ruminations about architecture and design

Monday, December 31, 2012

end of year observations

I designed this pergola. If I ever go to Texas I might try and go see it. As far as I know, I'm still on good terms with the client.

Towers of ilium will strive to be more positive and upbeat in 2013. However, towers of ilium is not noted for consistency or keeping resolutions. 2013 will be as unpredictable as 2012, but this is not the official prediction and prognostication post for the new year, so we can't be held to that prediction. In general, the lack of accountability on this blog will persist.

So far, we are unimpressed with Windows 8.

Friday, December 28, 2012

where the BTU's go

This is a complicated and informative graph of energy usage in the U.S. for 2011. What's most notable is how much energy is "wasted"--around  58%. I'm disturbed by this, but I want to emphasize that you can never have zero wasted energy.

Also, houses in the U.S. appear to be cheap, but industrial processes are geared towards things that end up in houses. Transportation will always be the big one. I'm not ready to trade in my car for a horse, though. Very odd creatures, horses are.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

the terror of memory

I predict that the school will be demolished, and that no one will object to this. A memorial will be designed and erected after considerable debate.

Architecture is a tool of human emotion as much as a functional construction. A space that served as a stage for horror becomes invested with that horror, and like Lady Macbeth, you can't ever get the blood out. It's irritating that improvements to educational spaces require tragedy.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

hallucinations and delusions

If I was feeling motivated I would find a painting by Salvador Dali to post on this entry.

I just finished reading a book called Last Harvest by Witold Rbyzinski. It was written at the height of the housing bubble about a residential development in Pennsylvania. He does a nice job of describing the process that the developers and planners went through to create another piece of American exurbia. He doesn't feign neutrality--he supports the detached single family home as a universal good, and he expresses some sympathy for the hoops that developers have to jump through.

Now I'm reading a book by Oliver Sacks about how hallucinations are a fairly common expression of humanity. There is a stigma against them in modern society--get thee to your medications!--but what is the mind good for but dreaming and madness?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

more thoughts on retail architecture

I was walking through a mall yesterday (by accident, incidentally) and noticed a Microsoft store. It was a sincere, and somewhat sad imitation of an Apple store. Limited fixtures, white palette, clean, yet not quite antiseptic. It did not have a staircase.

I once mused on the future of retail design. At first glance, the evolution of form seems heading in two similar, but subtly different directions--the box store and the distribution center. The former is generic, vast and impersonal--the latter is completely invisible because the shopping experience consists of mouse clicks and a visit from UPS a day or two later.

Meanwhile, in the real world, traditional retail continues to thrive, and it always will. I appreciate the paradox of retail design: it must be simultaneously fresh and reliable. If I walk into a clothing store I expect to see new fashions, yet I also expect to find the stuff that I've always worn. Absurd, contradictory? Yes, yes, yes, yes. That is how it has always been, and must be.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

just as much violence in a football game

I started off this month reminiscing about Columbine, and by sheer coincidence, hell came to Newtown, Connecticut. The gravity of the situation has resulted in some reflection by the few intelligent voices in the media. We can expect the usual posturing by political leaders, and thanks to the power they think the gun lobby wields, we can expect no meaningful action to occur. Lockdown procedures at schools will be "improved" and something like this will happen again in 8 or 12 months. We Americans are nothing if not creatures of habit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ozzie and harriet appreciation post

Towers of Ilium has been posting some pretty strange stuff for the month of December. I'm not sure if this a good or bad thing, but I'll try to steer topics back to things of a more architectural nature. I thought that yesterday's picture of the cupola was a good trend.

And now, for more social commentary. I don't have any idea what the TV show "Ozzie and Harriet" was supposed to be about. As part of our rhetorical lexicon, the phrase: "Ozzie and Harriet" is supposed to conjure up images of an idyllic, white, and spiritually vacuous suburban existence. Since the show is so dated, it might mean absolutely nothing, and its usage parameters are so distorted as to be useless.

This was their TV house, apparently. A perfectly nice looking mish-mash of Colonial and traditional motifs with a bit of the French Provincial thrown in for good measure. I find the proportions and detailing of the front entrance particularly inept, but the landscaping is quite lovely.

