PAST

September 9th, 2012 — 11:09am
hawaii unparametric
Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii, 2012 (Photo by Ian Gold)
Church of the Holy Cross, Josef Lehmbrock, Düsseldorf, 1957-58 (source)

 

To travel across the islands of Hawaii from Southeast to Northwest—Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai—is to travel backwards in geological time. The islands, born of molten lava, formed in a linear sequence as the Pacific Plate slowly shifted across a stationary hotspot in the Earth’s mantle. As the islands distanced themselves from this hotspot, a few inches per year, their fiery volcanic growth eventually halted (the hotspot currently resides under the island of Hawaii, which remains volcanically active and continues to grow in size). Over time, harsh winds and waves tugged at the islands loose ends, while the cooling of their rocky masses dragged the islands sluggishly back into the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean.

 

The life cycle of the Hawaiian Islands is clearly diagrammed on cartographic maps as the islands increase in size as they near the hotspot. It is also readily apparent visually from the silhouettes of the island’s mountain chains. The 400,000 year old island of Hawaii, which is soft and conical in mass, contrasts sharply with the 5 million year old island of Kauai with its jagged gravity defying cliffs and canyons.

 

The agedness of these islands coincides with their commercial specialization. As the youngest and therefore tallest island, Hawaii supports significant astronomical infrastructure, including technologically advanced NASA telescopes trawling deep space. The primordial visual aesthetic of Kauai has landed the island in dozens of Hollywood films, and garnered it the nickname of ‘Hollywood’s tropical back lot’. Memorably, Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 adaptation of Jurassic Park, relied on the time worn silhouettes of Kauai’s mountains to convincingly transport his audience into an ancient land… more

 

“Instead of being the threshold to the future, the first ten years of the twenty-first century turned out to be the ‘Re’ Decade.”

—Simon Reynolds, Retromania

 

 

While the above quotation refers to current trends in pop culture, it is equally apt at describing contemporary architectural practice and its theoretical discourse.

 

As architects, while attempting to define a formal vocabulary for this ‘threshold to the future’, the 21st century, with the aid of new tools and processes such as parametric coding that allow for mass customization (Grasshopper and the like), we have invariably recycled a formal vocabulary belonging to past decades—a vocabulary associated with optimism in scientific progress that relied on cues from mathematics, physics, microbiology, and other natural sciences.

 

Parametric architecture, while conceptually tied to ideas of evolution, optimization, adaption and systematic complexity, exhibits none of these traits after its built implementation and while the underlying 3D-models might be parametric, the buildings themselves are not. In its current state, parametric architecture is not at all parametric in its physical performance—‘parametric’ merely describes an aesthetic while the architecture itself remains inert and representational, if not metaphorical.

 

There are many past forms that could have been produced with today’s technologies, including built structures that pioneer the aesthetics of incremental and complex geometry—many of which are more than 50 years old.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Viviane Hülsmeier

 

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CONTROVERSIAL

July 7th, 2012 — 6:43am
detonater
tilted
Still from Melrose Place, 1995 (source)
Announcement for Public Hearing, 1984

 

Dr. Kimberly Shaw: ‘Well, that makes bomb number three. Don’t you love the smell of sulfur in the afternoon, Sydney?’

 

[bound and gagged Sydney only grunts and groans]

 

Dr. Kimberly Shaw: ‘What’s that? No? Well, I don’t think hell is going to smell a whole lot better, but since that’s where you’re going to spend the rest of eternity, you better start getting used to it.’

