A tour of some of the world's most famous houses Jun 22 2016
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We also looked at several photos of the bridge under construction, including this one of a construction worker standing on some wires near one of the towers without much separating him and the water below. I've heard about this gentlemen from the kids several times since. Like, "remember that guy standing on the wires when the Golden Gate Bridge was being built? I bet he isn't scared of spiders."↩
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.
From Pop Chart Lab, a beautiful poster showing 121 architectural styles of American houses.
Useful if you don't know your Victorian from your Tudor from your Greek revival.
An update as to what's going on in China with prefab skyscrapers: Zhang Yue's company recently completed a 57-story building in just 19 days. And they're still planning on building a skyscraper taller than the Burj Khalifa in a matter of months.
The revolution will be modular, Zhang insists. Mini Sky City was assembled from thousands of factory-made steel modules, slotted together like Meccano.
It's a method he says is not only fast, but also safe and cheap.
Now he wants to drop the "Mini" and use the same technique to build the world's tallest skyscraper, Sky City.
While the current record holder, the 828m-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai, took five years to "top out", Zhang says his proposed 220-storey "vertical city" will take only seven months -- four for the foundations, and three for the tower itself.
And it will be 10m taller.
This is...weird. The National Archives contains a Cocktail Construction Chart made in an architectural style, for some reason, by the US Forest Service in 1974.
Update: Kenny Herzog at Esquire did some digging and found out some of the chart's backstory.
If it does, royalties might be due to the family of late Forest Service Region 8 Engineer Cleve "Red" Ketcham, who passed away in 2005 but has since been commemorated in the National Museum of Forest Service History. It's Ketcham's signature scribbled in the center of the chart, and according to Sharon Phillips, a longtime Program Management Analyst for Region 8 (which covers Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico, though Ketcham worked out of its Atlanta office), who conferred with her engineering department, there's little doubt Ketcham concocted the chart in question. "They're assuming he's the one, because the drawing has a date of 1974, and he was working our office from 1974-1980," she said. And in case there'd be any curiosity as to whether someone else composed the chart and Ketcham merely signed off on it for disbursement, Phillips clarified that, "He's the author of the chart. I wouldn't say he passed it along to the staff, because at that time, he probably did that as maybe a joke, something he did for fun. It probably got mixed up with some legitimate stuff and ended up in the Archives."
I contacted the librarian at the Forest History Society and found similar information. An archivist pulled a staff directory from the Atlanta office (aka "Region 8") from 1975 and found three names that correlate with those on the document: David E. Ketcham & Cleve C. Ketcham (but not Ketchum, as on the document) and Robert B. Johns (presumably aka the Bob Johns in the lower right hand corner). Not sure if the two Ketchams were related or why the spellings of Cleve's actual last name and the last name of the signature on the chart are different.
However, in the past few days, I've run across several similar charts, most notably The Engineer's Guide to Drinks.1 Information on this chart is difficult to come by, but various commenters at Flowing Data and elsewhere remember the chart being used in the 1970s by a company called Calcomp to demonstrate their pen plotter.
As you can see, the Forest Service document and this one share a very similar visual language -- for instance, the five drops for Angostura bitters, the three-leaf mint sprig, and the lemon peel. And I haven't checked every single one, but the shading employed for the liquids appear to match exactly.
So which chart came first? The Forest Service chart has a date of 1974 and The Engineer's Guide to Drinks is dated 1978. But in this post, Autodesk Technologist Shaan Hurley says the Engineer's Guide dates to 1972. I emailed Hurley to ask about the date, but he couldn't point to a definite source, which is not uncommon when you're dealing with this sort of thing. It's like finding some initials next to "85" scratched into the cement on a sidewalk: you're pretty sure that someone did that in 1985 but you'd have a tough time proving it.
FWIW, if I had to guess where this chart originated, I'd say that the Calcomp plotter demo got out there somehow (maybe at a trade show or published in an industry magazine) and every engineer took a crack at their own version, like an early internet meme. Cleve Ketcham drew his by hand while others probably used the CAD software running on their workplace mainframes or minicomputers.
Other instances include these reprints of drawings from 1978 on eBay and an advertisement for a Cocktail Construction drawing in the Dec 1982 issue of Texas Monthly. ↩
The plans for Google's new offices in Mountain View blew me away. Not so much the reconfigurable office spaces1 but the greenhouse canopies. If those canopies actually work, they could result in a workspace that combines the best parts of being outdoors (the openness, the natural light & heat, greenery) with the benefits of working indoors (lack of wind & rain, moderate temperatures).
I'm skeptical. Can spaces made for any purpose be right for any single purpose? Swiss Army knives aren't that great at slicing bread.↩
Artist Aki Inomata builds fanciful new houses for hermit crabs.
Miniature windmills, churches, and even entire cities jut from the surface of her 3D-printed shells, which are modelled upon CT scans of abandoned crab shells and then recreated in transparent resin. Inomata then allows the homeless crabs to inspect the shelters at their leisure -- she says "most hermit crabs don't even glance at" them, but occasionally one of the creatures finds its dream real estate and settles in.
In 1958, Fortune magazine published the first major essay by Jane Jacobs that laid out her case against modernist urban developers. Downtown is for People was the catalyst for the publication of Jacobs' seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities three years later.
You've got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)
You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.
If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York's handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?
It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.
I love this cutaway view of Washington DC's Evening Star Building, drawn in 1922. The building is on the National Register as a Historic Landmark and was formerly the office of The Washington Star newspaper.
Best viewed huge. The whole thing is a fascinating view of how information flowed through a newspaper company in the 1920s. Raw materials in the form of electricity, water, telegraph messages, paper, and employees enter the building and finished newspapers leave out the back.
Found this via Craig Mod, who notes the Chris Ware-ness of the whole thing.
Watch as a group of Amish men raise almost an entire barn in a day.
Walking City is a slowly evolving walking video sculpture by Universal Everything. A walking tour of modern architecture, if you will.
In the early 1930s, Western Union and AT&T built two new buildings in lower Manhattan to house their telecommunications infrastructure. Here's a short film about their construction and ongoing use as hubs for contemporary telecom and internet communications.
Amazing that those buildings are still being used for the same use all these years later...they just run newer and newer technology through the same old conduits.
You may have previously read about the Citicorp Center. Joe Morgenstern wrote about the Manhattan skyscraper in a classic New Yorker piece from 1995. The building was built incorrectly and might have blown over in a stiff wind if not for a timely intervention on the part of a mystery architecture student and the head structural engineer on the project.
Tells about designer William J. LeMessurier, who was structural consultant to the architect Hugh Stubbins, Jr. They set their 59-story tower on four massive nine-story-high stilts and used an unusual, chevron-shaped system of wind braces. LeMessurier had established the strength of those braces in perpendicular winds. Now, in the spirit of intellectual play, in his Harvard class, he wanted to see if they were just as strong in winds hitting from 45 degrees. He discovered the design flaw and during wind tunnel tests in Ontario learned the weakest joint was at the building's 30th floor.
