ruminations about architecture and design

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.

Monday, January 26, 2015

a bright, new dawn for halliburton

More posts should feature marine architecture. But, that's for another day, because at the moment, senior management at towers of ilium is considering the wisdom of investing in petroleum stocks. It is worth noting that this organization once held shares in Exxon/Mobil. It was a good decision at the time. Although share prices of many petro companies are depressed right now, there is a strong possibility that cost of oil will start to increase by the end of the year. Companies like Halliburton are well positioned for this event.

But what about the morality? That's a post for another day.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

in favor of a Dr. Who movie

This house really needs nothing but maintenance. Towers of ilium respects tradition, up until the point when tradition becomes an enemy of improvement. The value of the old tends to have an emotional appeal, but only if people constantly refresh their perceptions of that value. An old house has "character" only in the sense that we apply a value to the accumulated decisions of past generations. As soon as the bad decisions overwhelm the good decisions, the character is gone. A more curious question to ask is whether we would automatically apply character to something if we could go back in time and see it when it was brand new? We would bring all our memories and biases with us and as a consequence, might view the original product with more skepticism.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

political economy tuesday

A group of Boston taxi cab owners is suing the city over the proliferation of Uber and Lyft. After all, it is the purpose of a democratic republic to not only create oligopolies, but to protect them against competition.

The Globe ran an article on the mismatch between city issued parking permits and available on-street parking permits. Since towers of ilium has the luxury of off-street parking any solution offered here should be taken with a grain of salt. The city could install parking meters at all streetside parking spots in all neighborhoods. Or, people could start using ride share services like Uber and Lyft more.

Monday, January 19, 2015

the bright tomorrow

Today's post is about the utter futility of attempting to gain knowledge from graph of a corporation's share price. The picture happens to be a chart of Solar City. Please note that in addition to being idiotic, it is also out of date. However, towers of ilium respects the need for shiny graphics.

Today's post is about the utter futility of efforts to predict the future.

Today's post is about a recent article in The Economist about energy resources in the world. It is well researched and comprehensive. It cites Amory Lovins, which is a good thing. It doesn't cite Gail Tverberg or any of the other fossil fuel pessimists. Towers of Ilium did not make a prediction about energy prices (that needs confirmation--internal memo to research staff) because that is crazy. For the moment we will hang on the fact that the crash in oil prices amounts to a 4.5% pay raise for the average American family. The gas tax, unfortunately, will not be raised, even though that would be prudent.

Will Towers of Ilium considering investing in solar panels for its corporate headquarters? Maybe in a decade or so. The Economist regards solar power as an important thing, particularly in the developing world. They have a chance to do it right. Not that U.S. and Britain did it wrong--if there is a resource that appears cheap, it will be used, no matter the consequences. Just ask the single celled organisms that poisoned the earth's atmosphere with oxygen a few billion years ago.

Friday, January 16, 2015

no free ponies

Towers of Ilium is considering a thought experiment on the viability of a return to mill style construction. The problem isn't simply a matter of cost and codes, but a perception of authenticity. Would the exposed brick on the inside walls be a load bearing? Would it be the right texture? Would it have signs of past use? And how it would compete against the real thing?

A graphic exploration is called for.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

new core values

Professionalism and journalistic standards have been falling off lately at towers of ilium and out loyal readership has commented on this. We want to emphasize that measures are being taking to correct this backsliding. New management has been installed, certain personnel have left to spend more time with their families, some have fallen ill, and some have been sacked. We expect the new crowd of editors, drafters, layout specialists, copy writers, and advertising executives to carry this blog into a shining future.

To that end, we will be implementing the following policies:

-Content about the Boston Olympics Bid will be restricted to one post per week. Even if something particularly silly is written about it in consecutive issues of the Boston Globe.
-Graphics will be relevant to the blog content of the day.
-Any comments by readers will be addressed by senior editorial staff.
-Free ponies will be distributed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

the last emperor

The repeal of laws is often a side effect of revolutions. However, I am not in favor of revolutions as they tend to be messy and unpredictable. Consequently, I resign myself to living in a world where rules and regulations proliferate, and where specialists evolve to cope with these things. I don't consider myself one of these specialists, but in my capacity as a designer I need to have good grasp on a handful of dimensional requirements that are critical to building planning. These numbers have not changed markedly over the years, but subtle changes are made and I have to keep up with those changes.

