ruminations about architecture and design

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

intention creates reality

A reasonable take on the Farnsworth House is that it was designed as a public structure. Its temporary role as a private residence can be seen as an inconvenient period prior to being handed over to tour guides and fans of modernism. We should all appreciate this selfless gesture on the part of Mies and Dr. Edith.

The uncompromising qualities of the space and details stand in marked contrast to the traditional template of the Gropius residence. It was condemned as totalitarian--but as the client's failed lawsuit demonstrates--every client gets to see plans before signing the final check.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

a week does not a trend make

The architecture department at this blog has been on vacation recently.

The Boston Globe noted the recent slide in stock prices, which viewed in the context of political events, seems like a reasonable thing. Where things go next is an open question, and since towers of ilium has indulged in an annual prognostication of impending gloom, it's important to stay the course.
A short term prediction will be for continued volatility followed by an eventual broad based decline from the "Trump Bump."

The stock market is not the economy, however. Steep drops will have less of an effect than the Fed, wage stagnation, and Britain's handling of Brexit. And China.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

maybe not a bubble-part II

There were a multitude of contradictions in the post from the previous day. Let's review and elaborate:

-Current Case-Shiller index shows home prices moving back to pre-recession highs. But, towers of ilium claims that it might not be a bubble this time around because of high demand in urban areas. The post ends with the claim that next recession will cause a significant decline in home prices.

This is essentially a long bet on sustained high prices for houses even in the event of a recession. There will be corrections--which will have a disproportionate effect on certain properties. However, in the continued climate of high demand and restricted supply in metro regions and immediate suburbs, prices will stay high. There are even reports of high rents in the downtown Detroit area!

This is all starting to sound like "permanently high plateau" reasoning. Heh.

maybe not a bubble

Graph stolen in good cheer from CalculatedRisk

Towers of ilium does not subscribe to chartism, but a few tentative observations can be made about the rebound in U.S. home prices.

1. Home prices that outpace inflation and wages may be inevitable for the next decade
2. Price increases are driven by urban areas
3. The bubble of the 2000s popped, but this one may not--see comments 1 and 2

Housing price bubbles have not led to recessions (yet) in China, Canada, or Australia.

However, the next global recession will result in a significant decline in home prices.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

will retail survive the next recession?

The simple answer is "yes." However, the Amazonization of the shopping experience is separating winners from losers in a permanent way. Places that can generate foot traffic and create memorable experiences will always do well--until they go out of style or are mismanaged into oblivion. Cheap stuff will be easier to buy online---as well as unusual items that can't justify paying for rent in shopping districts.

On that subject, the shopping mall is in deep trouble. Towers of ilium predicts attrition rates of over 30% over the next ten years.

Incidentally, this is a picture of one of the dining areas in Eataly, Boston. It is a highly deceptive image because it only looks like this at 4 am. During business hours it's mobbed with mobs of people who have money. Nice work, Mario.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

star trek

The cultural significance of Star Trek cannot be understated. We're still waiting for warp drive and transporters, but nearly all of its other technological devices have come to fruition. The show was forward looking in another respect that we are a long way from: a united Earth.

Architecturally, the set design of the ship is resolutely 1960's modern. The splashes of color, the drab flooring, the blank walls---all speak to the fashions of model suburban home. No smoking, which is curious.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

random walks

Soooooo....many stock prices fell yesterday. It is an event depleted of sound or fury, and if things slide a bit more today it might signal yet more selling, and so on. Alien races that observe the Earth for entertainment are no doubt perplexed by stock markets. That people seek to assign future value to things is a necessary part of civilization, but for this value to swing so much on a day to day basis is absurd. No one makes the future, certainly not shareholders. This thing called "The Market" represents nothing more than the sum total of many poorly informed, superstitious idiots.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

all apologies

The Citgo sign has achieved legendary status, and we can be sure that many impractical efforts will be made to preserve it for a few more decades. It serves as a good example of how a brand can transcend reality. Already, most people don't make the association with the petroleum company, but with Boston. Is it unique? Google images seems to think so.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

the blue corner

So, North Korea will be where the war starts. In retrospect, it will seem obvious--bluffs, threats, and a long history of insults. What we can be sure about is that there was never any misunderstanding.

At the moment, there are no shots being fired, but the brinksmanship with China will certainly lead to some form of mobilization on all sides.

Or maybe not.

Friday, March 17, 2017

trivial friday

A building without stairs is the essence of simplicity. Land being precious in some places, building up (and down) makes vertical circulation a necessity. That stairs have been so narrowly defined by building codes does not disrupt creativity in their design. The current trend in design is to make the stairs appear impossible. The example in the picture above, manages a perfect balance between grace, solidity, and lightness.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

misinformation about interest rates and the economy

The Fed guides the economy. The very existence of this proposition tends to reinforce and inflate the power of the Fed. Many progressive economists maintain that the Fed kept monetary policy too tight for the past 9 years; that efforts should have been made to create a negative rate of return to stimulate the economy. Others bray loudly that the Fed debased the currency and that hyperinflation is just around the corner.

