ruminations about architecture and design

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 predictions revisited

Towers of ilium can't hide from the truth on the internet. We made predictions for 2015 and now it's time to come clean on them.

1. Nothing interesting will happen in Massachusetts this year. By this, we mean no extraordinary political scandals, no upheavals in the business community, and no spectacular crimes. (Yes, we realize that this prediction is a set-up for something strange to happen)

-Partly true, but.... The MBTA had a troubled year, with the breakdown during the month of February being the important thing. Potential delays of the Green Line expansion are noteworthy. And, the Ghost Train.

2. The U.S. economy will start to show signs of weakness by the end of the year. We'll have a few quarters of boom, but then a Fed interest rate hike and a reversal in the decline of energy costs will expose the structural problems. I'm not predicting full-blown recession; instead a slowdown that will eventually turn negative during the election year.

-Mostly wrong. The Fed rate hike didn't happen till December. Energy costs continued to decline. A slowdown could still occur next year.

3. Neither Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush will do anything dramatic this year. They may officially declare an intent to run, but in general, they'll keep a low profile and avoid controversy.

-Half true. Hillary seems to be cruising along. Jeb collapsed nearly completely.

4. Architecture will continue to be conservative worldwide. LEED will diminish in importance.

Wrong and wrong.

5. The world economy will maintain a relative stability. Things will deteriorate in Russia.

Sort of right. Russia seems to have stabilized.

6. U.S./Cuba relations will improve significantly throughout the year. Specifically, Obama's recent action will gain traction and not be reversed.


7. Something funny will happen in the courts with regard to Obamacare.

Not true. Yet. The program seems stable, but evolving.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


This was Sarah Goodrich.

And she used to live in this neighborhood.

The Economist had a very good article about her recently. Towers of ilium has mixed feelings about Beacon Hill. Its lack of accessibility, its wonderful character, and its endurance point to something special about community building. It can't be replicated. The first rule of modern architecture is this: If it has character, it violates building codes. This topic can be covered exhaustively, but it remains saddening. A Wal-Mart is a much safer place to be than any house in an old neighborhood.

Update: Towers of ilium made yet another contribution to misunderstanding and poor spelling. Her name was "Goodridge."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

build indoors for fun and profit

Tedd Benson is trying. He's trying to build better houses, he's trying to run a sustainable corporation, he's trying to bring good design to the masses. His latest venture, Unity Homes, represents a bit of a departure from his custom timberframes.

A revolution is not expected by Towers of Ilium. It's easier to build outdoors.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

the grind of progress

A source close to towers of ilium has been keeping track of this project for the past two years. Not much has gotten done, and for reasons that are not immediately apparent. Based on the photograph above, work is proceeding aggressively on a complete rebuild of the facade. The lesson to be learned here is this: never underestimate 80 years of water damage. Another lesson is: never underestimate the challenges involved with getting permits for changing the character of Newbury Street.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

it's all new again

It's the Harbin Opera House. Please be reassured that the rendering looks exactly like the real thing--including the puzzled bystander. Curved design will never go out of style, but it will always be the exception the rectilinear stuff that keeps us protect from the elements everywhere else. This place reminds towers of ilium of that building in Australia, but collapsed into a pile of post-coital exhaustion.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

the victory of osama bin ladin

The economic impact of 9-11 can be measured in a variety of ways. The dollar cost associated with the attacks and their subsequent effect on airline travel are only one part of the account. The more significant long-term cost are the extra hours spent waiting in lines for the security theater. Over the past decade and half these hours have added up to centuries of lost productive time. The social benefit of waiting in line with strangers at an airport is thoroughly negative. Security improvements inside the aircraft--hardened cockpit doors--have probably discouraged would-be hijackers to a greater extent than the conveyor carts full of shoes and cellphones.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

a blog of feeling

Towers of ilium is not known expressions of sentimentality. This qualifies.

It's not too late to make another prediction that will turn out to be wrong. Trump will not win the nomination for the Republican party. Rubio and Jeb have equal chances at this point.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

not dead yet

However, the residential real estate market in the Boston metro region has settled into a period of complacency.

What happened in the late 80's is the stuff of legend--the great condo housing boom and bust. The housing boom of the 2000's was really never a boom, but compared to the current "recovery" it's significant. 

The issue here is that the Boston Metro region has run out of geographic space and political space for the housing that would satisfy demand. Projects take a long time to get approved and developers try to focus on high return projects. Large scale work has to be branded as "luxury" to get off the ground.