The whole piece is here and well worth a read. Last month, the excellent 99% Invisible did a radio show about Citicorp Center and added a new bit of information to the story: the identity of the mystery student who prodded LeMessurier to think more deeply about the structural integrity of his building. (via @bdeskin, who apparently factchecked Morgenstern's piece back in the day)
A fake Paris was partially constructed near the real Paris at the end of World War I in the hopes of confusing German planes who were looking to bomb the City of Lights.
The story of Sham Paris may have been "broken" in The Illustrated London News of 6 November 1920 in a remarkably titled photo essay, "A False Paris Outside Paris -- a 'City' Created to be Bombed". There were to be sham streets lined with electric lights, sham rail stations, sham industry, open to a sham population waiting to be bombed by real Germans. It is a perverse city, filled with the waiting-to-be-murdered in a civilian target.
I love this rendering of an abandoned Paris Metro station reimagined as a swimming pool:
This and several other renderings were created by OXO Associates for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet's Paris mayoral race. The others imagine subway stations turned into theaters, nightclubs, and underground parks.
I've got a soft spot for Photoshopped architecture photos, so Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy's Façades series is right up my alley. Gaudrillot-Roy removes the volume of buildings until they're left with just their façades.
For the past few years, UK police have used a secret network of fully furnished fake houses to snare burglars. They're called capture houses.
Based in the city of Rotherham, Stopford explained to me the hit-and-miss nature of a capture house. Some of the fake apartments have been open for as little for one day before being hit by burglars, and as long as nearly a year without being broken into even once. As Stopford went on to describe, these otherwise uninhabited residences are fully stocked, complete with electronic equipment, lights on timers, and bare but functional furniture, and they tend to be small apartments located in multi-unit housing blocks.
That apartment you pass everyday on the fourth floor, in other words, might not be an apartment at all, really, but an elaborate trap run by the police, bristling inside with tiny surveillance cameras and ready to spray invisible chemical markings onto anyone who steps inside-or slips in through the window, as the case may be.
We're used to thinking that technology progresses. Stuff gets better. But that's not the case with concrete...the Romans made concrete that's superior to the stuff we have now and scientists recently found out why it's so good.
The secret to Roman concrete lies in its unique mineral formulation and production technique. As the researchers explain in a press release outlining their findings, "The Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock. For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated -- incorporating water molecules into its structure -- and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together."
The Portland cement formula crucially lacks the lyme and volcanic ash mixture. As a result, it doesn't bind quite as well when compared with the Roman concrete, researchers found. It is this inferior binding property that explains why structures made of Portland cement tend to weaken and crack after a few decades of use, Jackson says.
Miha Tamura takes photos of nicely designed or otherwise unusual escalators in Japan. Here, for instance, is a spiral escalator:
Pingmag recently interviewed Tamura about her photos.
The most amazing is the spiral escalator made by Mitsubishi Electric. Curving escalators were conceived from early on when escalators were invented, but they are very difficult and even today Mitsubishi Electric is the only one in the world who can make them. If I hadn't come across this spiral escalator in Yokohama I don't think I would have committed myself to escalators as much as I have.
Designer and artist Rolf Sachs renovated the Olympic stadium that was used in the 1928 and 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz and turned it into his private residence.
And wow, St. Moritz still has a naturally made bobsled run...the entire thing is made out of ice and snow.
James Gulliver Hancock is on a mission to draw all the buildings in New York City.
If this photo series from 1950 of the interior of the White House being ripped out so that the building could be structurally reinforced isn't an apt metaphor for the current state of American politics, I don't know what is.
Experts called the third floor of the White House "an outstanding example of a firetrap." The result of a federally commissioned report found the mansion's plumbing "makeshift and unsanitary," while "the structural deterioration [was] in 'appalling degree,' and threatening complete collapse." The congressional commission on the matter was considering the option of abandoning the structure altogether in favor of a built-from-scratch mansion, but President Truman lobbied for the restoration.
"It perhaps would be more economical from a purely financial standpoint to raze the building and to rebuild completely," he testified to Congress in February 1949. "In doing so, however, there would be destroyed a building of tremendous historical significance in the growth of the nation."
So it had to be gutted. Completely. Every piece of the interior, including the walls, had to be removed and put in storage. The outside of the structure-reinforced by new concrete columns-was all that remained.
From a planning and transportation professional, a deconstruction of Busytown, the fictional town that features in many of Richard Scarry's children's books, including What Do People Do All Day?, Busy, Busy Town, and my personal favorite, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.
Scarry moved to Switzerland in 1968, and if nothing else, Swiss architecture permeates the old town center of What Do People Do All Day. The Town Hall of Busytown on the cover is nothing if not Tudor. There is a small gate through which a small car is driving. Something to note about the vehicles in Busytown is that they are all just the right size for the number of passengers they carry. The Bus on the cover is full, with a hanger-on. The taxi holds one driver in the front and one passenger in the rear. The police officer (Seargant Murphy) is riding a motorcycle. When he has a passenger, the motorcycle always has a sidecar. Similarly, each window in town has someone in it, sometimes more than one person. Of course, this is a busy town, so the activity makes sense. The cover of this includes the grocery store, butcher, and baker (no supermarkets in 1968 Busytown), one block in front of Town Hall. One thing to note about the Butcher is that he is a pig, and clearly butchering sausages.
The self-slaughter and cannibalism of the pigs is documented in Merlin Mann's Scarry Pigs in Peril Flickr set.
Nonetheless, Busytown is a place that works. Literally, in that it appears to enjoy full employment, and also in the sense that it has few obvious social problems. The police force, consisting of Sergeant Murphy, Policeman Louie and their chief, is charged with 'keeping things safe and peaceful' and 'protecting the townspeople from harm', which appears to largely consist of directing traffic, ticketing hoons and apprehending the town's notorious thief, Gorilla Banana [sic].
Now of course one could opine that it's in fact diffuse surveillance and self-surveillance that keep such remarkable order. All those open windows and doors, all that neighbourly cheerfulness, have a slightly sinister edge to them, if you're inclined to look for it, as do the lengths that some of the citizens will go to in order to promote proper behaviour amongst children.
Update: And here's another installment of the Busytown police blotter.
Traffic officer reported busiest traffic jam ever at intersection of Main and Hippopotamus. Gridlock started when a peanut car stalled in the intersection and the elderly cricket driver was unable to restart the vehicle. Officer and several drivers assisted the elderly cricket in moving his vehicle to the side of the road, where it was then struck by an alligator car driven by a female rabbit. Officer reported smelling alcohol in the female rabbit's breath and placed her in handcuffs until backup arrived. Officers then cleared the jam with the aid of two tow trucks.
