November 29, 2010
venoco smoker
Venoco Oil Derrick, Beverly Hills High School, Los Angeles, 2001 (source) Teen Smoker (source)


In 1900, a moderately sized oil field was discovered beneath the future city of Beverly Hills, California. By the 1920s Beverly Hills was quickly developing into one of the most exclusive and affluent regions in America. With the price of oil and land rising at an equally voracious pace, oil drilling operations were forced to adapt to an increasingly urban context. By 1927 this context included Beverly Hills High School, inspiration for 90s teen dramas Clueless and Beverly Hills, 90210. The institution sits adjacent to a drilling island run by Venoco Oil, pumping an estimated 400 barrels from beneath the school per day. Royalties from the drilling translate into roughly $300,000 for the school per year, covering a sizable portion of operational expenses. In a famous episode of Saved by the Bell, inspired by the drilling at Beverly Hills High, Bayside High (located a short distance away in the Pacific Palisades) is offered substantial royalties for allowing drilling beneath their premises, provoking an ethical breakdown in Jessie Spano after she contemplates the environmental implications. In an effort to assuage such fears and to improve frayed public relations, in the 90s, at the height of the teen drama craze… more


Numerous teens in and around Toronto take up smoking in their high school years and find themselves having to appropriate a space in order to light-up while at school. Despite the Smoke-Free Ontario Act which prohibits smoking in and around secondary institutions, outdoor spaces on and off official school property, which are located beyond the sight lines of teachers, are regularly commandeered. Patrols carried out by local Tobacco Enforcement Officers are accompanied by potential fines that may amount to as much as $5000 and may be coupled with suspensions. However, these penalties are often not enough to discourage determined teenagers from laying claim to a space. With names like ‘The Pit’, ‘The Bridge’ or ‘The Corner’, these niches can be found situated in an impression along a hill, on a pedestrian path beneath an underpass or in a nearby nook, respectively. They typify the sorts of enclaves which are commonly utilized for underage smoking: singular banal elements of urbanity which are identified as proper nouns, catapulting them to the status of unique entities. These inventions and adaptations of youth are consistently occupied and utilized in defiance of the risks they impose.


E. Sean Bailey



Erandi de Silva


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November 26, 2010
dollhouse upskirt
The Doll’s House of Petronella Oortman, Rijksmuseum, c. 1686-1705 (source) Waist Down, Prada Transformer, Seoul, 2009 (source)


In Amsterdam it is possible to walk from one miniature house to another.


The Rijksmusem’s dollhouses are precious, cross-sectioned structures, enclosed in glass vitrines and lit appealingly. They represent a particularly lush period of Dutch history, one which is known as the Golden Age. The period was not so-called without reason; its title refers to a time when homes were well-furnished with elegant fabrics, lined with spectacularly patterned wallpapers and well-stocked with preserves and meats. There was also enough money for miniaturization—for tiny, expensive, scaled versions of full-sized structures.


These dollhouses were not toys, but rather, the possessions of wealthy women. Serving as elaborate parlor tricks, they allowed a woman the pride of a home in a state of permanent perfection. Rather than drag guests up notoriously steep stairs, past potentially unmade beds, the Dutch hostess might display the refinement of her decoration in miniaturized form. Condensation reinforced a sense of possession by connecting super-vision with ownership.


Besides the famous Golden Age of Holland, the period which perhaps places second in a tourist’s knowledge of the Dutch capital is that of the Second World War. This era’s local centerpiece is the Anne Frank House—her hiding place somehow conflated with her home, in the museum’s misleading title—which attracts crowds daily. Lines of people assemble, along the canal, to walk through a now mostly empty attic space.


While the annex’s… more


Skirt lengths, shapes and drapes often embody social messages, and since its invention, the mini-skirt has been seen as both a symbol of liberation and of control. Originally introduced as sportswear, because of the freedom of movement they allow, by the 1960s they were popularly adapted by women as tools of self-empowerment. Following this period however, minis tended to be seen as complicit in the objectification of women.


