Saturday, May 31, 2014

Hallway heaven

True, a home's hallway is meant to be walked through, not lived in. But why not make your trek from Point A to Point B pleasurable? 

Placing a diversity of art accents in your entry hall can warm your guests' welcome by introducing them to your artistic tastes, and can prompt you, too, to slow down and taste life's pleasures. 

One's entry experience into this unit hallway at 315 on A in South Boston is enhanced with a rich assortment of artwork, which not only caters to a wide variety of aesthetic tastes, but gives entrants a choice of focal points to look at and reflect on, depending on their current preferences:
  • The hammered-metal vase with erratic branches adds sculptural interest to the corner. The slender legs of the simple stand give center stage to the main attraction, complement the delicacy of the branches, and contrast their curvilinear free-spirit with rectilinear rigidity. 
  •  The right-hand abstract painting enlivens the wall with a sense of stop-and-start motion in the form of mobile lines vs. static squares. This could express both our movement down the hall (paralleling the forward-moving planks of the hardwood floor) and our stopping at various rooms for whatever reason. Also, the rugged grayish brushstrokes jibe with the rough gray concrete of the ceiling to come.
  • The left-hand triptych tells a captivating story for us to pause and ponder, capturing some of the landscape elements of the view through the window at the end.
This display is also a great example of artwork well chosen to complement elements of the living space to follow, as symbols of, or tributes to, the unit's fine residential standards.

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Wrapping a lively wallcovering around one corner of a unit's "great room" or a condo's common lounge can do many wonders to the space. In this lounge at 315 on A in South Boston, the "city lights" wall treatment both brightens and darkens its surface at the same time, creating a stark contrast that makes its corner a focal point in the room. 

The concealed strip of cove lighting adds another dimension to the tension — especially at night, when the real city lights outside the window-walls complement the covering. The make-up lighting surrounding the mirror of the powder room inside is another complement, deepening the light-dark effect into a third dimension of space.

And yes, the wallcovering clearly defines the space inside its walls as a separate entity. This not only clarifies to guests where the bathroom is, but it also gives it the colorful dignity such a haven of privacy is often denied. This treatment also animates this corner of walls with the theme of "city life" that 315 on A is redefining, as a pivotal development in the growth of the Seaport District as Boston's new urban center.

And look at how the wallcovering, when wrapped around all of the powder-room walls, establishes continuity and transparency between the "private function" of the lounge and the public area of the hall. Its transcendence across the realms invites residents to come on in and get a piece of the action through the welcoming glass door. 

This is how a wall treatment can be a wayfinder from space to space: it signifies its main room in the hallway that connects to it, so that the corridor is no longer the lost-my-way labyrinth it is in most hotels or the protector of privacy it is in most apartment buildings.

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Mix-and-match modernism

Your sun-bathed, bare-walled, clean-lined, molding-free new unit may excite you as a tabula rasa for starting fresh with your city lifestyle, but, as Robert Venturi cautioned, "less is more" could turn into "less is a bore" unless you fill those voids creatively.

This living room in South Boston's Macallen Building demonstrates how diversity of choice in color, texture and material can energize a start-from-scratch space with the tension of contrasts. The fiery red plastic chairs clash vigorously with just about everything around them — the soft wood-grain closet and wet-bar doors, the muted orange walls, the hardwood floor, the somber dark-gray davenport, even their own yellow-white chamois cushions — all of which diversify the space enough to start the conversation on an upbeat note.

Nor does modern design need the "International Style" uniformity that spurns history. Here, the contemporary curves of ergonomic "plastics" counterpoint the traditional formality of highback Windsors. This cross-cultural tension brings out each chair-pair's unique qualities.

The stylistic face-off is neutralized by the transparent tables, which emphasize and encourage cultural (and social) interconnection across space. A throw-rug of concentric yellow and white rectangles, compatible with the clean-lined modernism of the room, the crazy-quilt colonialism of the Windsors and the bold, bright color-pop of the plastics, unifies all diverse elements into one satisfying composition.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Spaceflight in Seattle

Photo by Jordon Kalilich, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The dream of going up in a flying saucer and gazing down at Earth below was no doubt your flight of fancy at some point in your younger years. Well, you can make your dream come partially true by taking a trip up the Space Needle to its saucer-like tophouse, where you’ll feel like you’re floating above the Seattle skyline, Lake Washington, Puget Sound, Elliott Bay, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker as you enjoy Pacific Northwest cuisine in the rotating SkyCity Restaurant or walk around the observation deck. Built as the landmark tower of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, this Jetsons-style skyscraper stands as a symbol of the futuristic visions of progress in science, technology, transportation and space travel that dominated the thoughts of the times, hence the exhibitions of the fair. Standing 605 feet from base to pinnacle, it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River when completed in December 1961. It attracted 20,000 people per day for a total of 2.3 million visitors during the World’s Fair, a.k.a. the Century 21 Exposition, which ran from April 21 to October 21, 1962.

