ruminations about architecture and design

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.