With these sorts of narratives in mind, Miuccia Prada carefully selects the cuts of her skirts. Skirts have consistently played a significant role in Prada’s repertoire since the inception of her women’s ready-to-wear collection in 1988. However, in lieu of the mini, she favors lengths that land around the knee. In the typical Prada collection box pleats, kick pleats, and gathers are variously configured on A-line and full skirts — these often appear alongside a smaller selection of pencil-skirts. Her skirts are built to perform as devices of subtle expression, employing vaguely matronly designs that heavily signify bourgeois ideals of feminine propriety—a combination which is generally interpreted by fashion’s pundits as some loose synthesis of subversion, politics and intellect.


In Prada’s Waist Down exhibition, one of the fashion house’s many collaborations with AMO, this sense of politesse is thoroughly eschewed. Numerous skirts are mounted on motorized hangers which send their hems high into the air. Their display is further aided by the placement of mirrors on the floor, giving the viewing public a glance of what lies beneath. Without relying on the revealing qualities of the mini, Prada and AMO have developed a way to engage the skirt in the act of display.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


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November 24, 2010
ella ancestors
‘Ella: How the Years Sneak Up on Us Analysis Chart’, Photo by John Engstead, 1961 (source) Touching the Ancestors, Image by Author, Clandon Park, 2010



A piece of furniture must contain only 25% of its original material to be considered authentic. It is not unusual for a set of four chairs to be made from a single chair—approximately one from each leg.


In China there is a temple that is routinely dismantled and reconstructed afresh, each element being newly replaced every twenty years or so. The slight variations from one temple to the next over time mean that no one actually knows what the original looked like.


Fashions in the practice of conservation come and go. By the same standard plastic surgeons are now being asked to revise their earlier work as it is too Britney or Pamela. One day these patients will regret this change of heart as these classics come back into favor.


If one searches for ‘Palestine’ in Google Maps a map with the word ‘Israel’ appears—the word ‘Palestine’ is not included. Some maps of Northern Ireland do not include Southern Ireland but instead show the area as an expanse of sea. Nicaragua recently deployed troops to the Calero Islands after Google Maps stated they were no longer part of Costa Rica. When Costa Rica objected, the Nicaraguan Vice President pointed out that one cannot invade their own land. The unresolved dispute has been taken to the Hague.


There are approximately 6000 languages in use today, over 3000 of them are likely to disappear by the year 2100.


In the Wieliczka salt mines of Poland, cavernous rooms, including a fine chapel with life size sculptures of Christ, have been carved out of the rock salt. The tourists that visit the site are asked to resist their urges with polite signs, instructing those who are tempted, not to lick the sculptures.


When a dozen Maoris, a handful of Polynesians, a group of conservators, their friends and babies sleep inside a Maori meeting house in Surrey, the sound is overwhelming. There are squeaky mattresses, moaning, giggling, a lot of snoring, as well as pebbles rattling under foot as the needs of nature are being attended to. This is the sound of conservation in progress.


Maori meeting houses are considered to be embodiments of Maori ancestors, in this case the powerful chieftainess Hinemihi. Maoris, conservators and National Trust officials carefully address her with the level of respect required. Since the 1890’s she has spent her time on a National Trust-managed lawn in Clandon Park. The English governor to New Zealand bought and brought her to his UK residence, following her narrow escape from a volcanic eruption.


Hinemihi came to live in Europe where people rarely speak to their architecture. Speaking to mere objects or buildings might be considered odd to say the least. The Maori conception of the embodied building that one can speak to, reaches far beyond the metaphorical: the meeting house does not perform, simulate or represent the ancestor, but rather is the ancestor.


Nonetheless, in rough times, the spirit of a meeting house might turn sad or low. He or she might signal a need for human warmth and company, perceptible to those who are able to hear. Traditional conservation policy warns that even clean hands can leave marks and damage surfaces. Traditional Maori protocol, on the other hand, requires that Maori meeting houses be touched, caressed, greeted, spoken to and spent time with.


