Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cleaning Up Detroit One Orange Object at a Time

Metropolis Magazine discusses Detroit's confrontation with its deterioration here. A group of former Cranbrook Academy of Art students, appalled by the number of deteriorated houses in the city, formed Object Orange. They painted the dangerous and dilapidated houses orange so that they could be exposed and dealt with. Both things happened. The houses they painted orange were clearly seen and shortly demolished, one may assume from embarrassment, by the city.

“At this point in Detroit there are so many abandoned spaces,” says Christian, a New Jersey native who recently began teaching at a university in Colorado. “Living around these neighborhoods and experiencing the product of the blight and seeing what happens to the children and the landscape, we’re just kind of questioning it and saying, ‘Why is nothing done? Why is this happening?’”
There also seems to be a whiff of art object to us. Art and social action? Art as protest?
If nothing else Object Orange has produced a new typology for site-specific art installations: art as a possible agent of demolition. “I tell my students that if you’re in Detroit you don’t need a studio,” Christian says. “The city is one big studio.”
We like their attitude.

Blu Dot Goes Undercover with Real Good Chair

On November 4-5, 25 Real Good Chairs were dropped around NYC, free for the take. Many were GPS-enabled. Watch the film to see what happened. It is a little lengthy (that is, longer than :30), but more fun than numerous "action" films we've seen lately. This is a great example of "gorilla advertising."

Small House Flickr Slide Show

As we step across the dividing line between this year and next, let us celebrate the small, the reasonable, the wee.

via Small House Style

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Reason to Celebrate

This evokes the all-embracing spirit of the holiday. Thanks, again, to TED.

Thought for the Holiday.

"I have about reached the conclusion that, while large industry is important, fresh air and clean water are more important, and the day may well come when we have to lay that kind of hand on the table and see who is bluffing." Barry M. Goldwater

Monday, December 21, 2009

Social Media and Its Unnerving Creepy Facts.

There is no going back.

What to do with Empty Space in Depressed Areas of a City?

(The pitch starts at :58)

RIBA Guerrilla Tactics 2009: Space Invaders Live Pitch

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is striving to address many of the same urban issues we struggle with here in the United States. At each year's annual meeting, a problem is posed for a "Guerrilla" (cheap, under the radar) solution.

How would you propose to use abandoned space?

This year's Guerrilla Tactics Live Pitch was titled Space Invaders and was designed to respond to the Arts Council "Art in Empty Spaces" movement that is rolling across the country. Piercy Connor Architects went up against Feix and Merlin to pitch their solutions in front of a panel of industry experts, architectural peers and clients. Not an easy crowd. The moderator's comment at the end, made to the winning team was a gentle, whack in the face of designer illusions.

Most Puzzeling Patents of 2009

(Click image to enlarge)

Creative minds flock to the U.S. Patent Office to assure that their ingenious idea is not ripped from their hands by someone who beat them to it. Designer extraordinaire, Paula Sher, has taken this year's most thought provoking submissions and created a jovial graphic to represent them. Click on the chart above. It will pop-out to set your mind humming with new thoughts, inventions, bright ideas you have been meaning to get to and all manner of folly. Note the categories that border the panel. Click!

Pentagram Pulls Back the Curtain, a Little.

Wallpaper, the magazine of design cognoscenti (and a few poseurs!), has just published the Pentagram holiday cards that have been mailed to a select design community since 1974. Pentagram, founded in London, and now with offices around the planet is one of the most prestigious design firms in the world. Wallpaper explains:

Each Christmas, Pentagram designs and publishes a small book and sends it to a very select group. Intended to provide diversions during what, for many, can be a hectic period, the booklets traditionally avoid any direct reference to the festive season, adopting a strong graphic vocabulary, setting them apart from the myriad of cards received at this time of year. Since John McConnell's first design in 1974, they've grown to become a cult collectors' item.

In the spirit of goodwill, Pentagram opened their archives for us so we could celebrate the history of their unique way of celebrating Christmas, without any tinsel or fairy lights in sight. Which is just how we like it.

