ruminations about architecture and design

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

architecture and productivity

Photo Levittown by Jon Smith

An effective method of increasing productivity in construction is by reducing the role of the designer. A design is required, but if interaction between client and architect is minimized--or eliminated--then the construction delivery process becomes the primary objective of a project. Does the end product suffer? Aesthetically, the consequences are often banal instead of disastrous. Functionality can be impacted, but not necessarily to a greater degree than when intensive design efforts are wasted on trying to predict future needs. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

building architecture and productivity

The technical research department at towers of ilium has been asked to comment on a recent article in The Economist magazine about the failure of the building construction industry to match the productivity gains of other manufacturing industries. The research department (which has no research budget) will recycle the following arguments:

-Buildings are large--large things make precision difficult to achieve and transport costs high
-Buildings are frequently unique to program and site. Even subtle differences in topography require re-design
-Building systems are more complex than in the past. A concrete wall with some single-glazed steel windows doesn't meet code and doesn't satisfy client/user expectations
-Architects are still involved. This point will be developed in later posts. Please do not adjust your set until Tuesday. In fact, do not stop staring at your computers for the next 24 hours--you will be amazed at how much you can accomplish!

Friday, August 18, 2017

reality is a harder place

Architecture that comes to life in a sketch frequently dies in the details. Sometimes, a compromise can be reached, but if heroic efforts are required to massage a design idea into something that complies with code and construction methods, then the potential for error increases substantially.
A sketch is not a holy writ--it is tool that informs the goal of getting something built. The ability to produce and abandon sketches is the mark of a healthy design process.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

why castles?

A castle is the ultimate expression of secure domestic architecture. Although modern survivalists tend to favor lodges in the empty places of the American West, the European tradition retains the most evocative and prominent examples of the type. To live in a castle is to achieve fantasy. Those who built them were clearly engaged in a visual arms race. Practical features are subordinate to an obvious need for more turrets and towers. Disneyland has cemented the imagery so thoroughly that we cannot conceive of a princess living anywhere else.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

building science and the grenfell fire

As predicted, Joe Lstiburek wrote some good commentary on the Grenfell Fire. It can be found at this link here. He makes several interesting points about fire safety in the context of cladding systems with exterior insulation. Among these are a criticism of excessively large rainscreen gaps--3/8" is plenty-- and  the importance of fireblocking between window heads and combustible exterior insulation. He doesn't comment on the overall thickness of the poly-iso insulation used in the cladding retrofit. They could have used a little bit of the money saved by using only 4" of insulation to buy a non-combustible aluminum composite panel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

the value of the one-off

People who commission works of art should be aware that the artist draws a paycheck with the expectation of being able to work without interference for long periods of time. This isolation requirement is also implicit in arrangements made with tradespeople. It reaches an extreme when we deal with mass-produced items--which have been carefully designed with only filtered input from potential consumers. Acceptance of the design decisions is measured at the time of purchase.

Unique efforts, however, are as necessary as they are dangerous. The artist defines certain parameters in negotiation with a client or patron--or as is more often the case--such parameters are defined by the previous body of work. The client wants to be surprised. It's like buying a car without getting a chance to test drive it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

finishing things-part III

Continual maintenance is a philosophy in search of an application. To what degree? At what costs? For how long? By what methods? A general rule is that maintenance should be a small fraction of purchase cost--i.e. a tank of gas is worth less than the car. Accumulated tanks of gas can eventually cost more than the car, but that merely demonstrates how the car is not a source of value unless it is moving people and things around.

Eventually, the most useful thing becomes an artifact. At that point, it may have achieved artistic value, but at what cost? Is it in the way of something better? Portable objects can retain value for as long as they exist. Architecture and infrastructure need to be assessed frequently. Much is found wanting.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

finishing things-part II

Should architects become more specialized? In practical terms, this has already happened. Large firms will have various studios that can function as distinct offices. A sole practitioner will tend to find a niche--usually in house design.

