kottke.org posts about architecture
Sebastian Marroquin is an architect who also happens to be the son of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Matt Shaw of The Architect’s Newspaper recently interviewed Marroquin, and it’s interesting throughout, more so than I expected.
For the first house that I built in Colombia, I didn’t even know who the client was. It was a mystery. There was a request, and they sent me the photographs, the plans, the coordinates, and everything that I needed to design the house. I never went to the place where the house is built. I don’t even know where it exists. When it was complete, they called me and I found out that the owner was one of the guys who, in 1988, put 700 kilos of dynamite in my house. It was a miracle that we survived because I was with my mom and my little sister there. It was the first car bomb in Colombia’s history. So I built the house for the guy who ruined mine.
It was a way for them to ask for forgiveness and in a way to understand us. They knew who I was from the beginning. It was weird and it was a clear opportunity and it was clear that a lot of things have changed in Colombia and that is a great example of how things have really changed now. People want to make peace.
Marroquin struggles with his father’s legacy and its effect on his career but also took obvious inspiration from Escobar’s own interest in architecture.
I believe that in a way my father was also an architect, he was very clever. He was just an architect for his own convenience. There was a Sunday my father took me to airplane fields and in the middle of the jungle, we were standing on the airfield and he asked me, “where is the airfield?” I couldn’t see it, and he said, “You are standing in it.” I couldn’t see it because I was looking at a house in the middle of the runway and there was no way the plane could land because it would crash against the house. He took a walkie-talkie and told one of his friends to move the house. It was on wheels. When the airplanes from the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) were searching with satellites looking for hideouts, they couldn’t find anything because there was a house in the middle of what was a possible airfield. The planes can use it — just move the house.
That’s why he was a great architect because when you visited the house, it worked. It had the bathrooms, the shower, everything. If the police went to the house, it would function perfectly. I believe that a lot of things from architecture I learned from my father and especially places to hide. He used architecture to hide.
Collaborating with a number of different people from all over the place, filmmaker Oscar Boyson went out into the world and came back with this excellent 18-minute video on the future of cities. Among the cities profiles are Shenzhen, Detroit, Singapore, NYC, Copenhagen, Seoul, Lagos, and Mumbai.
What does “the future of cities” mean? To much of the developing world, it might be as simple as aspiring to having your own toilet, rather than sharing one with over 100 people. To a family in Detroit, it could mean having non-toxic drinking water. For planners and mayors, it’s about a lot of things — sustainability, economy, inclusivity, and resilience. Most of us can hope we can spend a little less time on our commutes to work and a little more time with our families. For a rich white dude up in a 50th floor penthouse, “the future of cities” might mean zipping around in a flying car while a robot jerks you off and a drone delivers your pizza. For many companies, the future of cities is simply about business and money, presented to us as buzzwords like “smart city” and “the city of tomorrow.”
A few tidbits from the video to whet your appetite:
- An estimated 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. (It’s currently 54%.)
- Buying a Toyota Corolla in Singapore costs $140,000.
- In 2012, 52% of the cost of US highways and roads was paid by general tax revenue rather than by drivers (through gas tax and tolls). In 1972, it was only 30%, which means car usage is much more heavily subsidized than it used to be.
- When you buy a car in Denmark, you pay a 150% tax, even if it’s electric.
- And a relevant quote from Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “Lowly, unpurposeful, and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.”
And boy, listening to Janette Sadik-Khan talk about cities being for people and the importance of public transportation and then, directly after, having to listen to some dipshit from Uber was tough. (via @mathowie)
As part of Time magazine’s recent selection of the 100 most influential photos of all time, art historian Christine Roussel talks about the story behind the iconic Lunch Atop a Skyscraper photograph of a group of construction workers on their lunch break. Interestingly, no one knows for sure who the workers were and who actually took the photograph.
LightMasonry is a light installation by Jason Bruges Studio in York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. The Creators Project profiled the installation recently.
LightMasonry by Jason Bruges Studio recently paid homage to the work of the highly skilled masons and carvers using beams of choreographed light.
The beams seek out and outline the vaults of the huge space using a custom system of 48 computer-controlled lights. Designer Adam Heslop, who helped visualize the performance, said it required the studio to develop a whole range of new techniques.
This would be something to see and/or rave to in person. (thx, peter)
Built by NEXT architects in the Chinese city of Changsha,1the Lucky Knot bridge is a wonderfully inventive piece of architecture and engineering. It does not, however, appear very accessible to cyclists or the handicapped in the way that their Melkwegbridge project is. (via @robinsloan)
A building which cost $1.5 billion and was 20 years in the making was moved into position over the highly radioactive remains of the main reactor at Chernobyl this week. The time lapse video above shows how the building was inched into place.
