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.


Austin’s Art Deco

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.

Noel Says.

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.


October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

I made a grave mistake a while back. Looking back at this small moment in time I cannot help but be embarrassed. It’s pretty difficult to even talk about it.

Ok, here goes.  I used to believe Elisha Otis invented the elevator.

What an idiot.

Well, I was corrected that day by a very blunt friend of mine. Otis did not invent the elevator. The elevator is about as old as dirt – the Greeks had Archimedes while the simple idea of using ropes and pulleys to ascend a height likely predated even the great Greeks.  If I studied Asian culture more, they probably had this “invention” before the ice caps melted.

Nonetheless, elevators are about the most influential technology for the built environment. Sure, stairs are classic. Of course, doors keep out the weather and unkempt neighbors. Don’t forget simple rocks – they make walls alright. What’s so great about elevators is that they single handedly allowed us to inhabit space above the ground. They allowed us to transport goods as well as people, the elevator gave the tendon to the steel bones of our modern society.

The elevator is far from static in it’s trajectory as the bicep of architecture, the space elevator is so freaking cool that it still intrigues me a decade after I first heard about it. And how about elevators transcribing the Pacific or Mediteranean oceans? Forget about the “Beam me Up, Scotty” – that’s totally a particle elevator.

So, to wrap up the best of all my blog posts….. Elish Otis did invent the safety elevator at the 1854 Worlds Fair in New York – not a small feat when you think about the possibility of an elevator failing on top of the Petronas Towers.

Dieter Rams Should Sue Everyone

September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

These Ipads and Galaxy wars are getting brutal – it seems Apple and Samsung are just leveling the world of digital flatscreen talk to lawsuits and tit for tat.

I think it’s time we, the people, reassert that this idea of copying and who owns what is a pretty ridiculous argument to have. Every designer steals – it’s what….. did Picasso say, “makes a great artist”? Apple sues for the rights of their Ipad Design while Samusung sues for the design of the Ipod 5 to be outlawed in some British Isle. It doesn’t really take much to notice that their are design wars going on in one of the quickly solidifying technologies of the last decade. Just like all cars seem to have four wheels, hinged doors, and a gasoline powered engine – all of these portable smart devices seem to be in the middle of a copy and paste war. That usually leads to everyone being bored, I’m already bored and I don’t even have a smart device.

I think the solution is a natural one – Dieter Rams should sue everyone. His designs are so strikingly similar to all Apple products he should be crowned their emperor – and he looks like Peter Eisenmann which tells me he’d be capable of accepting such a pompous title in the modern age. Sue everyone, Mr. Rams, from Apple to Samsung. Sue everyone in between – sue me even.. I’m pretty sure I copied some of his designs while making a lamp or something.

The guy is amazing, ahead of his time, and when at first sight you know cool you are looking at Dieter Rams work. So, Mr. Rams – the green light is lit, sue away and end this international squabble over the 2nd dimension.

A Texas Drought

September 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Proving the weather is more than the concern of farmers and a good place for conversational agreement, the 2011 Texas drought has quietly stayed under the radar as the rest of the nation gets the more wet kind of disaster.

It’s been since June of 2011 that central Texas has seen a drop of rain. I’ll round off and say it was June 11th at 3:00 a.m in the morning. Imagine that, three months of no rain?! Way back in the month of June the top movie was Super 8, not the motel chain, the top song was Rolling in the Deep by Adele, and the price of a gallon of milk was 3.69. Boy, were those the days!

Well, fast forward to September, and as I look out of my window in downtown Austin I see clouds far in the distance. They are tall, white, and chuck full of rain – rain this poor city will not see. The rest of the nation is under flood warnings, athletic events and car races are all being jeopardized by lightning and flooding, and all we in central texas are asking is – share the wealth!