In their book Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, James and Karla Murray are documenting the changing commercial facade of NYC's streets. A recent post on their blog focuses on a strip of Bleecker St between 6th and 7th Avenues in the West Village. This is Murray's old location circa 2001, before they moved across the street into a bigger space, expanded that space, and opened an adjacent restaurant:
I moved to the West Village in 2002 and, after a few stops in other neighborhoods around the city, moved back a couple years ago. Walking around the neighborhood these days, I'm amazed at how much has changed in 10 years. Sometimes it seems as though every single store front has turned over in the interim. (via @kathrynyu)
When Ronald McDonald bought a run-down house that dated back to 1795 with the intention of tearing it down to put up a hamburger restaurant, the citizens of New Hyde Park successfully got the house landmarked. Instead of cutting their losses, McDonald's renovated the house into the nation's classiest fast food joint.
This morning I was in an elevator with a woman who was listening to her messages on speakerphone. Lucky for me, the ride was only a couple floors. I'm not sure I could've lasted if the elevator ride were, say, a mile long. Atlantic Cities Nate Berg asks the experts: Is there a limit to how tall buildings can get? (We already know there's no limit to poor elevator etiquette.)
Chris Ware is coming out with a new graphic novel called Building Stories, which has appeared in bits and pieces in other places.
Building Stories imagines the inhabitants of a three-story Chicago apartment building: a 30-something woman who has yet to find someone with whom to spend the rest of her life; a couple, possibly married, who wonder if they can bear each other's company another minute; and the building's landlady, an elderly woman who has lived alone for decades. Taking advantage of the absolute latest advances in wood pulp technology, Building Stories is a book with no deliberate beginning nor end, the scope, ambition, artistry and emotional prevarication beyond anything yet seen from this artist or in this medium, probably for good reason.
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has released their list of the best tall buildings in the world for 2012.
Business Insider has a nice one-page view of the winners.
Chinese construction company Broad Sustainable Building has announced plans to build the world's tallest building...in just 90 days. When finished, it will be 220 stories high, 10 meters taller than Dubai's Burj Khalifa.
This may sound impossible, but BSB has been constructing buildings quickly by making parts ahead of time and then just putting them together on site. Prefab skyscrapers. In the past two years, the company has built a 15-story building in 6 days and a 30-story hotel in just 15 days:
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was open for about four months in 1940 before a steady wind set it twisting and ultimately tore the bridge apart.
Damn Interesting has a detailed account of the bridge's short history and demise.
After opening, the new bridge shortly came to be known as "Galloping Gertie," so named by white-knuckled motorists who braved the writhing bridge on windy days. Even in a light breeze, Gertie's undulations were known to produce waves up to ten feet tall. Sometimes these occurrences were brief, and other times they lasted for hours at a time. Numerous travelers shunned the route altogether to avoid becoming seasick, whereas many thrill-seeking souls paid the 75-cent toll to traverse Gertie during her more spirited episodes.
The 99% Invisible podcast devoted a show to the collapse of the bridge.
(via sarah pavis)
This is the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria, built in 1981 in honor of Communism. After Bulgaria turned away from Communism in 1989, it fell to ruin.
I first heard about the Buzludzha monument (pronounced Buz'ol'ja) last summer when I was attending a photo festival in Bulgaria. Alongside me judging a photography competition was Alexander Ivanov, a Bulgarian photographer who had gained national notoriety after spending the last 10 years shooting 'Bulgaria from the Air'. Back then he showed me some pictures of what looked to me like a cross between a flying saucer and Doctor Evil's hideout perched atop a glorious mountain range.
BLDGBLOG is running a distributed film festival called Breaking Out and Breaking In that will explore the architecture of escapes and break-ins in movies.
Breaking Out and Breaking In is an exploration of the use and misuse of space in escapes and heists, where architecture is the obstacle between you and what you're looking for.
Watch the films at home-or anywhere you may be-and then come back to discuss the films here on BLDGBLOG. It's a "distributed" film fest; there is no central venue, just a curated list of films and a list of days on which to watch them. There's no set time, no geographic exclusion, and no limit to the food breaks or repeated scenes you might require. And it all leads up to a public discussion at Studio-X NYC on Tuesday, April 24.
The overall idea is to discuss breaking out and breaking in as spatial scenarios that operate as mirror images of one another, each process with its own tools, techniques, and unique forms of unexpected architectural expertise.
It started on Friday, but there's still plenty of time and opportunity to join in.
Economist Jason Barr and his colleagues measured the bedrock depth in Manhattan and correlated it with building height. In doing so, they busted the long-held belief that there were no skyscrapers between Midtown and the Financial District because of insufficient bedrock.
What the economists found was that some of the tallest buildings of their day were built around City Hall, where the bedrock reaches its deepest point in the city, about 45 meters down, between there and Canal Street, at which point the bedrock begins to rise again toward the middle of the island. Indeed, Joseph Pullitzer built his record-setting New York World Building, a 349-foot colossus, at 99 Park Row, near the nadir, as did Frank Woolworth a decade later.
If you've ever been to downtown Minneapolis, you've likely used the large network of above-grade covered walkways that now stretches into nearly every corner of the downtown area. I'd always assumed they were built to help downtown workers and residents avoid cold weather during the winter, but that's not the case.
Rather, the skyway system originally emerged from a twofold desire. First, planners in the 1940s and 50s were very concerned about managing increasingly dense pedestrian flows, and viewed skyways as a way to maximize the use of urban space for both people and automobiles (Byers 1998 154). Second, business owners were interested in maximizing their property values, and saw the skyways an opportunity to double the amount of valuable retail space in their downtown buildings (Byers 1998 159).
I used to work in downtown Minneapolis, and the skyways were great in the winter. To be able to take a walk and get lunch without having to bundle up in coat, hat, mittens, scarf, etc. was almost like living in a warm climate...and that's no small thing during a long, dark Mpls winter. (via ★than)
Before Ice Cube became a rapper, he studied architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology, so he has some interesting things to say in this short appreciation of Charles and Ray Eames.
They was doing mashups before mashups even existed. It's not about the pieces, it's how the pieces work together. You know, taking something that already exist and making it something special. You know, kinda like sampling.
Update: The NY Times has an interview with Ice Cube about the video.
Q: How are your drafting skills these days?
A: You don't want to live in nothing I draw. I got a certificate. For a year. In '88. I don't think I picked up a T-square since.
The company was obviously under tight constraints as to what they could do with the store (they would have loved to encase the whole thing in plexiglass probably), but from the looks of things, they did a marvelous job. There's so little styling -- the whole store is just tables and screens mostly -- that it looks like the Apple Store not only belongs there, but that it's been there forever, like Grand Central was designed with the Apple Store in mind. If you walk around Grand Central, not a lot of the other retail locations can say that, if any. (photo by katie sokoler)
One of the many reasons to love the wooden water towers found on the tops of NYC buildings is that the structures themselves reveal the math behind how they work.