Towers of ilium doesn't subscribe to graphology, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where housing starts get back to the apparently sustainable levels of the late 1990's. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

the end is nigh

Towers of ilium will close its doors on or about the 1000th post. The loyal readership will be able to spend time doing more productive things, like perusing The Oatmeal. Some people have noted that posts dropped off in volume about a year ago. This was the consequence of a new job that actually required that I do work throughout the business day. So it goes.

A recent Boston Globe article provided a breakdown of real estate development costs for new housing. It was a good article, but it made the error of attributing the housing shortage to high development costs in terms of dollars. The real high cost of development arises from the amount of time that is required to obtain permits for new construction in every community. In addition, suburban zoning bylaws and existing housing stock patterns prevents the development of higher density housing.

High prices will persist in the Boston Metro region until Harvard University goes out of business.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

coming soon to a village near you

Luxury housing in Singapore that should inspire and amaze us all. They are air conditioned of course.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

the perfect HVAC

The Perfect HVAC has the following attributes:

-It is effective at achieving and maintaining the desired air temperature and humidity level regardless of outdoor conditions or internal loads.

-It is energy efficient.

-It can be installed and repaired easily.

-Mechanical components have a lifespan of 20 years or more.

-It is compact.

-It is quiet.

-It is affordable.

-It is unobtrusive.

As far as towers of ilium is aware, it does not yet exist. The modern heat pumps are getting close, but they aren't there yet.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

prediction market for plymouth mass

A poorly researched article in today's Boston Globe made a set of idiotic comparisons between Plymouth, Mass. and three other New England communities that had closings of nuclear power plants. The impending shutdown of the Plymouth reactor will immediately impact the plant employees and the tax revenues from the facility. What it will not effect, in the opinion of towers of ilium, is the long term economic prospects of the community. Plymouth is not commuter friendly with regard to Boston, but it occupies a considerably different economic environment than Vernon, VT or Rowe, MA. Plymouth, it should be noted, has a seacoast--which although it is eroding alarmingly in places--still attracts people with money who like to live near the ocean, or nearly in it. They will probably see the absence of a nuclear reactor as a positive thing and coastal property values will rise conspicuously.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

building skins and other stories

Using the term "skin" for a building is one of those signs that architects are tampering with language in a way that does not help with understanding. While descriptively correct in most respects, the term "skin" invests the wall and roof assembly of a building with more philosophical  weight than it deserves. Biological skin is an active organ system. Good walls, according to the science dept. at towers of ilium, function best if they entirely passive. Even operable windows cause problems, and any effort to introduce more complexity or moving parts into a wall or roof can only end in misery.

The romanticism that is associated with masonry walls and roof coverings is still strong, and for good reasons. More modern systems--even very well detailed and constructed rain screens--should be treated with caution.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

the birth of reason

Why Vietnam? Why not? Towers of ilium doesn't have to explain things. Expression is the primary goal of communication; a functional outcome is a rare and unanticipated side effect of communication.

An internet of things seems like a nice idea, but until the view screen becomes edible, the computer age will simply be distinguished by billions of unsatisfied people. The challenge, which is a challenge of the prosperity associated with the modern age, will be one of time management. We will have access to almost everything, but only one lifetime in which to choose meaningful experiences.

This post has been framed as a series of claim/response sentences. Our marketing dept. thought it would be a good idea. They have been sacked.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

this is interior architecture

Merrill Hall, by Julia Morgan. It serves as a counterpoint to the recent cynical posts on towers of ilium.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

the downward spiral becomes more efficient

This picture of an abandoned Soviet era bus stop in Kazakstan comes via a blog called "calvertjournal."

Interesting architecture depends on a client who isn't paying careful attention. Cost, functionality, history, and morality all conspire against expression. The U.S. business community--which includes ordinary households--fails to produce enchanting works because someone always has their eye on the bottom line.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

design has no criteria

False! They shout. Design does not exist without a set of assumptions and desires. Its criteria is manufactured. It is fantasy and deception--in whole or part a futile attempt to predict and contain the future. And it succeeds, because design and evolution are similar in one crucial regard: Perfection is less important than function. A car works better than a horse 9 times out of 10. A house designed by an architect is only marginally better than one designed by an amateur.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

assumption markets

The recent flurry of posts does not signal a return to the golden ages of towers of ilium. There never was a golden age. Maybe 1966 and early '67.

