Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

How it gets done: A TBE SHORT

In Excerpts on June 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Napkins, notebooks, etc.

COLLECTED: Border porosity, 2.5-D flash fiction, salt mazes, and a jungle cat

In Excerpts on June 20, 2011 at 7:07 am


TIJUANA / SAN DIEGO—“Last week at the Political Equator 3 conference, which described itself as a “2-day cross-border event” occurring simultaneously in Tijuana and San Diego, something very interesting happened. … For one afternoon only, Mexico formally welcomed international border-crossers, coming south from the United States, into the country at a temporary checkpoint located at the mouth of an underground drain. For this brief phase in international relations, then, the U.S./Mexico border formally included a strange, pop-up entry/exit point. A kind of embassy of the porous. Passport stamps from the experience must surely stand as some of the most unique in the world.” —BLDGBLOG

“On one side of the border there is an emphasis on surveillance while, on the other side, a series of systematic social, economic, and environmental policy failures have created a hazardous living condition for thousands of Tijuana’s poorest. The failure, however, can be felt on both sides, as the watershed pushes the sediment and trash from the illegal settlements in Tijuana’s Los Laureles Canyon directly across the border into the Tijuana River Estuary State Park. While politicians on both sides demagogue, the lack of communication and collaboration between the two nations leads to social and environmental catastrophe. —Quilian Riano, Architect

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LONDON—“The short stories of this book’s title are set in different time periods of London, intentionally locating themselves in the liminal territory between fiction and architecture to provoke an engagement between readers and their two-dimensional counterparts occupying the depicted city. The stories are neither illustrated texts nor captioned images; the collages represent a network of spatial relationships, and the text, which splices genre such as science fiction, magical realism and the fairy tale, a thread that links some of the nodes of that network together. —CJ Lim and Ed Liu, Authors

“In other stories, Alice in Wonderland collides with the Playboy Mansion, which arrives for one night, and one night only, in the parks of London, where ‘underground chambers, replicating the hole through which Alice follows the white rabbit, had been scattered through the garden, capped with circular lenses and mirrors,’ optically augmenting this hedonistic underworld.” —BLDG BLOG

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VANCOUVER—“Canadian studio The Practice of Everyday Design is a newly formed partnership between Antoine Morris and David Long. Together the duo focus on installation art, product design, and architecture. To promote their practice they created the ‘Tiger Tiger’ photo series. The cardboard tiger head was made as a sculptural piece and will now be used for their installation needs. —designboom

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COLOGNE—“Japanese installation artist, Motoi Yamamoto, … uses hundreds of pounds of refined salt piped out of a plastic squeeze bottle to construct what he appropriately calls his Labyrinths. At the end of the installation’s show, visitors are asked to collect the salt from the floor and then everyone travels to the ocean or a river to return it to the water. Yamamoto has constructed close to 30 of these mazes since he started working with salt in 2001. He began working with salt a decade ago after his sister passed away from brain cancer. In Japan, salt is a symbol for purification and mourning, so his drawings and sketches were a way of honoring her and expressing a sense of eternity. —Inhabitat

Evicting the Ghost: A photo essay of Bucharest

In Excerpts on June 16, 2011 at 5:20 pm

For a photo essay over on Strange Harvest, studioBASAR highlights the importance of exploring a place on foot (“Walking the streets of Bucharest can act as an after-school of ambiguous urbanism for lost architects, a low-cost kind of school that teaches how to see the complex, hidden threads that run through some of the obvious narratives of the city”) and examines the temporary, politicized structures of the post-communist ‘retrocession’ in Bucharest.

After the fall of communism these houses underwent a slow and unclear process of retrocession beginning in 1995 in which they were returned to their previous (pre-communist) owners or their heirs.

Sometimes out of abuse, poverty or as a way of protest, these newly evicted people camp on the sidewalks outside their old homes. Their shelters become three dimensional pieces of history and ideology that still haunt the city streets.

This local embodiment of conflictual architecture also brings brutally to the fore the fight for survival, played here in the setting of contemporary city.

