ruminations about architecture and design

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

predictions about hong kong

I'll offer a few scenarios which will all turn out to be wrong:

1. The protests lose momentum spontaneously.

2. The Chinese government backs down and allows open elections in 2017.

3. The Chinese government does a repeat of the 1989 crackdown.

4. The Chinese government backs down slightly but undertakes a shadow campaign against the leaders of the protest and gradually tightens rules on assembly and free speech. Nobody remembers anything by 2017 and only approved candidates run in an election that no one cares is rigged.

Monday, September 29, 2014

monday transportation edition

I just found out yesterday that a portion of the Frito Lay delivery fleet consists of electric trucks. This is probably good for the company's bottom line as well as air quality in urban areas. Hooray.

I'm tempering my enthusiasm for fully autonomous self-driving cars. The software will have a lot of trouble with unusual situations and unmapped roads (like where I grew up). For many years, the technology will be shared with human controlled cars. The future is here, but it will be postponed until more funding can be found.

Friday, September 26, 2014

composition imposition

No architecture today. Commentary on music instead.

A Day in the Life is an acoustical masterpiece and its uniqueness is its greatest curse. Although it's inspirational, it can never be replicated. I predict it will have staying power. The same thing goes for We Will Rock You. The deadly beauty of that song is that it ends too soon--and there is no doubt in my mind that Mercury did that deliberately because a principle of performance is to never give the audience too much; leave them hungry, make them return, make them crave the same thing with just a hint of variation.

The Doctor Who theme, on the other hand, can be rebuilt indefinitely. If they ever make a Doctor Who movie (which would be a disaster) some talented people will spend some time making a memorable version of it.

The guitar riff that anchors Bad to the Bone will be with us always. Ad men will return to that with disturbing regularity. Hell, they play AC/DC in Wal-Mart.

The worst music is more valuable than any work of architecture.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

belkin's tower

The tall building in this picture will never be built. I'm inclined to believe that Boston will never have a skyscraper that tops 1,000 feet, and that's not a problem. The FAA has de facto control over certain building heights in metropolitan areas and that makes quite a bit of sense.

I recall reading somewhere that you get diminishing returns from a tall building after 500 feet or so. The area occupied by elevators and the structural components starts to compete with usable floor space. Ultra tall buildings exist because of ego and exceptional real estate environments. But this is old news. What is new news is that towers of ilium has entered into a franchise deal with various famous brand name retailers. Expect to see some exciting ads soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

the arts of abandonment

This doesn't look like this anymore. When a building changes collective memory is compromised. "But I knew it was around here somewhere..." Presumably, Google is keeping an inventory of its street views, so some enterprising person will someday make a 100 year timelapse montage of certain streetscapes in certain cities. Lesser known parts of the world are imperfectly documented, however.

If we were able to expand our sense of time it would be easy to see how entire cities can just vanish--buried by drifting sands or consumed by jungle. I saw a good cartoon of this once. Can't think of the person who drew it. I might mention it sometime again, but by then, this blog post will be forgotten also.

And, for the record, this entryway, and the house it leads into it, is as ugly as sin. If I was ever told to design something that bad I'd smash my drafting board in half. (I don't use a drafting board anymore, but the imagery sounds more dramatic)

Monday, September 22, 2014

is the best art spontaneous?

Since my paycheck depends on my ability to revise a design multiple times, with the aim of improving upon an initial concept, or when necessary, discarding that concept in near entirety, its reasonable to say "no" to the question posed.

However, on a personal level I hold the roughest sketches in higher regard than finished products. A sketch often has a power that transcends reality. Reality, with all of its various bureaucracies and committees tends to trample that power.Square pegs are shaved into rounds, values are compromised, inferior materials are settled on for the sake of economy, and above all--a deadline must be met--for without deadlines, we are all dead.

Friday, September 19, 2014

elements of style

This picture demonstrates the necessity of landscaping. But, I've always tended to rush things, so I have no shame in posting this. My participation in the design was considerable in some respects.

In other news, I came across a statistic in the Boston Globe that put Boston at the bottom of a list of cities in terms of commercial real estate development. I'm not sure how to interpret that, but I think it's significant. If it's too hard to build things here won't people go elsewhere? Or does our scarcity create a more robust form of demand?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

privacy thursday

I'm often reluctant to post images of things I am working on in a professional setting. It could result in an awkward conversation with a client. I should be less paranoid although I can indulge in the fantasy that some tool at the NSA is actually taking an interest in this blog. I try not to say anything controversial or subversive. My plans for world domination are all kept on paper and the network I'm establishing to further those aims operates with remarkable discretion. If you're interested in joining, I'll send you the PO Box and a suggestion for a donation.

Yesterday, quite randomly, I found myself wondering "What happened to David Frum?" Now, I wish I hadn't asked.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

retraction and apology

Two days ago I said that a detail on one of my projects had been rendered incorrectly. Subsequent investigation proved that I was wrong,and that the picture I posted on my blog reinforces an optical illusion. Such is the challenge of representation and documentation.

Wynn might have won. It would be characteristic Massachusetts irony if voters repeal casino gambling in November. I wonder how much Wynn has sunk into this venture? My guess is somewhere around 50 million dollars.