What is the end point for all this? Specialized licensing requirements? The dangerous thing here is that no matter how specialized an architect becomes, he or she will always maintain the posture that design skills can be transferred to any type of project or client. This attitude makes lawyers happy.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

finishing things-part I

Architects would do well to adopt Facebook's motto: Nothing is ever finished. A general contractor can occasionally feel finished, but service calls can persist for the lifetime of a building. Replacement planning should start at the schematic design stage. An effective method in large building planning is to divide the structure into self-sufficient zones that can be isolated for renovation. Having an elevator with a depth equal to ceiling height is a good idea. And, for life safety it is wise to have redundant egress systems. These functional aspects pale in comparison to the attitude adopted by the client. If a renovation target is established for 10 years after initial opening then it will have a profound effect on finish selection. Durability will be weighed against ease of replacement and lifecycle costs will be tempered by the expectation that better products will be available sooner than expected.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

charm and efficiency

The small house craze in America is probably winding down--mostly because it never wound up.
While the building code defines minimum sizes for room areas, conventional design wisdom favors a considerably more generous set of proportions. There will always be something alluring about the very small house, however. It evokes a childlike joy that can overcome various inconveniences.

Monday, August 7, 2017

process vs product

Should architects seek to educate clients or feed and nurture the most irrational impulses? Most great buildings have resulted from the latter collaboration. Most ordinary buildings-which constitute the vast majority of architecture,  have resulted from a process of mutual education. The client presents a program and budget, the architect oversteps, the client and architect work on a suitable approach, and so on.

But, even the most hard-nosed, function oriented client excepts to be surprised by the designer at some point in the process. Without the ability to surprise, why would design even exist?

Friday, August 4, 2017

more on circulation

A previous post about hallways failed to address a critical issue in all architecture: any space not occupied by furniture or equipment is circulation. The circulation experience can never be minimal even if people spend most of their time occupying furniture. Architects can create delight by concealing the purpose of some circulation elements. They can also create disappointment with circulation that leads to uninspired places--like a hallway that leads to an elevator.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

what dreams have passed

It is useful to remind ourselves that Boston' bid for the Olympic Games had little association with reality. The deficiencies of the city when it comes hosting such an extreme event can be easily described:

-Lack of good transportation infrastructure
-Lack of sporting venues--and land suitable for building new venues
-Lack of popular support for the scale of the undertaking (and hence, lack of money)
-Lack of good weather

Hosting an Olympic games is an expression of ego. For the  democratic city of Boston, the collective ego already has a focus--Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins--and despite the international character of many local institutions there was no incentive to pay for a large party.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

circulation ponderings

Here's a brief observation about residential design--for the major living spaces rooms act as circulation, but for private spaces you need hallways. A problem with low cost residential design is inevitability of minimal circulation space for the private zones. Going to a bedroom or a bathroom is a purely functional event. A window in a hallway is a good idea, but the argument will always be made for putting that window in a bedroom instead.


This is from the famous Calculated Risk blog, and it is not good news. Although construction spending is healthy in the U.S. the growth rate is slowing. Most noteworthy is the slump in public spending, which speaks to the ideology of austerity in state and federal governments. Although Ayn Rand might be pleased by that trend it demonstrates a misunderstanding of what value should be placed on civic buildings. Many municipal structures are very old, poorly maintained, and miserable for users and staff. A more robust replacement and repair rate would improve efficiency and experience. We can hope that the next recession might see a surge in public spending, but if recent experience is a guide, that's a thin hope.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

catching up

A question to ponder is this: How will London't financial markets survive Brexit?  So far, there hasn't been a mass exit of firms and the real estate market in the city hasn't collapsed. The "just you wait" crowd could be disappointed by the general inertia that accompanies such events, as well the possibility that Theresa May won't be the person negotiating the Brexit terms.

