Architecture Monday

What’s this? Not just one, but two FLW houses on the same trip? Yes!

original sketch by FLW (click to embiggen)

I’d first visited the Hollyhock house in 1996, at the tail end of a trip to the LA area. I had a Monday free, and while I knew the house would be closed that day a friend and I drove out there to look at the house through the chain link fences.   I had been to visit a few Maya sites the year before, and Wright’s homage to their architectural language was decidedly present, and, at the same time, decidedly something quite distinct. Spare in places, rich in others, its concrete volumes had a presence. Now, some near-20 years later, there was no way I wasn’t going to visit this house, and get to see the inside.

So it was that once again I was with a friend at the Hollyhock house, stepping through the sculptural concrete front doors. The house is more formally known as the Barnsdall house, named after its owner Aline Barnsdall, but the name Hollyhock comes from Aline’s favourite flower, the hollyhock, that Wright used over, and over, and over, and over, and over again as an abstract motif throughout the house. Where the textile block houses went for continuous textural surfaces, the Hollyhock house uses much more spare forms as a foil to sculptural flourishes. And here is much of where the richness of the house develops, with Wrightian touches of stained glass, intricate furniture, carved pillars, and more, all done in and with geometric patterns that possess their seemingly improbable mix of simplicity and complexity.

And the hearth. Oh that hearth. This is the thing that really drew me to the house in the first place, so many years ago. It is grand, it is surrounded by custom furniture, it too has a geometric pattern embossed upon it, but it is also surrounded by a pool of water, with a skylight above… all designed to catch the moonlight and reflect both it and the light of the fire off the water and glint it off that massive sculptural face. I don’t know if it ever worked as well as envisioned, but the thought of it is quite something.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures on the inside, so for a great interior and exterior tour, check out this link.

Two bonus items here… one, is that the project manager for the Hollyhock house was Rudolph Schindler. (!) Second, a game of where’s Waldo – you can see the Ennis house from the Hollyhock grounds:


Gaming Thursday: RPG System 11: Damage

I’ve been kinda quiet here on the gaming side, especially on the RPG System front. But I’ve not been inactive! Of late I’ve been exploring and delving into a gaggle of new systems, mostly on the narrative-heavy spectrum, including FATE, Cortex Plus, and Burning Wheel. And they’ve been a great entry to shed some thoughts on how I’d want to handle damage and consequences in my RPG system. Continue reading

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

“Every time you open a new book, you’re getting inside someone else’s experience. You’re looking out through their eyes, hearing through their ears, feeling what they feel, experiencing a different life.

And after you’ve read enough books — I think a couple hundred is the magic number — you become a different person. You become a person who has a sense that the universe is larger than you have ever imagined — and you are not alone in it.

And from that, you start to get the glimmer of understanding that others have thoughts and feelings, wants and needs and desires of their own. And you start to become respectful of that.

We call that empathy.

It is my not very humble opinion that most human problems stem not from a failure to communicate — but from a lack of empathy, a failure to care, a failure of respect.

I think readers — especially the readers who challenge themselves — gain an enhanced sense of empathy. We start to notice and care about people outside our own immediate circle. We start to notice and care about other living things — animals and plants. We start to notice and care about our entire planet. That’s empathy. And from there — we can even start to think about the possibility of life on other worlds, who might live there, how they might be very different than us and who we have to become to meet them.

Empathy is path to true sentience — awareness of others, awareness of the effect we have on them, awareness of the effect we have on our environment, awareness of the future we’re designing for ourselves. From that awareness, we develop wisdom— as individuals, and as a species.”

— David Gerrold

One of the many reasons why I believe that imagination is one of our most important faculties that ought to be cherished, encouraged, cultivated, and developed, is what is expressed above.

