Architecture Monday

This is a tough one to grasp through photos. I visited here in 1995, and the effect, as is often the case I’d say, is far more visceral and potent than seeing a picture. Physically standing in the space has way more effect.

Here, and that space, is the courtyard of Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology. It’s a fairly simple courtyard, on the whole. But the whole is created including a massive “umbrella” that floats above you, held only by a single, central, sculpted pillar, around which water pours from an oculus above.

And it is the way that umbrella is fashioned that gives this space its mighty feels. What could just be another mundane covered courtyard is instead transformed by the fact that the roof does not touch the buildings, and the buildings themselves also do not touch. It is a collection of disparate planes, all hovering near each other, letting light, sound, and wind, traverse through the courtyard.

That gap absolutely brings your attention to the mass seemingly suspended above your head ad creating that altogether different experience: compression, elongation, solidity and security mixed with peril, delight, amusement, and a call to explore.

Philosophy Tuesday

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

When he was at officer candidate school, that people were being sort of brought up before a committee for things they’d done, little infractions and things and he said standing there he was waiting in line listening to everyone plead their case and he said there was a certain sameness that started to occur and he felt like everyone said “Yes, officer so and so, I did this, and this is why” or “I did this, but” and I think everyone, most people know what it’s like to be, when someone apologizes to you and they say “I’m so sorry I eviscerated you but..” and sort of immediately, it doesn’t mean anything you know.

And he said he got up there and he realized that it immediately weakened them, and when the officer said “you did thus and so” and whatever it was, and he said, “Yes sir.”

And the officer said, “Do you have anything to add?” and he said “No sir.”

And everyone was completely silent, he said the officers were looking around, and he said they looked at him and said, “Private?” and he said “I’m 100% responsible it will never happen again.”

And he said at that moment he felt he actually had the power in the room, and he felt he’d earned the power by taking the power back to himself and taking on the responsibility, and he taught that kind of accountability.

And he lived that. He could apologize and mean it.

— Marie Louise Parker

I heard this on City Arts and Lectures this past weekend and it has stuck with me. I really like that little story. It’s a simple affair, yet such a strong example and a wonderful reminder of the power, in the many meanings of that word, of being responsible. A reminder of the power we give ourselves when we take responsibility and ownership. A reminder that when we blame or excuse, it’s not as useful, and not even as instructive*, as we think it is. We are authoring our agency.

I also find it a nice continuation on the meditations on apologies and apologizing. There is honour gained in taking ownership, and that honour and trust allows for greater intimacy and connection between people. “He could apologize and mean it,” leads to issues being taken care of and completed resolutely, not left to fester, not left to worm its way to creating unease and undermine relationships.

Nicely, it also reminds me of this other quote from City Arts and Lectures a couple of years ago. They dovetail nicely.  Living this way isn’t necessarily easy to do, and if we’ve never gotten the experience of the power it creates then it’s hard to take the plunge. But stories like this give us windows into that experience, windows into the knowing that hey, this does work, and has worked for others, and produces, ultimately, grand outcomes. Even if it is uncomfortable as heck.

Thank you Marie Louise Parker for sharing the story of your father. We all can use a little support to nudge us towards whom we want to be, and your story did just that.


*Seriously, it’s amazing how immediately tempting it is to give an explanation, isn’t it?!!? We think, or at least we cloak it in, that by “understanding” what we did, through explanation, it will help us avoid it in the future. But all we can do is report on our thought process, and rarely do we see the actual impetus for it all. Worse, in terms of the apology, it is 100% counterproductive. The person doesn’t care why, the person cares that we care. It adds nothing to the apology. There IS totally a use in examining the incident, with real thinking, to unravel and transform things. Just not in the moment of the apology. We can do it later, after we’ve taken care of the actual apology.

Architecture Monday

Oh my I so love this project! The Frederiksvej Kindergarten, by COBE. What a, fittingly, playful and delightful take on a large kindergarten project, avoiding what could have been a rather imposing school block. Their concept was as simple as it was clever – take a child’s drawing of a house, arrange, and repeat:

The delicious cluster of seemingly independent buildings (looking all the world like Monopoly houses crammed together) created not only a wonderful sense of scale that relates to the village and the park nearby, and also allows for plenty of natural light to be brought to the classrooms, but also a wonderful variety of different nooks and crannies, including courtyards, different play areas, interior atriums, and covered decks that allow play and learning and diverse activities and experiences during all times of the year.

