January 21, 2011
heart tub hamam
Heart Tub Moment (source)
Cağaloğlu Hamam, Istanbul, 1741 (source)


The rough opening for a standard American bathtub, in 2010, is 60 by 30 inches. The resulting bathing well of a standard American bathtub is 55 by 24 inches. The average American male is 69.5 inches tall. The discrepancy in dimensions, 14.5 inches, allows for a full grown American male to lie comfortably in a standard bathtub with his knees bent and head resting above water. For bodies less than 55 inches in height there is the possibility of total submersion (In the year 2000, 341 accidental drownings occurred in bathtubs in America, making bathtubs one of the most dangerous fixtures in any home).


In 1921 only 1% of homes in America included purpose built bathrooms. The Mathews Flats in Ridgewood, New York, constructed from 1900 onwards, where I currently reside, were some of the first examples of working class row housing in the city to incorporate cold water plumbing and full bathrooms in every apartment. The rough opening of my combination bathtub shower in Ridgewood is 51 inches in length (a normal size by New York City standards, but meager when compared to contemporary norms elsewhere). The bathing well of my combination bathtub shower is 44 inches in length. At 71.5 inches tall, the discrepancy in dimensions, 20.5 inches, does not allow me to submerge more than half of my body at any given time.


The freestanding J-230 Jacuzzi Hot Tub has a rough size of 84 inches by 84 inches. The bathing well is… more


The Cağaloğlu Hamam, located in Istanbul, provides a chimerical setting for some explicit activities.


In the women’s bathing area, a lantern dome is fitted with spherical glass ‘elephant eyes’ which catch and deliver multi-directional light. The cupola sits atop a series of high arches which are supported by elegant columns. The dome illuminates a heated central platform; a marble octagonal extrusion used for washing and laying out. It is surrounded by an offset, slightly more private series of stepped bathing niches which deliver warm water through delicately ornamented fountains.


Female clients, who are nude and variously draped in cotton cloths, languish about the steamy space, bathing and relaxing. Others don the requisite mother-of-pearl embellished sandals and hobble precariously through the mist. Masseuses with robust bodies and relatively skinny legs, tend to the bathers. The bathing attendants are dressed in garish spandex swimsuits variously worn as desired: off one shoulder or with the top-half peeled down to the waist. They aggressively scrub the bathers beneath the lantern dome, under the gaze of the ‘elephant eyes’, until the platform is covered in rubbery rolls of blackened dead skin. Between clients, the masseuses step aside and inexplicably wash their nether regions.


In the Cağaloğlu Hamam romance and reality are juxtaposed.


E. Sean Bailey



Erandi de Silva


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January 18, 2011
cirque core
An act from O, Las Vegas, 1998 (source)
One Church Street, Designed by Douglas Orr, New Haven, Connecticut, 1961 (Photo by Author)


Cirque du Soleil’s production, O, at Bellagio’s Strip-front resort features the impossible: water instantly alternates between solid and liquid states. This amazing scientific advance allows the show’s acrobats the ability to defy conventional assumptions about states of matter* and perform breathtaking feats. A sequence may feature actors skipping across a frozen pond, transitioning theatergoers’ focus to a team of acrobatic divers plunging into the aqueous abyss. Sometimes these contradictory sequences occur simultaneously! As the show progresses, sets rise from the murky depths, transitioning from placid stage to messy swampland hovel. Water is simultaneously solid and liquid; waves of vapor roll across the audience.


Out front, in Bellagio’s eight acre Strip-front lake, water gasses to Frank Sinatra on a schedule, delighting millions of passerby with watery magic.** Geysers explode, rocketing columns of water thirty stories. Pressure spent, the lake turns moody as watery lariats dance in perfect time to show tunes of yesteryear. Water is wholly conquered—flipped between states or scrambled together, on a whim, for spectacle and entertainment.


This all takes place in the middle of the desert.


One of the notable buildings from New Haven’s mid-century program of urban renewal is Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s 1969 Knights of Columbus Headquarters. The clearly-organized tower—its form dominated by four massive brick-clad concrete cylinders containing the stairs and toilets, between which span perfectly-square glass and steel office plates—is a strong, brooding, and almost medieval presence on the skyline. Like a number of Roche and Dinkeloo’s remarkable projects from this period, the Knights of Columbus Headquarters is an exemplar of structural and organizational clarity, and arguably ranks among the best towers of its time.


