ruminations about architecture and design

Friday, June 23, 2017

intent vs reality


Architectural details occupy a strange place in the design process. They force the architect to fully explain concept. They force the builder to learn new assembly methods--which are frequently of dubious value. Older buildings that had exquisite details benefited from a long chain of craft knowledge that architects could trust implicitly. New buildings introduce complexity that isn't visible at the surface.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

the international desk update

-Saudi Arabia seems to be trading youth for age in its ruling structure. Will  the successor to the throne learn restraint or does he see himself as the conqueror of Tehran?

-Things in Qatar appear stable for the moment. Hopefully, the 4000 cows enjoyed their flight to the country.

-China gets a new factory from Ford. We'll keep an eye on this one....

-Is solar power in Africa a real thing? Probably, because the small scale of units and expanding customer base point to it being the incumbent power source sooner than we realize. It's the type of product/service that can transcend social upheaval.

-Cubans are probably annoyed.

-North Korea works on its arsenal. China will have to play their hand at some point.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

brief update on grenfell


Although the full results of an investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire won't be available for years, we can expect some major consequences within the next few months.
-A full death toll has not been reached. As of this writing it stands at 79 people.
-The management company, the contractor, and the cladding supplier will be investigated and possibly face criminal charges.
-Towers of ilium maintains the position that this fire would have been prevented by the adoption and enforcement of NFPA 285. Lives would have been saved by a better alarm system. This will probably spur tougher restrictions--both for existing buildings and new construction.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

help is not on the way


A curious feature of the human mind is an intuition about order and cleanliness. Dust and decay are immediately recognized and assigned a negative value. Clutter impacts our level of anxiety, but we can easily be fooled if the clutter is arranged into a grid or similar pattern--if only for a brief period of time. Cleanliness is achieved by removing things, and where appropriate, dousing with water. When taken to an extreme, cleanliness becomes frightening because it departs so far from nature. The ocean is clean, even when the chaos of its movement becomes a threat to safety.

We hear little talk about the sublime any more. Temporary experiences, shiny objects, and the last pop song seem to consume our attention. Architecture, in its best efforts, has become more subtle and discrete. The vastness of the cathedral is a relic of a more sacred and primitive past.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

a good idea, but


The Tesla venture into solar roofing shingles is good marketing, but not a revolution. The revolution in rooftop solar is already underway and the most mature solution is still modular panels offset from the roof surface.  The reason for this ties into an important concept in engineering and design: beware of a device that claims to do two things at once. In the case of building envelope systems waterproofing is the primary role of roofing materials. A product that can do this reliably and cheaply wins the consumer over. The Tesla roof provides waterproofing protection, but at considerable cost, and because its application defies mass production opportunity, it will be the last choice for most homeowners.

Friday, June 16, 2017

cuba policy

Cuba was not mentioned in any of the predictions made by towers of ilium. The reason for this is a little sad--there was the small hope that the Trump would continue major parts of Obama's policies. That Trump is about to take a step back from those policies is consistent with hardline ideology and will gain him a few votes in Florida from the older Cubans.

Cuba, meanwhile, can try to reach out to the rest of the international community with increased vigor. Maybe some hardliners there are secretly relieved, as trade and tourism with the U.S. would have weakened the regime.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

NFPA 285 and its discontents


The Grenfell fire story has disappeared from front page American media. Reports have confirmed that the exterior insulation used in the buildings was flammable, which means that London does not have building codes that recognize NFPA 285. After this tragedy I hope they adopt it.