Architecture Monday

Some buildings are described having “good bones”.   Others, well, while they may be solidly built the rest of their make-up and configuration leaves way much to be desired.  A simple coat of paint won’t do the trick.

Fortunately, that’s not all architects and architecture can do.

This little bookstore started its life as an apartment atop a solid concrete housing block.  Being at the top in this case wasn’t glorious penthouse living – the layout left the apartment dim and feeling cramped, with solid concrete (and structural) walls separating the rooms.  These immobile walls left the layout mostly fixed.  And so, perhaps counter intuitively, the architects chose to divide the rooms even further with a series of shelves and walls that integrate together like a giant piece of furniture.  Where they could, they cut window-sized openings in those concrete walls, using them as desk spaces.

bookstore-2The end result is a lovely cozy warren of shelves, books, and reading nooks.  Light from the exterior windows (and especially from the well reconditioned enclosed balcony) can penetrate deep throughout the spaces.  Views between the little rooms create shifting vistas of people and books and light as you walk through the shop.  Each alcove is rightly proportioned as to not overwhelm with books and being generous enough with space to encourage reading while not feeling like you’re in the way.

Details are tight and well done, with the white walls, floors, and ceiling letting the warm wood of the shelves and the colourful spines of the books define the space.  And in a delightful little touch of whimsy, the sign for the shop is hung outside and perfectly framed by the round window in the elevator lobby.  (The architects are now also working to revitalize the roof as a communal area)

From house to shop, this is a great little bit of adaptive reuse.  It also shows what difference design can bring inside the rigid confines of a concrete box.  Very nicely done.

Reedom Bookstore by Cao Pu

My Shadow Ballot

There are 17 ballot initiatives for this election in California.  At this rate, California needs to change its flag, not only because it completely violates rule number 4 of good flag design, but also because that writing is becoming completely false.  A republic, as you all know, is a type of governmental system wherein the public elect individuals to go to create laws in their stead.  In other words, I vote that you, someone whom I trust and who I know will dedicate the time and effort to do the job properly,  and who has the knowledge to do just that, to go create the laws that will govern this land.  Ballot initiatives are doing an end run around this.

I am not a fan on the whole of ballot initiatives.  One, because they undermine the idea of a Republic.  Two, because often they cannot be amended except by another ballot initiative – meaning they become inflexible bits of the system.  Three, they are ripe for trickery and hoodwinking.  And four, and most importantly, is their isolationism.  Something may sound good in isolation, but once it gets into the complex system that is our society and our governance, they may and often do not play well.  They have unintended consequences, unbalance things, and worst of all can tie the hand of the legislators.  If you have four ballot initiatives all saying “X% of revenues must go to this/these specific things”, then next thing you realize most of the $ is allocated and can’t be adjusted to account for changing situations.

And when you have both trickery and hand tying, they can get really deleterious fast (and then you’re stuck because of needing another initiative to change it).

With that said, there are 17 ballot initiatives this election.  So here’s my shadow ballot.

“Since I can’t vote, please allow me to tell you how to vote instead…”

Also, needless to say, this will be a long post… Continue reading

Philosophy Tuesday

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

Ever used the phrase, when discussing the actions of another person, “I just don’t understand it”?  Maybe with a guttural  exclamation before it, one of disgust?


I think we mostly use that phrase in a pretty pejorative manner.   It’s a great way of being dismissive.   It says “if I, as an intelligent, aware, well reasoning individual cannot figure it out, then clearly it must be that their position and their actions are wrong, delusional, and hysterical.”

And who knows, that could be true.

Lately though, I’ve purposefully taken on  relating to that phrase in a very literal manner.  In that, it’s true, I really don’t understand… in the same way that I don’t understand a lot of other things.  Such as quantum mechanics, or how the gall bladder works, or why certain movies continue do well at the box office.

Which means I can learn and can work to understand it.

We are all blessed with our own little pocket of reality that we carry around with us, fashioned from what we’ve experienced, from where we grew up and what we’re surrounded by, and especially from our decisions along the way.  We are all delightfully complex little bundles.