The new structure, which is about 500 feet long, has a span of 800 feet and is 350 feet high, is designed to last at least a century and is intended to prevent any additional spewing of toxic material from the stricken reactor.
Even with the building in place, the surrounding zone of roughly 1000 square miles will remain uninhabitable.
Originally conceived as a year-long project, artist Charles Young keep going and has built an entire model city out of paper consisting of more than 600 buildings. It’s called Paperholm and many of the structures are constructed with moving parts.
I would like to live in some of these buildings, please. (via colossal)
An architecture firm called Elemental recently completed a disaster relief project in a city in Chile which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Rather than build typical public housing (high-rise apartments), the firm built out neighborhoods with the necessary infrastructure and populated them with half-finished houses.
The houses are simple, two-story homes, each with wall that runs down the middle, splitting the house in two. One side of the house is ready to be moved into. The other side is just a frame around empty space, waiting to be built out by the occupant.
That’s from a recent episode of 99% Invisible that covered the trend toward incremental buildings.
These half-built houses are a unique response from urban planners to the housing deficit in cities around the world. The approach has its roots in a building methodology made popular by the 1972 essay, “Housing is a Verb,” by architect John F.C. Turner. Turner made the case that housing ought not be a static unit that is packaged and handed over to people. Rather, housing should be conceived of as an ongoing project wherein residents are co-creators.
Cool idea…they’ve built How Buildings Learn into the process of home ownership.
The Architectural Record recently chose the 125 “most significant works that defined architecture” built in the past 125 years. Included are the Morgan Library, the old Penn Station, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the Eames House, the Seagram Building (a particular favorite of mine), the Salk Institute, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the High Line.
When he was asked to design a new outpost of iconic NYC hot dog joint Papaya King in the East Village, Andrew Bernheimer went around to several other establishments in the city built to serve food quickly — Chipotle, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s, Shake Shack, Gray’s Papaya — and looked at their floor plans and flow of customers through their spaces. Mark Lamster talked to Bernheimer about the survey.
ML: I think at fast food joints we’re conscious that we’re in a very controlled environment, but perhaps don’t realize (because we are in a rush), just how manipulative that space can be. How did you see this playing out in the places you looked at?
AB: It ranged. Artisanal places (like Russ & Daughters) don’t feel manipulative in an insidious way at all (other than showing off some great food and triggering all sorts of synaptic response), while others do (Five Guys and their peanuts, a pretty nasty and obvious trigger to go order soda or spend money on WATER). We didn’t just look at fast food joints, but also icons of New York (R&D, Katz’s) that do try to serve people quickly but I don’t think qualify as “fast food joints.” In these cases the manipulation is either entirely subliminal and beyond recognition, or it has been rendered unnecessary because a place has become iconic, the domain of the “regular.”
Speaking as a customer, places like Katz’s and Russ & Daughters always felt like a total mess to me. Katz’s in particular is the worst: the whole thing with the tickets, paying on the way out, the complete lack of a single line, separate ordering locations for different types of food, etc.
That Gray’s Papaya that used to be on the corner of 8th St and 6th Ave, however, was fantastic. It had the huge benefit of being situated on the corner, but when you walked in, there was the food being cooked right in front of you. It was obvious where the line was and what direction it was moving. And after getting your food, you could exit immediately out the “back” door or circle back against the line to find a counter spot to quickly eat your meal.
From the Worst of McMansions blog, McMansions 101: What Makes a McMansion Bad Architecture?.
McMansions lack architectural rhythm. This is one of the easiest ways to determine between a McMansion and a, well, mansion. Here is an example of a house with terrible rhythm. On the example below, none of the main windows match any of the other main windows. The contrasting materials distract the eye from an otherwise somewhat asymmetrically balanced (if massive) house. The inconsistency of the window shapes as well as the shutters make this house incredibly tacky.
It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at the typical oversized American suburban house. Some of the examples cited are truly hideous. The post on columns is worth a look too.
The dude from Primitive Technology is back and this time he’s constructed a grass hut from scratch.
This hut is easy to build and houses a large volume. The shape is wind resistant and strong for it’s materials. Gaps can be seen in the thatch but not if viewing from directly underneath meaning that it should shed rain well. A fire should be possible in the hut as long as it’s small and kept in a pit in the center.The reason the hut took so long is due to the scarcity of grass on the hill. It could be built much quicker in a field.
