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kottke.org posts about architecture

The tiny shed where Andy Rooney wrote

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 22, 2015

andy-rooney-shed.jpg

I spent some time in Rensselaerville, New York, this fall, where Andy Rooney used to pass his summers. Not far from his home, he had a five-sided shed in which he did his writing. It had an AC unit stuck to the side of it and triangle-shaped windows on its roof. He called it the Pentagon. The day I took this photo, it was quiet, and the door was padlocked.

Get lost on the ghost streets of Los Angeles

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 22, 2015

What’s a ghost street? The shadow scape of a real street that no longer exists.

BLDGBLOG explains:

“The buildings that fill it look more like scar tissue, bubbling up to cover a void left behind by something else’s absence.”

ghost-street.jpg

Angry blacksmith takes on 9/11 truthers

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2015

One of the most persistent “facts” used by 9/11 truthers is that burning jet fuel can’t generate the temperatures necessary to melt steel beams, therefore something other than airplanes crashing into the WTC towers brought them down, therefore the US government or the Jews or, I don’t know, the buildings’ owners did it to collect the insurance payment.

In his workshop, blacksmith Trenton Tye easily demonstrates that although it’s true jet fuel can’t burn hot enough to melt steel beams, it can definitely soften the steel past the ability to bear any sort of load.

How the Empire State Building was built

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2015

Here is one of the original architectural drawings done for the Empire State Building by William Lamb:

Empire State Building Drawing

Scott Christianson wrote a brief piece (taken from his new book 100 Documents That Changed the World: From the Magna Carta to Wikileaks) on how the building was designed and built. The whole thing happened incredibly fast: the first architectural contract was signed in September 1929 and after only 410 days of construction, the building was opened in May 1931.

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2015

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray

From Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols comes This Bridge Will Not Be Gray (at Amazon), a children’s book about how the Golden Gate Bridge came to be painted orange.

In this book, fellow bridge-lovers Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols tell the story of how it happened — how a bridge that some people wanted to be red and white, and some people wanted to be yellow and black, and most people wanted simply to be gray, instead became, thanks to the vision and stick-to-itiveness of a few peculiar architects, one of the most memorable man-made objects ever created.

The kids and I sat down with the book last week and they loved it. The pages on the design of the bridge prompted a discussion about Art Deco, with detours to Google Images to look at photos of the bridge,1 The Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. The next day, on the walk to school, we strolled past the Walker Tower, a 1929 building designed by Ralph Thomas Walker, one of the foremost architects of the 20th century. We were running a little early, so I stopped and asked the kids to take a look and think about what the building reminded them of. “Art Deco” came the reply almost immediately.

I’m really gonna miss reading to my kids — Ollie mostly reads by himself now and Minna is getting close — but I hope that we’re able to keep exploring the world through books together. NYC is a tough place to live sometimes, but being able to read about something in a book, even about a bridge in far-away San Francisco, and then go outside the next day to observe a prime example of what we were just reading is such a unique and wonderful experience.

  1. We also looked at several photos of the bridge under construction, including this one of a construction worker standing on some wires near one of the towers without much separating him and the water below. I’ve heard about this gentlemen from the kids several times since. Like, “remember that guy standing on the wires when the Golden Gate Bridge was being built? I bet he isn’t scared of spiders.”

Vertical panoramas of churches

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2015

Richard Silver Churches

Richard Silver Churches

From photographer Richard Silver, vertical panoramic photos of churches that emphasize their often incredible ceilings. (via ignant)

A Burglar’s Guide to the City

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2015

A Burglar's Guide to the City

An upcoming book from BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City examines architecture through Ocean’s Eleven-tinted glasses.

At the core of A Burglar’s Guide to the City is an unexpected and thrilling insight: how any building transforms when seen through the eyes of someone hoping to break into it. Studying architecture the way a burglar would, Geoff Manaugh takes readers through walls, down elevator shafts, into panic rooms, up to the buried vaults of banks, and out across the rooftops of an unsuspecting city.

Update: The book is now out, accompanied by a spiffy new website.