And everything we do in life makes sense inside of our little personal pockets.*

If so goes I in the world, then so too goes others.  When I don’t understand, I can explore, I can ask, I can listen, I can imagine others complexly, and I can see what’s the context that would have them be the way they are being.

Like a good book, it can only broaden my views on the world and on others.

In the end, I may not – and likely will not – take on the whole of their world view, and I might still recommend different courses of actions.  But my little bubble may shift.  I may see things newly, or see things I’d never paid attention to before.  And inside the space of understanding, there’s new openings.  For listening.  For creating.  For solutions.  For reconciliation.  For freedom.

Inside the spaces of understanding, we can drive towards what it is we all want.


* Which is why it’s super helpful to have another get an ‘outside view‘ when we’re looking to explore and examine our lives.  Things are super immediate to us and our thoughting gives us the ready, right, answers.  It takes an outside view to help break those bubbles. **

** What’s really great is if we notice (with or without another’s help), that something we consistently do doesn’t seem to make sense to our conscious self, we then know that there’s something hidden behind the scenes that’s causing us to behave that way.  And that’s always where the juice is, always where the biggest transformations can happen, when we unconceal the hidden factors and can own, complete, and transform them.

Architecture Monday

Often a blank page, or the most featureless of sites, can be the most daunting.  What should the first move be, when the first move can be anything?  By contrast, constraints, far from being frustratingly limiting, can be the driver(s) of great creativity.

So it’s cool for me that the architects spoke hard to convince the Harvey B Gantt museum to put their new building on a ridiculously narrow (50′) and long (400′) slice of property in the heart of downtown Charlotte.  A choice seemingly even more crazy, given that the site was already occupied by a loading ramp, carving down into the earth, for an adjacent building.  Oh, and the site sloped rather significantly.

Kinda nuts.  But from those constraints, they wrought themselves something quite nice.

Just by virtue of that narrow site, the building is naturally tall and slender.  They took advantage of that, and the almost billboard-like 400′ long face, by wrapping it in an abstract pattern of traditional quilting, made out of perforated metal panels.  This perforation is great – besides helping keep the building cool as ventilated shading, more importantly the transparency creates striking depth and richness that gives a very soft and full feel to the building’s face (much like the quilt that inspired it).  The pattern itself is strategically peeled back in places for glazing or to let the sky through.   It could have devolved into a chaotic mess, but good proportioning and a certain rhythm helps keep it in balance.

Even better, is that this quilt motif continues along to the backside of the building, onto the firewall that separates it from the adjacent site (which one day may have a building placed on it, mere inches away).  This otherwise featureless expanse is instead animated by the pattern that, in a stroke of brilliance, glows at night.  It’s sculpture for the city.

Inside, taking the concept from a photograph of an old neighbourhood school and it’s prominent staircase (it was known as the Jacob’s Ladder School), twin stairways bring visitors from either end of the building to a central atrium on the second floor.  The angular forms of the quilt pattern continue within, with the stairs and ceiling planes.  The galleries themselves are, however, simple black boxes,.  This allows for great flexibility but is a bit of a downer, seeming a bit like afterthoughts within the more articulated shell.

Choosing to work on this challenging site was the right way to go.  It’s a great location for the museum at the heart of the city, and the constraints helped spur on this elegant wrapped box, bringing in a whole raft of historical contexts, from its skin to the heart of the building and the re-interpretation of the school.

Taking the hard road can indeed be so worth it.

Philosophy Tuesday

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

Heard this on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me this past weekend:

“Over and Next.  We don’t pay enough attention to them.  When something is over, it is OVER, and we are on to NEXT.  And if there was a hammock in the middle, between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment. ”

— Norman Lear

Wow.  What a nice and succinct phrase that captures a a whole bunch within.  There’s so much I like in there, beginning with the notion of attachments and of letting go.  A reminder to not drag the past into our future, a reminder to let what’s so be what’s so, and to let what happened be what happened.  An invitation to transformation.    And then, onto creation.   A look forward, towards what’s up and coming, towards possibility.  In the middle, the glorious middle, is the right now, the glorious moment by moment by moment of our everyday.  A call to be present, a call to practice mindfulness, and a call to live our lives with intention.