Its hard not to like Pentagram, although, envy does get in the way.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Landscape Wonder from Norway's NRK

In honor of our little mashup of snow and ice here in Baltimore, we thought we'd post this gorgeous video. It is just ten minutes of a train ride through Norway, the place where snow really falls. The original was 7 1/2 HOURS long. It aired in Norway on November 27. It was watched, beginning to end, by 1.2 million Norwegians, one-quarter of the population.

The full length video shows every minute of the scenic train ride between Bergen on the Norwegian west coast, crossing the mountains to the capital of Oslo. You can download the entire video here. The NRK has also thrown open the door to the creative world. Designers and videographers are invited to edit it, remix it, share it, cut it, color it, digitize it. Whatever. (The Creative Commons license applies.)

The full-length video was a wild idea by the staff at NRK, the state run Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. The wild idea turned out to be a wild success. Besides the size of the viewing audience, there were over 1,500 tweets (and still growing) posted (#bergensbanen). From our perspective, it seems like a orgy of landscape devotion. The NRK deserves some praise. That they invited people to simply observe the landscape of their country was a daring notion and a wonderful gift. No spectacle. No drama. No screaming, talking heads. Just the natural world.

Let it snow!

Here's the situation in Baltimore today: the Blizzard of 2009. We like how snow rounds things and softens the world. Too, noise pollution disappears. There is just the wonderful, white, quiet. If only we could wrap the city in the equivalent of insulation noise control batts year-round!

If you like a slew of wonderful images for inspiration or just for feasting, we recommend a leisurely cruise on the blog "Feasting Never Stops."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unchop a Tree - Maya Lin, "What is Missing?"

Maya Lin - Unchopping A Tree from Unchop A Tree on Vimeo.

Maya Lin, from her groundbreaking project "What is Missing?," provides a moving video on the shocking effects of deforestation. Imagine: the equivalent of Central Park is destroyed in 9 minutes. Don't miss the unchopping at the end! rebmiT!!

Dirty Ugly Design - The Decade of

(From left) Cover of Steve Heller and Mirko Ilic’s book Handwritten (2006);
and Jon Gray’s book jacket design for Everything Is Illuminated (2002)

Jonny Hannah’s hand-drawn lettering for the Starbucks Birmingham International
Jazz Festival 2005 (left) and the book Telling Tales (2004).

Steven Heller Speaks
Steven Heller of the School of Visual Arts In NYC makes the argument that graphics of the 90s were driven by the concept of "dirty design." It is an interesting and, by any measure of the comments section, a controversial point of view.

Apple, Target and Ikea, Too
We tend to think it is an oversimplification of the graphics for the age of George W. Bush, especially considering the potent graphics of Apple, Target and Ikea . But, the "dirty" style was a breath of fresh air in the midst of tight, conservative memes that predominated the decade.

Praise to it all.

I.D Magazine Folds!

ID Magazine, America's foremost design magazine, has devastated the design world by announcing it is ceasing publication. The bible of the design cognoscenti is gone. Awful news.

Citing the dramatic drop in advertisers and the rise of unique, segmented web resources, some free of charge, the magazine announced its closing---the day after "Employee Appreciation Day."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Design and Web 2.0 Distractions

"We can't see the garden."

The Washington Post offers a critique of the PDA / laptop world. This one has great meaning for designers. This trend portends the demise of awareness of one's surroundings as a consequence of spending oodles of time with one's head down reading the latest on a Blackberry, iPhone, and all manner of gadgets and apps. Robert Harrison, professor of Italian Literature at Stanford offered this nugget:

The difficulty, Harrison argues, is that we are losing something profoundly human, the capacity to connect deeply to our environments.

Landscape designers talk about bestowing on a garden its genius loci, or spirit of the place, that bubbles up into your consciousness if its presence is strong enough and the visitor meditative enough to receive it.

Harrison says a garden truly reveals itself only when its own depths and those of the beholder flow together. But that takes time. "For the gardens to become fully visible in space, they require a temporal horizon that the age makes less and less room for."

