed. I was like, Dude, you must run all the time! And he was like, Nah, I never run, running is stupid, I used to be on the track team here and I didn't like it, so I haven't run in a year. And I was like, Oh my gosh!

HD: Well, there's something to be said for genetic endowment.

DW: Exactly.

HD: Well, listen, is there anything else on your mind today? I'm getting kind of cold, actually.

DW: Oh, man, I could sit here talking for ... so we started off tottering very cautiously, but now were getting a little air.

HD: Yeah, we've got a good rhythm going.

DW: So is this usually about what the tottering is like? Or is it usually like tepid and cautious?

HD: Well, Dale, you're actually a way-above-average totterer.

DW: Oh yeah? See for the people reading at home, you don't really get a sense of what goes on around here. I had envisioned something even wilder. You know, you'd probably need handles, but you know, when you were a kid, the teeter totter--or the 'see-saw' if you like--it just seems enormous, you know an eight-year-old kid would probably get like a foot of clearance from their feet to the ground and feel like they're going way up in the air and so forth. So it's not disappointing ...

HD: [laugh][laugh] Oh, dear god, it is!?

DW:[laugh] It's not! Here, let's get like a couple of really good totters in. Or teeters. Or whatever they are. Yeah, there we go, this is sort of what I had in mind, where we're really getting some air at the apex and we're really squatting at the bottom.

HD: Fair enough. It is a bit larger, I think, than your average playground teeter totter might have been. It crossed my mind to go totally nuts and just build a huge thing. But now I'm kinda glad I didn't, because I think if they change the Historic District rules, like they're planning to ...

DW: ... that's right! This may be governed by the Old West Side.

HD: Yeah, in fact, I asked Christine Kidorf about this specific question of the teeter totter--I waited until the CTN cameras were off ...

DW: ... yeah, for people watching at home, there's a crazy man asking inane questions!

HD: Yeah, we don't need that as a part of the public record. And she said, With a teeter totter, I can't imagine that it would not be in compliance, unless it were some kind of grotesquely large teeter totter that was completely out of scale with the house. And I thought, Well I don't know, that's sort of in the eye of the beholder.

DW: Yeah, how do you define scale?

HD: What's appropriate scale for a teeter totter?

DW: Yeah, evaluating human scale and teeter totters. So, actually, one thing, I sort of asked the question when we first got on here, which you didn't really answer. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not. What do you do nowadays?

HD: I'm spending most of my time teeter tottering!

DW: See, you're always evasive when this comes up! Are you trying to protect your identity? Are you self-employed?

HD: Well, yeah, that's a good label for it. Most of the things I do are not visible. But this is a very visible thing I do ... So ready to dismount?

DW: Alright!