ruminations about architecture and design

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


The woman who owned the mansion in the foreground never lived in it. She was more interested in dollhouses. Who are we to judge?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

manufactured for our satisfaction

You will find no creature more duplicitous and delusional than an architect. In the span of a single sentence, he or she will profess a great love and respect for the architecture of the past, and then with great enthusiasm set out to destroy that history. There is no shame or irony in this. The past does not pay the bills, and in the case of waterfront development, the grubby authenticity of the docks will not satisfy the logic of modern development.

Hence, the seaside community, when developed fresh on previously utilitarian landscapes, reflects the best and the worst of kitsch. Stuff has to be built well enough to withstand a few decades of abuse from the salt water, and it cannot be given over to geometric fantasies or long-winded polemics about the dignity of modern design. Stuff has to look familiar, it has to work, and it has to get torn down and rebuilt frequently.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

blade runner fatigue

The iconic status of Blade Runner will certainly be reinforced by the sequel. Although towers of ilium has been critical of the original movie in the past, its visual significance is not to be scoffed at. Ridley Scott will pull off something impressive again, but in the context of modern CGI artistry, that type of visual "wow" is becoming standard fare.

The role of the cyborg/android in modern culture is showing real staying power. Westworld will only grow more popular.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

the revolution awaits

We should be sheathing houses with this instead of plywood. Towers of ilium will contact the marketing department of this company immediately.

Ah, but if it's a good idea, why aren't people doing it already? Architecture is risk averse, and for good reasons, so change in the industry has to come from unexpected angles. If it's cost-effective, that is.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the last golden age

The structural engineer who helped Saarinen design this building died recently. His name was Abba Tor.

Compared to this, Hadid and Gehry are junior varsity. It doesn't matter if it doesn't work very well as an airport terminal.

Monday, February 20, 2017

family friendly

It's a well known fact that civilization is in decline. We can expect this trend to continue for quite some time--until the species is extinct, or until our self-learning software finds rational solutions to all problems.

One of the challenges that our benevolent software will have to overcome is the tendency of humans to maintain tribal loyalty and revert to violence to express this loyalty. Aversion to the "Other" enables great abuse of power, even when differences between groups aren't worth the trouble of starting a fight. Media technology systems make tribal groups  larger than our brains can comprehend. We mistrust analysis and statistical rigor, are easily swayed by emotional appeals, and willing to suspend disbelief for unworkable promises.

Friday, February 17, 2017

heroes of yesterday

Stanley Bard, longtime manager of the Chelsea Hotel, died recently. With him died a hundred thousand stories of America. His workplace remains in limbo, but given the real estate market in New York City, we can be certain that Chelsea Hotel V. 3.9 will be glitzy and unintentionally ironic.

This photograph by Victoria Cohen, taken around the time the hotel closed its doors, captures the utilitarian romanticism of the place. (That last sentence was pure bullshit)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

in the shadow of water

Everyone lives downstream from something. Rain has to fall at the top of a hill, and the remotest piece of the Pacific ocean carries the trace of humanity. That we seek to control water in places where we can control it is no sin. We are not alone in that respect. A few hundred feet downriver from this dam, beavers once heaved up a wooden fence. They moved on after a few years, but they left their mark.

Monday, February 13, 2017

everything is real

This is a photograph of a real place in Boston. We can't guarantee if the business with the yellow awning is still in business, but the buildings are still there.

Towers of ilium does not traffic exclusively in lies or deception. Our falsehoods are stated plainly, and often with appropriate qualifications. In all things, one lesson remains true: do not declare victory if the enemy still draws breath. Better to avoid or deflect conflict altogether.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

the slow death of yet another ethnic neighborhood

The Chinatown gate in Boston. No, no it's not in Boston, this picture is Portland, Oregon, but it's the same story. There was a recent article in the Globe about pushback against development in Chinatown. As specialists in lost causes, towers of ilium is correctly identifying this as a lost cause. Eventually, Boston's Chinatown will be rebranded by a development company with some idiotic name like "Eastern Rim" or "Bright Sun" or "CTNP."

Chinatown has character, but no romance or nostalgia can be applied to its level of dilapidation. A recent water leak in the street revealed the profound age of the infrastructure. As a community, it no longer has the cohesiveness it once had. Many of the restaurant and shop workers commute in. Tourist traffic is limited.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

a facade too far

Whether this is a rendering or a photograph has ceased to have any meaning in the modern age.
What is important about this building is that it cost an astonishing amount of money to build. That money will be passed onto consumers in the form of high drug prices for the next few decades.
But hey, that's good architecture for you.

It's impressive from the outside, but neither a rendering or photograph can do the facade detailing justice. The solar shading system attempts to answer the same question posed by the cathedral builders: Can we make stone float?

Sometimes, yes.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

temporary facility

There are only a handful of sports venues that qualifty as "Ah-citecture" and one of them--the Coliseum--is no longer in use. The set built for the Chariot race in Ben-Hur almost qualifies as a sports venue.

Modern stadiums, despite being financed by taxpayer bonds, have the quality of being purely internal experiences. The functional characteristics trump all design gimmicks. The interior design is at a scale where it ceases to be interior. In fact, only the attendee seat and the bathrooms qualify as interior design.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

health care and health insurance

Towers of ilium is confused. Are the ongoing debates about health care and health insurance in the U.S. two separate things? Does better health insurance lead to better health care outcomes? Will better health insurance lead to health care cost curve bending?

Given that all people in the country will at some point require massively expensive medical care (whether they want it or not in many cases) would it be better to refer to insurance companies and programs as savings/transfer agencies?

We should note an obvious truth. The most effective insurance companies depend on a large risk pool for success and quality of service. By extension, the most successful insurance organization is the combined wealth of a nation.

Friday, February 3, 2017

the end of oil is not in a big hurry

Would you buy this car? If only 1% of towers of ilium readership answers that question, then Tesla will stay in business for the next few decades. Oil companies, meanwhile, had best be prepared for some turbulence. This blog predicts a reduction in the size of the petroleum liquids energy sector of around 5% over the next decade--in other words not by much.

The electrical revolution is ongoing. Grid enhancements, renewable energy systems, and electrified personal transport are significant growth sectors. Transportation that depends on oil will be robust in the coming years. Electric motors are no good at propelling trucks, trains, or cargo ships.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

asphalt roofing has no discontents

As usual, we have no statistics to back this up, but towers of ilium considers asphalt roofing shingles to be one of the greatest success stories of modern building products. What makes them so good is that the aesthetic character of the modern roof shingle is unique. Marketing attempts to equate it with wood and slate, but homeowners and roofers don't spend a second of thought on how it is visually comparable to historic products.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

vinyl siding and its discontents

The term "maintenance free" is always a guaranteed generator of sales. Vinyl siding, in the context of the lifespan of building products, lives up to this claim. Architects and historic commissions, as a rule, hate it with a fiery passion. Arguments that wood siding can be maintained indefinitely are made people with the money and motivation to do so.

What is curious about vinyl, however, is that is used exclusively as a visual substitute for wood products. It has never been marketed for its unique aesthetic character. Ah, plastics.