 

—’Postmortem Madness’, Melrose Place, Season 4

 

 

In 1992, Beverly Hills, 90210, the prototypical teen drama documenting the hardships of America’s wealthiest teenagers, attained the peak of its popularity, reaching an estimated 18.1 million viewers per episode. In an effort to capitalize on its immense following, its producers spun off Melrose Place, a 90210 for a slightly more seasoned crowd. The series, which followed the lives of thirty-somethings trying to reinvent themselves in a Los Angeles courtyard complex, received criticism and poor ratings in its first season, for being too timid. To remedy these perceived failings, the writers of Melrose Place concocted increasingly controversial story lines in an effort to increase viewership. Love trysts, betrayals and workplace firings, which were commonplace in the second season, were later replaced by catastrophic events such as car crashes, murders and even the walking dead. Not satisfied with individual agony, and to achieve a climax of collective suffering for their entire roster of fictional characters, the writers ultimately turned against ‘architecture’.

 

In the first episode of the fourth season, in a revenge plot not so dissimilar in psychology from those carried out by Al Qaeda in September of 2001 (or by the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which preceded the original air date of… more

 

Through the Federal Government’s Art-in-Architecture program, Richard Serra was commissioned in 1979 to produce a large-scale sculptural installation for the Federal Office Building in Manhattan. Formed from a single sheet of 2-inch thick Cor-Ten steel, Tilted Arc was 120 feet long and 12 feet high. Its 72 tons were balanced by gently arcing the material, which allowed it to stand independently. Positioned diagonally across the plaza, it bisected the space creating an imposing barrier, forcing users of the space to detour around the artwork.

 

Divisive in nature, from the moment of installation, there were requests for its removal. A successful letter-writing campaign brought on a public hearing in 1984. Government officials from the public hearing committee voted 4-1 to remove the sculpture and on the night of March 15, 1989, it was cut into three pieces and sold for scrap.

 

Subsequent versions of the plaza have adhered to a spirit of increasing complacency, via memorial. Since 1997, Martha Schwartz Partners’ intervention distilled the most superficial notions of Serra’s boundary, echoing it through long curving rows of green plastic seating, which curled around mounds of vegetation. A little over a decade later, the space is adequately leaky to be considered irrelevant. Enough so, as to mandate a new version by Michael Van Valkenburgh: an increasingly generic iteration in the series which mimics the greenness of Schwartz’s chair boundaries, replicated through large, organically-curving planters. The soon-to-be plaza promises to be meta-referential, imitating the original intent of Serra through shallow allusions.

 

In their broad appeal, the plazas have not nearly generated the levels of interest that Tilted Arc did. Rather than pursuing potentially controversial agendas, a series of increasingly conservative designers have diminished the site’s critical capacity by tracing past interventions to produce mediocre work that neither offends nor pleases.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Jean-François Goyette

 

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COLD

February 8th, 2012 — 12:15am
arctic chrome
Arctic Fauna (source)
Barcelona Pavilion, Mies van der Rohe, 1929 (source)

 

It is only once animal life is snuffed out that bodies, bereft of movement, are expected to cool to the temperature of the surrounding air. While in life physiological processes and garments provide basic warmth, they do not suffice in the harshest of climates, where self imprisonment and blasting furnaces are some of the only means of comfortable persistence. The ills of cold climates are many. Infertile icy soils and short growing seasons force the importation of food from distant lands. Twenty-four hours of light or dark wreaks havoc on the experience of time, while the resulting lack and excess of ultraviolet light unhinges the body’s supply of vitamin D. More horrifically, prolonged exposure to the cold inflicts permanent damage to nerves and cells: blistering, the amputation of fingers and toes, and eventually, death.

 

Despite these sensible reasons to avoid the cold, there remain a few nations that ardently lay claim to vast arctic territories. Large swaths of Canada… more

 

‘Cold’ describes not only temperature but temperament. Distanced from the more ambiguous ‘cool’, it is a state that engages an extreme posture.

 

When architecture turns cold, it may become hermetic and defensive—at times exhibiting cruelty.

 

In cold weather, architectural skins often thicken and any openings are sealed, creating a limited environment, both controlled and isolated. When architecture takes on a cold disposition, as perhaps in the case of the Barcelona Pavilion with its chromed-steel cruciform columns, that reflectively tease, it allures, until the moment greasy fingerprints disrupt its surface—an indication of high-maintenance—serving to remind admirers to remain at a distance.

