October 31, 2010
Beetlejuice House Hoxton Ghost
Still from Beetlejuice, Tim Burton, 1988 (source)


Horror film scripts often implicate designers in hauntings. Either a house is constructed on top of a Native American burial ground, as in the Poltergeist films, or else the architect designed the building using black magic, as in Ghostbusters. In the film Beetlejuice, a haunting occurs in spite of design. The Maitlands, a young couple who die in a horrible car crash, return to their recently purchased rustic Gothic Revival home to find that it has been taken over by an obnoxious married couple from New York City: the Deetz’s. To make matters worse, the Deetz’s have brought their interior designer with them, who through the progression of the film unsympathetically transforms the polite mansion into a postmodern funhouse. In order to halt the house’s transformation, the Maitlands spend the remainder of the film attempting to scare away the intruders, which eventually requires the help of Betelgeuse, a demonic Michael Keaton, who resides in a scale model of the home located in the attic. By the end of the film, it is unclear which is more horrific, the undead that haunt the home or the modern architecture that is grafted onto it… more


The Ghost of Hoxton Hall, London, 1985 (source)


When I was last living in London, my balcony looked past numerous council houses and Kingsland Road, towards the Geffrye Museum. My close proximity soon lead to a visit to the museum where I learned that it once served as an alms house, built in 1714, intended to care for the aged in their twilight years. This knowledge lead me to wonder if this building was ever host to ghosts. While some quick research showed that the Geffrye Museum had remained free from hauntings, my findings proved that there appeared to be a ghost much closer to home in the adjacent Hoxton Music Hall, with which my building shared an entrance.


This Grade II listed Victorian saloon is the last surviving music hall from this era, hosting concerts since 1863. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of a child who fell from the balcony while watching her mother perform. As if the discovery of a ghost next door was not frightening enough, there are some who say that on a night like tonight one can hear the faint screams of a spectral child falling to her death, eternally confined to haunt the place of her demise.


E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva


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October 24, 2010
windmill barbican
Windmill by a River, Jan van Goyen, 1642 (source)


In their 1696 Caractères des Passions, Charles Le Brun and Sebastian Le Clerc engraved a human atlas: a guide to the emotional qualities accompanying each facial make-up. As they analyzed the distance between eyes and nose, the width of a mouth, the length of a forehead, these illustrators-cum-scientists claimed the face was a key to the soul and that through close observation one might understand the internal through the specifically superficial.


Physiognomy, ‘the art of judging human character from facial features’, the interpretation of a face with the aim to reveal some internal quality, supposes that the superficial indicates a deeper truth. An equivalent phenomenon might exist on the level of geography, with the peaks and valleys of a landscape determining the nature of its residents. Analyzing the slope of a hill much the way one might a nose, the geographer could measure and extrapolate, making connections between things external and internal. In Holland, much is made of the sea, the dikes, and the flat land rolling on, one kilometer after another. Is flatness somehow indicative of national character, does it reflect the level-headedness of the Dutch, and do a people take on the qualities of their natural world, of their inclines and their flora? If so, the flat lands make for… more


The Barbican Estate, The City of London (source)


The Barbican Estate is a large scale residential complex in The City of London, which was originally built as public housing, with 2,014 flats, executed in the late modernist style of Brutalism.


The residents of the Barbican have found a way to soften and compliment the grand, but at times, overwhelming effect of their architecture by growing individual gardens which cascade over their balconies weeping into the courtyards below. Encouraged by the Estate’s long established Barbican Horticultural Society, green and blue tinged plants climb and hang, often in the form of gazanias, solanums, hydrangeas, loniceras, jasminums and lampranthus. These are accented with pots, which may be filled with abutilons, zantedeschias, begonias, sunflowers, dahlias, gaillardias and a variety of herbs. The abundant flora attract fauna such as wrens, blackbirds, ladybirds, butterflies, spiders and bats.


Through the act of gardening, this beautifully blunt architecture is transformed. The inner life of each individual flat is revealed through a simple gesture that expresses the individuality of each owner. This effect breaks up what could be read as a nearly monolithic façade into individualized modules that communicate as a community.


Rachel Engler

Erandi de Silva


1 comment » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


October 18, 2010
liberalarts building
Allegory of the Seven Liberal Arts, Marten de Vos, 1590 (source)


“Lagunita–Spanish for ‘little lake’–is named for the neighboring part-time lake and is one of Stanford’s most historic residences. This beautiful, Mediterranean-style complex, built in the nineteen-thirties and renovated in 1998, consists of three small, four-class houses, and two three-class houses, arranged around a picturesque central courtyard and dining commons.


Lag (affectionately known as ‘log’) is divided into two sides: East Lag and West Lag. East Lag is home to Naranja and Ujamaa. Eucalipto, Adelfa, and Granada make up West Lag. Residents enjoy their own lounge, common areas, an outdoor trail that strolls the perimeter of nearby Lake Lagunita, and a grassy field across the street. The house names are also unique: Three names are Spanish for different trees: Eucalipto (eucalyptus), Granada (pomegranate), and Naranja (orange); Adelfa is Spanish for oleander. Ujamaa is a Swahili name for ‘extended family’ or ‘familyhood’ and consists of two houses originally called Olivo (olive) and Magnolia (magnolia).


