ruminations about architecture and design

Friday, August 31, 2012

a broken clock is right

Last month, towers of ilium predicted that the recent fare hike implemented by the MBTA would not adversely impact ridership. Today, the Boston Globe published statistics demonstrating that this prediction has been borne out at least for the month of July (in a comparison of year over year ridership figures). There was an 0.1 percent drop in daily rides, which hardly counts, particularly since T management had been bracing for a 5 percent decline. Maybe they were hedging themselves so they would look smart.

Now that swarms of college students have descended on the city, ridership will probably stay at the same levels as last year going through the fall. The broader economic picture in the state is dependent on the fiscal cliff, the continued health of the biotech/military/computer/finance businesses. Europe's recession and China's coming slowdown could hurt this region more than other places.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

meanwhile in new york city

Towers of Ilium is too incompetent and lazy to rotate this picture. But imagine, for a moment, if New York were sideways. All the avenues would be elevators and most of the subway lines as well. People would go about their business as usual. They've seen it all in that city.

This is the back side of Madison Square Garden as viewed from the Farley Square Post Office.

Monday, August 27, 2012

cor-ten steel appreciation post

The New York Times had an article today about the new Barclay's Arena, which makes use of Cor-ten steel cladding. It was being presented as if it were something new and exciting, but the best example of its use was, and always will be (in the opinion of towers of ilium) the John Deere headquarters. Designed by Eero Saarinen in the late fifties, and constructed in 1964, the structure is a monument to the values and history of the company and an icon of high modernism. It's detailing is quite complex and the exposed steel structure is in wonderful violation of fire codes, but no one's complained yet.

An art history professor at Williams pointed out how the building is "machine in the garden" in the complete sense of a phrase coined by scholar Leo Marx. It embodies natural decay, but subverts that decay to preserve its unique and deeply human character. It has the patina of a ruin, but a timeless function as shelter--or as a temple to commerce and industry--those most sacred pillars of the American religion.

Towers of Ilium hopes that its new, bombastic tone is going over well with its broad audience. If not, please let us know.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

houston olympics 2024

This is Randall O'Toole's most livable American city. More on that later, maybe. For now, towers of ilium wants to promote Houston as a logical venue for the Olympics. Why? Because they are a well established, wealthy city that has warm weather and existing infrastructure. They could use the Olympics as an impetus to improve public transportation and existing sports venues. The warm weather would help U.S. shot-putters.

They need to improve air quality, though.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

frank does facebook

Facebook has commissioned Frank Gehry to design a company headquarters in Silicon Valley. This makes me chuckle. There is a loose correlation between enthusiastic investments in brand-name architecture and eventual economic collapse. It's like a construction worker going on a hell of a bender the day before he gets laid off. Might as well spend it when you have it, I guess.

Facebook is engaged in what is know as signalling. They want people to believe that they are capable of making serious investments in the future and that their creative vision is above and beyond anyone else. We'll see how that works out. I wish I was investing money in a company that makes cardboard.

apple v samsung

And this too shall pass. As far as I know, I don't own products from either company at the moment, but I am worried that Apple's victory in their patent suit against Samsung will have a chilling effect on creative product development. Towers of Ilium cares little for patents and copyrights. A creative endeavor will ultimately become public domain, and the sooner the better. An entrepreneur or inventor, with some prudent planning, can reap large rewards from an original idea, but I do not think that these rewards should be transferable or subject to a nearly unlimited lifespan. Current efforts to apply personhood copyrights to dead celebrities is the most sickening example of this trend. When you die, your water belongs to the tribe. So say we all.

Friday, August 24, 2012

all the world's a game

A rendering of the MGM casino complex proposal for Springfield, MA. Hooray, now we can put our feet up and cheer because this will save the city and everyone will be rich and happy and all puppies and kittens will have a home and nothing will ever go wrong again....

It seems to be a well-thought out proposal. It takes advantage of an existing city that is close to major highways (which means it will poach Conn. gamblers) and it attempts to weave the casino into an urban space. This rendering shows the casino as lifestyle center approach. (For those who don't know, a "lifestyle center" is really just an outdoor mall with slightly better design than a strip mall). It conceals the fact that revenues from casinos depend on adults who sit at one-armed bandits losing money, usually while smoking. They are isolated from the outdoors and from other realities of survival. This rendering tries to conceal that harsh fact by depicting families with children wandering about a cartoon dreamland that has nice-looking streetlamps and what appears to be a huge television screen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

a good thing

On most occasions, the most dramatic spaces of houses and buildings are the stairwells. It's remarkably easy to achieve an emotional moment--delight, awe, designing the path of travel up and down a stair. Commercial building codes have often relegated egress stairs to functional, sterile and miserable shafts devoid of style. At worst, they are intimidating spaces that discourage their use. Residential designers can make a staircase architecturally ineffective by making the transitional spaces at the top or bottom too small or too dark. The detailing--type of railing, colors, flooring, is less important than the sculptural effects and proportions of the transition areas.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

healthcare design

I know almost nothing about healthcare design, which is unfortunate, because it is one of the most important areas of architectural service. This space was designed by a firm called Lomanco and Pitts in association with the Boston firm of Ellenzweig. It is part of the Worcester Recovery Center, which will provide care for people with mental disorders. The buildings are designed to convey a sense of shelter, and create a transitional environment for patients. From what I can tell, they're pulling it off pretty well. Hospital and healthcare architecture seems to resist terminal design conditions. Spaces get worn out quickly and technology gets changed every decade or so.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

corbusier polemic

Towers of Ilium does not regard Corbusier favorably. His architecture is sculptural, often abstract, devoid of warmth, and hard to renovate. I'm wondering how influential he still is, and if there is anything positive than can be distilled from his writing or his design. His status as a revolutionary pales in comparison to Mies, and his reputation as a designer in popular culture has been on the wane for decades. He is trotted out in design school because he is historically significant as a figure of modernism, but no architecture student attempts to reproduce him stylistically.

