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The National Mall 1/20/09

The National Mall 1/20/09

We have a new president.  As a person of mixed-race today quite special for me, as it was for most Americans, regardless of their ethnic-identity. There is not a lot for me to to add to the chatter about our new Commander-in-Chief.  I am hardly qualified to be a political pundit so I won’t even try. As I watched the oath and parade I was taken, of course, by the architecture. Everything was designed to be grand and looked so beautiful on TV. I have never been impressed with Washington in person. Though, there are exceptions.

The National Building Museum is appropriately, exquisite. Its exterior is playful and pretty. Its interior is a marvel of light and air. It was initially designed as the pension office for Civil War veterans and, as such, originally had short ramp-like steps. This feature made it , perhaps the first building designed for this disabled in the country. That is something beautiful in its own right. It is not the rule unfortunately.

Most of the city and its monuments, although grand, are unexpectedly dingy in person and downright gaudy in design.  But, they photograph majestically and that is how we know them. Washington, like Los Angles, the other city we all know from pictures, is a giant stage. Its buildings are the set-pieces of our republic and we know them by the individual moments in history with which they cooresepond.  Perhaps that is why they look so dull in-person. The knock-off classical temple that houses Lincoln could never compete with the lyrical beauty of the great speech delivered in front of it.

The true architectural grandeur of the city comes when it is taken on as a whole. The image to the right is from the inauguration this morning. It is with photos like these, with the entire mall and a sea of citizens within, that we understand that the city truly lives up to L’Enfant’s design “for aggrandizement and embellishment . . . at any period however remote.”

 

 

Click to Zoom

Click to Zoom

There is a new world order looming.

The days where we turn to institutions, particularly profit-motivated entities, for our information are numbered. In the future we will turn to each other and the internet. The changes are coming quickly. Ten years ago, if you needed to know something, say who designed Freeway Park in Seattle, you might poke around on the internet, but your’d probably fail.  Your best bet would have come from a purchased encyclopedia or correspondence with an institutionally-sponsored expert (think: university professor).  Now a quick search on Wikipedia reveals the designer is Lawrence Halprin. The information would go from an interested expert, to you, with minimal go-between.  The change doesn’t stop there. When we all have better access to the web and our own wikis, this sharing of knowledge will happen with no intermediaries.

People like Joseph Kenyon are fomenting this revolution.

Kenyon runs a website that offers small, economical, house plans to anyone, free of charge.  Though plans are endlessly reproducible units of information, they often cost thousands of dollars. This significantly increases the cost of building one’s own, even small, home. People like Joseph Kenyon aims to change that. By offering the plans for free he hopes to assist those who want there own small place to live but maybe can’t afford it. After the purchase of materials any person with time and effort can have their own shelter.

Joseph Kenyon

Credit: Joseph Kenyon

According to Kenyon, he hopes his site can help even just one person avoid becoming homeless. The changing dynamics of information sharing mean it could do so much more. I can imagine a whole village of Kenyon’s homes replacing the shanties of Juarez or Lagos, cities where some have literally made their homes out of garbage. If the could find the materials Joseph Kenyon could provide the building know-how and help to house thousands.

In the future there may be a million Joseph Kenyon’s and a million plans online, helping to house the worlds poor. Until then I encourage you to visit Kenyon’s site, help spread the word about it and please:

 DONATE TO HIS PROJECT.

You can bring about the new world order as a safer, warmer, better place for everyone.

wtcmodel

The American Architectural Foundation is donating a giant architectural model of the World Trade Center to the museum that now resides at ground zero.

The massive 7-foot, gleaming towers were used to pitch architect Minoru Yamasaki’s design for the site. The foundation brought in a restoration team to spiff-up the model which was, of course, built to be temporary. For more details please check out the National Trust’s Preservation Nation blog. You should be reading it anyway.

I’m happy the model will be included in the September 11 Museum’s collection. The model is a work of art unto itself. I think it presents as good memorial to the tragedy as anything else I’ve seen. This model, built before the building, represents all the hope, community and team-work that go into a major architectural project. It is a symbol of the enterprising nature of humankind.

I can remember people discussing the design for the memorial immediately after the attacks. Given all that thought I have to say I am a little disappointed with the memorial competition entries and what the committee eventually decided to build. None of what was proposed has the simple clarity of the Staten Island September 11th Memorial.

The two, bent, wing-like forms of the Staten Island memorial easily suggest the towers and their absence from the view. The the fact that they are undelivered”postcards”, simply but profoundly expresses the sense of longing the loss of so many Staten Islanders brought to their community. It is one of my favorite memorials.

 

Memorials are built conscious of their place in history. This makes them interesting in the study of architectural history but can also stifle their artistic integrity. I feel like this may have happened at ground zero.

What are some of your favorite memorials? why? Do you prefer the simple, suggestive forms of modern memorials or the more triumphant early modes? Comment, I would love to hear from you.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 

 

Economy got you down?

 

Well quit your bitching and be more like Seattle-architect John Morefield.