James Kunstler, who coined the phrase "geography of nowhere" to describe modern American suburbia (and exurbia) came up with another bit of descriptive poetry--"strip mining posterity." He uses it in the context of how America looks to the past to create a distortion and subversion of the future. He distinguishes it from nostalgia, but I'm still curious to know what he's thinking.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

architecture tuesday

Something I designed. It's purely decorative, by the way--nothing but roof below those windows. The carpenters who built are quite pleased with the way it turned out. I think it's a wee bit top-heavy, and the sill should be thicker, but that's no reason to condemn it. A weathervane has been ordered, which will help complete its wondrous lack of functionality.

I did some carpentry at my house today. It will never be featured on this blog ever.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

believing what we don't see

For many years, towers of ilium believed that the Cape Cod Tunnel existed. Even though I never saw road signs for it on those occasions when I drove to Cape Cod, I assumed that it was located south of the Sagamore Bridge and was restricted to Cape residents. I thought that the tunnel was a good idea, and I had no problem with the fact that I couldn't use it.

Building a tunnel under the Cape Cod Canal would still be a good idea, but if they do it, they should open it to all traffic (except hazardous cargo) and charge a toll to defray its construction and operating costs. Here's an open question to any libertarian minded readers of this blog: Should a private, for-profit company undertake such an endeavor, and should that be allowed?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

potemkin village effect

Okay, this is something that I've been thinking about for a while. It's certainly not original, but I don't think that it's something that gets enough attention. It's quite simple, and sounds so dumb, that I doubt I would bring it up except on this blog.

We believe what we see.

More specifically, we put considerable weight on what we see, as opposed to more comprehensive data that  often feels too abstract, but could be more relevant to good decision making.

 I've been thinking about this because of my daily commute, which gives me a very narrow and biased image of the city. I form an opinion of Boston based on what I see in these narrowly confined views that are brief and poorly detailed. I look out the window of the train and see the highway jammed with cars and think to myself "that doesn't work." I look at rotting triple-deckers that are close to the railroad tracks and conclude that the entire neighborhood is hopeless.

These opinions that I form have a high probability of being wrong, but they influence my decision making to the point where I write off entire pieces of geography and potential experience based on a few glances. I presume that in a state of nature this instantaneous decision making served a good purpose, because for a hunter/gatherer/primitive farmer the visible world was all that there was. Now, distance has been collapsed and we acquire stimulus from a much broader array of geography, which leads to biases that subvert truth.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

winter breeds grim blog posts

Just another American high school, tucked away in the suburban vastness of some part of Colorado, churning out 18 year olds who can drive cars, use smart phones, and get on with life. It's nicer looking from the outside than my high school, but I'm not sure that aesthetics make a difference when it comes to the quality of the learning experience.

Monday, December 3, 2012

architecture but not design

This is almost all that we are. It's hard to determine how much of our individual fates are bound up by this, but this is as close as we can ever get to destiny. Without context I might regard this image as some effort at pop art, or maybe, if I was feeling generous, Russian Constructivism.

I think that the two best books on evolution are The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I don't mean to push Stephen Jay Gould to the side table, because he has some essential observations. In terms of offering the broadest overview and introduction to a subject matter that can boggle the mind, Quammen and Dawkins share a prize.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

a safe and peaceful world

Since the tragic events at Columbine, and more recently, Virginia Tech, there has been much hysteria about campus safety. Efforts are being made, and constantly modified, to prepare people for these incredibly rare events. I do not feel this training is particularly useful, but I suppose it makes people feel better. In light of all the risks we face as human beings, perhaps we should broaden the scope of dangers we should be preparing for--like "How to Catch and Asteroid" or "How to Stop Resurgent Communists." And, of course, there are zombies and vampires.

Really useful preparation in schools, where students stand very little chance of dying, but are constantly being tortured by other people and their own anxieties, would include programs on nutrition, critical thinking, history, mathematics, art, science, and literature. Tests would be periodically be given on all these subjects, but would not be given too much weight, because in life, there are always more questions than answers.