The most dangerous thing about Corbu is that for too long he reinforced the false image of architect as world-maker--as a heroic Howard Roarkian figure (he was one of the models for Ayn Rand's idiotic hero, I believe) who existed to refashion and reform humanity through bold gestures. He promised a destruction of history, and its replacement with a bombastic and ludicrous approximation of the future--all rendered in concrete and steel windows that would rust shut after a few years.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

livable cities without property bubbles

Huffpost had a brief article (snagged from the Economist) about the most livable cities in the world. They noted that Damascus had dropped considerably in the rankings since the last survey. Most of the top ten cities are in Australia or Canada, which is interesting since both countries seem to be on a roller coaster incline of massive residential real estate bubbles. Vienna, which has the lovely building pictured above, was also on the list. No American cities were in the top ten. I guess because our property bubbles have burst, we aren't livable anymore.

In other news, rents in the greater Boston area have climbed 7% from last year (Boston Globe). This implies that we have a shortage of rental units, which would suggest a rather simple economic remedy--build more apartments. Such a simple solution runs into the arduous and lengthy permitting process that plagues the city.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

hotel north korea

I could make some reference to the Eagle's song here, but I dont' want to push the limits of towers of ilium's frequent copyright violations. The Ryugyong hotel in North Korea has made more construction progress since this photograph was taken (2008). I am reminded of the Tyrell corporation headquarters in Blade Runner.

I can empathize with the architects and engineers who participated in the design of this building. They probably faced similar challenges to what their western counterparts deal with.


Towers of ilium is proud to present this image of a modern ruin in motion. I commented on this building, and its doomed status, a few months ago. As of yesterday evening, this structure ceased to exist in Boston. I had a few opportunities to watch some machines gently pull this thing to pieces. It was almost as entertaining as the new Batman movie--and a bit more poignant.

The architecture of a city expresses the evolution of the city. Progress and improvement are actually quite subjective attributes, and the destruction of one building and its replacement by another only reveals that a set of circumstances made change happen. I want to make a distinction between decision and planning--the latter implies a hubris and an overestimation of the power that a particular group wields to craft the landscape of the metropolis for more than a few decades.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

spain and architecture

The stories I have read about Spain are consistent on one point: massive overbuilding in real estate created a bubble that eventually led to the current depression. Architecture firms in Spain have reported 50% to 75% declines in revenue and a significant number of young architects are leaving the country. Statistics that are in line with what happened in the U.S. in the 1930's.

Because Spain is locked into the Euro they can't devalue their currency to make themselves more competitive. I also surmise that foreign banks who lent to finance the construction boom don't want to take a haircut on their stupid investments. Can they hold out till Doomsday to get full value back on their loans?

Lovely piece of architecture here. I'm not sure what it does, but I guess that's an apt metaphor for what happened in the country.

Note to blog readers: towers of ilium will be taking an edgier and more bombastic tone in the upcoming months. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

bridge design edition

A very good example of a tower for a lift bridge. I could be grossly misrepresenting things, but the curves at the top of the tower reflect aesthetic decisions. The engineering of the cowl around the equipment up there could have been a lot more functional looking. Fortunately, this was built during an era when engineers were allowed the occasional artistic expressions. The client was Robert Moses.

the real towers of ilium (in colour)

A handsome painting entitled "The Towers of Ilium" by an artist named Frank Beanland. This blog will receive no proceeds from its sale, or from the sale of reproductions, or from any derivative works in any media. Any resemblance to persons or heroes, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The usage of the term "towers of ilium" is subject to no restrictions, no royalties, and no religious prohibitions.

Christopher Marlowe bears no responsibility for the savagery or decrepitude of the human race. His artistic efforts, on balance have made human culture wealthier in spirit and imagination. Should we not all strive for the same?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

iPad post

Okay, so I,m using an iPad and it's hard to type. I guess this proves that towers of ilium will never be cutting edge. I apologize to my loyal readership.

Tomorrows post will done on a traditional PC.

Friday, August 3, 2012

eleven edition

Cultural touchstones are so critical to humanity that we sometimes forget how unpredictable, and ultimately, how fragile they are. I regard this scene from This is Spinal Tap, as one of the most important and profound
moments in human history. No matter how content we think we are, we are always hoping, and for a rare few, striving, for the experience that overcomes all other experiences. Sometimes, we miss the sublime right in front of us.

Meanwhile, Scott Sumner argues that some bubbles don't ever have to deflate--they can be quietly and gently undone by a steady improvement in Nominal GDP.

We'll see about that one.