London will still be a haven for rich foreigners to park wealth in the form of real estate. A smart kleptocrat would spread some purchases of residential and commercial real estate around between Vancouver, London, New York, and Miami.

Renzo Piano knows how to design a nice skyscraper.

Friday, July 28, 2017

the last home

Finding a reason for any design decision is a sure path to insanity. Typically, design starts with precedents that establish a base for a handful of novel distractions. In the case of the bathroom shown in the picture above there seems to be an effort to make a statement about the intersection of domestic expectations and industrial products. Why isn't the sink blue, also?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

we came, we saw, we lost

Discussions of a memorial for those who died in the long-running Global War Of Terror have managed to touch on some important issues. Chief among them is a realization that the war is real and unending, and that those who fight and die in far off lands do so for reasons that have drifted into obscurity. No one has energy to support the troops, except for some "Like and Share" posts on Facebook and the ubiquitous "Thanks for your service" that is mumbled mechanically. To those who have lost much, the irony and stupidity of the situation must feel like a hard pebble that cannot be shaken out of the inside of the shoe.

That anything architectural should be suggested by this fiasco is appropriate if only for its cynicism. Unfortunately, we can expect a Maya Lin knock-off, a long debate, and nothing built. That is the memorial.

Monday, July 24, 2017

hungry lion in upper right frame

Lo, yonder lies the green hills of England; shaped and re-shaped by the human hand until nature complies thoroughly with our collective sense and sensibility. In more practical terms, the mind likes what the eye sees, possibly because we've inherited a rough genetic memory of prehistoric landscapes similar to this one. This theory is bad news for modern architecture because if innovation promises a break from traditional expectations then the mind will be staging a small rebellion against the design.
What if there's a glass tower rising from a green field? Will such an image convey a sense of security or threat?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

patience is the soul of progress

The only way to get things done is to wait out the people who can't get things done. Another feature of getting things done is to not try to get things perfect. If perfection was the only acceptable outcome God would still be reviewing design proposals for the Garden of Eden with his architect.

But what if it fails? That too, is necessary--we just hopes that it works for a little while.

Friday, July 21, 2017

mexico city parks here

Towers of ilium is late to this news party, but we still want to acknowledge that Mexico City has scrapped minimum parking regulations in its zoning code. Concurrent with this, they have adopted regulations that set limits on parking spaces with taxes on spaces constructed above a certain threshold. So, it's still a bit of the nanny state but moving in a refreshingly opposite direction than nearly all zoning codes worldwide. 

Great cities do not depend on cars. The depend on people, they depend on density, they depend on diversity. They depend on trucks. Parking spaces are dead weight.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

the limits of metaphor

One of the reasons that humans play games and sports is that the final outcome is perfectly defined. The winner wins and the loser loses--or, in non-combative sports, a number is achieved that is reassuring in its absence of ambiguity.

Using chess as metaphor for political negotiation is dangerous and misleading. In chess, there is no information asymmetry, whereas in politics information is fluid, unreliable, and carefully guarded.
Chess has an endgame, and the only endgame in politics is nuclear annihilation.

Monday, July 17, 2017

good enough for the passerby

Historicism is architecture. No designer really innovates--he or she simply nudges a previous design in a different direction. Some architectural elements have no origin because they are responses to necessity-- like columns, beams, bricks, windows, and doors. Decorative details often trace their origin to some convenience of manufacturing--e.g. columns are round because tree trunks are mostly round. A sufficient accumulation of details eventually gets regarded as a distinct design language. Nowadays, though, it's all about eclecticism.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

the truth

Courtney Humphries of the Boston Globe wrote an excellent article about the use of glass in modern buildings. She correctly identifies how a high rise with extensive curtain walls underperforms in terms of energy use and occupant comfort. It is good to see popular media catching up to building science:

Humphries does a good job of pointing out the pressures that designers face when trying to balance concerns about building performance with client aims. Developers like glass, so glass towers continue to be built.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