Without imagination, we are trapped within the boundaries of the sum total of our experiences, and, even more restrictedly, the sum total of our identity’s experiences.* By the very definition of life, we cannot know everything, experience everything, and especially cannot live everyone’s life experiences. We live the life we are living, whilst others are living the lives they are living, lives that start from very different places, experience very different events and circumstances, and are faced with different triumphs and supports and setbacks and pitfalls and challenges and institutional influences. Without imagination and exploration and playing so-called make-believe – yes, even well into adult life, and it is what we are doing when we read fiction – we can only have a small world upon which to form reality.

And in that reality, “I” am right.

In a world where we all want to be liked and loved and enjoyed and respected and validated and live exciting, happy, peaceful lives, empathy is of primal importance. Thus it is that imagination, and the prodding from extraordinary books and movies and plays and storytelling and more, is equally critical in the development of that empathy.  Letting our imagination inhabit others.  Cultivating empathy.**


* – For the identity will colour and interpret and latch onto and create and record/remember only a rather narrow range of experiences, even given the myriad of events we may encounter.

** – “It is my not very humble opinion that most human problems stem not from a failure to communicate — but from a lack of empathy, a failure to care, a failure of respect.”  I especially love this powerful statement.

Architecture Monday

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The next stop in my LA trip retrospective is a visit to the Schindler house. Built some 90+ years ago, it doesn’t look like it was built 90+ years ago… mainly because it broke all the molds and came to define what would come to be known as the modern “California” style home.

At least, in most ways. The house was decidedly un-traditional in its layout. For one, it was built for two families, each with a couple of studio rooms in separate L-shaped wings (each with their own patio/courtyard), combined at a knuckle where there was a communal kitchen. For two, Schindler, along with later house inhabitant Neutra, believed in the fresh air principle and so there was no traditional bedroom, only two, open air sleeping “pods” atop the house. That one didn’t prove to be all that popular or successful.

The house did, however, usher in open- and flexible-living, the extensive use of glazing and sliding panels for indoor/outdoor living, clerestory windows, and unadorned planes that defined a crisp form.

The house has a clarity to its language and derivation of space that is powerful. The thick, tilt-up concrete walls cement the house firmly to the ground, and are perfectly counterpointed on the other faces with ample glazing and views to the private gardens. The frosted glazing set into the heavy concrete walls (in those slots seen in the images above) are an inspired touch, adding their luminous quality to the room and working to actually emphasize the mass of the wall. The spatial volumes, of rooms, of walls, of fireplaces, of window bays, all interlock and intersect to create a richness of experience.

Many details, such as the raw and exposed freestanding copper piping in the bathroom that formed the supply for both the sink and the shower, all made of concrete, are fanciful touches that are raw and elegant at the same time. Other details, such as the flat roof and clerestory windows, were defectively ahead of their time and suffered much leaks and wear and tear. The house was a laboratory for a new style of living and building, and it shows.

And what a great testbed it was, and is.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

We continue our trip down the identity rabbit hole…

Our identity is an “Identity of Identities”, picked up or inherited from a myriad of places and sources and moments and decisions, mostly unintentionally. They come with a lot of views and realities. And they are hard to see without practice, for they are “me”.

And there’s a very big thing about identities that’s important to know about:

Neurologically speaking, our brain does not know the difference between an attack against our bodily existence, and an attack against our identity.

Said another way, a threat to our identity is registered by our danger sensors as an attack, even if that is not really happening.*

And with our identity of identities, there are many things that can seem to threaten an aspect we’ve built into our identity, and hence “us”.

And when we feel threatened, things get hairy, don’t they? We fight back, lash out, defend, defend, defend, and aim to kill off that which is trying to kill us; or we run, avoid, and hide. Neither is conducive to living freely, living with intention, or being able to think straight. It’s a roughshod time, to which there can be much collateral damage – to others, and to ourselves. To what we hold dear. We’ll act in odd ways. We may feel righteous and riled up about it, but we’re on autopilot. We’ve lost, perhaps ironically, our agency. In those moments it gets in the way of getting what we truly want, of interacting with people the way we want to, of living a life we’d like to live.