What I am hoping for is an artificial intelligence that can one day replace most legal specialists. We will call this computer The Last Emperor. It will be a benevolent and constant reign over the twilight of human civilization.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

andy warhol and open plan offices

I used to work in a drafting pool and it was okay. At the time, my only frame of reference for a desk job was when I was work-study in the Reserve Dept. of my college library. When I moved to a private office I didn't have a sense of promotion--or more accurately, I don't think I felt a sense of promotion. Given the current trend in office planning, my next job will probably be in an open office. I might get a cubicle. I'll probably still get work done.

I wonder how Andy Warhol worked. Did he thrive off a social setting where people were in a constant state of engagement? Did he require solitude from time to time? He strikes me as the type of person who knew when to build a wall around something he was doing. He knew how to reveal things when the impact would be most significant.

An "open office" is both a psychological and architectural construction. Employers who strive for efficiency and productivity set that standard by the field they are conducting their business. Worker happiness falls by the wayside. It's all a factory. (And I just made a Warhol reference without even realizing it)

Monday, January 12, 2015

standard monday news-print is dead

I'm predicting that the Boston Globe will maintain a hard copy print edition for another 15 years. By that time, this blog may go out of business--supplanted by some other more favorable and efficient form of media. So it goes.

I meant to have some comments about the MiTek corporation, but I haven't done enough research yet. I probably shouldn't bother, since my bias against extreme modular building delivery systems is still so strong.

This is somewhere in Boston. Its exact location must remain secret. For now, it is a reminder that no matter how wealthy you become, your trash will still be stored in a functional, plastic receptacle.

Friday, January 9, 2015


So, Boston gets the American bid for the 2024 Olympics. The Boston Globe had the usual gushing articles.

Architectural Record had a scathing review of the One World Trade Center building. It could have been more scathing. It didn't discuss the cost overruns or the general idiocy of the program--which still reflects the original pro forma. I suppose the people who work in it will feel safe and appreciate the space more than some of the other terrible high rises in the city.

I look forward to visiting the site again someday.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

not holding breath for olympics decision

Actually, I hope Boston gets it. As I stated last year when this story emerged, the value of an Olympic bid lies in its capacity to generate dialogue. I wonder how the organizing group will react if they fail this round. Try again in four years?

In other news, the fracas between Mayor Walsh and Steve Wynn over the proposed Everett casino is demonstrating the overall weakness of Boston when it comes to setting policy for the region. Should Boston have more power to shape planning and development trends in neighboring communities? Would more centralized control result in more efficient use of public resources and better outcomes for everyone? Towers of ilium does not have a good answer. Specific to the casino issue, I don't recall reading a good explanation of how Revere and Everett are different. Revere lost because the Suffolk Downs proposal had a shakier financial profile. Wynn approached the issue objectively, and from everything I have read, transparently. I doubt I'll ever visit the casino if it is built. Besides, the real loser is Connecticut.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

future proofing (hubris and architecture edition)

I glanced at a recent article in a magazine for architects. It was about "future proofing" buildings. It made me smile. Buildings that last a long time tend to be lucky. Decisions made by the original designer and builder focus on the needs and wants of the original client. If future clients are satisfied by those decisions that's a happy coincidence. Some aspects of building geometry and detailing enhance preservation--like high ceilings, robust materials, and good looks--but for every ten buildings that exhibit those qualities, nine are no longer with us. Also, ordinary buildings with annoying features can persist a long time.

Geography is the most important factor when it comes to the longevity of architecture. If you build close to the ocean, the building is doomed. If you build in a remote region that experiences economic or ecological collapse, then the building is doomed. If you build something small in a city that is growing rapidly, then the building is doomed.

Monday, January 5, 2015

is it finished?

I really have to learn more about photography. Other than a mistake made by the supplier of the roof shingles, this project came out okay. My guiding philosophy when it comes to additions and alterations to existing buildings is this: Try not to let on that you did anything.

However, some projects that involve work on an existing structure require a more aggressive approach. Renzo Piano's additions to the Harvard Museum fall into that category. I haven't been there yet, but I'm looking forward to the trip. If I can find the free time, that is.

Friday, January 2, 2015

predictions for 2015

Here we go again. As usual, towers of ilium offers no background research or objective criteria for these predictions:

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)

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.

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.

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

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

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.