ruminations about architecture and design

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

more hi line

It's actually the "High Line" but towers of ilium doesn't respect spelling convention. And besides, branding requires a touch of the uncanny. I took this picture last year, or maybe the year before. Whenever it was taken doesn't matter, what matters is that the High Line is one of the most successful pieces of architecture in the world. Its popularity may make it annoying and crowded, but if you go during the off-season, or during off-hours, then I'm sure the experience will be sublime and wonderful. It's important that architects stop gushing about it so that New Yorkers can enjoy it in peace.

I shouldn't tell anyone about Paley Park--although, I think it's a bit loud.

Maybe I should go to Chelsea Market, although it might be crass, commercial, and obnoxious. Wait, that describes most of Boston.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

more divergence examples

Despite the annoying adage about how they aren't making more land, the U.S. certainly has plenty of it. I expect us to run out of oil before we run out of building lots. Meanwhile, there's been some debate recently about long-term fluctuations in housing prices. The collapse of the U.S. housing bubble--which can be seen in the Case-Shiller index--demonstrates that housing prices cannot indefinitely outpace inflation. However, some people (Bill McBride, most notably) have pointed to areas in the country where home prices have stayed elevated. This chart, which is form the Philadelphia area, shows how good neighborhoods can demonstrate continued growth while bad neighborhoods can experience relative declines.

I see this play out in the Boston area. Neighborhoods like Dorchester and Roxbury were hit hard by the collapse of the housing bubble. Prices collapsed in wealthy neighborhoods, but never approached affordable levels. Meanwhile, zoning continues to constrain supply, so prices in general remain higher than national averages.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

new york gothic

I'm not sure if Cass Gilbert designed this skyscraper in New York, but he did design this one:

I hope the U.S. never has another high rise boom. I think that buildings between 400 and 800 feet tall do a good enough job of displaying corporate ego and making a developer rich. Once you get past 1000 feet you're investing more money in infrastructure than usable floor space. (This is yet one more claim, in a long history of claims, unsupported by evidence, that towers of ilium is wont to make. Check in again in a few days for more unsupported claims--we're having a special this week)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

three hundred thousand men in armour clad

One part is over and another longer part continues. The events of the past week, and particularly yesterday, demonstrated how a city can be One Thing. Because of law enforcement priorities nearly every citizen of Boston acted like a unit yesterday. Most significantly, the transportation networks were stopped, and although the scope of that stoppage was a bit wider than it needed to be, the ultimate effect was worthwhile. The architectural lesson here is that one person, on foot, with no friends, cannot hide in the midst of a population.

We return to our regular programming soon.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

city on the grow

I like how they painted the cornice of this building lime green. Now, where was I going with this blog post?
Probably something about how Boston is recovering from the Marathon bombing, but how things are still weird in the Back Bay area. It's certainly business as usual and I'm curious about the total financial impact of the bombings and the subsequent investigation. It's a crass and unsavory question, but I'm sure that some group of eggheads at John Hancock (which is a primary sponsor of the Marathon) is hard at work on the problem. I'm guessing about $75 million dollars a day--which factors in the losses from closed offices and stores and the overtime associated with the investigation. Three lives lost and forty odd missing legs aren't something you can put a price on, though.

 I'm reluctant to post an image of Boylston street as of yesterday because it is still so surreal looking.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the unreal city on a tuesday afternoon

I have an overdue library book and I will not be able to return until some things in Boston are resolved. I was able to return a different library book on Thursday  of last week, and I suppose I could have renewed the one that was due today. I'm still reading it, and even though it isn't very good, I intend to plow through most of it before the week is over.

The mood in the Back Bay is a little bit off. People are out and about, but things are not close to normal. We do not seem gripped by fear, the cops and soldiers all look bored, and many rituals of post-Marathon day are being carried out.  Who knows what will happen next.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

moving sideways 3rd edition

I'm getting frustrated with the obsession that some people have with data. Whether it is useless standardized tests for kids in grade school or efforts to quantify architectural decisions, the crusade of the data-people is doing little good and much harm. The data people sell their ideas on the basis of slogans like "you can't manage what you can't measure" and turn up their noses at the overwhelming evidence that human brains respond most powerfully to subjective stimuli.

