February 25, 2010

Diner Nostalgia

Continuing our review of a mid-January drive across America, we present this Route 66 roadside gem spotted in Springfield, Missouri. "Steak n' Shake: It's a Meal."

A remnant of early fast food culture, the slogan "we protect your health" reveals the degree to which restaurant cleanliness was once a significant concern to Americans.  We should probably all care a little more about our health these days, but honestly, who can turn down triple steakbugers, wisconsin buttery steakburgers (butter + hamburger), cheesy bacon french fries, and double chocolate fudge milk shakes?

Aside from the preserved signage, we especially enjoyed the classic awnings, taking note that the alignment of the red and white stripes strictly matches the notched cutout patterning.

February 24, 2010

February 21, 2010

A Journey to the End of the World

We found ourselves in a strange place, deep within the mysterious Ozark Mountains.  A sacred place which has seemingly shut down for the winter, or perhaps has been abandoned?

This bizarre victorian-brutalist combo appeared to us as a Hollandsian-Hatherlian mash up. Our curiosity had been peaked. We pressed onward. 

 Was this a guard tower, or an observation deck? Or a monument to nature!?  No time to stop and find out. The Towne Centre was quickly approaching.

February 9, 2010

Playing the Game of Architecture

Figure 1. Samuel Goslinsky House by Bernard Maybeck 
"Maybeck bowed to the simple and restrained only in the doorway pediment.  He translated Gothic tracery into wood for one window; capped the plain windows with little eyebrow hoods, tilted and speparated as if he were making a joke on the classical broken pediment; and crowned the peak of the lower roof with a dollhouse-like structure [...]. The result is a delightfully original, playful composition." 
As for Maybeck's influences...
"Maybeck's humourous architectural details may derive not only from his whimsical spirit but also from English sources.  The playfulness in the Red House stairwell that Webb designed for Morris, with its castle-turreted newel posts, may have inspired Maybeck's delightful, sometimes childlike, architectural details.  As Richard Guy Wilson expressed it: 'Red house was fulled with sly jokes ... that have been lost with time. ... Canterbury Pilgrim's porch, murals of Morris and Jane dressed in medieval costume ... the little stage upstars and more.' British architects M. H. Baillie Scott and Edwin Lutyens also enjoyed playing the 'game' of architecture."
Figure 2. view from driveway via Roman Eye on Flickr

(via Freudenheim Leslie M. Building with Nature: Inspiration for the Arts & Crafts Home. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2005.)

February 5, 2010

Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head

Apologies for the lack of posts in January. We'll do out best to make up for it in February.  Our recent d├ętournement-of-sorts to the American Southwest has generated many unexpected surprises - all of which have been well documented, yet are taking a bit of time to make sense of.  In the meantime,  a glimpse into the work of one of last century's most prolific cartoonists, Bernard "Hap" Kliban.

Figure 1. cover illustration, circa 1976*

At first glance, B. Kliban's cartoon drawings look childish and immature.  Decidedly low-brow, in fact.  Although upon further consideration, we come to two important conclusions. 

One: the author (despite presenting work that has the aesthetic of a bored high school student) has managed to get his work published and, in fact, has made a living off of it.  This observation alone is noteworthy for today's struggling architect.  

Two: the value of simple cartoon sketches in presenting a fundamental conceptual/spatial idea should not be underestimated.  All of the following drawings graphically construct a narrative in a universally understood manner.  In doing so, B. Kliban demonstrates the power of graphics in communicating a message to the observer/cultural consumer. 

Figure 2. high-tech failure

A good deal of Kliban's work involves the creation of ironic and paradoxical spatial constructs.  To put it simply, his scenes visually tell a joke.  But what is most compelling about Never Eat... is Kliban's commentary on the "sacredness", or monumentality, of architecture.  Cartoons are used to construct radically "anti"-monumental, or Non-umental spaces.  In fact, his most powerful illustrations are those which have quite visibly let down the people interacting with his creations...a depressed tourist here, a sad looking visitor there: 

Figures 3, 4, 5. Examples of Kliban's anti-climactic architectural monuments, or, "Non-uments." On a side note, his "Nixon Monument" looks strangely similar to a proposed George W. Bush monument.

Perhaps this is how humor is most easily achieved: by creating unexpectedly anti-climactic scenarios.  Kliban was a master at this.  After earning a living by making illustrations for Playboy in the 1960's, he went on to develop a series of images that, in a dystopian manner, full handedly mocked the images broadcast by "playboy".  Via Wikipedia:
The books that followed Cat [Kliban's most popular work] consisted mostly of extremely bizarre cartoons that find their humor in their utter strangeness and unlikeliness. Many of these are cartoons that Kliban drew for Playboy. They often contained dysmorphic drawings of nude figures in extremely unlikely environments, as if to spoof Playboy's own subject matter. Another frequent subject of satire were the type of wordless, step-by-step visual instruction manuals typically found with such things as office furniture. Kliban also had a recurring series of drawings called "Sheer Poetry", in which the page would be split into six panels, containing images of objects whose names, when spoken in the order presented, would form a rhyming, nonsensical verse.
Kliban's satirical take on everything from life's most ordinary moments to the most spectacular events establishes a body of work which is both whimsical and inspired.  What would happen if Kliban's illustrations were to be adopted as a set of instructions for the construction of a series of monuments to the his legacy? Would onlookers laugh? Or would they denounce the constructs as deviant appendages to the city?  Let's be honest: the health and welfare of the public would certainly be at risk with many of Kliban's ideas. 

Figures 6, 7. Radically experimental architecture juxtaposed within the ordinary city.

The ultimate question emerging in Kliban's architectural cartoons is this: will the legacy of radical architecture be confined to print media; remaining forever unbuilt?  How does the experimental artist-architect (conjuring up visions of rubber towers, "world's largest" monuments, and wobbly clown aesthetics) make a living?  Kliban did it by working for the institution, then mocking the institution.  Perhaps such low-brow, critically un-acclaimed ideas only come into being through rebellious acts of deviance by otherwise respected professionals?  An architecture of secretive and subversive conjectures.

*All images in this post have come from: Kliban, Bernard. Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head & Other Drawings. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1976.