This Cambridge, Mass. structure won the weird award for me when it arrested my attention the other day. Sticking slick glass and steel on top of crumbling cinderblock seemed like an odd thing to do, as a crass contrast of clean and dirty, new and old, smooth and rough, polished and patchy, permanent and makeshift...
...that is, a disruption of the neighborhood's architectural consistency with a quasi-revitalization of a decaying garage, warehouse or industrial outpost as a semi-luxury condo or office. If it happens to be the latter, it certainly articulates the hierarchy of most corporate pecking orders: the clean-lined office suite for the six-figure CEOs above vs. the dreggy workrooms of the underpaid admins below, each component making the other look even more like its character by contrast: the bunkhouse bottom gives its topper a clean sheen, which in turn makes its base look ready to cave in under its weight.
Down the road is another instance of wild weirdness, with fenestration so illogical it makes us wonder what type of interior it gives rise to. The original owners apparently let the exterior fall into place according to their interior living desires, leaving the floor plan to sculpt the facade rather than conform to the formal classicism, Victorian romanticism or symmetrical propriety long-established in the old neighborhood. But such is modernism's form-follows-function philosophy. At least the use of brick and wood pays token homage to local building tradition, making this oddity look slightly less outer-spacey. And the lush vegetation around it does soften its sharp edges to diminish its elephantine stature enough to have some curb appeal.
|Lucy the Elephant, Margate City, New Jersey (1881, James V. Lafferty, William Free and J. Mason Kirby). Photo: Naomi Love (CC BY-SA 4.0).|
|Eléphant de la Bastille, Paris, France. llustration by|
Gustave Brion for Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, 1865
Gavroche's bed was complete; that is to say, it had a mattress, a blanket, and an alcove with curtains. The mattress was a straw mat, the blanket a rather large strip of gray woollen stuff, very warm and almost new. This is what the alcove consisted of:—Three rather long poles, thrust into and consolidated, with the rubbish which formed the floor, that is to say, the belly of the elephant, two in front and one behind, and united by a rope at their summits, so as to form a pyramidal bundle. This cluster supported a trellis-work of brass wire which was simply placed upon it, but artistically applied, and held by fastenings of iron wire, so that it enveloped all three holes. A row of very heavy stones kept this network down to the floor so that nothing could pass under it. This grating was nothing else than a piece of the brass screens with which aviaries are covered in menageries. Gavroche's bed stood as in a cage, behind this net. The whole resembled an Esquimaux tent.(And I'm told that Lucy the Elephant bedded visitors in her innards for the first time since she was rented out as a home a century ago, fetching $138/night on Airbnb on March 17-19, 2020. As Gavroche demonstrated, weird in appearance doesn't mean weird in inherence.)
|The Big Duck (1931, Martin Maurer), Flanders, NY. Photo by Beth Savage, courtesy of the National Park Service.|
|The Big Duck, Flanders, NY. Photo by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) (CC BY-SA 4.0).|
|The Big Duck interior. Photo by Off_Beaten_Tracker, courtesy of TripAdvisor.|
|Photo by Leif Rogers (CC BY-SA 4.0).|
Thus it assumes a different identity with each event, according to how the kernels are clustered like Native American beadwork or Pompeiian mosaics. Without the corn, the palace is essentially a plain long box topped with cone and onion protrusions, needing a "decorated shed" identity to awe onlookers and ballyhoo the events inside it.
|Photo by Leena Hietanen (CC BY-SA 3.0)|
|Photo by Sam Valadi (CC BY 2.0).|
|Courtesy of the Gottscho-Schleisner collection at the Library of Congress.|
|Photo by Lisa Bettany (CC BY-SA 2.0)|
|Photo by Gryffindor (CC BY-SA 3.0)|
If you yourself are wondering what lurks behind this exhibition of eccentricity, just follow the floating bridge over the moat-like sunken court and proceed along the concrete catwalk that overlooks the atrial lobby, for a continuity of space from outside to inside, à la Guggenheim but more angular.
Now look up...
|Photo by Jim Henderson|
And look around...
|Photo by Tinanyc (CC BY-SA 4.0)|
'What the hell is that?'
|Photo by NewtonCourt (CC BY-SA 4.0)|
|Photo by Beyond My Ken (CC BY-SA 4.0)|
|Photo courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division|
The pure-structure ambiance may have been weird, but the acoustics were not. Just as echoic as a traditional church, they were ideal for a concert my boys' choir at St. Paul's Cathedral gave on the pictured stage, which would have been just as ideal had a weird situation not stymied us. City Hall had promised us a piano for accompaniment.
Instead, they lent us a cheap little electric organ with a cord not long enough for our choirmaster (renowned organist Thomas Murray) to turn the organ around so he could play it while directing us. But, of course, City Hall bureaucracy couldn't be bothered to fetch a simple extension cord. So we had to sing everything a cappella.
|Benjamin Franklin, 1767. Portrait by David Martin, displayed in White House.|
A little neglect breeds mischief: for want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, the horse was lost, for want of a horse, the rider was lost, for want of a rider, the battle was lost, for want of a battle, the kingdom was lost, and all for want of a horseshoe nail.City Hall's mountainous mass and labyrinthine layout indeed became more of an expression of bureaucracy than democracy, as further evinced by its rebar corrosion and concrete/brick erosion from neglect, not to mention the near-impenetrability of the "transparent" entry in the name of safety—a challenge to another Franklin dictum:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.Weird, indeed.
Down to the studs
|Photo by Johan Nilsson, courtesy of Pinterest.|
|Photo by Jeffrey Milstein, courtesy of Instagram.|
|Photo by Andrew H (CC BY 2.0).|
Bereft of those cosmetics, we're now forced to see the innards and remember their inherent value. Just as we must remember those internal body parts—skeleton, organs, nervous and circulatory systems, etc.—that maintain us beyond our outward appearances.
|Photo by Thomas Claveirole (CC BY-SA 2.0).|
Weird, but worthy—after all, aren't exposed beams, posts, pipes and ducts more chic now in mainstream loft living? A prime example of how today's "weird" is tomorrow's "new normal," just as concrete brutalism was before it evolved from "weird" to "worn."
Crazy Guggenheim II
|Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997, Frank Gehry), Bilbao, Spain. Photo by MykReeve (CC BY-SA 3.0).|
|Photo by Mikel Arrazola (CC BY 3.0).|
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