Snow Geometries: A TBE SHORT

In Excerpts on June 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

“One of the interesting things we found is that there are dominate geometries in the nature of a snow environment. I would define those as the long horizontal lines of the snow, the tall striping of the trunks in the tree structure, and the wide expanses of sky and mountain. You spend the entire day immersed in the wide palette of those elements, so it became important to bring those elements indoors.”John Maniscalco, on the design of his Sugar Bowl Residence, near Lake Tahoe

Levittown / Los Angeles: Excerpted musings on spatial context

In Excerpts, Thoughts on June 14, 2011 at 10:18 am

My only experience with Los Angeles was during a week-long stretch of alternating rain and drizzle. The sun took a leave of absence and the low, omnipresent rain clouds went wild, cased the joint. It was December and, oddly, it felt like it. Because of this, I don’t feel like I really know the place. But today I finished an essay by Michael Maltzan about LA—its architectural fabric and spatial context. The essay was actually an excerpt from the introduction to a new book by Maltzan and edited by Jessica Varner called No More Play: Conversations on Urban Speculation in Los Angeles and Beyond. It’s not about Maltzan’s work but rather where his work occurs, illustrated through the arresting architectural photography of the well-known Iwan Baan.

Here are some excerpts from the excerpt:

“I was drawn to Los Angeles because it seemed real — perhaps the most real place I had ever known or been exposed to in my life. Multiple cultures and landscapes emerged through the light of the overexposed horizon in flashes of contradiction: fertile and arid, dark and blinding, restrictive and generous — spaces ripe with inconsistency. At first, my reaction to Los Angeles was the opposite of the reaction of most people, who find the relentlessness frightening, numbing or overwhelming. Instead, the sprawling, horizontal city-plane; the peculiar, verdant confusions of nature and garden; the mineral-like opacity of the light; and the constant pace of movement were eerily familiar and comfortable. Los Angeles felt like home.”

I loved the next part because of its absolute otherness. Having an architectural awakening growing up in Levittown? This inaugural icon of mass-produced, post-war suburbs?

Subtle qualities and diverse, ambient experiences stood out in the repetitious and seemingly monochromatic Levittown landscape. I found order and connective threads in the subtly shifting patterns across the façades of the tract houses, the calculated variations of shingle types, the periodic blooms of wild weeds in the storm sumps, the intense light in a place with immature trees, and the landscape of the in-between.”

Maltzan also explores the culture of LA, describing the experience of living in the city as being part of “a nocturnal workshop where the constant experiments leave no time to tidy up and reset the data in order to start fresh in the morning. In Los Angeles, you are both the experiment and the scientist.”

Finally he arrives at a design prescription for the city as it exists right now:

“From Los Angeles’s inception, the city has defined itself by its ability to continuously push the outer edges farther and farther out. Our temperament of expansion, which is tangent to Western thoughts of manifest destiny, resulted in disposable built landscapes and a defined horizon of endless development. The remaining artifact is both the iconic image of Los Angeles and the poster child for arguments about late-capitalist sprawl cities. Now the bounding perimeter of the city has been hit, and perceptual, psychological and physical limits of what it means to be in Los Angeles have arrived. … Architects, urban theorists, landscape architects, designers, planners and city leaders [must] produce forms that represent this city and its culture, as opposed to importing other urban models. Those models will not work in Los Angeles. They will eventually wither in the hard light that outlives all forms here — because only Los Angeles is Los Angeles.”

All photos by Iwan Baan.

A Rainbow in White Rock

In Excerpts on June 10, 2011 at 11:48 am

“There’s a rock at the main intersection of White Rock, New Mexico that’s often repainted, sometimes two or three times a day. My pal Mouser and a couple friends of his took a core sample of the rock to determine the paint thickness…turns out there was five and a half inches of paint on that rock.” 

That’s Jason Kottke. Here’s his friend Mouser:

Robb and I took a 1.5cm core sample of the rock, right through the front face that gets painted most frequently. We were expecting maybe an inch of paint or so.

