Architecture Monday

A double bandstand, one facing east at ground level looking onto the city, one facing west and elevated looking onto the local volcano.  Both nestled within in a simple barrel-vault made of rough and vibrant local stone.  A space for community, for music learning and performance, and for theatre and gatherings.  A gem of a design.

Kithara Music Kiosk by TO Architects

Philosophy Tuesday

One of the reasons we may glom onto simple explanations and binary/dichotomous thinking while resisting nuance and complexity is because (likely often) we’re already tired from the social conditions of money and debt, of our living situations, of dominance shenanigans, of terrible design (urban and otherwise), and many other things causing friction, frustration, hardship, hurt, and just downright exhaustion.

And so, we think that we don’t have enough energy or enough brainpower to fully engage.  It’s easier to go into full reductivist mode, listen to our inner hacks, and latch onto whatever we think will bring us the most comfort.  Sometimes (often?) with a touch of make-wrong so we can also pretend we have agency by labelling others.

Now, it’s not that we don’t face a lot of friction in our everyday lives and that we don’t need to expend a lot of energy dealing with many things.*  The thing is, by holding onto that excuse and unattentively and letting those hack stories take over, we rob ourselves not only of a lot of the rich and varied experiences that is available in life, but more unfortunately also of the chances of resolving those very things that we keep having to grind through.

It becomes a rut.

It may even feel designed purposefully designed.  And, perhaps (often?), it is.  Because to keep us stuck in this state allows those who loot and deprive us to keep on doing it.  If we can’t engage, we can’t work towards ameliorating the system.

But that bit where we feel we don’t have the energy or brainpower to engage?  That’s also a ruse (both one of our own and one they also peddle to keep us on the sidelines).  We can take a breather**, then head in.  A little bit here, a little bit there, working together, we can strive towards a more just, verdant, equitable, diverse, beautiful, and peaceful life for all.

 

* Though, mindfulness and ontological inquiry can make an amazing difference here – it was downright astounding to me just how much more smoothly all my days went once I’d begun taking myself on and practicing for a while.  Doubly astounding was how much of that friction was self-inflicted…

** And with mindfulness in action we’ll be less drained to begin with, and able to dive in even more fully.

Architecture Monday

These large buildings were built just before 1900, able to hold 12 million cubic feet (360 thousand cubic meters) of coal gas.  Perhaps needless to say, coal gas isn’t in use anymore, so what to do with their ornate and richly detailed brick-ness?

Can we just pause here for a moment and admire that ornateness?  These are, after all, “only” industrial and utilitarian structures.  But it was understood that these were civic buildings, and that our surroundings influence our experience and quality of life.  So it wasn’t a stretch to ensure that such prominent hunks would be worthy of those who had to view them and as such given a well designed exterior.

Returning to that question, it’s likely no surprise (if you’ve seen anything I’ve posted here before) that the answer is one of adaptive reuse.  Much like the Battersea Power Station, these four gasometers have been re-imagined into a mixed use neighbourhood.  The domed steel structures were transformed into giant atriums for new construction that rings along the exterior, acting like a giant indoor garden for the new units.  Each building was redone by a different architect, and as such each has a different design within.  It’s as cool as it sounds.

The Vienna Gasometers, re-envisioned by Jean Nouvel, Coop Himmelblau, Manfred Wedhorn, and Wilhelm Holzbauer.

Architecture Monday

There’s lots to love about this school in India, not the least of which is the tantalizing oval form, made of local limestone blocks that blend so seamlessly into the landscape on which it sits.  Add to that the beautiful basket weave pattern of brick that tops it off to create a large rooftop patio – sweet in its own right but if you look carefully you’ll see that the screen isn’t level all the way around, subtly sweeping upward to great effect.  And the blue tile of that roof patio is a fun little touch.

The brick weave also does double duty by accelerating the wind through the venturi effect, helping to cool the courtyard in the extremely hot locale.  Likewise, the thick limestone and mortar do their duty in this regard by creating a thermal mass that absorbs the heat throughout the day and keeping temperatures within the classrooms manageable without need of mechanical support.  Rounding out the trifecta, the clerestory windows along the back do their own double duty to illuminate without glare as well as let the hot air rise and escape.

This is an architecture of a place, for a place, and that makes it top notch work.

Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School by Diana Kellogg Architects

Architecture Monday

I will admit, my first thought was that this school was in a Nordic country.  Awesomely, it is not; it’s in Arkansas, with an amazing design that wraps a couple of buildings in a sculptural and continual roof that turns downward to become a screen wall.