 Also, data is only useful if there are clearly measurable goals or a rational strategic concept in place to anchor the numbers. If a person sets a goal to improve performance in a sporting event or the fuel efficiency of an automobile, then a data driven process can be quite useful. If some idiot CEO sets a goal that profits at a company will increase by 10% a year then everyone will end up frustrated, sick, disappointed and dead.

How do you provided a data driven answer to this question: "Am I happier?"

Friday, April 12, 2013


Finally, some positive architectural news. A barn designed by Ben Nutter in conjunction with a pre-fab metal building company. It has some nice details without any foo-foo. Ben mentioned that the design collaboration went well and that the client is happy. It was erected in less than a month. I can't say the same for the barn I just designed. I'll post pictures of that when it is painted next month.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

hashima and the architecture of abandoment

The most interesting part of the Bond film Skyfall was the use of the island of Hashima. This coal mining community off the coast of Japan was abandoned by the Mitsubishi company after the coal ran out. Although  most of the images in the film were sets, the feeling of this place is incredible. Towers of Ilium claims to be modern and logical, but there is no doubt that this place, and other places like it, are haunted by ghosts.

Let it crumble back into the sea.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

moving to a city

While the definition of a "city" is something that will always remain ambiguous, the demarcation between an urban and rural experience is marked by shocking differences. If you happen to be a person who grew up in a house where you could not see your neighbors, then moving to place where the major landscaping elements are strangers, buildings, roads, and cars then you need some time to adapt. You can question the wisdom of the decision, but certain economic (or educational) forces have made the city experience an inevitability. It is not that the city decreases privacy, it is that privacy requires effort and planning. You can't wake up in the morning and say "I'm going for a walk in the woods" because there is nothing resembling a forest within walking distance. I also tend to think that cities are agoraphobic more than claustrophobic--the multitude of experiences is overwhelming and the space of the city spreads out with a peculiar form of uniformity.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

how long before this blog has original content?

 I had planned on making the content and tone of this blog more serious, but market surveys demonstrated that we live in an age of cynicism, hopelessness, despair, ennui, and loathing. So, I must please my audience base.

I'm depressed because the Mass. legislature is not on board with the Governor's proposed transit plan. Deval Patrick proposed a $2 billion package of improvements and capital investments that would have been financed by selective tax increases. The Massachusetts. House responded with an asinine $500 million dollar plan. $2 billion dollars will not purchase a single B-2 bomber and $500 million doesn't even buy you the deferred maintenance that a hundred year old transportation network has incurred. Towers of Ilium is shocked by the ineptitude of many political leaders. For them, the building pictured above represents the culmination of modern civilization.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

and how long will this business model last?

Apparently, the Planet Fitness gym model is doing very well. Its rates are considerably cheaper than the gym I go to, but I doubt I would be welcome at a place that is "Judgment Free." I grunt too much and I have a thousand yard stare most of the time. If I were ever hired to design a gym (the odds are against it) I doubt that I would come up with very original ideas. I've ranted about the value of unprogrammed space, but in many urban locations, such a thing wouldn't be consistent with staying in business.

While the gym above has an astonishing amount of useless equipment, the layout is okay--an open floor with relatively generous corridors between exercise machines. I wonder how often they activate the "lunk alarm."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

how long will a bad decision last?

Although Bill Rawn participated in the design of this building I'm not very impressed with its energy performance. It was built as the housing boom was collapsing, and just as energy codes were starting to improve. Now, thanks to the bedroom deficit in Boston, I'm sure that it's turning a handsome profit for some people. But who pays the electric bills? And what other value engineering took place in exchange for some feel-good, but essentially meaningless "green" design features?

Ah, I think of the design decisions I have made, and perhaps I should engage in more self-reflection. How will I atone for the claims I have made in the past and the things that I have built that will fail?