If you were to transport any human from the past to our modern era the one thing he or she would still be able to recognize and understand would be performance venues--stadiums, stages, arenas, theatres. Humans gathered around the spectacle of another human is fundamental to our existence. Even the most dedicated hermit would make a point of going to see  someone that excited or entertained. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

random updates

(Towers of ilium photography department overslept and failed to submit a spectacular picture of a sunset over the Grand Canyon)

In economics and business news it seems that things are moving sideways. The strong jobs report is tempered by the unimpressive growth in wages. The "Trump Bump" in the markets is an accurate response to deregulation efforts, but if consumer spending slows or dips then earning expectations inevitably follow. Housing starts are being slowed by zoning regulations (this claim bears continued scrutiny).

In other news, there is a movement to expunge track and field records set prior to 2005. Something similar was done in weightlifting decades ago, yet this blog still recognizes the efforts of Leonid Taranenko. A procedural move does not negate a fact of performance, regardless of how that performance was achieved. Also, the word on the street is that athletes have become more sophisticated about drug use since the heyday of the 80's.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

looking out the back door

Railroads travel through the places that people prefer not to think about very much. Because of this, it is possible to get a good sense of how things work--or don't work. Towers of ilium offers the following observations:
-Improvements to infrastructure are nearly always layered on top of, or woven within, existing systems. The results tend not to be visually attractive, but things keep on working.
-Private property that borders on rail routes probably has more volatility in terms of cash value. If there isn't a station close by, it suffers more.
-Room for expansion is desperately limited. Decisions made hundreds of years ago have defined right-of-ways within narrow parameters. The private property adjacent to these routes may have low valuation, but it imposes considerable costs on the entire urban network.

Monday, July 10, 2017

more scrutiny on type 5A construction

This drawing demonstrates some of the graphic limits of architectural detailing. It is a plan view of a very common 1 hour rated wall that can be used for bearing or non-bearing conditions. It fails to explain several things:
-Intersections with other rated walls, floors, or ceilings.
-Penetrations through the wall

If a contractor doesn't have experience with rated construction then this wall assembly could turn out to have an effective fire rating of about 10 minutes.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

high rise housing done right-mostly

Towers of ilium has criticized all forms of residential architecture. At times, this blog proclaimed the horror of rural frontierism, the decrepitude of suburbs, the evils of the detached, single family dwelling, and the stupidity of urban high-rises for rich and poor. 

Singapore stands out as an exceptional example of well-managed public housing. The government builds and sells apartment flats in buildings like these. Controls are strict, the architecture is banal, the residents are happy (they are not burned alive like in Britain), and the system is probably the only method that could work for a nation that has lots of people and no land.

Ben Carson has probably never heard of the place.

Friday, July 7, 2017

leviticus 16:20

The New York Times, along with several British news organizations, has done an excellent job reporting on the Grenfell fire. The technical reasons are still being investigated, but they will certainly conclude that the cladding assembly was the primary reason why the results were so catastrophic.

And who will pay? And how will they pay? Hammurabi would have cast several people into the flames, but such literal punishment doesn't fit well with our modern concept of justice. Presumably, the people high up in the food chain of the British safety organizations will not sleep easy for the rest of their life, but no goats will be driven into the wilderness.

The best outcome is the adoption of NFPA 285 by Great Britain and the costly retrofit of all buildings that have combustible cladding systems. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

this is the cloud, damnit

It is useful to reflect on the reality and fragility of the internet. When Skynet takes over it will certainly not initiate a nuclear war because such an action would destroy the infrastructure that keeps it alive. Instead, it will direct more investment towards power generation, grid redundancy, cooling systems, and well-trained human maintenance staff (until such staff can be replaced by robots).

