Archive for May 2006

Building Another Aircraft Carrier

May 31, 2006

gehrymodelED.bmp.jpg So Frank Gehry is building a skyscraper in New York city. The Gutter and Curbed seem to the think the real story is who got the scoop on the proposal. More importantly for NYC is the impact the tower will have on their city and for the rest of us the impact it will have on the future of architecture. This might just be the building that enshrines Gehry forever in the annals of history making him the grandaddy of twenty first century architecture. His reputation is so prominent and his buildings so popular its hard to legitamately critique his work.

On the other hand, it might be a massive mistake. But then I'm no Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry is certainly not some young naive student. And yet…

It was a heady time for most of us when Peter Eisenman came to our school as a visiting critic, even though his lecture left many scratching their heads. I found his buildings bland and over rationalized.The lecture itself was cryptic and, as was fashionably Derida-esque at the time, labyrinthine. Nonetheless Eisenman was in the pantheon of Archi-Gods and I think I can say we were all proud to have him critiquing our work.

AT Carleton we were used to being ripped apart at crits. Our more notorious professors thought nothing of using the most fowl language to degrade and humiliate us in the name of…indoctrination I suppose. But there would be no nastiness with Eisenman in the house.

Besides, on that day, one of the best students the School of Architecture had ever seen was presenting his project.The Pit was packed. His design was magnificent. His drawings; intricate. Awe-inspiring.That was typical Edward. His skill and talent often putting him out of reach of other students' ability to even comprehend what he was doing.

And best of all, he actually seemed to frighten our professors into acquiescence. A glowing exception leaving the wolves stunned and emasculated by the power of his work which they themselves could never hope to match.

Not so for Eisenman.

Of course he wasn't cruel or even aggressive. That was a specialty left to the proffs at Carleton. But neither was he going to let his critical mind go to waste over Edward.

Chomping on a toothpick, as I recall, he reclined and then sprawled all over his chair, arms waving lazily as he began his critique.
"I'm not going to address the particulars of your design. You've obviously met and even exceeded all the criteria for this project. Instead I will tell you a story."

So he proceeds to tell the story of another very talented student. A young woman who, like Edward, could produce evocative drawings and mesmerizing designs. She had been deft at conveying both minute detail and broad architectural concepts.

But Eisenman started to notice something by the time he had seen her third or forth project. Even though each project had a completely different program they were each clearly derivative of ship design (a popular theme at the time) and specifically aircraft carriers.

The student agreed with Eisenman. She admitted she loved aircraft carriers, but saw nothing wrong with using them as a starting point for her designs.More than a starting point, however, her real problem was that her skills and talent could make anything seem compelling even if she repeated essentially the same design in different iterations. And, with all her talents, she remained unchallenged.

Now, she may have served the public well as an architect some day – may have eventually have built beautiful aircraft carrier-like buildings. But when Eisenman asked why she just didn't go into military navel design she replied that her designs were a metaphor. Uh oh. HIS point was that she was no longer challenging herself. If she continued to convince herself and others that 'aircraft charier' was a legitimate response to ANY program, she would become disingenuous and so would her buildings.

Edward said very little in response. They looked at each other and nodded as if some secret Masonic message were being passed between them.

kobefish.jpgIn the beginning (well after he had been in practice for a decade or two) Frank Gehry's buildings seemed so foreign they were beyond categorization. Giant curving blocks of volumes melting into one another. Ingenious – even troubling – use of materials like chain-link. Buildings whose skin appeared to be peeling away. A restaurant in Kobe Japan that looks like, no, IS a giant tail-flipping fish.



On when Is should be Has

May 14, 2006

mefullfrightblue.jpgmefullfaceleftblue.jpg He is schizophrenic. She is bipolar. He is a depressive.She is developmentally delayed. He is schizoid.She is mentally ill.

The illnesses may be frightening to some but if we're just talking verbs here none of the above sounds troubling, correct? In fact it's how we refer to people with mental illness and most often how people with mental illnesses refer to themselves. (Did you think I'd say the mentally ill?)They are their illnesses.

