Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

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?”

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.

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.

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.”


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.

Several things under the surface (including extravagant subterranean playplaces)

In Excerpts, Thoughts on May 20, 2011 at 10:02 am

I don’t know why I’m fascinated by the above rendering. It’s a plan for what Anna Rita Emili, Barbara Pellegrino, and Massimo Ilardi call Well House. It’s a new type of house, sunken and centered around a pool, with two levels below the living area used for collecting rainwater and serving a geothermal system.

It’s innovative, but it also feels sinister. Perhaps it’s because it too closely approximates the feeling of being trapped at the bottom of a real well. Or because it feels more like a prison than a home. Or because while the shape in the water is meant to be human, it’s vague enough to be a shark or something altogether more vicious.

Thinking about this reminded me of a part in The BLDGBLOG Book, which devotes 65 pages to “the underground,” in which Manaugh quotes a London Times writer reporting on the growing existence of extravagant complexes built beneath the homes of the super-rich. Manaugh writes:

This urge toward subterranean architectural eccentricity is transforming the very earth beneath London. We learn, for instance, that “billionaire Russian oligarchs, private-equity traders, and hedge-fund managers are engaged in a multimillion-pound game of one-upmanship as they vie with each other to dig ever bigger, wider, and deeper extensions.” Digging also helps London’s super-rich to avoid strict planning and conservation laws, as the houses they’ve been extending into the earth are usally listed structures and thus cant be visibly altered. Many of these houses thus now “have more space below ground than above it,” we read.

Later he quotes a whole passage about one man’s ridiculous set-up.

“One home in north London even has a bespoke chute covered in a special slippery paint, which enables the owner, who loves swimming first thing in the morning, but hates the fuss of dressing, to step out of bed and slide straight into the water a couple stories below.”

No doubt most of us dreamt of something like this as a kid. Rope ladders from third-story towers down into secret basement passageways. Firemen’s poles into underground playgrounds. Etc.

The theme of our downward direction brought to mind one of the funnier things I’ve seen in a while. My friend Donnie animated this short clip as part of his Bleep-Bloop comics series. Well done, Donnie.

Northern Europe Migrants Organisation

In Excerpts, Thoughts on May 14, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Is it possible to determine the size of a website, or its placement among the seemingly infinite and erratic pages inhabiting this mysterious non-space? If so, it is an infinitesimal nook that N.E.M.O. occupies, tucked away—and necessarily so—in some back corner of the Internet.

N.E.M.O. is the Northern European Migrants Organisation, a group helping ferry immigrants to the UK and using what appear to be old World War II bunkers to do it. A trip from Calais to the British Coast costs 290 euros.

The whole thing is a fiction actually, created by architecture students Felix de Montesquiou and Hugo Kaici. But they created the Web portal and everything; the ticket shown above was my confirmation for the boat that left yesterday. My seat was 1D. I was able to get English lessons while en route.

But the point of it was to focus on designing the “locus of the organisation within the architectural vocabulary of the WW2 bunker to camouflage the real function of this secret base.” I’d say they succeeded.

Also, on the website, they’ve posted a catalog of real WWII bunkers they used for inspiration. Check it out, and while you’re at it, book your trip to freedom.

Anyone But Frank: A TBE SHORT

In Excerpts on May 4, 2011 at 8:30 am

An Iowa-based philanthropist and architecture aficionado has offered a $300 million reward to any city anywhere in the world that dares to hire someone other than Frank Gehry to design its gleaming new art museum.

The Wall Street Journal story is here.

A TBE SHORT: Building Blocks

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