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

September 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

I visited Mt Angel, Oregon with a sole purpose.

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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.

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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 

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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. 

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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.

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