The Architecture of American Houses

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2015

From Pop Chart Lab, a beautiful poster showing 121 architectural styles of American houses.

Architecture of American Houses

Architecture of American Houses

Useful if you don’t know your Victorian from your Tudor from your Greek revival.

Flatpack skyscrapers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2015

An update as to what’s going on in China with prefab skyscrapers: Zhang Yue’s company recently completed a 57-story building in just 19 days. And they’re still planning on building a skyscraper taller than the Burj Khalifa in a matter of months.

The revolution will be modular, Zhang insists. Mini Sky City was assembled from thousands of factory-made steel modules, slotted together like Meccano.

It’s a method he says is not only fast, but also safe and cheap.

Now he wants to drop the “Mini” and use the same technique to build the world’s tallest skyscraper, Sky City.

While the current record holder, the 828m-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai, took five years to “top out”, Zhang says his proposed 220-storey “vertical city” will take only seven months — four for the foundations, and three for the tower itself.

And it will be 10m taller.

The US Forest Service’s Cocktail Construction Chart

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2015

Cocktail Construction Chart

This is…weird. The National Archives contains a Cocktail Construction Chart made in an architectural style, for some reason, by the US Forest Service in 1974.

Cocktail Construction Chart

Update: Kenny Herzog at Esquire did some digging and found out some of the chart’s backstory.

If it does, royalties might be due to the family of late Forest Service Region 8 Engineer Cleve “Red” Ketcham, who passed away in 2005 but has since been commemorated in the National Museum of Forest Service History. It’s Ketcham’s signature scribbled in the center of the chart, and according to Sharon Phillips, a longtime Program Management Analyst for Region 8 (which covers Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico, though Ketcham worked out of its Atlanta office), who conferred with her engineering department, there’s little doubt Ketcham concocted the chart in question. “They’re assuming he’s the one, because the drawing has a date of 1974, and he was working our office from 1974-1980,” she said. And in case there’d be any curiosity as to whether someone else composed the chart and Ketcham merely signed off on it for disbursement, Phillips clarified that, “He’s the author of the chart. I wouldn’t say he passed it along to the staff, because at that time, he probably did that as maybe a joke, something he did for fun. It probably got mixed up with some legitimate stuff and ended up in the Archives.”

I contacted the librarian at the Forest History Society and found similar information. An archivist pulled a staff directory from the Atlanta office (aka “Region 8”) from 1975 and found three names that correlate with those on the document: David E. Ketcham & Cleve C. Ketcham (but not Ketchum, as on the document) and Robert B. Johns (presumably aka the Bob Johns in the lower right hand corner). Not sure if the two Ketchams were related or why the spellings of Cleve’s actual last name and the last name of the signature on the chart are different.

However, in the past few days, I’ve run across several similar charts, most notably The Engineer’s Guide to Drinks.1 Information on this chart is difficult to come by, but various commenters at Flowing Data and elsewhere remember the chart being used in the 1970s by a company called Calcomp to demonstrate their pen plotter.

Engineers Guide to Cocktails

As you can see, the Forest Service document and this one share a very similar visual language — for instance, the five drops for Angostura bitters, the three-leaf mint sprig, and the lemon peel. And I haven’t checked every single one, but the shading employed for the liquids appear to match exactly.

So which chart came first? The Forest Service chart has a date of 1974 and The Engineer’s Guide to Drinks is dated 1978. But in this post, Autodesk Technologist Shaan Hurley says the Engineer’s Guide dates to 1972. I emailed Hurley to ask about the date, but he couldn’t point to a definite source, which is not uncommon when you’re dealing with this sort of thing. It’s like finding some initials next to “85” scratched into the cement on a sidewalk: you’re pretty sure that someone did that in 1985 but you’d have a tough time proving it.

FWIW, if I had to guess where this chart originated, I’d say that the Calcomp plotter demo got out there somehow (maybe at a trade show or published in an industry magazine) and every engineer took a crack at their own version, like an early internet meme. Cleve Ketcham drew his by hand while others probably used the CAD software running on their workplace mainframes or minicomputers.

