May 20, 2011
trek lauren
“Bridge of the Starship Enterprise”, Star Trek, 1966-69 (source)
Lauren Bacall (source)


I was raised on Star Trek. Spending every summer isolated deep in the countryside, it was often the only show available on our rabbit ears. As a grouchy ten year old I generally resented the formulaic plots. Captain Kirk lands on seemingly abandoned planet. Captain Kirk angers natives. Captain Kirk escapes to the Starship Enterprise. Even more disappointing than the stale plot, however, were the terrible aesthetics. While future Earth certainly spared no money on the mechanics of the USS Enterprise, they definitely tightened the purse strings when it came to hiring the designers. With awkward proportions, cramped quarters, dismal lighting, cheap materials and ugly furniture, the enterprise looked more like a labyrinthine suburban rec room than a sophisticated trans-galactic spaceship. The mundane interior might have been redeemed by the most intriguing aspect of space travel, zero gravity, except that artificial gravity had already been mastered in Star Trek’s futuristic timeline.


Star Trek’s banal future visions would haunt me for the next twenty years of my life, with the series constantly refreshing its casts and spaceships (though they all sort of looked the same), while maintaining its living room feel. And while I ultimately abhorred Star Trek as entertainment for not straying far… more


As celebrities grow older, their images often fade, leaving them to lose the relevance they had at the peak of their youth. As the icons of architecture’s last Golden Age mature, what will be their fate? There are so many potential options, making it possible for them to explore one of several proven avenues.


Perhaps the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and company will go gracefully, taking care of themselves and embracing their role as aging beauties. At times it may be possible to revive their talent, giving them a new life, simply by recasting them into new roles and facilitating a comeback. On occasion, this may involve dabbling in superficial cosmetic adjustments or more serious physical augmentations which may include nipping and tucking their way to preservation and renewal. Sometimes these alterations take very well, while at other times, they prove to be controversial and have difficulty gaining acceptance. If the effort of upkeep becomes overwhelming, they may sadly just give up altogether becoming bloated, overgrown and generally unkempt.


Speculation aside, only time will reveal, what destiny awaits architecture’s iconic starlets. Perhaps future breakthroughs will end the phenomenon of aging altogether, creating new scenarios.


E. Sean Bailey



Erandi de Silva


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May 12, 2011
great showgirls
Catherine the Great (source)
Tropicana Showgirls, Havana (source)


“It improves the look of the neighborhood like 1,000 percent…”


Advocate for neighborhood revitalization, Albany N.Y.



The Russian minister Potemkin is apocryphally said to have erected a series of hollow facades and empty homes—the shells of real village life and real infrastructure—in order to impress Catherine the Great. She was the queen and his lover and all was to be in order for her 1787 review of the Crimean countryside.


While this vision—of false townships glowing in the Slavic wilderness, of a tremendous project presented to an adored, royal woman—holds a mythic appeal, the ‘Potemkin Village’ has since become a useful and potent metaphor, assuming a weight and cultural meaning that obscures its origin story. The phrase is now used to describe any number of initiatives that present a theater of deception, a world somehow duplicitous. The Potemkin Village operates according to facades and is false specifically in its superficiality.


Today, the motive for falsehood is no longer the great monarch in need of consolation or confirmation of her subject’s well being. While the presentation of apparent success remains a priority, the individual or institution to which that presentation is directed is diffuse and far from obvious. Infrastructural accountability is directed at vast networks, and the standards, rather than those of royal service, are notions of urban success and municipal efficiency.


In Cleveland, a city affected by the kind of blighted deprivation much documented across… more


Havana’s Tropicana is a place, out of time. While in many ways, much of Cuba is living in the past, with the island’s limited resources ensuring that little has changed since the 1959 revolution, this seventy-two year old cabaret-style nightclub has evaded the worn aura that sweeps over much of the rest of the nation, making it one of the few lasting testaments to Cuba’s pre-revolutionary decadence.


The experience of the Tropicana is steeped in fantasy, reminiscent of old Hollywood films studded with visions of gangsters, starlets and dancers clad in flamboyantly voluminous, yet strategically scant costumes. With a cinematic entrance, that winds around a lush tropical roundabout lit with glorious neon signage, it is difficult not to get swept into its deeply displaced atmosphere from the moment of arrival. Doormen escort patrons from their 1950s Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Fords and Chevrolets to the club’s entryway, a glamorous mirrored hall with crystal chandeliers, which cast a sparkling light all around the reflective space. Here guests are presented with gifts—long stem roses for women and cigars for men. Moving onwards into the main space, staff in vintage-style tuxedos seat guests, as others deliver complimentary champagne and rum. All the while, a dazzling show begins—betraying no shortage of sequins or feathers on the island—in an intimate space surrounded by a dense canopy of tall trees, laid out across multiple stages at varying heights, amplifying the venue’s ability to intoxicate with, above all else, overwhelming visuals.


