VANISH

February 23, 2011
liberty economics
David Copperfield Vanishing the Statue of Liberty, New York City, 1983 (source)
UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, San Diego, 2010 (Photo by Author)

 

Architects have long sought to make their buildings disappear through ‘transparency’, ‘dematerialization’, ‘contextualism’, and any number of other tricks. Largely, these efforts have failed. David Copperfield came close, however, when in 1983 he made the Statue of Liberty vanish. This amazing feat—developed with Jim Steinmeyer and Don Wayne and broadcast live on national television—remains one of Copperfield’s most famous.

 

How did Copperfield do it? No one has revealed the secret. However, the widely-accepted conclusion is that (in addition to lights, curtains, music, and fake radar) Copperfield employed a specially-constructed rotating seating area to imperceptibly shift the direction in which the audience was looking. A perfectly placed tower then hid the Statue from view.

 

In the words of one audience member, ‘I have never seen a Statue of Liberty disappear the way this one did’.

 

‘What seems like a hall of mirrors is actually a highly organized shell game, but one in which the shells themselves are all there is to the game’.

—Reinhold Martin, on Mirror Glass

 

 

How do you make a building disappear?

 

Architecture—massive, costly, and permanent—would seem to be the least ephemeral of the arts. But like the military—another industry with a fondness for ‘disappearing’ large objects—architecture has its own repertoire of stealth techniques.

 

Though architecture’s stealth could be considered camouflage, it is really the opposite of razzle dazzle, flecktarn, or radar-absorbent paint. Architects use reflection to hide buildings in plain sight. It is surprisingly effective—witness the facade of the… more

 

Jacob Reidel

 

 

Gaby Brainard

 

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SMEAR

February 18, 2011
BIG Tower wave
Pyramid Tower designed by BIG, New York, 2011 (source)
Square Faraday Waves (source)

 

‘Trendy, diagrammatic BS one-liner. Bjarke should go back to Denmark’.

—Guest Comment #40, Curbed, 02/07/2011

 

 

‘OMA is the most overrated architecture firm in history. End of story’.

—Guest Comment #31, Curbed, 09/11/2008

 

 

‘I expect better from Herzog + de Meuron… but when it comes to their buildings in NYC… it’s more like Herzog + the Moron.’.

—Guest Comment #17, Curbed, 09/15/2008

 

 

Any designer that has ever published work online has undoubtedly dealt with the unavoidable emotional anguish that results from reading online public commentary. More vicious than any graduate school critic, or scrutinizing parent, the anonymous commenter will stop at nothing in their plight to destroy your work and sense of self worth.

 

The following are a few simple rules to avoid the most vitriolic outbursts and protect your reputation from the inevitable online smear campaigns:

 

1. Make sure that your building does not resemble something else. In the eyes of the anonymous commenter, snaking forms are piles of shit and anything too boxy is a coffin or tombstone… more

 

In quantum mechanics, an object such as an electron exists as both a wave and a particle. As a particle, it is a singular object, existing much as any other object we might study, but as a wave, the electron is smeared across a field of potential interactions and its existence is highly dependent on its relationships to other electrons and sub-atomic particles. This field of potential is structured by the singular particles, but is not irreducible to them; even in the emptiest vacuum, far from any other objects the field contains energy. All space is pre-charged with the capacity to affect.

 

Analogously, even the most indistinguishable and unnoticed piece of the built environment contains a certain pressure to affect the behavior of its inhabitants. In fact, the ordinary, everyday fragments that make up the environment of our lives are often more important than the grand spectacle of singular architecture that demands our attention. Yet almost by definition, this ordinary architecture is invisible and much like the electron, it is smeared across its context.

 

How many people truly notice the door they open and close each time they leave their house or office? Maybe once, the first time encountered, but more than likely that impression becomes vague from the repetition of use. While architecture may aspire to demand our attention, more often than not, it is lost in the noise of our lives. The ordinary is an architecture of inattention, only becoming distinct when one perceives it but then is quickly lost again. How might an ordinary architecture aspire past banality yet remain indistinct and uncertain, a mere blur that supports and influences our lives?

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Arthur McGoey

 

4 comments » | Editorial, Guest Contributors

RHYTHM

February 15, 2011
berghain blow
Berghain, Berlin (source)
Glassblowing Workshop, Portland, Oregon (source)

 

‘The architect should know music, in order to have a grasp of canonical and mathematical relations.’

