ruminations about architecture and design

Friday, June 23, 2017

intent vs reality


Architectural details occupy a strange place in the design process. They force the architect to fully explain concept. They force the builder to learn new assembly methods--which are frequently of dubious value. Older buildings that had exquisite details benefited from a long chain of craft knowledge that architects could trust implicitly. New buildings introduce complexity that isn't visible at the surface.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

the international desk update

-Saudi Arabia seems to be trading youth for age in its ruling structure. Will  the successor to the throne learn restraint or does he see himself as the conqueror of Tehran?

-Things in Qatar appear stable for the moment. Hopefully, the 4000 cows enjoyed their flight to the country.

-China gets a new factory from Ford. We'll keep an eye on this one....

-Is solar power in Africa a real thing? Probably, because the small scale of units and expanding customer base point to it being the incumbent power source sooner than we realize. It's the type of product/service that can transcend social upheaval.

-Cubans are probably annoyed.

-North Korea works on its arsenal. China will have to play their hand at some point.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

brief update on grenfell


Although the full results of an investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire won't be available for years, we can expect some major consequences within the next few months.
-A full death toll has not been reached. As of this writing it stands at 79 people.
-The management company, the contractor, and the cladding supplier will be investigated and possibly face criminal charges.
-Towers of ilium maintains the position that this fire would have been prevented by the adoption and enforcement of NFPA 285. Lives would have been saved by a better alarm system. This will probably spur tougher restrictions--both for existing buildings and new construction.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

help is not on the way


A curious feature of the human mind is an intuition about order and cleanliness. Dust and decay are immediately recognized and assigned a negative value. Clutter impacts our level of anxiety, but we can easily be fooled if the clutter is arranged into a grid or similar pattern--if only for a brief period of time. Cleanliness is achieved by removing things, and where appropriate, dousing with water. When taken to an extreme, cleanliness becomes frightening because it departs so far from nature. The ocean is clean, even when the chaos of its movement becomes a threat to safety.

We hear little talk about the sublime any more. Temporary experiences, shiny objects, and the last pop song seem to consume our attention. Architecture, in its best efforts, has become more subtle and discrete. The vastness of the cathedral is a relic of a more sacred and primitive past.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

a good idea, but


The Tesla venture into solar roofing shingles is good marketing, but not a revolution. The revolution in rooftop solar is already underway and the most mature solution is still modular panels offset from the roof surface.  The reason for this ties into an important concept in engineering and design: beware of a device that claims to do two things at once. In the case of building envelope systems waterproofing is the primary role of roofing materials. A product that can do this reliably and cheaply wins the consumer over. The Tesla roof provides waterproofing protection, but at considerable cost, and because its application defies mass production opportunity, it will be the last choice for most homeowners.

Friday, June 16, 2017

cuba policy

Cuba was not mentioned in any of the predictions made by towers of ilium. The reason for this is a little sad--there was the small hope that the Trump would continue major parts of Obama's policies. That Trump is about to take a step back from those policies is consistent with hardline ideology and will gain him a few votes in Florida from the older Cubans.

Cuba, meanwhile, can try to reach out to the rest of the international community with increased vigor. Maybe some hardliners there are secretly relieved, as trade and tourism with the U.S. would have weakened the regime.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

NFPA 285 and its discontents


The Grenfell fire story has disappeared from front page American media. Reports have confirmed that the exterior insulation used in the buildings was flammable, which means that London does not have building codes that recognize NFPA 285. After this tragedy I hope they adopt it.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

grenfell tower


This is gone now. A massive fire consumed this residential tower in London over the course of last night. As of this writing, there is not a firm count on casualties or cause. From an architectural perspective, high rises are among the safest building types, but older structures tend to lack design features such as better alarms, better compartmentation, and robust sprinkler systems. Even if the cause was malicious, modern methods of containment could have prevented severe loss of life and damage.
Harsh commentary for those who died or were harmed.

Update: Some residents worried that something bad might happen. The building was under renovation at the time of the fire. A major element of the work was a complete re-cladding (did it conform to NFPA 285?).

