Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: November 2008

“Retailers hope to set tone for holiday season”

Across the country, predawn crowds, some armed with tents as they gathered as early as noon on Thanksgiving Day, were reported outside of Best Buy Co. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other big-box retailers and malls to capture early-hour bargains on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marks the start of retailers’ biggest selling season of the year.

“Worker dies in Black Friday store rush”

“2 dead after shots fired in SoCal Toys ‘R’ Us”

Hey – I think there’s something wrong here. Without sounding bitter or cynical, I think that we might want to re-evaluate our priorities in this country.

Shopocalypse indeed. Do you think that “Black Friday” is going to mean the same thing anymore? Is this the end of this unfortunate and unsustainable “tradition?”

[I’ve updated my little “What I do” post up top and since it’s not obvious to click on it and reread, since you may have already read it once, here’s the text…]

There’s more to life than design. I guess. If you say so.

I am irreverent but passionate about all things. I hate writing these because they are either too long, or you sound like you’re writing a personal ad for the back of the weekly. And while I am a man, and seeking certain things and people; it’s not like that, so get your filthy imagination off of me.

I take bad pictures with the same immediacy that I write bad prose, and you can find those here. The pictures and prose are in search of the same things.

I work for a really high-end residential firm on the West Side of Los Angeles, and it’s an education every day. But what I really want to do is act. Actually not. What I am in the process of doing is applying to graduate schools. This is so I can go explore more of the world and its people and learn more advanced techniques and tools. My goal is to expand my understanding of the human condition, of building and what it means to build, and ultimately, seek out the greatest of which I and we are capable, shine light upon it, and use it to help our common cause.

It’s all very idealistic – and purposefully so. At 28 years old, I am not too old to be idealistic, but I find that I am more so than my peers. I cling to idealism in spite of massive evidence to the contrary, knowing full well that it’s not how the world works. Maybe by doing this, by the time I have enabled myself with the tools necessary to enact the change I am seeking, there will be more humanity and high minded (if a bit naive) idealism left in me to shape my actions in a positive fashion.

If you think I’m an idiot, respond and say so. If you take issue with or agree with something I say, respond and say so. I am here to learn and maybe teach, not necessarily to be right. The only thing that makes our species somewhat special is our ability to communicate, and if I can get myself and others to do so, I will have begun to enact that change I am seeking.

Thanks for listening.

First, there is an interesting exhibit on religion and media going on at ZKM right now – if you happen to be in Karlsruhe, check it out.

Second, there is a study involving apparently eleven or twelve architects going on to “redesign” Mecca

“the scheme for Islam’s holiest city could create a huge new structure around the central Haram mosque that will eventually be capable of holding three million people, making it the ‘highest occupancy’ building in the world.”

I have previoiusly blogged my horror at development in Mecca, but I think that this is the right direction to take. Instead of splitting up the city piecemeal to developers able to make profits overlooking your temple, enlist the help of some people who might have good ideas how to let the developers make money hand over fist while still respecting the character of the place – and this is a very important place.

I find it interesting that both of these items come to my attention on the same day – one is an exploration of the “virtual” spaces of religion, and the other the opposite, a negotiation of edification itself. With their acorporeality and otherworldly aspirations, religions have always been primed and waiting for mass media.

But property development and the definitions of the city and its spaces have changed so drastically with the modernist experiment that there still needs to be a constant redefinition of how city structures, physical form, and dumb logistical realities of building a gathering place for a 3 million people. That’s a temporary population greater than the permanent population of say… Chicago. So virtuality necessitates that the edification that we do undertake matters so much more.

In the fall of 2002, Mark Stankard ran a very good studio at USC whose aim was to be an exploration of ways to foster communication between the community, the University, and the adjacent Ibn Al Khattab Mosque. In a lot of ways, this studio changed my life and views, as a significant educational program is capable.

And because of it, I have a certain interest in and affinity for the interface of a cautious and conservative group such as the mainline of a religion and the morally complex questions and challenges of modernity. So the discussion of mediating development in a modern sense in places that are by their nature conservative is very necessary in today’s world. And as a final thought and self-promotion, here are my portfolio pages from that semester. And the rest of my portfolio is here.

[This is the text of a presentation I gave to my office this morning, contrasting the work of English architect David Adjaye and Austrian office Coop Himmelb(l)au’s latest project, the Performing Arts High School in Downtonw Los Angeles.]

