Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Sweden’s Creators Inn takes a new approach to hospitality

In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

Created by Swedish clothing brand Elvine and now-extinct creative agency Next Century Modern (whose website is now an odd, mustard-yellow, self-scrolling list of credits) Creators Inn allows its guests to stay for free—as long as they’re a working creative. Attn: writers, artists, designers, poets, sculptors—if you’re in Gothenburg, Sweden, your payment is simply a ‘valid reason’ to stay at the inn.

According to the hoteliers,

“A valid reason is some sort of creative activity, preferably together with local creators or something that incorporates the city in some way.”

It’s a cool way to support artists in their research, especially those not lucky enough to land a MacArthur Fellowship or other such grants. It also makes you wonder about other spaces or businesses that might be reserved for various professionals. Will there be free hotels for architects visiting the construction site of a foreign project? Will there be food trucks that cater only to visiting sports teams or bands or bicyclists?

With Creators Inn, the idea was also to encourage hospitality:

“By offering visiting creators free accommodation, we hope to remind people of a lovely little thing called hospitality. And in addition to making the visiting creators happy and Gothenburg a more interesting city because of their presence, we hope this simple idea can be exported and implemented around the globe.”

They’re also honest, however, about the idea evolving out of necessity.

“Creators Inn is ever changing. The project is continuously improved and changes over time, due to new ideas, complaints or wishes from ourselves, our guests and you, the homepage visitors.”

That includes locations. At one time, it had three open—two in Gothenburg, one of which was only open through 2008, and one in Stockholm, which closed in December 2009. Despite this, it’s refreshing to see the concept working. The website features blog posts from and Q&As with the visiting creatives that are great reads, especially when you realize that these people aren’t just kids with a few canvases tucked into their backpacks. Guests have included the likes of Magnus Larsson, who stayed at the inn while in town to give a TED talk on architecture, and freelance journalist and film lecturer Anna Battista.


All interior photos by Jonas Mosesson; exterior courtesy of Scandic Malmen; Gothenburg skyline by Magnus Petersson.

Bill Rankin, mapmaker

In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 28, 2011 at 7:19 am

If you’re as fascinated by maps as I am, Bill Rankin—candidate for a dual PhD in science and architecture at Harvard—is someone to follow. His maps, cataloged at Radical Cartography, have been included in numerous exhibitions, including the traveling Experimental Geography (which, if it doesn’t, should include Leah Evans‘ textiles). Above is Chicago by race. Anyone who lives here knows how segregated the city is; Time Out Chicago recently reported that,

While Illinois leads the nation in electing African-Americans to statewide office, we’re actually the third most segregated urban area in America. Among the reasons for the concentration of blacks on the South and West Sides, and whites to the North: historical (and now illegal) housing and lending practices, the concentration of impoverished blacks in public housing towers, and the Interstate Highways Act of 1956, which resulted in expressways like the Dan Ryan being routed through African-American neighborhoods in Chicago, further dividing black and white enclaves.

More maps below. Washington, DC, by income. Below that, a strangely disorienting one that takes a moment to grasp. I’ll let you figure it out.

Freezing the Chicago River for a month-long frost fair

In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Pruned, a blog I’ve recently stumbled upon, began a series last June called “(Im)possible Chicago.” Each is essentially an alternate version of the Windy City, the collection “a series of hallucinatory joyrides through one hundred and twenty five asynchronous Chicagos,” as blog author Alexander Trevi puts it.

Most move a little too quickly to truly compel. They feel like the creative writing exercises of a college sophomore—too neatly odd, too contained by one new idea. All plot and no character development.

But I liked one: (Im)possible Chicago #3: Forever Open, Free & Clear v2.0. Trevi writes:

“Over a century since retail magnate A. Montgomery Ward sounded the battle cry to defend the city’s mandate to keep its lakefront a public common that is “forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstructions whatever,” a similar call to arms was made for the Chicago River, to make it forever free of industries, private developments and sewage.

… Not every building was cleared away, but at least now one can stroll the entire length of the river. In fact, starting at any point, you can walk or bike or jog uninterrupted on both banks. … Along the way, you might encounter kayaking parties setting off from mini-harbors, anglers, community theaters staging avant-garde interpretations of The Odyssey, and triathletes in training. … Every four years, the entire river is artificially frozen for a monthlong frost fair.”

It was the last image I enjoyed most. Growing up in rural Kansas, near a creek that did often freeze over, I can imagine the joy and awe Chicagoans would have if their river were completely frozen over, able to be crossed, played on, skated down—from a family’s home in Ravenswood all the way to State Street.