Throughout the larger residence, each individual house develops their own distinct community–in particular, Ujamaa is home of the African-American theme program, and Adelfa is a Focus House with an interactive and in-depth Writing program.”


Residence Halls Overview, Stanford University



In a lecture videocast on October 16, 2010 at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, an architect now holding the Norman R. Foster Professorship of Architectural Design at Yale University, spoke of the beloved liberal arts model of American education.


The liberal arts model…more


Building, Matteo Thun, 1983


We can’t help who we are attracted to, we have no control over which person draws our eye in the tube carriage, just as we are not always in control of our thoughts, they wander off without us to whatever takes their fancy, day dreaming precisely at the moments when we should probably be concentrating, working on something. It can be irritating being turned back into a lusty teenager through no desire of your own, or drifting off unprompted into puerile, fanciful worlds of escape in your head, but on the other hand it is those moments when something truly singular sparkles into life.


It is in those moments that our rational minds briefly lose control of our waking instincts, momentarily relinquishing authorship over our thoughts, letting our bodies and our intuition guide us. It is right then, if we pick up a pen or a pencil, and use all the skills at our disposal to take our flight of fancy seriously and frame it, capturing it, that we can extract from the ebb and flow of our daily lives -always so concerned with satisfying the judgments of others- a pure cross section of ourselves, a distilled fragment of subjective creation.


The sketch and the Capriccio, the former capturing the fleeting structure of an idea as it passes by, the latter being the flesh added to its bones, the full flight of fancy, the private and passionate love affair between the artist/architect and his imagination, drawn out and expanded into vignettes of autoerotic intensity, which if pursued with enough zeal begin to stand on their own as inspirational artifacts, intriguing specimens from the intimate obsessions of our fertile minds. It is in the caprice of our fancy–the beautiful face we cannot stop staring at, the ideal place we keep trying to imagine–drawn out and expanded, that we will find the coming together in one space, in one scene, compressed, of the very subjective ground of our anterior architectural instinct.


Rachel Engler

Adam Nathaniel Furman


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October 13, 2010
zoo bio
Penguin Pool ramps designed by Tecton, London Zoo, 1933-34 (source)


For someone with a natural aversion to synthetic materials (too much teenage pocket-money spent on Salvation Army polyester separates) it can sometimes be difficult to revel in the damningly artificial. And quite literally (uncomfortably) so: garments dating from the late 70s simply lack the sweat-wicking technologies of contemporary fabrics.


Yet every creation of the mind bears elements of the synthetic; from fashion to chemical engineering to fiction. Unfortunate products of man’s industry notwithstanding, the significance of the synthetic lies in its form as a verb, that is, as a process. Irrigation, industrialization and urbanization all require ongoing attempts to wrest control from nature, on the order of tipping the entropic equation to favor organization over chaos. As any city-dweller understands, the urban condition is above all unnatural. But of the ‘concrete jungle’ environments, the zoo figures to be most problematic.


László Moholy-Nagy’s 1936 film, The New Architecture of the London Zoo, features the modernist pavilions designed by Tecton for the Zoological Society’s penguins and gorillas. His intertitles silently affirm: ‘The new buildings provide a hygienic organic setting, the simplicity of which best displays the natural characteristics of the animals’, revealing the hubris and contradiction of early 20th century understandings of physiology. Whereas hygienic and organic might be easily mistaken for polar opposites, the artifice of the situation is summed up by its chief purpose for display. Thus, the Round House and Penguin Pool are embraced as entirely synthetic structures. Rather than approximate any naturally occurring habitat, Tecton’s pavilions paradoxically (even dialectically) synthesized two irreconcilable notions: unobservable nature and spectacle… more


Bioform, Heather Roberge, 2008 (source)


‘Designers may now invent material qualities that produce what can be called ‘synthetic materiality’. This is a constructed set of surface effects resulting from the mixture of actual material properties and geometry induced properties of digital operations. These synthetic materialities are immediately sensible and exhibit unusual qualities due to the co-mingling of form and representation. Drawings inhabit form, first as geometric, sensible matter, and second, as tool paths drawn by machines. Actual material properties become a medium for the dissemination of effects achieved through digital means. In the most captivating mixtures, the real and the virtual become so intertwined that one perceives a new synthetic materiality.’

—Heather Roberge (Log N.17)



An acute attention to the phenomenal language of shadow, light, tactility and texture is found in a number of primarily West Coast based architects including Heather Roberge, Florencia Pita and Lisa Iwamoto. These architects are presently producing work which is intended to be devoid of meaning and induce a response by stimulating the senses.


