Monday, July 27, 2009

One Step Backward for Design and Architecture

Declared unacceptable: A huge yellow sign spelling out “United States”
on the Canada-facing facade of the new border station in Massena, N.Y.,
is being dismantled because of security concerns.

The US Customs and Border Protection agency is removing the yellow text from the border crossing between Canada and the USA. The belief is that the prominence of the words creates a security risk, as if terrorists won't know there is a US border crossing there if they remove the text.

This disconnect between architecture and reason is painful. The effort to upgrade the dismal government architecture of the past decades has required effort and pressure from the design community. The move by the border patrol sets things back significantly. This article in the New York Times puts things in context.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Control Fate with Witchcraft

Christoph Neimann, illustrator, graphic artist and man-who-sews, provides a sweet treat in the NYT today. We think he has an utterly delightful take on life, on the childish superstitions that we teach ourselves, and our own stories about our triumphs over luck, love and life. We're inspired.

Neimann's blog is here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Art Embedded in Architecture : The Future of Art?

Detail, Barry Anderson AtA award winning installation,
Kansas City, NCDFS Building

Kansas City's American Institute of Architecture (AIA) had a great idea and then did it: Art Through Architecture (AtA). New architectural projects may achieve Gold, Silver or Bronze levels of Art Achievement by dedicating a percentage of the construction budget to collecting artworks, commissioning temporary or permanent artworks, and/or including artists on design teams.

Recently the National Center for Drug Free Sport (NCDFS ) has been awarded highest level "Art Achievement" by Art through Architecture (AtA) for commissioning a new, site-specific video installation by Kansas City based artist Barry Anderson as part of a recent architectural renovation project completed by el dorado ,inc. architects. Said Project Architect, Josh Shelton:
"Anderson's video installation introduces an ambient and shifting horizon line, allowing multiple perspectives and vanishing points to appear and re-appear. His work, and our collaborative dialogue surrounding the work, was necessarily spatial. As a result, our team began to understand the new architecture surrounding us in expansive ways."
As the technology grows increasingly sophisticated, we are seeing video installations become embedded in architecture. There seems to be a sweeping trend developing. We will have to wait and see if it has the long-term life of physical art done with the hand or whether it is a passing fad. As few seem to "draw" architecture any more---buildings being designed almost exclusively on computers---it seems part of the zeitgeist that the art in buildings is no longer "drawn" either.

Bill Viola Commissioned by St. Paul's Cathederal, London

Bill Viola, Ocean Without a Shore, 2007, 3-channel High Definition
video/sound installation.Installation view by Thierry Bal.
Photography Kira Perov. Copyright Bill Viola and Kira Perov 2009.
Courtesy the artist and Haunch of Venison.

Video seems to be in the news stream today. But this news makes you go, "Well, of course. Who but Viola could pull this one off." Internationally acclaimed artist Bill Viola has been commissioned to create two altarpieces for permanent display in St Paul’s Cathedral. The project will commence production in mid 2009 with completion in early 2011.

Viola is an esteemed video artist, having created imaginative and ground-breaking video installations for over 35 years. The St. Paul's commission is to depict two themes, Mary and Martyrs. Says Viola:
“The two themes of Mary and Martyrs symbolize some of the profound mysteries of human existence. One is concerned with birth and the other with death; one with comfort and creation, the other with suffering and sacrifice. If I am successful, the final pieces will function both as aesthetic objects of contemporary art and as practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion.”
Viola manages to grasp and relate issues that illuminate the mind and heart in a way that is beyond words. His moving exhibits remind us of our humanity in all its fullness from grief to exhilaration and joy. First one to London in 2011, please, send word.

From Hell to Heaven courtesy of video artist Marco Brambilla

Marco Brambilla has installed an astonishing hi-def video in the elevators at The Standard hotel in NYC. Here is a video of the installation followed by an interview with Brambrilla. The work was accomplished in Crush software, the leading-edge in video compiling.

As guests rise in the elevator they travel from hell (the street level), and then closer and closer to heaven (the penthouse?) When descending in the elevator the video is reversed, from heaven to hell! The hedonistic nature of it all is pretty sweeping.