From her home in Clandon Park… more


Inigo Minns



Cecilie Gravesen


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November 19, 2010
lego rebel
Lego Advertisement, c.1980 (source)


When I was a child, like so many others I built little Lego cities. And like so many others, I filled these cities with buildings of all manner of shapes, sizes, and colors. Blue towers that zigged. Yellow houses that zagged. Round buildings. Square buildings. Blobby buildings, stepped buildings and pyramids. The possibilities were endless and, when successful, awarded by the jury of 8-year-olds that ever-coveted title: cool.


As evinced by the shortlists of international design competitions, the covers of major design publications, and the overall output of many of today’s best-known practices, ours is an age of ‘cool’ architecture. Not Robert Mitchum cool, mind you. Unlike that actor’s famously understated performances, today’s coolest work—typified by new forms, structures, materials, and a host of other novelties—is anything but relaxed and easy. Rather, “cool” today usually means what it did to the kids in our mid-1980s youth: fresh, wild, exciting, unpredictable…


Perhaps it’s time for architecture to grow up a bit.


Promotional image from Rebel Without a Cause, 1955 (source)


To be cool one must remain aloof. This is a near impossibility in architecture, as the discipline demands that designers take a position within the discourse. While some architectural agendas hint at ambiguity—Rem Koolhaas’ generic approach or current West Coast trends towards producing amorphous affects—these are highly constructed and as a result they form distinct niches within the larger discourse. These niches must be defended from competing agendas, which can produce tensions that make it difficult to remain cool.


As a result, maintaining a relaxed demeanor is something that architects and their buildings regularly struggle with. Aside from inclinations towards bouts of drama, a lack of ease extends into the production of architecture, which is arguably labor intensive at all stages from conception, to materialization, to construction.


However, the labor that develops detail can also have the opposite effect. The specialized character of certain forms of architectural practice can make it difficult to access… more


Jacob Reidel

Erandi de Silva


1 comment » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


November 16, 2010
centralstgiles bermuda
Central St. Giles designed by Renzo Piano, London, 2010 (source)


Pastel is pure pigment, ground up and mixed together with a small measure of binder, then shaped into stick-crayons for ease of application. Rubbed into the grain of paper, unadulterated color adheres strongly, remaining bright with age.


In painting, the Impressionists best exploited pastel’s means: recording subjectively-seen views en plein air to reflect the unexpected hue of sky or field at certain moments of the afternoon—and which had previously gone unpredicted by the interior lighting environment of the studio.


But the Post-Impressionists (see: Roger Fry) pushed their forebears’ strong use of color, already scandalous, to new extremes through their arbitrary choices; ultimately rendering worlds colored by emotion. Writing in the literary magazine The New Age in the first decades of… more


Astwood Cove, Bermuda, 2007 (source)


In Bermuda, irregularly offset coral barriers contain shallow turquoise-tinted waters, leading to sandy pink shores. Reverberating the characteristics of the shoreline, the pastel is the unifying element which sets the tone throughout the island. Bermuda’s popular fashions and architecture are designed to minimize the absorption of heat while maintaining the light atmosphere of leisure. A classic, colonial-inspired brand of preppiness pervades the manner of dressing, which fuses with the setting, by way of a shared palette. Here tennis whites are paired with pale polos by the likes of Lacoste and Fred Perry while equestrian enthusiasts trot roadside wearing Ralph Lauren in similar hues. Complimentary sherbet-colored cottages, dot the island, staying cool with peaked limestone roofs. The local climate defines the landscape, in addition to the island’s enclosures, at multiple scales, ranging from those which are tailored for the singular body to those which house multiple bodies.


Kari Rittenbach

Erandi de Silva


1 comment » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


November 11, 2010
Edgar Martins bisquare
Untitled, Edgar Martins, 2009 (source)


In the summer of 2009, the New York Times hired freelance photographer Edgar Martins to travel the United States in order to record the detritus left behind by the sub-prime mortgage housing crisis, which he assembled into a photo-essay titled ‘The Ruins of the Second Guilded Age’. Rather than simply document the festering American dream, and without explaining his intentions to the New York Times, Martins digitally altered his images to enhance their aesthetic impact, frequently mirroring one half of a photograph to create a symmetrical composition.