While the tools to render similar architectonic effects and affects has been in development for many centuries, encompassing the work of the Mughal designers to those of the Alahambra to Gaudi and so on, it is the findings of late postmodern theory and contemporary technology that sets apart this current iteration of plastic production. Through the synthesis of abstract forms, current digital design software, tooling technology and various materials, architecture has the potential to be simultaneously more specific and abstract than it has ever been.


Kari Rittenbach

Erandi de Silva


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October 8, 2010
lucy kumbhmela
Lucy’s Service Counter, Charles Schultz (source)


Though not in fact shelter, the counter serves as the most fundamental structure of exchange. Extending along a horizontal plane floating in between waist and chest height, it is not limited to the domestic; its smooth top indicates the interior of the narrowest taxi stand or noodle shop to be actively trading in goods and services.


Along with its ideological variants for the kitchen, including the optimally compressed work surface fitted into Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s Taylorist designs, there are looser definitions: the bank teller window, the service desk at the British Library controlling access to closed stacks, a younger sister’s occasional lemonade stand.


When properly functional, the counter’s planarity marries opposing expectations. What is ‘over-the-counter’ is legally tendered, a deal openly agreed on both sides. Illicit affairs upset this fragile equilibrium easily, and it would be unthinkable to find the panic button anywhere but below the counter’s ledge. This duplicitous power structure lends political potence, too. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and the late David Richmond’s open challenge in 1960, which localized national discontent and spurred a radical civil rights movement, was critically situated at a Greensboro lunch counter.


Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India, 2001 (source)


Home for winter break my freshman year of college, I took a job as a pedestrian counter for the Portland Chamber of Commerce. My tallies of the number of people approaching a street corner from each direction would be used to help calculate the retail value of commercial properties. I was given a small piece of plywood with four handheld counters attached to it—one counter for each direction—and asked to sit outside a downtown property for eleven hours, counting the confluence and the becoming public. My mission, it seemed, was to quantify transience and to pin down whatever was left over; to mine the uses of the city, to harness the consumption and replacement of space and skim the accumulated presences off the top. Though the numbers on the counter precisely indexed the number of individual passersby, the process of counting was really just massive speculation: an estimation of potential profile were something worthy of attention to appear, an effort to fold unconscious or tactical uses of city spaces into an overall strategy for development. The default mode of the city within the context of this action was passivity, the presumed subject consumed by tunnel vision or a blank stare, an unengaged individual occupying an inattentive non-place.


While my counting activity was used to generate speculative future values… more


Kari Rittenbach

David Knowles


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October 6, 2010
ludlow tesco
47 and 49 Ludlow Street, Photo by Author, New York City, c. 1900 and 2000 Crossroads in Peckham, Photo by Author


For a moment, let’s set aside so-called ‘Architecture with a capital A’. One could at least argue (though by no means conclusively) that the best of today’s work is as good as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, one would be hard-pressed to make a similar case for the state of today’s average, middling, and just OK buildings—in other words, the places 99% of us spend 99% of our time.


Compare two New York City facades: a tenement building built c.1900 and the apartment building built one hundred years later next door. Both are unambitious, market-driven, mediocre works. So how to explain the obvious disparity between them in quality, refinement, and (yes) beauty? Any answer, of course, involves much more than architecture, and must take into account a contemporary society that seldom nurtures craft and long-term investment. Architects, however, cannot ignore the decline of mediocre architecture if the majority of our work is to retain any shred of long-term value. A few distinguished works of Architecture are fine, but a world of good mediocre buildings would be far, far better.


Thankfully, most of our lives are played out through a chain of objectively unimportant, low level events that are on the whole unremarkable in the grand scheme of things, quotidian. In the same way, we tend to grow up, live, work, fall in love, have families, and fade away in entirely ordinary, run-of-the-mill architecture, built stuff that gets the job done, that holds in the heat and humidity in the local pool, and manages to pass planning because it has a gable roof and red brick façade, stuff that answers similar questions in similar ways in a million different variations from Perth to Plymouth.


If you took a picture of any of this low level architecture that fills Britain, the image would present a depressingly mute mediocrity, nothing but the complete factual averageness of the building or space which, if of recent vintage would no doubt end up, to howls of anguish, on Bad British Architecture. But architectural photography severs the container from what it contains, it shows the aesthetic failure, but not how that failure is really a triumph… more


Jacob Reidel



Adam Nathaniel Furman


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October 1, 2010
cell bulge
Soft Cell (source)


In 1839 Dr John Connolly, an employee of Hanwell Asylum, England, devised a means to end the use of mechanical restraint within psychiatry with the introduction of cushion-lined, soundproof cells where patients could be confined.


The hard plastered wall—the familiar boundary that defines and protects our vicinity… more


Pouring a Quilted Wall, Kenzo Unno (source)


Fabric forming produces inflated pillowy concrete. The flexibility of the mold reveals the malleable moments in the life of the material. As the woven container holds the mixture of cement and aggregate, restraints act with force to tame the mass as it bulges. In this instance, mold and material work together to create form, resulting in the hardened appearance of softness.


Joy Natapa Sriyuksiri

Erandi de Silva


1 comment » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


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