 

With its intense character, cold architecture—whatever its persuasion—remains difficult to access.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial

INFLUENCE

August 5th, 2011 — 6:45am
monster cy
Untitled, 2006 (Image by Author)
Cy Twombly at Home, Rome, 1966 (source)

 

Architectural educators often rely on the precedent to make distinctions between good and bad architecture. Works by esteemed practitioners such as Herzog and de Meuron, or Sejima and Nishizawa are dissected and documented in an effort to determine what makes them successful as buildings and as works of art. While important lessons may be learned, the danger of such idolatry for the nascent designer is in its capacity to influence. Architecture schools, which should be places of free exploration and experimentation instead become factories for the production of architectural pastiches, or collages, inspired by a few great men. Once naive and unpredictable thinkers, admirable qualities in youth… more

 

Cy Twombly drew deep inspiration from classical mythology and allegory. Recalling an artist with similar antique interests, he said ‘I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time’.

 

Twombly produced gestural works which bore scrawls resembling names such as ‘Virgil’. Roland Barthes claimed that though Twombly produced images that resembled words, they were stripped of their meaning – mere traces.

 

His home, a palazzo on the Via di Monserrato in Rome, like his works, evocatively represents articles originating in the distant past, in a present context.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

2 comments » | Editorial

SOFTWARE

July 21st, 2011 — 9:29am
grasshopper ice
Grasshopper Screenshot (source)
Living in the Ice Age, Thomas Léon, 2010 (source)

 

For the first time in my short life, I am starting to feel old. Not because I have physically aged all that much—my skin still has a great deal of elasticity—but because I cannot figure out Grasshopper. No, not the natural variety of grasshopper that jumps around the yard, but the generative modelling software by the same name.

 

Unable to design via generative algorithms, I am forced to rely on antiquarian inventions such as the sketchpad and pen, along with my primitive Homo sapien brain (there is also the marginally more advanced Autocad and unadulterated Rhino). When confronted with those rare design problems that cannot be solved through any other means, there is always that last fallback, which is to take advantage of perceived aged-ness and demand the help of that younger more tech savvy generation, also known as “the intern”. This feat carried through in confidence, with the knowledge that someday they too will stumble upon their own Grasshopper and the cycle will begin anew.

 

James Cameron and other moneyed Hollywood producers are not the only non-architects generating imagined landscapes out of 21st century digital software. Many young artists and filmmakers are producing works which present new ways to understand architecture by recontextualizing spatial imagery, using the methods of related disciplines.

 

In the English artist Thomas Lock’s piece Breaking Points—a project which is influenced by Paulo Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology—grand melancholic photographs of weather-beaten war bunkers sited on the French coast have been programmed, using Open Framework, so that they are randomly selected from a bank of hundreds to create a moving image which continuously destructs and constructs itself. With a similar dynamism, the French artist Thomas Léon’s film Living in the Ice Age is created with Lightwave 3D and Blender. In this work, an abandoned building is placed in the middle of a frigid landscape and as the sun rises and sets… more

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Josefine Wikström

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SWEET

June 8th, 2011 — 3:41pm
debs harvest
Southern Debutantes, 1951 (source)
Sugarcane Harvest, Cuba (source)

 

There is no better word to describe the American South, than ‘sweet’. Southern hospitality, the wedding cake lace of Southern Belles in their debutant finery, the birthplace of the worlds most popular sugary beverage, Coca-Cola, a region lauded for its many confectioneries, and the only climate inside of American borders tropical enough to support the growth of cane sugar.