Bye, Bye Birdy. Climate Change Pushes Migratory Birds North.

We recommend this article in Bloomberg press reflecting the impending effects of climate change on birds. A relevant comment by Mike Di Paola, the article's correspondent:

"My first reaction to the findings was, so what? It doesn’t necessarily mean that migratory ranges are shrinking or that bird numbers are dwindling. What we are witnessing, however, is symptomatic of much bigger problems.

The birds are reacting to global changes that ecologists believe presage chaos at the ecosystem level. A warmer climate will alter vegetation, the availability of prey and a thousand other habitat features too complicated to predict.

“Because species respond individually and in very complex ways, we expect that ecological communities will start to tear apart,” says Burger. “This is one of the things we’re worried about.”

Repeat: "...we expect the ecological communities will start to tear apart." This is a very profound issue.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Extreme Showdown

"You've pulled some leftover mac n' cheese out from the refrigerator, glance over at your counter, and see a microwave and a toaster oven. Which do you toss your plate of mac into, if you're looking to be the most sustainable?"
The Answer.

Julius Shulman : A Timely Exhibition

Pittsburgh, PA: Mark your calendar. The Carnegie Museum of Art has announced the exhibition "Palm Springs Modern: Photographs by the late Julius Shulman." The show opens 19 September and closes 31 January. The exhibition, to be held at the Heinz Architecture Center, offers a tour of the mid-century architecture and lifestyles of Palm Springs.

The exhibition features 100 original photographs by renowned Los Angeles–based photographer Julius Shulman of houses designed by iconic Modernist architects, such as Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and John Lautner. Also presented are 20 original drawings, and renderings of three key projects by Neutra, including the famed Kaufmann House, designed as a winter residence for Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr.

Palm Springs is almost unique in America. For decades it served as a stylish laboratory for architects whose buildings are now being reexamined. The fame of Palm Springs is due in large part to the iconic photography of Shulman's striking and evocative images.

Essential equipment!

One weird leap for design. For the farm, kitchen, executive office, condo, kids room? This invites your imagination. Right here, honest. I'm sure Design Within Reach (DWR) is on top of this.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite November 4, 1916 - July 17, 2009

And that's the way it is Friday, July 17, 2009. Walter Cronkite, known as the most trusted man in America. Rest in peace.

Thom Mayne Guest DJs!.

Two Toms: KCRW's Tom Schnabel with Thom Mayne
Radio station KCRW's "Guest DJ Project" asks cultural notables to discuss music. In this episode Morphosis' Thom Mayne offers five tracks that have inspired him over the years. We love this idea, and KCRW, which we tune into on iTunes radio.

Photographer Julius Shulman Dies

Above are two of the most famous photographs in archives of architecture. Both were shot by the photographer, Julius Shulman. Shulman, the legendary architectural photographer, died July 15th at the seasoned age of 98. His images brought fame to a number of mid-20th century Modernist architects and made him a household name in his time.

His home town of Los Angeles provides this obituary. It includes a video of Shulman and a collection of his photographs plus a Q&A with him done in 1994. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mental Health Break

Director Claude Lelouch mounted a camera to the front bumper of a sports car, and films it howling through the streets of Paris very early one summer's morning. The film, just nine minutes long, certainly demonstrates his exemplary car control at speeds calculated to be as high as 135mph as he races for his rendezvous with a mystery blonde.

It is an astonishing sequence, filmed in one take as Lelouch runs red lights, mounts curbs, drifts round tight corners, and narrowly avoids pedestrians and will certainly have you on the edge of your seat, if not hiding behind it.
Lelouch, was arrested after the release of the film.

Toyo Ito's New Stadium in Kaihsiung, Taiwan

The New York Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff reviews the Toyo Ito's new stadium that will serve as the World Games 2009 main stadium. Ouroussoff always gives us a perspective on architecture and design that is rich and illuminating.

Like many who came to prominence in the past decade or so, these architects have sought to create structures that explore the psychological extremes that late Modernism and postmodernism ignored. Their aim was to expand architecture’s emotional possibilities and, in doing so, to make room for a wider range of human experience.

Mr. Ito’s stadium is the next step on that evolutionary chain.