It wouldn’t be inconceivable. We dye it green once a year. We can freeze it every four.

A TBE SHORT: Building Blocks

In Excerpts on April 23, 2011 at 2:19 pm


Music Scene #1

In Thoughts on April 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Cities have voices. They can yell, moan, whisper. But often we can only hear it with the help of someone else. A translator.

Eric Eberhardt, the creator of You Are Listening To… [], a website that “pairs live streams of police dispatch with vast, ambient music,” is one such person. He favored a tight focus, eschewing the sounds we normally associate with urban areas—layers of human voice, the drone of traffic noise, and the aural glare of sirens—and instead giving us a constant but unheard conversation.

Check it out. If you live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or Montreal, you can listen to your own city. But I recommend the last, regardless of where you are, because police chatter in French is fairly mystical to the Anglophone.


Music Scene is a new series of posts concerning themselves with the intersection of Chicago’s built environment and music, sound, or noise. If you’ve noticed something unique about this small convergence, I’d love to hear about it.

COLLECTED: Two Guns, Ice Wall, Grand Large District, Peter Bynum

In Excerpts on April 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm


DUNKIRK, FRANCE — “The Grand Large district lies in a special urban context: between the city and the sea, between seaside resort aesthetic and port aesthetic, and between residential and communal. It prolongs the overall strategy of the Neptune project, launched in 1991, which aims to orient the city back towards the docks. This transformation of the urban centre has already been broadly achieved. The Grand Large district marks the start of the second phase of Operation Neptune.”Arch Daily, Photos: Stephane Chalmeau

:: :: ::


TWO GUNS, AZ — “Two Guns is an abandoned town off old Route 66 in Arizona. It died in the 1960s when I-40 passed it by. I’m thinking about living there someday.” —James Reeves

:: :: ::


HUDSON RIVER VALLEY, NY — “[Peter] Bynum uses glass as his canvas, following stints with Mylar and Plexiglass, often in multiples where more light can be trapped between layers. The viewer can even use a remote control dimmer to change the level of lighting in some of these illuminated paintings. Everything is Illuminated runs through April 30, 2011 at Bridge Gallery in New York.” —Moco Loco

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CAMBRIDGE, MA — “As part of the Festival of Arts, Science and Technology earlier this spring at MIT, third-year architecture student Yushiro Okamoto designed and built IceWall, a temporary installation facing the Charles River. IceWall is a series of frozen blocks embedded with seeds and stacked on top of each other in a curving spine. As winter turned to spring, the wall would melt into the grass leaving seeds behind to germinate and bloom.”Bridgette Meinhold

REGURGITATED: Nuclear Reconnaissance

In Excerpts on April 15, 2011 at 7:25 am

During the height of the Cold War, anti-aircraft missile batteries surrounded many of the major population centers in the United States. Built under the Project Nike program, these rings of military bases formed defense shields against a nuclear attack from Soviet long-range bombers.

Chicago had a total of 23 batteries — the most among the Nike program cities. … Most of the sites were built on the urban fringes of the city and away from densely populated areas. … But what’s really interesting about these Chicago emplacements (and what really piqued our interest in the very first place) is that three of them were inserted into prime parkland area along the shores of Lake Michigan.

The launch area of Site C-03, for instance, was built on Belmont Harbor; its control area was on Montrose Harbor a little further to the north. Just a few yards away from its arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles were high-rise lakefront apartments. One wonders if residents in those buildings regularly spied on the missiles preening upwards on their launchers during test runs. Surely they must have been treated to the spectacle of a simulated nuclear armageddon.

Another battery, Site C-40, was built on the northern end of Burnham Park, near McCormick Place and Soldier Field. The third, Site C-41, was located in the similarly genteel surroundings of Jackson Park, the very same park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and in an earlier era hosted Daniel Burnham’s White City during the World’s Columbian Exposition.

It’s interesting to think that in the backyard of the Museum of Science of Industry, students from the nearby University of Chicago might have taken leisurely strolls among picturesque lagoons and arcadian meadows while soldiers, in their restricted enclosures, hurriedly scampered about during a readiness drill, the sounds of birds twittering and frolicking mashed up with alarms blaring. Closer to the lake, people threw frisbees around while radar towers looming above them tracked the skies for any incoming apocalypse.

—From “Sunday in the Park with Chicago’s Cold War Missile Defense Shield


In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm

About 400 miles from where tsunami waves slowly consumed the town of Ishinomaki, a facility near Hida, Japan, buried 3,000 feet underground, continued its search for supernova, atmospheric, and solar neutrinos.

neu-tri-no noun

neutrino is an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light, is electrically neutral, and is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected. This makes neutrinos extremely difficult to detect. Neutrinos have a very small, but nonzero mass. They are denoted by the Greek letter ν (nu).

