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Archive for the ‘Excerpts’ Category

Inside the world of Chicago location scouts

In Excerpts, Thoughts on August 3, 2011 at 9:47 am

The making of The Dark Knight, much of which was filmed in Chicago with the help of the city's location scouts

In the Tribune today, a profile of Chicago’s location scouts—men and women who look at our built environment with very different eyes and can see the kinetic energy of ordinary things like traffic circles, trees, and town homes. A portrait of Joe Amari was especially intriguing:

Amari started as a scout for John Hughes; today, he maintains thousands of location photographs, digitally archived, but also kept as hard copies in green filing cabinets on the third floor of the James R. Thompson Center downtown, sorted by zoos, homes, parks, banks, gymnasiums, heliports, ad infinitum. 

If you’re part of a big-deal production, chances are he’ll give you the official state treatment — which means he’ll send you scores of location pictures, then drive you around in a blue Illinois state van with about 118,000 miles on it, showing off every location to consider.

He’s given that tour to director Christopher Nolan, the Wachowski brothers when they were making the The Matrix sequels, and the producers of the upcoming Iron Man 3.

But the most fascinating detail of all was the fact that Amari is a state employee, working for the Illinois Film Office. The state does have an economic interest in drawing filmmakers so it’s only logical it would employ such a team, but it’s the type of thing I’ve never really thought about.

The crux of the article was the news that the new Superman movie would use Chicago as Metropolis, challenging the assumption that New York would always be home of The Daily Planet.

Al Cohn, a Chicago location scout, takes pictures at North Avenue Beach. Photo: William DeShazer.

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Places as Playmates: Alternative educational architecture

In Excerpts on July 19, 2011 at 6:52 am

Over on Bobulate, Liz Danzico asks what places we consider playmates:

“The simple form of a tree provides inspiration for a kindergarten space and movement as a tool for learning:

‘In “Philosophical Investigations,” Ludwig Wittgenstein writes that what children and foreigners have in common is the absence of knowledge of language and a set of codified rules. This leads them — in the first instance — to learn through the senses and the body. To give the children more freedom to move around the school, the directors of the Fuji Kindergarten requested Tezuka to design spaces without furniture: no chairs, desks or lecterns. As a result, “Ring Around a Tree” offers an architecture where there are no measures taken to constrain space, in order to liberate the body.’

And that includes the floors of the structure itself:

‘The space created by Tezuka seems to have just two floors, but for the children the building has six floors with volumes that are one meter high. The compressed spaces, which can only be reached by crawling, further the freedom of movement and ability to use the body as a means of learning.’

The tree was a “place-playmate” for several generations — a treehouse, a waiting shelter, a climbing space — before recently transformed. What places do we consider playmates, and how might they be, should they be, transformed?”

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

1. POLITICAL EQUATOR 3

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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2. LONDON IN TWO-AND-A-HALF DIMENSIONS

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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 3. ‘TIGER TIGER’

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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4. LABYRINTHS

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.

‘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.”

Shock and Awe: failed landscapes and amphibious homes

In Excerpts, Thoughts on May 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

The other day my friend Dan voiced a thought I’d been having for some time now: ‘It’s pretty fascinating,’ he said from across the table, ‘how disasters can actually create beautiful things too. Like, climate change—there’s gonna be some bad stuff, but there’s always a lot of cool, really beautiful things that come out of our destruction.’ I’m paraphrasing, obviously. I tried to get at his conversational, yet insightful tone, but I don’t think I succeeded.

But I’d been thinking similar things since reading Jared Diamond’s account of the early settlement of Iceland, how after they arrived in their boats, settlers went about raising grains and sheep just as they had in the British Isles. Though at first glance the island appeared to be similar topographically, Iceland was unique in geography and climate, which greatly affected its growing season. Eventually, 96 percent of its forests were gone, and half of its grasslands destroyed. “By the 1800s,” wrote Stephen Leahy in Earth Island Journal, “Iceland had become Europe’s largest desert; the people starved, and the once prosperous country became one of the world’s poorest.”

So when you go look at Iceland’s beautifully carved geography, its vast ravines and barren moonscape, know that it is a wasteland. A product of human failure, the utter destruction of nearly an entire people. Yet we would be telling ourselves only a half-truth if we were only to mourn this landscape. We can’t deny its beauty any more than we can deny the beauty of a photograph taken of a storm that might go on to kill hundreds of people.

Thinking of our ecological future reminded me of a brief description in Jim Shepard’s “The Netherlands Lives With Water.” I’ve read more than my share of urban plans and proposals for when the world begins flooding—some hyperbolic, others frighteningly practical—and this one is one of the better ones, maybe because it’s fictional, but I’m guessing it has more to do with how realistic yet imaginative it is.

“Sea-facing barriers are inspected both by hand and by laser imaging. Smart dikes schedule their own maintenance based on sensors that detect seepage or changes in pressure and stability. Satellites track ocean currents and water-mass volumes. The areas most at risk have been divided into dike-ring compartments in an attempt to make the country a system of watertight doors. Our road and infrastructure networks now function independently of the ground layer. Nine entire neighborhoods have been made amphibious, built on hollow platforms that will rise with the water but remain anchored to submerged foundations. And besides the giant storm barriers, atop our dikes we’ve mounted titanium-braced walls that unfold from concrete channels, leviathan-like inflatable rubber dams, and special grasses grown on plastic-mat revetments to anchor the inner walls.”

Think this is just fiction? Amphibious homes? That’s exactly what Morphosis Architects created in New Orleans.The FLOAT House was built as part of Make It Right’s efforts, led in part by Brad Pitt, to make the Lower Ninth Ward livable again. The people at ArchInnovations explain:

“In the event of flooding, the [FLOAT House’s] chassis acts as a raft, allowing the house to rise vertically on guide posts, securely floating up to twelve feet as water levels rise. While not designed for occupants to remain in the home during a hurricane, this innovative structure aims to minimize catastrophic damage and preserve the homeowner’s investment in their property. This approach also allows for the early return of occupants in the aftermath of a hurricane or flood.”

Nothing is static. The world we know has already been greatly altered by past generations. The next time you look out onto a great plain, ask yourself if it was always barren.