April 22, 2012
Áshįįh, Looking Southwest, 2010 (Photo By Author)
Salt Lickers (source)


Salt has long been connected to pilgrimage. Ancient merchants traveled long distances to secure the mineral. Later, sites of salt acquisition themselves, became destinations, due to their cultural significance (a famous example is the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow). Sourced for its culinary and industrial applications, salt is either mined (rock salt) or harvested where it evaporates from bodies of water (sea salt). Due to its uneven geographic distribution, salt was an essential part of early economies. The Latin root sal is the origin of salary, showcasing it as perhaps the most valuable mineral of the ancient world. This is an ironic superlative considering the spice’s banal connotation as the condiment which has invaded almost every processed food and litters dining tables worldwide in canister or packet form.


Zuni Salt Lake is a formation in Catron County, located in west-central New Mexico. Sited on the south side of Carrizo Valley, the lake occupies a circular depression ringed by steep rock walls. On the crater’s floor is a shallow, seasonal body of water that, when evaporated, deposits crystals for easy collection. The lake has been an important resource materially and spiritually for autochthonous groups, notably the Zuni for whom the lake is the sacred home of female deity Ma’l Oyattsik’i, the Salt Woman.


I arrive alone at the lake at noon, driving south from Gallup on asphalt and then gravel. It is November but the day is sharp and bright. Leaving the car, I race down a ravine, cut in the circumferential hills, hoping to reach the shore but am detained by a wire fence securing the lake’s perimeter. Back up on the northern ridge, I see black cinder cones looming behind the plane of the water, with mineral deposits clearly evident along the shore. A pier juts into the water in front of a storage shed. Two adobe ruins sit nearby. The breeze is surprisingly unspiced. I stand and think about the trail from the lake forty miles north to the Zuni Pueblo and the connection of that society to this terrain. Frequently, architecture attempts to… more


All animals need salt to survive. While those ‘in the wild’ may be able to satisfy their nutritional needs with a carnivorous diet or access to natural salty sources such as brine springs or brackish water, domesticated animals are often dependent on commercial agricultural salts to maintain a healthy diet.


These compressed salt blocks, known as salt licks, are fascinating objects, arriving in countless colors, flavors, and mineral-fortified varieties to meet the nutritional needs and palates of the most discriminating of livestock—periwinkle, copper, maroon; apple, wild persimmon, sweet acorn; cobalt, magnesium, selenium… Lick by lick, the animal’s tongue carves out rounded caverns and hollows. In a gradual transformation, the block loses its angles and assumes an organic form. Both the pristine and the partially-consumed salt lick may be considered formally, as sculptural objects. Providing evidence of an aesthetic potential are the hundreds of livestock-sculpted salt works that have been submitted and exhibited at The Great Salt Lick, an annual contest in Baker County, Oregon, where salt blocks are evaluated on their formal qualities.


Curiously, a parallel exists between these unconsciously fashioned objects and works of contemporary architecture as well. Armed with software, architects are able to ‘sculpt’ buildings as desired, producing forms that appear as organic volumes instead of more orthogonal structures. This shift towards mineral inspiration can be seen in the work of Frank Gehry and Herzog & de Meuron, among others. Buildings are expressed variously on the spectrum between crystallized polyhedra and tongued subtraction. It is a surprising inversion that contemporary advances in technology allow the construction of buildings that resemble the work of livestock. While some may see this comparison as suggestive of the vacuity of today’s architecture, it is more accurately a testament to the wide formal influence of crystal formations, a trend similarly captured in the aesthetic appreciation of a carved salt lick.


Jack Murphy



Aurora Tang


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April 14, 2012
Image From Tumblr (source unknown)
Image from Vitruvius’ De Architectura, Illustrated by Jean Goujon, 1547 (source)


In his book You Are Not A Gadget one of Jaron Lanier’s criticisms of current digital culture, specifically the thing we call Web 2.0, is the paradox that a tool that is marketed as something to enable human creativity and individuality has actually done the opposite. The set of checklists and ‘Likes’ that form our online personalities demean the intricacies of the human mind. As we enthusiastically embrace these limitations so we limit ourselves. We willingly surrender to the perceived wisdom of the cloud based crowd at the expense of individual human insight. The question is as much a moral one as it is a practical technological one. Figuring out what we should do is as important as what we can do. To publish something takes a degree of arrogance that only an individual should have. An arrogant group quickly becomes oppressive. In the first chapter Lanier has a few simple suggestions of things to think about before publishing online. My three favourites are:


– Don’t post anonymously unless you really are in danger.
– Post a video once in a while that took a hundred times more times to create than it takes to view.
– Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.