And here is how it works for just about every other medical condition. He has cancer. She has heart disease. He has the flu. She has mad cow disease. He has cerebral palsy. She has cystic fibrosis. He has multiple sclerosis. She has a fractured hip. He has AIDS.

This list goes on and on. Almost every medical condition one can think of is one in which someone HAS rather than IS something. Except when it comes to mental illness.

Imagine if non-psychiatric medical conditions were treated like mental illnesses. Lets try it.

He is heart diseased. She is cancerous. He is flu-ic. She is mad cowic. He is a cerebral palsyist. She is a fractured hip-er. He is an AIDSist.

Though rarely used in conversation or by physicians and especially not by people with these psychiatric conditions, its is possible to apply has to mental illnesses. However it is much more common, especially in the case of 'first-axis' disorders that a person inevitably is their illness.

How often do you hear "he has manic depressive illness" or "she has schizophrenia"?

I would be remiss for not pointing out exceptions in both categories. The exceptions are themselves informative. She has a personality disorder. He has OCD.She has an anxiety disorder.None of these are considered first axis and more importantly psychosis is rarely present. Insight is maintained.
There are also a few non-psychiatric conditions where people are branded as their illness. He is diabetic. She is hypoglycemic. He is HIV positive. In these cases we say is because the illnesses are chronic, life-long and and require substantial and regular medical intervention such as insulin injections, dialysis or prophylactic medications.Then there are those conditions which are poorly understood and especially those which are stigmatized.She is HIV positive? He is a leper? Why do we say such things?

But serious psychiatric conditions get the worst of both worlds. They are often poorly understood (by the general public and too often by physicians themselves) and deeply stigmatized. Add to that the necessity for insight in treatment and you have an environment that encourages people with mental illness to brand themselves according to their illness. The paradox is that only when you know you are ill can you begin to recover. Put more crudely; if you know you're crazy, you're not crazy anymore. (more…)

twIT girl.

May 9, 2006

Auditt.jpgWe pull up to the twenty four hour grocery, me and my Right Honourable friend, in my bird poop splattered bumper-less little Civic. I just need fags and maybe a loaf of bread – shouldn't take long. As I head to the store's entrance I take note of the four illegally parked vehicles in front of us in this order: An Audi tt, a BMW X5, a Porche Cayenne and (almost jutting into the intersection) and a Mercedes ML 350.

The cars are no surprise. The street where they're parked borders three very tony neighbourhoods; Yorkville, the Annex and lower Forest Hill.

Still, the store itself is no Pusatari's being more often a tad filthy and a little smelly though it still manages to be over-priced. And it's not uncommon to see some down-and-outers, having migrated uptown, loitering in the store for protection against whatever weather threatens them.

BMW X5.jpgBut it can be hard to differentiate the over privileged from the less fortunate souls as the wealthy patrons are just as likely to wear a pair of old sweats and an overcoat (often as not hiding their pajama tops). No risk being spotted by anyone important at this hour and even if there was, surely it would be understood that black tie was not required for a trip to the corner store.

Then there's the young woman holding up the lineup to the cash -five persons deep with me near the end. I can't even begin to estimate the amount of money she was wearing on her person. Not to mention the expensive haircut, the manicured hands and the perfect skin with a healthy, and no doubt costly,and completely even tan. Very convincingly blond.Trim, fit and in any circle; beautiful.

porschecayenne_3lg.jpgWhile she's futzing at the cash, I was trying to figure out who in the line-up was driving what. That is until her shrill, girlish voice alerted me to trouble.

Now she's hassling the cashier. "This bottled water is chilled. Everyone knows that cold water is bad for you.Water should always be at room temperature. Everybody knows that. Right?" She looks to the cashier who isn't arguing with anyone.

"RIGHT!?" She points to the guy behind me in line but he says he has no idea.