After pulling the core, we patched the hole and painted over the patch. Then Robb put the core into a test tube and filled the interstitial space with epoxy. The test tube was spun in a centrifuge while the epoxy cured. Next, we took the tube to Dave Mann at High Mesa Petrographics, who cut it in half for us using an ultra-thin diamond saw.

The resulting half test tubes were a bit flimsy and fragile, so we embedded them in epoxy bricks, then returned one to Dave and he polished it down to a flat, matte finish.

From there, I took the core to Dan’s place, where we used his fancy microscope to take a series of photomicrographs (37 in all) along the length, which I then stitched together in software.

In the time it took to prepare the sample, take the photographs, and process them, the rock has been painted eight more times.

Here’s the sample in its beautiful entirety. Screenshots of particularly interesting layers below.

Graphical Landscapes: A TBE SHORT

In Thoughts on June 8, 2011 at 10:31 am

I went back and forth on these. On the one hand, something about these saturated neon landscapes by Jonathan Zawada struck me immediately. On the other hand, they weren’t very complex, just 21st-century topographical pop art.

So I forgot about them. For about 5 minutes. Then for some reason, I went back to the website and looked again. What was so fantastic about them? I couldn’t put my finger on it. I’m not an art connoisseur, so I imagined I was just enthralled by the colors and my love of natural contours. I was being taken advantage of, gullible in my human desire for bright shiny things.

But I dug a little deeper, i.e. skittered across the Web via various blue hyperlinks, and discovered that my gut had been right. The reason these paintings compel is because they are fantastic—literally. The landscapes depicted in vibrant oil don’t exist. The topography Zawada is painting is actually graph data. Multiline graphs are inserted into 3-D modeling software and transformed into renderings, which then become the basic contours of these fictional landscapes.

See for yourself.

Zawada exhibited the paintings at Los Angeles’ PRISM earlier this year.

Music Scene #2: Chicago and Gothic cathedrals as musical scores

In Thoughts on June 7, 2011 at 7:11 am

Timelapse videos are quickly becoming the favorite pastime of the American creative class. And because of their growing ubiquity, they’ll probably fade from the forefront with the same speed at which they ascended. Go the way of the dinosaurs. And Facebook in Pirate. But several I’ve seen in the past week caught my attention.

The first blows my mind because it might be the first time I’ve been made aware, visually, of how we are hurtling and revolving through space, not a fixed point in the universe but a groaning orb in orbit, the constellations our anchors. It also provides the eery realization that our built environment is on the surface of this thing, protruding out at all angles from our planet like spines on a cactus, held on by a scientific concept we can’t quite prove.

The second is this video from Craig Shimala, which presents an image of Chicago mirroring itself and thus appearing to be floating in the clouds. What really intrigues me though—and why it made Music Scene—is how the skyline, when reflected back to itself, takes on the shape of static audio bars, the kind you’d find on Soundcloud. Of course, they’re not acting in this way, but I wonder if you could use them as the blueprint for music, in the way that Blake Carrington used architectural plans of Gothic cathedrals.


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.

‘Trichopterae’ by Hubert Duprat (plus some caddis flies): A TBE SHORT

In Excerpts on June 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Trichopterae is “an unusual artistic collaboration between the French artist Hubert Duprat and a group of caddis fly larvae,” write the people at Cabinet magazine.

“The larvae are remarkably adaptable: if other suitable materials are introduced into their environment, they will often incorporate those as well. … After collecting the larvae from their normal environments, [Duprat] relocates them to his studio where he gently removes their own natural cases and then places them in aquaria that he fills with alternative materials from which they can begin to recreate their protective sheaths. He began with only gold spangles but has since also added…precious stones.”

Todd Saunders is my quantum self: A TBE SHORT

In Thoughts on June 2, 2011 at 7:41 am

In another life, I’m Todd Saunders.

“Using the last of their savings in the early 2000s, [Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen] bought a plot of land in Hardanger, on the edge of one of Norway’s most dramatic fjords. With great respect for the surrounding landscape, the duo, along with carpenter Mats Odin Rustøy, built a minimalistic and off-grid retreat using felled wood from their land.”