Enjoy the read.

Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio

The late architect Samuel Mockbee and Rural Studio, the design/build program he co-founded in rural Alabama's Hale County, are the focus of the newly released documentary Snakebit. The 60-minute film, produced for PBS, explores Mockbee's quest to instill in future architects an ethos of compassion and responsibility, as well as the knowledge and passion to improve their communities' quality of life.

Mockbee was one of the first architects whose designs fully integrated materials from the community into the homes his students built. His concept of sustainability and environment responsibility, the unique use of materials and the ingenious designs remain a guiding light for environmentalists. Here are some slides of the Hale County projects to give you the flavor of the Rural Studio's work.

Snakebit draws on never-before-seen interviews with Mockbee. The film takes place in the year following Mockbee's death from leukemia, the film chronicles the studio's struggle to maintain his guiding spirit and documents its affect on the communities it assists and the students it trains.

Ultimately, say the filmmakers, Snakebit offers a dialogue about what it means to be both a successful professional and a responsible member of society. Snakebit is scheduled to air on PBS stations in fall 2009. You wouldn't want to miss it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

17 Words of Architectural Inspiration

We just caught a TED presentation given by Daniel Libeskind, architect for Ground Zero in New York. Liebeskind shares 17 words that inspire his work. He is rapid fire and radical. Here's the video.

Relief from dog days. Really.

Dog Barn
Heart Box

If green roofs are good for the house, why not the doghouse? Well, maybe. We came across this article in the Los Angeles Times, Home and Garden section today. The article provides instructions for building your own sustainable doghouse with a rooftop garden. This press release we found indicates that even Bo Obama is getting one. His is being donated and uses only reclaimed materials.

The designs above, and Bo's dog house, were created by landscape architect Stephanie Rubin and her partner, sculptor Chris Isner. Their designs for both dog and bird houses and can be found here. The prices for the dog house designs span from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on Fido's size. Not pricey, if you live in the posh Brentwood neighborhood in Los Angeles, where the dog houses are popular, maybe as yard props.

We did wonder if folks have dog houses in the yard anymore. Aren't the dogs all laying on the couch in a nice air conditioned house, with their luxury Whole Foods vegan pet food and Godiva "dog bones"? But, we thought we should pass this news along to help our readers remain on the leading edge of the sustainable pet movement. Thanks to this idea, it may not be so bad anymore for someone who is "in the dog house."We feel certain there's a little beer cooler in there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Bastille Day!

The Rue Monsier with Flags, Édouard Manet, French, Paris, 1878

Qu'est-ce que c'est! Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Neuroscience and Architecture

Area #5 is where the mind gets serious when viewing architecture.

How does the mind see architecture and what predisposes it to like one kind of architecture and not another? Scientists are beginning to explore this aspect of the mind's mysterious workings.

Walter van den Broek (a.k.a "Dr. Shock") is a Dutch psychiatrist blogging and twittering about neuroscience. In a recent blog post he discussed the scientific findings of how the mind views "places," like an architectural project, as opposed to objects, such as faces or furnishings. Although there is little research about this, recent experiments indicate that this visual work is accomplished in the parahippocampal place area (PPA).

The work of this part of the mind is complex and it is also where complexity is managed. Scientists have found out that the activity of the PPA is not diminished by familiarity, is not disturbed by motion passing through the scene and the PPA activity is even greater when viewing novel rather than repeated scenes. And, finally, there is greater activity in this area when the research subjects viewed live complex scenes---such as objects, faces, house elevations---then when they viewed the same kinds of scenes as photographs.

Now this isn't a lot to go on, granted. But there is more to come and science is on the job. There is even a new organization encouraging further research called the The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA). So you could to begin following this research because it is going to be very interesting.

And you thought it was just the mojo of good design that moved the masses. It is probably much more complex and, well, personal.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summering in Paris

If you were in Paris this summer and you wanted to see the famed Mona Lisa painting, this is what you would be up against. So if you are reading this at the economical beach house that you are sharing with only 8 others, smile!

via Sebastian Puig

We've Succumbed

Yeah, yeah, we're just as crass and celebrity oriented as any Michael Jackson gang on earth. But, with good reason. Let us explain. Someone put up a site, inviting anyone to post a video of themselves moonwalking. Thousands have responded and continue to respond from all over the world.