Anyway, if anyone has any further information about where these CAD-style cocktail instructions originated, let me know. (thx, @john_overholt & tre)

  1. Other instances include these reprints of drawings from 1978 on eBay and an advertisement for a Cocktail Construction drawing in the Dec 1982 issue of Texas Monthly.

Google’s new offices

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2015

The plans for Google’s new offices in Mountain View blew me away. Not so much the reconfigurable office spaces1 but the greenhouse canopies. If those canopies actually work, they could result in a workspace that combines the best parts of being outdoors (the openness, the natural light & heat, greenery) with the benefits of working indoors (lack of wind & rain, moderate temperatures).

  1. I’m skeptical. Can spaces made for any purpose be right for any single purpose? Swiss Army knives aren’t that great at slicing bread.

Designer real estate for hermit crabs

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2015

Aki Inomata Crab

Artist Aki Inomata builds fanciful new houses for hermit crabs.

Miniature windmills, churches, and even entire cities jut from the surface of her 3D-printed shells, which are modelled upon CT scans of abandoned crab shells and then recreated in transparent resin. Inomata then allows the homeless crabs to inspect the shelters at their leisure — she says “most hermit crabs don’t even glance at” them, but occasionally one of the creatures finds its dream real estate and settles in.

Downtown is for People

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2015

In 1958, Fortune magazine published the first major essay by Jane Jacobs that laid out her case against modernist urban developers. Downtown is for People was the catalyst for the publication of Jacobs’ seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities three years later.

You’ve got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)

You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.

If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York’s handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?

It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.

This building is an organism for making newspapers

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2014

I love this cutaway view of Washington DC’s Evening Star Building, drawn in 1922. The building is on the National Register as a Historic Landmark and was formerly the office of The Washington Star newspaper.

Evening Star Building

Evening Star Building

Evening Star Building

Best viewed huge. The whole thing is a fascinating view of how information flowed through a newspaper company in the 1920s. Raw materials in the form of electricity, water, telegraph messages, paper, and employees enter the building and finished newspapers leave out the back.

Found this via Craig Mod, who notes the Chris Ware-ness of the whole thing.

Amish barn-raising time lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2014

Watch as a group of Amish men raise almost an entire barn in a day.

(via colossal)

Walking City

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2014

Walking City is a slowly evolving walking video sculpture by Universal Everything. A walking tour of modern architecture, if you will.

File this one under mesmerizing. A deserving winner of the Golden Nica award at Ars Electronica. (via subtraction)

Urban Giants

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2014

In the early 1930s, Western Union and AT&T built two new buildings in lower Manhattan to house their telecommunications infrastructure. Here’s a short film about their construction and ongoing use as hubs for contemporary telecom and internet communications.

Amazing that those buildings are still being used for the same use all these years later…they just run newer and newer technology through the same old conduits.

The New York skyscraper that almost fell over

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2014

You may have previously read about the Citicorp Center. Joe Morgenstern wrote about the Manhattan skyscraper in a classic New Yorker piece from 1995. The building was built incorrectly and might have blown over in a stiff wind if not for a timely intervention on the part of a mystery architecture student and the head structural engineer on the project.

Tells about designer William J. LeMessurier, who was structural consultant to the architect Hugh Stubbins, Jr. They set their 59-story tower on four massive nine-story-high stilts and used an unusual, chevron-shaped system of wind braces. LeMessurier had established the strength of those braces in perpendicular winds. Now, in the spirit of intellectual play, in his Harvard class, he wanted to see if they were just as strong in winds hitting from 45 degrees. He discovered the design flaw and during wind tunnel tests in Ontario learned the weakest joint was at the building’s 30th floor.

The whole piece is here and well worth a read. Last month, the excellent 99% Invisible did a radio show about Citicorp Center and added a new bit of information to the story: the identity of the mystery student who prodded LeMessurier to think more deeply about the structural integrity of his building. (via @bdeskin, who apparently factchecked Morgenstern’s piece back in the day)

Sham Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2014

Sham Paris

A fake Paris was partially constructed near the real Paris at the end of World War I in the hopes of confusing German planes who were looking to bomb the City of Lights.