The distance between the metal bands holding the cylindrical structure together decreases from top to bottom because the pressure the water exerts increases with depth. The top band only needs to fight against the water at the very top of the tower but the bottom bands have to hold the entire volume from bursting out.
A couple years ago, I pointed to a 10-minute clip of a longer documentary called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Some kind soul has put the whole thing up on Vimeo:
This witty and original film is about the open spaces of cities and why some of them work for people while others don't. Beginning at New York's Seagram Plaza, one of the most used open areas in the city, the film proceeds to analyze why this space is so popular and how other urban oases, both in New York and elsewhere, measure up. Based on direct observation of what people actually do, the film presents a remarkably engaging and informative tour of the urban landscape and looks at how it can be made more hospitable to those who live in it.
There's been a lot written about Steve Jobs in the past week, a lot of it worthy of reading, but one piece you probably didn't see is David Galbraith's piece on Jobs' similarity to architect Norman Foster. The essay is a bit all over the place, which replicates the experience of talking to David in person, but it's littered with insight and goodness (ditto).
The answer is what might be called the sand pile model and it operated at Apple and Fosters, the boss sits independently from the structural hierarchy, to some extent, and can descend at random on a specific element at will. The boss maintains control of the overall house style by cleaning up the edges at the same time as having a vision for the whole, like trying to maintain a sand pile by scooping up the bits that fall off as it erodes in the wind. This is the hidden secret of design firms or prolific artists, the ones where journalists or historians agonize whether a change in design means some new direction when it just means that there was a slip up in maintaining the sand pile.
And I love this paragraph, which integrates Foster, Jobs, the Soviet Union, Porsche, Andy Warhol, Lady Gaga, and even an unspoken Coca-Cola into an extended analogy:
Perfecting the model of selling design that is compatible with big business, Foster simultaneously grew one of the largest architecture practices in the world while still winning awards for design excellence. The secret was to design buildings like the limited edition, invite only Porsches that Foster drove and fellow Porsche drivers would commission them. Jobs went further, however, he managed to create products that were designed like Porsches and made them available to everyone, via High Tech that transcended stylistic elements. An Apple product really was high technology and its form followed function, it went beyond the Porsche analogy by being truly fit for purpose in a way that a Porsche couldn't, being a car designed for a speed that you weren't allowed to drive. Silicon Valley capitalism had arguably delivered what the Soviets had dreamed of and failed, modernism for the masses. An iPhone really is the best phone you can buy at any price. To paraphrase Andy Warhol: Lady Gaga uses an iPhone, and just think, you can have an iPhone too. An iPhone is an iPhone and no amount of money can get you a better phone. This was what American modernism was about.
The Onion's A.V. Club takes a field trip to see the Harlem house where the exteriors (and many of the interiors) were shot for The Royal Tenenbaums.
I don't really know why exactly, but I found Steve Jobs' presentation to the Cupertino City Council about Apple's proposed new campus fascinating.
Really smart and eco-friendly design. (via @daveg)
Oobject has a interesting collection of insane asylum plans, many of which take their cue from Victorian asylums.
The Kirkbride plan consists of an enormous a symmetrical staggered wing, like a bird made out of lego. Men are on the left and women on the right in wings that radiate from the main entrance for increasingly violent or incurable patients. Early mental institutions where patients had to pay for their own incarceration would also vary in class (rich to poor) on the y axis. The staggering of the wings ensured the flow of air through each, purging them of diseased vapors perhaps, such was the Victorian obsession with fresh air, from outdoor Tuberculosis wards to seaside promenades and piers.
Over the course of more than fifteen years, architect and critic Michael Sorkin has taken an almost daily twenty-minute walk from his apartment near Washington Square in New York's Greenwich Village to his architecture studio further downtown in Tribeca. This walk has afforded abundant opportunities for Sorkin to reflect on the ongoing transformation of the neighbourhoods through which he passes. Inspired by events both mundane and monumental, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan unearths a network of relationships between the physical and the social city.
Here's a chapter listing:
145 Hudson Street
Robert Campbell, the architecture critic for the Boston Globe, says of the book:
Not since the great Jane Jacobs has there been a book this good about the day-to-day life of New York. Sorkin writes like an American Montaigne, riffing freely off his personal experience (sometimes happy, sometimes frustrating) to arrive at general insights about New York and about cities everywhere.
In Singapore, many apartment buildings have empty open-air ground floors called "void decks" that get put to a variety of uses: day-care, weddings, bicycle parking, small stores, etc.
More than 80% of Singapore's population lives in public housing, in buildings designed to government specifications. And Singapore's government ensures that every apartment building mirrors the country's ethnic mix, with Chinese, Malays, and Indians living as neighbors in proportion to their share of the population -- 77%, 14%, and 8% respectively. The void deck ensures that everyone gets to know each other, and each other's cultures. As the Times puts it, its pleasures are actually "part of Singapore's strictly enforced social policies aimed at ensuring harmony among the races in a region often torn by religious and ethnic strife."
In 1916, Kennard Thomson, consulting engineer and urban planner for New York City, wrote an article for Popular Mechanics in which he advocated (among other things) filling in the East River to merge Manhattan with Brooklyn.
By Dr Thomson's estimates, enlarging New York according to his plans would cost more than digging the Panama Canal - but the returns would quickly repay the debt incurred and make New York the richest city in the world. He then goes on to describe how he would reclaim all that land. The plan's larger outlines: move the East River east, and build coffer dams from the Battery at Manhattan's southern tip to within a mile of Staten Island, on the other side of the Upper Bay, and the area in between them filled up with sand. This would enlarge Manhattan to an island several times its present size.
Proximity and easy access to the new Battery would increase the total land value of Staten Island from $50 million to $500 million. "This would help pay the expenses of the project," Dr Thomson suggests.
The project would also add large areas of land to Staten Island itself, to Sandy Hook on the Jersey shore just south of there and create a new island somewhere in between. The East River, separating Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn, would be filled and replaced by a new canal east of there, slicing through Long Island from Flushing to Jamaica Bays.
If you liked the video mapping on the IAC building, this one might be even better. For the 600th anniversary of the construction of the tower clock in Prague, The Macula projected a really great video on the tower...watch at least through the brick stacking animation.
Last Saturday, the IAC building in Chelsea became the screen for a giant video art project.
Before peeking ahead, quick quiz: as 1884 came to a close, what was the tallest building in the world? It's the one in the middle of this beautiful diagram of The Principal High Buildings of the Old World from Cram's Unrivaled Family Atlas of the World:
That's right, the Washington Monument was the tallest building in the world for about five years before the Eiffel Tower, at almost double the height of the Washington Monument, took over the top spot for more than 40 years. (via modcult)
Well, it's not leaning any further than it already is. After the iconic building nearly toppled over in the mid-90s, engineers were able to tilt the building back to its 19th century lean and also halted future tilting.
