Archive for the ‘Architecture’ category

Invade and Document

October 7, 2009

If you’ve ever been part of a hoard of architecture students trekking across Europe and you find yourself without a camera (mine had fallen down a gorge on the way to a remote villa  on Capri) you’re bound to notice some disturbing group behavior.

Firstly I/we/them don’t actually view the world with eyes but instead and almost exclusively with cameras. Perceptions are further warped by the constant re-adjustment of the position of the picture-taker, the components of the camera and the jockeying for  prime angle in prime light. Often If a loner is seen to be feverishly snapping away from somewhere which at first seems seems odd, the group will slowly migrate there in case anyone feels they’re missing the coveted exception-to-the-rule shot.

Without a camera the only choice you have is to watch the picture-takers. Nothing  else is left unobstructed by their presence and you certainly can’t be in the way of their shots.

You’ll also notice pretty quickly that humans do not qualify as relevant subject matter. Even the bland signs of in-habitation are avoided unless  part of the point of the architect (maybe to soften the monumentality of a housing project by Aldo Rossi).

It’s not so hard to understand why we architectural practitioners (and fans) demand such purity of the objects we photograph. We have seen pictures, plans and  sometimes even models of these places but when we experience them in the flesh it’s akin to finally seeing your favorite rock star in concert. Goose bumps.

There is no place for sloppy, unpredictable humans moving about and destroying the experience of a building.

Fine. But the whole taking-pictures-of-buildings business becomes absurd, not to mention rude and insensitive, when someone’s home is involved. I have seen people tackle bushes and stomp through gardens to get a more impressive shot of a house. Should privacy be completely obliterated just because you live in a famous building? Or in a not so famous building designed by a famous architect?

Even worse are the architectural/planning experiments where the jury is still out. In these places the photo-tourists are there to evaluate and ultimately judge your home. They don’t want to actually speak to you – your opinion is not relevant – and they certainly don’t want you in their pictures.

Such is the case for the Wychwood Barns artists’ residences. They’re only about a year old. They represent a novel idea for housing in Toronto and it’s certainly no stretch to call them experimental.

All of which brings me to the following. While walking my adorable dog around the barns this morning I spotted a hoard of youngish student-types  being toured around by two elders. A series of short lectures were followed by the the group moving en mass to another spot and ever closer to the private homes of the artists. My heart began to sink.

The residences are on the north side of the project on a residential street across from older houses with tall trees. The building itself consists of the remains of the TTC barns with the residences carved out of the old facade and a colonnade acting to shelter a row of front porches each with individual entrances.

By the time the invaders rounded the corner to the residences it was a free for all – students scurrying up and down the colonnade within inches of the artists’ doors studying details and of course, snapping pictures.

One resident emerged from his home, coffee in hand and in his pajamas (?) with a  look of shock and then embarrassment.

I didn’t see anyone trampling the tiny gardens the residents had planted in front of their homes but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Instead I approached the tall, bespectacled leader and his shorter accomplice with a her perfect blond hair-do.

He said yes to everything I said while the blond smiled smugly.

Yes, He was leading this tour of the Barns.Yes, he knew people lived here. Yes, they deserved their privacy and yes he would make sure his group stoped being disrespectful. He gave no instructions to his group though. Most of whom looked like they had been caught with hands in the cookie jar.

I lingered around until the whole group had rounded the corner and beyond the residences.

How long they were able to resist the itch invade and document, I’m not sure I want to know.

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Jack & Jill Went… and Caught Hepatitis

November 28, 2006

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Building Another Aircraft Carrier

May 31, 2006

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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.

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MONSTER BONES

May 1, 2006

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(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.

Fabulous.