Alvar Aalto: Why I dig Architecture: Mt. Angel Library

September 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

I visited Mt Angel, Oregon with a sole purpose.

DSC_0246

See a piece of architecture that was not set in a sprawling metropolis, not designed for a merchant tycoon, and that required some work to get to.

cid_1116702598_mt_angel3.250

Mt. Angel library is part of the Mr. Angel Monastery, completed in1970  by Alvaar Aalto,  settles quietly into a hillside overlooking the beautiful Oregon farming community just south of Portland. The history of the library isn’t all that interesting – the abbey needed a new library and the benefactors thought Aalto a great architect to request a design from and needed a new one.  Aalto was asked and he accepted – simple. He visited the site maybe twice, probably only after construction.

What resulted was the first time I found peace from “architecture”, not from an idea or from a long night of work, or a particular solution  – but from being inside a well designed building.  Now, the extent I knew of architecture at that time was –  Frank Lloyd Wright was really important and that nobody is an architect anymore. The layout is in a flowering shell shape that feels like a fluid gesture of someone with vision and the confidence of the technical.  The consistent north light comes from the incisions in the ceiling, and come streaming down  to the multiple floors of tiered shelves and reading booths.

It was what a library should be, and what architecture should strive for.  I learned that day the gesture of the line can become something much more important than what the word embodies, and with some patience and persistence it can become something remarkable. Unlike anything I had encountered, it was planned for a result in mind and that result was reached. There was no criticism deserved, it was honest about what the library needed and delivered. And that is why I dig Architecture (or mostly).

Evil:Architecture

September 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Imposing – Sarcastic – Arrogant }{ Imperialist – Villain – Lair 

Image

Evil is really interesting to me, to us. Where does it come from? How do we see it coming? What do we do when it arrives? And what does evil really look like?  Movies and literature try to help us, as does architecture.  And much like what I find tidbits in, these  disciplines link themselves in a nice complimentary package.

Skyfall – the latest James Bond movie – had a villain that was pure evil.  Coming from good intent, and working to achieve it, ultimately resulted in the creation of a corrupt character.  The villain, Raul Silva, made his lair (such an evil word) on a fictional ghost island off Macau.  There, the concrete buildings beautifully tattered, he began his genius plan of killing and terrorizing the world.  Besides the incredible amount of new technology Raul inserted into the buildings,  the homes and work places were simply cavities of past use. They were homes and work places without the new paint. 

Image

Homes by a simple turn of time and neglect inspired a lair.  I found it telling of a small root to evil – negligence and father time.  And following a theme, what best to see negligence and father time than in the built environment which travels through the generations of society. Time makes for forgetting and negligence makes for ignoring – both places evil can find fertile soil.

The island was loosely based on an island off Japan – Hashima Island – and it’s story is really nothing “lair”-ish. A mine created the town, the market fell for the mine’s content, and the people left the town.  Pretty simple. There is really nothing evil about the island, it’s a benign little place where people can now slowly wander around on metal gangways and snap pictures of some long lost civilization. What filthy evil that is.

What I’m concluding to is – tear it down or walk around it. If we tear it down we had to have found the villain, but if we walk around it – well – maybe we’re not so uneasy with a little evil.

Ancients Were Colorful

December 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

I began this post many months ago when two articles (here and here)on the same day hatched one of those “huh…..” moments.  One article was about the death of Boston City Hall’s architect,Gerhard Kallman, and another about discovering Rome’s Arch of Titus was a colorfully painted monument for one of Roman’s great leaders. These two articles, a Brutalist monocrom masterpiece and an ancient classical arch led me to believe that maybe we modern men have the whole color prism flipped. I had believed that the cultures of the past lived in the world I see uncovered today – gray stones and weathered rock.  But maybe this is not only false but incredibly wrong. And if it is wrong, how has architecture been affected by this perception?

Color in the ancient world was definitely far from absent, and notions that the archeaological remnants show us an accurate portrait may only touch the surface of how our ancient cities, monuments, temples, and baths actually looked. Color in antiquity was not only gray, it was likely varied and vibrant.  Examples abound, the Chinese terra cotta warriors were brightly painted. The Minoans painted their palaces in bright colored frescoes. Roman baths have been uncovered showing an amazing pallete of color.  But what the modern world has seen for hundreds of years are these examples void of their finish. The great paint stipper, time, has left only the bleached bones of buildings. Did this lack of color influence those architects who have and are designing in a neo-classical, or even brutalist, style.

Did Inigo Jones imagine color in his studies of Rome and Greece?  What were the ancient cultures views on color? It is not difficult to say color was more important to them than form, even by the set limits they had of creating complex curves and span.

Beyond materials use there is no wonder we get museums and libraries, state capitals and banks looking like the color of the Pantheon. Not then, but now. Has this pallette of white, black, gray been so ingrained in architecture that even our incredible feats of material and engineering still can create buildings that are unfinished in white, black, gray?

To those Stubborn…. One

December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Big news this last week was that the couple, Luo Baogen and his wife, took a $41,000 buyout to let the government of China tear down his home and complete a huge road that already links a rail station with Wenling.

 

I love an underdog story, but what’s more interesting is that this story came from China.  China, the home of authoritarian committee and local government that tells rather than listens, let a lone duck farmer hold the machine of progress hostage. China…   the fastest growing economy in the world. China felt it was best to not bring in the military or police but (in a very capitalistic approach) choked the homeowner out in a siege-like tactic minus trebuchets and added asphalt.