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/grenfell-tower-still-a-fire-risk/


Monday, June 12, 2017

shelf stable-and other horrors of the 20th century


A house designed by William Krisel--and architect who was almost as important as Royal Barry Wills and even more prolific. He brought modernism to California, which was a good thing, because such designs can actually work out there.

We also acknowledge the passing Fred Kummerow, who fought a 60 year battle against trans fat and won that battle a few years before his death this year. He powered through his day on a diet rich in eggs, meat, and butter.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

brinksmanship


To invade this city an army has to drive by a U.S. military base. Another significant obstacle on the invasion route is the Qatar Aqua Park. For people living in the country there is probably some concern about how the U.S. would react to an escalation of the current blockade by Saudi Arabia. 
A card that has not been played yet is Qatar shutting off natural gas shipments to UAE. Towers of ilium puts the odds of a peaceful resolution to this situation at 75%.

Friday, June 9, 2017

peter eisenman


Peter Eisenman was once interviewed on television about a football stadium he had designed. He spoke briefly about the size of the air conditioning system and how important it was for spectators. 
It was a curious moment, since his architecture is often associated with breaking the boundaries of the practical. It's more useful to think of his buildings as sculpture.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

not all that we seem


The graphics department at towers of ilium was tasked with finding some compelling images of Morocco. A Google search turned up this lovely view of Tuscany. No effort has been made to find pictures of Morocco that are similar--Assumptions of what that country looks like will be left to the imagination or to more thorough searches on the Internet.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

and aldo rossi


Don't be a stodgy old fool! Get buried in post-modern splendor! Such is the legacy of Aldo Rossi, who continued the fine tradition of cemetery design. This structure is a highlight. It reminds its inhabitants of the office buildings where they toiled away their lives.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

unencumbered by the weight of all these crowds


The machine in the garden usually implies some form of prosperity--and it matters little whether that belongs to the past, present, or future. The romanticism of the human intervention saves a natural landscape from drifting too far into the sublime. What is El Capitan without the scars of crampons?

The resurrection of old factory towns is a romantic pursuit. Those who indulge in it experience occasional victories, but at great cost. Cheaper to build a strip mall and a suburb where every house has an obligatory patch of chemically enhanced front lawn. The old factory towns decay better.

Monday, June 5, 2017

grid land


Multi-unit residential architecture has made some minor advances in the past few decades. Developers tend to focus on interior amenities like in-suite laundry closets and logical floor plans. Accessibility codes mandate well proportioned bathrooms and energy codes guarantee a comfortable indoor temperature.

Exterior treatments are another matter. Cheap windows and siding materials are the rule, and architects are asked to mitigate this obvious poverty with pointless massing and flashy colors. Monotonous grids are frowned upon except in luxury high-rises.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

sailing for the horizon


Long suffering readers may note the inconsistent treatment of modern architecture on this blog. Although the overall tone is negative, grudging respect is accorded to some of the big names of the movement: Mies, Wright, Saarinen, Ben Thompson....all managed to produce memorable works. The harm they did with individual buildings in the service of their art is not the real issue. They inspired generations of less talented designers and brainwashed thousands of institutional clients. The mediocrity and hypocrisy that distinguishes so much of the practice of those educated in the tradition is discouraging. Now, preservationists are adding second rate design efforts to their list of protected buildings--the most egregious examples include anything by Paul Rudolph and most buildings in the greater Boston region. Ultimately, the indifference of the general public and the unchecked greed of developers may remove most of these insults from the landscape. Even if the replacements are banal, they won't be dripping with bombastic ideology and near complete lack of function.

