April 29, 2012

The Instant City

The citizens of Farmville hated their life. They lived in such an awful, low quality, orthogonal environment.

They desperately wanted to escape, but were terrified to leave their home. Google Earth was all they knew of the outside world...

Nevertheless, a group of punk outcasts banded together to plan what would be their new home away from home: a spectacular utopian dream place. They called themselves the Farmville Five.

They collectively drew the plan of their new city in a remarkable twenty three seconds. It didn't take long, but they all agreed it was a timeless and monumental design. They dubbed this radical vision the Instant City dreamed of its geometrical purity in the most romantic of ways.

With new web-site cities popping up everywhere, the group decided to make their city as fast as possible. But alas! In the chaos and hastiness to make their dreams come true, they built the city from a low quality copy of their original plans.

They caught the mistake, but it was too late. Someone had saved their Instant City for Web & Devices in Photoshop, as a Low (0) Quality JPEG. It was to too late. The City was already rendering, ever so slowly. 

The geometrical purity and crispness of their plan was decimated by the beeps and boops of three story tall pixels in the most disorienting of manners. It was cold and eerily quiet, as the Farmville Five decided to sleep under the stars, in the streets of their hastily made Instant City.

The sun rose the next morning. The buildings of the Instant City were still rendering, but now their disturbed massing was more evident: ten-story behemoths articulated with potholes, wavy depressions, and a relentless - almost maddening - softness. The crispness of Farmville was nowhere to be found.

Curiosity filled the streets as the mistake-ridden plan was cautiously explored. Never before had the preciseness of the computer yielded such unpredictable results... 

It was a strange and terrifying place. Buildings shook and shuttered in the wind, which came whipping down along massive boulevards. This spatialization of pixels had never been seen on such a massive scale before. 

One of the Farmville Five was found disoriented atop one of the highest buildings, occupying a rather unruly pixel. He was quiet and contemplative, and seemed disturbingly at home among the bloopers.

Some of the Others had began setting up furniture and claiming territory in the newly discovered landscape. The Instant City was coming alive in the most unplanned of ways.

The outskirts of the Instant City were a mess. Nothing was planned. To make matters worse, the landscape was full of hasily defined Grasshopper scripts and Google Sketchup components. These follies appeared as quickly as the vanished, however, until one accidentally became baked into the infrastructure of the city.

These fringe areas of the City were a maze of complexity, stripped of the borrowed nostalgia the Farmville Five had grown accustomed to. Oh, how to escape from this uselessness!!??

They made their way back to the VRay Core, where the City was at its most spectacular.

Here, the buildings were still empty, but full of energy. Hastily made skins of steel and glass all generated from a 23 second Sharpie marker line sketch. Just as new cars have their distinctive "new car smell," the buildings of the Instant City smelled of iPhone and document scanning apps, Rhinoceros commands (especially Heightfield from Image & Contouring), Grasshopper Piping definitions, Google Sketchup Warehouse components (21st century readymades), and default VRay Materials...a very plastic-y smell.

Farmville seemed endlessly far away and the group was homesick...

...and lost amidst the ruins of the future.

April 7, 2012

America's Pastime and the New Romanticism

The architecture of America's Pastime is riddled with emblems of nostalgia and patriotism: a construct of contemporary romanticism.

Beginning in the early-ninties, epitomized by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a radical wave of New Urbanist NeO-rEtRoIsM shook the crumbling concrete foundations of heoric, all-in-one 70's avant garde sports arenas. New-Old buildings were the hottest thing since Old-Old buildings.

The multi-purpose "all-in-one" arena of the 1970's: ballpark as heroic object independent from the City. (source
Neo-Retro Contextualism of the 1990's: ballpark as well-mannered piece of the City. (source)
When Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened on April 6, 1992, a new era of Major League Baseball began. The park was brand new, but still old-fashioned. State-of-the-art, yet quaint. At less than a day old, it was already a classic. 
Oriole Park at Camden Yards inspired a generation of ballpark construction. No longer would communities across America build multipurpose stadiums devoid of character, surrounded by vast parking lots. Ballparks would now be created to nestle neatly into existing and historic neighborhoods and play key roles in the revitalization of urban America.
The bastardization of this movement occurred roughly one decade later (March 31, 2003) when the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio was completed. Criticism of the stadium began at its conception, often focusing on the further dissolution of the idea of the ballpark as a heroic, structurally rigorous object of authenticity:

Overlay of Entertainment onto the Neo-Retro ballpark, circa 2000's (source)
"They made a neutral space and then they filled it with diversions."
"a theme park with a bad structure,"
"There is no logic to the way the structural system was developed."
"The building lacks a singular spirit. It's a restaurant and it's this plaza, and then the field and the billboards. It felt like we were in eight different places."
"There is nothing well composed about it. They didn't even do a good job of place-making, which is one of the most basic urban design concepts."
"It looks to me like there were 20 people saying: `I need a smokestack. I need double-hung windows because it reminds me of Crosley Field.'"
Desperation, due to chronically low attendance numbers (see Here and Here), has yielded an even more spectacular result in Miami, home of the re-branded Marlins. Their recently (2012) completed stadium features two signature aquariums behind home plate, constructed of 1-1/2" thick bullet proof acrylic to ensure no foul ball "accidents." The result yields a new vision of the contemporary ballpark, camouflaged as an entertainment-saturated theme park spectacle: A collision of Disney and SeaWorld; Vegas and Cooperstown.  

At some point in history, America's pastime offered an escape from reality, providing entertainment and pleasure to the masses. Inherent in this new 21st century evolution of stadia, however repulsive to the discriminating eyes of architects, lies an incredibly redeeming quality. Entertainment has somehow extended beyond the capacity of the game, and into the core of the building. Carlos Rojas of Cincinnati-based Environ Group puts it like this:
"The things we have criticized will make those slow innings go by a little faster.  There's a lot of visual excitement; it's like going to Barnum & Bailey's circus ... The magic happens once you get in your seat." 
In this manner, the romanticized notion of "America's Pastime" has become overrun by an even more romantic idea of the ballpark as a palace of visual excitement: a magical, re-imagined circus.

April 4, 2012

Help Kickstart the Hefner-Bueys House

Chicago-based Jimenez Lai, up-and-coming architect of the fantastic and spectacular, is performing a house in a London storefront. For several weeks, Lai will live in a "super-furniture" (a house that is just a bit too small) inside the London gallery.  They are going to Youtube it. He is attempting to Kickstart the project, and there are some very unique, collectible artworks being offered in return for help...


"The Hefner/Beuys House by Jimenez Lai is a cartoonish architectural installation that extends its story into the realm of performance art. Citing two predecessors of performance artists, Joseph Beuys and Hugh Hefner, this project also asks - who is the real extrovert between the two? Hefner may be the obvious answer, but Beuys relocated himself out of his context to a stage-like environment whereas Hefner simply stayed in his mansion."

Please visit The Architecture Foundation for more details

"This installation is a Super Furniture. It is a building that is slightly too small, and a furniture that is kind of too big. Two of the past project that are a part of the Super-Furniture Series include the Briefcase House and White Elephant (Privately Soft). The previous iterations of this series has been widely covered, published and discussed, including BLDGBLOG, ArchDaily, archinect, EvoloArchitizer, etc. In addition, the transformation of the practice from comics to installation can be witnessed in a very early coverage by archinect in 2006."