Residential solar could turn out to be a big thing. Most houses have appliances and a rooftop solar array is just another appliance. That it can be purchased on an installment plan is something that will appeal to many homeowners. Buying things on a credit is the first sign that a culture has become suffused with optimism.

Oil prices will recover.

There is no contradiction between the comment about residential solar systems and our continued reliance on petroleum.

Friday, September 18, 2015

the reality of art

"Whichever technique he chooses, the architect's function is to propose a way of life...."

Thus spake British architect Peter Smithson. He designed the above--a fitting tribute to the corrupt awfulness of English culture. That the British managed to achieve the nadir of modern architecture is not much of a surprise.

What towers of ilium would like to dwell on here is not the absence of warmth or beauty in this blasted heath of an urban courtyard, but on the truth of Smithson's claim. All art is totalitarian and all artists are dictators. The stroke of the brush, the tap of the chisel, the mark of the pen, and the line on the computer are all authoritarian gestures.

autumn of content

Towers of ilium is all for progress; it's change we can't stand. This old version of the Google logo is being preserved on towers of ilium as a tribute to George Santana. Not the historian--and imaginary person who is charged with preserving strange bits of history.

Friday, September 11, 2015

the hard rain will continue through the weekend

The staff of towers of ilium took a long deserved vacation. How fitting that everyone is back to mark the memorial of this day.

When the towers fell.
When the president realized that he was very much in over his head.
When the vice president and his league of assassins realized they could start do some real damage.
When the strange prosperity and even stranger peace following the end of the Cold War came to a grinding halt.
When we all went on with our lives except for those who lost it, or were about to lose it, or their limbs, or their minds, or their souls.

And now, as is the custom every four years, we are in the midst of a great theatre to find a new leader. A leader who will take the pledge to use any means necessary.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I read the news today oh boy

This is gone now

I read the news today oh boy

The rumblings in the stock market are of mild interest to towers of ilium. That stock markets exist is strong proof that human psychology demands organized religion--in whatever form happens to be convenient.

Speaking of betting, this blog sets 50/50 odds on the Wynn casino ever getting built. Despite having won the right to develop a Boston gaming center, Wynn will back out of it if he ever senses that it's a money losing possibility. He does not seem like a man who succumbs to the sunk-cost fallacy, rather he depends on others to be susceptible. Everett is a rough place.

The quick death of the Boston Olympics bid has generated some muttering from a few Globe columnists. Mayor Walsh may have been weakened, but he demonstrated his loyalty to some moneyed interests. He needs to make a string of mistakes to lose the next election. Most people don't care about the Olympics. It is an event that happens Elsewhere.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Towers of ilium is perplexed, and for once, somewhat lacking in an opinion on the issue of Eileen Gray. Perhaps she was brilliant.

We can't jump to conclusions about one particular work. There's no opportunity to listen in on the conversations or peek into the trashbin for the sheets of trace paper that didn't express the right set of ideas.

One things seems to be clear: the Modernists were anti-Urban. They hated cities. They hated the fact that cities were fundamentally beyond control. The intent was to turn the city into a set of disciplined landscapes that would be discrete enough to make the glorious buildings look as good as the renderings. The danger has not yet passed.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

more on this later

Like many things, Eileen Gray has not been on the radar of towers of ilium. This is high modernism--and it photographs very well. Significant modern houses share certain things in common--natural surroundings in exclusive locations, superb landscaping, light color tones, and impractical staircases. Except for Philip Johnson's house. Maybe he didn't like stairs.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

hold off on the footsteps of doom

Towers of ilium tends to rush to judgment on things. The recent attack on the Facebook headquarters is the most recent example of this. After reviewing the architecture, it is best to pause and reflect on several things:

1. Frank Gehry is an architect. He does what he is told. His design for Facebook demonstrates that he can respond effectively to the spiritual and functional needs of his client. He can do sheds.

2. Facebook has a more realistic attitude about the role architecture plays than other companies. They successfully branded their firm with a new building that is almost completely anonymous. A warehouse for soft skinned white guys who drink too much coffee.

3. Facebook really doesn't need architecture. They'll be able to sell that place when they need to. It will be renovated many times. It has enough parking. It will never be finished.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

footsteps of doom, etc....

Towers of ilium is hiring a consulting firm to help with more engaging titles for these blog posts. Stay tuned for details.

