Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

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Everything Thursday: The Aesthetics of Genre

June 20, 2019

“I think it is very important to be able to read media with a critical eye. To parse it in terms of what it is saying, both on its face, and in how it uses the language of its medium (film, TTRPG, whatever) to deliver its ideas. To make its statement.

Genre is not simply a set of aesthetics, full stop. It is aesthetics with a direction, an impetus.

Lots of folks like to forget the reason behind the aesthetic choices, and just sort of, eat and regurgitate them unthinkingly.”

Commuting Crow [Emphasis Mine]

I came across this and I like it a lot, and want to pass it forward for it is very important in storytelling, in gaming, and even in architecture.

The look and feel (ie aesthetics) of any genre is born from a philosophical place.  It was through the examination and exploration of certain ideas, theses, and ideologies, whether that be in support of them (we are interested in this  and think this is a good way to go, let’s explore and invent down that road), in question of them (we see this as a possible way things could go, let’s explore and see what the outcome(s) might be), or in opposition or critique of them (this is something we see happening, and think it is not productive, let’s explore and illustrate the harm).  Genre is more than the style of the world, it is about world building, and all of the aspects of world building.  The way society operates (or doesn’t), the way people think (or don’t), the prevailing truths (or untruths), the direction and inflections of humanity.  It is from there, from that baseline world building from which the aesthetics emerge and are developed into their final form.

So when you use the imagery and aesthetics of the genre as just a stylistic choice, you aren’t operating in the genre.  Your work is not of the genre.  It’s something else in different clothing.*

The same holds true in architecture.  The organization of the Beaux-Arts building, the hyper-detailed nature of the Baroque period, the classical orders, the bold planes of modernism, they all emerged out of philosophies about living (in all senses of that word).  There were values and convictions and ideas and ideologies beneath it all, and it was the exploration into form of all of those that informed and created the style, including how the building is laid out, how one approaches the building, how one travels from room to room, how the façade is proportioned, how and where ornamentation, etc.

So when you use the architectural pieces and aesthetics (the architectural language) of a ‘style’ (or genre) as just a stylistic choice, you aren’t operating in the true nature of the style.  Your work is not of the style.  It is something else in different clothing.

In this way, Using the words  “architectural style” to describe how a building looks turns out to be a misnomer.**

To reiterate, genres (and architectural ‘styles’***) are born of a specific context, in time and space and thought and vision.  From there emerges a look.  If you want your story, your game, or your work to be truthfully of that genre, it needs to engage with that context (again, whether it is to follow, to re-examine, to tweak, to refute, whatever, but it must engage with it), not just the look of it.

It is from there that richness arises and that great works emerge.

 

* Which BTW is fine… there’s some fun in playing around only with style.  Just be honest about it.

** It is also where many more recent buildings fall flat or feel terrible, because they’re importing architectural languages in a copy/paste mode without any thought or understanding of all the ideology and knowledge that underpinned the ‘style’ and so having little design sense poured into them.  Confusing architecture as just the “fancy looking bits” leaves behind the most important aspects that make up what architecture actually is.

*** We really need a better word.  Ok.  This is my game now, to find or come up with a new word for this.

 

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Architecture Monday

June 17, 2019

I do like me my little spaces of contemplation, and this one in the Ukraine is a mighty fine example.

Outside, it’s got this quirky little form that is somehow familiar yet also not at the same time.  Square yet also curvy, simple yet with some surprising complexity near the top, and an off-centre entryway that is even more mysterious with the extra roof that hovers inches above the ground.  And covered in shingles that match the trunks of the trees in which it is nestled.

Inside there’s beautiful stuff happening, especially when you look up.  That is one cool oculus, a twist of geometries that elates, further punctuated by some precision lighting.  Simply adorned, the wood interior arcs upwards, bending towards the light.

And that strange ground-hovering double roof turns out to be there to shield a continuous window band, aligned horizontally with your view as you sit peacefully on the floor.

Very nicely done, a space both quiet and exciting.  Good stuff.

Chapel of the Intercession by RdsBrothers

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Architecture Monday

June 10, 2019

For less than the price of a small “shack” in my current neck of the woods,* you can buy a designated historical masterpiece by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.  And once again, thanks to the magic of a real estate listing, we get great photos of the inside of such a usually private work!  Lo, let us feast our eyes upon the Pappas house:

The Pappas residence was one of FLW’s “Usonian” houses.  Usonia was a concept that Wright developed and turned into a manifesto of sort, espousing ideas about housing and living and community planning.  They were squarely intended to be for middle class families, built with materials and methods that were straightforward to manage costs, yet at the same time coupled with a strong design to make them sing.

While the Usonian concept calls for strong integration with the site and nature around it, and many homes were built on sloped or otherwise interesting lots, that isn’t as much on display here at the Pappas house.  But what is fits with many of the moves that FLW brought to his design:  a strong horizontal feel, high clerestory windows to bring in light, breaking down corners and even whole walls through windows and glass doors, and a masterclass in using differing levels and ceiling heights to create a playful and interesting set of interlocking spaces. Material use is also well on point, marrying the mosaic-like solidity of concrete blocks and tile with the warmth and continuity of wood, punctuated by all that glass.

The house for sale even comes with original FLW furniture!

Compared to the monumentality of the Ennis house, this is anything but.  Yet in no way does that diminish the qualities within.  It may not be the strongest of FLW’s Usonian designs, but it’s still darn good.

The Pappas house by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Images and Listing by Dielmann Sotheby’s International Realty.