Casimir Nozkowski grew up in a building at 70 Hester Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before his parents occupied it in the late 1960s, the building had been a synagogue, a Prohibition-era distillery, and a raincoat factory. Before they moved out in 2012, Nozkowski “filmed the hell out of it” and made a short documentary about his childhood home.
My documentary is about my childhood home and how much of the past you could still see in it when we left. It’s about the development of a neighborhood a lot of lives have passed through and whether you can protect that legacy while still making room for new lives and new memories. In making my movie, I tried to follow some advice my mom gave me: “Don’t make a movie about moving out. Make it about how great it was to live here.” I like that sentiment but I couldn’t help wondering what was going to happen next to the old building I grew up in.
John Green shares delightful and interesting stories about 21 of the world’s most famous houses, including the Playboy Mansion, Winchester Mystery House, and Graceland.
Opened in 1956, Southdale Center in Edina, MN was the first fully enclosed shopping mall of its kind. Designed by Victor Gruen, it became the archetype of the typical American mall. Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece about Gruen is a great read.
Southdale Mall still exists. It is situated off I-494, south of downtown Minneapolis and west of the airport — a big concrete box in a sea of parking. The anchor tenants are now J.C. Penney and Marshall Field’s, and there is an Ann Taylor and a Sunglass Hut and a Foot Locker and just about every other chain store that you’ve ever seen in a mall. It does not seem like a historic building, which is precisely why it is one. Fifty years ago, Victor Gruen designed a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylight — and today virtually every regional shopping center in America is a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight. Victor Gruen didn’t design a building; he designed an archetype. For a decade, he gave speeches about it and wrote books and met with one developer after another and waved his hands in the air excitedly, and over the past half century that archetype has been reproduced so faithfully on so many thousands of occasions that today virtually every suburban American goes shopping or wanders around or hangs out in a Southdale facsimile at least once or twice a month. Victor Gruen may well have been the most influential architect of the twentieth century. He invented the mall.
Things were changing even as that piece was published in 2004. Sprawling shopping malls are closing and new construction has slowed dramatically. Commerce moved online and to big box stores. Southdale’s still kicking though!
The Misplaced Series removes notable New York buildings from their surroundings and “misplaces” them in desolate landscapes around the world. Concrete behemoths and steel-and-glass towers rise from sand dunes and rocky cliffs, inviting viewers to see them as if for the first time. Out of context, architectural forms become more pronounced and easily understood.
See all 10 buildings in their new surroundings at Misplaced New York.
Camilo Jose Vergara’s Tracking Time project is a collection of photos of locations around the US (LA, Harlem, Detroit, South Bronx) photographed repeatedly over the years, from the 70s to the present day. For instance, here’s how 65 East 125th St in Harlem looked in 1978:
And in 2015:
As Stewart Brand noted, Vergara’s project is a perfect illustration of How Buildings Learn.
Update: I can’t stop looking at these. Check out Fern St. in Camden, New at Newark Sts. in Newark, Paired Houses in Camden, and 6003 Compton Ave. in LA.
My new favorite YouTube channel is called Primitive Technology. It features mostly silent videos of an Australian man making and building things using only Stone Age technology. He built a hut out of mud, sticks, and leaves:
He made his own charcoal:
To make the charcoal the wood was broken up and stacked in to a mound with the largest pieces in the center and smaller sticks and leaves on the out side. The mound was coated in mud and a hole was left in the top while 8 smaller air holes were made around the base of the mound. A fire was kindled in the top of the mound using hot coals from the fire and the burning process began.
He’s also made an axe, a sling, baskets, and a cord drill for starting fires…all completely from scratch. Here’s the accompanying blog. (via @craigmod & sarah)
Christopher Robbins recently interviewed Robert Caro (author of The Power Broker, perhaps the best book ever written about New York) for Gothamist. The interview is interesting throughout. (I lightly edited the excerpts for clarity.)
Caro: If you’re publishing on the Internet, do you call them readers or viewers?
Robbins: Either, I think.
Caro: How do you know they’re reading it?
Robbins: There’s something called Chartbeat — it shows you how many people are reading a specific article in any given moment, and how long they spend on that article. That’s called “engagement time.” We have a giant flatscreen on the wall that displays it, a lot of publications do.
Caro: What you just said is the worst thing I ever heard. [Laughs]
That exchange makes a nice companion to Snapchat like the teens.
Caro: Moses came along with his incredible vision, and vision not in a good sense. It’s like how he built the bridges too low.
I remember his aide, Sid Shapiro, who I spent a lot of time getting to talk to me, he finally talked to me. And he had this quote that I’ve never forgotten. He said Moses didn’t want poor people, particularly poor people of color, to use Jones Beach, so they had legislation passed forbidding the use of buses on parkways.