She's probably frustrated but flashes a fake smile of perfect teeth anyway.Time for plan B I guess.

This really is taking too long. Perhaps her intention. Everyone is fidgeting now. She declares she will take the bottled water anyway and then starts fiddling with a can of whipped cream. She shakes it, looking around to make sure her audience is with her.

After removing the cap she holds the can up to the cashier."Taste it." Nobody moves. Nobody even breathes.

mercedesml350.jpgThe cashier might have said "um" or "I don't…" but really he didn't have chance. Blondie reaches out, grabs his arm and squishes out a small pile of cream into his hand.Stunned silence from everyone, especially the young cashier.

"Taste it!"
And, with the saddest, most humiliated expression I've seen in a while he did just that.


He says it seems fine and everyone exhales as Blondie puts the cap back on the cream.

"Yeah, I thought it was OK"

Whaaa?She thought it was OK? So why humiliate the cashier? (more…)


May 6, 2006


Photo from Corp Athlete. Image of Pitt Bull by dubuc.
Chart attributed to FIGURE 1 from this abstract in Pediatrics Magazine.


Can you imagine my horror when I read in the Toronto Star (May 5, section B, GTA) that Dachshunds are the fifth most likely breed of dog to bite children under seventeen years of age?Dachshunds? Daschies? Wiener dogs? There must be some mistake.

True, my own adorable little Dachshund is likely to snap at you if you try to remove a bone he's found in the gutter. But who wouldn't protest in such a situation? And, yes, he does at times lunge and snap at larger dogs. But these dogs are never harmed and seem completely un- threatened.

Now consider the risk for my ten inch tall tube of love: A preemptive strike against, by comparison, a Goliath sized dog. Some might call that bravery.

And yet the big boys rarely even show their teeth.That's because the giant dogs my little guy 'assualts' understand his psychology. In a word or two; the Napoleon complex. No, he's not ashamed of having a notoriously tiny member. He's merely a little embarrassed at being so short and that embarrassment escalates to humiliation when napoleonhorse.jpgconfronted by a German cousin like, say a one hundred pound Rottweiler.
The truth of the matter is that my Dachshund, now 25 pounds, is expressing what canine therapists call 'fear-aggression'. Not uncommon in dogs who have been attacked by other dogs as he was when he was a puppy – by a crazed Dalmatian who grabbed him its jaws and shook him violently. Ever since then its been strike first or die.

The Star published an interpretation of the above chart coming up with a so called risk factor of 1.4 for Dachshunds. Compare that to the highest, the German shepherd at 2.8 or (at the bottom of the Star's chart anyway ) the Rottweiler at a risk factor of .9.

pittbull dbuc.jpg

But wait, somethings is amiss here.Where is the Pitt bull on this list? A dog so notorious for attacking humans (Pitt bull lovers' often valid arguments aside) that here in Ontario they are no longer allowed to be bred or sold and the existing dogs must be muzzled.

Look closely at the study and you see will it was conducted in Austria. How many Pitt Bulls are there in Austria? Perhaps as many as there are English Bulldogs (docile creatures who the French have seen fit to eliminate from their breed registry because the deformation of their faces is considered inhumane. Have you seen a French Bulldog? Yikes!).

But the larger more relevant issue for my little guy is that Dachshunds are a German breed. Mine, in fact, is a standard-smooth-haired-red-German Dachshund. They're larger than what we normally see in North America but I assure you no more viscous. No, the point here is that I would surmise that Austria, just like it seems to have a shortage of Pitt Bulls, is positively saturated with Dachshunds. (more…)


May 1, 2006

rom steel inside.JPGROMTerriMeyerBoake.JPGROM steel 21.jpgrom joints.JPG

(Photos by Terri Meyer Boake)

The Crystal is the name given to the extension to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), designed by the now famous Daniel Libeskind. Its currently under construction in Toronto.

Crystal. You're thinking reflective, transparent, prism, hard-edged, multi-faceted. And at the beginning that's what it seemed it would be – a gigantic collision of glass crystals nestled beside the the original museum, built in 1914.

