Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

From an interview with a mild-mannered maniac

In Excerpts on February 24, 2011 at 8:00 am

“The idea that Manhattan might someday be compressed into a giant fossil, and that it will be buried in marine rock somewhere, is absolutely spine-tingling. What would it be like to be the person who then discovers it? And is that archaeology or paleontology? It’s like those fossilized forests that have been found deep inside coal mines—but imagine now that you instead find the black, sprawling fossils of Shanghai or Moscow, embedded in rocks nearly a mile below the surface of the earth, 99 million years from now.”

Interview. Photo.

Time | Nature | Solitude | What am I longing for?

In Thoughts on February 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

What am I longing for?

Every few weeks, maybe every four or five, I remember a building, though it’s more a structure, or a space, or a container than a building. But I go to it. And I look.

And I wonder: What am I longing for?

Is it the solitude? The removal of myself from day-to-day distractions?

Is it nature? Do I yearn for the disorganization found in the wild parts of the world?

Is it time? To set up shop and create, without the constraints of 8 o’clock, noon, midnight?

Whatever it is, there must be something in this space—and its environs—that promises it.




People textures: niche industry of human fictions

In Excerpts on February 21, 2011 at 8:08 am

Last Saturday, my friend Dan asked if I’d seen the New York Times story in which columnist Rob Walker talks to Geoff Manaugh about “people textures,” the small, always pleasant, neatly fictional people inserted into architectural renderings. I had, but his bringing it up prompted another read.

Here are some of the best bits:

In the past…people were often completely absent from architectural representation, so letting figures into the frame humanized and presented buildings in a social context. “The funny thing is how it has become its own subgenre,” [Manaugh] continued. “You can take the most random rendering and just stick in a few people—someone listening to an iPod, somebody reading a newspaper, maybe a couple holding hands, some guy playing an acoustic guitar. Suddenly it’s meant to make the entire building beyond critique; it’s already part of our city.”

In a sense, then, people textures became a form of rhetoric, whether they seem drawn to the buildings they’re placed near or even if they seem oblivious to them in a way that suggests a new structure is a natural part of the streetscape. “You tend not to see people spraying graffiti or a homeless person sleeping in the alley,” Manaugh observed. “Or rats.” [But] every so often, student projects will play with the form—Manaugh recalls examples involving people textures in gas masks or having sex or urinating on the street.

The observation about rats is interesting, only because it’s one more item in a growing cultural catalog that will be published here soon. In the meantime, are you in need of a job? Are you a visual artist or graphic designer? There might be a future career for you in people textures:

There is a small people-texture industry. Realworld Imagery sells CDs containing, for instance, 104 “Business People,” for insertion into renderings, for about $150 a disc. A site in Britain, Falling Pixel, offers, among others, “120 Casual People” (which sounds like a passable indie movie) for about $70.

This last image is a photo of an exhibit by BIG. Their people textures? Legos.


Second photo.

Chicago’s quirky curbside conventions

In Thoughts on February 16, 2011 at 11:45 am

A unique quirk of Chicago’s built environment is its system of “dibs.” In a way as childish as it sounds, during times of immense snow cover—like that following this year’s Groundhog Day Blizzard—people will place random objects in their parking places, saving them until they return.

Objects can be anything; mostly you see chairs, tubs, garbage cans, or crates. Sometimes laundry baskets (which we resorted to). I saw in one photo what appeared to be a giant, stuffed panther. Not taxidermied—Tigger-like. Now, as temperatures hit nearly 50 degrees, people are finally forgoing the etymologically obscure practice. But given that it’s only February, I doubt this is the last time we’ll the streets littered with odds, ends, and other paraphernalia.


Photo. More.

Trans-Office Communications System #3

In Thoughts on February 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Sean Conner‘s most recent dispatch: “FORECAST: YETIS.” Except without the colon because he ran out of room.

There’s been no word from the 7th floor since initial contact, but we received another reply from our as-yet-unidentified 9th-floor correspondent: “ViVA!” Again with the one lowercase letter…

If Sean’s forecast is correct, we’ll probably seek higher ground via our anonymous neighbor. How we’ll cross the street is a question we’ve not yet answered.

That endangered breed of courage

In Excerpts, Thoughts on February 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

In 1849, the above man wrote:

“I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and bones, to be locked up.”

More than 150 years later, the man below faces an even more severe sentence for an act of civil disobedience.

This is Tim DeChristopher, a 28-year-old economics student now known as Bidder 70. He faces not one night, but up to ten years in prison. His offense: bidding in an auction. The auction which would’ve turned hundreds of thousands of acres from the US government over to oil and gas companies in southern Utah. DeChristopher describes why he disrupted the auction:

“…There was a lot of objection to it on a lot of grounds. One, that it was for lands right outside of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Another big objection was that the Bureau of Land Management wasn’t following their own rules. They hadn’t done an adequate environmental impact statement, they hadn’t talked to other environmental agencies like the National Park Service.”

DeChristopher walked in, started driving up the prices, and eventually began winning parcels. By the time they stopped the auction and federal agents approached him, he’d won 14 parcels for $1.8 million. Now, facing up to 10 years in prison on two felony charges, his trial is set for February 28—two weeks from tomorrow, Valentine’s Day. GOOD Magazine reports that he won’t go in alone.