It’s not only the lack of rain, it’s the weeks of 100 degree temperatures. We are on, to the date of this post, day 80 of over 100 degree highs. The previous record was a paltry 68, and the coming week is looking to bring us a cold break of high 90’s. This is apocalyptic and just no fun anymore. Maybe god is punishing us for Rick Perry, maybe the Chinese are using special un-rain makers on us because we are so amazing at job creation (not), or maybe it’s bigger – maybe it’s Obama!

The sooner the rain starts the sooner, I hope, will the taste of sand in the water go away, the sooner I’ll stop seeing birds with no feathers, the sooner I’ll not feel guilty about taking showers, and the sooner I can wash my car, and the sooner I’ll see the sweet return of blood sucking mosquitoes.

On second thought, it’s pretty great without mosquitoes.

Check out this animation of how Texas has “weathered” in this last month of drought, and the weather site’s tweets. It’s almost os if the state line was keeping the clouds out like an Arizona border agent.

Jones Center with an Arthouse

August 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are a million things to do at every moment, every place I live. I’ve always made the mental checklists of places and things I needed to see on a day or afternoon off, events and spectacles I need to take in in order for me to truly understand what it means to be in that place at that time with those experiences to be had.

And I am also pretty terrible at doing enough.

But like a bad recording of some random 80’s pop phenom I return to that strange push that gets me out once in a while, out to do some checking off of a list. It’s a strange burden of guilt that happens, to almost say yes to yourself.

Well, I’ve had the Arthouse at the Jones Center as an item on my list for many a month. Opened last October and designed by a great architecture firm out of New York the Arthouse is a striking juxtaposition of design along Congress Avenue. Bathed in all white with aqua punctured holes in the exterior the double story corner building almost wants you not to see it until you’re good and ready. Perfect for Texans.

I visited the museum done by Zaha in Cincinnati, and amongst the strongest design concerns I remember was she had the desire to bring the street into the museum – physically. Her method was to curve the sidewalk under the hanging panes of glass and curl it right into the walking stairway talking the person to the galleries. I loved it in Cincinnati, the gesture worked for me, it was a happy trick. Whether or not LTL had this in mind when they set out I have to say I missed it. The front teases this hopeful propensity but fails to satisfy it. First off, the letters of the Arthouse bleed into the glass overhead, stretching the eye to the beautiful centerpiece of the stair – but try and find an entrance and you’ll feel yourself like a mime in a bad National Lampoon movie. I did a triple take, eyes lusting after the stair, outside the glass wall of the street before finding the “around the corner” all glass door. Howver, after that, the building was a pretty great work of detail and simplicity.

The Arthouse, without any boring reading on it – (but, go ahead… it’s got a great back story…) – I guessed was probably a clothing store then some sort of theater, then a period of dormancy that led it’s way to the chic museum culture we currently embrace. I know this because the easy telling stylings on the dry and broken stucco that still cling to the brick walls of the exterior wall. The past life was definitely incorporated in that respect – making me think of the musings on preservation and historicism by Koolhaas – and in a way it doesn’t take away from the darkened space. But was it does do is make me want to see more – is this a history museum? or art museum? I wanted to keep peering around corners to see large mockups of native americans and the first oilmen of the Hill Country. This museum just oozes some of that old world museum in it, the labrynth dark, slightly scary spaces we made to hold the other vestiges of a not that distant past.

The large open space after the stairway was set in many layers. I’ll describe four of them. On the floor I imagined painstaking concrete pours and tests and perfect control joints. On the exterior wall I saw people filing smooth jagged bits of steel pipe and rebar that exposed themselves during the remodel. On the interior wall I saw an all white symbol of terrifying authority – all white and all imposing.. ready to smash anything of aggregate. And above head, just a barn dance, a county fair barn dance ceiling peered down at me – just waiting for the polka to start while the sound of heavy hogs being settled down to sleep.  The space just held nothing – but all these things. Maybe that was the museums biggest success.

Also, If you want to get to the roof, wait until Wednesdays – because other than on that day… the giant elevator will open itself to you, let you enter, close itself, but it will not take you anywhere.