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Posts Tagged ‘architecture

“I like good strong words that mean something”*…


From Word Journal, “a journal of interesting and infrequently encountered words.”

Many more wonderful words there, and at its frequent source, the remarkable Ragbag.

* Louisa May Alcott, Little Women


As we luxuriate in language, we might recall that it was on this date in 1984 that noted slinger of mots Prince Charles threw a wrench into plans to build an addition onto England’s National Gallery.  The museum had held a competition for designs, and tentatively settled on plans drawn by Ahrends, Burton and Koralek (with elements from the high-tech scheme of Richard Rogers).  The Prince, on reviewing the drawings, pronounced them a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.”  His pronouncement sparked spirited dialogue, both on the proper role of the Royal Family and on the state of modern architecture.  Indeed, “monstrous carbuncle” has become a common descriptor for a modern building that clashes with its surroundings.

The ABK plans were withdrawn, and the Gallery went back to the drawing board.  In 1991 they opened The Sainsbury Wing, designed by the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

The Sainsbury Wing, as built, seen from Trafalgar Square



Written by LW

May 17, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing more poetic and terrible than the skyscrapers’ battle with the heavens that cover them”*…


eVolo Magazine has announced the winners of its 2015 Skyscraper Competition.  The award was established in 2006 to recognize outstanding ideas for vertical living; since then, more than 6,000 entries have envisioned the future of building high.  These ideas, through their novel use of technology, materials, programs, aesthetics, and spatial organizations, challenge the way we understand vertical architecture and its relationship with the natural and built environments.

First Place- Essence Skyscraper

Ewa Odyjas, Agnieszka Morga, Konrad Basan, Jakub Pudo

Away from everyday routines, in a dense city center, a secret garden that combines architecture and a nature is born. The main goal of this project is to position non-architectural phenomena in an urban fabric.  An inspiration rooted in nature allowed to form a representation of external worlds in the shape of a vertical structure. Overlapping landscapes like an ocean, a jungle, a cave or a waterfall will stimulate a diverse and complex range of visual, acoustic, thermal, olfactory, and kinesthetic experiences.

The main body of the building is divided into 11 natural landscapes. They are meant to form an environmentally justified sequence open to the public that includes extensive open floor plans that form spectacular spaces with water floors, fish tanks lifted up to 30 meters above ground, and jungle areas among others natural scenarios. The sequence landscapes might become a variable set of routes dedicated to different shades of adventure.

Second Place- Shanty-Scaper

Suraksha Bhatla, Sharan Sundar

Unrecognized slums have effectively become akin to an invisible Chennai, largely ignored by the service provision agencies. As urban planners and architects we must make a conscious decision to improve the quality of life of squatters (shelter, services & livelihood) by applying principles of sustainable urbanism. The need of the hour is a reimagination of the existing land parcels, growth and infrastructural burden squatters place on the city’s civic supplies. This begs the question – Will the cities of the future be filled with vertical slums? Informal settlements and the paucity of land parcels can no longer be ignored & the complexities of resettlement will force slum dwellers themselves to build higher using locally available, structurally sound, recyclable materials accommodating themselves into organised communities.

Shanty-Scraper aspires to provide a unique solution for the fishermen of Nochikuppam located at Marina bay beach. The vertical squatter structure predominately is comprised of post-construction debris such as pipes and reinforcement bars that crucially articulate the structural stability. Recycled corrugated metal sheets, regionally sourced timber & thatch mould the enclosure of each dwelling profile and lend to their vernacular language. The double height semi enclosures serve as utility yards & social gathering spaces. The vertical transportation is fragmented into multiple plank lifts that are constructed from a simple mechanically driven lever & pulley contraption. The rhythmic timber lattice membrane structure at the ground level, houses the public sea food market, & forms the first level of defence against future tsunamis. The high rise typology serves as a vantage point for the fishermen to gauge high risk waters & during emergencies…

More on both these projects, on the other honorees, and on the competition at “Winners 2015 eVolo Skyscraper Competition.”

* Federico Garcia Lorca


As we get high, we might spare a thought for Albrecht Dürer; he died on this date in 1528.  Renown as a painter and a print-maker,  Dürer was also a mathematician and theorist who wrote a four volume treatise on geometry and its applications, Four Books on Measurement (Underweysung der Messung mit dem Zirckel und Richtscheytor Instructions for Measuring with Compass and Ruler).  Book Three applies the principles of geometry to architecture (along with engineering and typography).


Dürer, self-portrait



Written by LW

April 6, 2015 at 1:01 am

“This is a service station. We offer service. There’s no higher purpose”*…


This quaint art deco Tower Conoco Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe in Shamrock, Texas, was one of the first businesses the tiny panhandle town built along Route 66, in 1936. Built by architect Joseph Barry, it’s now owned by the city and used as a visitor’s center. (CLINTON STEEDS VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Gas stations are rarely known for their aesthetics. Looking like a truck stop is no compliment for a work of architecture. It hasn’t always been so: In the early days of American car culture, gas stations were designed with enough architectural flamboyance to lure customers off the highway. As driving has become an ingrained way of life, though, that extra design effort has fallen by the wayside. Though in general we’re not a huge fan of city driving, as long as people continue to rely on cars, there will have to be places to fuel up. Why make car infrastructure more of a blight on the landscape than it already is?