I'm reading about Grant's assault on Vicksburg right now. His primary battle was with the Mississippi River and its various tributaries. Yet another lesson on the dominance of geography.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

olympic fever swamp edition

The Globe had a breathless and highly speculative front page article concerning the presumed advantages that Boston has over the other American cities that are tendering a bid for the 2024 Olympics. In some respects, I agree with the proposition that Boston would serve as a better venue because of the compact and intimate qualities of the city. However, as this blog has argued in the past, the work required to develop a viable infrastructure for the games is not something I regard as possible.

It is instructive to examine the international picture, because ultimately, the IOC does not care about the status of Boston vis a vis its American counterparts. The decision will involve the usual amount of graft, deception, and intrigue, as well as a more realistic assessment of the capacity of the host city. In this regard, I would put equal money on Paris or Berlin at this point in time.

Also, I think that John Fish is playing the long game here. He wants Boston to be the U.S. front-runner for the 2024 venue, but he probably knows that we will not be successful against the international competition. This bid merely sets the stage for subsequent bids with any eye towards hosting in 2032 or 2036.

Monday, September 15, 2014

and yet more casinos

We would like to apologize for the lack of posts last week. In some respects, I was busier than normal. The picture above was built off something I designed. Wait, let's be honest, my design was adapted from an older design. Now that I am looking at it again I'm noticing a terrible mistake. The mistake is a consequence of the carpenter following my plans exactly as opposed to exercising artistic judgment. The architectural profession as a whole is to blame for this because we have created an atmosphere of mistrust between the designers and the trades. Drawings and specifications are treated as gospel, instead of as guidelines. Somewhere, there are some lawyers to blame as well.

Oh yes, I wanted to mention that Wynn's strategy for the Everett casino will take the day. That's just my opinion, but for once I expect it to play out in a way that actually makes sense. His financial position is much better than the Mohegan Sun proposal. He will change his architecture to make other people happy, and I think he was planning on that all along.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

sprinklers are a good idea--full stop

The Globe had an article this morning about a recent meeting of regulators of the State Building Code where there had been some heated discussion about the impact of sprinkler regulations on building costs. Apparently, to install sprinklers in a 3 family structure costs about $27k--which by my math works out to about $6 per s.f.--peanuts by any definition.

The major regulation that influences construction costs in Massachusetts is local zoning. Land costs are so incredible that any developer who undertakes major renovations or new construction is already sunk the cost of the property before a single nail is driven. Sprinkler requirements for major renovation work are a good idea and cannot be regarded as discouraging improvements to a property.

In my opinion.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

progress continues

A nation dividing itself into have mores and have lesses builds different sizes of housing. These graphs, which I lifted from Catherine Rampell's blog, show the divergence in housing unit sizes. Simply put, if you can afford to buy a new house, you'll buy a larger house. If you rent in new construction, it will be a smaller apartment than you could have gotten at the peak of the real estate bubble.

Why do people want or need larger homes? (Cue George Carlin) My concern is that people buying certain spaces to satisfy the lurching demon of resale value. I regard this as dumb, particularly when an extra room is designed in a way that doesn't allow it to be repurposed as something useful--i.e. turning a dining room into an S&M dungeon can be a bit of a challenge.

Monday, September 8, 2014

what is detailing--the show goes on

The detail required for this architectural condition is a lot less important than the carpenter who was responsible for installing it. A decision--and some sort of graphic instruction--was required and I hope the designer or drafter didn't spend an inordinate amount of time on it. I don't think that the decision to impose this geometry on the client and future users was a very good one, but it has persisted. The use of the oak trim contrasted with the rough finish of the plaster is quite pleasing. Some student looking up at this ceiling will feel something different than if they were looking up at a standard 2x4 acoustical tile grid. But, did the bad acoustics of this space impair their learning? Who knows.

Friday, September 5, 2014

trust and don't verify

Something that would be deeply troubling to me is some poor soul were to cite this blog in some capacity like a term paper or a report. Content on these posts is pure opinion. Any factual or truthful content is purely coincidental and does not reflect the intent of towers of ilium.

That being said, I feel like I made a worthwhile contribution to architectural dialogue a few days ago when I made a list of design elements that seem to be universally appreciated.

-Flat surfaces
-natural light
-wood elements


I wonder if this leads anywhere.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

in the eye of beholders

This building was recently awarded the Carbuncle Cup for the worst new building in the Great Britain.
I'm not sure why. Given the stuff that wins prizes these days, I see more similarities than differences. Perhaps because this is a basic mixed use building--parking garage, supermarket, and flats above--it's not allowed to have the expressive idiocy of a museum or performing arts center. The architects are just complying with the zeitgeist.

Now that I look closer, I'm seeing its failure to engage with the street in a positive way. The sheer faces and monotonous cladding make for an inhospitable experience. I think the design team was trying to hard in the wrong places. At least there's no exposed concrete. God help us if that comes back in style.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

the will to shelter

Have I posted a picture of this already? It doesn't matter.

I wonder if humans have a shelter building gene or genes. We die outdoors in most places, but most of our evolutionary development took place in a pretty hospitable landscape--at least compared to New England. I'm inclined to subscribe nearly all architecture to culture, and assign sheltering instincts to a slightly messier Freudian narrative.

There are some things that we all seem to like:

-Confinement, but only with a clear avenue of escape
-Good views, but not too exposed
-Level changes
-Flat surfaces
-Restrained air movement
-Mobile furniture