Big recessions can usually be predicted by grandiose architecture. Currently, the Chinese building boom seems to be fading, but their inventory of white elephants is still impressive. Certain projects in the Middle East exceed any reasonable level of common sense or economic justification. But, it is the building boom in Silicon Valley by Google, Facebook, and Apple that give towers of ilium the most concern. These efforts to rethink the very idea of office space have resulted in architectural expressions that are certainly doomed to failure. Their value lies in the fact that they will set a cautionary precedent and not inspire similar projects.

In many respects, Wright's demonstration of office design feels more credible and sustainable.
Office space is the end product of humanity. We will successfully mechanize all miserable jobs someday--from milking cows to re-roofing buildings. Our collective future will be drab, secure, and comfortable spaces where we can spend seven or eight hours pondering the next step in civilization--specifically, whether or not we should have medium or light roast coffee at 2pm.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

continued idiocy

The Globe devoted more than two pages to various discussions about the destiny of Widett Circle. Towers of Ilium is not impressed by any argument about the viability of the land as prime development property.
-The proximity of critical transportation systems makes its current use stronger than most people appreciate. Also, the site is loud, dirty and isolated for pedestrians.
-The construction challenges associated with building and maintaining a deck over the rail lines are not consistent with the scale of any proposed development. The Hudson Yards projects in New York features massive skyscrapers.

No changes will occur on this property for another 20 years. Something will happen to the South Bay Center before then.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

delayed prediction market

Towers of ilium is considering reviewing some of its January predictions. Although this is a breach of protocol, 2015 is shaping up to be an interesting year. The following events are noteworthy:

-The detente with Cuba
-The agreement with Iran
-The Chinese stock market bubble and its eventual impact
-The drama of the 2016 presidential race
-The Boston Olympics bid debacle

This blog was only spot on about Cuba. Maybe about Jeb and Hillary. The larger issue is that all the pretty houses aren't big enough for all the idiots out there to stay dry in a thunderstorm. The Chinese economic crash will be better contained than the real estate/finance crash of 2008 by virtue of the fact that the Chinese are hardcore Keynesians.

Towers of ilium will stand by this prediction. In the line at the soup kitchen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

goodbye, mr. anderson

The breaking news this afternoon was the death of the Boston 2024 Olympics bid. More credible news sources will be all over this story; towers of ilium will stick strictly to the opinions.

-It was doomed from the start. Even if the proponents had been more tactful in the their approach, the weaknesses of the city would have manifested themselves.

-The Widett circle development proposal will probably go nowhere. Too many eggs in one basket to attract a serious party that could manage the construction and handle the long payoff.

-Mayor Walsh is politically weaker. Baker is stronger. No one else is really impacted.

-Some of the renderings were pretty. It was old school design--architecture masquerading as urban planning.

Monday, July 20, 2015

25 years of more accessible design

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990--legislation that was passed with the help of Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole--ushered in an era of objective, results oriented architecture. The great lie of Modernism was functionality. The ADA, which has no aesthetic agenda, created a functional framework for public space that is now deeply ingrained in the design profession. You can't put steps at the front door of a building. (Well, you can, but you need to have a ramp also)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

japan tries to avoid sunk cost fallacy

This will remain a rendering.

The fact that Zaha Hadid lost the commission for the Tokyo Olympics stadium will not have much effect on the trend toward sci-fi architecture in certain venues. Although boxes still dominate building design and construction, the curvy lunacy of our computer mad age will continue to beguile well-funded clients.

Apple, meanwhile is quite happy with their sunk costs in their new California headquarters. What company will be occupying it in 25 years? Towers of ilium predicts not Apple.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

joel kotkin and the political status of the suburb

This article by Joel Kotkin is worth reading.

He uses the term "forced densification" to describe the means and goals of the New Urbanists, modern planners, ULI, and other shadowy forces of the hipster elite when it comes to dealing with the enemy. The enemy, of course, is the  detached single family home that is the aspirations of most Americans.

Towers of ilium, despite its architectural leanings--which demand that all humans live in concrete skyscrapers--is an introspective fan of the suburb. The suburb is democracy. A house is not just a symbol of success, it is the logical extension of a shelter method that is most consistent with our biology. Humans are hive and herd oriented up until the point when we need some elbow room for individual activities.