 

There is, however, a duality to so much sweetness, all too familiar to anyone who suffers from a sweet tooth (chocolate cake, ice cream and glazed donuts are some of my favorite things). I use the term ‘suffer’, because the sensual experience of these types of confectioneries is all too fleeting. They linger on taste buds only as long as it takes to masticate, which is never long enough, only to disappear into the taste bud-less void of the gut, the concentrated saccharine flavor gone to waste (literally) at the end of the digestive cycle. The sweetness of the confectionery is soon replaced with the shrill whirring of the dental drill and the bitterness of pulverized teeth; rinse. Nevermind the endless hours of physical labor required to burn the extra calories ingested for such a short moment of pleasure… more

 

The best known landmark in Cuba’s Valle de Los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) is the Iznaga Tower, located on the estate of Manaca Iznaga. Built by rich colonizers exploiting a once booming sugar industry, the Tower was once the tallest building on all of the island, with its height designed to enable surveillance over the plantation below. Its tiers are equipped with bells which ring in various arrangements to indicate the schedule of a workday, to warn of slave uprisings, escaped slaves and even pirate invasions.

 

Currently, the building operates as a living museum, ensuring that the local history is not lost. The Tower and its associated factories have become symbols of the surrounding region, their images proliferated through various media aimed at tourists including pamphlets, postcards, keepsakes and even the welcome sign into the nearby city of Trinidad (an urban testament to the wealth of the sugar trade).

 

While architectural icons are often associated with a measure of celebrity and, in turn, are often objects of celebration, these buildings have historically dark underpinnings which situate their fame in a somewhat perverse territory.

 

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

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STAR

May 20th, 2011 — 10:52pm
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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STORY

April 29th, 2011 — 11:19pm
bars sphinx
Secured Window (source)
Hotel Sphinx Project, Zoe and Elia Zhengelis, 1975-6 (source)

 

‘Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light’.

 

—Le Corbusier, Towards an Architecture

 

 

There are two principle means of experiencing architecture. The first is through the senses, the result of light waves, sounds waves and our human weight bouncing around a controlled and curated environment. The creation of architecture of the senses occurs at a molecular level, with atoms organized and clustered to macroscopic artistic effect. The second means of experiencing architecture is through storytelling. Greek mythologies, Biblical tales, Hollywood movies, blogs such as the one you are currently reading, but also the mundane chit chat of our everyday lives create a parallel cerebral version of real and imagined places. While architects developed the term ‘Paper Architecture’ to describe unrealized architectural designs, most of what I will term as ‘Narrative Architecture’ exists only to advance a story. While the architecture itself is insignificant in such instances, it provides the important backdrop or context for the action. These two means of experience are not exclusive, and as Molecular Architecture… more

 

The old cliché goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. But how are those words organized? Do they stand alone offering distinct points of reference or are they arranged into sentences? Are those sentences related to one another to tell the same story or do they cluster together to tell multiple unrelated stories? Do these tales originate in the mind of the viewer or are they passed down from a different author?

 

It is also important to consider the role that time plays in the association between picture and story. For architects, who are often producers of both images and narratives, it is difficult to pinpoint which of the two emerges when. Sometimes the image may merely serve as a tool to illustrate an already solidified agenda. On other occasions, a visualization is produced through intuition and any accompanying story is post-rationalized. Another scenario exists where the narrative is written and then the image is created, or vice versa. What is produced initially is then adjusted to better fit what is produced later. The final scenario is one where narrative and image may be tweaked in tandem, with back and forth adjustments being made as required.

 

In general, the relationship between picture and story is a loose one.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial

BREAK

April 4th, 2011 — 11:39pm
rocksteady lights
The Rock Steady Crew (source)
Rotterdam from OMA’s Rooftop, Photo by James Leng, 2008

 

