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Posts Tagged ‘architecture

“a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city”*…

John Portman’s Atlanta Hyatt Regency, which opened in 1967, kicked off a major atrium-hotel-building craze

If you’re craning your neck as severely when you step inside a building as you did outside it, you might be in an atrium hotel, an intensely American structure for sleep, conferences, cocktails, and much more. These are facilities built around a massive central chamber stretching a dozen or several dozen stories into the sky; at the lobby level, you’ll find bars, restaurants, gardens, live birds, and maybe even a boat or two.

We don’t build them much anymore, but Americans invented, perfected and exported this unique building style to the world (where it continues to prosper). Birthed in brash excess, atrium hotels were first seen as too gaudy by the modernist architectural establishment and as too profligate by penny-pinching chain hoteliers. To varying observers, they suggest everything from Disney to dystopia. But in their heyday, these buildings promised — and delivered — a spectacle like no other.

Real estate developer Trammell Crow, the man with the most Dallas-sounding name you’ve ever heard, provided early inspiration for the form with his Dallas Trade Mart atrium, built in 1958. But it was Atlanta architect-developer John Portman, his occasional partner, who adapted and built the form into a colossus. Portman’s Hyatt Recency Atlanta opened in 1967, and was an immediate sensation. Atriums became a signature of the Hyatt Regency brand, and Portman went on to work for a variety of other chains, including Marriott and Westin. Atriums later became a standard feature of most Embassy Suites…

The benefit wasn’t just grand views from the lobby, but from every floor; each hallway was suddenly a balcony. Inside that central volume of space, hotels stuffed a range of embellishments. “One would move through a set of functions and experiences as one might a city: from home, to garden, to urban plaza, cafe, and bar,” wrote University of Technology, Sydney architectural historian Charles Rice in his book Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman, and Downtown America.

The trouble was, some critics saw, that these atrium hotels tended to be creating, as Rice’s title indicates, a new urbanism that was purely inside. Amenities that once faced streets were pulled indoors and replaced with blank walls and hard-to-find entrances. That formula — so irresistible during an era of urban crisis and decay in the 1970s and ’80s — lost some appeal when cities staged a comeback and the streets again beckoned with their own attractions…

Portman’s first atrium wasn’t in a hotel at all, but in the now-demolished Antoine Graves public housing tower in Atlanta, built in 1965. The idea was simple, says Mickey Steinberg, a structural engineer on many of Portman’s early projects. The architect was just trying to provide some sociable space and ventilation to tenants. (The building was not air conditioned.) “If I had a hole down the center of the building,” Steinberg recalls Portman saying, “people could come out and talk to each other and I might be able to get some air through the building.” 

That notion recurred to Portman two years later for the Hyatt Regency. “It wasn’t any grand philosophy about a style of architecture,” Steinberg says. “He was designing for people to want to be there.”

He was also designing for people who might not have wanted to be in Atlanta, whose central business district was in decline. Steinberg recalled Portman’s intention: “I’m going to create a space for them to want to be in, because downtown Atlanta doesn’t have it anymore.”

The Portman-style skyscraper atrium revived a 19th century tradition: the grand hotel lobby, with its adjoining restaurants, ballrooms and other such attractions. In the motel age, these spaces had often been pared back to a mere desk for paperwork. (You’d even usually go elsewhere for that one ineradicable amenity of the ice machine.) Portman bet that guests would embrace spectacle and activity again…

The atrium concept didn’t initially enthrall the moneymen… Bill Marriott had one look and he said, ‘Don’t bother with it. Motels are the thing.’” Conrad Hilton famously called it a “concrete monster.” A then-unknown savior turned up in the form of Don Pritzker, whose nascent Hyatt chain then had only three locations. 

That bet paid off once the Hyatt Regency Atlanta opened: Visits to the hotel in the first four months of operation exceeded their expectation of the first five years. Guests lined up just to go up and down in the glass elevators. And Hyatt ran with the formula, building additional atrium-equipped Regency locations into the 1970s and ’80s…

A consideration of a uniquely-American style and of the social, cultural, and economic forces that birthed it: “Into the Heart of the Atrium Hotel.”

* Frederic Jameson, describing Portman’s Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, Postmodernism

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As we blow bubbles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1928 that former concert violinist and proprietor of the One-In-Hand Tie Company of Clinton, Iowa, Joseph W. Less, introduced the modern clip-on tie.

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“It’s not the size of the nose that matters, it’s what’s inside that counts”*…

Dimensions.com is an ongoing reference database of dimensioned drawings documenting the standard measurements and sizes of the everyday objects and spaces that make up our world. Created as a universal resource to better communicate the basic properties, systems, and logics of our built environment, Dimensions.com is a free platform for increasing public and professional knowledge of life and design…

Dimensions.com is an ongoing public research project founded by architect Bryan Maddock and continues to be developed through the architecture practice Fantastic Offense.