Towers of ilium is seeking a marketing consultant to expand the reach of this blog. Inquiries can be slipped under the office door along with cash donations. It will be a competitive interview process.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

ruin and hopelessness


Journalist Jill Lepore has a new piece in the New Yorker on the evolution of dystopian/utopian genre in modern media. She argues that we've entered a period of hopelessness and despair as real life events infect our production and consumption of the medium. Towers of ilium begs to differ--not just because of the overriding belief that we shall prevail, but because dystopic authors need to cultivate an extreme atmosphere of authenticity in order to sell their ideas. No one writes seriously about Utopias, and for that, we're grateful. It's no fun when everyone is having fun.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

not zaha hadid


Towers of ilium has so far avoided any discussion of really famous architects. Today, we rectify that omission in order to discuss Richard Meier. Good, we got that out of our system.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

zaha hadid


A tiresome question in architecture is whether unbuilt projects have a greater value than real buildings. Generally, a complete realization of architectural service is necessary to pay the bills. Hadid persisted as an artist before getting shovels in the ground. Her dramatic career cut short lends an air of drama to her unfinished designs and entertains the speculation of how feasible her more uncanny visions will be--provided a client with deep enough pockets.. Her firm persists, which makes us wonder how derivative they will be, and how long they will last. Frank Lloyd Wright's studio produced nothing of significance after his death.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

american infrastructure costs


The punchline to the joke of American infrastructure seems to be: "Spend more and get less." There does not seem to be a good solution to anything. Some clamor for privatization, but fail to understand that land acquisition is a public policy challenge. Others demand cheaper service with the stipulation that all areas are served regardless of demand density. Planning costs time and money--with time being the more onerous burden as system failures have to build to a critical mass before emergency funds are dispensed to solve small problems with great inefficiency. Towers of ilium will think about his more while stuck on the train today.

Oh, that punchline also applies to our healthcare system.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

shoots and leaders

Market watchers are starting to make more haphazard predictions of late. The Trump bump is fading--the market will surge once tax reform passes---earnings are good--wages are too high, etc. The economy feels sound and secure to the point where no one shock will have an adverse effect. Towers of ilium is willing to concede that things will continue on this path through the fall and beyond.


Friday, May 26, 2017

squaring the circle


It's a boat, it's a plane, it's deeply flawed piece of urban real estate! Towers of ilium confidently predicts (is there any other type of prediction on this blog?) that nothing dramatic will happen to Widett Circle in the next ten years. No Olympics, no hipster development, no railyard expansion. Even if the food wholesalers move somewhere else the complexity associated with this site will overwhelm a speedy decision. The circulation systems surrounding and through the site defy human activities. Although some developers have built on marginal sites further up the road they haven't had to overcome the triple obstacle of highways, truck services roads, and rail lines.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

we are not running out of sand


An overly dramatic article in a recent issue of the New Yorker talked about the coming worldwide sand shortage. Using some anecdotes and selective statistics the author was able to weave a tail about the "Sandpocalypse." Meanwhile, the world continues to move on. Natural resources are finite, but it is worth noting that the surface of the planet is composed mostly of water and rocks. The rocks turn into sand naturally, but if you're in a big hurry and have the right equipment we can make sand directly from rocks--much like we can make electricity directly from the sun. Granted, this is more expensive than just digging it out of the ground, but expensive products and services tend to create competitive production environments.
The earth has plenty of resources. In fact, the one resource that exhibits frequent scarcity is human intelligence.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

manchester

People far away of whom we know everything. Four years on from the Marathon bombings and Boston has achieved a state of normalcy. The next terrorist attack on U.S. soil may take the form of the Manchester concert attack. New York City is the mostly likely target, and we would hope that the majority of counter-terrorism efforts are focused on that region.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

security concepts


Security is a social contract that is deeply related to the disproportionate exercise of force. The theft of an item worth a few hundred dollars can result in police investigations and legal actions that can reach several hundred thousand dollars. But, to not pursue the action ultimately creates an environment of mistrust and chaos. The use of resources expended to stop a criminal is justified by the threat of future actions.

Architectural features that promote security have a high rate of failure. Walls can be scaled, locks picked, doors kicked in, etc...and a fortress under siege is not a fun place to live. In most instances, transparency and density can create better outcomes. A pile of treasure is safer inside a city than out in the wilderness.

Monday, May 22, 2017

random notes on speculative bubbles


Some economists dispute the existence of financial bubbles--citing how asset prices should reflect rational behavior and that large markets can accurately assess risk. Hence, a crash in prices is due to new information or outside forces that disrupt such rational behavior in a way this also rational.