China let a small old man play chicken with them for years. And that is very – Boagen gangster.

This is the same country that controls the internet, holds an entire country openly hostage (Tibet), and saddles tourists during periods of party gathering ridiculous rules of privacy.  No open windows in taxi cabs? No cameras? Do they have the secret KFC recipe wrapped in the secret Coke recipe written on the sidewalk outside the Forbidden City?

In 1991 the city of Wallace, Idaho held the last stoplight on Interstate 90 which connected Boston to Seattle.  The small mining town was a vestige of its former size, following a huge fire and years of the mining industry slowing down.  The people of Wallace did not want their town destroyed by this enormous interstate so they mounted a campaign to have it rerouted.  Their last stand eventually won (thanks to Historic Preservation Society). The design was changed so the interstate traveled over Wallace by using huge pillars and enormous engineering gymnastics.

The point is, I see Wallace happening in places like America – but I do not see a duck farmer holding out in America.  Maybe China is incredibly paranoid of the duck farmers and tourist cameras, or maybe China isn’t so dissimilar than the US when it comes to machine of progress.

Serving the Farms

November 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Le Corbusier, in his book “Towards a New Architecture”, pointed at the urban grain elevator as one of the most incredibly pointed example of American ingenuity and solutions to scale.  I think that observation was incredibly honest, and incredibly insightful towards a country that incredible productive and incredibly resourceful.

So, what would a man like Corbusier say about the server farms that have sprung up in the last ten years?  What would he say about their function, about their beauty, and about their sheer existence?

Unless a person’s been living under a rock’s rock, we would know that the internet has incredible infrastructure.  There is a giant conduit at the bottom of the ocean tying the continents together with information.  All the websites content is stored in gigantic banks of servers, with hundreds of people cooling and organizing them.  These servers need few things really, they’re very simple. They need connecting wires and huge air conditioned spaces. The result of this are exactly the look and function of apple packing houses.  Large open insulated buildings with cheap energy cost, low risk of earthquake, and open space.  It’s too bad these buildings are so incredibly ugly in the landscape. There is a growing realization in the news about the ramifications of server farms, and what it is they are doing to the places they are built in.  A couple very good articles on the impact of server farms include a NYT article about the town of Quincy and another NYT article on the shifty economics of companies.

There are few architecture programs in the world left for architects to re-envision – for good mostly (fingers crossed). And these server farms which are only going to become larger and more visible, should be looked at by their owners for territory to introduce good design to. After all, the effect most of them have are as job and economy stimulators to the small communities that have seen the decrease in small farms and increases in unemployment and isolation. The real effect seems to be just as the sight of the buildings suggest – a looming fortress of concrete and loud condensers who employ a less than a McDonald’s franchise – and they’re getting tax breaks and energy rebates.

Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc. owe use all to introduce the server farm as something to be happily astonished by just as Corbusier was astonished by the beauty of the grain elevators.

Those Places on the U-Haul Truck

June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

U-haul is running out of useful material on their moving trucks and trailers.

I remember decades ago, on long road trips, keeping track of the states on the side of the U-Haul movers.  Between that, slug bug and license plate tracking, the road trip was a traveling of the sun and hours of trying not to cross the invisible line set by my sister.  I believed if I saw a Hawaii truck, that the truck had driven from Hawaii – it was a completely fantastic thought. There isn’t a great chance that I would think there could be hundreds of Hawaii trucks, in my mid 50 trucks was enough to move the entire population of the United States – if they scheduled it right.

Well, the U-Haul painting murals of states has given way to murals of landmarks, then cities, then natural wonders, then plants and animals, and finally to road side attractions.  I don’t get it – people use U-haul to move, state to state.  They do not use U-Haul as a means to vacation, it seems really against the idea of moving at all.  And from the small little bit of good marketing U-Haul has become the moving company that paints murals of Seaworld on their sides – for no good reason. And don’t get me started on the slogans.

Maybe Seaworld paid them, then I would completely understand  – I’d sell advertising on my car too.

Leaf Blower(s)

May 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Springtime 2012 is well on its way. In Texas, all two weeks of it.

There are so many great things about this time of year. Even in Austin it’s a little nicer in the morning, a little greener and the air is just plain more fresh. The large rains coming through even make it feel like I’m back in the Northwest, if just for a night or a couple hours.

Spring also brings the yearly big clean for everyone, the yard work and the house maintenance bring out both the casual weekend warriors and the large yard crews professionally clearing leaves and cleaning the gutters of the winter leaves.

Which brings me to the annual pain in the butt nuisance – leaf blowers.

For the life of me I cannot understand the point of them.  Sure, I have heard they can clean a silo out, or remove dirt from a concrete floor shed – but all everyone sees are small groups of tiny men with huge jetpacks strolling around outside blowing crap up into the air.  Where are the leaves, grass clippings, and small pebbles going?  Oh, just a few feet away, to then be further blown into a general direction (usually a public street which then gets cleaned by more machines who do more rustling than cleaning).

What a waste, a waste of gasoline, of quiet, or air quality, and time.  Every so often there are disgruntled citizens complaining about the abuse of lawn mowers, prompting many to stick electric cords to theirs and making them hum with the indirect use of energy, but lets do away with leaf blowers.  Next to people waving signs on the side of the street during tax season, this appears the most pointless and irritating “job”.  Brooms, there are brooms and rakes.  These tools actually let you control the noise and the debris that comes with moving vegetation.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.