Then he had this quote, and I can still hear him saying it to me. “Legislation can always be changed. It’s very hard to tear down a bridge once it’s up.” So he built 180 or 170 bridges too low for buses.
We used Jones Beach a lot, because I used to work the night shift for the first couple of years, so I’d sleep til 12 and then we’d go down and spend a lot of afternoons at the beach. It never occurred to me that there weren’t any black people at the beach.
So Ina and I went to the main parking lot, that huge 10,000-car lot. We stood there with steno pads, and we had three columns: Whites, Blacks, Others. And I still remember that first column — there were a few Others, and almost no Blacks. The Whites would be go on to the next page. I said, God, this is what Robert Moses did. This is how you can shape a metropolis for generations.
That’s something to remember the next time someone tries to rehabilitate Moses’ legacy. Not to mention this excerpt from The Power Broker:
Robert Moses had always displayed a genius for adorning his creations with little details that made them fit in with their setting, that made the people who used them feel at home in them. There was a little detail on the playhouse-comfort station in the Harlem section of Riverside Park that is found nowhere else in the park. The wrought-iron trellises of the park’s other playhouses and comfort stations are decorated with designs like curling waves.
The wrought-iron trellises of the Harlem playhouse-comfort station are decorated with monkeys.
And now I am filled with regret at never having read The Power Broker. I started it a couple times, but could never find the time to follow through. I wish it was available on the Kindle…a 1300-page paperback is not exactly handy to carry about and read. The unabridged audiobook is 66 hours long…and $72.
Architectures is a documentary series exploring the architecture of notable buildings and the architects who designed them.
Each 26-minute film in the series focuses on a single building chosen because of the pioneering role it has played in the evolution of contemporary architecture. Meticulously filmed, each building is explored in great detail and this in-depth examination highlights all the concerns that confronted the architect from the genesis of the project through to its completion.
I’ve embedded the first episode in the series above, an examination of The Dessau Bauhaus by Walter Gropius; the rest of the series is available on YouTube or on DVD. (via @BoleTzar)
I don’t know how practical this is — for one thing, how do you get into it? — but this house with a rooftop infinity pool is stunning. Design by Kois Associated Architects.
A photo of NYC’s Flatiron Building, taken in 1904 by Edward Steichen.
Fun fact: the Flatiron Building was not so named because of its resemblance to a clothes iron. It was actually named after the building’s owner, Archibald W. Flatiron.
Ok, not really. But *puts on mansplaining suspenders* the part about the building not being named after its resemblance to an iron is true. It was the piece of land that was so-named, long before the building was even built. A man named Amos Eno owned the property and it became known as “Eno’s flatiron”. The canny Eno, knowing his property was conveniently located right next to Madison Square, erected a screen on top of the small building at the very tip of the triangle and made it available for motion picture advertising in the 1870s. From Alice Alexiou’s The Flatiron:
He set up a canvas screen on top of the Erie ticket office roof, and charged the enterprising owners of stereopticons or “magic lanterns” — these were the first slide projectors, invented about twenty years earlier and now extremely popular — to project advertisements upon the screen. Madison Square, just opposite, provided the perfect place for the spectators. To keep them interested, the operator alternated pictures with the ads, all in rapid succession. “Niagara Falls dissolves into a box of celebrated boot blacking, and the celebrated blacking is superseded by a jungle scene, which fades into an extraordinarily cheap suite of furniture,” wrote a reporter in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1880. Sometimes in the Young Men’s Christian Association paid to add their messages — “The blood of Christ cleanses all from sin,” “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved” — to the mix. On balmy evenings, the slide displays lasted until as late as ten o’clock. Even in cold and nasty weather, the free shows drew crowds. The New York Times began using Eno’s screen for their news bulletins. The experiment drew huge crowds. “All the important events of the day were rapidly displayed in large letters… so that the public was at once informed of the news. From 7 o’clock until midnight the bulletins appeared in quick succession… The latest move in Erie, the Tweed trial, the hotel inspections, the doings of Congress… the messages being transmitted by telegraph from the Times office, as soon as received,” the Times reported on January 14, 1873. The New York Tribune now also began buying time on Eno’s screen. On election nights, Eno’s flatiron was now the nerve center of New York, as Democratic and Republican Party bigwigs held court across the street in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers filled Madison Square, where, staring at the screen, the waited eagerly for election returns.
Not to get all Victorian Internet on you, but that sounds a little like Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat.
