FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Story Statement
A Parisian girl meets a native Georgia boy in an architecture school, falls in love with him, and must overcome her disillusions toward life to put her trust in him.
SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Antagonistic Force
The antagonistic force comes from within. While May’s resilience allowed her to survive the male-dominated world of architecture, it also made her distrustful of men. Her past invades the narrative as she recalls her hazing at the Beaux-Arts School in Paris. The second year was the worse, as the guys of her year resented that she, a girl, would get the best grades in design. They tried to discourage her with creative retributions like turning a mouse loose under her shirt or dunking her in a garbage can filled with rubbish and oil paint. Worse of all, one day, they chained her to a stair’s guardrail and flushed the key in a toilet hole.
In contrast, the American students support her work ethic, but she cannot let go of her distrust. As she falls in love with Dickie, other violent episodes surface that keep her away from him, like her knifepoint attack in Morocco and her near-rape aggression in the architecture office where she worked. In the end, she realizes that it is her father’s warning never to trust anybody in life, not even him, that affected her the most. She must let go of that last obstacle to commit to Dickie.
THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Breakout Title
In the Architect’s Eye [A Memoir by May Peyron Spangler]
Amour in Dixie
Parisian Architect in Atlanta
FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Two Comparables
In the Architect’s Eye is a reverse Emily in Paris. The series presents an American girl’s perspective on Paris, while the memoir gives a Parisian girl’s view on the American South. May’s foreign eye creates humorous descriptions of Atlanta’s 1978 over-cooked food, bemusing accent, and gender-segregated bathrooms. Like Emily, May also gets to see herself in the eyes of others. Emily finds Parisians cold to her, especially her co-workers who see her as “la plouc” or a hick. On the other hand, May cannot tell if over-friendly Americans like her or their fantasy of a sophisticated Parisian.
The narrative of In the Architect’s Eye develops around architecture like in George Howe Colt’s The Big House, A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home. Colt’s memoir gives a nostalgic view of his family home, which leads him to chronicle his family, as well as the local history of Cape Cod. Likewise, the narrative of In the Architect’s Eye develops around the Georgia Tech College of Architecture, the history of architecture in Atlanta, and the more general debate on postmodern architecture.
FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: Hook Line
People often ask how I, a Parisian, got to marry a man from a small Georgia town. My memoir, In the Architect’s Eye, tells our unlikely love story, starting in 1978 when I came to study architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Inner Conflict
Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man, who stands naked and occupies a square in one position and a circle in another, embodies May’s conflict. She envisioned her trip as an opportunity to redefine herself within a “square,” symbol for a material world she can construct independently from a past that left her distrustful of men. When she meets Dickie and falls in love with him, the disruptive nature of love forces her to contend with a “circle,” symbol for an infinite universe that, like the Vitruvian Man, cannot fit her earthly square.
Dickie and May increasingly spend time together in the studio, around Atlanta, and on a trip to Savannah. But unsure about his feelings for her, she cannot jump out of her selfish square into the cosmic circle and respond to him. She leaves Atlanta thinking she will never see him again. When Dickie visits her in France, they end up on a Greek island. As May still struggles with her conflicted self, she finally chooses to jump into the vanishing point within her, collapsing the self-imposed perspective. She may never be fully reconciled, but she can hope one day to be at peace with the fact that she will never be at peace.
The secondary conflict comes from the May 68 cultural revolution in France, born from a growing general disillusion toward modernity. In architecture, it resulted in the postmodern debate May discovers at Georgia Tech, as the minimalist functionalism of modern architecture is under the siege of a postmodernism that promotes complexity and plurality. The architecture narrative interweaves May’s story as she realizes that her blasé Parisian attitude may be another byproduct of the postmodern disillusion. This disillusion further pervades her distrust of men, creating a disenchantment with love that she will only escape by recreating herself.
SEVENTH ASSIGNMENT: Setting
Set in the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, the memoir features an architectural studio and its unique communal lifestyle of all-nighters, spirited discussions, charrettes, and juries designed to test the students’ resilience. As May learns about the 1970s postmodern debate, she assesses buildings’ esthetic values, also presented through nineteen author-illustrated vignettes for readers who may be unfamiliar with modern and postmodern architecture styles.
When not faced with a project deadline, May goes out with her studio fellows to Atlanta’s landmarks, such as One-Eyed Jack’s in postbellum Baltimore rowhouses, old-hippie Stein Club in run-down Midtown, or friends’ bungalow houses in one of the historic Atlanta neighborhoods. May travels around Georgia and discovers the barren red-clay countryside and colonial Savannah where her Huguenot ancestors once landed. She finally takes a summer trip around the United States in a Volkswagen minibus with three French girls and tours the buildings she studied at school. When May reaches the Pacific, she decides to go back to Atlanta and see Dickie one last time.