Some of the best-known architects of our time have set their sights on gas station architecture, from midcentury icons like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, to Jean Prouvé to Norman Foster. In a new book from Architizer founder Marc Kushner, The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, Kushner devotes an entire section to this car-centic architecture that outclasses the barren Shell stations of today by a mile…

This gas station in Matúškovo, Slovakia, built in 2011 by Atelier SAD, looks like a spacecraft. The columns supporting the concrete overhang also serve as drainage pipes.  (TOMAS SOUCEK)

Fill ‘er up at “9 Gorgeous Gas Stations Throughout History.”

* “Socrates” (Nick Nolte), a gas station attendant in Peaceful Warrior


As we opt for unleaded, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Britain introduced the first Driver’s Test for licensing.  Optional until 1935 (so as to avoid a crush at the test centers), the new requirement, enacted with the Highway Code of 1934, followed a year in which cars on the road topped 1 million in the U.K. and road deaths reached 7,300.  In an effort to calm motorists made nervous by the new requirement, Ford produced a short, reassuring film, narrated by motor racer and land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell:

email readers click here for video


Written by LW

March 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

What goes around…


The bicycle revolutionized late Victorian and Edwardian society. Between the 1880s and the 1910s, it grew from an expensive fad for the upper classes, to a popular sport, to a marker of freedom for women, and finally, to an affordable mode of transportation for the middle and working classes. The more daring took the riding of the bicycle even further to amazing acrobatic feats atop two pneumatic tyres!

Fancy Cycling, published in 1901, chronicles some of the daring tricks that could be executed on a bicycle…

From the ever-edifying Edwardian Promenade; the photo above is © Shire Publications/Old House, which has just re-released Fancy Cycling.


As we fixate on fixies, we might recall that it was on this date in 1883 that James Goold Cutler patented the mail chute.  An architect (and later, Mayor of Rochester, NY), Cutler developed the system to allow employees or residents in multi-story buildings– which, with the advent of Otis’ “safe” elevators, were going up in huge numbers– to use a slot on their floor to mail letters which then dropped through a thin shaft to a collection box in the lobby.  Largely extinct now (they had an unfortunate habit of jamming, and then of course, there came email), they were once a standard feature of high-rises.

A Cutler mail chute, still in service as of 2010, in the lobby of the Idaho Building in downtown Boise.




“A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines…”*


From  the New School of Architecture and Design, “Failure by Design”– an infographic that charts major architectural blunders through the ages…   Visit the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Tower of Pisa, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and other famously ill-conceived constructions for explications of the miscalculations at work and the lessons they teach.

Click here (and again) for an enlarged version of the full graphic; read about the project here and here.

* Frank Lloyd Wright


As we take up our t-squares, we might send exquisitely-wrought birthday greetings to the architect of “The Library of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges; he was born on this date in 1899.  An accomplished poet, essayist, and translator, Borges is of course best remembered for his short stories.  In reaction to 19th century Realism and Naturalism, Borges blended philosophy and fantasy to create an altogether new kind of literary voice.  Indeed, critic Angel Flores credits Borges with founding the movement that Flores was the first to call “Magic Realism.”

There’s no need to build a labyrinth when the entire universe is one.


Written by LW

August 24, 2013 at 1:01 am

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone…


The great men and women of history… and the modern pop song lyrics they might have spoken.

Many more muse-worthy mash-ups at Ms. Attribution.


As we slip on our headphones, we might send elegantly-ordered birthday greetings to Daniel H. Burnham; he was born on this date in 1846.  America’s preeminent architect at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, Burnham collaborated with Frederick Law Olmsted on the design of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, became the country’s leading city planner (Chicago, Cleveland, Washington DC, San Francisco, among others), designed such iconic buildings as New York’s Flatiron and Washington’s Union Station, and served as President of the American Institute of Architects.

Even fellow-architects impatient with Burnham’s resolute classicism– e.g., Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright– were admirers of the man and his efforts.  (Robert Moses, Burhham’s successor as Master Planner through the midst of the Twentieth Century, might be a reminder to Sullivan and Wright that one should be careful what one wishes for…)




Tottering Towers…

From The Economist:

The British Parliament’s Clock Tower (more commonly known as Big Ben) is leaning north-west by 0.26 degrees, or 17 inches (43.5cm), according to documents that were recently made public. But Big Ben isn’t alone; architects have been correcting the Leaning Tower of Pisa since the 1170s when it was still being built. Germany’s Leaning Tower of Suurhusen, which at an angle of 5.19 degrees holds the Guinness World Record for the most tilted tower in the world, dates back to the 1450s. In modern times, many buildings have been designed at a deliberate slant. The 165-metre Montréal Tower, finished in 1987, is the world’s tallest man-made leaning tower and inclines at a 45-degree angle. In 1996, the Puerta de Europa in Spain was completed with two towers sloping towards each other at a 15-degree angle. Late this year the Capital Gate is set to be finished in Abu Dhabi at a slant of 18 degrees.


As we hum “Lean on Me” to ourselves, we might send soulful birthday greetings to Robery Leroy Johnson; he was born on this date in 1911.  A master of the Mississippi Blues, Johnson’s guitar work and vocals have been hugely influential: he ranks fifth on Rolling Stone‘s list of all-time greatest guitarists, and is cited by Eric Clapton as “the most important blues singer that ever lived.”  But this regard developed posthumously; during his lifetime, Johnson was effectively unknown– an itinerant, playing juke joints and street corners.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that a legend has arisen around Johnson: as a young boy committed to music, he was “instructed” to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met the Devil who, after bargaining for Johnson’s soul, took the guitar, tuned it, played a few songs, and then returned it– giving Johnson his otherwordly mastery of the instrument.


Written by LW

May 8, 2012 at 1:01 am


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