Eno was not the first to use such a system to disseminate information. Before baseball games were broadcast on the radio, enterprising business and newspaper owners used information from frequent telegraph messages to display scores from the games in increasingly engaging ways. In Georgia, they even cosplayed games from telegraph intel:
“A novel feature of the report was the actual running of the bases by uniformed boys, who obeyed the telegraph instrument in their moves around the diamond. Great interest prevailed and all enjoyed the report,” read the Atlanta Constitution on April 17, 1886. (And as if that wasn’t enough to entice you, the paper also noted that “A great many ladies were present.”)
Which brings us back to that photo of the Flatiron. Just as the telegraph-assisted baseball game wasn’t “the real thing” or in some sense “authentic”, neither is Steichen’s print. For starters, it’s not the only one. Steichen made three prints from that same shot, one in 1904, another in 1905, and the last in 1909, the one shown above. You’ll notice that each of the prints is a slightly different color…he applied a different pigment suspended in gum bichromate over a platinum print for each one. The 1909 print was time-delayed, a duplicate, and painted on…was it even a proper photograph? Perhaps some in that era didn’t think so, but I believe time has proved that “great interest prevailed and all enjoyed” Steichen’s photographs. *snaps suspenders*
Drones have spawned the architectural tourist who can fly over buildings, dive through doorways, and sail down hallways without ever leaving his or her home. Curbed has a nice collection of architectural-tourism-by-drone videos. The subjects include Tesla’s Gigafactory, Apple Campus 2, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, which isn’t far from Wright’s Ennis House, which served as Deckard’s apartment in “Blade Runner.”
I spent some time in Rensselaerville, New York, this fall, where Andy Rooney used to pass his summers. Not far from his home, he had a five-sided shed in which he did his writing. It had an AC unit stuck to the side of it and triangle-shaped windows on its roof. He called it the Pentagon. The day I took this photo, it was quiet, and the door was padlocked.
What’s a ghost street? The shadow scape of a real street that no longer exists.
“The buildings that fill it look more like scar tissue, bubbling up to cover a void left behind by something else’s absence.”
One of the most persistent “facts” used by 9/11 truthers is that burning jet fuel can’t generate the temperatures necessary to melt steel beams, therefore something other than airplanes crashing into the WTC towers brought them down, therefore the US government or the Jews or, I don’t know, the buildings’ owners did it to collect the insurance payment.
In his workshop, blacksmith Trenton Tye easily demonstrates that although it’s true jet fuel can’t burn hot enough to melt steel beams, it can definitely soften the steel past the ability to bear any sort of load.
Here is one of the original architectural drawings done for the Empire State Building by William Lamb:
Scott Christianson wrote a brief piece (taken from his new book 100 Documents That Changed the World: From the Magna Carta to Wikileaks) on how the building was designed and built. The whole thing happened incredibly fast: the first architectural contract was signed in September 1929 and after only 410 days of construction, the building was opened in May 1931.
From Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols comes This Bridge Will Not Be Gray (at Amazon), a children’s book about how the Golden Gate Bridge came to be painted orange.
In this book, fellow bridge-lovers Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols tell the story of how it happened — how a bridge that some people wanted to be red and white, and some people wanted to be yellow and black, and most people wanted simply to be gray, instead became, thanks to the vision and stick-to-itiveness of a few peculiar architects, one of the most memorable man-made objects ever created.
The kids and I sat down with the book last week and they loved it. The pages on the design of the bridge prompted a discussion about Art Deco, with detours to Google Images to look at photos of the bridge,1 The Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. The next day, on the walk to school, we strolled past the Walker Tower, a 1929 building designed by Ralph Thomas Walker, one of the foremost architects of the 20th century. We were running a little early, so I stopped and asked the kids to take a look and think about what the building reminded them of. “Art Deco” came the reply almost immediately.
I’m really gonna miss reading to my kids — Ollie mostly reads by himself now and Minna is getting close — but I hope that we’re able to keep exploring the world through books together. NYC is a tough place to live sometimes, but being able to read about something in a book, even about a bridge in far-away San Francisco, and then go outside the next day to observe a prime example of what we were just reading is such a unique and wonderful experience.
From photographer Richard Silver, vertical panoramic photos of churches that emphasize their often incredible ceilings. (via ignant)
An upcoming book from BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City examines architecture through Ocean’s Eleven-tinted glasses.
At the core of A Burglar’s Guide to the City is an unexpected and thrilling insight: how any building transforms when seen through the eyes of someone hoping to break into it. Studying architecture the way a burglar would, Geoff Manaugh takes readers through walls, down elevator shafts, into panic rooms, up to the buried vaults of banks, and out across the rooftops of an unsuspecting city.
Update: The book is now out, accompanied by a spiffy new website.