ruminations about architecture and design

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

we came, we saw, we lost

Discussions of a memorial for those who died in the long-running Global War Of Terror have managed to touch on some important issues. Chief among them is a realization that the war is real and unending, and that those who fight and die in far off lands do so for reasons that have drifted into obscurity. No one has energy to support the troops, except for some "Like and Share" posts on Facebook and the ubiquitous "Thanks for your service" that is mumbled mechanically. To those who have lost much, the irony and stupidity of the situation must feel like a hard pebble that cannot be shaken out of the inside of the shoe.

That anything architectural should be suggested by this fiasco is appropriate if only for its cynicism. Unfortunately, we can expect a Maya Lin knock-off, a long debate, and nothing built. That is the memorial.

Monday, July 24, 2017

hungry lion in upper right frame


Lo, yonder lies the green hills of England; shaped and re-shaped by the human hand until nature complies thoroughly with our collective sense and sensibility. In more practical terms, the mind likes what the eye sees, possibly because we've inherited a rough genetic memory of prehistoric landscapes similar to this one. This theory is bad news for modern architecture because if innovation promises a break from traditional expectations then the mind will be staging a small rebellion against the design.
What if there's a glass tower rising from a green field? Will such an image convey a sense of security or threat?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

patience is the soul of progress


The only way to get things done is to wait out the people who can't get things done. Another feature of getting things done is to not try to get things perfect. If perfection was the only acceptable outcome God would still be reviewing design proposals for the Garden of Eden with his architect.

But what if it fails? That too, is necessary--we just hopes that it works for a little while.

Friday, July 21, 2017

mexico city parks here


Towers of ilium is late to this news party, but we still want to acknowledge that Mexico City has scrapped minimum parking regulations in its zoning code. Concurrent with this, they have adopted regulations that set limits on parking spaces with taxes on spaces constructed above a certain threshold. So, it's still a bit of the nanny state but moving in a refreshingly opposite direction than nearly all zoning codes worldwide. 

Great cities do not depend on cars. The depend on people, they depend on density, they depend on diversity. They depend on trucks. Parking spaces are dead weight.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

the limits of metaphor


One of the reasons that humans play games and sports is that the final outcome is perfectly defined. The winner wins and the loser loses--or, in non-combative sports, a number is achieved that is reassuring in its absence of ambiguity.

Using chess as metaphor for political negotiation is dangerous and misleading. In chess, there is no information asymmetry, whereas in politics information is fluid, unreliable, and carefully guarded.
Chess has an endgame, and the only endgame in politics is nuclear annihilation.

Monday, July 17, 2017

good enough for the passerby


Historicism is architecture. No designer really innovates--he or she simply nudges a previous design in a different direction. Some architectural elements have no origin because they are responses to necessity-- like columns, beams, bricks, windows, and doors. Decorative details often trace their origin to some convenience of manufacturing--e.g. columns are round because tree trunks are mostly round. A sufficient accumulation of details eventually gets regarded as a distinct design language. Nowadays, though, it's all about eclecticism.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

the truth


Courtney Humphries of the Boston Globe wrote an excellent article about the use of glass in modern buildings. She correctly identifies how a high rise with extensive curtain walls underperforms in terms of energy use and occupant comfort. It is good to see popular media catching up to building science: 

https://buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-006-can-fully-glazed-curtainwalls-be-green

Humphries does a good job of pointing out the pressures that designers face when trying to balance concerns about building performance with client aims. Developers like glass, so glass towers continue to be built.