Monday, July 6, 2015

small is relative

Yotel is in the process of planning a hotel with small rooms for a site in the Seaport District of Boston. Presumably, it will follow the model of a NYC Yotel that has rooms like that featured above-- 176s.f. shot with a wide angle camera lens. When did 176 s.f. become small, towers of ilium is forced to ask? Rooms that small--or that large--have been used as temporary lodgings for a long time.

The design feature that is intriguing is the location of the bathroom on the outside wall. Shower in solitude.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

architecture in TV

Towers of Ilium once published a list of movies that it regarded as architecturally significant.
We are now considering television shows that also meet the criteria. Potential candidates include the following:

Star Trek (all versions)
Max Headroom
The Sopranos
Mad Men

Television thrives off confinement. Characters in a series return to a place that is familiar to an audience and engage in discussions. This saves money and helps dialogue tell a convincing story.
The architecture of these familiar places is typically designed to maximize camera angle flexibility and reinforce the themes of the show.

Monday, June 22, 2015

bridges too far

Showy architecture in educational settings does very little other than make donors feel important. Students, by and large--no matter age, race, gender, cultural position, or level of wealth--do not pay attention to their surroundings. They are vaguely aware when things are different, but they don't waste time wondering if they should be inspired by some gesture that a design team sweated over for hours.

The image above is offered as evidence.

Monday, June 15, 2015

failures to communicate

How can some of the essential principles of architecture be conveyed to a non-architect audience? As usual, towers of ilium has a solution:

Visible vs. invisible design--Modern design challenges have less to do with the finish surfaces that people see. Air conditioning, support spaces, building envelopes, etc...are more important than paint colors.

Embodied energy vs. operating energy. Can also be described as up-front costs vs. general performance. Operation entails a greater resource commitment.

Gain vs. Enclosure dominated buildings. It's a complicated issue that mechanical engineers deal with, but more people, especially architects, should be aware of it.

LEED vs. reality. Unless you're moving into a cave, the construction of a building entails the use of toxic products. Longevity, performance, initial toxicity, and disposal toxicity implies a balancing act. When in doubt, live in the cave.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

but where will we put the help?

This is one of the floor plans for a luxury high rise under construction in Manhattan. Towers of ilium, in keeping with an inconsistent appraisal of all things architectural, has nothing particularly critical to say about this absurd expenditure of resources. It is another addition to the skyline of that city. Better looking, and a bit taller, than the heap of glass at the World Trade Center site. I doubt many of the occupants will stick with this layout. Too cramped and traditional.

odds and ends

A park in Newport, Rhode Island, designed by Maya Lin is completely benign and quite nice.

It's finally dawning on some people that the Boston Olympics bid is not just about the city of Boston.
Where does towers of ilium stand on the 2024 Olympics? Boston should not host the games, nor does it have the resources to compete with other cities--like Paris or Rome. The cities most qualified to host the Olympics in the U.S. all have better weather (Los Angeles, San Antonio, Dallas, Miami).

Friday, June 5, 2015

tom menino

"Fear is power." Thus spake Thomas Menino. His use of that power was always to advance the larger interests of the city of Boston. If he was corrupted by that power, it was not to the degree that rendered him dangerous.

Another comment he made in his memoirs was that he regarded city planning as too important to entrust to professional planners. The shape of the future is too malleable to make grand, overarching plans. He preferred to assess the merits of development projects on a case by case basis and not apply a rigid ideology to the review process.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

the end of architecture-george miller style

The most recent Mad Max movie is impressive cinema. Towers of ilium makes note of the fact that the entire film is devoid of architecture. The only shelter presented in the story is a series of caves carved into a rock formation. The director succeeds in emphasizing a post-post apocalypse, in which all that matters are things that are useful for survival--like cars and guns. Engineering trumps architecture, particularly when you need to maintain power as a warlord.

Monday, May 18, 2015

national and curious

Towers of ilium does not, as a rule, delve into the psychology of monumentality. It is enough to recognize its existence and remark on the relative folly of efforts directed towards that end.
Staff have been assigned to research by Teddy was included in this particular indulgence.