In other words: think before you speak.


This is even more pertinent when posting online where very quickly, context is stripped away by selective copying, pasting, reblogging, retweeting, and a little more subtly by RSS feeds which… more


During OMA’s ‘Show and Tell’ talk, which took place this past October at London’s Barbican Centre, Rem Koolhaas proclaimed that AMO’s newest publication Project Japan belongs to architecture, much in the same way that OMA’s spaces do. This comment is not surprising, coming from a man who has been reformatting architectural content since the beginning of his career, building on a framework laid out by many architects before him.


Judging by his ‘believe it or not’ delivery, Koolhaas appeared to assume that his comments would be interpreted as controversial. Speaking to a roomful of what can safely be assumed to be predominantly architects, why should such a comment be shocking?


Alongside buildings, models, drawings and images, words—printed and otherwise—are important tools for architectural communication. As they all transmit content, weighing the importance of one format over the other is difficult, if not impossible.


Any resistance to the suggestion that architectural production can happen across formats may stem from an identity crisis on the part of a profession who are unable to see themselves for who they are. Conventionally framed as purveyors of buildings, there is an entire realm of architecture that does not occupy itself directly with the production of habitable structures. While the general public can be forgiven for not having an awareness of this, architects—who have perhaps been confused by the requirements set by professional licensing institutions—cannot.


Sohrab Golsorkhi



Erandi de Silva


1 comment » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


April 9, 2012

Mariah Carey’s Closet (source)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1976 (source)


When Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines for Hawaii in 1986 she left behind a collection of two to three thousand shoes (no exact number has ever been agreed upon) in her closet in the presidential palace. The story was immediately seized upon by popular media around the world as a symbol of the extravagances of the Marcos regime. When Marcos returned to the Philippines in 2001 and opened a public museum to house her collection there was only enough room to display eight hundred pairs, begging the question, if a museum can’t contain such a massive collection, then exactly how large was Marcos’ closet?


Perhaps it’s not so difficult to believe the story today as it was in the 1980s. The public has since borne witness to Mariah Carey’s palatial closet space housing, among other garments, the singer’s collection of hundreds of identical white tank tops. This architecture of extravagance is unlikely to raise eyebrows in a post-Cribs, post-HGTV culture. But it is likely to invigorate the average consumer in their quest to conquer and reshape their own closet space. As wardrobes expand—Americans purchase 75% more clothes today than they did a decade ago—it seems that the question of how everything fits has become both practical and aesthetic.


Trade organizations like the National Closets Group are at the forefront of a multi-million dollar organizational industry dedicated to packing it in. And how could business be anything but booming with accumulation on the rise and the average American master closet space stuck at a paltry six feet by eight feet. It is a miniscule footprint in which to house our burgeoning collections; certainly smaller than the collective footprint of three thousand pairs of shoes.


As a loosely-slung adjective—especially in the dialect of British English—‘fit’ implies a particular aesthetic surface, typically in relation to the human body. Across the Atlantic, and especially in the state of California, the American turn of phrase accrues a sub-structure, deepening epidermis into underlying musculature. The fit body naturally required a fit architecture, which embraced openess through curtain-walls and distributed building plans at times scattered along cliffs with an ocean view; in the style of villas overlooking Largo Como or the small chalets constituting an entire enclave in the upper Swiss Alps. In other words, Modernism’s ideal home for an ideal body implicitly treated health and fitness as domestic or leisure-time activities (especially for the wealthy). This was a direct result of the mechanization of production processes, the backbone of service industry growth and the Great American sedentary lifestyle.


Today, the trickled-down suburban middle class landscape is punctuated by short trips to various strip malls and drive-thru joints via Sports Utility Vehicle. A walk to the nearest Raley’s in a residential pocket of NorCal’s Central Valley invites raised eyebrows and glances of disbelief from those traveling at a swift 35 mph. One regrets the lack of corner bodegas which thrive despite corporate retail outlets in urban centers; and unwittingly runs out of curb into weed-and-gravel-strewn patches or asphalt already wide enough to accommodate an armored tank or two. An irrigation canal which might prove picturesque is hemmed in by chain-link fences and hung with signage alluding to the possibilities of electric shock. Choosing to maintain a prime parking spot at Trader Joe’s while hastily marching past Kaiser Permanente to Cost Plus World Market… more


David Knowles



Kari Rittenbach


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