In the work of David Adjaye, there is a sense of the public as a definite user, an understanding of the experiential qualities of buildings, and of space. He is a practical humanist, and the design strategies he uses to reach his goal of making a human experience out of a building reflect this. Coop Himmelb(l)au do not consider the user group in their design strategies – there is an abstract and formal / materialist agenda that they are seeking. For example, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver by Adjaye has no front door. It is a long promenade up around just inside the facade of the building. It winds loops around the galleries with stops at every floor. It allows for a thermal mass to be built up around the art spaces, which must be conditioned, allows the museum and its art to be seen as unquestionably belonging to the city, and effects even the least aware user with a unique and rewarding experience.
By using one formal element, Adjaye has achieved multiple design goals, in both a formal and human sense. Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Public School has a broad entry stair that belongs to no one, let alone a specific user, or “the city.” Situated on a broad public boulevard, it is far larger than any space around it, faces nothing notable, contains nothing notable, and when you reach the top, you are greeted with an open plaza with no formal articulation or reason for being, and your view is of a two and a half to three story blank concrete wall of dubious craftsmanship. The project is an exercise in the situating of discrete design elements in an empty space, and as such, there is nothing that says “public,” “visual arts,” or “school.”
Unfortunately, I feel that this space is an apt metaphor for the entire project. While I have wrestled with the pros and cons of this project for many weeks now, ultimately the verdict has to be that it is a waste of the public’s money and trust to build this kind of extravagant yet conceptually vacant building as a school, and in a city with a gross school funding shortfall. This excess is highlighted by the tower, originally conceived as a leaseable space with advertising on the face. A hackneyed ripoff of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International Soviet, it will stand as a monument to this failure of the system and the failure of powers that be such as Eli Broad to conceive of a “new kind” of public school, as was their stated intent. Their priorities in conceiving of a new school typology were all in the wrong places, and to disastrous effect.
And while I characterize Adjaye as practical and humanist, this is not to limit his work to having these qualities. Like the best designers, particularly the best architects, Adjaye is vital because he configures physical realities (such as a thermal mass behind a curtain wall) and practical necessities (such as pedestrian circulation) to create something in their synthesis that is greater than the “sum of its parts.” And if you add the layer of a poetic stroke such as a museum having no front door, you can begin to see the true skill of a designer like David Adjaye that stands in such stark contrast to the imitation of what one would think a “great designer” would do, such as regurgitate Monastery at La Tourette light scoops, Tatlin’s tower, the British Museum reading room, and an oversized courtyard all in one project and try to call it great architecture. In a world with such limited means, in terms of attention and social engagement, let alone material resources, we can in many ways be measured by our wastefulness of these means, and while David Adjaye navigates the deepest seas, and Coop Himmelb(l)au founders in the shallow end.

As a teaser for a future exploration, I leave you with this. In our postcolonial world, where the halls of influence are becoming a little “easier” to break into, David Adjaye is a new kind of figure, one who proves that you need not have “experience” to have “expertise.” And conversely, the design principals of Coop Himmelb(l)au are evidence that vast experience, when coupled with cynicism, are no guarantee of fitness to lead. Does this sound like a familiar scenario?

They found Copernicus’s tomb. When they opened the seals, the mummified 16th century astronomer emerged in a cloud of dust, scarab beetles, and horror; and everyone was overcome with the emptiness of the soul that comes from realizing that you are not the center of the universe…

Mitt Romney states his opinion for “managed bankruptcy” for the auto makers.

Which is funny, considering… Who his father was… oh, just look…

Mitt sure loves his “home state” of Michigan. Like Woody Hayes he does…

Concrete Ammonite says so many things that are on all of our minds, as we bide time, wondering where this path leads…

I am crippled as a designer, but not by my tools. I’m crippled by all those years of dungeon-work in that dingy concrete hell of an architecture school…as a lowly drudge-serf intern in some big firm…as a maker of pretty pictures of steel-framed cathedrals to crony neo-Con theo-Con capitalism! I only think in terms of structural-steel-arch roofing systems and reinforced fiberglass pilings…when I should be thinking of other things entirely. Why would anyone wait for the world to end in something like this? Coast Guard-approved fiberglass pilings? I should be specifying the bones of murdered giants! Steel roofing? It should be woven spiderweb stiffened with a generous coating of mummia, the embalming lacquer used on the corpses of dead Pharaohs.

We build up the edifices around us: give us a place to ride out the storm, light by which to see, hands with which to work…

Here’s to anything, and a place to watch it unfold.

Just useful stuff in the wrong place, according to Alex Steffen of World Changing.

How many monks does it take to drink…

One Million Beers!

Thanks to Treehugger and GreenUpgrader for this one.

p.s. In his wikipedia entry, Steffen is described as a “futurist.” That was always up there with “mad scientist” on my list of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Man – a few weeks ago, I was blogging Phil Gramm. Now, I’m refreshed to be blogging Phil Morton.

I had never known who he was. I found him through Rhizome. And like most video art – his stuff is unwatchable.

But that doesn’t diminish its importance, or the technical impressiveness. But the most salient factor is how his work (and seemingly his personality) prefigures by more than a decade the currently ongoing fights against the inadequacy of copyright law. This was especially clear when I read the latest post on the blog of his foundation.

Read the “latest post” above – and please, read as many of the support documents as you can. As the amount of recorded data in the universe is doubling every three years and falling (uncited), our relationship to what precedes us is essential. Like one’s memory is their most useful tool, OUR collective memory is OUR greatest tool – and that is why the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Creative Commons, the GPL, the FOSS movement, and the accompanying philosophies are so important. And his pioneering of these worlds is why Phil Morton is so important.

Why else am I interested? Let’s just say that I have been really bothered by the stark – yet artificial – divisions between “culture” and “free(d) culture” for a long time, and I’ve been thinking of a project to try and blur those lines.

Thank you, Phil Morton.

As I continue to finely hone the long awaited post finally resetting this blog to its “Regularly Scheduled Programming” of design and critique, let’s take a breather at a brilliant point somewhere between abstract social commentary and the more “pure” politics of an election campaign.

Thanks to Infinite Thought for the brilliant link.