As an architectural composition and as a physical undertaking, it's quite impressive. One eyewitness has stated otherwise, but he made the error of visiting in person. Bias can be more effectively maintained with less information.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Building sections can look impressive. This one, by Peter Gruhn, is visually rich. Like all sections, it can exist as piece of art on its own. In construction documents it's often the case that the least interesting drawings contain the most important information. Architects include interesting drawings because it makes them feel good.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

legends move on

This is the hallway outside the office of a well-known economist. The hallway is unremarkable architecturally. Remarkable things can happen in such places. The urge to create "inspiring spaces" is something that designers fixate on. God forbid that anyone do a rigorous study that demonstrates how "inspiring space" do little to promote creativity or profit. Usually, when an organization builds an "inspiring space" that "fosters creativity and innovation" it's a sign that its share price is about to peak and then begin a long decline.

Friday, May 1, 2015

things to come

The movie reviewers at towers of ilium were not particularly impressed by Snowpiercer. It's social message, however, was appropriate. Maybe things won't ever be that bad--they could turn out worse. For example, the superwealthy could start building cities for themselves in the desert. Ah, that is already happening.

Restoration has no economic rationale when urban conditions become physically inadequate. Abandonment has a strong archaeological precedent.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

it's a living

Towers of Ilium would like to make note of a recent article in Urban Omnibus that features an excerpt from a new book by Nicolas Dagen Bloom about the history of the New York Public Housing Authority. He points out, quite appropriately, that successful management of public housing is possible, and is being carried out--at least in New York. Elevators get fixed more speedily, improvements are made to public space, and tenant maintenance needs are responded to.

But, what of the underlying quality of the space of this housing? The pejorative term "projects" still reads very clearly in the visual display of many of the high rises that make up urban public housing stock. The decisions made by the original design team (old white architects, brimming with the energy of modernist zeal, and chain-smoking bureaucrats) still defines the spiritual message of these buildings.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Since spring is almost upon us--and the gardens need tending, lawns mowing, hedges trimming--it is a good time to dwell on the impermanence of architectural creations. It is not simply that buildings have short lifespans in a robust society, it is that the endpoint of design is the minimization of structure. A good, modern building is mostly air. Walls, roofs, and floors conspire to define a volume such that humans can conduct a variety of affairs safe from weather and meat-eating creatures. More volume equals better design.

Monday, April 20, 2015

what dreams and what remains

The Boston Globe had an interesting article recently about the efforts that were made in the 1960's to bring an International Exposition to the city for the celebration of the bicentennial. It never happened, and the renderings that accompanied the article demonstrate how fanciful the idea was. One of the architects who participated in the project remarked that the design team worked around the clock in complete isolation.

Boston 2024 feels marginally more plausible. Towers of ilium wonders how the real estate acquisition process is going.

Meanwhile, the Wynn casino in Everett has hit a few development snags, but no news has come to light that promises its disintegration.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

spring arrived

Nowadays, clients are fond of remarking to designers: "It looks just like the model!" While this speaks to the power of computer visualization tools, it also reveals that too often the design process stops too early. The urge, the necessity, to make improvements while work is in process, is dampened by a mutual aversion to risk during the building process.

Monday, April 6, 2015

the beatings will continue....

The state panel on the MBTA has concluded that costs need to be controlled. This is a remarkable and novel conclusion. Costs need to be controlled everywhere. Any large organization will exhibit waste and inefficiency. What's most dangerous is when an organization is starved of resources for improvement. This creates a bunker mentality where members of the organization become more focused on hoarding scarce resources than in executing the mission.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

old territory

Towers of ilium is deep in Leo Marx this morning. Villains are defined by their lairs. Heroes are defined by their transportation. The motorcycle is the best type of transportation. To be a bad ass, you must ride a motorcycle. Preferably, a Harley Davidson. This is one of the most successful branding efforts of the modern era.

Neither a villain or a hero takes public transportation. Except Thor, and that was only once.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

if you want objectivity, buy a fish

After months of excited cheerleading and promotion of the Boston Olympics bid, the Boston Globe has turned on the organizing committee with a fierce vengeance. The tragic arc of this journalistic idiocy is all too typical. The circus is coming, the circus might be coming, it will be great, fun for the family, the circus is late, the circus is composed of drunks, child abusers, dope addicts, and thieves, the circus is evil, thank God the circus isn't coming.

Towers of ilium maintained a skeptical stance on the 2024 bid. Our editorial staff prides itself in not shooting from the hip or using too many common expressions or turns of phrase. Our work is fresh, original, and carefully researched.

