Tuesday, September 19, 2017

'Ideal View'? Look again...

This Cambridge curiosity epitomizes the era when the marketing of real estate was carved right into the building itself, rather than relegated to ancillary signs, banners and billboards à la "If you lived here, you'd be home now" in Boston's Charles River Park. And this one certainly ballyhooed the best reason for living or working here: the 'Ideal View' cast in stone right below the only part of the building that bestowed that privilege—at least when it was built. 

But look at the view now...

....a scrappy construction site on the grounds of what looks like a former school, built low enough to preserve at least part of the sky view, but not a very inspiring architectural view to ogle out the window at each morning—far from ideal. And who knows what "view" the new development will leave future 'Ideal View' occupants with, just as the original developers of the Charlesview couldn't predict when they first built it in 1900, before Kenmore Square was fully developed, when...
View from the Charlesview.
Charlesview (1900, Funk & Wilcox)
...the Charlesview's highest-up residents could see straight through to the sparkling waters of their residence's namesake. Of course, that name became moot when buildings sprang up across the square, which gave air-rights to two of the vilest view-blockers: a billboard and a neon sign. (Yet I'm sure that the Charlesview's penthousers deem the Citgo sign an "ideal view," now that it's a beloved Boston icon.)
Charlesview Condominium (1923, Edward B. Stratton)
Of course, this 'Charlesview,' on Beacon Street in the Back Bay, was more deceptive from the start, as its front-entrance façade's curb appeal couldn't live up to its name; only its uppermost backside tenants could drink in the river as their address conveyed. The frontside ones were stuck with...
Charlesgate Hotel (1891, J. Pickering Putnam)
...the Charlesgate, a handsome hotel to be sure, but not the promised view. Yet still an appetizing one, with a distinguished castle-like presence as a Queen Anne–Romanesque Revival–French Second Empire hybrid with a conical corner-tower, pressed-copper oriels, arched parapets with finials, a rock-faced granite base, and other delights to drink in with your morning coffee.

Hyatt Regency Cambridge (1976, Graham Gund)
Photo by Fletcher6, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The only "Charlesview" totally true to its name is the CharlesView Ballroom atop the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, a symbol of the ballroom's core intent: "Step up to finer viewing pleasure." Its direct view of the river and the Boston skyline exceeds what you expected from its name. An Ideal View, no? Trouble is, it's a great place to visit, but you couldn't ever live there...

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

Monday, September 18, 2017

'Like a shot'

That was the theme of a recent writing exercise in my Wordplay Meetup group. And it left me in a quagmire about how I could possibly take a shot at it in an architectural context. Well, luckily the above image popped up on Google — and transmedia entrepreneur Steve Iles' Twitter take on it (@sjiles8was point-blank: "An amazing photo of Dubai at night. Looks like a shot from Blade Runner."  
And he wasn't kidding. The fog has a way of morphing UAE's main port of entry into the ghostly likeness of Los Angeles 2019 (yikes! Two years away!) as depicted in Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic. Dubai's office-building lights eerily poke through the dark and the fog, signifying the steadfast impact of technology on society and nature (for better or for worse) with a clashing contrast of film noir gloom and high-tech dignity. Like the L.A. foglights in the Blade Runner image above, Burj Khalifa — the world's tallest building as of this writing — shoots up with a light-saber spurt as the iconic signature of the enterprise, standing tall and firm against nature's attempt to supplant human progress by fogging it up.
Photo by Donaldytong, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Built in 2010 from an Islamic-inspired design by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — the architects of two other "world's tallest" candidates, Chicago's Sears (now Willis) Tower and New York's One World Trade Center — Burj Khalifa stands 2,722 feet from base to tip, courtesy of its Y-shaped, triple-buttressed hexagonal core reinforced-concrete structural system that withstands twisting and high winds, in addition to the gradual stacking and layering of its load-bearing capacities in the graduated bundled-tube structure form the Sears/Willis Tower had pioneered in 1973 (see below). Thus Burj Khalifa is well-anchored to the ground by gradually bulking and spreading outward as it gets lower so it is in no danger of toppling, like its top-of-the-world ancestor, the Empire State Building. Yet it uses half of the Empire's amount of steel, thanks to its tubular system, whose layered, stepped, rounded effect gives it an organic quality...

...like the Islamic spiral minaret (here, the Tower of Babel-esque helix of the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq, built in 851) or these stalagmites
in the Choranche Cave near Grenoble, France...