Action was finally taken in 1992 (bracing the first storey with steel tendons, to relieve strain on its vulnerable masonry) and in 1993 (stacking 600 tons of lead ingots on the piazza to the tower's north, to counterweight the lean). Yet both measures, especially the lead ingots, riled the aesthete Italian public, deforming as they did the slender tower's bella figura.
In response, in 1995, the committee opted for 10 underground steel anchors, to invisibly yank the tower northwards. Little did they know, though, this would bring the tower closer to collapse than ever before, in an episode now known as Black September.
From a panel of 52 experts surveyed by Vanity Fair, a list of the 21 most important works of architecture created since 1980. The top three:
1. Frank Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao
2. Renzo Piano's Menil Collection in Houston
3. Peter Zumthor's Thermal Baths in Vals, Switzerland
Here are the complete results of the survey.
Fast Company has a sneak preview of what the new section of the High Line park will look like. (thx, damien)
Chinese masons used to make mortar using sticky rice. The practice originated at least 1500 years ago.
The secret ingredient that makes the mortar so strong and durable is amylopectin, a type of polysaccharide, or complex carbohydrate, found in rice and other starchy foods, the scientists determined. The mortar's potency is so impressive that it can still be used today as a suitable restoration mortar for ancient masonry.
(via history blog)
A new Subway has recently opened in Manhattan...hanging on the outside of the 27th floor of the skeleton of 1 World Trade Center. The Subway will move upwards as the building is constructed and it is hoped that construction workers will dine there instead of heading off-site for long lunches via a slow hoist.
"I don't think the veggies will be a big seller," said Mr. Schragger, who owns four other Subways in Manhattan. "I imagine most of the guys will want protein. Philly Cheesesteaks and the Feast."
Philly Cheesesteaks and the Feast would be a great name for a band.
In Hong Kong, cars drive on the left while in the rest of China, they drive on the right. If you're building a bridge between the two, you've got to come up with a clever way to switch lanes without disruption or accident. Behold, the flipper:
The only way that could be more cool is if one of the lanes went into a tunnel under the water or corkscrewed over the other lane in a rollercoaster/Mario Kart fashion. Lots more on the NL Architects site.
A 22-yo architecture student from The Philippines has "beaten" Sim City 3000 by building a city with the largest possible population that sustains itself for 50,000 years. The city, called Magnasanti, is not somewhere you would want to live.
There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle -- this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It's a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don't rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.
Update: In 1922, Le Corbusier designed an "ideal" city with 3 million inhabitants. (thx, diana)
Reporting for Design Observer, Mark Lamster visits the new CityCenter complex in Las Vegas.
There's something dystopic about the place generally, and CityCenter is starting to feel like the world of Blade Runner come to life. I head back to my room, shut the black-out curtains and lie in bed. More people commit suicide in Las Vegas than in any other city in the United States.
But then, upon his return to NYC:
Drinks at Prime Meats, in Brooklyn, with my wife. Realistically, this place is as much an artifice as anything on the Strip, a re-imagining of a 19th-century saloon, complete with polished bar, antique typography, Edison bulbs. Why, then, does it feel so much more honest? Because its aesthetic is filtered through a contemporary sensibility? Because it seems a natural part of a vibrant neighborhood? Is this all bullshit I invent to make myself feel more comfortable?
An unusual architecture competition: $500 to the best architectural drawing that uses glitter.
This includes new drawings made with glitter, old drawings pepped up with a little sparkle, as well as anything else that you can imagine so long as it satisfies two criteria:
It's a drawing of architecture.
It uses glitter.
Entries are due by March 15th.
It's still unknown exactly why this area -- and this area alone -- should produce such regular lightning. One theory holds that ionized methane gas rising from the Catatumbo bogs is meeting with storm clouds coming down from the Andes, helping to create the perfect conditions for a lightning storm.
With a total of roughly 1.2 million lightning discharges per year, the Relampago del Catatumbo is thought to be the world's greatest producer of ozone. As the lightning rips through the air, it produces nitrogen oxide, which is later converted by sunlight into ozone, which ends up in a protective layer high above the planet.
I learned about this storm from the description of a course that Geoff Manaugh is teaching at Columbia about...what would you call it...geoarchitecture?
The studio will be divided into three groups -- one designing glaciers, one designing islands, one designing storms. Each group will mix vernacular, non-fossil fuel-based building technologies with what sounds like science fiction in order to explore the fine line between architectural design and the amplified cultivation of natural processes.
The largest sealed environment ever created, constructed at a cost of $200 million, and now falling somewhere between David Gissen's idea of subnature -- wherein the slow power of vegetative life is unleashed "as a transgressive animated force against buildings" -- and a bioclimatically inspired Dubai, Biosphere 2 even included its own one million-gallon artificial sea.
Nikolai Sutyagin decided to build himself a home befitting the owner of a lumber and construction company. This resident of Archanglesk, Russia, built a regular Izba, or wooden country dwelling, that was the standard two stories, because anything higher is considered a fire hazard by law. Once complete, he began to add to the roof bit by bit, using leftover lumber from his company. Eventually his home teetered at an unbelievable 12-15 stories, tall enough to view the White Sea from the top. Though Nikolai ran into some trouble with an embezzling employee and jail time for beating up said employee, he and his family are rumored to still dwell in the timber tower, which looks like something out of an Edward Gorey etching.
The ancient Roman vomitorium, or vomitoria, were supposedly places where diners could go and void their stomachs during a meal, in order to make room for more delicacies. There are even detailed descriptions of the rooms, stating that they had large slabs or pillars to lean over that would better facilitate voiding the stomach. Though it might come as a disappointment to preteen boys studying Latin, the vomitorium of such lore is a myth. A true vomitoria is actually a well-designed passage within an ampitheater that allowed large numbers of Romans to file in and out of large spaces quickly. The root of the word, vomere, translates to "spew out," which makes sense when applied to hurried exits.
A couple in London have found the ultimate space-saving solution for a city-dwelling book lover: a staircase bookshelf. UK-based Levitate Architects came up with the page-turning passage as a unique way to augment a loft sleeping space in the attic with discreet storage. If they could create a record crate bathroom, I'd be ready to move in.
There are some architects who theorize that intuitive, adaptable buildings are in our future. These structures might be made of components that adjust to certain variables: a particularly rainy evening, a raucous Super Bowl party on the third floor, or a brutally cold December day. Says German architect Axel Ritter:
Buildings of the future will be able to change colour, size, shape and opacity in reaction to stimuli. Architects will be able to design buildings that change their geometry according to the weight of the people inside.