The Olympics venture is exposing weaknesses--and not just in the infrastructure of the city or the poorly conceived and badly presented plans from the committee, but in the ability of Boston to articulate a vision of its capacity as a city.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

shopping for ted kennedy on columbia point

Towers of ilium places some value on first impressions. Not a lot, but a little, and sometimes, a little can make a big difference. The walk from the parking lot to the front door of the Edward Kennedy Institute is a little long. The efforts by Rafael Vinoly are appropriately discrete, and the open feeling of the building is refreshing. It has elements that resemble a strip mall, and other retail experiences. There's nothing wrong with that--it's America. Why should a person have to climb a flight of stairs and pass through columns to experience government?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

eichler is not greene and greene

Towers of ilium doesn't trust Eichler. He was not Greene and Greene. He was not Frank Lloyd Wright. His brand of ranch housing is overblown and uneconomical. If you need a ranch house, don't hire an architect, unless you want a ranch house that looks like a Cape. Or a bungalow. Bungalows work well. Towers of ilium receives funding from the Bungalow Association of America.

wednesday bonus post-in colour

A small bulldog guards its castle in the middle of an Beckett inspired wasteland.

the last starfighter

Towers of ilium has still not made a decision as to whether or not the movie "Lucy" should be added to the list of architecture themed films. The committee is cool towards the idea, because although Luc Besson crafts a competent mix of action and religious jargon posing as science he never lets the scenes speak.

Should abbreviations be phased out? More on this later. NASA owns space, but ABAA is not a rock band from Scandanavia.

Friday, March 20, 2015

death in an afternoon

Michael Graves and Jon Jerde died within two weeks of each other. Thus, the icons of post-modern architecture are left orphaned. Who will carry the vision forward? Modernism is the defining aesthetic for commercial design. The delivery of construction projects demands a more direct approach that doesn't leave room for irony or whimsy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

more graphic literacy tests

Eventually, architects will stop issuing formal drawings. This will be a good thing. Some paper copies of information will be retained for legal purposes, but their existence will be a function of cultural stupidity, not logic.

Towers of ilium contends that detailing in particular will be converted to a 3d representational medium within the next few decades. 2D information will persist as guide to 3d details. Internet maps are the basic analogy.

graphic communications

Quite appropriately, no graphic today. A picture is worth only as much as the view can recognize. The most effective graphics that towers of ilium employs often bear little resemblance to reality. The image does not have to be the truth, it merely has to tell it. In this respect, Pablo Picasso was partly correct. Art is not a lie, it is a narrative that cannot be disassociated from context.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

balancing a mattress on a bottle of wine

Towers of ilium is adopting a reporting posture of quality over frequency and quantity. In a perverse analogy, Daesh/ISIL/ISIS employs the same strategy. They selectively display actions that cause the greatest impact in the media. This has the effect of distracting attention from outside forces that are supplying and supporting them. It also helps them conceal their weaknesses.

Their destruction of museum artifacts, and lately, of portions of the city of Nimrud, is sad and annoying. All of that antiquity is worth less than one human life. But, it may turn more opinion against them.

Friday, February 27, 2015

not trusting william manchester

The challenge of history is that we trust people who are good with words to bring it life for us. Consequently, we get an overly dramatic, condensed, and deeply misleading narrative of people and events that compromises our appreciation of present realities. Towers of ilium, is not gifted with prose stylists like Manchester, Caro, Chaucer, Gibbon, or Pliny (staff budget at this blog is meager but internships are available). Reports on events in this format are unreliable, but they may be more honest than the biographical tomes that occasionally make the bestseller list.

Human life, if a person is lucky, involves the development of routines that persist for days, months, and years. Bad moments do not define us. Birth and death bookends an incremental improvement of perspective on the memories of moments. A laborer on the pyramids achieved happiness not only through the participation in the creation of a monument but by having a favorite breakfast food. That history preserved the glory of pharaohs over the glory of eggs only reveals our own bias, and the unfortunate persistence of large heaps of stone. Eat eggs.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

charlie baker to mbta: drop dead

At least, that is one interpretation of the governor's vow to not raise taxes for mass transit. There is a conviction among elected officials, and many taxpayers, that the fiscal woes of just about anything can be solved by better management. As if properly managed, a handful of corn could feed a family of five.

My only hope is that some members of the business community, who can wield greater influence over the governor than the public, will be able to convince him of the necessity of investing more money in the transportation networks of greater Boston.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

but it's a dry snow....