Designers, architects, take note: the "cloaking device."
"Most of the groves, courtyards, gardens, fountains, artworks, open spaces and architectural complexes have disappeared behind a cloaking device, it would seem," he writes in his book "Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition."
What will it take to bring us back to our context? Or, how will our environments change in order to elicit interactions and bestow a sense of place? Or, what will become of our relationship to the constructed world? Only questions, it seems.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Architectural Freedom Compromised by Swiss

Minarets Banned
The Washington Post reported that in a referendum last month, 57.5 percent of Switzerland's voting citizens endorsed adoption of a law banning minarets, and only minarets, the often elegant towers attached to mosques throughout the Islamic world.

University of Maryland Architect Responds
Roger K. Lewis, a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, offers this reasonable thought in his recent blistering rebuke of the Swiss in the Washington Post:

During this holiday season of glad tidings and goodwill, perhaps the Swiss will reconsider their reactionary vote. Rather than outlawing minarets, a fundamental component of mosque architecture, the Swiss should do the right thing: ensure that a mosque and its minaret comply with the same laws and standards as churches and other buildings serving citizens of the community.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Font Favorite

When the Salahi's crashed the State dinner, they not only created Washington's newest verb, to be "Salahi'd," it looks like we have a new typeface as well. Sorry, we couldn't resist. Politico article.

Give me an "S!" Give me an "A!" Give me an "L!" Give me an "A", "H," "I!" What did we spell?!

Pursuit of Happiness

Click to enlarge image

A terrific photo essay by Maira Kalman, who blogs once a month for the New York Times. The subject, Back to the Land, was a Thanksgiving reflection for her NYT blog "And the Pursuit of Happiness." We won't elaborate, but the innovative design graphic with text is a breath of fresh air. And, Alice Waters and democracy get involved.
"The United State of America could be less fastly, fastly and more slowly, slowly."
As far as moving back to the land, a theme in Kalman's essay, we are urbanists. We suggest: Stay in the city. Make your home greener; spend more on real food; enjoy life where you are. Others may differ.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advice to a Young Architect

The brilliant and somewhat adorable, Ma Yansong, 34 year old Chinese architect of renown, and founder of MAD architects, was recently interviewed by DesignBoom. Ma's career is nothing but remarkable. Trained by Yale and Zaha Hadid, he seems to be creating the future with each new, amazing structure. When asked what advice he would give to young architects, he responded:

Don't hesitate.
Make a decision fast. Follow the first 5 seconds instinct.
If you think you need to compare and you hesitate,
then it must be a wrong decision. As in your life one
decision comes after the other and if you realize you do
something wrong, you know it is because of a previous
decision, which was a mistake. I think everyone should
follow their heart. Robert Stern, the Dean of the Arts and
Architecture at Yale says this to all the students on their
graduation day : 'You should forget everything you learned
from school and start on your own. No matter who said
what, you should believe only in yourself'.
We thought this suggestion that one have faith in one's instinctual response was particularly good advice in these cautious times. This "5 seconds instinct" taoism-like exhortation, could also reflect the kind of twitter-world we live in. However, judging from Ma's work, he is at the peak of his some fabulous 5-second increments. We are passing his advice along, on an impulse.

How Not to Take on Climate Change Deniers

His first words are, "Perhaps I ought not to have accepted the invitation." Gregory Norminton tells the story of appearing at The University of St. Andrews in England to debate climate change. As he explains, his confrontation with the opposition's distortion of known facts turned him into "a bug-eyed fanatic," a mirror image of his foes. We, too, recently confronted a denier at a local meeting and felt the same kind of extreme frustration. What to do? Mr. Norminton speaks:

I can now offer the following hard-won tips for anyone considering debating climate change deniers:

  1. Don’t.
  2. If you must, consider ingesting some form of tranquiliser.
  3. Study the stagecraft of Bernard Manning.
  4. Be up-to-date: know your Aristotle!
  5. No matter the provocation, avoid Nazi analogies like the plague.
  6. Bring plenty of friends.
  7. Just don’t.
Not hopeful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cut-Ups in New Zealand.