As cans of Coca-Cola begin making appearances on the streets of Havana and with the recent meeting of Cuba’s Communist Party (the first in fourteen years), changes are taking place that signal a shift in the values and priorities of this nation. Hopefully the Tropicana will endure, as an island within an island, continually moving to its own rhythm.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


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May 6, 2011
shopping nina
Two Women Shopping in New York City, Photo by Rob Lang, 2008 (source)
Nina Ricci’s New Label, Paris, 2011 (source)


Following her first marriage and first divorce, and in an attempt to show her acquaintances that she was ‘doing alright’, my grandmother would sew designer labels into her generic clothing. There is a beige trench coat that hangs in her closet. Opening it wide, you can see a silky square tag, stitched in with amateurish and uneven strokes. It says, ‘Bergdorf Goodman’.



We clambered out of dresses and skirts in rooms full of women all doing that same thing—rustling through racks of patterns and textures, grabbing things, calculating discounts. These sales are mostly held in warehouse spaces, in empty and cavernous halls in which mirrors have been placed and tables positioned. We were chaperoned by a few, by people who guarded the doors and the dressing rooms and attempted to impose order and manage the sloppiness that materialism and desperation seemed to inspire in otherwise tidy women.


The stock sale’s relatively reasonable prices begin to suggest an easy access to designer clothing otherwise inaccessible but for the few. The warehouses that hold the clothing are big and spare and without elegant lighting or paneled fitting rooms. They evoke the factory—the place of production—and imply a pared down version of a world usually rarefied and ornate. Rejecting the boutique’s preciousness and the department store’s attempts at the cosmopolitan, these warehouses represent a different vision of retail, one suffused with gritty cool and the thrill of disorder. Important here, though, is one distinction. The items that burden the racks that line the walls are, implicitly, unrelated to the mode of factory production responsible for lower-end garments… more


‘One of the first changes I made, as soon as I arrived, was to the label on the clothes. I added the address…’


—Peter Copping, The New York Times, March 4, 2011



Associating a brand with a particular place is an established practice in the fashion industry. From cities, to neighborhoods, to streets: Chanel is tied to Paris, Yves St. Laurent to the Left Bank (Rive Guache) and Nina Ricci to Avenue Montaigne. These relationships with a specific locale are usually established through a company’s promotional material which may feature images of urban landmarks or citations of city names and addresses.


Some designers, such as Dries van Noten, take a more subtle approach to generating associations with particular environments. With no photographic or written references, the patterns of his textiles, with their nods to silks from Asia, printing processes from Africa, weaving methods from the Middle East and so on, take their wearers all over the world.


An even more abstract tier of signifiers are evoked by designers like Comme des Garçons and Martin Margiela through a barrage of techniques, such as ripping and employing dubious amounts of black, to connote ‘the street’.


A label’s ubiquitous allusions to place may, in part, be associations formulated as tributes to a muse. But more significantly, they may be presented with the intention of providing a distinct lifestyle narrative, helping shoppers to connect with the atmosphere an item seeks to create, regardless of what new context it is placed in.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


2 comments » | Editorial, Regular Contributors


May 4, 2011
homer cartier
‘Marge Gets a Job’, The Simpson’s, Season Four, Episode Seven (source)
The Patiala Necklace, Cartier, Paris, 1928 (source)


‘One admires the mild Erasmus, who thought that heaven would be full of conversation and sociability, with noble and famous souls wandering around, as if on a celestial college campus. In this vein, Isaac Watts suggested that various dead fellows of the Royal Society would be made available to give lectures to the younger spirits’.


-James Wood, London Review of Books, April 14, 2011



In Christianity, the theological conception of heaven approaches the original utopia of Greek philosophy, described in Plato’s Republic, in so far as it is understood as an achievable ideal for a class of elites (Philosopher kings, the predestined). As is required to realize any sort of good idea, Christian and non-Christian social utopia alike must be sought after—and assurances made along the way. Because if heaven exists, then what does it look like?


John Milton named the fallen angels ‘architects of pandemonium’ (one wonders how chaos is best designed), although it is subject to interpretation who decides the shape of eternal bliss. Regardless, the strength of imagination required for ambitious utopian thinking must be supplemented by reliable imagery—bliss as geodesic dome, for example.


Because empathy is more easily transferred through representation, the visual arts and especially painting have benefited tremendously from… more


Adorning Maharajahs, Bollywood brides and the average woman shopping in a local market, fine jewelery is a popular accessory throughout India and its surrounding region. In a culture where precious stones and metals are typically considered critical investments, imitations are valued in relation to rarer specimens. High-quality resemblances may enhance the value of a substitute, but can also simultaneously diminish the status of the original by propagating sameness, rendering all associated versions mediocre.


Taking this understanding of the imitation’s function into account, the Sikh leaders in charge of Amritsar, Punjab’s Sri Harmandir Sahib (also known as ‘The Golden Temple’, real gold, of course) have recently protested the construction of a duplicate shrine—Sachkhand Angeetha Sahib—in the nearby Malwa region. Some leading religious figures fear this shrine may detract from the significance of the original.


Ultimately, in the complex dialectic between an original and an imitation, it is difficult to predict if re-creation leads to degradation of a design through dilution, or fortifies desire by permitting a measure of access. Purveyors of luxury goods understand this dilemma and are known to manipulate it in their favor by permitting the production of recognizably cheap iterations of their higher-end designs out of lesser materials and workmanship: awareness is piqued, while distance from the covetable original is maintained. Perhaps a semi-precious replica of the Sri Harmandir Sahib can produce a similarly beneficial outcome.


Kari Rittenbach



Erandi de Silva


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