The same could hardly be said for One Church Street, the comparatively dumpy neighbor across the street. Designed by Douglas Orr—now little-remembered but once a prominent local architect and president of the American Institute of Architects—One Church Street was completed in 1961 as the headquarters of the First New Haven National Bank. It initially seems simple enough: a squat eight-story, vaguely Miesian (or perhaps more accurately SOMian) glass and steel box with an exposed service core to one side. However, something is strange. The service core, clad entirely in limestone… more


Brook Denison



Jacob Reidel


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January 12, 2011
pyramid gaslight
Inverted Pyramid at the Louvre, Designed by I. M. Pei, Paris, 1989 (source)
Still from Gaslight, 1944 (source)


In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the author attaches special importance to I. M. Pei’s 1989 addition to the Louvre in Paris, which he concludes is the burial site of the Holy Grail. What is curious about Brown’s hypothesis is that it assumes a complicit architectural profession, and in so doing forces us to reconsider Pei’s reputation as a high modernist. While Pei’s work is often viewed as an exploration into the volumetric potential of basic geometries, Brown interprets it as an infatuation with symbology (not surprisingly, basic geometries translate quite well into symbols of other things). While Pei has argued that the pyramid was ‘most compatible with the architecture of the Louvre, especially with the faceted planes of its roofs’ and that his pyramids were not meant to be read as copies of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, for Brown, Pei’s pyramids are foremost wayfinders for members of the Priory of Sion. The pyramids represent a V, feminine vessel (vagina), or Holy Grail (Brown believes that the Holy Grail is… more


In the 1944 film Gaslight, the home, potentially the site of Paula Alquist’s conjugal bliss, is perverted by a husband who is similarly depraved. He’s in it for the jewels, you see.


He, her husband, moves things within the house. Her bag, the table and his pocket watch change position unexpectedly, appearing in the wrong places—the seeming symptoms of her mental degeneration. He flickers the gaslights and the rooms become suddenly brighter and then dark again. This varied dimness convinces her that it is not the physical world that is somehow corrupt, but rather, her mind. For poor Paula, our victim-cum-heroine, the home becomes not only the stage but also an actor in her psychological oppression.


Following the release of this movie, ‘gaslight’ has become an expression to describe intentional psychological manipulation—a quaint noun is transformed into a sinister verb by the eponymous film.


E. Sean Bailey



Rachel Engler


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January 7, 2011
cattle tank
Hereford Cattle at Turner Ranch, Oklahoma, 1944 (source)
Battle at Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka, 2009 (source)


In the history of the American West, it was white settlement, smallpox, the railroad and rifle, but also the steady incursion of barbed wire fencing which tamed the no longer virgin, wild, territories reaching from present day Nebraska through West Texas. The nascent barricades curbed the movement of nomadic peoples and migratory animals (buffalo) along with the open-range ranching of Longhorn cattle. Barbed wire’s amorphous form and eminent extendability made it a flexible political tool; in some cases the U.S. Government enclosed lands held by the Cherokee Nation on supposedly temporary terms, their negotiations aided by the seeming unobtrusiveness of thin steel strands and periodic fence posts. Barbed wire’s diligence as a fixed boundary might be confused by its innocuous material qualities and timid definition of inside from outside. Lightweight and tumbleweed-like, the tense wire was nevertheless rigid enough to choreograph such disastrous events as ‘The Big Die-Up’, when hordes of shelter-seeking herds froze across the Southern Plains during the unseasonably cold winter of 1886-87.


Barbed wire’s bureaucratic function, deployed at a level very low to the ground, may have seemed to be purely in the service of capital, particularly in securing personal property (including the more stable stock-farming of high grade Hereford and Angus cattle).


Yet it ultimately amounted to… more


The Sri Lankan government will soon establish a wildlife sanctuary in the midst of a heavily mined region, which until May of 2009 was the stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.