The Space Needle had humble beginnings in 1959 on a coffeehouse placemat, where Edward E. Carlson, president of Western Interna- tional Hotels, sketched his vision of the World’s Fair’s signature structure, inspired by Germany’s Stuttgart Tower and Paris’s Eiffel Tower. Carlson initially conceived the building as a tethered balloon and then a balloon-topped, cable-anchored column. Architects John Graham and Victor Steinbrueck morphed it into a saucer perched on an hourglass-shaped spindle-shaft.

Space Needle under construction, 1961. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives.
To stabilize such a slender, top-heavy structure against earthquakes, this $4.5 million undertaking required a 30-foot-deep, 120-foot-wide foundation, which 467 cement trucks took a whole day to fill in the largest continuous concrete pour in western American history. 

Bolted in place with seventy-two 30-foot-long bolts, the Space Needle endures winds of up to 200 mph and tremors below 9 on the Richter scale. 

Photo by Ikiwaner, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This ensures you safe flights in its 500-foot- high saucer-restaurant and on its three elevators, which travel 10 mph, or 14 feet per second and 800 feet per minute, the speed of a raindrop falling to earth. Which lets you observe raindrops as they fall, or watch snowflakes “fall up,” as you go down. 

Photo by Seanutbutter, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
For the technology-hesitant, the heart-healthy and the marathon-training, a spiral flight of 848 steps ascends all the way from the basement past the gift shop to the SkyCity Restaurant. But if you get bushed on the way up, a new two-story glass-enclosed Pavilion Level and Banquet Facility provides a handy resting place.

Photo by Chris Yunker, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The 520-foot-high observation deck alone is worth the spaceflight. Nowhere else can you spot so many of Seattle’s premier attractions: the 967-foot Columbia Center (the Pacific Northwest’s tallest building) ... the 770-foot Washington Mutual Tower (Seattle’s second tallest) ... the 489-foot Smith Tower (Seattle’s oldest skyscraper, built 1914) ... the Seattle 
SkyCity Restaurant. Photo by Hey Paul, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Mariners’ Safeco Park ... the Seattle Seahawks’ Quest Field ... the University of Washington ... the world headquarters of ... Pike Place Market, where Starbucks Coffee was founded in 1971 ... Lake Washington ... Puget Sound ... Elliott Bay ... the Olympic and Cascade Mountains ... Mount Rainier ...  Mount Baker ... ad infinitum.

Photo by Jeffery Hayes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
When it's time to return to earth, there’s plenty to do down below. The fairgrounds are now Seattle Center, where you can enjoy a play at the Center House, the Seattle Opera at McCaw Hall, an IMAX movie or laser-light show at the Pacific Science Center, a Seattle Storm basketball game at KeyArena, high-school football or
Photo by Nova77, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
soccer at Memorial Stadium, a ride into town on the fair’s original Monorail, a roller-coaster ride at Fun Forest amusement park, a breathtaking water spectacle from the International Fountain, the annual Bumbershoot and Winterfest cultural festivals, ad infinitum. So climb aboard the Seattle Space Needle for the trip of a lifetime through space — outer, inner, and in-between.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chicago's original skyscraper

Photo by Afries52, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
As Chicago's skyscrapers rose from the ashes of its Great Fire of 1871, its castle-like Water Tower stood firm and erect as a symbolic survivor of the fire-breathing dragon it subdued.  

Yet while visiting the morphing metropolis in 1882, British playwright Oscar Wilde dismissed this fairytale fortress as a “castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it” but praised its internal water-pumping machinery as “simple, grand and natural,” as if alluding to the structural simplicity and sincerity of Chicago’s latest crop of towers.

The Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station in 1886.
Nevertheless, this pepperbox palace of rustic walls and buttresses, crenellated parapets and pillars, Gothic windows and dome-crowned minaret captivates the eye today as a medieval-style monument to fortitude in the face of fire. As America’s second-oldest water tower, this 154-foot limestone edifice was built in 1869 — just in time to turn on the hose when Chicago went aflame — as the principal building of the city’s second Water Works, most of which the Great Fire destroyed. 

From the 1869 Annual Report of the Board of Public Works.
Designed by William W. Boyington and built in fireproof Lemont limestone quarried in Joliet, Illinois, the Water Tower was intended to house a 138-foot standpipe measuring 3 feet in diameter to equalize the pressure of the water that went through the pumping station, for efficient firefighting throughout the city. 

A two-mile tunnel system, hailed worldwide as an engineering marvel when completed in 1867, supplied the tower’s water from Lake Michigan.

Photo by Zol87, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Built on a cement-laid stone foundation on 168 concrete-filled piles capped with oak timbers, the tower rises in stages as a succession of battlement pillar clusters, culminating in the octagonal standpipe enclosure. At the top, a circle of crenellated columns uphold a domed cupola crowned with a "skyscraping" finial.