The use of these reactive materials would alter the relationship between architecture and building behavior. If you're lucky, it might also improve your apartment's laughable square footage.
Wow. (thx, ethan)
Update: And here are some images from Google Earth on what the Manhattan views from Burj Dubai would look like. The Top of the Rock one is crazy.
Winners in the Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition have been announced. Evan Roth, a noted Michael Jackson enthusiast, came in first. I like the second place entry only slightly more:
A gold-plated wind turbine powers an interactively-lit dance floor and speaker system. Michael Jackson's music plays day and night for the fans that congregate in these remote sand flats.
Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom Farm grows their mushrooms in a disused railway tunnel just outside of Sydney, Australia; the varieties grown there have been bred specifically for growing in the tunnel..."they are species designed for architecture".
He keeps his mushroom cultures in test-tubes filled with boiled potato and agar, and initially incubates the spawn on rye or wheat grains in clear plastic bags sealed with sponge anti-mould filters before transferring it to jars, black bin bags, or plastic-wrapped logs; (middle) Shimeji and (bottom) pink oyster mushrooms cropping on racks inside the tunnel. Dr. Arrold came up with the simple but clever idea of growing mushrooms in black bin bags with holes cut in them. Previously, mushrooms were typically grown inside clear plastic bags. The equal exposure to light meant that the mushrooms fruited all over, which made it harder to harvest without missing some
There are some fine ideas among the finalists in the ReBurbia competition.
Calling all future-forward architects, urban designers, renegade planners and imaginative engineers: Show us how you would re-invent the suburbs! What would a McMansion become if it weren't a single-family dwelling? How could a vacant big box store be retrofitted for agriculture? What sort of design solutions can you come up with to facilitate car-free mobility, 'burb-grown food, and local, renewable energy generation? We want to see how you'd design future-proof spaces and systems using the suburban structures of the present, from small-scale retrofits to large-scale restoration--the wilder the better!
In one hilly area in the rainforest of northeastern India, they build bridges out of living trees. Specifically the roots.
The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they're extraordinarily strong -- strong enough that some of them can support the weight of fifty or more people at a time. In fact, because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time -- and some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunjee may be well over five hundred years old.
David Galbraith calculates that if buildings by famous architects were priced like paintings, a Le Corbusier building would be worth more than the entire US GDP.
The top floor of Corbusier's Villa Stein (one of perhaps the top 500 most important houses of the late 19th/early 20th centuries - i.e. a Van Gogh of houses) is for sale for the same price per sq.ft. (approx $1400) as buildings in the same area of suburban Paris, designed by nobody in particular. Meanwhile, Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for an inflation adjusted price of $136 million yet a poster of similar square footage and style costs around $10.
In terms of signaling, it's difficult to hang a house on one's parlor wall...buying a Corbusier means living in it wherever it happens to be located, at least part of the year.
From Marcus Buck, imprints of demolished houses left on other houses.
The Architects' Journal selected their top 10 structures from the Star Wars films.
Not quite a building, but the monumental quality of its form and its polygonal facades lend this Jawa Sandcrawler a building-like presence. These large treaded vehicles have inspired buildings from a Tunisian hotel to Rem Koolhaas' Casa de Musica in Porto.
Another nail house is actually a nail church. Citicorp Center was built without corner columns to accommodate St. Peter's Church, which occupied one corner of the block on which the skyscraper was built. The engineer who built Citicorp Center made a mistake related to the church's accommodation and famously corrected it after the building was built.
Update: The original link is dead, but In Focus has collected 20+ photos of nail houses in China, where development is happening quickly.
Yet as data centers increasingly become the nerve centers of business and society -- even the storehouses of our fleeting cultural memory (that dancing cockatoo on YouTube!) -- the demand for bigger and better ones increases: there is a growing need to produce the most computing power per square foot at the lowest possible cost in energy and resources. All of which is bringing a new level of attention, and challenges, to a once rather hidden phenomenon. Call it the architecture of search: the tens of thousands of square feet of machinery, humming away 24/7, 365 days a year -- often built on, say, a former bean field -- that lie behind your Internet queries.
Conveniently, evil already has a visual language. Put another way: I have seen the face of evil, and it is a caricature of gothic construction. There's barely a necromancer in existence whose dark citadel doesn't in some way reflect real-world Romanian landmarks, such as Hunyad or Bran Castle. The visual theme of these games is so heavily dependent on previously pillaged artistic ideas from Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien that evil ambiance is delivered by shorthand. (Of course, World of Warcraft's Lich King gets a Stone UFO to fly around in -- but it's still the same old prefab pseudo-Medieval schtick inside). Where the enemy is extra-terrestrial, HR Giger's influence is probably going to be felt instead.
Oobject has collected 15 housing projects from hell.
Despite the title of this list, several of these housing projects were designed by some of the world's most famous architects and lauded at the time. The undeniable squalor of 19th Century slums combined with modernism to produce and attempt to clean things up and create a crystalline utopia. The end result was often an anti-septic vision of hell, a place devoid of organic spaces and evolved social interaction.
Magnus Larsson has proposed building an ingenious structure in the Sahara Desert: a 6,000 km-long wall of sandstone made by flushing bacillus pasteurii through loose sand. The bacteria quickly solidifies the sand, thereby providing a wall to stop the advance of the desert or even structures for people to live in.
I researched different types of construction methods involving pile systems and realised that injection piles could probably be used to get the bacteria down into the sand -- a procedure that would be analogous to using an oversized 3D printer, solidifying parts of the dune as needed. The piles would be pushed through the dune surface and a first layer of bacteria spread out, solidifying an initial surface within the dune. They would then be pulled up, creating almost any conceivable (structurally sound) surface along their way, with the loose sand acting as a jig before being excavated to create the necessary voids.
This sounds more like sculpting or baking than architecture.
In 1879, Brooklyn papermaker Robert Gair developed a process for mass producing foldable cardboard boxes. One of the paper-folding machines in his factory malfunctioned and sliced through the paper, leading Gair to the realization that cutting, creasing, and folding in the same series of steps could transform a flat piece of cardboard into a box.
Gair's invention made him a wealthy man and turned his company into an epicenter of manufacturing in Brooklyn. From Evan Osnos' New Yorker article about Chinese paper tycoon Cheung Yan:
Gair's box, a cheap, light alternative to wood, became "the swaddling clothes of our metropolitan civilization," Lewis Mumford wrote. Eventually, the National Biscuit Compnay introduced its first crackers that stayed crispy in a sealed paper box, and an avalanche of manufacturers followed. Gair expanded to ten buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront. Massive migration from Europe to the United States created a manufacturing workforce in Brooklyn, to curn out ale, coffee, soap, and Brillo pads -- and Gair made boxes right beside them.