This blog maintains that an economic downturn will start to present in the later months of this year. The collapse of traditional retail (Sears, Radio Shack, Shopping Malls) will exert the major source of drag. Trump will attempt tax reform and fail. Immigration policies will negatively impact tourism and technology companies. The infrastructure boom that has been promised will fail due to the intractability of fiscal idiots in Congress. A war would put the nail in the coffin.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

facade as reality

The recent addition to the Cambridge Public Library by William Rawn Associates is impressive. Towers of Ilium regards it as a warm-up for their even more recent renovation of the Boston Public Library.

One of the challenges of modern library design is balancing transparency with intimacy. Patrons need a small amount of private "container" space to get things done. The windows of the library work best when they define circulation zones.

Monday, March 13, 2017

logan as futurism

The movie Logan provides one of the most compelling visions of the future landscape of America. Aside from the usual sci-fi gizmos--enhanced humans, wonder drugs, extreme experimentation on humans--the basic vision is quite believable. The two main items that stand out are automated trucks and agricultural equipment. These things are in development right now, and the latter stands a good chance of being implemented within the timeframe of the movie.

What's also noteworthy is what does not change: People still drive cars, go to convenience stores, eat corn flakes, and get spied on by drones.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

the curse of tourism

Nice places can suffer from a unique problem: tourists. We should note the difference between a "tourist" and a "visitor" because it is central to an understanding this problem. A "visitor" travels to a different place for an active reason--seeing family, friends, or business associates. A "tourist" travels to the place for the place itself, and by doing so, dehumanizes and corrupts the people who make the place their permanent home. These residents, when confronted by tourists, have to adopt social conventions that are tiresome and routine. Directions must be given, opinions about complex things have to be distilled into an elevator speech format, and most importantly of all, privacy is being constantly violated.

Tourism can only be cured by the Zombie Apocalypse or a complete collapse of transportation energy systems. Even communities that have sought to limit tourists by restrictions on hotels and marketing find their efforts undone the internet and Air BnB.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

double jeopardy

This is a structural diagram of the SOM designed federal courthouse in Los Angeles. It's not over the top "Ahchitecture" but it seems to be thoughtful and well designed. Reportedly, it's "green."

Catherine Opie has a large photographic exhibition on the inside--taxpayer funded--just like drone strikes.

Friday, March 10, 2017

this blog invades privacy

This photograph depicts a space that is now someone's bedroom. If enough effort were expended, the location of this bedroom, and its occupants, could be revealed. As FBI director Robert Comey pointed out, there is no such thing as perfect privacy. That is a good thing. A recluse is the first person to be mistrusted in any human community, and generally with good reason.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

reality settles in

A few things have changed since this photograph was taken. The building on the left is complete. The one on the right isn't. Churn is a critical part of city architecture. Preservation in the urban setting should be invoked rarely.

Monday, March 6, 2017

johnny cash as rock n' roller

Cash occupies a special place in music history--icon of country music and rock and roll. His performance at Folsom Prison is remarkable on several levels--a commentary on freedom, a comedy routine, a demonstration of discipline.

But Cash, for all his breadth, will always be a shitkicker. Joaquin Phoenix made this observation while filming Walk The Line. Cash never seemed to fit in the company of people who make a million record sales. His songs came from simplicity and poverty, his art was rough hewn and temporary.
Cash never left Arkansas, and he never had to.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

coordination methods

In architecture, the best way to make things work is to allow a little bit of room for error at critical steps in the assembly process. Even if the project has the luxury of modeling or prototyping of critical
areas, the scale ultimately overwhelms perfect communication. Buildings are not like cars. Nor are they organic--they exist in a strange place where critical interfaces are defined by conventions that frequently have arbitrary origins. 

places you can read about in a book

This is but one example.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

leak update

Hopefully, this blog is hacked on a periodic basis by some low-level Russian net warrior. Towers of ilium indulges in vanity.

About two months ago our political analysts made a prediction that the Trump administration would set a record for leaks. Despite having no statistics to back up this claim, the prediction is coming true. What happens next?

-Purge and suppression efforts will increase.
-A few people will be fired/prosecuted.
-Leaks will continue. Leakers will correctly interpret that efforts to suppress increase the value of their leaks--hence more leaks. The most important question is this: will the administration start using leaks strategically?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

design most pure

Architecture is more successful as ruin than when it is occupied. At towers of ilium we call this "Ozymandias Syndrome" and our critical theory department makes a point of seeking out buildings that have achieved the noble patina of complete abandonment. A building under construction, however, is generally a great disappointment. Most architects dislike the messiness of the construction process--the revelation of design failures and changes demanded by reason or client needs.

This photo, of a famous building in Cambridge, captures an idealistic moment in the erection. Devoid of people, the structure looks like it is in dress rehearsal for its inevitable destruction.