The story of Sham Paris may have been “broken” in The Illustrated London News of 6 November 1920 in a remarkably titled photo essay, “A False Paris Outside Paris — a ‘City’ Created to be Bombed”. There were to be sham streets lined with electric lights, sham rail stations, sham industry, open to a sham population waiting to be bombed by real Germans. It is a perverse city, filled with the waiting-to-be-murdered in a civilian target.

Stand clear of the diving boards, please

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2014

I love this rendering of an abandoned Paris Metro station reimagined as a swimming pool:

Paris Metro Pool

This and several other renderings were created by OXO Associates for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet’s Paris mayoral race. The others imagine subway stations turned into theaters, nightclubs, and underground parks.

Facades

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2014

I’ve got a soft spot for Photoshopped architecture photos, so Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy’s Façades series is right up my alley. Gaudrillot-Roy removes the volume of buildings until they’re left with just their façades.

Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy, Facades

(via colossal)

Cabin Porn, the book!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2014

Cabin Porn

The folks behind Cabin Porn are making a book with photography by Noah Kalina. Outstanding.

Capture houses

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2013

For the past few years, UK police have used a secret network of fully furnished fake houses to snare burglars. They’re called capture houses.

Based in the city of Rotherham, Stopford explained to me the hit-and-miss nature of a capture house. Some of the fake apartments have been open for as little for one day before being hit by burglars, and as long as nearly a year without being broken into even once. As Stopford went on to describe, these otherwise uninhabited residences are fully stocked, complete with electronic equipment, lights on timers, and bare but functional furniture, and they tend to be small apartments located in multi-unit housing blocks.

That apartment you pass everyday on the fourth floor, in other words, might not be an apartment at all, really, but an elaborate trap run by the police, bristling inside with tiny surveillance cameras and ready to spray invisible chemical markings onto anyone who steps inside-or slips in through the window, as the case may be.

See also bait cars and honeypots.

Secret to ancient Roman concrete discovered

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2013

We’re used to thinking that technology progresses. Stuff gets better. But that’s not the case with concrete…the Romans made concrete that’s superior to the stuff we have now and scientists recently found out why it’s so good.

The secret to Roman concrete lies in its unique mineral formulation and production technique. As the researchers explain in a press release outlining their findings, “The Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock. For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated — incorporating water molecules into its structure — and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together.”

The Portland cement formula crucially lacks the lyme and volcanic ash mixture. As a result, it doesn’t bind quite as well when compared with the Roman concrete, researchers found. It is this inferior binding property that explains why structures made of Portland cement tend to weaken and crack after a few decades of use, Jackson says.

Escalatorspotting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2013

Miha Tamura takes photos of nicely designed or otherwise unusual escalators in Japan. Here, for instance, is a spiral escalator:

Spiral Escalator

Pingmag recently interviewed Tamura about her photos.

The most amazing is the spiral escalator made by Mitsubishi Electric. Curving escalators were conceived from early on when escalators were invented, but they are very difficult and even today Mitsubishi Electric is the only one in the world who can make them. If I hadn’t come across this spiral escalator in Yokohama I don’t think I would have committed myself to escalators as much as I have.

Some people are really into escalators. (via coudal)

An Olympic stadium to call one’s own

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2013

Designer and artist Rolf Sachs renovated the Olympic stadium that was used in the 1928 and 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz and turned it into his private residence.

And wow, St. Moritz still has a naturally made bobsled run…the entire thing is made out of ice and snow.

Drawing all the buildings in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2013

James Gulliver Hancock is on a mission to draw all the buildings in New York City.

All Bldg NYC

Hancock’s blog has spawned a book and prints are available as well. (via brain pickings)

The White House was completely gutted in 1950

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2013

White House Gutted

If this photo series from 1950 of the interior of the White House being ripped out so that the building could be structurally reinforced isn’t an apt metaphor for the current state of American politics, I don’t know what is.