That Isaac Newton lost money on speculative trading is a significant point in this argument.

That in a diverse economy bubbles can actually be helpful by spurring innovation and creating benefits for everyone (or a handful of very well-positioned people). 

That contagion is a consequence of meddling by governments or large firms. Hence, less regulation creates the ideal scenario for efficient markets.

That money is a critical component of modern human existence and all money naturally trends towards expansion beyond the present or near future value of all goods and services.

Towers of ilium is a bubble. Buy now!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

the footsteps of doom-again



Here's an observation from a pretty smart fellow. In case you don't feel like reading Robert Shiller, towers of ilium is happy to summarize: The U.S. housing bubble was caused in part by people who wanted to make money flipping houses using borrowed money. The concept of "flipping" as a sure way to get rich is entrenched in our popular culture--hence people who are bad at math or misread local conditions, can help create the next housing bubble.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

parts known


Although towers of ilium occasionally sends staff to far away places--Fitchburg, for example, the middle east remains a mystery. Tehran is just as unknown as Pittsburgh. Most American media portrays Iran as images of its leaders, which leads to a great misunderstanding of what is going on there. The recent election demonstrates that most people there care much more deeply about domestic affairs than foreign policy. Money, pollution, corruption, and opportunity are the concerns that demand the most attention from politicians. Trump, Saudi Arabia, and ISIL are distractions from daily problems.

Friday, May 19, 2017

car park special edition


Occasionally, a big name architect will produce an interesting looking parking garage, but such efforts are not typical. Car parks occupy marginal space in buildings, which is a slight improvement over the outside parking lot which tends to dominate a building site. The LED revolution will at least make the interior experience more bearable, and maybe even safer.

Self-driving cars, Uber, and expanded public transportation will not result in the abandonment of parking garages. In fact, we can expect even larger and more sophisticated structures in the near future. Forward the foundation.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

a field of stone


The transition of the use of stone as a load bearing material to a light-weight veneer is one of the greatest conceptual changes in the history of architecture. People probably perceive of the walls of buildings as structural, and several generations of modern architects have enjoyed challenging that attitude with building claddings that reek of instability--glass in large sheets being the most obvious tactic.

Building exteriors are more sophisticated, but less visually important. Form is valued over materiality, and craft is underappreciated. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

not immediately but soon


When you own a stone quarry, you keep digging. Politicians often do this, occasionally because they believe that consistency is important to their constituencies, more often because they're stupid.
Towers of ilium has started to contemplate the presidency of Mike Pence. His right wing credentials are impressive and it is easy contemplate how he would probably have run for president in 2020 of his own accord. His occupancy of the Oval Office seems assured, and he will most certainly run a tight ship. Congress will enjoy working with a former colleague, and significant pieces of legislation will be signed into law. He will probably avoid a war and keep the Obama foreign policy principles in place where it is convenient. He may help avert a Democratic takeover in 2018 and he will be a formidable opponent in 2020. Provided, of course, that Trump leaves office and keeps his head down--not good things to bet on.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

aspirational housing


The Vanderbilt Family has faded from the public scene, but their housing stock remains--but rarely as housing. The Biltmore seems to have been designed as a public gesture--perhaps even as a conspiracy between the local tourism board and the family architect. 

Despite its size, this structure reeks of domesticity. The deliberate asymmetry, the small windows, the gingerbread details. As a living experience, it is an assault on practicality.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

they drove old dixie down


As usual, the prediction department at towers of ilium was wrong. No one else quit or was fired in Washington aside from Jim Comey. All in all, it was a slow news week.

The topic today, fortunately, is architecture (not the Civil War). The capacity for repair is nearly unlimited. We can fix just about anything, given enough time and resources--and most importantly, a disregard for the economics of thing being fixed. Restoration is about nostalgia and romanticism. So, at what point in time do we assign the role of "ruin" to a building? Lack of occupancy can be remedied by repair. Fire can be remarkably effective, unless the major part of a structure is fire resistant. A heap of stones in the wilderness is the pinnacle of romantic achievement and a strong argument for selective abandonment--unless it threatens human welfare by increasing states of dilapidation.