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), 1973, Bruce Graham/SOM
& Fazlur Rahman Khan, Chicago. Photo by Soakologist.
...but less like its primary model, Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), which shoots up like a stacked bundle of skyscrapers (it essentially is; each "tube" is a separate building with its own floor plates and elevator). Yet the squared-off structure of each of the nine tubes stagnates the sense of upward motion that the curves of the Burj Khalifa, the gyre of the Great Mosque and the contours of the stalagmites convey. They all move the eye upward, whereas the Willis seems to shift it from one block to the next, mixing lateral and vertical jarringly. While pioneering the bundled tube structure as a resister of wind and seismic forces and a way to parse office space economically while keeping it ample, the Willis needed a successor to bring its tubular design to a loftier form that made its structure dramatically as well as functionally forceful.

"The Illinois" (1957,
Frank Lloyd Wright)
Burj Khalifa's 2008 opening ceremony.
Photo by Hisham Binsuwaif, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
For the Willis shows its parts too distinctly, which arrests its upward progression in our sight, particularly when it "pauses" at its flat roofs. The rounded layering of the Burj Khalifa, however, makes it appear as more of an organic whole, seeming to shoot up in one fell swoop. This recalls "The Illinois," Frank Lloyd Wright's 1957 conception of a mile-high skyscraper (right) as a protracted pyramid with projecting parapets — likely an inspiration for Burj Khalifa in its straight-up projection...like a shot!
Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Haikutecture II

Old Man of the Mountain (1805-2003), Franconia, New Hampshire.
Composite image by Rob Gallagher.

Old Man of the Mount,
Your decline betoke your state:
Living free, then dead.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959, Frank Lloyd Wright), New York.
Photo by Stevenuccia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Fluid spiral drum
Guides us through continuum
Of evolving art.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959, Frank Lloyd Wright), New York.
Photo by Evan-Amos

Sculpture in the round
Shepherds us from sky to ground
Through an artist's life.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959, Frank Lloyd Wright), New York.
Photo by Alex Proimos, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Freeform nautilus
Through a freespace motions us
By the freehand's craft.

Citigroup Center at 601 Lexington Ave. (1977, Hugh Stubbins & Associates), New York.
Image courtesy of SkyscraperCity.com.

Beacon of bright hope
For high-tech to lift us up
From recession's murk.

Auditorium Theater, Auditorium Building (1889, Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan), Chicago.

Décor, structure, space
All festooned in one huzzah:

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Saturday, September 9, 2017


Engelberg & Hahnen, Switzerland. Photo by Simon Koopmann, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Autumn's auguries
Grow on us by green's demise,
Nip us in cool spurts.

City Hall Annex, Jacksonville, Florida (1960, Reynolds, Smith & Hills).
Photo by
Taber Andrew Bain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Box and line and plane
Beauty make, but only when
They coordinate.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1909, Guy Lowell; 1981, I.M. Pei; 2010, Foster & Partners). 
Image courtesy of Slow Muse by Deborah Barlow.

Arts from 'round the world
Limned by where the entries face:
North, South, East, and West.

Chestnut Hill Waterworks (1887, Arthur H. Vinal; 1898, Wheelwright & Haven).
Photo by Jet Lowe, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Nature, history
In one winsome envelope:

Notre-Dame de Tournai (1140-1700), Tournai, Belgium.

Gothic, heavenbound.
Romanesque, on solid ground.
God, Man reconciled.

PTC Headquarters, Needham, Massachusetts (early 2000s, Tsoi/Kobus & Associates).

Glass, brick, metal, stone
Unify diversity
As a corporate team.

Exchange Place, Boston (1891, Peabody & Stearns; 1985, WZMH).
Photo courtesy of The Next Phase Blog.

Old and new shake hands
In a standoff of the parts
Of postmodernism.

Geppa-ro tea pavillion, Katsura Imperial Villa (17th c.), Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Raphael Azevedo Franca.

Posts, beams, screens, and mats
Fill Japan's core needs, just like
Hara hachi bu. 


One World Trade Center (2013, David Childs), WTC Hub (2016, Santiago Calatrava), New York
Photo by Todd Larson, taken September 11, 2016.

In memoriam,
Crossing-sword geometry
Intertwines the Twins.

The Tudor (1887, S.J.F. Thayer), Beacon Hill, Boston.

Castle in the air,
Bricolage from down below—
What to call this style?

111 Huntington Ave. (2001, CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc.), Boston.
Photo by Larry Strong, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Crown, mandala, shaft
Meld motifs from 'round the world
All in 1-1-1.

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (1979-2013, James Ingo Freed), Hudson Yards, New York.
Photo by Arnold G. Reinhold, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Crystal palace blue,
Building blocks to grow anew
Hudson's dormant yards.

