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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
It needs to be said once in a while – Art Deco architecture is pretty great.
This past Saturday I was lucky enough to go on a walking tour of downtown Austin that centered around the great examples of 1920s-50s Art Deco buildings. We saw into the darkened lobby of the Brown Building, the Chicago-esque Scarbrough Building, and the compact Fidelity Mortgage & Loan. The tour was put on by the Austin History Center and was guided by authors of a new book on Hill Country Art Deco. There is a soft spot in my taste maker for Art Deco. Seeing that my taste maker is usually geared too much towards historicism and sexy curves, I don’t feel like I’m alone.
Art Deco wasn’t Art Deco until the style was decades in the rear view. It began by stylizing the form to flatten the classic architectural decor (the column, fluting, pediments, etc.). Still holding to the idea that there can be style in architecture (which is a difficult mentality in that it’s limiting the complexity of architecture to a consumer product, even if it is), Art Deco digested the use of new products such as aluminum into a new obsession of the long vertical lines and swooping forms that soon redefined how people saw buildings. Whether or not people began seeing Venturi’s ducks and what I’d call googi-tecture in the port hole windows and curving corners is arguable (Hut’s is a hamburger, right?).
I believe the style of Art Deco, especially after spending time seeing some of Austin’s examples, proves that designers don’t live in a bubble without historical, political, economic, or social touchstones. They were still holding to the basic rules of architecture, symmetry and composition of form and space, but they integrated a more restrained urge for the decoration, a greater willingness to stretch the bounds of material. Yes, there were still the statues and carvings of eagles, the elaborate light fixtures, and carved stone recesses, but these decorations felt more like utility, as though they were exploring the beauty of a machine with a budget. These buildings were invented from exciting forms seen in vehicles, rockets, and airplanes. The flight/speed steel, aluminum, and glass.
This was the style that defines architecture for a pre-war America, The Great Depression, The Roosevelt years, and Superman. The devil is in the details with architecture and Austin has quite a few Chrysler buildings in it’s midst.
November 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
High Flying Birds.
I’m not sure if this band will be a rag tag group of coked up misfit ex-cheerleaders, or the greatest assembly of studio musicians the world has seen since….. ever. I wanted to say Paul McCartney, but I have a horribly difficult time giving him any praise.
So, the elder Gallagher is releasing his solo album this coming Tuesday. It follows a semi long buildup that began with teh release of what remains of Oasis in Beady Eye. The album was good, a few tracks had some genius in them, but I am incredibly excited about Noel’s debut. For many reasons Noel was the best part of Oasis. He was the best at lyrics and pinching chords from reclaimed classic bands and tracks of the past, he was a lighthouse to the chaos of Liam, the perfectionist and driving mediator with the press. He also had some traits that didn’t help Oasis so much. His ego was of a sort that controlled the creative direction, he was slow to embrace the online experience with his fans and the medium music is delivered, and at times seemed less into being a “god” and more into being witty and legendary. Regardless, the sole reason I still dwell so much time on this band (now defunct) is Mr. Noel Gallagher.
I didn’t grow up with music videos, I didn’t know what any artists looked like until I headed to college. The only image I could grab of Bush or Pearl Jam was on this Friday night late show on NBC that replayed popular music videos. I hadn’t really gotten into any band, maybe Aerosmith or STP a bit, until I saw Noel and Oasis on their Unplugged broadcast some random Friday night. Sounds kinda sad don’t it? Well, from that time on I’ve been a huge Oasis fan, and might trace them as the constant theme in my taste in music. I’d joke with my friends that if Oasis were a girl I’d marry her, maybe it’s not a joke….. that’s sad.
Well, the thing that got me that random night in ’96 was Noel’s singing of Don’t Look Back In Anger, the following day I bought their album and the next week I bought Definitely Maybe. And if any of my friends back in the day remember, August 21st, 1997 was more important to me than breathing.
Noel Gallagher is a bit of a hero to me, so to finally have the day where his long awaited solo album comes out is a bit of a big deal for me, still. I’ve heard most of it already, with the many previews of it, and the album is full of songs that had for over a decade been in the antechamber of the Oasis catalogue. He’s been tinkering with these tracks for so long, having Liam try to record the vocals, picking up tempo, slowing them down, adding more instruments. Some of these tracks include Stop the Clocks, I Wanna Live in a Dream (In my Record Machine), A Simple Game of Genius, and If I had a Gun. I’ve spent too many of my hours on this planet listening to these tracks on youtube via a poorly recorded sound check in some random Brasilian city or Japanese arena. Well I’ve hear them, and although he’ll never reach the level of fame he deserves these songs are heights over 90% of the last five albums Oasis put out.
What’s also been great is to see Noel stepping out behind Oasis and taking on webchats and interviews with a funny honesty that he rarely could show with Oasis. The dude is hilarious, and he pulls no punches with professional talking heads who consume creative work. I’ve enjoyed his interviews as much as I’ve enjoyed the snippets and early single releases of the record.
I’ll be eagerly awaiting word from my inbox notifying me of Noels visit to Texas – I’m not going to hold my breath though as well…. he hates Texas….. but maybe he likes Austin.
And for anyone who is looking for a christmas gift from me – you’ll be having to dust off your CD players.