Friday, May 12, 2017

good luck on the other side


Eddie Lampert, the CEO of Sears, recently made the ludicrous claim that poor media coverage is to blame for the accelerating decline of the Sears empire. Lampert, who fancies himself as a sort of John Galt character, attempts to lead Sears from his mansion in Florida, and legends abound of his hostile and combative manner with his employees. There is speculation that he is running the company into the ground so he can cash out on its significant real estate holdings, which if true, makes his current management style a case study in institutional sadism.

Sears is not unique in the revolutionary landscape of modern retail. The Wal-Mart/Amazon phenomenon often seems to be the only thing worth paying attention. The death throes of a sick dinosaur like Sears is mostly page 5 news (oh right, pages in newspapers are no longer a thing).

People who shop need places to shop. The Internet is not a place, but as long as there is electricity and roads, it will have a significant impact on how real shopping places conduct business. No one knows how this will end, but we can be pretty sure that Sears will end.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

comparison thursday


Hotel architecture tends to be very finely tuned. Exterior detailing is generally ignored, except to signal brand identity. Interior decor is carefully managed to create a sense of welcome, but not for too long. Privacy for guest is simultaneously respected and interrupted, and at the end of the visit, money always changes hands in a way that is most favorable to the establishment. A good hotel does not encourage loitering.

National events seem to be heading somewhere strange lately. The Democrats have a new weapon that they're not sure how to use. The Republicans are circling the wagons in a haphazard fashion. It is hard to imagine a scenario where some more people do not lose their jobs before the end of the week. Also, there is a high probability that somebody is preparing to leak something that will keep the story alive.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

and yet more john portman


According to the architecture editor at towers of ilium, John Portman has never been acknowledged by the major design publications. He might not care. His success at the business of architecture is sufficient rebuke to the academic standards that corrupt the profession.

We bring you this bit of imagery for no reason at all.

Monday, May 8, 2017

42


Douglas Adams did not invent humorous science fiction, but his synthesis of humor and humanity in the Hitchhiker's Guide stands in sharp contrast to some of the harder sci-fi efforts of the 20th century. Arthur C. Clarke might have invented humorous sci-fi in his short story Reunion, but that's another topic (and maybe too hard for towers of ilium).

For the moment, the new Blade Runner movie is being added to the towers of ilium official list of architecture movies. It should be noted that this list, despite being official, is not archived in an organized way. Maybe that is the answer.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

designed development


Scale is dead. Thanks to the proliferation of media platforms it is impossible to rely on a consistent representation of anything visual. Scale still pays, and it would not be wise to bet on the decline and fall of the movie theatre experience--or even dumber, a reduction in screen size in cinema complexes.

In the realm of architecture we always look for scale signifiers that calibrate our perception. People, cars, trees, and doorways are the most common clues that help ground project. The sketch above is deliberately loose, but there are shadows of pedestrians and trees that demystify the structure.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

more presidential library criticism


The concrete horror in the background is the presidential library of LBJ. As if we did not need any more proof that the architecture of the 50's through the 80's was cosmic obscenity.

Friday, May 5, 2017

architecture criticism post # 45981


At last, towers of ilium returns to its roots....

Presidential libraries are a contradictory expression of ego and civic outreach. This combination of forces tends to result in gestures that play to the worst instincts of the design team. Great effort is expended on making the architecture feel original. At best and worst, they become small set pieces of the prevailing style of the moment. In the case of Obama's library/park/museum in Chicago all these factors work together in a predictable way. The strong axis, the double buildings, the austerity of the plaza, and the plain facades speak more to the emotional state of the architects than they do to Obama's character. Of course, Tsien and Williams are the go-to experts for sensitive urban design, but given a blank slate they feel compelled to make a statement that is weakly modest and ambiguously revolutionary. The tower captures the challenges of the presidency perfectly: a man who desperately wanted to be a good steward of the country and ended up ruling from a small fortress amidst a prosperous grove.