Experts called the third floor of the White House “an outstanding example of a firetrap.” The result of a federally commissioned report found the mansion’s plumbing “makeshift and unsanitary,” while “the structural deterioration [was] in ‘appalling degree,’ and threatening complete collapse.” The congressional commission on the matter was considering the option of abandoning the structure altogether in favor of a built-from-scratch mansion, but President Truman lobbied for the restoration.

“It perhaps would be more economical from a purely financial standpoint to raze the building and to rebuild completely,” he testified to Congress in February 1949. “In doing so, however, there would be destroyed a building of tremendous historical significance in the growth of the nation.”

So it had to be gutted. Completely. Every piece of the interior, including the walls, had to be removed and put in storage. The outside of the structure-reinforced by new concrete columns-was all that remained.

(via digg)

What sort of town is Richard Scarry’s Busytown?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2012

From a planning and transportation professional, a deconstruction of Busytown, the fictional town that features in many of Richard Scarry’s children’s books, including What Do People Do All Day?, Busy, Busy Town, and my personal favorite, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.

Scarry moved to Switzerland in 1968, and if nothing else, Swiss architecture permeates the old town center of What Do People Do All Day. The Town Hall of Busytown on the cover is nothing if not Tudor. There is a small gate through which a small car is driving. Something to note about the vehicles in Busytown is that they are all just the right size for the number of passengers they carry. The Bus on the cover is full, with a hanger-on. The taxi holds one driver in the front and one passenger in the rear. The police officer (Seargant Murphy) is riding a motorcycle. When he has a passenger, the motorcycle always has a sidecar. Similarly, each window in town has someone in it, sometimes more than one person. Of course, this is a busy town, so the activity makes sense. The cover of this includes the grocery store, butcher, and baker (no supermarkets in 1968 Busytown), one block in front of Town Hall. One thing to note about the Butcher is that he is a pig, and clearly butchering sausages.

The self-slaughter and cannibalism of the pigs is documented in Merlin Mann’s Scarry Pigs in Peril Flickr set.

Scarry Pig Butcher

See also this examination of What Do People Do All Day?:

Nonetheless, Busytown is a place that works. Literally, in that it appears to enjoy full employment, and also in the sense that it has few obvious social problems. The police force, consisting of Sergeant Murphy, Policeman Louie and their chief, is charged with ‘keeping things safe and peaceful’ and ‘protecting the townspeople from harm’, which appears to largely consist of directing traffic, ticketing hoons and apprehending the town’s notorious thief, Gorilla Banana [sic].

Now of course one could opine that it’s in fact diffuse surveillance and self-surveillance that keep such remarkable order. All those open windows and doors, all that neighbourly cheerfulness, have a slightly sinister edge to them, if you’re inclined to look for it, as do the lengths that some of the citizens will go to in order to promote proper behaviour amongst children.

(via @inthefade)

Update: And here’s another installment of the Busytown police blotter.

Traffic officer reported busiest traffic jam ever at intersection of Main and Hippopotamus. Gridlock started when a peanut car stalled in the intersection and the elderly cricket driver was unable to restart the vehicle. Officer and several drivers assisted the elderly cricket in moving his vehicle to the side of the road, where it was then struck by an alligator car driven by a female rabbit. Officer reported smelling alcohol in the female rabbit’s breath and placed her in handcuffs until backup arrived. Officers then cleared the jam with the aid of two tow trucks.

(thx, elaine)

The changing face of Bleecker Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2012

In their book Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, James and Karla Murray are documenting the changing commercial facade of NYC’s streets. A recent post on their blog focuses on a strip of Bleecker St between 6th and 7th Avenues in the West Village. This is Murray’s old location circa 2001, before they moved across the street into a bigger space, expanded that space, and opened an adjacent restaurant:

Murrays 2001

I moved to the West Village in 2002 and, after a few stops in other neighborhoods around the city, moved back a couple years ago. Walking around the neighborhood these days, I’m amazed at how much has changed in 10 years. Sometimes it seems as though every single store front has turned over in the interim. (via @kathrynyu)