Gair's concentrated collection of buildings eventually led the area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to be called Gairville. That area is now known as Dumbo and, in addition to tons of residential space, the neighborhood is home not to manufacturing but to architecture firms, web companies, and other creative industries.
The Gair Company's most iconic building was also its last: the Clocktower Building, also known as Gair Building No. 7. I tracked down several of the other Gair buildings and put them on this Google Map.
Can you help fill in the holes? Email me with additions/corrections and I'll fill them in on the map. Thanks!
Update: I found a photo of some of the buildings that comprised Gairville on Google Books. The map has a couple of additions as well.
A family in Porterville, California recently discovered that their new home has an unmapped addition. An underground lair.
They noticed what they suspected was a small sink hole at the corner of a concrete patio slab. As they checked on the hole, Edwards was pulling some weeds nearby.
"His foot just sunk," Barton said, "and that's when we thought we saw a dead body."
Turns out it wasn't a dead body, but some foam insulation. Beneath it, a large space. Everybody thinks it's a subterranean grow room. They're afraid their four-year-old son Ethan will want to play down there.
Also recently unearthed, tunnels belonging to crusaders were found under Malta. Unlike the marijuana-propagating sanctum, these structures are believed to have been designed to facilitate Crusades-era sanitation and to bolster the water supply for the Knights of Malta. Ethan, play here instead.
The Prada Transformer building in Seoul was designed to accommodate events in the spheres of art, architecture, film, and fashion, and it does so in a wholly unusual way: the entire structure somersaults.
From the site's press release:
The Transformer combines the four sides of a tetrahedron: hexagon, cross, rectangle and circle into one pavilion. The building, entirely covered with a smooth elastic membrane, will be flipped using cranes, completely reconfiguring the visitor's experience with each new programme. Each side plan is precisely designed to organize a different event installation creating a building with four identities. Whenever one shape becomes the ground plan, the other three shapes become the walls and the ceiling defining the space, as well as referencing historic or anticipating future event configurations.
From Porch to Patio, a 1975 piece by Richard Thomas, discusses the transition in American society from the semi-public gathering place in front of a house to the private space in the back.
When a family member was on the porch it was possible to invite the passerby to stop and come onto the porch for extended conversation. The person on the porch was very much in control of this interaction, as the porch was seen as an extension of the living quarters of the family. Often, a hedge or fence separated the porch from the street or board sidewalk, providing a physical barrier for privacy, yet low enough to permit conversation.
When people started moving out to new buildings in the suburbs, the patio emerged to provide the privacy for these urban refugees.
The patio was an extension of the house, but far less public than the porch. It was easy to greet a stranger from the porch but exceedingly difficult to do so from the backyard patio. While the porch was designed in an era of slow movement, the patio is part of a world which places a premium on speed and ease of access. The father of a nineteenth-century family might stop on the porch on his way into the house, but the suburban man wishes to enter the house as rapidly as possible to accept the shelter that the house provides from the mass of people he may deal with all day.
(via front porch republic)
Here's an unusual bit of NYC sightseeing for tomorrow morning. Between 7:30 and 8:30am tomorrow, a house designed by influential architect Robert Venturi will be floating under the Brooklyn Bridge.
In a bid to avoid the wrecking ball, Venturi's Lieb House is traveling by barge from the New Jersey coast to the north shore of Long Island. During the two-day trip, the house will journey through the Atlantic Ocean, across New York Harbor, up the East River, and into Long Island Sound -- a distance of about 75 miles, as the seagull flies.
The floating house will be shown in an upcoming documentary about Venturi, his wife, and their architectural practice. (thx, ed)
A tantalizing 10-minute clip of an hour-long video called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.
The clip shows an analysis of the plaza of the Seagram Building in NYC and what makes it so effective as a small urban space.
A busy place for some reason seems to be the most congenial kind of place if you want to be alone. [...] The number one activity is people looking at other people.
The video was adapted from a book of the same name by William H. Whyte, who is perhaps most well known as the author of The Organization Man. The video is largely out of print -- which is a shame because that clip was fascinating -- but I found a DVD copy for $95 (which price includes a license for public performance). (via migurski)
When the money dries up, so too do the plans for tall buildings by big-name architects. In the late 1920s, a number of buildings in NYC were scrapped in the planning stage or built significantly lower than planned.
I didn't watch the clip he links to but I can't imagine anything is more entertaining than David Galbraith's scathing goodbye to Dubai. He opens with:
Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world's worst business idea, and there isn't even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai - it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.
What's the biggest problem with Dubai? It doesn't have the cultural bedrock needed to support a destination city.
It looks like Manhattan except that it isn't the place that made Mingus or Van Allen or Kerouac or Wolf or Warhol or Reed or Bernstein or any one of the 1001 other cultural icons from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas that form the core spirit of what is needed, in the absence of extreme toleration of vice, to infuse such edifices with purpose and create a self-sustaining culture that will prevent them crumbling into the empty desert that surrounds them.
Hong Kong architect Gary Chang has renovated his tiny apartment four times since he's owned it. The most recent renovation is called "The Domestic Transformer".
The wall units, which are suspended from steel tracks bolted into the ceiling, seem to float an inch above the reflective black granite floor. As they are shifted around, the apartment becomes all manner of spaces -- kitchen, library, laundry room, dressing room, a lounge with a hammock, an enclosed dining area and a wet bar.
Chang's Suitcase House uses many of the same principles as his apartment.
Nobody knows how tall Burj Dubai is going to be when completed later this year, only that it will be the world's tallest building by a comfortable margin. Of the mystery height, the builder has only this to say:
If you put the Empire State Building on top of the Sears Tower then it's reasonable to say you'll be in the neighbourhood.
Passive houses -- homes that use "recycled heat" to heat themselves, rather than a furnace -- are growing more popular in Germany and slowly spreading elsewhere in the world.
The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants' bodies.
Paul Goldberger, the New Yorker's architecture critic, lists his ten favorite buildings of 2008.
In time for the 2008 Olympics, the world saw the fruits of China's decision to put aside nationalism, hire the greatest architects from around the world, and let them do the kind of things they could never afford to do at home. That brought us two of the greatest buildings of the year, Herzog and de Meuron's extraordinary Olympic Stadium, the stunning steel latticework structure widely known as the Bird's Nest; and Norman Foster's Beijing Airport, a project that was not only bigger than any other airport in the world, but more beautiful, more logically laid out, and more quickly built. And the headquarters of CCTV, the Chinese television network, by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture -- a building which I had thought was going to be a pretentious piece of structural exhibitionism -- turned out to be a compelling and exciting piece of structural exhibitionism.
Big disagree on Eliasson's NYC waterfalls...they were underwhelming.
When I profiled the Metropolitan Life Tower (and an unusual postscript) a couple of months ago, I mentioned that Daniel Libeskind was working on an addition to the building that would dwarf the iconic clock tower. New York magazine has a rendering of what the building might look like, taken from the architect's new book.