Pillars defensively anchor each corner of the square base and the two-tier shaft, and torch-like finials crown the lower shaft’s crenellated gables as symbols of the fire the tower set out to stifle. 

Each of the base’s 40-foot-wide sides boasts a Gothic-arched door flanked by mini-pillars and peak-hooded windows. Quartets of battlements crown the pumping station’s octagonal corner towers as additional regalia of fire-resistance.

These distinctive details not only inspired the design of many of the White Castle restaurants years later, but they also made the tower an effective landmark guidepost by which people could find the ruins of their homes after the Great Fire, based on how close to the tower they had lived.

Photo by Behnazkhazai, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Despite its long-gone status as Chicago's tallest building, not to mention its relative dwarf stature in the shadows of the skyscrapers it helped to inspire, the Water Tower remains a landmark — not merely because it was named an American Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association in 1969 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  

Photo by Victor Grigas, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
For the Chicago Water Tower has had influence as far-reaching as its water system, and certainly farther-reaching than Oscar Wilde could have ever imagined.

Centrally located at 806 North Michigan Avenue along Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile shopping district, the Water Tower is now City Gallery, the official art and photography exhibition center of the Chicago Office of Tourism. 

The Pumping Station has become the city’s Visitor Welcome Center, where people can receive information and literature about Chicago’s numerous tourist attractions, cultural events, sightseeing opportunities and other exciting happenings, as well as observe the inner workings of the Water Works. 

Photo by TonyTheTiger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In 1975, the Water Tower gave rise — so to speak — to Water Tower Place, a mixed-use development consisting of a 758,000-square-foot shopping mall and a 78-story, 859-foot  condo/hotel/office skyscraper. Built by Urban Retail Properties from a design by Edward D. Dart of Loebl Schlossman Bennett and Dart, Water Tower Place was the world’s tallest reinforced concrete building at the time of its construction, and today it is Chicago’s eighth tallest building. (Its residents have included Oprah Winfrey, who purchased a $6 million condo there on November 28, 2006.)

Photo by Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Although the Water Tower’s standpipe was removed in 1911 when it became obsolete, its encircling spiral staircase remains intact. 

The staircase winds up to the cupola, where a breathtaking panorama of the city’s panoply of skyscrapers can be viewed from the summit of Chicago’s original skyscraper.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Shaping spaces

Duller colors?

Try clashing shapes.

This office-boardroom at 315 on A, ADD Inc.'s new apartment complex in South Boston's Seaport District, is so confined to metallics, mutes, neutrals, blacks and whites it would put conferees to sleep in a flash were the geometries not creatively flashy. 

Tan rectangular wall panels contrast sharply with white starburst ceiling panels, which in turn cut lighting glare for a mellow, diffuse ambiance that uniformly unifies all opposites throughout the space. Dull-brown seats get a jolt of excitement from shiny, sheeny stainless steel legs. The sinuous curves of the chairs pose a soft, cool challenge to the hard-edged squareness of the wall panels — as well as a dark counterpoint to the latter's lightness, while sharing a common woodgrain characteristic. Yet the wall panels have their hip side too: random asymmetry, in contrast to the symmetrical precision of the star-cluster. 

The glass transparency of the circular table-top grants us breathing room from the opaque solidity of everything else, giving the space more of the open feel it needs for open round-table discussions, interpersonal connections, free exchange of ideas.

As do the sliding glass doors. With their "come on in" transparency, these "French" doors and windows signify the use of the twin office-boardrooms as common areas open to all residents at 315 on A. They also continue the lobby's fluid, light-filled openness into the offices while shaping the spaces as private retreats when needed as such.

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Fire and water

Fire and water —
the yin-yang of life's essentials. 

Fire boils water,
water quenches fire. 

Fire gives us heat,
water cools us off.

Fire cooks our food to eat it up, water gives us drink to wash it down.  

Fire gives us evening light, water douses the flame at night. 

And if we're not careful —
fire burns, water drowns.
The colors and properties of these polar extremes are splendidly contrasted here, in the pool lounge of Bruner/Cott's 45 Province condominium in Boston. Coming out of the blue of the cool of the pool, you step into the red-yellow-orange of the warmth of the lounge. The fiery-orange overhead light and the stripes of fire-hue variations on the pillows intensify the heat in the room, giving you a warmer welcome from your swim outside. Thus you cool off and warm up at the same time, and the yin-yang are unified into a totally relaxing feeling.

Adding to this feeling are the deep brown tones of the upholstery and floor, which recall the dark bark of the burning log, for the next-best thing to warming up by a roaring fireplace. However, the blue ottoman under the table repolarizes the yin-yang as it continues the blue hue of the pool into the lounge, tempting you to go out, dive in and cool off again. 

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!