ruminations about architecture and design

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.