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Anyway, anyhow, anywhere

Photos courtesy of PassivDom Corp.
As a follow-up to my previous post, "Going Mobile," I thought I'd explore the way PassivDom Corp., a Ukranian manufacturer of sustainable solar 3D-printed houses, is truly going mobile with the modular prefab home, to the extent that it captures the spirit of an additional song by The Who: "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere I Choose."
That, says PassivDom, is just how you can live when you place their "first totally autonomous house in the world" anywhere you choose to live in the world, from the Alps to the Andes to the Acadian to the Atlantic to the Arctic (provided, of course, that the land is unowned). Unanchored, untethered and ungrounded, its essence is best expressed in that song:

'Nothing gets in my way, not even locked doors'
PassivDom unlocks the world to you, and its portability lets you go on vacation without leaving home! (No more hotel bills!) Locked doors are a strength, too: a burglary protection system of tempered-glass windows and doors, a stronger-than-steel fiberglass-carbon frame, and a GSM-alarm system that lets you mind your house from your smartphone.

'Don't follow the lines that have been laid before'
The water, sewer, phone, electric and gas lines, that is. This fully solar-powered house takes you off the grid, frees you of utility bills, frees your world of pollutants, yet keeps you warm any- where with 7.33-meter-thick insulated walls and state-of-the-art thermal windows. A water-storage system harnesses rainwater for all your bath and kitchen needs.

'I get along anyway I dare'

Dare to live free? You'll get along, thanks to the house's self-regulating micro-climate system that sets and sustains the right indoor temperature and humidity and controls oxygen and CO2 levels, reducing the carbon footprint and keeping your living space healthy. All operable from your smartphone's magic touch.
You'll also get along in the house's compactness. The sleeper sofa morphs your living room into your bedroom. The handy kitchenette and small bath, with just enough space for off-the-grid gastronomy and daily routines, free up the main space for many uses, showing how big small can be when planned carefully.
Not big enough? The picture-window-wall and the front-deck capacity on the open land expand your space outside, so you and your guests can drink in the scenery at your housewarming, as a reminder: you live in the world, not just at home. Also, the modular design allows expansion into a PassiveDomicile, if you decide to settle down.

Home, sweet home
With the autonomy, flexibility, mobility, self-sufficiency and sustainability of the PassivDom House, your home is your castle and your climate simultaneously. Like a bird nesting in the north and then taking off to re-nest in warmer climes in the winter, this residential novelty freely lets you "go anywhere, for something new" (in The Who's words) in a way that spares you the purchase-and-sale encumbrance and expense a big move mandates. 

Which puts to rest that old chestnut John Howard Payne hammered into our heads for generations in his 1823 song of the above title:
'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Now your humble but hardy home can roam with you—anyway, anyhow, anywhere you choose!
Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Going mobile

Allston and Brighton present such a wildly eclectic hodgepodge of buildings modeled on places with well-established architectural identities—the New York of Commonwealth Avenue, the Oxford of Brighton High School, the Cambridge of Harvard Business School, the Rome of Harvard Stadium, to name a few—that these Boston neighborhoods lack central defining elements, the way brick rowhouses signify Beacon Hill and bay-windowed brownstones characterize the Back Bay. That was why, in my ramblings through Allston and Brighton's architectural admixture as a resident there, well-landscaped mobile homes like this stood out for me. For they capture the core characteristic that has defined these villages for years: transience with potential for permanence.
"Movin' in, movin' out" typifies Allston-Brighton across the generations, as graduate students and greenhorn professionals land pro tem digs there and move on up and out in a few years (as shown by the mountains of couches and whatnot usurping the sidewalks come September). 

Yet this blue dwelling shows how one can homestead with a mobile home: place it on a sizable plot of land and landscape it imaginatively. Thus an ordinary prefab house truly becomes home, giving incentive to stay put, unlike The Who's ideal of the peripatetic "home on wheels" vagabonding hither and yon in their 1971 song "Going Mobile."

Homesteading, indeed—this mobile is a ranch with all the dressing: a rail fence gives the garden a western twang, and topiary balances the ranch-rough with French finesse. Home, home on the range and le jardin de délices—reasons enough not to go mobile from Allston-Brighton.

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Expo in retro

Photo by Guerinf, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Constitution Act unifying Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as the Dominion of Canada in 1867. So Canadians have another reason to sing "O Canada": it's the golden anniversary of Expo 67, the landmark Montréal world's fair that marked Canada's centennial by flaunting futuristic fantasies in a panoply of new architectural forms showing how science and technology can stretch the imagination and ally diverse world cultures in common goals.
Photo by Marc-André Desrosiers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Yet Expo had scant effect on my imagination or aspiration when my parents took me there. All I remember from it are the two exhibits pictured here: Buckminster Fuller's Geodesic Dome (the United States Pavilion) and Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67 community. Perhaps I resented being pulled out of Kindergarten for a week, hence missing my friends and a "Leaves Change Color" Crayola-crayon/construction-paper project my whole class had done while I was away. 

But the Red Maple Leaf was the better choice for me in retrospect. For Expo 67 was my earliest exposure to modern architecture and the ways it can enrich our lifestyles while protecting our natural environment by economizing on building materials and land use. And the Tinkertoy framework of Fuller's "world" and the block-building playfulness of Safdie's "city" did captivate my young imagination more than the other exhibits (which may partially explain why they're virtually all that's left of Expo).

