March 26, 2010

Slide the Slides for Free!

Chester Park was a late 19th century/early 20th century amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It featured a variety of spectacles ranging from a large man-made watering hole, horse racing tracks, and large victorian pavilions. Pictured below is a miniature railroad uncomfortably packed with eager pleasure-seekers.  Circling a large lake, the mini-train would pass by a replica of the Statue of Liberty (note its un-oxidized copper hue color). Ironically the park closed due to an unpaid water bill, and is now the site of the city's public water department (sadly, the miniature train no longer exists).

One of the most quirky attractions, pictured below, was a rather squat cylindrical building with a comparatively small stick-framed windmill attached purely for decorative pleasure.  Wrapping around this curious building was a two-story metal slide. The purpose of the building - aside from being an elaborate armature for a playground slide - is unclear.  

March 24, 2010

Going Gaga for Google

Google's recent announcement to install fiber optic cable systems in at least one American city has unexpectedly unleashed a firestorm of creativity from want-to-be towns of the future.  An entertaining 4 minute news segment from NPR reveals that aside from Topeka, Kanasas' name change to Google, Kansas, many other cities are desperately trying to get Google's attention.  From mock press conferences, to ridiculous publicity stunts, to catchy jingles, to parades; you name it, they've done it.

Quite frankly, we're envious of all the fun everyone else is having.  In response, we've devised our own plan (unofficially on behalf of Branson, Missouri. Their Chamber of Commerce can thank us later). Why Branson? Why not!? Architectural spectacles seem to be at home in Branson. A new city hall building will quite literally put them on the map.

It turns out, designing a Google-themed architectural monument is quite easy, as Google has already done much of the work for us.  First, our building is selected from a variety of pre-established templates.  The classic red map pin icon will do just fine for our project...

Next, we perform a simple Google Maps search for Branson, Missouri which effortlessly provides us what appears to be the towne centre.  Just like that, in 0.25 seconds, we have generated the site for Branson's new administrative headquarters.

And voilĂ , our building magically appears! It looks beautiful :) 

Branson's City Hall will have a commanding presence over the city below: a powerfully iconic building amidst one of America's greatest collections of iconic buildings.

Surrounded by the vast range of Ozarkian Mountains, only one question remains...when will the fiber optic cables be installed???

March 22, 2010

Mission San Xavier

The Mission San Xavier (c. 1797) is a fascinating place brimming with mystique and sacredness. Here, on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, water magically appears from the ground, a bizarre sight made bizarre-er while considering the geography of the water-starved American Southwest.  This Missonary was conceived by Jesuit outcasts from the Spanish Empire, yet was both constructed and attacked by native tribes, existing today as a case study in America's awkward multicultural history. (Appropriately, the Moorish style of Mission San Xavier is a mash-up of Islamic and Greco-Roman cultures.) Adding to our fascination of this place is the fact that no record of the building's architects and artisans exists.

Set in the middle of an empty desert-like landscape the building presented itself to bewildered roadtrip tourists with exceedingly too much to say.  So there we stood, gawking in stunned silence while sheepishly snapping digital photos of a place we knew we would never fully understand. Aside from the incredible story of this mission, what was most compelling to us was the combo of whimsical exteriors and mysteriously playful interiors.  Alas, some photos from Mission San Xavier...

Oversized curvaceous buttresses paired with a balcony containing a miniaturized colonnade exhibited decidedly post-modern characteristics.

Color on the exterior was limited to bright red decorative motifs above small punched openings in the facade.

The main entry was painted in an unexpectedly dazzling color scheme: something between M.C. Escher and Magic Eye Posters (a world-wide stereogram craze from the 1990's). 

Hallways were snugly fitted to the human figure, existing as secret passages bisecting the Mission's maze of rooms and levels. 

To our disappointment, the National Parks Service's HABS/HAER Program apparently beat us to the chase, discovering (and fully documenting) this building 70 years before we did.

An undeniably over-scaled gateway into an adjacent courtyard space on the Mission grounds left us feeling satisfied, yet somehow desperately wanting more.

March 20, 2010

The Ugly Ducking, Part II

The Ugly Duckling is a children's fairy tale written in 1844 by Hans Christian Andersen. The story is about being ostracized for (disagreeable) looks. It traces the life of a duck who, after spending years desperately trying to fit in, becomes suicidal.  One day while attempting to drown himself, the duck is attracted to his own surprisingly handsome reflection; an image not of a beautiful swan.  At its best, The Ugly Duckling is a story of transformation, revealing both the extreme hardships and joys of life. Yet, at it's worst, Ugly is a commentry on the shallowness of "image".  After all, the duckling never really did transcend his inability to cope with the world as an aesthetically unpleasing creature.  He simply evolved over time into a more socially beloved image.  Rather than teaching me to empathize with those less fortunate than me, Hans Christian Andersen has taught me that we all must all look appropriate to fit in with society.  

These themes play out in architecture just as much as they do in our lives.  The politics of taste are most prevalent in historic districts where everyone from preservationists to urban design review boards to gentrifiers and gentrifiees (?) have an opinion regarding the modernization of the city.  The Ugly Duckling suggests that over time, the ugliest object can transform into an object of desire.  This can occur either by retrofitting an "ugly" building to conform to "beautiful" buildings, or by being absorbed into the mainstream consciousness as a symbol of civic identity: something that was once ugly is now pricelessly iconic.  