In the past 20 years the Boston Metro region has experienced at least three winters where cumulative ground snow loads have exceeded the building code parameters by more than 100%. Should the code be updated to reflect the statistical certainty of excessive loading? Two thoughts:

-Roof failures that I've read about seem concentrated on longer span, low slope roofs.

-Deflection failure doesn't equate to structural failure. Hence, many roofs, particularly pitched roofs on houses from a variety of time periods perform very well.

So, should the code start treating certain long span structures differently? For example, should the roofs of gathering spaces in educational or institutional buildings be held to a higher standard? Should we start doing static testing of common roof configurations to find out just much they can handle?

Monday, February 16, 2015

betrayal and redemption

The endgame to the architecture vs. infrastructure debate comes down to the issue of resiliency. Old infrastructure can be abandoned without a sense of loss. The act of discarding the old piece of junk for the shiny new thing is cathartic and meaningful. We can assign a golden age to air travel or train travel, but no sane person really wants to return to that. And, it's doubtful if there ever was a golden age.

The architectural icon exists in a state of perpetual golden age. We can pick the moment when we experience the architectural masterpiece for the first time and appreciate the purity of the personal interaction.

This post, and all posts for the next 30 days are dedicated to the MBTA.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

the institution of memory

Is On Kawara a fraud? (He didn't paint this picture, by the way--it's merely a reference to the hyper-real school and an example of the fraudulence of towers of ilium)

Staff at towers of ilium tends to agree with the review in the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine.
Kawara achieve originality, but only once. His persistence is admirable, but he relied more on the gullibility of his patrons and the artworld intelligentsia than his talents. Speaking of which, who is making money off his work now? The museums have some sort of arrangement, no doubt brokered by shadowy figures in the Williams Art Mafia.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

catching up

About a month ago, a staff member of towers of ilium took this picture of work being done at the Boston Public Library. The crane was dismantling a screening device that Philip Johnson had contrived to protect the interior of the library from the sordid and dangerous streestscape of the 1970's. Now, the streetscape has improved and such protections are idiotic. In Baghdad, they are taking down blast walls erected during the U.S. occupation of the previous decade. Progress is occasionally positive. Architects can claim little responsibility.

Friday, February 6, 2015

pictures speak for friday

Towers of ilium has an extensive inventory of photographs. Most of them, quite naturally, are of buildings and places, not people. This place is different now, but the picture is trapped in time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

something comes of nothing

It's a topic that towers of ilium has dwelt on in past posts, but it bears repeating: Infrastructure is more important than architecture. Human perception makes investment in good infrastructure harder than investment in good architecture--or bad architecture for that matter. A building can be a dysfunctional ruin and still considered great architecture. In the case of the Parthenon, the effects of age and deterioration only enhance its value. It has become unto a legend. Broken, dysfunctional infrastructure, however, has no value, except that it causes misery.

Time for towers of ilium to try to get on a train. Wish us luck.

Monday, February 2, 2015

more snow

Towers of ilium is not impacted by the weather, even if the power goes out. We are a concept, an ideal, a symbolic truth. Communication cannot be subverted or destroyed.

The center of gravity of modern American history seems to be the period from 1961 to 1973. JFK through Nixon. World War I was an international event--Hitler's mad, bloody road show. The 60's were a domestic affair. Vietnam was a place on the television set, Cuba was a few miles from Florida, and the heroes of that period all ended badly.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

it's not real

One purpose of the design process is create a sense of closure. Projects are never completed to everyone's satisfaction, although a great deal of lies are told in an effort to refute that. "I'm happy with the way it turned out" is one of the classic lines. Happiness being a poor criteria for success makes architecture full of happy people They turn out. They turn in.

So, here at towers of ilium, we preach the design process as a cathartic event. The importance of discarding bad ideas is the final lesson of the day. The image above represents a form of truth, a type of happiness. It may even be completed, if not realized.

As Hemingway noted, man can be destroyed but not defeated.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

learning buildings

Towers of ilium can't draw any new conclusions from the blizzard yesterday. It bears repeating a few things, however. Watch out for the ocean, belong to a community, and accept that things will be challenging for a while.

The house pictured here is presented as a new product. Its quality, like the quality of all architecture, depends more on the people who build it than the intent of the designer. In thirty years it will be improved in a few respects, or at least towers of ilium chooses to hope for that. The landscaping will look more natural, the siding will be changed, something will be added, it will have new windows, a new roof. The interior will have been embellished and improved by a few generations of owners.  It will not lose value.