More and more, the building resembles a Picasso cubist sculpture in a late term pregnancy.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

the limits of beauty

Are there limits to beauty? No. Such trick questions go straight to the heart of any discussion about the differences between objective reality and human perception. And to be clear, towers of ilium has no doubts about objectivity, despite the frequent difficulties the human mind has when it comes to grasping it. Objective conditions include the following: Earth's rotation, the boiling point of water, starvation, traffic jams, and death. Not a comprehensive list, but any compendium of truth will be overcome by a compendium of fantasy. Deciding what proportion to spend our lifetime considering is a personal affair.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

ideas without place


The lost generation had Paris, and without Paris it is hard to imagine the literature and personalities of that period. Modern communities are often assigned, incorrectly, a sense of place simply because of their media presence. Humans will gather no matter how sophisticated computer technology becomes. The gym pictured above has moved 5 times in the past 20 years. Without a place it would not exist as a community. It has specific requirements that are difficult to achieve in a restrictive and overpriced real estate environment. It thrives in a marginal location. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

functional aesthetics


Military equipment is assigned a high aesthetic value, either on purpose or through the combined enthusiasm of users and spectators. Military architecture often has no aesthetic value, at least since people stopped building castles. This can possibly be explained by the fact that armies function as temporary phenomena. Vehicles and weapons have a defined stability; bases and camps do not. Even battlefields are forgotten without monuments.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

the merry month of may

Currently, all major statistical indicators show a healthy U.S. economy. Modest growth is expected in consumer activity, unemployment is low, interest rates and inflation are low, energy costs are low, and everything is just find and dandy. Despite the occasional pessimism at towers of ilium, another 2 quarters of decent performance are reasonable to expect. American malaise is the substance of dreams and any policies from Washington will have a longer run impact. Unless, of course, something silly happens.

regulations and housing costs


Ed Glaeser has done a considerable amount of research on the impact of local rules on land use and real estate costs. His conclusion is simple: Zoning determines property values. A group of wealthy communities with restrictive building covenants acts as a planning body for a metropolitan region. Fewer regulations, like in the American South, result in lower housing costs.

This theme is an old one at towers of ilium, but it bears repeating.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Aside from current posturing by the Trump administration, the status quo retains an illusion of stability in North Korea. Towers of ilium does not maintain a field office there--one of those rare circumstances where our corporate policies are in line with other news organizations. It is hard to imagine that Kim sleeps easy, Trump or no Trump. The aura of the monarchy may have dimmed over the past few decades, and if China ever grows tired of the situation, then the endgame will play out with brutal speed.

In the meantime, our perverse--yea, even romantic fascination with the place will continue.

Friday, April 28, 2017

changes in perception over time


Was Jean Giraud a genius? As an artist, yes--as a storyteller, maybe not so much. Towers of ilium admires his singular visions of fantasy and science fiction, but does not hold out hope for continued influence.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

modernity and its practical impact


It's still a struggle to explain the origin of the forms of modern architecture. We can select key individuals--Wright, Mies, Corbu, and Gropius--and trace their influence on design over the course of a century. Was their influence in shape-making or rule-breaking? If the latter, then we have a better grasp of the eclectic designs of our modern environment. "It feels right" or "I just felt like doing that" become legitimate explanations to a client.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

worth a second look or two


Blueprint Robotics is a new company that is taking a big risk on pre-fabricated building components. They are opening a factory that can build walls, floors, and roofs for buildings using large scale robots.
Towers of ilium is skeptical of this method. Site building is very efficient if managed properly and doesn't have the capital investments of a large-scale manufacturing facility. The new angle on this is that the trades are losing workers and this offers an alternative to human labor inputs. 
Plumbers everywhere are probably not too worried.

Monday, April 24, 2017

walter arnold


The photography of Walter Arnold is both perverse and beautiful. He specializes in "The Art of Abandonment" and the American landscape gives him a lot of subjects to choose from. Abandoned buildings generate serious tourism dollars worldwide, so it is refreshing how Arnold seeks out more mundane subjects that he can frame in novel ways.

