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kottke.org posts about architecture

The Game of the Year: the 3D Virtual Walkthrough of 8800 Blue Lick Road

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2020

This week’s fun internet plaything has been the 3D virtual house tour of this three-bedroom house at 8800 Blue Lick Rd. in Louisville, KY. If you take the tour, you’ll quickly see why: from the standpoint of physics, the house doesn’t seem to make any sense. You think you’re in the basement and then head up some stairs to find yourself…still in the basement? It’s all very Inception crossed with the Winchester Mystery House with a side of How Buildings Learn.

So of course people turned it into a game: find the oddly located bathtub. They even started speedrunning it.

Resident internet meme sleuth Andy Baio called the owner of the house and got the scoop on the puzzling residence.

A larger question remained: what’s the deal with this place? Whoever owned it, they were too organized to be hoarders. The home appeared to double as the office and warehouse for an internet reseller business, but who sells a house crammed floor-to-ceiling with retail goods?

Internet sleuths unearthed several news articles from 2014, outlining how police discovered thousands of stolen items being sold online during a raid at the address, the result of a four-year investigation resulting in criminal charges for four family members living and working at the house.

But it didn’t add up. If they were convicted for organized crime, why was there still so much inventory in the house, with products released as recently as last year? Why is it still packed full while they’re trying to sell it? And what’s with the bathtub!?

I had questions, so I picked up the phone.

He also explains why the bathtub is no longer viewable in the 3D walkthrough.

Fantastic 3-D Animation of How Medieval Bridges Were Built

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2020

The animation above shows how bridges were built in medieval times, well before the advent of backhoes, cranes, and bulldozers powered by steam and gasoline. I could explain what you’re about to see, but you should just watch the video.

The bridge constructed in the video is the real-life Charles Bridge in Prague, which was built over several decades in the 14th and 15th centuries. From Amusing Planet:

Construction of the Charles Bridge started in 1357, under the auspices of King Charles IV, but it was not completed until the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge has 16 arches and 15 pillars, each shielded by ice guards. It’s 512 meters long and nearly 10 meters wide. The balustrade is decorated with 30 statues and statuaries depicting various saints and patron saints, although these were erected much later, between 1683 and 1714. To preserve these statues, they were replaced with replicas during the 1960s. The originals are at Prague’s National Museum.

Until the middle of the 19th century, the Charles Bridge was the only crossing on river Vltava, which made the bridge an important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas.

When I was younger, I remember watching (and loving) a PBS series on the building techniques used to construct the pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge, the Colosseum, and Incan buildings. That the internet is now overflowing with engaging history videos like this bridge video is truly wonderful.

How Cities Can Make the Most of a Pandemic Winter

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2020

As winter approaches in North America and Europe, cities should be thinking about how to encourage and enable people to spend as much time outdoors as possible to help keep everyone sane and safe from Covid-19. From a great piece in CityLab by Alexandra Lange:

Dress in layers, invest in silk and wool long underwear, get over your prejudice against parkas. Many people do this as a matter of course when gearing up for a day of skiing or a turn around the ice rink. But in cities, people dress for the destination, not the journey. “People dress saying, I’m going from my home to this business. What’s the least amount of clothing I can wear for the tolerance of walking x feet?” says Simon O’Byrne, senior vice president of community development for global design consultancy Stantec. “We have to switch that, and dress to loiter.”

O’Byrne, who is also co-chair of the WinterCity Advisory Council, adds, “Stickiness encourages people outside. Moscow does year-round farmers markets. The artists’ community has been pulverized by Covid. As much as we can, we should embrace things to help the local artists, community.” He suggests commissioning visual artists to illuminate dark spaces, via murals or light installations, and hiring musicians for distanced outdoor concerts.

Cities should also invest in places to loiter. All of those outdoor restaurants that are supporting local businesses and bringing liveliness back to the streets? In New York City, at least, they are scheduled to shut down at the end of October, while the mayor and governor bicker over indoor dining. But cities need to catch up to ski areas, which long ago figured out how to make après ski activities like outdoor bars and music venues as much of an attraction as the slopes. Wind breaks (with openings above and below for ventilation), patio heaters and sun orientation can all take outdoor dining further into 2020. WinterCity’s Four Season Patio Design Tips also include higher insulation value materials, like wood or straw bales rather than metal seating, as well as simple solutions like blankets, which offer customers the winter equivalent of being able to reposition your chair in the sun — though that works year-round.

And indeed, NYC just announced that the increased outdoor dining that the city has allowed during the pandemic will become “permanent and year-round”.

Tens of thousands of parking spaces will be permanently repurposed from free private vehicle storage for use by the city’s struggling restaurant owners as part of a revolution in public space unleashed on Friday by Mayor de Blasio.

On WNYC’s “Ask the Mayor” segment, Hizzoner revealed that restaurants would be allowed to occupy curbside spaces - which more than 10,000 are already doing — for outdoor dining, not just through the coronavirus pandemic, but all year and, apparently, forever.

It may turn out to be the single biggest conversion of public space since, well, since car drivers commandeered the curbside lane for free overnight vehicle storage in the 1950s.

But whatever measures are taken, they need to be inclusive for the diverse populations that live in cities. Here’s Lange again, who spends several paragraphs in her piece on this issue:

Snow clearance has become an ongoing political issue for winter cities, with disabled people, the elderly, and parents and caregivers arguing that sidewalks and crossings deserve the same priority as cars, lest people be essentially trapped in their homes. Many physically disabled people have already had their mobility limited during quarantine due to pre-existing health risks, the inability to avoid using elevators and the difficulty of maintaining social distancing. Temporary urban design changes also need to be inclusive.

Cool Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Sascha Lobe’s team at Pentagram has designed a functional and stylish modular signage system for the National Library of Luxembourg. The signs use cubes (inspired by LED clock displays?) that can be reconfigured into different words by library staff.

Numerical and alphabetical cubes are the foundation of the BnL’s modular signage system. In handling massive volumes of information and growing library collections, it is essential to free the library staff from rigid systems and equip them with the ability to easily make signage changes.

The flexible signage plan, consisting of 25,000 resin cubes, 6000 tableaus and 2,400 numerical shelving characters, enables staff to independently customize information as the library’s collection fluctuates. The resin cubes, constructed from a durable material, also translate the timelessness of the library and its long-standing presence throughout the years and into the future.

The only (but perhaps significant) downside to the signs is that they are not actually super legible when compared to a non-modular alternative. They sure do look great though.

Update: This post got shared on Twitter by a couple of librarian pals and Librarian Twitter was not impressed by this signage at all. Not legible, not accessible, and difficult/fiddly to maintain were the main complaints. As someone who believes that design is primarily about how something works and not how something looks, I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t hit that point harder in this post. I do love the aesthetics of the project, but from the photos, the legibility looks terrible. Maybe it’s different while navigating the space in person, but if not, you have to wonder how helpful hard-to-read signs are to patrons.

The World Memorial to the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

The World Memorial to the Pandemic

The World Memorial to the Pandemic

Uruguayan architecture firm Gómez Platero is building the world’s first large-scale memorial dedicated to victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. From Architecture Daily:

The memorial will be located on the edge of an urban waterfront, accessible only by a long pedestrian walkway. At the center of the platform, an open void to the ocean beneath allows people to observe nature. It is designed to allow a high percentage of the structure to be pre-assembled for on-site assembly, minimizing the impact on the natural environment. The large, circular structure will serve as a “sensory experience that bridges the gap between the urban and natural worlds, creating an ideal environment for introspection.”

(via print)

Interior Space: A Visual Exploration of the International Space Station

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2020

Interior Space ISS

Interior Space ISS

Roland Miller, a long-time photographer of space exploration projects, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli has teamed up to produce a book of photographs of the interior of the International Space Station. According to a profile of the project from Colossal, Miller used interior views of the ISS on Google Earth to stage shots, which would then be executed by Nespoli in space. Nespoli, an engineer, also built a stabilizing rig for the camera.

Because the ISS was in a weightless environment with fluctuating light, many of the images astronauts typically capture utilize a flash, which Miller, who generally photographs using a very low shutter speed, wanted to avoid. “The first problem you run into is you can’t use a tripod in space because it just floats away, and the station itself is going 17,500 miles an hour. Just because of the size and the speed, there’s a harmonic vibration to it,” he notes. To combat the constant quivering, Nespoli constructed a stabilizing bipod and shot about 135 images with a high shutter speed, before sending the shots to Miller for aesthetic editing.

You can get a copy of the book (or prints) by backing the project on Kickstarter.

Skateboarding Architecture: A Tour of Legendary Skate Spots

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

Estelle Caswell talks to Tony Hawk and architectural historian Iain Borden (author of
Skateboarding and the City
) about some of skateboarding’s most iconic spots and how skate architecture has changed over the years, from sidewalks to empty swimming pools in the desert to home-built halfpipes to “if you can see it you can skate it” structures (curbs, handrails, hydrants) all over cities.

Plus, their reference list of historic skateboard videos should keep you occupied for several hours/days/lifetimes.

The Sculptor Tasked with Completing Gaudí’s Sagrada Família

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2020

In this meditative short film, Etsuro Sotoo talks about what made him want to spend 41 years working as a sculptor in an attempt to finish Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona. From a website dedicated to Sotoo:

In 1978 Etsuro Sotoo arrived in Barcelona. He had just graduated in Fine Arts, he had just one year of experience as an Art teacher. When impressed by the unfinished temple: “It was the most fabulous pile of stones I had ever seen” …He asked for a job as a stonecutter. He wanted to continue the Nativity façade (the only façade that, thanks to his work, would be declared by Unesco World Heritage). He did a test and they gave him the position. Since then, he has completed what Gaudí did not even have time to think about. When he finished with the gaps, he started with the architect’s notes. When the tracks are over, it’s up to him to make decisions.

According to the video, Sotoo even converted to Catholicism as a way for him “to know Gaudí”. (via craig mod)

The Dystopia of Huge Construction Projects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2020

Dystopia Construction Projects

Dystopia Construction Projects

From Federico Italiano, a thread of photographs of large construction sites that accidentally evoke post-apocalyptic feelings.

A Reading List: How Race Shapes the American City

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

From Aric Jenkins, a collection of articles on “how race continues to shape the design and infrastructure of American cities”. I’m interested to read Corinne Ramey’s piece on America’s Unfair Rules of the Road:

In the shadow of the bridge sits a small neighborhood called the West Side, where the asthma rate is more than four times the national average, and residents report a host of other health issues. Advocates say the thousands of trucks driving overhead spew harmful diesel emissions and other particulates into their community. The pollutants hover in the air, are absorbed into buildings and houses, and find their way into the lungs of neighborhood residents, who are primarily people of color. “It’s constant asthma problems on the West Side,” says Sharon Tell, a local resident.

And Un-Making Architecture from WAI Think Tank:

Buildings are never just buildings. Buildings respond to the political foundations of the institutions that fund, envision, and desire them. Buildings are physical manifestations of the ideologies they serve. Although a naively detached or romantic position may be able to render buildings as semi-autonomous artifacts capable of sheltering or enveloping space, this depoliticized attitude overlooks their historical and material relationship to regimes of violence and terror. Buildings can protect but they can also confine, instill fear, crush, oppress. Buildings can school, and foment hospitality but can imprison and torture. Buildings can be tools for ethnic segregation, cultural destruction and historical erasure. Buildings can reinforce the status quo and aide in the implementation of settler-colonial desires of expansionism. An anti-racist democratization of access is only possible through the decolonization of buildings and public spaces. Architects should be aware of the programs of the buildings they design and be held accountable for doing so.

How the Pandemic Will Reshape Architecture

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

For the New Yorker, Kyle Chayka looks at how the pandemic will change how we see our homes, workplaces, and public spaces — and the architectural shifts resulting from our new perspectives.

Unlike the airy, pristine emptiness of modernism, the space needed for quarantine is primarily defensive, with taped lines and plexiglass walls segmenting the outside world into zones of socially distanced safety. Wide-open spaces are best avoided. Barriers are our friends. Stores and offices will have to be reformatted in order to reopen, our spatial routines fundamentally changed. And, at home, we might find ourselves longing for a few more walls and dark corners.

The reimagining of our living spaces, where everyone is now eating, sleeping, working, and homeschooling, reminded me of this recent tweet:

I think we need to stop calling it ‘working from home’ and start calling it ‘living at work’

I’m also intrigued by the “6 Feet Office” concept:

The result was “the 6 Feet Office.” Carpet tiles demarcate six-foot black circles around every desk in the open floor plan. Extra chairs, positioned outside of the circles, facilitate conversation among colleagues. Conference-room chairs have been thinned out, and closed spaces must be exited clockwise, in unison, so that co-workers don’t bump into each other. “Hotdesking,” or the sharing of one desk by multiple workers, is made possible with disposable paper desk pads, on which a worker sets her laptop or keyboard and mouse when she arrives.

Cushman & Wakefield is slowly testing the 6 Feet Office design at its Amsterdam office, which used to hold two hundred and seventy-five people but now only has seventy-five at a time. As the lockdown lifts, Lokerse expects to start with twenty-five per cent of employees back at the office, but as more workers come back they’ll have staggered start times to avoid overcrowding on public transportation, and thirty-per-cent fewer desks over all. Bruce Mosler, the chairman of global brokerage at Cushman & Wakefield, noted that office spaces were already feeling too crowded before the pandemic and had started to limit crowding, a trend that is now accelerating. “We got carried away in the over-all densification process, in the effort to be as efficient as possible,” he said. “We went a bit too far. This is going to change that.”

See also Tape As Pandemic Architectural Element.

Tape As Pandemic Architectural Element

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2020

In Singapore, tape is being used as a sort of architectural element to denote closure of public spaces and promote & enforce proper social distancing practices. The @tape_measures account on Instagram is documenting instances of this practice around the city.

Tape Singapore

Tape Singapore

Tape Singapore

Tape Singapore

(thx, sam)

Gustave Eiffel’s Original Drawings for the Statue of Liberty

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2020

Statue Liberty Eiffel Drawing

Statue Liberty Eiffel Drawing

Long thought destroyed or lost forever, a cache of original engineering drawings & blueprints for the Statue of Liberty done by Gustave Eiffel were found among some of Eiffel’s papers purchased at auction last year. Smithsonian magazine has the story of how they came to be found and why the drawings are so significant.

Berenson thinks the drawings may nail down something that historians have long suspected but not been able to prove: that Bartholdi disregarded Eiffel’s engineering plans when it came to the statue’s upraised arm, electing to make it thinner and tilted outward for dramatic and aesthetic appeal. Several drawings appear to depict a bulkier shoulder and more vertical arm — a more structurally sound arrangement. But one of these sketches (below) was marked up by an unidentified hand with red ink that tilts the arm outward, as Bartholdi wanted. “This could be evidence for a change in the angle that we ended up with in the real Statue of Liberty,” Berenson says. “It looks like somebody is trying to figure out how to change the angle of the arm without wrecking the support.”

High-res digital versions of the drawings & blueprints are available to view at raremaps.com. (via @mapdragons)

Parking lot turned into a multifaceted public square

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 10, 2020

Prahran Square by John Gollings

Great reinvention of a former parking lot in south-east Melbourne, Australia. Reclaiming the space from cars, including Saturday night “burnouts,” Prahran Square was designed to recall surrounding landmarks, draw in citizens, and become a true public square, deliberately linking itself to existing spaces.

[T]he square is part of a greater public realm strategy that includes surrounding street, public forecourts and pocket parks to create a new integrated precinct. “All the streets started to become shared, and with Prahran Square, we started to create a civic village, which is a combination of squares, parks, streets,” says Bauer. “That was always the bigger idea, defining little projects that all slowly start to weave together.”

The new installations were divided in various zones, all overlooking the central event space and providing varied uses.

A zig-zag ‘forest’ walk and playgrounds, sloped lawn, art and flowering garden-beds all triggered familiar activities for local residents to enjoy. Each corner of the square too has a different materiality, a different character and different things to see and do.

The whole project is now better integrated in the surrounding neighbourhood and welcomes a number of different needs and communities.

It’s very eclectic, it has something for old and new communities, passing populations of young people, different national backgrounds, night spots, market-going families, the fashion people, elderly and infirm people, people watching, meeting up, just hanging out.

Prahran Square by John Gollings

Photos by John Gollings with permission from Foreground.

Beehives, “bee space,” and Le Corbusier

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 06, 2020

Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash

The beehive design most of us probably imagine when thinking of beekeeping are actually a relatively recent design, having been patented by the clergyman Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in 1852.

One of the reasons this design works is that he understood “bee space,” the gap between panels which allows bees to circulate while preventing them from filling in the whole and making the panels “stick.”

It’s because Langstroth understood “bee space.” Simply put, bee space is a gap of around 6 - 8mm. It is the space that is too large for the bees to fill with propolis, too small to fill with comb but just right for crawling around in. By designing a hive with this exact space between components - between the frames, the frames and the hive walls, and the frames and the roof - it became possible for the frames to remain unstuck and to therefore be removable. The bees built their comb inside the parameters of the wooden frame and regular inspections by the beekeeper kept the frames loose. So, modern beekeeping is premised on the very precise measurement of the body of a honeybee and how it uses space inside a hive.

The author proposes a parallel with architectural modernism, which although a bit stretched, has some value and is a good occasion to look into Le Corbusier’s unité d’habitation.

The fabrication of the hives, their replicability and ease of manufacturing is also an example of modern methods spreading worldwide and overshadowing older, often better adapted, methods.

We see this with the box hives too, as box beehives replaced traditional beekeeping practices in many cultures. In the West mass-produced beehive components are affordable but in many parts of the developing world, where development agencies push modern beekeeping, hive components can be expensive. Whereas making hives from locally sourced and affordable available materials, such a wicker, mud, plastic sheeting and dung is usually far more sustainable. In addition, traditional beekeepers selected apiary types and sites due to the success rates of hives in those locations. Traditional Ethiopian beekeepers, for example, keep hives suspended in trees and claim that there are fewer issues with diseases among the branches than in boxes on the ground. This type of beekeeping also requires healthy forests, so Ethiopian beekeepers know their forests well and are, in many cases, advocates for conservation and biodiversity.

The piece closes on a good question: is this kind of industrialized large-scale beekeeping part of the declining bee population in recent years?

Woven City, Toyota’s Prototype City of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2020

In early 2021, Toyota plans to break ground on a prototype city of the future located at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Around 2000 people will populate Woven City at first, which will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

The masterplan of the city includes the designations for street usage into three types: for faster vehicles only, for a mix of lower speed, personal mobility and pedestrians, and for a park-like promenade for pedestrians only. These three street types weave together to form an organic grid pattern to help accelerate the testing of autonomy.

The city is planned to be fully sustainable, with buildings made mostly of wood to minimize the carbon footprint, using traditional Japanese wood joinery, combined with robotic production methods. The rooftops will be covered in photo-voltaic panels to generate solar power in addition to power generated by hydrogen fuel cells. Toyota plans to weave in the outdoors throughout the city, with native vegetation and hydroponics.

Residences will be equipped with the latest in human support technologies, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily living. The homes will use sensor-based AI to check occupants’ health, take care of basic needs and enhance daily life, creating an opportunity to deploy connected technology with integrity and trust, securely and positively.

The press release and video above are the best sources of info about the city, but there’s also a website with not a lot of info and some weirdly fuzzy low-res icons that I hope are not indicative of the level of effort and polish being put into this effort. Those icons definitely didn’t go through the Toyota Production System.

We Built This City (on HTML & Javascript)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2020

If you are looking for some distraction today (and who would blame you really), check out Victor Ribeiro’s simple little isometric city builder. You just click on a building or snippet of road in the palette and place it on the grid. It took me just a couple minutes to whip this up:

Iso City

I wish it had more green space options, some wider pedestrian paths, and maybe some bridges. But still fun! (via clive thompson)

How the Great Pyramid at Giza Looked in 2560 BCE

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2019

The current outer surface of the Great Pyramid at Giza is made of rough limestone blocks, colored a dark sandy brown from hundreds of years of pollution and weathering. But when it was first built, there was a smooth layer of fine white limestone on the outside of the structure, all cut to the same angle and polished to a shine so bright it almost glowed. It might have looked something like this (current view for reference):

Original Giza Pyramid

This video from the Smithsonian shows how the fine limestone was sanded to that white sheen:

In addition, the structure would likely have been topped with a pyramidion, a capstone made of solid granite and covered in a precious metal like gold. The sheer size of the pyramid must have been enough to blow ancient minds, but seeing it all shiny and topped in gold… well, no wonder they thought their rulers were gods.

Borderlands, Communities Connected Across the US/Mexico Border Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2019

You may remember the Border Wall Seesaw implemented by activist architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello earlier this year; they installed seesaws through the US/Mexico border wall, enabling people from both countries to play together on them.

Border Wall Seesaw

This short documentary called Borderlands follows Rael to three communities along the wall — San Diego & Tijuana, Brownsville & Matamoros, El Paso & Juárez (where he installed the seesaws) — where the connections between the US & Mexican sides persist and flourish despite their artificial separation.

Rael is well aware that, not too long ago, the boundary between the United States and Mexico, which is now delineated by more than seven hundred miles of fencing, was an open frontier, dotted with stone monuments. His book “Borderwall as Architecture” makes clear that the billions of dollars the U.S. government has spent on curbing migration and enhancing border security have done little to deter those intent on crossing by foot, using wooden ladders and ramps, or through tunnels. Decades of flawed policies suggest that the building of a grand wall is entirely divorced from the reality on the ground.

See also Best of Luck With the Wall, Josh Begley’s satellite image tour of the wall from the Pacific to the Gulf.

Benjamin Sack’s impossible cityscapes

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 07, 2019

Benjamin Sack, Peregrinations

These are absolutely stunning! Piranesi meets Escher meets… reminds me of someone else I can’t put my finger on.

“Over many years my interest in architecture and cityscapes has evolved.” [These pieces have] “become a way and means of expressing the infinite, playing with perspective and exploring a range of histories, cultures, places.”

Benjamin Sack, Canto IV

Benjamin Sack, Samsara

His exhibit in Berlin runs until January 22 2020.

Indiana Bell moved a functioning building in 1930

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 06, 2019

Indiana Bell building

In 1930, Indiana Bell, a subsidiary of AT&T, needed a larger building for their headquarter. The problem? The old building needed to stay in operations at all times, providing an essential service to the city. Instead of tearing it down or simply moving to a new building, they decided to move it to a different part of the lot and build on the existing location. Just that.

The massive undertaking began on October 1930. Over the next four weeks, the massive steel and brick building was shifted inch by inch 16 meters south, rotated 90 degrees, and then shifted again by 30 meters west. The work was done with such precision that the building continued to operate during the entire duration of the move. All utility cables and pipes serving the building, including thousand of telephone cables, electric cables, gas pipes, sewer and water pipes had to be lengthened and made flexible to provide continuous service during the move. A movable wooden sidewalk allowed employees and the public to enter and leave the building at any time while the move was in progress. The company did not lose a single day of work nor interrupt their service during the entire period.

Incredibly most of the power needed to move the building was provided by hand-operated jacks while a steam engine also some support. Each time the jacks were pumped, the house moved 3/8th of an inch.

Indiana Bell building

Indiana Bell building

(via the excellent The Prepared newsletter)

Update: Using the sequence of photos of the move, Statistics_Data_Facts made some animated GIFs of the building’s pivot.

Urban Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

Urban Tetris

Urban Tetris

Urban Tetris

From graphic designer Mariyan Atanasov comes Urban Tetris, in which apartment buildings in Sofia, Bulgaria are turned into a massive game of Tetris. If you’ve played a bunch of Tetris in your life, just looking at these images should trigger the familiar theme song in your head. Next: make this actually playable. (via colossal)

Narrative Illustrator Owen Pomery

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

Owen Pomery

Owen Pomery

Owen Pomery

I really like Owen Pomery’s illustrative style — his drawings are spare yet detailed, precise but a bit messy. You can see his work on his website, on Twitter, or on Instagram. He sells prints and books in his shop, including this field guide to modernist kiosk designs in a fictional country.

Owen Pomery

(via @dunstan)

Designing the Baseball Stadium of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

I really enjoyed this piece by architect Scott Hines on how he would design the next generation of baseball stadiums. He starts by talking about greater community buy-in:

Fans want to feel that the club has bought into them, and a bolder model of fan engagement could give them a real stake in the club’s success. One of the most promising recent trends in North American sports is the way soccer clubs are emulating their European counterparts by developing dedicated supporters’ groups. These independent organizations drive enthusiasm and energy in the ballpark, and make sure seats stay filled.

Instead of just acknowledging and tolerating the supporter group model, we’re going to encourage and codify it in the park’s architecture by giving over control of entire sections of the ballpark to fans. Rather than design the seating sections and concourse as a finished product, we’ll offer it up as a framework for fan-driven organizations to introduce their own visions.

This bit about better integrating stadiums into the fabric of the city particularly caught my eye:

We’re going to take a different approach: we’re throwing open the gates, and offering the stadium up to the street. Instead of simply using design touches to emulate surrounding buildings, we’ll erase the distinction between stadium and surround, and put the backs of those supporters’ sections towards the street. We can’t have cars on a concourse, so a series of pedestrianized streets — like those that have been successfully implemented in urban developments like Las Vegas’s Fremont Street, Kansas City’s Power and Light District, or Louisville’s Fourth Street Live — can place the park smack-dab in the middle of a vibrant, multi-use entertainment district, developed with the same open-handed, community-led process as the park itself.

Will some people be able to catch a glimpse of the game without buying a seat? Sure. The club can make money back by leasing land to the businesses drawn in by that activity. And on slow game days, the district can support the ballpark by bringing in people who might decide to catch a couple innings over a beer after dinner at a nearby restaurant. When the ballpark is bursting at the seams for a playoff game? The crowd can flow through the entire district, expanding the ballpark’s capacity greatly.

If you do a Cmd-F on the piece however, you’ll discover that “parking” or “public transportation” is not mentioned anywhere. If you’re trying to smartly weave a stadium into a city, how people get there is a huge consideration. Massive parking lots and gameday traffic tend to disrupt sleek architectural plans and neighborhoodish feeling while many cities don’t have the public transportation infrastructure to support getting a majority of fans to the game without a car.

The Border Wall Seesaw

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

I realize that many of you have probably seen it already, but I ran across this while away on vacation and thought it was one of the most clever, moving, and powerful creative projects I’ve seen recently. Working off of a concept from 2009, activist architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello installed three seesaws through the US/Mexico border wall near El Paso which allowed children on both sides of the border to enjoy playing together.

Border Wall Seesaw

Here’s video of the seesaws in action (from Rael’s Instagram post):

Brilliant. Damon Stapleton says that the seesaw has a “gentle anarchy” to it.

Their beautiful intention was to bring people together through design. As you may have guessed, I really like this idea. It has power, playfulness, humanity, humour and simplicity in equal measure. But most importantly, it has a gentle anarchy at its core. Great ideas like these have this essential creative point of view. There are no rules. Reject the world as it is or how others tell you to see it. Realise you have the ability to make the world the way you want it to be. And, it will be fun or at the very least, unboring. Gentle anarchy. This point of view can be scary for many. But without it, almost nothing will change or move forward.

The plans for the seesaw are on the cover of Rael’s 2017 book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary, in which he documents similar projects like Burrito Wall, where the border wall is converted into a small restaurant.

An intriguing new habitat project “inspired” by NASA

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

TERA habitat

The AI SpaceFactory team won half a million dollars from NASA for its Mars habitat prototype, MARSHA. They are now taking the research, learnings, and technologies they developed for their winning proposal and building an earth habitat (house) using the same concepts.

TERA interjects into the building industry’s massive waste of materials and creates a proof-of-concept for a new type of building - one that is durable and twice as strong as concrete, yet recyclable and compostable.

TERA habitat

Considering how polluting the manufacturing of concrete is, their material certainly sounds interesting:

Biopolymer basalt composite -a material developed from crops like corn and sugar cane - tested and validated by NASA to be (at minimum) 50% stronger and more durable than concrete. This material has the potential to be leaps and bounds more sustainable than traditional concrete and steel, leading to a future in which we can eliminate the building industry’s massive waste of unrecyclable materials. It could transform the way we build on Earth - and save our planet.

In many countries, the production of ethanol with corn is creating problems with the provenance and availability of that grain to feed livestock and humans. I would love to know more about how the use here differs.

Since this is a prototype which they will make available for leasing by the night, they will also be using it as a lab to evolve the concept:

TERA is a living laboratory where feedback and operational data will be used to improve future designs for our future Earth and Space habitats. Each TERA will build on the last until we achieve highly autonomous structurally performing human-rated habitats.

TERA habitat

The link at top is to the firm’s project page but they are also running an Indiegogo and that page has lots more details and pictures.


If you are intrigued by the impact of concrete and cement, and why we don’t yet have widely commercially available real alternatives, Rose Eveleth did a fantastic episode of her Flash Forward podcast on that topic: EARTH: The Cement Ban.

How Does Venice Work?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

The canals, the sewers, the buildings, the bridges and the rest of the Venice’s infrastructure has all been engineered to deal with a particularly challenging environment: not-particularly-solid ground constantly battered by salt water. In this short film, we learn how the city works and what steps have been taken over the centuries to ensure the smooth function of the city.

Whether Venice can survive the severe sea level rise coming in the next few decades is still an open question. (thx, david)

In Remembrance of Photographer Michael Wolf

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

German photographer Michael Wolf, who documented life in our densest cities, has died at the age of 64.

Though seldom commented on by art critics, there was a political undertone to Wolf’s work. In several of his best-known series, even the ones where people were an invisible presence, his striking images point to the human cost and extraordinary resilience of contemporary city dwellers caught up in the Darwinian thrust of global capitalism. For every epic project like Architecture of Density, there were intimately observed series’ created during his various trawls through Hong Kong’s back alleys. There, he caught telling glimpses of the city’s makeshift character: customised chairs, surreal arrangements of kitchen mops and wire coat hangers, twisting gas and water pipes, all the mundane everyday objects that speak of the relentless resourcefulness of its residents, and of Wolf’s eye for accidental sculptural beauty amid the seemingly mundane. A detached gaze, yes, but an expressively tender one all the same. It will be missed.

Wolf’s most well-known project was Architecture of Density, a series of photos taken of the buildings of Hong Kong.

Michael Wolf

Another Hong Kong project was 100x100, in which he documented 100 apartments of the now-demolished Shek Kip Mei Estate that were each about 100 square feet in size.

Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression catches Japanese commuters pressed up against the windows of their train cars.

Michael Wolf

Bastard Chairs catalogues dozens of improvised devices for seating.

Michael Wolf

Wolf talked about his work in this short video profile:

You can view Wolf’s complete catalog of work on his website.

Rebuilding the Notre Dame with Strong Trees and Laser Scans

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

According to an expert, France doesn’t have any of the large, old trees necessary to replace the burned wooden beams in the roof of the Notre Dame.

Bertrand de Feydeau, vice-president of preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, told France Info radio that the wooden roof that went up in flames was built with beams more than 800 years ago from primal forests.

He says the cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories about future planning (possibly apocryphal). As told by Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn, the story goes:

New College, Oxford, is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was founded around the late 14th century. It has, like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oak beams across the top. These might be two feet square and forty-five feet long.

A century ago, so I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found that they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in some dismay, because they had no idea where they would get beams of that calibre nowadays.

One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be some oak on College lands. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked about oaks. And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”

Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks has been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for five hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”

Hopefully the trees needed for rebuilding Notre Dame can be sourced elsewhere. Just as important, a more modern form of future planning was recently undertaken that should help greatly with the rebuild. In 2010, two men photographed and laser-scanned every inch of the Notre Dame, creating an incredibly detailed 3-D map of the building.

3D Notre Dame

Now, with the building having sustained untold but very substantial damage, the data that Tallon and Blaer created could be an invaluable aid to whoever is charged with rebuilding the structure. Ochsendorf described the data as “essential for capturing [the structure] as built geometry.” (He added, however, that the cathedral, no matter what happens now, “is irreplaceable, of course.”)

Tallon and Blaer’s laser data consist of 1 billion data points, structured as “point clouds,” which software can render into images of the three-dimensional space. Stitch them together, inside and out, map the photographs onto the precise 3-D models, and you have a full digital re-creation of incredible detail and resolution.

“I saw this happening, and I had two thoughts,” Blaer told me of watching the cathedral engulfed in flames. “One thought was that I was kind of relieved that he didn’t actually have to see this happen. But on the other hand, he knew it so well and had so much information about how it’s constructed, he would have been so helpful in terms of rebuilding it.”

(thx, meg)

Update: According to this piece in Le Monde (as best as I can discern in Google Translate), French forests have both the quality and quantity of wood available to provide new beams for Notre Dame. (via @ramdyne)

Athens architecture map from Curbed

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 08, 2019

gate-of-athena-archegetis.JPG

You likely know that the Greek islands are stunning and special, but you may not know that Athens is an incredible city for architecture, well worth more than a few days in between sunning yourself on beaches. Beyond the obvious ancient sites (go see a show in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus!), Athens has classic mid-century modern design, a local vernacular plus a number of important buildings from the past decade. Its cafe culture, hidden alleys, well-curated museums, walkable scale, and deep history give it a unique charm that can’t be quickly summed up. You’ll feel it immediately if you dine al fresco under the glow of the Acropolis at night.

wisteria-in-athens.JPG

Some of Athens’ ancient sites have been recently updated with contemporary structures, such as the Acropolis Museum, other neighborhoods are worth a wander for the graffiti and shaded facades, and there is significant Bauhaus presence and influence beyond the Gropius-designed American Embassy.

May, June, and September are all prime times. I don’t recommend going in August when it is VERY hot, but if you must, you can stay cool with freddo cappuccino (strong iced coffee with cold-foamed milk), the pulpiest fresh-squeezed orange juice, and of course, frozen Greek yogurt (what Pinkberry wishes it could be) as the locals do. Local English-language publication Greece Is has lots of useful travel tips if you’re not sure where to start your planning.

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