Initial designs show a glass-curtained tube with cutaways spiraling up and around the facade to reveal segments of terraced verdure, like cultivated patches on the side of a steep alpine slope. "We didn't just fill up the tower," the architect says. "We've taken space away [from the apartments] to create the gardens," which are actually balconies tucked within the envelope. "It's as if nature has come back into the city," he says.
Update: More photos and details here.
The Bank of Oklahoma Building in Tulsa, Oklahoma is (nearly) a half-scale version of the World Trade Center towers. The building was designed by the WTC architect and completed just three years after the Twin Towers.
For the BOk building, Yamasaki reprised the scheme of a Twin Tower at almost exactly half the scale: 52 stories and 667 feet tall, to the Twin Towers' 110 floors (1,362 and 1,368 feet). It has 31 steel perimeter columns per side, to the Twin Towers' 59, producing the same eye-boggling vertical lines on each face. (As Jean Baudrillard noted of the more famous pair, well before its destruction, it is "blind," with no side presenting a facade.) The BOk, too, has a bilevel lobby, whose height is matched by arched windows. But the arches are big and round, like a child's plain wooden building blocks, rather than the Venetian Gothic ogees that, in the World Trade Center, flowed directly into the perimeter columns.
The world's highest bridge, the Siduhe Grand Bridge, is nearing completion in China's Hubei province. The bridge is so high off the ground that the Empire State Building could fit under it with over 350 feet to spare. To get the initial cable from one tower to the next, the builders used precisely aimed rockets!
so you've erected the enormous towers on each side of the deep valley, deeper than any valley previously bridged. how do you get a pilot cable from one tower to the next? previous solutions have included: attaching the cable to a kite and flying it over (e.g. niagara falls suspension bridge), carrying one end by helicopter (e.g. akashi kaikyo bridge) and floating one end on a boat (e.g. brooklyn bridge). the brains behind the siduhe bridge decided to ignore all those options and break another record instead. they attached the 3200ft cables to rockets and accurately fired them over the valley, becoming the first people to do so.
Filed under things I really don't understand: Silver Towers/University Village, part of a residential superblock complex in Greenwich Village and designed by I.M. Pei, has been granted landmark status by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Said the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who battled to preserve the buildings:
Silver Towers is the first post-war urban renewal superblock development in New York City to be landmarked. While such urban renewal projects rarely receive high marks for design, Silver Towers is considered a watershed moment for one of the late 20th century's most respected and influential architects. The design won awards from the American Institute of Architects and the City Club, was dubbed "one of ten buildings that climax an era" by Fortune Magazine, and was cited as a basis for which Pei received the 1983 Pritzker Prize -- the most prestigious award for architects -- for his body of work up to that time. Landmarking Silver Towers not only helps preserve an eminently livable place and honors a great work of architecture, but it also acknowledges the importance of our city's past efforts to create affordable housing and public art.
These may or may not be great buildings, but that whole complex is just this big sucky void between the Village and Soho that no one can get rid of now. Blech.
It's worth sitting through the annoying "in a world..." narration to see the structure of an immense colony of ants. The scientists poured 10 tons of concrete down into an
abandoned ant colony, waited for it to harden, and then spent weeks excavating the results.
During the construction of the giant structure, it's estimated that the ants hauled 40 tons of dirt out of the holes, the equivalent of building the Great Wall of China. (via cyn-c)
Update: The ant colony was not abandoned. Nice work, scientists!
Matthew Dent's new coinage for the UK was pretty great, but this Dutch commemorative coin is a fully contemporary chunk of wow.
On the front, the names of famous Dutch architects form an image of the queen while some Dutch architecture books on the back form an outline of The Netherlands. The design was done using free software running on Ubuntu/Debian. (via design observer)
Filip Dujardin samples photos of buildings to create new photographs of improbable, impossible, or fantastical buildings.
These are great.
Shorpy has posted a photo of the Metropolitan Life Tower taken in 1909, the year the building was completed. I recently wrote posts about the building and about an odd death that occurred there. (thx, finn)
In the early 1960's Godtfred was building a new house and, naturally, he tried to model the structure with Lego bricks. The problem was that the Lego brick, with an aspect ratio of 6:5, was different than standard European construction modules of 1:1. Rather than contend with the problems of using regular Lego bricks he simply had new, special bricks molded for him. Bricks that would allow him to more closely copy his architectural plans.
The blocks were intended for use by architects. Reference Library has another look at these Legos for grown-ups. (via things)
The Metropolitan Life Tower is located on the east side of Madison Square Park at 1 Madison Avenue. It has quietly become one of my favorite buildings in the city; I find myself peering up at it whenever I'm in the area. (I took a photo of the building while in line at the Shake Shack last spring...it's a lovely color in the late afternoon light.) Inspired by a photo posted recently to Shorpy that shows the tower under construction -- and before the addition of the building's iconic clock -- I did some research and discovered three things.
One. Modeled after the bell tower of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, the Metropolitan Life Tower was completed in 1909 and at 700 feet, it was the tallest building in the world until the Woolworth Building was completed four years later.
Two. The NY Times ran a story in December 1907 about the eventual completion of the structure and how it would take over as the world's tallest building, surpassing another then-unfinished building, the Singer Tower. In the era before widely available air travel, the building's vantage point was remarkable.
The view from the top was of a new New York. No other skyscrapers obstructed the vista in either direction. Passing the green roof of the Flatiron Building, the gaze literally spanned the Jersey City Heights and rested on Newark and towns on the Orange Mountains, fifteen miles away.
To the southward the skyscrapers bulked like a range of hills in steel and mortar, the Singer tower rising in the midst, a solitary watch tower on a peak. This hid the harbor, but to the left beyond the bridges, reduced at this height to gray cobwebs, the eye caught the sunlight on the sea -- a long strip of shimmering silver beyond Coney Island and the Rockaways.
Three. Star architect Daniel Libeskind is allegedly working on an addition to the Metropolitan Life Building, an addition that by some accounts would reach 70 stories. You can guess how I feel about the prospect of one of those residential glass monstrosities literally and emotionally dwarfing the existing 50-story clock tower, Libeskind or no. Of course, the Metropolitan Life Tower may never have become so iconic had Metropolitan Life's plans for a 100-story tower one block north not been scrapped because of the Great Depression. They only finished 32 floors of that building, which today houses the celebrated restaurant, Eleven Madison Park.
NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff chooses a list of NYC buildings that are so bad they should be torn down to make way for other possibilities.
So the list will not include affronts that are merely aesthetic. To be included, buildings must either exhibit a total disregard for their surrounding context or destroy a beloved vista. Removing them would make room for the spirit to breathe again and open up new imaginative possibilities.
Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, and the Javits Center are deservedly included.
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