Origin: Italian, from neutro neutral, neuter, from Latin neutr-, neuter

First Known Use: 1934

Rhymes with: Aquino, Latino, merino

You can read more about them if you want, but I have little interest—and not nearly enough time—to understand precisely what Wikipedia is trying so desperately, in more than 25 sub-sections to tell me. I’m interested in this thing—it goes by Super-Kamiokande, Super-K for short—for the architectural and aesthetic onslaught it delivers.

I don’t need to mention the immediate sense of living in a science-fiction graphic novel or the absolute absence of determinable scale. I don’t need to explain the disorienting nature of a 100-foot tall, water-bottomed tank, lined with photomultiplier tubes.

What goes on inside, via W:

A neutrino interaction with the electrons or nuclei of water can produce a charged particle that moves faster than the speed of light in water. This creates a cone of light known as Cherenkov radiation, which is the optical equivalent to a sonic boom. The Cherenkov light is projected as a ring on the wall of the detector and recorded by the PMTs. Using the timing and charge information recorded by each PMT, the interaction vertex, ring direction and flavor of the incoming neutrino is determined. From the sharpness of the edge of the ring the type of particle can be inferred. The multiple scattering of electrons is large, so electromagnetic showers produce fuzzy rings. Highly relativistic muons, in contrast, travel almost straight through the detector and produce rings with sharp edges.

I’m following it a bit until “highly relativistic muons, in contrast, travel almost straight through the detector.” Muons? No idea. An event in 2001, however, I can imagine. And I imagine it would’ve been terrifying had anyone been inside at the time.

On November 12, 2001, about 6,600 of the photomultiplier tubes (costing about $3000 each [8]) in the Super-Kamiokande detector imploded, apparently in a chain reaction as the shock wave from the concussion of each imploding tube cracked its neighbours.

Perhaps the following image comes from the repair work that was done on the 6,000 damaged tubes.

Someone over at BionicBong—a much more learned blog than its name implies—made the observation that “it’s good to see that no matter how hi-tech it gets, things are still done with standard office chairs.” Despite the fact that Super-K was built in 1996, it’s incredible that some of these images, and even the whole aesthetic somehow feels like a 1970s made-for-television movie.

More incredible still is that apparently these neutrino detectors are not all the same. One in Sudbury, Ontario, just 12 hours from here, is perhaps even more other-worldly:

(In the second photo, I enjoy how the white material hangs like a wilting petunia, a long red stamen bursting from its center.)

A world I don’t understand. But one that requires incredible architectural skill. And one that will forever fascinate those of us who will never worry about photomultiplier implosion.

Urban crowd-sourcing, bucket-listing in New Orleans

In Thoughts on April 10, 2011 at 10:08 am

This might be the best plan for blighted neighborhoods I’ve heard yet, mainly because it can be implemented by anyone, it can happen fairly instantly, it engages the community, and it avoids any zoning / reinvestment / ownership issues.

Step 1. Take an abandoned building in a prominent location, one that gets a lot of foot traffic.

Step 2. Cover it in chalkboards or chalkboard paint.

Step 3. Pose a question or fill-in-the-blank, like the one above.

Step 4. Leave chalk.

This is precisely what artist and designer Candy Chang did in New Orleans.



Once the wall has been filled, she washes the board with water and starts all over again.

Even though they disappear, as all street art does, Chang is collecting the responses for a book she wants to put together, a catalog of New Orleans dreams, written on its buildings and abandoned homes.

A TBE SHORT: The Inland Architect, 1883-present

In Excerpts on April 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I used to work in the building above. The Monadnock. 53 W Jackson. I’m still in there about twice a week. For meetings with our design staff. I didn’t know until I discovered the above drawing that it was designed by Burnham & Root, the firm that became a household name thanks to Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City.

Why I bring up the Monadnock now:

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Inland Architect and News Record was a giant in its field. The Chicago-based magazine chronicled the rise of the skyscraper and followed national developments in numerous other building types, from railroad stations to mansions. Now, the Ryerson and Burnham Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago are announcing that they’ve  digitized 5,000 architectural images from the magazine, originally published between 1883 and 1908, and are making them available via the libraries’ digital collection database.

That’s architecture Blair Kamin. He has more if you want it. If not, here’s a spread from the Inland Architect’s inaugural issue, in 1883, ten years before the Columbian Exposition: