homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about architecture

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)

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.

plaka-street-market.JPG

Visionary architect, curator, and big wave surfer Francois Perrin

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 03, 2019

air-houses-chicago-francois-perrin.png

Architect, curator, surfer, knight of the French government, partner, father, son, brother, and dear friend to many, Francois Perrin died on Monday in Ventura County, close to a favorite wave. He was from Paris but had been in Los Angeles for decades so was simultaneously both French and Californian. I really have no words sufficient for this so will let Alissa Walker’s tribute on Curbed LA stand. It deserves a full read but I’ve included some excerpts and quotes below.

‘He was a center of gravity’: Architect Francois Perrin dies at 50

francois-perrin-sheats-goldstein-installation-architectones.png

On a breezy April evening in 2013, hundreds of partygoers were shuttled up Benedict Canyon to the Sheats-Goldstein Residence. The iconic Los Angeles home designed by John Lautner was familiar to every guest, but on that night, it would appear utterly transformed.

Tucked into the house’s concrete corners were a half-dozen site-specific pieces by French artist Xavier Veilhan, one of which was a surprise musical performance with Nicolas Godin, of the French electronic band Air. Guests sipped cocktails on a deck laced with nylon cording that knit the triangular roofline to the legendary pool. In the cantilevered window of the master bedroom, a facet-cut emerald sculpture of Lautner gazed out at the city below.

It was another ambitious installation from Francois Perrin, the type that LA’s design community had come to expect from the architect and curator who defied boundaries in his field and connected artists and designers across a wide orbit.

francois-perrin-environment-bubble.png

“He managed to create this really remarkable web of people and ideas and projects,” says LA architect Frank Escher. “It drew not just on his encyclopedic knowledge of recent architecture and art history, it also drew on on his ability to connect with people. That’s the thing that made him so interesting, the ease with which he built bridges and drew connections and made introductions. He was a center of gravity.”

francois-perrin-skate-house.png

Perrin’s concept-driven architecture made a splash, like the Skatehouse he designed for the owner of a skateboard shoe company in 2011. Although the home, which was supposed to be built in Malibu, was never realized, a full-scale model where every surface is skateable was produced, including curved ramp-like walls and a built-in headboard above the bed for grinding.

Goodbye friend. We’ll remember you, your expansive ideas, and your navy.

Buster Keaton, Master Architect

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Neighbors Keaton

Buster Keaton: Anarchitect is a lovely piece of analysis by Will Jennings about how the legendary silent film actor used architectural space in his movies.

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning — and constant, unexpected repositioning — of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time — and real-place — rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form.

A Writing Shed of One’s Own

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

In the first couple of minutes of this video, Roald Dahl introduces us to the writing hut behind his house that he used to write all of his famed children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Danny the Champion of the World. Dahl describes his working routine and details how he’s designed his writing environment, his “nest”, to be as free from distraction as possible.

The Guardian used to run a series about writers’ rooms and in 2008, illustrator Quentin Blake, who worked with Dahl on many of his books, wrote a piece about Dahl’s shed.

The whole of the inside was organised as a place for writing: so the old wing-back chair had part of the back burrowed out to make it more comfortable; he had a sleeping bag that he put his legs in when it was cold and a footstool to rest them on; he had a very characteristic Roald arrangement for a writing table with a bar across the arms of the chair and a cardboard tube that altered the angle of the board on which he wrote. As he didn’t want to move from his chair everything was within reach. He wrote on yellow legal paper with his favourite kind of pencils; he started off with a handful of them ready sharpened.

I like that he tied the footrest to the chair to keep it from sliding away when he rested his feet on it.

As someone who sits down daily to write, nothing seems so luxurious to me as a separate writing hut that is off limits to everyone and everything else. George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain both had separate houses in which to write; Shaw’s shed could even rotate to catch the light throughout the day. Someday I’ll have one of my own…

P.S. Ernest Hemingway used a standing desk, as did Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, and Virginia Woolf, among others. I got this one a few weeks ago and am still getting used to it. (via @ftrain)

El Chapo, Master of the Drug Tunnel (and Escape Tunnel)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In this video, Vox takes a look at how El Chapo leveraged his use of tunnels for transporting drugs into the United States and became one of the richest and most powerful drug lords of all time.

Throughout his career as a drug trafficker, tunnels have been the common theme in El Chapo’s story. When he gained control of a major drug trafficking corridor in the late 1980s, Joaquin Guzman Loera — then known as “el Rapido” — was the first to create super tunnels for transporting drugs across the border.

At the time, a crackdown by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) meant Colombian cocaine was in decline and the Mexican narcotrafficker saw an opportunity. By using tunnels to facilitate fast transport, El Chapo leveraged his role as a trafficker to claim new responsibilities as a cultivator and distributor of drugs.

El Chapo is currently on trial in the US and the proceedings thus far indicate that the Trump administration’s proposed border wall likely wouldn’t stop the flow of drugs into the US from Mexico. Most of the drugs shipped by El Chapo into the US went through regular old border crossings on trucks and trains, hidden in truck panels, packed into fake plastic bananas, or surrounded by food.

At one point, testimony at the trial has shown, Mr. Guzmán sent tons of cocaine across the border in cans of jalapeños marked with the label La Comadre chiles. The cans were stacked on pallets in the backs of commercial tractor-trailers, which simply drove through official border entry points. To protect his product from being found, witnesses said, Mr. Guzmán often placed the cans filled with cocaine in the middle of the pallets, surrounded by cans with actual chiles.

The NY Times link is via Geoff Manaugh, whose take on this tunnelling I’d love to read.

Some Reflections from My Short Trip to Istanbul

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

Istanbul 2018

At the end of October, I spent barely 48 hours in Istanbul — too quick, but I saw a lot of stuff in a short time. When planning this trip, I had a lot of different thoughts about places I could go — the American Southwest, Barcelona, London, Edinburgh, Seattle/Portland, Miami — but the thing that really sold me was a relatively cheap plane ticket that would take me to both Berlin and Istanbul. A two-fer? Sign me up. I’d been to Berlin before, but I was a bit nervous about Istanbul because it seemed so culturally different than other places I’d been. I needn’t have worried.

Just after I had checked into my hotel room, I heard a chanting voice over a loudspeaker coming from outside. I opened my window for a better listen — it was the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) for the sunset prayer (probably from the Hagia Sophia, which was quite close). As I walked around the city for the next day and a half, I heard the adhan several more times. Watching the sunset in Kadikoy, you could hear the call ringing out from several mosques across the city, nearly in unison. I’m not Muslim or even remotely religious, so I was surprised at how much I liked hearing it. As with tolling European church bells, the calls to prayer knits cities together in an auditory way that secularism has yet to manage.

The nightstand in my hotel room had a sticker on it pointing the direction to Mecca. (There are apps to help with this as well.)

There are cats all over the place in Istanbul — I must have seen a dozen inside Hagia Sophia alone. My friend Jodi investigated why there are so many cats in the city.

Istanbul 2018

My first morning in Istanbul, I headed to Van Kahvalti Evi for breakfast on the strong recommendation of a reader. What greeted me was an amazing breakfast, the best I have had in quite some time (annotated above). As I was dining solo, I wasn’t able to get full breakfast (it was for 2+ people only), but I did pretty well. My favorites were the braided cheese, kaymak & honey, and the saltiest fresh cheese. The couple sitting next to me ordered the full breakfast and the waiter’s tray was like a magical clown car…he just kept putting little plates of delicious cheeses and pastes and fruits onto the table until it was completely covered. The freshness of everything was underscored by that morning’s food delivery coming in through the front door and streaming past me, a seemingly endless procession of fresh fruit, vegetables, and such. Highly recommended.

Everything I read about Istanbul taxis basically said to avoid them at all costs because they try to rip you off (and I’m not a huge fan of taxis on a good day), so that’s what I did. Upon landing, I bought an Istanbulkart to use the metro & ferries the whole time I was there. Getting from the airport to my hotel was pretty easy on the metro (thanks Citymapper), didn’t take too much longer than a taxi would have, and cost a lot less. Tip: machines are cash only, so you’d better have some Turkish lira on hand before exiting the airport.

Istanbul is not a bicycle city, at least not in the areas I visited. I saw maybe three people on bikes the entire time I was there? For starters, the city streets in the oldest parts of town are so small there’s nowhere to even put bike lanes. And then there are the hills, which made walking challenging at times, never mind biking. Even where there are dedicated lanes, they can be overwhelmed by pedestrians. In a park in Kadikoy, the balık ekmek (fish sandwich) vendors set up their carts right in the bike lane.

Although the interior was being renovated when I visited, Hagia Sophia was staggeringly impressive. Originally built in just under six years by Emperor Justinian, ruler of the Byzantine Empire (aka what was left of the Holy Roman Empire after the fall of Rome in the 5th century), it was completed in 537 as the world’s largest building and largest cathedral, retaining the latter title for almost 1000 years. Justinian wanted Hagia Sophia to be the biggest church in the world, partially for the glory of God and partially to best his peers. At the building’s dedication, he was recorded as saying, “My Lord, thank you for giving me chance to create such a worshipping place” followed by “Solomon, I have outdone you.” in reference to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. IN YOUR FACE SOLOMON!

Hagia Sophia was Byzantine until 1204, Roman Catholic for more than 50 years, and Greek Orthodox for about 200 years after that. In 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire — wait for it… — conquered Constantinople and turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. It became a museum in 1935. Walking around inside it, you can see and feel all of this history, layered all around you. The marble floors are worn down from centuries of devoted foot traffic. The wear pattern is uneven due to differing hardnesses of the rocks in the marble, giving the floor a marvelous wavy quality. The Christian aspects of the church were covered or destroyed when the church was converted to a mosque, but now they peek through here and there again. A remarkable experience of time travel through cultures, mirroring Istanbul’s own long and varied history as a crossroads between East and West.

I pretty much had the They Might Be Giants cover of Istanbul (Not Constantinople) on repeat in my head the entire time I was in town.

Istanbul 2018

Along with many of its tourists, the overwhelming majority of Turkey’s population is Muslim, so it wasn’t surprising to see women with headwear like hijabs and niqabs all over in Istanbul. I have lots of thoughts about this religious and cultural practice, but mostly it made me think about how the dress of women in the US and other western countries is also restricted by our culture in many ways.

As I had less than 48 hours to spend in Istanbul, I mainly stayed in the central part of the city where most of the tourists were. Walking around was unpleasant at times because it seems like almost everyone is trying to sell you something. In the busiest areas near the top attractions and restaurants, someone tried to sell me a tour, a rug, a meal, or some sweets about every 30 seconds. It was oppressive. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and she said, “Now you know how women feel all the time walking around pretty much everywhere.”

The constant selling also put my guard up far more than it normally is (which is admittedly pretty high). In Taksim Square, a guy asked me for a light and we struck up a conversation. Super friendly guy, said his name was Ahmed, hailed from Qatar, in town for the day on his way to London, was a computer programmer, wasn’t particularly religious, liked travlling alone because his girlfriend (a lawyer) worked and talked too much. He was pleased to find me because this meant us two solo travellers could hang out for the evening. He’d asked at his hotel where to go and was heading towards this place with whiskey and belly dancing. Now, this is the point in the story where I’m supposed to head off into the evening with Ahmed and have an adventure. But because of the constant barrage of selling (plus I was sick and tired and wasn’t drinking), I mostly felt like I was being scammed and that “Ahmed” was actually pals with the guy who owned this belly dancing establishment and was tasked with suckering tourists like me into the place to spend money. Was he just a friendly guy or just another salesman? I still don’t really know, but I bid Ahmed a firm goodbye and still have not crossed “see belly dancing in Istanbul with a stranger” off of my bucket list.

But the next day, I finally succumbed to the relentless pressure. As I was contemplating joining the longish line at the Basilica Cistern, I made the mistake of looking contemplative, as if I were perhaps confused. A man came up to me, asked me if I spoke English, and then said I should come back later when the line is shorter. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not trying to sell you a tour. I’m just on my way back to work from lunch.” Thus disarmed, we started chatting. His name was Musa and he had a business just up the street…perhaps he could give me his card and I could come for a visit tomorrow? Maybe, I said, wanting to be polite. We chatted some more, about other things. I agreed to go with him to get his business card; he still had not mentioned what business he was in…something to do with art, he said.

When we got to his place, it was a rug store. Musa’s friendly onboarding process had worked to get me into the store, penetrating my defenses by using my midwestern politeness against me. We sat down on a nice sofa and Musa served me apple tea; it materialized seemingly out of nowhere, part of a practiced routine. We chatted for about 5 or 10 minutes, sometimes about rugs and sometimes about other things. He told me about watching a TV program that featured this strange street food from NYC: hot dogs. At this point, I was feeling totally suckered, helpless under the thrall of this master salesman. But then I had another thought: this guy is not actually in control of this situation because I’m never in a million years buying a rug from him. Emboldened by my newfound power in our relationship, I thanked Musa politely for the tea, accepted his card, and left to join the line at the cistern.

Istanbul 2018

For dinner on my last night, I sat down at an outdoor table at Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi, figuring that one of the few restaurants where no one was trying to get me to look at a menu was actually a good place to find delicious food. It’s a tiny place on a small street with several other restaurants filled with what looked like locals, another good sign. I asked for a menu but the owner shrugged me off with a friendly gruffness. “We have köfte,” he told me. “Meatballs. Someone like you orders nine. Nine meatballs. Salad to begin. What’s not to like?” I gave him a thumbs up and he yelled something to the chef, an older man who I never saw without a cigarette and had probably made about 10 million köfte over the course of his life.

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff. Just then, a server from the place across the street came over to break a 100 lira bill. Me being a big nerd, this all reminds me of Unix and the internet, all of these small pieces loosely joined together to create a well-functioning and joyous experience. There’s only one thing on the menu at Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi, but you can get anything else within yelling distance. I declined dessert…who knows where that would have come from.

I also visited the Basilica Cistern (impressive ancient infrastructure), The Blue Mosque (under construction and so underwhelming), Topkapi Palace (underwhelming, but I was pretty museumed out by this point so perhaps an unfair assessment), Taksim Square (very crowded on a Friday night), and walked the length of Istiklal Avenue (very commercial in a Western sort of way).

Getting to my departure flight from Ataturk Airport was the tightest security I have ever gone through. To even enter the airport, you go through a metal detector. Then in the line to check into the flight, my passport was checked by three different people before my boarding pass was issued. Passport & boarding pass were checked again to get into the security line and then went through security, where most people’s bags got searched (but not mine). At the gate, my boarding pass was checked by at least six different people, who each put a different mark or stamp or signature on it, and then my carry-on luggage was searched (mandatory search…everyone got this treatment). Only then were we allowed on the plane. (Upon arrival in Boston, after waiting in a massive line, the border control officer barely glanced at my passport before waving me through.)

Istanbul 2018

I only posted a couple of Istanbul photos on Instagram but posted a bunch of Instagram Stories (collected here). And big thanks to everyone who offered advice on where to go and what to eat. I really enjoyed Istanbul and hope to make it back someday.

Pierre Cardin’s Le Palais Bulles

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 23, 2018

I’ve been taking refuge from the news in music (WQXR or Spacemen 3, lately), art (more on that here soon), novels (this weekend’s perhaps ill-timed read was Naomi Alderman’s The Power), and travel fantasies. Here’s one I’ve been thinking about for months.
palais-bulles.jpg
Pierre Cardin’s Le Palais Bulles is not open to visitors but can be booked for events, so if anyone reading this ends up planning one there *please* do invite me. The compound, just outside of Cannes in Théoule-sur-Mer, was designed by Hungarian architect and “concepteur of bubble housing” Antti Lovag from 1975-1989.
le-palais-bulles.jpg
French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus stayed in the bubble palace over the summer and got some pretty incredible shots (his Instagram page is a nice escape in itself).
interior-gradient-palais-bulles.jpg
Dezeen has a series of interior shots of the 2016 renovation.
palais-bulles-sink.jpg
pink-interior-palais-bulles.jpg

A beautiful pedestrian bridge in Vietnam

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2018

Ba Na Hills Bridge

This new pedestrian bridge at the Sun World Bà Nà Hills resort near Da Nang, Vietnam is really something else. From Colossal:

The 500-foot bridge rests in two outstretched palms which have been weathered with cracks and moss to give the appearance of age. While walking along the attraction visitors can look out over the sweeping mountains at a height of nearly 4,600 feet above sea level, and take in the beauty of the bright purple Lobelia Chrysanthemum flowers which dot the structure’s perimeter.

Computer-optimized floor plans

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Optimized Floor Plans

Joel Simon used a generative design process powered by a genetic algorithm to optimize the floor plans of buildings for different characteristics. That is, the algorithm “grew” buildings that had ideal floor plans for minimizing construction materials, shortest fire escape paths, and access to views — without worrying about how the buildings would actually be constructed.

The results were biological in appearance, intriguing in character and wildly irrational in practice.

As building materials and techniques continue to develop beyond the rectilinear bricks and concrete blocks, the “wildly irrational in practice” bit will become increasingly irrelevant. (via bb)

We should be building cities for people, not cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2018

Devon Zuegel says that our cities and the people who live in them would be much better off if we designed them around people and not cars.

Unfortunately, America’s inherited infrastructure is more like the old Embarcadero Highway than the boulevard that replaced it. Urban planners spent the 20th century building cities for cars, not people, and alternatives to driving have been systemically undervalued. This legacy has resulted in substandard health outcomes, missed economic opportunities, and a shortage of affordable housing.

We can’t wait around for another earthquake to reverse generations of bad policy. Luckily, it doesn’t require a natural disaster to begin reshaping our infrastructure. Small changes can have an outsized impact in expanding alternatives for how people move around. Rebuilding our infrastructure to enable walking, cycling, and mass transit would bring health and economic benefits that far outweigh its price tag.

People who live in rural areas more or less need their own cars in order to do anything, but private cars in cities are much less necessary. Cities should optimize for buses, subways, cyclists, and pedestrians — they get people to where they’re going without all the outsized infrastructure, waste, and pollution. *repeatedly sticks pin into voodoo doll of Robert Moses*

Update: Alissa Walker writing for Curbed: Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets. (because there’s still too much space allocated to cars).

Market Street offers a glimpse of how contemporary U.S. cities might be edging towards that shared-street mentality (a proposal to completely ban private cars from the street was ahead of its time). But it also illustrates something else — if you give people ample space to move at a safe speed using the mode of their choice, anyone can use the street.

All over the country, city leaders are spending their summers devoting careful thought to the number of rentable e-bikes that can be deployed on streets at once, where electric scooters might be parked, and how dockless companies should be punished for violating these terms. Just this week, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, which collates best practices from its 62 member cities, released draft guidelines around the regulation of “small vehicles.”

Yet largely absent from these decisions — at least the public-facing ones — are how cities plan to quickly and dramatically reconfigure their streets to allow people to actually use anything but a car.

How Tree Trunks Are Cut to Produce Lumber with Different Shapes, Grains, and Uses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2018

Trees Wood Cut

At ArchDaily, José Tomás Franco walks us through the cut patterns that are most used to saw wood into different shapes & sizes.

The lumber we use to build is extracted from the trunks of more than 2000 tree species worldwide, each with different densities and humidity levels. In addition to these factors, the way in which the trunk is cut establishes the functionality and final characteristics of each wood section. Let’s review the most-used cuts.

Each cut pattern produces wood with grain patterns and composition that makes it more or less suited to particular uses. For instance, the “interlocked cut” produces thin boards that are “quite resistant to deformation”.

Trees Wood Cut Example

Brutalist cuckoo clocks

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2018

Artist Guido Zimmermann has updated the architectural styling of the cuckoo clock with models based on buildings by Brutalist & Bauhaus architects.

Modern Cuckoo Clocks

Modern Cuckoo Clocks

The classic cuckoo clock is a symbol for prosperity in the middle class and is considered a kind of luxury for the home. The updated version, a prefabricated panel construction (“plattenbau”), reveals today’s urban and social life in residential blocks.

(via colossal)

The history of escape

posted by Tim Carmody   May 25, 2018

On the heels of Texas’s lieutenant governor blaming school shootings on “too many entrances and too many exits” in buildings, 99% Invisible producer Avery Trufelman linked to this episode on the architectural history of egress, or orderly escape from a building in the case of a fire or some other emergency.

In the 19th century, most fire escapes were simple ropes:

One engineer actually thought that, instead of dispatching the ropes from indoors, archers could shoot the ropes up to the higher floors.

Another patent proposed individual parachute hats, with accompanying rubber shoes to break the fall.

There were also fire escape slides, which were marketed to schools as both emergency devices and playground equipment.

fireescapeslide.jpg

Even the iconic metal fire escapes attached to tenement buildings are a pretty poor form of egress; they’re not accessible, and since people generally don’t use them to enter or exit a building in normal circumstances, they don’t know how to locate or use them in a fire. Which is how we get to stairs behind a fire door, with clear, lit-up exits, as the main means of egress for tall buildings today. And nonresidential buildings like schools, hospitals, and commercial buildings have the strictest ratings and the most effective means of escape — which is a big part of why so few people die in fires in these buildings.

Who would have thought a little regulation and a modern, scientific approach could save so many lives?

Brutalist architecture built with Lego

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2018

Brutal Lego

Brutal Lego

Brutal Lego

The proprietor of the @brutsinlego account and his/her children build simple Brutalist structures out of Lego and post the results to Instagram.

BTW, the term Brutalist does not refer to the frequently brutal (adj. “direct and lacking any attempt to disguise unpleasantness”) appearance of buildings built in this style, but after the French term béton brut (raw concrete) that describes the unfinished concrete surfaces of these buildings.

Further BTW: Google Translate variously translates “brut” to “gross”, “raw”, “crude”, “undefined”, “dry”, and “rude”. Brut and brutal also likely have the same Latin root, so to some extent, the assumption that Brutalism refers to the blunt appearance of these buildings has some merit.

Play urban street designer with Streetmix

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2018

Streetmix

Streetmix is a nifty online street designing tool that lets you play urban transportation planner.

Design, remix, and share your street. Add bike paths, widen sidewalks or traffic lanes, learn how all of this can impact your community.

For instance, you could build a model of the street you live on, add a protected bike lane, a bike rack, or see how a road diet might affect things. You can check out what others have been doing on the Streetmix blog.

GIFs of ancient ruins restored

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

Parthenon Restore

From Expedia, a series of animated GIFs that show what ancient ruins from around the world would look like if they were restored. They did The Parthenon (above), Pompei’s Temple of Jupiter, Hadrian’s Wall, the Luxor Temple in Eqypt, and the Nohoch Mul Pyramid in Mexico:

Coba Restore

I climbed Nohoch Mul during a recent visit to Coba. (via colossal)

After 40 years, an Indian architect wins the Pritzker

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018

doshi-office-bangalore.png

Balkrishna Doshi is the first-ever Indian to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The 90-year-old modernist architect studied under Le Corbusier in Paris and later worked together in India, and collaborated with Louis Kahn, but Doshi was the one to adapt their work to the culture, climate, and topography in India.

doshi-india-institute.png

Doshi was a vital, though largely unheralded partner in creating India’s meccas for modern architecture. He translated Le Corbusier and Khan’s plans to Indian construction standards and found ways to weave pre-fab materials with artisan-made elements.

“A lot has been said and continues to be said about the shadow of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn on the city and the country at large, but it was Doshi who grounded their ideas in the soil of India and turned them into something entirely new,” explains Avinash Rajagopal, editor-in-chief of Metropolis magazine.

This bridge cuts sea ice into tidy rectangles

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2018

Bridge Ice Cutter

The 8-mile-long Confederation Bridge links Prince Edward Island with mainland Canada. In the winter, when the water in the strait freezes, the wind and tides can push the floating ice against the bridge, causing the evenly spaced piers to slice the ice into remarkably uniform rectangular chunks.

To put the rectangles into perspective, the bridge piers that are designed to break up the ice floes are 250 meters apart. That distance would also represent the width of each of the rectangles. The length of the blocks varies but, on average, the length is about 75 per cent greater than the width.

It is likely that the Confederation Bridge will have lots of slicing to do this winter. Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesman, Steve Hachey said ice conditions started developing in the Northumberland Strait earlier than normal this year, resulting in a current thickness of up to 30 centimeters.

The bridge was specifically designed to withstand these sorts of pressures from the ice. Photo by Paul Tymstra.

Update: Courtesy of EOS LandViewer, a recent satellite image shows the bridge’s ice slicing in action:

Confed Bridge Sat

(via @stepan_klimov)

Time lapse video of a man building a log cabin from scratch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

Over the course of several month, Shawn James built a log cabin all by himself in the wilderness of Canada.

Once on site, I spent a month reassembling the cabin on a foundation of sand and gravel. Once the log walls were up, I again used hand tools to shape every log, board and timber to erect the gable ends, the wood roof, the porch, the outhouse and a seemingly endless number of woodworking projects.

For the roof, I used an ancient primitive technology to waterproof and preserve the wood - shou sugi ban, a fire hardening wood preservation technique unique to Japan and other areas in northern climates.

See also the Primitive Technology guy, who recently bought a new property and is starting from scratch building on it.