 

Morefield (pictured above) has fallen victim to crap economy twice already.  He has been laid of from two separate firms in his young career but he took his shit-luck and got creative.  He went down to the Pike Place Market and set up a booth selling architecture advice for a nickel like a kid with a lemonade stand.  For 5-cents you can get at least a few minutes of architectural know-how.  He even designed a tree house for a young “client.”  You also get Morefield’s card and contact information.  It’s a clever plan to bring business his way in the future when people can afford more than a nickel-architect.  I have to say I love this guy; he’s got moxie.  You can read more about him in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is, appropriately enough, also a victim of the awful financial climate.

For those of you who are less enterprising than Mr. Morefield, you might want to try and mooch some money off the man.  Architectural record has responded to the layoffs and work shortages plaguing the industry by posting a list of architectural grants.  Is this a desperate attempt to keep broke archies in the chips and buying their overpriced magazine? Probably.  In any event some of the grants they’ve noted are quite lucrative.  Your interest in architecture could help you weather the storm.

The AIA thinks architecture could be the savior for the entire nation.  They’ve countered Washington’s bailouts with their own plan for stimulus*.   Their Rebuild and Renew program calls for 100’s of billions to be spent on infrastructure and other building projects.  It calls for $12 billion to create competitive grade schools (and competent architects?), a $30-billion green make over for the nation and even more on transit.  There is even a tax-relief element to help out the firms doing their proposed work.  The program even offers a relatively small pittance ($100-million or so) toward historic preservation.  Specifically, they demand a bailout of the terminally-under-funded Save America’s Treasures program and grants for Tribal and State Historic Preservation Offices. I think this is a well-timed, brilliant idea.

When businesses start failing, wrecking-balls stop razing.  By freezing up competition from mass development, the financial crisis could be a boon for the not-for-profit world of preservation.  Hopefully the new Obama administration and congress will heed the call of the AIA’s architectural New Deal.  If they do we could see a massive expansion of preservation activities and renewed interest in our nation’s architectural heritage.  It took the unchecked construction of a boom-time in the 1960’s to initially spark government action to protect the built environment.  Maybe with the entropy of a near-depression they’ll be spurred to see that work through.

While the financial holocaust may be good for preservationists it is certainly terrible for everyone else.  We’re all going to have to cowboy-up like John Morefield and get creative to make it through to the end of this.   Hopefully when things finally do improve, when Morefield gets a new job and there is money to be made in building once again, we’ll also see the fruits of our protected, restored and rehabilitated architectural heritage.

*I cannot say the word stimulus without giggling.

I found this recruiting video for the University of Oregon from 1934:

 

 

It includes lots of great footage of MacCourt, Fenton Hall (then the library), Deady Hall and a ton of others.  It also details the cost of many of these buildings for some reason… yeah who knows?

I thought this would be of interest to all my fellow Oregon Ducks out there!

Hat tip: to the University of Oregon You Tube Channel.

How would you like to live in an original Frank Lloyd Wright designed Usonian house

 

Well then I suggest you check out the Palmer House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I feel for the seller, the housing market is in a shambles which is why this beauty comes with a $250,000 discount.  Even with the price reduction the sucker still carries the asking price of $1,250,000.  I assume that is a shit-ton more than they bought it for, maybe two shit-tons.

Follow the link, and if you can stand the annoying new-agey music embedded in the site you can contact Bob Eckstien, the agent charged with getting rid of this baby masterpiece.

Check it out, and if you have an extra million or so around help Bob earn his commission!

 

PALMER HOUSE

 

For those of you who don’t have a million or more in the bank and/or not willing to relocate to beautiful Ann Arbor here is a list of other Usonian houses near you!

 

 

Lazy to even leave your house?  Here are some videos of Usonian houses all over the country, starting with my local Usonian:

 

Gordon House:

Silverton, Oregon

Continue Reading »

 

To me Frank Lloyd Wright exists almost exclusively as a solemn, still, grey image of a man in old pictures.  I am, of course, familiar with his work, everyone is but I would be hard-pressed to explain any details of the mans affect and demeanor.  If you asked me what would Frank Lloyd Wright seem like on a game show for instance, I likely would have shrugged at you and said “your guess is as good as mine”

Thanks to the fine people at the Game Show Network (with an assist from Edward Lifson) I can now answer that question by saying he would seem slightly bored and out of it.  I think just about any nearly-90-year-old-man would fare about the same.

I have to say I am amazed that one of the contestants (I am not sure who she was though I recognized Peter Lawford on the panel) figured out who he was with the tiniest amount of information.  That woman is either a super sleuth or peeked under blindfold.

There is an almost sweet moment at the end of the clip where he tells the blowhard host (who kept answering his damn questions for him) that he just finished a new project on the western prairies and laments not bringing pictures of the project.  As he earnestly describes his desire to share his work with the audience he seems less like the archetypal architect-megalomaniac and more like an eager new student eager to show off his skills.  I guess that is a product of doing what you love.

The project he is describing is Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  Price Tower was the architects tallest project it is startlingly tall considering Wright, God of the low-slung, prairie-style, designed it.  Perhaps even more odd is that it towers above the flat prairie that inspired most of Wright’s work in a town of barely 35,000 people.

The high-rise which was perfhaps a bit gratuitous was once described as 19 floor to hold up an office buy th buildings patron, just the same it and the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin are beautiful, vertical rethinkings of the wide, wide prairie style.