The measure of man’s manufacture: Dimensions.com

(See also “Not too big, not too small… just right” for an earlier look at a similar initiative…)

* Steve Martin

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As we realize that the ruler rules, we might it was on this date in 1951 that the first long distance direct dial call was made (from Englewood, New Jersey, to Alameda, California) in the U.S.– area codes became a reality. The North American Numbering Plan had been published in 1947, dividing most of North America into eighty-six numbering plan areas (NPAs). Each NPA was assigned a unique three-digit code, typically called NPA code or simply area code. These codes were first used by long-distance operators in establishing long-distance calls between toll offices. By the early 1960s, most areas of the Bell System had been converted and DDD had become commonplace in cities and most towns in the United States and Canada. By 1967, the number of assigned area codes had grown to 129. There are currently 317 geographic area codes in the United States and an additional 18 non-geographic area codes, totaling 335 US area codes.

Area code handbook by the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania issued in 1962 to promote the newly introduced direct distance dialing (source)

“What’s a bigger mystery box than a movie theater?”*…

Arman Cinema / Viktor Konstaninov, architect. Almaty, Kazakhstan 1967

“Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era” is a collaborative series by The Calvert Journal and ArchDaily highlighting iconic architecture that had shaped the Eastern world. Each publication has released a round-up of five– so ten in total– Eastern Bloc projects of different sorts. The above, from: “Eastern Bloc Architecture: Sci-fi Cinemas.”

More where that came from at “Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era.”

* J.J. Abrams

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As we take our seats, we might send brief birthday greetings to Valentin Sergeyevich Pavlov; he was born on thus date in 1937. A Russian economist and politician, he served as Prime Minister of the Soviet union for 9 month in 1991. During his tenure he oversaw a major currency reform and (concerned to prevent the break-up of the USSR) he attempted to shift the locus of power from the President– Gorbachev at the time– to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Deputies. When that move failed, he joined a coup attempt… which, when it too failed, cost him his post and landed him in prison.

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Written by LW

September 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Home is the nicest word there is”*…

Suburban housing developments, simultaneously loathed and loved, began in the mid-20th century. Two of the major figures who built these developments were William Levitt (1907-1994) and Joseph Eichler (1900-1974), both sons of New York Jewish immigrant families. Yet the communities they created differed in one very important respect—one whose legacy endures to this day: While Levitt & Sons built “whites only” communities and refused to integrate their developments, Eichler and his son Ned fought just as hard to oppose discrimination in housing, even helping to write California’s fair-housing law…

William Levitt and Joseph Eichler both pioneered suburban development. But one fought for fair housing, while the other refused to integrate his communities: “The Kings of Suburbia.”

* Laura Ingalls Wilder

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As we focus on fairness, we might send stark birthday greetings to Denys Louis Lasdun; he was born in this date in 1914. An eminent British architect, he is probably that countries leading practitioner of the Brutalist style. He is probably best known for his designs of The Royal National Theatre on South Bank in London, and for his work at the University of East Anglia (where, as it happens, your correspondent did time during his juior year abroad).

Royal National Theatre
Norfolk Terrace halls of residence at the University of East Anglia

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“The door handle is the handshake of the building”*…

 

door handle

Door handle and rose (1833–47), manufactured by Copeland & Garrett, Stoke-on-Trent. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

We have all become suddenly more aware of the moments when we cannot avoid touching elements of public buildings. Architecture is the most physical, most imposing and most present of the arts – you cannot avoid it yet, strangely, we touch buildings at only a very few points – the handrail, perhaps a light switch and, almost unavoidably, the door handle. This modest piece of handheld architecture is our critical interface with the structure and the material of the building. Yet it is often reduced to the most generic, cheaply made piece of bent metal which is, in its way, a potent critique of the value we place on architecture and our acceptance of its reduction to a commodified envelope rather than an expression of culture and craft.

Despite their ubiquity and pivotal role in the haptic experience of architecture, door handles remain oddly under-documented. There are no serious histories and only patchy surveys of design, mostly sponsored by manufacturers. Yet in the development of the design of the door handle we have, in microcosm, the history of architecture, a survey of making and a measure of the development of design and how it relates to manufacture, technology and the body.

For as long as there have been doors there have been door handles…

An appreciation of the apparati of accessibility: “Points of contact – a short history of door handles.”

* Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

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As we get a grip, we might send thoughtfully-wagered birthday greetings to a man whose thought open a great many (metaphorical) doors, Blaise Pascal; he was born on this date in 1623.  A French mathematician, physicist, theologian, and inventor (e.g.,the first digital calculator, the barometer, the hydraulic press, and the syringe), his commitment to empiricism (“experiments are the true teachers which one must follow in physics”) pitted him against his contemporary René “cogito, ergo sum” Descartes…

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Happy Juneteenth!

 

Written by LW

June 19, 2020 at 1:01 am

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