Friends and supporters of Bidder 70’s cause will be gathering in Salt Lake City on the day the trial begins to show solidarity for his peaceful act of civil disobedience and call attention to the greater injustices of climate change and fossil fuel extraction. Dr. James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Redford, and Terry Tempest Williams co-wrote a letter calling for all concerned citizens to “stand with” Bidder 70.

Civil disobedience is a rare breed of courage, its consequences real and often elongated. With Egypt in the foreground of today’s contemplations, I wonder what form, aside from DeChristopher’s bid-skewing, civil disobedience can take in the US. Henry David Thoreau, more than 150 years ago, knew that there would be moments, perhaps lifetimes, where such actions would need to be taken.

“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”

It seems unlikely that DeChristopher will not prevail at the trial, given the weight of his supporters and the subsequent overturning of the leases in question:

“The irony is that when the new administration took over, the new head of the Interior [Ken Salazar] overturned all the leases—not just the leases that I won, but all the others from that auction as well. He’s made it very clear that the auction itself was illegal, and that the whole process was corrupt. He’s used very bold language to describe it.”

While trust in government is hard to have, and perhaps nearly always foolhardy, it is nice to know that, in this case, official, government-sanctioned justice came on the heels of DeChristopher’s bold statement. I have little hope this will happen often, but we need such models to even begin imagining any regularity to such outcomes.

Kamin on Cairo

In Excerpts on February 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Been busy working on a piece for ALARM, so I’ll just throw this up.

Teaser: “The point, made with tremendous force by today’s events in Egypt, is this: The Web doesn’t supplant the public square; it pushes people to it.”

Museums drown in possibilities

In Thoughts on February 9, 2011 at 11:46 am

On a recent trip to a frozen Kansas City, to see our friend Derek—who very recently became a surprise contributor to this blog—we visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. As we walked in, Derek asked if we’d featured the Bloch Building, Steven Holl’s half-submerged addition, in our magazine. I told him we hadn’t.

What I didn’t know was that we were about to.

In our upcoming issue, we begin a 3-part feature story on sustainable design in museums, and the Bloch Building concludes Part 1. It’s a good story overall, the main premise being that in a down economy, out-of-work architects are keeping themselves busy with some fantastic work for institutions like museums and universities. This work also tends to incorporate environmentally conscious design.

But literally hours after editing the museum story, I’m on the train, opening up Blair Kamin’s Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age, and I read something disconcerting:

“A little-noticed pattern repeated after architecture critics cheered each building’s opening and then departed for the next extravaganza: attendance and revenues didn’t match projections, and once the recession dramatically reduced the value of endowments, the sponsors of the new edifices were forced to lay off staff and cut hours as well as operating expenses. At Steven Holl’s partly underground addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, cost-cutting literally meant dimming the beauty of the addition’s proudest feature—the glass pavilions, or lenses, that drew daylight into the galleries and shone like jewels at night—for 14 hours per week. If you built it, they didn’t necessarily come.”

Others had a different story, but admitted that Holl’s Bloch Building wasn’t the boon to the Nelson-Atkins that the Modern Wing was to the Art Institute. Perhaps Montreal’s Museum of Possibilities had, if not the, at least one answer.

“The ‘Museum of Possibilities’ was created for one day during Montréal’s city-wide open day for Museums. Members of the public could pick up a piece of paper and write down what they would like to have happen in that space in the future. Visitors entered the field of balloons to add an ‘entry’ to the museum of possible things which might happen on site. People also received a set of stickers so they could wander through the Museum of Possibilities and add a vote of approval for possible future events. This voting helped to turn ‘possibilities’ into probabilities and gave the client concrete data on public interest.”

Even as this project’s inventive creators designed a way to build precisely what the public wants, another new project may only further stymie museum attendance: Google’s Art Project, released last Tuesday.

Explore museums from around the world, discover and view hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share your own collection of masterpieces.

I will not scoff at such a thing; this truly historic endeavor will no doubt be an unrivaled resource for art students and an exploratory map for enthusiasts. But I will ask: Does every item in our real-world inventory need a digital back-up? With a few clicks I can stand before van Gogh’s “Portrait of Joseph Roulin” (and can link to it). But I am not standing there. I am slumped in my office chair, drinking office-supplied Dunkin Donuts coffee. And the computer-game movement, the washed-out colors, the blurred edges all compose a feeling that is nearly the complete opposite of actually strolling through the MoMA.

Would the utter violence of Ray Metzker‘s photographs have come through had I been struggling to face them during a “Google-powered” excursion instead of in the dark corridor of the Bloch Building’s special exhibit hall?

The same questions were brought up by a similar Google endeavor a few years ago: Google Earth. Is it better to have at least seen a photo of Iceland than to have never seen it at all? And so I ask now: Is it better to simulate a trip to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence than to never know it exists?


[Photos: Steven Holl Architects (top), kelseysnook]


In Excerpts on February 7, 2011 at 10:37 am

Rate of dissolution

In Excerpts on February 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Mike Chino, from Inhabitat, on the end of The World:

[Given] Dubai’s stratospheric rise over the past few years, it may come as no surprise that several of its projects have flown too close to the sun. The World was envisioned as the ultimate luxury retreat: for an exorbitant price you could lay claim to your own private island—a corner of the globe to call your own. … [But] a property tribunal recently cited evidence that the islands have begun to erode and the waterways that separate them are dissolving due to the influx of sand.

The irony is palpable. The Telegraph has more.