And that image of being present as being a hammock is great.  A place to hang out and be at ease and relaxed and listen and feel and experience.


I gotta read/remind/listen/etc to this quote every now and again.  Well said and moving, and one to realign me into what’s possible.  Alright!  Let’s go.

Architecture Monday

Sculptural, but still spatial. That was one of my first thoughts of this chapel in Finland by Sanaksenaho Architects. It’s also a very simple affair, and when things are stripped down to that level of simplicity, much like Tadao Ando’s works*, the quality (or lack thereof) of the space really takes prominence. And here, that quality is golden.

The rhythm of the wood beams, rising to a well proportioned pointed arch as they march down towards the luminous apse, hits you immediately upon entering, reinforced by the horizontal lines of the wall planks also pointing towards the end. In this way, the space feels both soaring (with the strong verticals of the arches) as well as ensconcing you snugly inside its warm confines. The band of windows at the apse work their magic to fill the space with diffuse, and again warm, light. It invites sitting, experiencing, and reflection.

Outside, the copper skin reflects the countryside (for now – it will patina). Details are vital to simple structures, and the diagonal patterning of the copper cladding keeps the form alive and dynamic, enhancing the way it embraces the countryside.

Nicely done. A strong image and concept rendered beautifully through simple and well refined moves, and an excellent sense of scale and proportion. Another entry on my list of spaces I’d like to visit and experience.


* Contrast too to the exquisite complexity of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia…

Philosophy Tuesday

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

One of the novels we read in high school as Maria Chapdelaine.*  My memory of the novel is pretty slim, but one chapter in particular stood out to me, a chapter that described an entire summer.  Actually, truth be told, I don’t remember much about the chapter either, but the sentiment expressed within has stayed with me ever since.  It all revolves around the family members saying to each other “I sure hope it’s going to be a usual summer!”

Except the question that arises as the summer proceeds is,  what constitutes a “normal/usual/average” summer?

Maria, as the chapter progresses, muses at how the family takes whatever end up being the ‘best’ moments of a summer and turns that into what they expect summer should be.  If one year, there is little rain and the crops do well, that’s “normal.”  On another year, there are few mosquitoes, and that’s now “normal.”  Still a third year produces no illness or injuries, just as it “should be”.  A fourth finds new friends, and everyone “knows” you find new friends in summer.  Remember that time a decade ago when we had those gorgeous clear nights full of stars?  That’s what a “real summer” is.  And so on, until this idealized perfect yet seemingly ordinary (because it’s what’s supposed to be average/normal) summer is what gets locked into the mind.

It’s funny, now, thinking back that of all the things that happened in the novel and all the things that the novel was about, this is what stuck with me.

But it’s a great thing to be stuck with.

So much of our reactions, or reactivity, or upset, or frustrations, or cursings, are born out of things deviating from “the norm.”   When things are not going the way they “should” be.  When they don’t meet our view of a proper object/person/event/sequence/occurrence/happening/trip/season/weather…

Except the question can arise, where did we get this view?  And did we construct it accurately?

What I get from this remembered passage is that we and our views can easily be seduced by some ideal assemblage of parts, constructed over time, pulling from different sources and, of course, filtered by our existing  views.  Leading us along and, in the end, to having some rather unusual ideas about what’s supposedly so around us.

That’s not to say we may not want it to be another way – that’s a whole other conversation.  But when we get attached to this constructed ideal, which ultimately contains a lot of fantasy, we can get hooked when things don’t measure up.  We get pulled out of the moment and we’re apt to fall into the dumpster of resentment, railing against what’s actually so and robbing us of experiencing the moment (and the joy that might be found) while quite possibly thwarting us from getting what we truly want.

Just as Maria’s family, at the end of the chapter and at the end of that summer, proclaimed exasperatedly, “If only it had been a normal summer!”


* Any of my classmates remember reading this??