The government’s official reasoning for programming the area as an animal reserve emerges from a belief that the proposed use will resolve any local conflicts between humans and elephants. As there are no major reserves in the region and the area is occupied by both elephants and people, this plan has some validity.


However, many critics are suspicious of the government’s decision to return the region to a jungle, claiming this decision is a mere tactic for the systematic suppression of the Tamil population. Local Tamil residents who were displaced by the war, are now denied re-entry into the reprogrammed area. Those in power may be concerned that human resettlement in the region will lead to the construction of memorials for the recently defeated rebels, taking after remembrances that have materialized on similarly significant battlegrounds. There may even be fears that the area could be commandeered by guerrilla fighters for yet another uprising.


Regardless of the government’s motives, this site will return to a wilderness, in a bid for control over what authorities identify as unruly elements.


Kari Rittenbach



Erandi de Silva


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January 3, 2011
strut groucho
1001 Fifth Avenue designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, New York City, 1979 (Photo by Author) Philip Johnson (Photo Poorly Photoshopped by Author)


Funny buildings are rare. Given the cost and effort required to produce a building, this isn’t really surprising. Architecture is serious business, and those who develop, design, and build are understandably reluctant to risk humor. After all, no one wants to live in a bad joke (or even a good one for that matter). Occasionally, however, a funny building like 1001 Fifth Avenue comes along. Designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee and completed in 1979, it is seriously, intentionally funny architecture (not a funny-looking oddity or mistake). And like the best comedy, its humor draws on just enough seriousness to give it a degree of relevance and meaning.


Located on a high-profile site directly across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on New York City’s Upper East Side, 1001 Fifth Avenue had to placate its incredibly wealthy and influential preservation-minded neighbors. Johnson and Burgee also had to satisfy a profit-minded developer determined to pack the site with the maximum possible number of apartments while following local building codes which limited any massing projection to ten inches beyond the building line. The solution? A thin limestone-clad façade, vaguely recalling pre-war towers, crossed by wisps of moldings which pick up the stronger horizontals of the adjacent 1910 McKim Mead & White 998 Fifth Avenue. Behind this façade is a typical high-end 1970s developer apartment building—a fact which is intentionally revealed by the exposed and widely visible bare façades to the north, south, and east. This is naughtily funny stuff, especially given the prevailing modernist tastes at that time. What makes 1001 Fifth Avenue hilarious, though, is the top: a thin false-front pseudo-mansard roof, propped up from behind by struts which—again, intentionally—can be seen from just about everywhere. The Hollywood back lot comes to Fifth Avenue, and the millionaires have moved in.


And the joke worked! Johnson and Burgee’s absurdly ‘contextual’ design managed to…more


You’d think people who spend all day building giant wangs would have a better sense of humor about their work. Yet architects rarely go for laughs, which is unfortunate, since their eyewear is usually just a fake nose and mustache away from Groucho glasses.


I kid, o hewers of steel and of stone! Please do not avenge yourselves by building a prison complex next to my apartment with construction taking place every night between the hours of 3:00 am and 6:00 am.


Now, I may not be a licensed architect, or an unlicensed architect, or a student of architecture, but I do pride myself on staying inside buildings much of the time (I’m in one right now!), so I consider myself qualified to suggest architectural improvements to the following structures:


— The Sony Building. Philip Johnson and John Burgee modeled the upper levels after a Chippendale chair, but it would be a better joke if someone reshaped it into a Chippendale dancer. If this is considered too risqué, a second option would be to add a large seat to the front of the building, so weary giants visiting from the Midwest could sit a spell before heading to Broadway to catch Wicked.


— The Chrysler Building. William Van Alen designed the crown like hubcaps and the gargoyles like hood ornaments, but this building has fallen behind the times. Some intrepid young architect should give it automatic windows, power locks, and heated seats throughout. (Show-offs need not apply; the building would look awful with hydraulics.)


— The Great Sphinx at Giza. Two words: Keyboard Cat. Either that, or change the face to Omar Sharif, arguably the world’s most famous living Egyptian.


In conclusion, if anyone out there builds any of these, you better rename it after me. (Sorry, Mr. Sharif!)


Jacob Reidel



Frank Lesser


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