This scene could be titled: " 4 decades after Easy Rider"

Sunday, April 23, 2017

sunday apology edition

Towers of ilium regrets the repetitive nature of some of these posts. This is a sign of the poor quality of free internet blogs and the general decline in values across the entire spectrum of human existence--especially Netflix, which no longer seems to have an inventory of the most basic shows and movies.

A few comments on the U.S. protest movement and its potential consequences:

-There is a protest movement and it is spontaneous and well organized in many areas. Case in point:
the volume and quality of port-a-potties at the Boston March for Science/Earth Day Celebration

-The robust financing of left wing alternative media; e.g. Mother Jones, The Nation, Vox, etc...

-The sense of a need for another rebalancing of American politics.

Prediction: It will be a tough week for Donald Trump and Republicans.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

the armies of the right


The chroniclers of the 1960's and 70's--Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson--ultimately took a dim view of the protest movements and spiritual fervor of the times. The great gathering of Woodstock, the march on the Pentagon, and the debacle of Chicago were media sensations but fell short of expectations. The idealism felt wasted, despite Nixon's resignation and the brutal winding down of the Vietnam War. The decade of Reagan seems like the vindication of this cynical narrative, when any vestige of the Beats and the hippies was ground to dust by the relentless narcissism and greed of 
the urban elite. And lo, what have we now?

Friday, April 21, 2017

fantasy architecture


This proposed design for Trump's border wall will not be built. Neither will any of the other walls proposed. A few sections of wall will be erected in convenient locations to serve as a backdrop for a press conference or two, but then they will fall into disrepair--which will be documented by another news conference or two.

We can be certain that any walls erected will involve the labor of undocumented workers at some point in the supply chain. Hopefully, they'll be paid well.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

the value of preparation


Poor planning is too frequently blamed when things go terribly wrong. What if there had been no concept of a plan and things still went wrong? What if there was a "good" plan and things still went wrong? Random outcomes will always outnumber the considerations of the most sophisticated plan. 
Architects and engineers are tasked with describing the outcome of a design within the limits of the rules of geometry. If a room needs to be a minimum of ten feet wide, then the architect would do well to make it twelve feet wide. What if the client doesn't like the room? What if the client buys a sofa that is fourteen feet wide? Does this prove that redundancy is a complete waste?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

what's in a name?


The art of placemaking is more difficult than putting a man on the moon. For some people, the state of Maine is indeed "Vacationland" but for the people who live there, it's just "Maine." The Pioneer Valley, which refers, with some accuracy, to the region of land flanking the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, is a place-name with as much staying power as the "Midwest." People who live there can refer to the "Valley" without generating too much confusion. A person from Oklahoma might require a short explanation as to the history and significance, but such effort needn't justify a branding campaign.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

the twilight of type x drywall

Eventually, Type "C" gypsum panels will be the standard for fire resistant interior wall and ceiling finishes. Type X has been useful for several generations as the standard treatment, but if Type "C" is rendered generic and sold at an equivalent price-point then it should displace all Type X products. Much like terra cotta was displaced.


Friday, April 14, 2017

there is no spoon


Human design efforts nearly always involve a tension between a singular decision-maker and the semi-organized movement of the collective. Take this plan of a small city somewhere in Britain--it implies an organization based on simple geometry. It was not the vision of one person, although one person did make some significant contributions to parts of it. The good fortune that made this city a visual delight is strange soup coincidence that included a nearby quarry, the popularity of certain parts of Georgian architecture, the rampant greed of speculative developers, and the technical limits of architecture.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

the measure of plan


The concept of terminal design has been discussed occasionally on this blog. It needs constant clarification and refinement--hence, a perfect example of how the design of arguments and ideas is never terminal as long as there are humans alive in the universe. In architecture, putting a stop to the design process is a function of time and money, and it is the responsibility of the architect to know when to stop. Perfection is not achievable, and if a client emerges who claims to have infinite time and money, then the architect should walk away from the job. To be trapped in a cycle of endless revisions and studies is a hell that should be avoided.