But final models and renderings had it looking much more like a mammoth piece or origami, though without even the lightness of paper. Origami from thick cardboard maybe.It was a let down to see these images in the press.

True, the design process is one which is continually evolving. Libeskind himself, and those of his ilk, used to quietly lecture about desigNING being the thing. The process was all. Completion was frowned upon and buildings, actual built form was not architecture anymore. From the highest academic perches came the proclamation that Architecture was dead.

At the time, the mid eighties, Libeskind was producing amazing drawings. Depictions of the most abstract types of architectural drawings like axonometrics metamorphosed into explosions of line that retained depth and warped three dimensionality.They were intricate, evocative memories (or perhaps predictions) of architecture.

There's no fault in an architect struggling to get his vision off the page and onto the site. But Libeskind's visions in the form of his drawings were so complex, such an inversion of the inhabitable, of tangible buildings, it was hard to imagine how he would ever make manifest his imagination.His website is a strange, quietly provocative thing in itself – and worth having a good look at

He has since built many projects – actual buildings – which are some of the most interesting and challenging buildings anywhere. He's not only famous, he's revered..

For Torontonians passing by the site of the new extension on Bloor street, the process

Worries about the building not living up to its metaphor have been stomped on by the Godzilla that the construction site has become.

Massive steel I beams, still in their natural, gritty rust colour , fly in every direction only to intersect later at ungodly angles. The growing beast charges into the original museum (quite a beautiful, if quiet, building itself). Not only does it ignore the architectural cues of it's context, it appears to be on a seek and destroy mission against it's own ancestor.

And we mere puny humans can either duck our heads and run or stand back in awe of the of the skeleton which literally looms over the sidewalk itself, snatching out slices of sky from far above our heads.

The ROM addition is not now and seems unlikely to ever a be a 'crystal' of any kind. Its beautiful ugliness incarnate and though it goes against almost all the beliefs I hold about the social responsibilities of buildings, It's so so fracking thrilling, terrifying and 'stimulating' to see the monster grow, I almost get a hard-on

Much ado has been made of this new building addition along with a couple of others like OCAD by Alsop Architects, the AGO addition by Frank Gehry and two more projects by Libeskind: The Jewish War Veterans Memorial and The Hummingbird Centre.These are supposed to be iconic buildings for Toronto. Places that put the us on the international map and raise it to the category of 'A' list city.

But the ROM Crystal is now estimated to cost $200 million and will probably go higher. Most of these buildings have, of course, received funds from different levels of government but a huge amount has been raised from the private sector. So where's the problem, you ask, if private money is paying for these things? Nothing if it was also paying for social housing, parks, beautification and environmental controls. (more…)

Fabulous Fuselages

May 1, 2006

Lo-TekAero5.jpgLOT -EK  Aero Library interior

Thanks to Jill at Inhabitat (now on WordPress no less) for showcasing such a cool idea for a building.

An entry for a library design competition in Guadalajara, basically this proposal is a bunch of refurbished fuselages (that would otherwise be discarded) stacked on top of one another with catwalks and an open central core.But it's a little more than that. The building tapers out as it goes up like a giant parallelogram. A massive outward tapering screen makes up one side of the building.

Now, there are complaints by some commenters about its impracticality (apparently jets tend to leak if not pressurized). Then there's the inappropriateness of using junkyard jets for a library. Really? One complainant points out happily that this proposal didn't win the competition.

This one did. But there's no pictures or drawings of the proposal that I could find. And we don't like no pictures.

This building proposal is quite unlike anything else the architects at LOT -EK have designed. These guys are masters of re-use. Check out their CHK Container Home Kit. Its quintessential LOT -EK; rectilinear, hyper-industrial and bare bones efficient.

Adapting to the shape of the fuselages, their library is anything but boxy. Its a steely, airy, futuristic dream that just happens to be make remarkable use of what otherwise would be trash.