"Going West" is a beautiful short film illustrating the worlds in a book, incorporating papercraft to make something dreamlike and wonderful. It was animated by Andersen M Studio.

The New Zealand Book Council has produced this intriguing video encouraging, what else, reading. We are told that there are NO computer generated effects! The entire stop-motion animated design is of hand-cut and manipulated papers, producing a dream-like world.

It is hard to imagine that this intricate design is completely handmade. In today's world of computer animation, we think it takes on a very welcoming feel, unlike the computer animation's more slick and forced images. What do you think?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Artificial Bio-diversity

Don't miss the pleasure of Christoph Niemann's newest contribution to his "Abstract City" op ed series for the New York Times. This one has the tongue-in-check title of "Bio-Diversity." It's good news in a world flooded with bad and sad.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sarah Susanka Draws the Line

Sarah Susanka
For all of you who appreciate Sarah Susanka's championing of the "Not So Big"house, you may be happy to know that she is expanding the brand. Susanka has taken houses from the "Not So Big" books and packaged the drawings of them. She is selling those drawings at the website

Now you can build your own Not So Big house. However the Not So Big drawings are not so cheap, costing $5,000 to $6,500. For individuals who have no wish for a custom home, who can read detailed drawing, who know how to select and bid out a job to qualified contractors, who feel they know the wealth of fixtures and materials to chose from and who are savvy enough manage and respond to the contractor during complexity of construction, this may be a fine solution. For those who are less inclined to take on all of these responsibilities, consider hiring an architect.

Susanka, one of the innovative thinkers in the field of home design, has always emphasized quality over quantity. That's a good reason why many follow her. She has also changed the way people think about the value and integration of space for daily living. Her skill in using color, enhances space in way that is hard to match. Susanka has brought so much to the housing scene. Her success is a tribute to her manner of communicating ideas, as well as the usefulness of them. Susanka is a big gift from the not so big design genie.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Via Guido Reni 10 00196 Rome

MAXXI Interior

15.11.2009 Rome - Museum of 21st Century public opening

Zaha Hadid, Architect / Designer

Rome's National Museum of 21st Century Contemporary Art and Architecture, whose acronym is MAXXI, was opened to the public yesterday, 15 November 2009. Its official opening will be sometime in 2010, but by all the first reports the space is stunning. Baghdad-born, London-based, and first woman to win the coveted Pritzker Prize, Zaha Hadid, is the building's architect. To some, this seems like Rome's Bilbao moment.

The building required 51,000 tons of concrete and steel, and $203 million of construction dollars. This wonderful Flickr slideshow gives you a good look at the structure from the eye-popping photos it has already inspired. Jay Merrick of The Independent in the UK (which actually has a daily section devoted to architecture), made these comments in this article after a recent visit:

The sweeping geometry of its form and its internal configuration are almost baroque in the way they modulate volume, light and glimpsed views. Exterior spaces are intertwined, sometimes dramatically, at other times with an almost graceful restraint. Inside, the drama is much more visceral. Heavy black staircases, underlit by white lightboxes, rise as if in flowing oriental brush strokes into the overlapping volumes of the gallery spaces. We seem to be in an Expressionist film set.
I have read that the sometimes languid, sometimes fiery, Hadid dislikes handrails. In some of the photos, you can detect the recessed handrails she brought to the design in the main halls. This comment is not meant to be trivial. It is an attempt to consider the mind-busting thought that goes into the details of ground breaking projects like this one.

Hadid was awarded this project over a decade ago, long before she became an international icon for architecture, much like Gehry's relationship to Bilbao. There will be more news to come on this project, but you can say, for now, that Hadid has taken Rome.

New York Times article
Design Museum, British Council, Biography/Comments
Design Boom article - good review and photos
Zaha Hadid Project: Painting as Building
Wiki: Zaha Hadid

Monday Morning Graffiti

Holding up the city’s shaky infrastructure.
You can find Argentine, Gualicho’s website here. (Photo by celso_nyc.)