 

* To be fair, some of the shacks (albeit not too many) are Eichler houses, which are quite amazing in their own right.  And I do mean that; I live in an Eichler-inspired home, and it’s fine, but walking into a true Eichler just hits you with how exquisite the space and design is.  Of course, to buy an actual Eichler in this area is going to cost you wayyyyy more than buying a “Like-ler” (as the local planning department has named them) and certainly way more than the Pappas house out in Missouri.

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Architecture Monday

June 3, 2019

For many years my friends and I would travel to Toronto to visit, among other things, the few gaming stores to get our fill of RPG materials.  Taking the subway from Scarborough, we’d walk through then from the Eaton’s Centre down Queen Street, and up Spadina Avenue to our main gaming store haunt.  Along the way, we would pass around this amusing oddity, a point where the street flowed around a large island located smack in the centerline of the street.  On that island was a rather stately building that, despite that stateliness, we never could tell what it was used for, or whether it was even use at all.

Well, I needn’t wonder any longer, for the building has been taken and expanded into the new home for the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto!  From the restored front to the landscaped back, the building mixes old and new and emphasizes the juncture between the two, turning that intersection into the primary entryways into the building.  The addition is a box, primarily relying on changes in the roofline and topography to provide some (and I might say just barely enough) articulation and interest.

The best happens inside that box, however, with a plethora of interconnecting spaces radiating off a principal hall that serves multiple duties as auditorium, gallery, and critique space, all culminating at a large graduate studio on the top floor.  With a sculptural ceiling that allows for an abundance of natural, indirect, light, the hall then itself connects through generous circulation to other ancillary spaces allowing the whole affair to come alive in different ways throughout the needs of the school year.  Crits, symposiums, workshops, and extra project space are all well accommodated.

I think my favourite spaces though are the revamped interiors of that stately original, bringing forth much of the character and form of the existing building and rendering it in a nice and new twist with careful touches and with some striking lighting.

Overall, I call this one a win.  The interpenetrating shards of the interior works excellently in providing the varied spaces needed for an architecture school, and there is a nice interplay between the orthographic and grounded original building and the airy, fractal-like new (which in of itself is great for budding architects to experience).  And best of all, it’s brought life and use to a building that was once this odd folly cut off from the city by a busy road and streetcars.  Now it’s a vibrant hub that even makes the detour drive around it curious and new.  Well done.

The Daniels Building by NADAAA

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Architecture Monday

May 27, 2019

Pardon me if I indulge here for a moment by posting another adaptive re-use design by Heatherwick studios, this time from South Africa, transforming a building type familiar to many and found throughout the world:  the waterside concrete grain silo.

On the one hand, grain silos are super strong and resilient.  On the other hand, they’re kind of limiting… what is one to do with all that tubular space?  Fortunately, the first hand and the second hand can come together, with the unified strength allowing for massive holes to be cut into the structure without collapse.

And that was the founding point of the design.  Using a leftover kernel of corn that was literally picked up at the base of one of the silos as the template, a massive atrium was cut into the silos to create a grand entry and circulation space.  And hoo boy, grand it is!  Glazed on top and with circular elevators and stairs gliding through the peripheral silos it’s a stunning sight to behold.  And one of detail mastery as well; the skill on display required to cut the concrete in the complex curving forms is amazing.

The adjacent grading tower with its strong boxy form is a nice contrast to the silo tubes.  With jeweled windows that protrude from the strong boxy frame additional galleries, event spaces, and even a hotel are created.  Best of all might be the amazing roof sculpture gardens that not only provide an amazing panoramic view of the area coupled with sculpture, but also the skylights for the atrium upon which you can walk and cavort and dance.  Or the rooftop pool for the hotel…

One of the strict desires/briefs by the client was “No curving galleries!  Art is not round!”  So the majority of the galleries seem to be white boxes that totally belie the silo nature in which they are contained.  This to me is unfortunate; while I get the desire for straight walls, to not find a path that could both celebrate the curvy while maintaining the orthogonal is a bit of a lost opportunity.  But that hardly breaks the project.  As an amazing reuse of a very industrial building this is an exceptional win, delightful to experience and doubly great that African modern artists now have a local home upon which to have their works displayed and celebrated.  Great stuff.

The Zeitz MOCAA by Heatherwick Studios

Bonus video!  Click here:  https://vimeo.com/269008579

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Architecture Monday

May 20, 2019

Old and new.  Molten aluminum and brick.  Perforations sprouting greenery.  Nestled between the historic and the imposing landscape.  An addition and refurbishment of an old convent-turned-museum along the northern coast of Spain.

A nice addition merging the historical with the new, with a bounty of marvelous detail work.  Great stuff.

San Telmo Museum by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos

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Architecture Monday

May 13, 2019

So this is nifty.  You’ve got these two former coal hopper warehouses that, while built by the same person, are not parallel (to better work with the incoming rail lines and turning radiuses).  They are big, made of brick, super solid, and full of arched loading bays that would be perfect to convert into stores.

Cool.  Now, you also want to include both indoor and outdoor event spaces and do something to unify the two buildings.  Hmm, what to do…  well, how about “pulling” the roof like taffy and have the buildings kiss?

Which turns out to be as equally impressive inside!

Lots of nice stuff here that builds upon all sorts of features that were already in place from the industrial days: the multiple ground planes, the train access bridges, the rugged and tactile brick, the Victorian ironworks.  All pulled together with additional bridges, lots of glass, and, of course, the twin ribbons hovering like magic over the new plaza.

Cool beans and a fabulous adaptive reuse project.  Coal Drops Yard by Heatherwick Studio