And something about that matte grey metal really works here – it’s not a bland neutral, but instead subtlety reflects the hues of its surroundings and of the ever-changing sky.  It also pairs well with the wood of the building itself that resides behind the sheltered arcade/atrium created by the screen wall.  Then add in a sweet connection to its site (including on-site stormwater catching), a site replete with native plantings, and a couple of protected courtyards with playful water elements.  Good stuff.

Inside the spaces follow the bold lines of the roof to create dynamic and bold spaces that also tie themselves to the outside.  And that cafeteria!  Wood slat roof (with chandeliers) creating this striking and strong linear pull towards the grand vista.

Certainly, we all need an artistic photo of rain drops falling onto our educational pool…

High grade work!  And only one of several buildings on this property that follow the school’s teaching organization of Reels (narrative and visual communications through film), Wheels (physics and mechanics through bikes), and Meals (biology and chemistry through food).

Home Building at Thaden School by Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (and the master campus plan can be found here!)

Architecture Monday

I live in a house that is sometimes known, fully tongue-in-cheek and delighted for the pun, as a “Likeler.”  That is, “like an Eichler.”  Eichler homes essentially defined the ‘California Modern’ house type of post-and-beam style construction, open floorplans, and access to light.

However, spend anytime in an actual Eichler house and the difference between them and my own is readily apparent.  The better design of an Eichler home is completely palpable.  The quality of the spaces and the connections between them, the connection between indoors and out, the play of light, all of those are often downright exquisite.

That includes one of the more common Eichler features, that of the private courtyard.  Sometimes bordering the front of the house, sometimes ensconced in the middle, this little garden could be seen and accessed from numerous places within the home.

These images are some mighty fine examples of the type.  They don’t really need much more description; their awesomeness speaks for themselves.  These are homes designed and built nearly 60 years ago, and their design still shines as an example… and, hopefully, as a reminder and lesson that great design is for everyone and ought to be afforded to everyone.

Courtyards of Eichler Homes, some designed by Robert Anshen as well as Claude Oakland & Associates.  Of note, Eichler also had an inviting and inclusive intent beyond the walls of the house – it’s pretty cool, read a bit more about their history here or here.

Philosophy Tuesday

“Everything I had thought was wrong.

Everything I had expected to see was wrong.

I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things—that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe. In the film “Contact,” when Jodie Foster’s character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, “They should’ve sent a poet.” I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.

It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral…

[Seeing our precious earth from space] can change the way we look at the planet but also other things like countries, ethnicities, religions; it can prompt an instant reevaluation of our shared harmony and a shift in focus to all the wonderful things we have in common instead of what makes us different. It reinforced tenfold my own view on the power of our beautiful, mysterious collective human entanglement, and eventually, it returned a feeling of hope to my heart.

In this insignificance we share, we have one gift that other species perhaps do not: we are aware—not only of our insignificance, but the grandeur around us that makes us insignificant. That allows us perhaps a chance to rededicate ourselves to our planet, to each other, to life and love all around us.

If we seize that chance.”

William Shatner

 

Philosophy Tuesday

There is great beauty in the simple* act of bearing witness.  To just be, and be there, for another in what they are going through in that moment.  Not to fix.  Not to provide advice.  Not to agree.  Not to negate.  Not to do something.  But to just be and acknowledge and honour the emotions and feelings and thoughts and to honour each other in our shared humanity.

In that there is also a great power in the simple act of bearing witness.  To allow what is there to pass, to open, to become a clearing, to allow love and beauty and empathy and verve and whole heartedness to arise once more.

It is a beautiful moment of generosity, of empathy, of connectedness, and of who we all are together.

(I was fortunate to be able to provide this once, to a lone person crying within a large crowd.  A few of us were drawn to them, crouching down and reaching out with a single hand, wordlessly lending our presence and our attention.  Bearing witness to and honouring their anguish, and in so doing honouring that for what or whom they were anguishing for.  As their storm subsided we began to leave, one by one, still silent, leaving with them as they returned to the present, serene and smiling.)

 

* Simple in that it consists only of being present and attentive and for the other.  Not-so-simple if we are not used to being present, or not facile with being vulnerable, or become distracted by our inner chatter or judgement or make it about ourselves or anything of that sort.  But when we practice mindfulness and work to transform and self-cultivate and remove our own baggage and barriers we are not only more available for ourselves but for others as well.