Get to Know a Graffiti Artist:

"Gualicho was born in Buenos Aires. Though he has lived in this city all his life, he’s one of several artists constantly on the move. He has recently traveled and painted walls all over South and Central America. He began painting graffiti in 1998 and, from 2006 onwards, he’s been using the pseudonym “Gualicho”. His art is very distinctive and colourful. He creates new worlds by inter-connecting animals, plants and machines, also retro-futurist cities and ambiguous characters which reflect archetypes within human beings. He draws upon influences such as folk art, religious icons, comic graphics and 60s psychedelia, together with his own urban heritage on graffiti culture, comic, tattoo, skate and rock. He defines his style as post or neo-graffiti, though he also works vastly on canvas, paper and other materials. Since 2001 he co-manages Barfuss, an animation studio, where he has created pieces for several international companies."

via Escape Into Life
Flickr photo stream slideshow here

Friday, November 6, 2009

Top Nine Green Viral Videos

These videos are, er, so...viral. Go Green!

via @archivedigger

Friday, October 30, 2009

Don't let green get you down.

Friday thoughts: If you are like us, some days you get tired of fighting the green fight. There is a sense of despair when you see the people in the car in front of you heaving their fast food wrappers and cups out the window as they drive through your city at 50 miles an hour. There is the sense of anger when you watch one more cigarette butt tossed on the sidewalk, because you know it has a biodegradable life span of 400 years and it is going to wind up in our oceans. Plastic bottles? We can't even go there. Restaurants packaging food in Styrofoam? Why?! Then there is the unfathomable results of a recent Pew study showing that the number of Americans who believe there is solid evidence for global warming is at its lowest point in three years. These things wear you down little by little.

But we found some good news today. We thought we would share it to cheer you and ourselves up:

82 percent of Americans say they are still buying green products and services today, which sometimes cost more, according to a 2009 study commissioned by Green Seal and EnviroMedia Social Marketing.

More than six in 10 (or 66 million) U.S. homes currently use eco-friendly household products (Focalist, 2008).

U.S. consumers are looking at using more green products in everyday life, with more than one-third of adults regularly buying green products (Mintel Research, 2008).

18-34 year olds are twice as likely to buy green (EnviroMedia, 2009); 40 million baby boomers currently buy green (AARP, 2008).

And more intriguing good ideas here and here and here and here---we could go on!

These are small steps on the long journey. But, remember – though some countries, corporations and individuals - are trashing the earth without a second thought, we ARE making a difference. And we continue to make a difference every time we make a choice or take action for a green world. Also remember, it took 20 years for people to give up buttons...and use zippers. Fight on!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

No Goat Jokes.


An old idea receives new attention. Individuals and organizations are choosing a new green option, using goats to clear farms, parks, roadways, ranches. No harmful chemicals are employed. No heavy machinery is needed. The goat's cloven-hoofs, that allow them to meander slops and cliffs, cause no harm to the earth. Also, goats are quiet.

This "innovation" has become rather popular. It was used recently, even, in Druid Hill Park---three days, one-quarter acre. Eco Goats in Donaldson, MD, provided the herd. What volunteers couldn't do, goats did. Additionally, goats will completely clear an area of invasive plants.

Rent-a-Ruminator in Seattle provides more information on the beauty of goats and a slew of before and after pictures.

Pretty Sweet Green Roof

Japanese practice Atelier Tekuto has completed this aluminium-framed private residence in Kanazawa City, western Japan.

We especially liked this little green roof system. Other sustainable features include full LED lighting, rainwater harvesting and solar panels on the top for water heating. It is helpful to see the variety of green roof designs. We think this one is pretty sweet.

Architectural Review featured this house. For additional images of it, click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Our Trash is Killing Birds in Remote Places

Chris Jordan has published a series of images identified as dead albatross on Midway Atoll whose bodies are filled with bits of plastic they ingested.

Midway Island is an anemic little line of sand and coral reefs, way out in the middle of the Pacific. Now, I don't know Mr. Jordan personally, and haven't fact-checked the story behind the photos -- but presuming it's all as presented, this really is a horrifying set of images.