—Vitruvius, De Architectura

 

 

‘Get into the groove boy, you’ve got to prove your love to me.’

—Madonna, Get Into the Groove

 

 

Most efforts to think about music and architecture together inevitably end up focusing on two intertwining logics, mathematics and phenomenology. Architecture and music employ mathematical measures of rhythm, harmony, and scale to construct immersive phenomenological experiences through time and in space. Vitruvius insisted that architects study music because, for the Greeks and Romans, the study of harmonics was just as much about melody, as it was about the mathematical and spatial structure of the universe. On the other hand, the groove that Madonna is talking about, while not architectural, references both the material topography of the LP and a physical and emotional mode of experience.

 

Given these dual avenues of understanding, the sensation of rhythm in architecture can be experienced as a sublime cerebral satisfaction in the perfect arrangement of forms. It can also be experienced as a brutal embodied sensibility brought on by the movement of an individual through a space and the degrees of architectural resistance to this movement. As certain built spaces often prioritize one form of rhythmic experience over the other, Peter Eisenman’s Berlin Holocaust Memorial and the legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain can be understood as two extremes of rhythmic space.

 

Eisenman’s memorial is rhythmic in a vulgar formal sense, all of its relationships conforming to a rigid Euclidean geometry. The sense of rhythm constructed by the memorial—a repetition of solid and void—is a tightly controlled mathematical rhythm which alternately tightens and relaxes its grip on the user, allowing the senses periodic points of escape before once again trapping the subject.

 

As a nightclub, Berghain is functionally rhythmic; the building provides a space for the experience of rhythm without formal repetition of material architectural forms. The frequencies of the sound system on which the whole function of the space depends are so expertly engineered that it is possible to converse in a normal speaking voice despite being able to feel… more

 

‘The substance of the routine may change, metamorphose, improve, but the emotional payoff is one’s experience of doing it again. There’s nothing strange about this experience. We all know it; it is rhythm.’

—Richard Sennet, The Craftsman

 

 

Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman is a call to appreciate and value the kind of creative labor that once dominated in the craft trades, and which he points out is still alive and well in disciplines as varied as Linux code-writing and mobile-phone development.

 

Sennett does not advocate a return to an economy of pre-industrial manual work, instead he analyzes and explains how certain core elements, which were involved in these professions, made them intrinsically fulfilling and meaningful to those working within them. He explains that the distinction between conceptual inspiration and the act of making is an artificial, and recent one. It is a workplace separation that tends to generate an unhelpful stratification between ‘unskilled’ inflexible production lines, and ‘creative’ but unengaged researchers and developers.

 

Alternatively, Sennett suggests treating the act of making as a creative endeavor, where research, design and development can occur at the same time as developing the manufacturing process. This not only motivates the designer/maker to have a deep personal connection with the work, but opens up the possibility for mistakes, dead-ends, and tangential explorations within the framework of the process. These mistakes and dead-ends are positive inefficiencies which are necessary for the process to throw up unexpected opportunities and breakthroughs. And for these positive inefficiencies to occur, be understood, overcome and harnessed, there needs to be the space and time for the maker to repeat their process again and again, developing their own personal rhythm. In the same manner that pianists practice repeatedly, until the core skill of playing becomes instinctive, allowing them instead to focus on variations, emphasis and mood within each repetition, so the maker engages initially through repetition with the core skills of his process until they are second nature, by which time the act of repetition is thrown open to become an active field of experimentation, a generative rhythm—adaptive and evolving—of exploration and innovation.

 

It is when the repetition of work becomes the rhythm of craft that any form of labor can become creative, meaningful and fulfilling.

 

David Knowles

 

 

Adam Nathaniel Furman

 

1 comment » | Guest Contributors, Regular Contributors

HYSTERIA

February 11, 2011
indecent zoolander
Still from Indecent Proposal, 1993 (source)
Still from Zoolander, 2001 (source)

 

From industrialization onwards, hysteria has been cast as a mostly middle-class condition severely affecting a category of individuals (ie. women) who otherwise lacked agency within society. Wives in whale-bone corsets were as given to fainting as fashionable ladies faking dizziness to avoid polite scandal, while pre-pubescent ‘fasting girls’ surrendered to fits and cloudy visions in their night-dresses, drawing a public audience into bedside intimacy before there was such a thing as reality TV. Hysteria, thus, might be considered an ambiguously intentional loss of composure under extreme social duress.