Humans will be kept alive as a back-up. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

hide in plain sight

The brown smudge in the center of the photograph is a bunny rabbit. It has chosen a fairly obvious place to hide, but since the photographer is more interested in documentation than a mid-morning snack everything is okay. The fox that roams the neighborhood may have a different set of priorities.
Are suburbs a good place for wild animals? The question depends entirely on size and quantity. The same can be said for humans.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

understanding global trade

Towers of ilium ventures, once again, into the festering swamp of economic and business theory. Here is a brief explanation of trade between nations:
Nation A manufactures (or mines) heaps and heaps of useful things--like plastic cups or iron ore. Because it has more plastic cups or iron ore than its own people want or use it puts these items on boats and sends them across the ocean to Nation B. Now, Nation B might have iron ore of its own, and might have factories that make plastic cups, but in both cases it's easier to get them from Nation A. So, how does Nation B pay Nation A for all this stuff? It's simple; Nation B has a bunch of people at computers send some people in Nation A an electronic message full of ones and zeros which it calls "money." The people in Nation A can put this money in banks or exchange it amongst themselves for haircuts and vinyl siding and rock concerts. The ones and zeros keep on moving around--some even come back to Nation B when people from Nation A travel over to see the vast collections of plastic cups and piles of iron ore baking in the sun. Everything works as long as you have enough ones and zeros. If you happen to run out of iron ore or plastic cups, it's okay--switch to paper cups and start recycling some of the junk you built with the iron ore or use alternative materials like carbon fiber and aluminum.

This all makes sense. You just have to keep everything moving.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

and yet more modular

Not sure if this is a rendering or a photograph--probably a rendering. No matter, the criticism of modular home construction has been a frequent thread on this blog. A good time for the criticism of the criticism--not a rebuttal or argument for modular/manufactured/factory-built architecture--but an assertion that negative comments directed against that form of construction are not grounded in complete understanding.

A modular home company can stay in business if it does three important things:

-Not carry too much debt, either by too much capital investment or large volume speculative contracts
-Makes customization within disciplined parameters a core of the project delivery
-Maintains relationships with vendors and staff so that pricing can be consistently cheaper

In the end, all projects are site conceived and site built.

Friday, June 30, 2017

pending lawsuits

Towers of ilium is a soulless corporate entity--driven by the profit motive and the maximization of shareholder value. Occasionally, for tax purposes only, we promote other information sources. So, with no fanfare we provide a link to McMansion Hell. We should offer the caution that posts on that blog are insightful and nuanced.

The photo on today's post was flagrantly taken from 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

instructions for reality

Not sure where these ruins are

Prior to the exhaustive and diverse design representation tools of our modern age information about building construction depended primarily on spoken and written communication. At least, this is the impression that the historical record conveys. The Bible gives written descriptions of various temples, but any effort to physically realize these structures would result in endless variations. Architectural plans, no matter what age they come from, are like DNA---critical features are proscribed but the ultimate form of the geometry depends on the influence of the environment.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

what is really important

Occasionally, towers of ilium steps back from its idiotic ramblings and discusses a topic that is fundamental to the health and well-being of humans. In this case, we direct attention towards Quabbin Reservoir. This system of artificial lakes is the second step in a system that brings water to the Boston Metro region. It speaks to a time of more powerful eminent domain and forward-thinking by engineers and public servants. Its current administration seems to be deeply committed to its original mission and also looks to the future with plans for continued upgrades and redundancy programs.

A public water and waste treatment system is the foundation of a healthy population. Clean springs and streams, along with a few hand dug wells, works okay for the rustic adventurer, but for a group of people that wants to settle down in one place a massive infrastructure is called for. Roads are nice, shelter is important, and jobs are good, but water is king.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

the watchmen

Despite claims to the contrary on this blog and other even more reputable sources, Craft is not dead. This photo was taken ten years ago on what looks like a nice day down on the Cape. The space depicted was conceived as the functional and spiritual center of a large home. Despite the effort lavished on the details, the overall feel of the rooms is meant to be informal. For the very wealthy, good taste is a dialogue between designer and checkbook. 

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?).

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


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.