Birds that live as far away from civilization as you can imagine, their innards packed with petroleum flotsam?

via Boing Boing

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mr. Sustainable!

Rob Brennan, AIA and Carri Beer, AIA, LEED AP

Brennan + Company's founder and Principal Architect, Rob Brennan was featured in the October issue of Baltimore Magazine. Tapped as one of the region's reigning green gurus, Rob, along with Carri Beer, talk about how to make a home environmentally friendly. It's a good read, if we do say so ourselves. Here's the link.

Polaroid, Lost and Found.

Few things mark an era like a Polaroid photo. When Polaroid announced in 2008 that they were discontinuing the production of Polaroid film, hearts fell. A frenzy of bidding quickly heated up on Ebay for any remaining film, sparking scrappy bidding wars.

On Oct. 9, the last lot of Polaroid film passed its “use by” date, and the era of instant Polaroid photography is officially over, or at least for now. But there is hope. The Impossible Project is one of them. The Impossible Project has been founded with the aim to re-invent and re-start production of analog film for vintage Polaroid cameras. They have leased the Polaroid factory in Enschede, The Neatherlands that closed in June of 2008. They plan to produce an innovative and fresh product for all the artists who work with Polaroid film and all us common, die-hard fans who get goofy about it.

This from a New York Times recent comment :

The Polaroid was the only kind of contemporary photograph that could come close to the unique singularity of a painting or drawing, part of its charm being the unpredictability of its colors and marks on the print. The built-in frame is another major reason why people were attracted to them, giving the impression of a “finished piece” the moment they become visible.
May it always be.

The 60s swing again.

The Beatles by Robert Whitaker, 1964
Robert Whitaker Archive
© Robert Whitaker

The National Portrait Gallery in London has assembled an exhibition of iconic photos of the musical groups who created "Swinging London" in the 60s. Beatles to Bowie: The 60s Exposed, 15 October - 24 January 2010, could only be fun. The Who, The Kinks...they're all there.

Huge cultural and social changes were reflected in the styles and imagery of the pop music scene. The classic rivalry between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones is played out visually by a variety of top photographers such as David Bailey, Gered Mankowitz and Robert Whitaker, who helped create and endorse their changing images.

Fact: Next year it will have been 50 years since the 60s. No way!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Urban Rust

When you walk around a city, you don't expect to find Cor-Ten steel---weathered steel alloy with a protective coat of rust---on facades. You expect to see it in industrial areas or an occasional modern single-family home. A post on A Daily Dose of Architecture provides a nice opportunity to see Cor-ten steel at work on city buildings.

For more views of Cor-Ten, Flickr has a group dedicated to it!

The Paradox of Preservation

The Century Plaza hotel, designed by Minoru Yamasaki, opened in 1966 and quickly began accommodating stars and dignitaries. New owners have revealed plans to demolish the hotel, no longer the VIP magnet it once was, and replace it with a $2-billion complex that includes two 50-story towers containing condos, offices, shops and a smaller luxury hotel.

Los Angeles is to modern architecture, what Rome is to Catholicism. However,"California modern" postwar architecture, for better or for worse, undermined the ideas of traditional architecture forever. Its reach is international. Its style immediately recognizable. For some, it is a reason to swoon, for others it seen as an egotistical force undermining the intrinsic value of meaningful design. As historic, modern architectural buildings begin to age, it is inevitable that the preservationists and the developers will collide.

While preservationists would argue for reuse based on green values, developers argue that 60s modern buildings are hardly energy efficient, sustainable or nontoxic. In his Sunday column, Christopher Hawthorne, LA Times architecture and design critic, makes this point:

Those two ideas -- that preservation is green and that postwar city building was not -- are now coming together in some contradictory, even absurd ways. The debate over the future of the Century Plaza has been a case in point. Both sides have tried to argue that they have sustainability on their side, the Conservancy because knocking down the hotel would waste its "embodied energy" -- the energy it took to construct it -- and Michael Rosenfeld, the developer, because his proposed replacement, designed by the architect Harry Cobb, would promote green urbanism, namely pedestrianism and use of mass transit.
These conflicting ideas deserve a thoughtful investigation in less charged venues. It seems that the guiding ideas of preservation-as-green, must be bold and vivid to win the day. The issues confronted in preservation are often more complex and broad than the arguments that are being presented in defense of green preservation. Is preservation always "green?" And, to throw a wrench in the works, we wonder, how preservationists, who typically hold a disdain for modern architecture, will wholeheartedly defend against its demise?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The starting line at the Baltimore Marathon this weekend!