 

Woody Harrelson’s character in the 1993 flick Indecent Proposal undergoes a surprising male experience of this neurosis—significantly, he is an architect… more

 

A higher up marches in and examines a project. Fueled by cynicism, they appear to completely miss the intention of the work. Losing their composure, in a fit of mad panic, they destroy what has been produced. This eruption is followed by a sarcastic question, which they themselves answer with a rhetorical question. A secondary loss of composure results in a furious aftershock which is accompanied by an unreasonable statement about what adjustments need to be made. The superior then turns to their underlings who respond to their feedback with verbal agreement in spite of engaging one another with eyes that say ‘hell no’.

 

While a hysterical outburst may inspire a motivating kind of fear, do the accompanying comedic undertones make it difficult to take such a tirade seriously?

 

Kari Rittenbach

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

4 comments » | Editorial, Regular Contributors

CONTROL

February 8, 2011
spaghetti pingu
Sculptural Conduit Work at the Hinman Research Building, GaTech, Atlanta (Photo by Author)
London Zoo Penguin Pool, Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton (with Ove Arup), 1934 (Photo by Author)

 

Can conduit be controlled? Sort of.

 

As part of a recent renovation at Georgia Tech, our team was asked to replace all mechanical, plumbing, electrical (MEP) and telephone/data services, but without a budget for ceilings to conceal them. In response, we set an invisible plane at a comfortable nine feet above the floor throughout the building, and registered its intersection through walls using a paint line. We thought: below this line will be architecture, the stuff we control. Above it, anything goes—paint it and make it disappear. This simple act of zoning produced the intended results, but also coaxed some surprising work from the MEP trades in the process.

 

In an efficient building with no ceiling constraints, MEP systems would expand vertically, stacking to reduce costs associated with additional fittings, transitions and labor. However, our minimum height limit forced more things to coexist in plan, and exacerbated bottlenecks caused by low beams, congestion… more

 

After nearly eighty years, Berthold Lubetkin’s London Zoo Penguin Pool still dazzles with its structural daring and elegance. It even harbors a social agenda of sorts with the project’s defining element—a pair of interweaving concrete ramps—thoughtfully designed to orchestrate endless penguin frolicking. And yet, when I visited the Zoo shortly before the penguins were moved to a new home in 2004, the pool’s inhabitants were completely indifferent to Lubetkin’s efforts. Much to my disappointment no penguins gathered on, waddled up or belly-slid down this seemingly-perfect bit of architecture. Most of them huddled together on level terrain alongside the water’s edge, while a lone penguin ventured up the more utilitarian (and direct) flight of stairs leading to freedom. Heartbreakingly, a well-placed piece of Plexiglas thwarted his escape.

 

Architecture’s ability to single-handedly engender new and exciting activities may well be questioned. Its ability to render certain activities impossible, however, is a fact beyond dispute.

 

Tom Beresford

 

 

Jacob Reidel

 

2 comments » | Guest Contributors, Regular Contributors

UNIFORM

February 4, 2011
zeltbahn leather
Zeltbahn 31 (source)
Peter Marino, Architect (source)

 

Zeltbahn 31 is a triangular piece of waterproof fabric with thirty buttons, thirty button-holes, nine rivets and an opening the size of a head. Developed in the 1930s for the German army, it was a versatile device, which was to be used as a piece of clothing, dwelling and as an all-purpose survival tool.

 

It was possible to fashion it in six different ways: as a poncho-style raincoat for marching troops, mounted soldiers and bike riders; as a tent housing four, eight or sixteen men, depending on how many units were fastened together; filled with straw and securely tied, it worked as a flotation device; as a winter blanket; a rain-canopy; and as a hammock or a stretcher to carry wounded soldiers… more

 

Uniformity arises through repetition as evinced by many architects’ preference for monotony where work-wear is concerned. While the overwhelming cliché (uniform) remains the architect in black, many designers have found a way to set themselves apart: by wearing customized garments. Unlike the usual connotation of the uniform, which typically unifies a group of wearers, these individualized outfits maintain the integrity of the architect’s personal identity via originality. As uniformity is reinforced by repeated adornment over time, the ubiquitous black ensembles can maintain their uniform status by being worn by anyone in the architecture tribe for any given length of time, whereas individualized garments can only gain uniform status through consistent adornment by a single person.

 

Daniel Fernàndez Pascual

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial, Guest Contributors

 

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