We introduced this architectural version of the ugly duckling as a widly painted brutalist building juxtaposed with a traditional victorian home.  It attempts to fit in, while pretending to be something it is not. To take this idea one step further, I dreamt up a few variations on a vacation home. 

Figure 1. Pop-Brutalism. Here, a castle-like CMU block bunker retreat is covered in what can only be described as dazzle paint. Further detailing around the lone window suggests this otherwise serious building has a very loving owner. 

Figure 2. Floodplain Steamboat Gothic. An awkward building at best, this squat, yet top-heavy building dares floodwater to take it on with an aggressive saw tooth skirt.

Figure 3. Neo-Green challenges the idea of a green building by employing a sophisticated array of symbolically earthly ornamentation. From the stylized bushes atop a gable roof (the new green roof), to the fake ivy attached to a flower-patterned exterior wall paper, to the solar panel picket fence siding, this cottage screams, "I am mean and I am green."

All three of these curiously bizarre case studies empathize with the Ugly Duckling character. If built, they would surely never fit in with the other neighborhood homes. Would these obscure buildings eventually be embraced by the homeowner, the real estate agent, and the critic? Would their story have a fairy tale happy ending??

March 18, 2010

Postcards From the Future

A bit of nostalgic modernism from nearly fifty years ago to cheer up your day.

Figure 1. Executive Park Hotel; Atlanta, Georgia: here the power and authority of modernism leaves man feeling tiny, out of place, and desperate for a way out.

Figure 2. New York World's Fair, circa 1964: "The Equitable Pavilion, a contemporary open strecture located on the Pool of Inndustry, houses the famous Equitable Demograph, a 45-foot electronically controlled map of the United States. See for yourself America's growing population brought to life right before your eyes!"

Figure 3. A lake-side cottage for the future: Take note of the multi-colored speckled doorways. Also, tire tracks from vehicular travel to the motel have been painted into the scene.

March 16, 2010

Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari, New Mexico is an isolated little town in the American Southwest.  For this very reason, it serves as a source of fresh design inspiration.  Its homes are wonderfully customized with aesthetic camouflage which, at its best, is both witty and relevant to the landscape of the American Southwest.
Figure 1. Electric blue trim on a simple cottage: subtly devious decorative tactics. 

Figure 2. Experimental use of wood lattice in a desert setting. Here not only are thirsty plants enticed to climb around the entry, the lattice material appears in a more sculptural form along a decorative fence in the owner's front yard. Perhaps this represents the desire of a desert dweller to see vegetation. 

Figure 3. Take note of the decorative lace-patterned iron shutters, which are forced to turn the corner when a double-double hung window was accidentally located too close to an inside corner.

La Cita is what we travelled to Tucumcari for. We learned that this iconic entryway to a local hispanic diner had changed paint schemes multiple times over the past decades. It currently features Mauricio the "taco kid" smoking while a blank cartoon speech bubble floats over his head. Talk about suspense. What is he going to say!? More photos from this Route 66 landmark on Flickr.

March 14, 2010

Scenes From Route 66

Sadly, I am still attempting to post a batch of photos from a road trip taken roughly two months ago.  This series of images from the heart of Historic Route 66 is about the point in our 4,000 mile journey where we realized we had made a terrible mistake.  Our journey along Route 66 a federally decommissioned highway was steering us into a dissolving landscape of tumbleweeds and absentee consumerism. 

Here, an ordinary Cadillac has been elevated to new heights, transformed into an extra-ordinary symbol of Route 66's auto-culture. We appreciated the effort that went into structurally supporting an automobile three stories into the air, although concluded that a car-shaped cut out would have conveyed exactly the same message. 

The heritage industry strikes again. Consumers of nostalgia along Route 66 surely can't pass up this gem: a lovingly restored Conoco gas station from Route 66's heyday.  We especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of a pleasingly miniature one room building parasitically attached to an underwhelmingly simple warehouse. An admittedly bizarre and unexpected sight. 

A rather prestigious ice cream shack with strangely victorian overtones.

Here a crumbling facade of brick and faux-wood shingled roof were slowly giving way to a sun-faded metal clad warehouse.  Reminded us of BEST's Indeterminate Facade Building circa 1974.

Following official "Historic Route 66" signs led us to what could only be described as the end of the world. A disintegrating one-lane road traversing through lonely fields and abandoned farms.  The setting winter sun added to the mystique of our ill advised decision-making.  

Shortly after these photos were taken, we abandoned our initial plans of following Route 66 to California. A split-second decision had us heading south towards Mexico, in search of trouble and excitement.

Some Books and Other Things

Fantastic Journal's focus on the architect's bookcase has gone viral.  In a shameless attempt to piggy back off of FJ's popularity, I present a bookshelf from my apartment.  Most prominently, you'll find a few Robert Venturi classics including copies of Mother's House and Complexity and Contribution.

Looking closer, you'll find a pair of outdated "2006" glasses from New York City's 2006 New Year's Eve, multiple decorative ceramic roosters, and perhaps the creepiest drawing ever created (purchased in Roswell, New Mexico). I am also particularly fond of my coffee table, pieced together from various bits of IKEA components.

March 4, 2010

House Keys

Figure 1. Electric Blue colo(u)red Elemental House Key (proudly displayed on N_O_R_T_O_N's key chain).

Figure 2. House Key Graphic via National Bankruptcy Forum

Figure 3. Variation on the prototypical "house key"

Figure 4. Fantastic House Key by London designer Andrew Nye