Photo by Arianne Teeple at the top of the Hilton Hotel

Click on this photo to enlarge it and enjoy all the colors. The Under Armor Company has done a good deed for the city by promoting this marathon. Bravo for Under Armor and bravo for city life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Future of Prefab. Where's it Going?

Empyrean International, "Dwell House"

Marmol Radziner "Skyline House"

Michelle Kaufman's "Glidehouse"

Our stringer in Los Angeles sent us this thoughtful article by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne. Hawthorne tells the story of the prominent prefab architects who are rethinking their efforts, some of whom are closing down their operations. Those closing their operations include Michelle Kaufman of Glidehouse fame, Empyrean International, the company that worked to develop Dwell's prefab models and Marmol Radziner, the Los Angeles firm known for smartly designed Neomodern houses, has mothballed its prefab factory in Vernon in what it says is a temporary move.

Prefab is foundering again. Most of this distress is, of course, caused by the freeze of credit. But even if you take away this credit problem, making the leap to high-volume business remains prefab's central dilemma.

One way to reach that point is by colonizing big swaths of flat land and building 1,500 identical houses at the same time. Without a doubt this kind of development is what has helped get us into our current dilemmas. Hawthorne and others have another solution. The solution resides largely in helping develop prefab infill apartment complexes and cooperative housing.

At the heart of this solution is the tricky sociological process of detaching modern prefab from the ideal of the single-family house.
Most people in this country -- even most city-dwelling, design-loving sophisticates -- still locate their dreams of residential bliss under the roof of a detached house. That roof might be pitched or it might be Gropius-flat, but it still covers a house and not an apartment.
We will have to see how the current financial crisis will effect this powerful, very American, expectation. This article last week in the New York Times, Real Estate section, "Owners No More," may be the first indication.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Somebody call the design police!

I think I need an aspirin. Thanks to one of our stringers in Florida, we were linked to this fascinating video of an animated building---the former headquarters of Bayer in Leverkusen, Germany. This is called a "media facade." It is composed of 5.6 million LEDs over a 17,500 square meter surface. We can't imagine having an apartment overlooking this enormous vision! Imagine a whole neighborhood of such facades.

The gargantuan advertising form creates an intense kind of visual pollution that curtails any ability to say "No!" Also, seeing a piece of architecture used in this way makes us weepy.

For a look at how the LED plates were constructed, here's the link.

Hat Tip to B. Eby

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Glenn Gould Speaks About Music


Glen Gould (upper) Tim Page (lower)

We rarely have the opportunity to listen to a musician talk just about music. Musical genius, Glenn Gould, referred to as the "James Dean of classical music," did one last interview before his untimely death six weeks later at the age of 50. Gould is legend. Although we rarely post about music (we are aching to say something about Gustavo Dudamel but reserve our enthusiasm so we don't appear to be wandering) we thought Gould personified a kind of music, design-mind worth honoring.

It appears that Gould scripted the whole interview for New York music critic Tim Page and himself! A weird but intriguing aspect. They recorded it just after Gould's 1981, historic, re-recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations (a story in themselves).

When we heard the interview, we were so pleased just to hear Gould's voice. You may, too. Here's the link to the interview. Musicians, this is an exquisite gab-fest that begins to get really cool about 20 minutes into the "interview."

twitter: @glenngouldfndn

Monday, October 5, 2009

What happened to the Bromo Seltzer Bottle?

Almost nothing today matches the impact of the colorful Bromo Seltzer image. It was a brand extraordinaire and a design triumph. This 1995 Baltimore Sun article we found fills in the colorful details.