While in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice enters into Looking-Glass Land by stumbling through a ‘mirror’ above her fireplace mantle, it is also ‘mirroring’ that propels Martins’ photographs into an otherworldly realm. Similar to the talking flowers and animated chess pieces of Looking-Glass Land, Martins’ photographs are at once familiar and alien. The vacant wood framed interior with gabled roof whispers ‘another stalled American housing development’, while the jarring perspectival symmetry yells ‘not of this earth’. The strangeness of the images did not escape New York Times readers. Martins’ photographs were quickly pulled from the newspaper’s website after numerous complaints relating to their authenticity.


Order 12 Latin Bi-Square as used by Georges Perec


In 1947 Raymond Queneau wrote 99 short descriptions of the same pair of unremarkable events: a man was seen on the ‘S’ bus having a run-in with another man, and was then seen again later that day at the Gare St-Lazare. Each description was written in a different style, following its own set of specific literary rules, with the effect that the scene is transformed completely in each instance, as if imagined or remembered through the lens of a hundred diverse minds. In 1969 Georges Perec began a project in which he chose twelve places in Paris where he had either lived or had attached certain memories to. He then proceeded to write descriptions of two of these places each month, one written at the place as an objective description, the other written from memory. He slipped these into sealed letters together with photos of the locations, taken by a friend. Each year he repeated the task, taking care to follow an algorithm based on a Latin bi-square, so that each place was described during a different month to the previous year, ensuring that the same pair of places was never described in the same month. This was continued for twelve years, until each place had been described twelve times as both an objective list of elements and as a collection of thoughts and memories.


Both writers belonged to Oulipo…more


E. Sean Bailey

Adam Nathaniel Furman


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November 8, 2010
reproduction tajmahal
La Reproduction Interdit, Rene Magritte, 1937 (source)


A pair, when apart, are often comedic. Ever since Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, which punned on two couples of identical brothers, a number of dramatizations have treated troublesome twins and the cases of mistaken identity—drawn out by spatial separation—that they cause. The Parent Trap (1961) is a particularly hallmark example as well as a preposterous premise treating the 50-50 division of ‘property’ recommended by the state of California in case of divorce: Dad acquires Susan, Mom Sharon. One wonders what the nature of this family film might have been were Hayley Mills cast as triplets.


Taken together, twinning often grows sinister; cellular separation might happen unevenly in the embryo, to present difference in eerily similar packaging. The possibility of an alternative personality—an alternative reality—is unsettling in its ceaseless urge to compare the pair. The twin is a reflection that can never be ‘resolved’; whose uncanniness disturbed Diane Arbus enough to evince its documentation (Identical Twins [1967]) while Stanley Kubrick felt a psychological thrill (The Grady Twins continue to haunt popular culture).


Mimicry and adaptation are as common in architecture as any other art… more


Taj Mahal, Photo by Jon Arnold


For centuries there has been speculation that Shah Jahan, the Mughal ruler behind the building of the Taj Mahal, had intended to mirror his wife’s mausoluem in black marble, across the Yamuna river, to serve as his final place of rest.


This legend emerges from the writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a Parisian pioneer of trade, who visited the site at Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, in 1665. Many suggest that Shah Jahan was unable to realize his dual vision because he was usurped by his son Aurangzeb partway through his Emperorship. Relics of dark marble were recovered in the facing Mahtab Bagh: the Moonlight Garden, which is located across the river from the original Taj. While these findings seem to support the existence of a Black Taj, excavations which were carried out in recent years, found that they were in fact fragments of white masonry which had become discolored over time, resulting in their surface appearance.


A more plausible theory regarding a secondary mausoleum was proposed in 2006 by archeologists who rebuilt a portion of the pool in the Moonlight Garden. A darkened reflection of the existing white mausoleum could clearly be seen in the water, ultimately creating yet another couple. Like Lava and Kusha, the Taj Mahal in its dual versions, joins the ranks of mythology’s famous twins.


Kari Rittenbach

Erandi de Silva


3 comments » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


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