While the break of films and teevee is a dance born of the streets, performed in the streets on scraps of discarded cardboard, as a B-Boy in training, for the last three years (on and off admittedly), I have not once danced outside. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to break into dance on the sidewalk of a sunny afternoon, Rock Steady Crew blaring from the bass-heavy sound system of a nearby dollar store. I just doubt that I could handle the physical pain. Break and the urban environment, while a good aesthetic match—boomboxes, sneakers, graffiti—are a pretty rotten mix logistically. Most break moves require sustained and calculated contact between hands and floor, and soft human flesh is obviously no match for hard gritty, and often frozen, concrete, even after supple skin has transformed into a thick layer of rough calluses. Band-aid solutions such a duct tape and gloves are a distraction, and only marginally longer-lasting when dragged against the sharp, pebbly surface of pavement. Cardboard boxes, while providing a smooth surface, are a poor substitute for a sturdy gymnasium floor, which is where much breaking now occurs, in high schools and community centers scattered across New York City. While traditionally one of the four pillars of Hip-Hop, a culture of the streets, now that break has migrated indoors, perhaps it shares more in common with… more

 

In some offices, employees take breaks like clockwork. Fifteen minutes at 10:00 a.m., one hour for lunch at 12:00 p.m. sharp and another fifteen minutes at 2:30 p.m. In other offices, where employees work around the clock, flaunting international labor laws, breaks may be contrastingly very brief; they may last for as long as it takes to run outside and inhale an entire cigarette in one single breath or they may be meandering casual affairs. These extended recesses may involve a trip to the gym, or to a nearby cafe to take in a World Cup game and a few drinks, for upwards of two hours. In such instances, these intervals mesh with an employee’s private time creating an endless hybrid state that hovers between an individual’s professional and personal lives. Other such interludes, associated with this genre, may include dinner at a restaurant or a trip home for a nap. These two differing break scenarios demonstrate the opposing ends of architecture’s office cultures; consist versus erratic. Of course, it is important to note that numerous variations exist in between these extremes.

 

Employee break patterns may reflect the workings of an office and provide insight into where their priorities lie, but whether or not these habits are related to the critical value of an office’s work remains elusive.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial

CIRCLE

March 28th, 2011 — 8:03am
lynn magic
Alessi Tea and Coffee Towers, Greg Lynn (source)
Nostradamus in a Magic Circle, Engraving (source)

 

While CNC milling is prized for its capacity to rapidly produce large-scale prototypes of complex geometries, the physical properties of the mill’s construction—it relies on circular drill bits to carve away material—results in residual noise, or grooves, otherwise known as ‘tooling paths’. Although these tooling paths can be smoothed out with coats of Bando or sanded out of existence, over time they have become accepted into the contemporary design language and even celebrated for their ability to map the fabrication process—a marriage between fabrication and ornament, not dissimilar to the work of Process artists from the 1960s.

 

If Process art was prized for documenting natural organic phenomena, such as movement and gravity, contemporary rapid-prototyping offers a parallel view into the world of digital machines. The width and head-type of a tool-bit or the resolution of a plastic printer reveal the limitations of the technologies that produced them. But while the artists of the 60s were producing sculpture at a one to one scale, architects typically utilize rapid prototyping to produce scale models of objects that are much larger. And while the grooves on Greg Lynn’s Tea & Coffee Towers… more

 

To ward off bad luck, the more traditional residents of Lancaster County—the heartland of those apocryphally known as the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’—mount circles and shapes, colorful geometric compasses and mandalas, on their barn walls. The symbols have been termed ‘hex’ signs for reasons that are now opaque. Whether this name derives from sinister spell-casting—’hexing’, a gerund rooted in the German word for witch, Hexe—or from the more benign formal term, hexagon, is unclear. This ambiguity, however, reveals—despite its inherent confusion—a structural relation and hidden affinity. The distance between these two notions, between geometry and mysticism is, in some cases, not a great one.

 

The magic circle, imagined in both archaic and popular visions of sorcery, enacts precisely this conjunction of form and witchcraft. Drawn as a ring around its maker and enlivened by an accompanying incantation, it generates a protective realm, a field-like safe haven originating in simple, two-dimensional form. The magic circle forms a semi-architectural plan, the designs for a realm not built but mystically tangible.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Rachel Engler

 

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