Now, this may come as a surprise at this point, but at the same time to all of the above identities are not bad things. They are not flaws. On the contrary, they are great tools, great shortcuts to interacting and being in the world. Identities can be wonderful.

It is at its heart a matter of awareness. To be aware of, and present to, our identities. Which, in having read this, you may now be more so aware. Aware of some very powerful stuff. Aware, for one, that there is a distinction between you and your identity (the two are not the same). For two, that you acquired multiple identities that make your identity. For three, that identities come with a lot of preconceptions/rules/truths/views that are often hidden.

And fourthly, and most importantly, and putting those all together, all of the above coalesces to indicate that if you are not your identity and that these identities aren’t inherently part of you, you can choose new identities at any time and actually choose whom you want to be and how you want to express yourself in the world. You can examine your identities to see what lurks within, see the hidden biases and baggage and choose to leave them behind and create a new identity to slot in. You can develop mindfulness to interrupt the automatic rise and avoid seeing threats to you that show up only through the lenses of your identities.

You need not be beholden to anything.

It takes practice, it takes development, it takes work and time and it takes us taking ourselves on. Learning to be mindful. And it’s work well spent.

This is, after all, you. And me. And who I am in the world. Some care, and thought, and choosing, makes sense.


* – To which it is not hard to see why; my identity is ME, and I relate to my identity as ME, it is my existence in the world. I have no separation between my identity and me, just as I have no separation between my body and me. If my body is harmed, I am harmed, ergo, if my identity is harmed, I too must be harmed.


Architecture Monday

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Continuing my trip through Los Angles, tonight we stop at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Designed by Raphael Moneo, it, like many a cathedral, is an impressive and imposing and powerful space. It also, like the Sagrada Família, is decidedly untraditional in its language and the sculpting of its space. Yet, at the same time it also most decidedly follows in lockstep the long tradition and form of the catholic cathedral, with a powerful nave filled with light from high-set glazing (here done in wonderful translucent alabaster panels rather than stained glass (and I say wonderful despite being a stained glass fan!)) with aisles on each side accessed through a permeable structure.

The structure here, however, is non-symmetrical and also possesses a thickness and depth to its form that is quite different from the gothic norm of a row of columns and vaults. This mass heightens the solidity and “specialness” of the nave, and intensifies the experience of the traversal into the sacred space. It also inverts the idea of chapels in the apse or aisles facing inward; here, from the aisles these blocks are carved out to form the alcoves (also illuminated from above) that contain chapels, exhibitions, confessionals, or, still striking, nothing at all.

Architecture doesn’t need to copy a look to be related to the past and to its history, or to the history of the institution, or the region, or the surrounding buildings. Along with being a good work in its own right, this cathedral is a great illustration of that principle. It carries the heart of the tradition in its bones, expressed in a new, dynamic, and ultimately satisfying way. And along the way it creates new moments and opportunities, enriching the canon and adding something to the dialogue and journey that is architecture.

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Art Assignment incoming!

My triptych for The Art Assignment‘s project: “Surface Test.”

art assignment surface test

For the assignment I chose to take three rubbings, recording the floor/ground at the locations where I practice Kung Fu each week.  I spend on the order of 12+ hours each week training, and so these floors/surfaces have become a big part of my life.  The first is our Sunday spot, in a park; Tuesday follows at a local martial arts school; with Thursday and Friday rounding things out in my backyard on a covered patio that a friend and I poured specifically to support my martial arts practice.

I’m quite chuffed with how each rubbing turned out. I knew the surfaces were very different, but I didn’t know if that would come through in the rubbing, especially between the carpet and the smooth concrete in my backyard. But different they indeed were, and they made a far nicer compilation than I expected.

This was a fun assignment to do; and my third assignment completed. Four, if you count the joint effort at VidCon:

If you aren’t familiar with the Art Assignment, I heartily recommend checking out their channel and giving an assignment a try. I really like the assignment format, it makes one consider, and expand, the definition/breadth of art, and the assignments help bring the art of, well, art into our everyday lives.