Habitat for humanity

Photo by Xavier Comtois, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo taken in 1967, courtesy of Shawn Nystrand and Wikimedia Commons
Habitat must have recalled the "big blocks," "interlocking blocks" and Lego bricks I loved in Kindergarten. For this Jenga-like hodgepodge of 354 prefab concrete modules fused the spirits of all three. (A Safdie spokeswoman said Lego played "a role in the design—initial models of the project were built using Legos; subsequent iterations were also built with Legos.") 

Photo by Stilfehler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
1035 Park Ave., NYC (1925-26, Henry C. Pelton)
This helter-skelter of bump-outs, cantilevers and shifting block-stacks gave each unit individuality that intended to feel like a house as well as a unit to the resident. This radically challenged my traditional view of the apartment building as a solid, straight-up streetwall of the sort I was living in on Park Avenue in New York City at the time (right). For Habitat was not only more jagged and fragmented—like a basalt rock, an Aztec ruin, or a Mykonos fishing village—but also lighter and loftier in external appearance and internal feel. This made some of its units seem to float in space, Jetsons-style.

Photo by Brian Pirie, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
And I did feel in space-travel mode as I walked its connecting paths, bridges and catwalks, observing how sea and sky views streamed in anywhere I turned, how one family's roof was another one's garden, and how the interlinkage forged a sense of intimate community among the 158 units.
Photo by Stilfehler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Exploring the units themselves as I went along the walkways felt like my Kindergarten games of "Go In and Out the Windows": each unit felt like a logical extension of the next, and all were indelibly interconnected to one another so that one unit's roof was another one's terrace and one unit's floor was another one's awning. This achieved a delicate balance between light and shade, airiness and groundedness, privacy and community—an immaculate reconciliation of opposing yin-yang forces that made the development a cohesive yet individualized "habitat" in the truest sense. Also, the development's clean-lined, smooth-planed modernism fondly reminded me of some of my father's designs. With that I decided I wanted to live in Habitat when I grew up—which was not to be, or ever will be, given how pricey the units have become, according to a report in The Guardian.

Geodesic genius
Photo by Laurent Bélanger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Dluger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The United States Pavilion grabbed most of my attention at Expo, probably because it immediately recalled the Unisphere (right) that had been my strongest memory of the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens, two years prior. In both cases I was awestruck by the way a slender web of crisscrossed steel arcs (right) and a steel honeycomb of hexagons and triangles (above) sculpted majestic globes with space-age auras that appealed to, once again, my fascination with space travel...which would become a virtual reality when my family rode high on the minirail that was transporting us into "the world," as we called it...
...a world of space flight, high-tech, pop-art, op-art, and other funky, folky, chic, cool, hot, hip exhibits of the USA as the world leader of innovation across the universe, kudos to the design daring of Peter Chermayeff and Cambridge Seven Associates and, yes, the engineering ingenuity of Bucky's bubble.

Photo by Guerinf, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Space and structure
Photo by Guerinf, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Those two spectacles of space and structure made all else at Expo pale before my eyes. For the ultramodern of many of the pavilions was bent on showing off the shock of the new and the wave of the future in world architecture, with more style than substance. Others were simply dull, and historical hubris marred the Algerian, Chinese, Egyptian and Maine pavilions.

Photo by Wladyslaw, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
But Moshe's mountains and Buckminster's ball did it differently: they innovated space and form solely from the architectonic sciences and the characteristics of materials: moldable concrete with glass for Habitat, tensile steel trusses with acrylic cells for the Dome. They made more space with less material, preempting sprawl and skyscraper.

Photo by Alex Faris, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This model for both conservation and wise use of natural resources ripened the Geodesic Dome for repurposing as the Biosphere Environment Museum. Fuller's original steel-web shell encases a complex of sustainable buildings, green roofs, and indoor gardens. Designed mainly by Eric Gauthier, they showcase the aquatic ecosystems of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, conserve threatened indigenous plant species by restoring their natural ecosystems, and demonstrate the capacity of planted roofs to mollify heat islands and carbon footprints, muffle sound, increase energy-efficiency and purify water and air. Also in and around the dome's biosphere are exhibits on water conservation, climate change, biodiversity, ecotechnologies, and the type of sustainable building development pioneered by forward-thinking architects like Fuller and Safdie.
Photo courtesy of the Archives of the City of Montréal
So, yes, the sacrifice of an inessential Kindergarten leaf project to witness Canada turn over a new leaf in architecture history was worth it. Habitat and the Geodesic Dome were models for the eco-building we now need more than ever to save the very world that Expo 67 was honoring—socially with global exhibitions, symbolically with the Dome.
Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!