Those atria are especially wonderful. White and gleaming, the wide balconies surrounding it become more than just circulation, they become play area, especially with the cute house-shaped pop-outs that jut out into the open gallery.

That little house motif repeats itself over and over, used for tool sheds, toy storage, cabinetry in the classrooms, and even little sleeping huts for the children during naptime. (!)

Despite the seemingly random arrangement of the different houses, the plan is straightforward and flows cleanly. A great use of a little inventiveness to create something a cut above. I would have so loved going there as a child… (heck, I still would love it!)

Wonder Thursday

There is a big halo around the moon, right now.  It’s about 16 times the radius of the moon in size.  It’s absolutely stunning.  I’ve just stared at it for ten minutes or so.  Bright moon, dark, dark disk, perfect luminous halo, radiating mostly away from the moon.  Totally wonderfully fabulous.

No way I can take a picture that’ll do it justice with the equipment I have on hand, alas.  Here’s a wiki commons pic that’s close:

A celestial sphere beauty.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical post, intended to spark thinking and examining.

Just as with the false dichotomy, beware of the false equivalency.

It is, pretty much, as it sounds.

Given that X relates to Y in this particular fashion, therefore A must relate to B in the same way.

It may not be as often used as a false dichotomy in argumentative speech, but it still can hide out there, masquerading as rational and sensible logic.

And, just like a falsieD, it narrows views and cuts short expansionary, complex, and holistic views and thinking. It eliminates options. It shuts down our brains.

It makes us miss things.

Especially in the areas of our own lives and of who we know ourselves to be.

Because hitting my thumb hard with a hammer always hurts does not mean that all interpersonal relations will always also work out the same way that it did that one time.

Because genes control my height* and eye colour does not mean that they control my personality or my actions.

Because physics works 100% the same every time, does not mean that the economy is a law like gravity.

Because I cross my arms when I’m defensive, does not mean everyone who crosses their arms are on the defensive.

Some things in our lives – mathematics, physics, etc – work a particular way. Other things in our lives – who we are, how we relate to others, the societies we build – work in their own and varied ways.

Furthermore, within each of those are additional divisions and influences, each also working in their own way(s) and creating a greater whole.

I invite us all of us to be on the lookout for collapsing worlds together and conflating realities into false equivalences.

The world is a rich place. There are thousands of possibilities and ways and opportunities.

It’s unfortunate when we don’t play with them all.


* They don’t fully control your height per se – they are a part of what controls your height, coupled with food/nutrition and environment…

Architecture Monday

Light. From the sun. It’s all around. It’s abundant. It’s dominant.

It’s so commonplace as to be almost mundane.

Of the many things architects must incorporate in the dialogue called designing, the use, manipulation, control, modulation, and celebration of light holds prominence.

What if you made a church of light? What would that be like?

Perhaps counter intuitively, you might make it a solid box.

Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light, in Ibaraki, Japan, is a masterpiece in the use of light to create a spatial reality and a strong spatial experience.

The building is, indeed, a box, but a finely crafted box. With silky smooth concrete, a rhythmic precision of the formwork and tie downs, and proportions that draw one forward. The design eschews traditional leanings of churches, dispensing with ornamentation, arcades, distinctions of nave or apse or transept. There is one symbol or ornament, and that is the cross of light embedded into the far wall. The room is spare, meditative, leaving one to be with their experience of their spirituality. The luminous cross casts a glow upon the sensual concrete, filling the space with a radiant air, peaceful and powerful at once.

Beyond its trappings as a church, the Church of the Light demonstrates the capacity for skillful design and excellent details to elevate even the simplest of spaces. It also demonstrates the capacity to revisit traditional typologies and to create something to fulfill their intent in new and powerful ways. It is the distillation of context – both physical (light, structure, site, constraints) and the ephemeral (philosophy, social cues, traditions, budget) – into a building that serves its function well and is readably feel-able the moment we walk in the door.

And it reminds us what we can do with that abundant, free, and delightful light provided to us by our favourite star.