The 51-foot-high bottle was fabricated of laminated steel. It was 20 feet in diameter, tinted blue to resemble the headache remedy's bottle and mounted on the very pinnacle of Baltimore's Emerson Drug Company headquarters at Lombard and Eutaw streets. What became known as the Bromo Seltzer Tower served as a potent landmark. The bottle even had a huge crown on the top.

So what happened to it? The revolving, blazing bottle lasted 25 years until January 1936, when winds and rain got the best of it. Adolph F. Nethen, general foreman of Claude Neon Lights of Maryland, climbed to the top and took the metal sheeting apart. The rusted, decayed materials were taken to the scrap yard. A sad demise for a great symbol.

We want that bottle back!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We are up against Goliath. We need your vote!

Help us keep architecture, sustainability, design and culture in the foreground of the conversation.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Talk About Adaptive Reuse!

This 13th Century church in Maastricht, Netherlands, was re-purposed as a sensationally beautiful, contemporary bookstore. In the USA, we tend to tear buildings like these down because developers feel that the buildings are too difficult to adapt or that they are simply in the way of the developer's objectives.

Because of the dearth of historic preservation incentives, history and culture goes down with bulldozers and wrecking balls. Our own home town of Baltimore has demolished some fabulous old buildings to make way for such projects as high-rises and hospital expansions (requiring huge parking garages).

We do not oppose development, but we see projects like this as examples of the historical benefits and possible magnificence of reuse. The simple comfort of historical space and the urge to reflection they provide is immeasurable.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Small Sag Harbor Shelter

A great example of creating interior design cohesion even when creating zones within a small space.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Abstract Art Meets Football Stadium Success

Anne Truitt, "Apricots"

In 1975, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) included a number of Anne Truitt's Arundel paintings in an exhibition. "The works were white, starkly white, with a little white paint on top, and some marks in graphite." The first exhibition of abstract expressionism at the BMA, it was vilified by the art critic at the Baltimore Sun. Week after week The Sun expressed its denunciation of her work, even suggesting that all public funds be withheld from the BMA in punishment for its insult to public sense.

The event, including Truitt's diary account of it, is considered by Tyler Green editor of Modern Art Notes in this post. Green reports that the exhibition, today, of abstract artworks in museums, and even football stadiums, has become common and is well received. Perhaps the forcefulness of an art form's rejection may be the measure of its potential for future acceptance.

October 8, the Hirshorn Museum is mounting the first exhibition of Truitt's work since 1974. Ironically it was curated by Kristen Hileman. Hileman is the newly appointed Curator for Contemporary Art at...the BMA.

Link: Anne Truitt's legendary journal, Daybook

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright's Unknown Legacy

Above is a trailer for a film entitled "One Hundred Women Architects." The film premiered at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in June as part of a Symposium celebrating the 50th year anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum in New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Over 100 women architects, designers and artisans worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, many of them going on to remarkable careers of their own. They are Frank Lloyd Wright's unknown legacy, and their practice forms a legacy for all women working in architecture today. The full length 20 minute film features architects Marion Mahony, Isabel Roberts, Jane Duncombe, Lois Davidson Gottlieb, Eleanore Pettersen, and Read Weber.

It is a little known fact that Wright was one of the few architects who hired women to work in his studio. His work force included at least 25% women. This was unheard of in his day. The film pays tribute to this history.

We've dicovered that you can order this 20-minute documentary film plus its backstory, the symposium discussion and an interview with Lois Gottlieb, a Wright Fellow at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Small Homes. Big Deal.

A change in the building code in 2005 has allowed Los Angeles architects and builders to expand housing for first time buyers and middle income families. The new code allows builders to divide small parcels of land to create grouped small houses. They differ from large condominiums, because individuals separately own their homes. Buyers must agree to adhere to certain restrictions, such as not altering the exterior, or painting the facade a different color. These small lot subdivisions promise increasing density without creating large, anonymous complexes. We think it is a smart idea. The Architect's Newsletter has the fuller story.