Here's what we liked about it, besides the lovely humanity and the hilarious fun with the moonwalk: there are SO MANY ENVIRONMENTS. It's wild. The spectrum of design and architecture is as endless as its video makers. Take a look at the "Eternal Moonwalk."

Sound Bytes of Life.

Have you listened to your street lately? What lively or subtle sounds emanate around and within the surrounding architecture? Giles Turnbull a British chap who lives in the English countryside, aimed his microphone at London spaces to see what he could hear. This page at the Morning News reveals the results. The recordings represent an archeology of sound.

Wouldn't it be astonishing to be able to hear the sounds of the market, waterways, street life of ancient worlds? We would listen with deep attention. These short snips of sound remind us that we tend to tune-out the details of sound. Turnbull's project encourages us to recall that we can isolate and focus on this realm whenever we please. This simple exercise can heighten the experience of our world.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Birthday David Hockney!

Pearlblossom Hwy. - 1986

"Most photographers think that the rules of perspective are built into the very nature of photography, that it is not possible to change it at all. For me, it was a long process realizing that this does not have to be the case."

"When making his two photocollages of Pearblossom Highway, David Hockney positioned himself closer to or more distant from his subjects, choosing which elements in the scene should be large and which should be small. By reassembling views from multiple perspectives, he applied ideas borrowed from Cubist painting to produce a rich, compound image that he considers "a panoramic assault on Renaissance one-point perspective."

Hockney made this work as a preparatory study for the final version, Pearblossom Hwy., 11 - 18th April 1986, #2, which measures approximately six-and-a-half by nine feet. Aside from scale, the principal differences between the two versions are the distortion of the stop sign in the foreground and the left and right edges of the composition."

Getty Museum

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shanghai Sensation

A thirteen-story building FELL OVER in Shanghai!

Improper construction methods are believed to be the reason the building collapsed in Shanghai, according to a report from the investigation team. The investigation team's report said that workers dug an underground garage on one side of the building while on the other side earth was heaped up to 10 meters high, which was apparently an error in construction, according to a report on, Shanghai's official news website. (Italics added)
Here's a link to terrific hi-res photo series with additional details. Below are the cheerfully pink graphics explaining the event.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Managing Design Abundance / A new slant

The funny thing about waste is that it's all relative to your sense of scarcity.
Illustration: Rodrigo Corral

Chris Anderson's outside the box Wired editorial "Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It's Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity"puts a whole new slant on our thinking.

A few months ago it was time for my kids to choose how to spend the two hours of "screen time" they're allowed on weekends. I suggested Star Wars and gave them a choice: They could watch any of the six movies in hi-def on a huge projection screen with surround sound audio and popcorn. Or they could go on YouTube and watch stop-motion Lego animations of Star Wars scenes created by 9-year-olds. It was no contest--they raced for the computer.

It turns out that my kids, and many like them, aren't really that interested in Star Wars as created by George Lucas. They're more interested in Star Wars as created by their peers, never mind the shaky cameras and fingers in the frame. When I was growing up, there were many clever products designed to extend the Star Wars franchise to kids, from toys to lunch boxes, but as far as I know nobody thought of stop-motion Lego animation created by children.

We think this represents a disinterest in a reality that is packaged and processed, and a return to a yearning for a very modern kind of authenticity. It is such an interesting contrast, because both exist today in a hyper form.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July Salute from Solar Thermal

A picture was worth 24,000 mirrors when eSolar, a company based in Pasadena, Calif., that specializes in solar thermal power, transformed a vast field of heliostats at its Southern California solar farm into a Fourth of July tableau of the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. The New York Times reports.

Mr. Gross, the founder of the tech-incubator Idealab, contends that eSolar can deliver electricity cheaper than natural gas, repeat, cheaper than natural gas, by using sophisticated algorithms to control inexpensive and lightweight mirrors called heliostats. The heliostats create steam that runs turbine engines, that generate electricity. Simple, but true.

hat tip to @pingpants