ruminations about architecture and design

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

this is everywhere

In between storms and recessions there is paradise. The beach, the boardwalk, the road, the burger joint, and the hotel. To get there is a traffic choked road that creeps through the low rent areas that can smell the water but never see it. The people will always come because they do not have salt water in the heartland, or in winter, or because their beach is not exciting or exotic enough. The sand drying on feet and the sunburn headache on the way home on the interstate is the best part.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

a victim of success

The main problem with the Salavador Dali museum in Florida is that too many people like to go there. Consequently, spaces that were designed for a few dozen people now have to accommodate nearly a hundred. The stress is felt acutely in critical circulation areas--especially the stair atrium and the main gallery.

The lesson here is that architects and building owners are doomed by an inability to predict both popularity and indifference. Bring on the wrecking balls.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


Although the news cycle has shifted a bit in the past few days, towers of ilium noticed that the Treasury Dept and IRS are rushing to implement the tax code changes. We sense trouble ahead, and a political opportunity for some candidates--and a bonanza for some tax lawyers. The chief problem is that employee withholding may be a bit muddled in the months or year ahead. People who expect a tax break, may not see much of a change in their paycheck because of errors or deliberate criminal mischief. Who will they blame?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

phillip johnson super genius architect man

Phillip Johnson was a great architect by virtue of his ability to design mediocre buildings. William Rawn just completed a makeover of Boston Public Library, and now New York gets to have something similar done to the former Sony headquarters building. 

Rock on.

Monday, January 8, 2018

an unworkable idea

Clients spend money on architects draw pictures and select products. Clients spend money on contractors who organize the labor and materials that create buildings based on the decisions of the architects. Efforts at finding more efficiency in these arrangements has attracted the attention of economists and business leaders for quite some time. One obstacle to efficiency is that both architects and contractors will claim to have a grasp of the complexity involved in the undertaking, no matter how original it may be. Both groups are beholden to a labor and material market over which they have no control. One possible approach would be for a contractor to establish a true design-build operation where design services are combined with in-house trades who can give more accurate feedback on pricing as the design is being developed. Until this happens, the guesswork continues.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

where things come from-part IIXV

If something is imitated it usually means that people like it. People in New England liked this church designed by the British architect James Gibbs. Its image came to America in the form of memories and ink prints. Consequently, pure copies were impossible to achieve, and nor was that anyone's intent. That it was copied imperfectly was a testament to the wide variety of skills and desires of the worshipful people of a rough, new land.

That Gibbs was imitating Greek temples, Roman palazzos, and medieval cathedrals is all part of the mix. Imitation and agglomeration are lifeblood of design. Until modernism, perhaps.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

reckonings-the blizzard of 2018

Marty Walsh and Charlie Baker do not have their heads buried in a snowbank. Both expect coastal flooding to increase in the decades ahead and have a dramatic impact on land use patterns and emergency planning. They acknowledge the cause as global warming, combined with centuries of development  in high-risk areas. Resilient design has been adopted in the coastal regions of Massachusetts sporadically over the past several decades. Commercial property owners tend to take things more seriously than homeowners. In some respects, this is a function of the need to satisfy private insurers and public officials, but the ultimate effect is to encourage a growth pattern that will favor large buildings replacing small buildings in coastal areas. We'll see how this plays out over the next 82 years.