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When I worked at the Fed magazine, I attended a couple conferences on housing for seniors and learned about a thing called universal design. Universal design espouses the notion of making all architecture accessible so expensive alterations aren’t needed later. Someday, you might be using a wheelchair or crutch in the home you love, and wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to reconfigure it for a ramp, flat thresholds, wider doors, handrails, higher toilet seats, etc.?

Similarly during the coronavirus pandemic, architects have been rethinking design so we don’t need too many adjustments in pandemics. Think of all the light switches, doorknobs, and elevator buttons you’re careful not to touch these days! Think of the store ventilation systems you wonder about! What if you didn’t have to worry?

Recently, Carolina A. Miranda addressed this topic in a long feature at the Los Angeles Times.

“In another time, not long ago, an elevator was a conveyance to reach a higher floor, an open office was a spot to clock eight hours while hoping your boss didn’t catch you checking Facebook and a doorknob was one of those banalities of architecture that seemed to warrant attention only when it needed replacing.

“What a difference a virus makes. …

“ ‘If you take the great architectural inventions of the 20th century: the airport, the high-rise, the freeway — those are the things that are challenged the most right now,’ says Brett Steele, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture. ‘They have great density or they promise movement at high speeds. Those are exactly the things that sit at the crux of the crisis we are going through.’

‘It’s a reset button for the entire world,” says Mark Lee, co-founder of the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee and chair of the architecture department at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. …

“ ‘I’m working on a synagogue, and that is a crazy problem,’ says Barbara Bestor, founder of Bestor Architecture, a 25-person firm based in Silver Lake. ‘How do you do High Holidays after COVID with 2,000 or 3,000 people?’ …

“The solution may involve segmenting larger spaces and segregating the most vulnerable in a separately ventilated environment. … Or it may involve designing a physical space that, Bestor says, features ‘a robust video component so that people can watch remotely.’

“Gatherings via videoconference could become a way of life. Architects could find themselves designing spaces just for that purpose. …

“First, architecture firms, like all other businesses, must weather the pandemic. … The economics are dire. And yet there is a determination to not waste the moment.

“ ‘Every crisis is an opportunity,’ says Hernán Díaz Alonso, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). ‘The optimist in me believes that this will force us to reevaluate everything that we do.’

“This is a time, he says, to ask ‘the big metaphysical questions’ about architecture and its purpose. It’s also about considering the nuts and bolts. ‘If we don’t get a vaccine, what does that mean? What does that mean in terms of physical space? What do you do with a doorknob?’ …

“ ‘Densities of offices will change,’ [says Bob Hale is partner and creative director at L.A.-based RCH Studios].

“This raises questions about one of the most popular — and widely reviled — workplace designs: the open-plan office, in which rows of workers are jammed around long bench desks.

“These are settings that have a poor track record when it comes to producing actual work. They also, according to a Danish study from 2011, account for significantly higher rates of sick leave — a phenomenon that played out in a study published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April, which showed the ways coronavirus hopscotched around an open-plan call center in Seoul. …

“Instead, many of the architects I spoke with visualize once-cavernous spaces segmented into more intimately scaled settings with small clusters of desks. ‘We work in teams, so it’s easy to think of people in groups,’ says Paul Danna, a design partner in the L.A. office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a global firm at work on an office development in Pasadena. ‘It’s a matter of putting barriers between groups as opposed to every individual.’ ”

The future of airports, affordable housing, and density of cities are among the many other design challenges addressed in the article, here. Enjoy.

Photo: Tara Wujcik
“Is there anyone out there who does not like fresh air and cross-ventilation or views?” asks Lawrence Scarpa in an article at the
Los Angles Times. The photo below is from a Brooks + Scarpa housing development for disabled vets that maximizes light and air.

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Photo: Tim Crocker/RIBA/PA
The Goldsmith Street project in Norwich marks the first time the UK’s Stirling architecture prize has gone to affordable housing.

I’m looking at pictures of a handsome affordable-housing project in England and remembering that during my short stint at Rhode Island Housing, a similar building, restored to provide affordable housing for homeless veterans, also won a prize. I blogged about interviewing one happy resident here. Clearly, homes for low-income people need not be ugly.

Oliver Wainwright reports at the Guardian, “One hundred years since the 1919 Addison Act paved the way for the country’s programme of mass council housing, the prize for the best new building in the UK has been awarded to one of the first new council housing projects in a generation.

“Goldsmith Street in Norwich represents what has become a rare breed: streets of terraced homes built directly by the council, rented with secure tenancies at fixed social rents. And it’s an architectural marvel, too.

“ ‘A modest masterpiece’ is how the RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] Stirling prize judges described the project, designed by London firm Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, representing ‘high-quality architecture in its purest most environmentally and socially conscious form.’

“The 105 creamy-brick homes are designed to stringent Passivhaus environmental standards, meaning energy costs are around 70% cheaper than average. The walls are highly insulated and the roofs are cleverly angled at 15 degrees, to ensure each terrace doesn’t block sunlight from the homes behind, while letterboxes are built into external porches, rather than the front doors, to reduce any possibility of draughts.

“Immense thought has gone into every detail – from the perforated brick balconies to the cleverly interlocking staircases in the three-storey flats at the end of each terrace – to ensure that every home has its own front door on the street. The back gardens look on to a planted alley, dotted with communal tables and benches, while parking has been pushed to the edge of the site, freeing up the streets for people, not cars. …

The architects won the original competition because they were one of the few firms to propose streets, rather than slabs of apartment blocks.

“They took inspiration from the city’s Golden Triangle, a desirable neighbourhood of Victorian terraced houses, where the streets are laid out more tightly than modern overlooking regulations would allow. The architects used this precedent to argue that their new neighbourhood could be just as humanely scaled, while fitting in more homes.

“Marking the first time in the 23-year history of the Stirling prize that it has been awarded to social housing, the project beat stiff competition from the revamped London Bridge station, an opera house in a former stable block, the Macallan whisky distillery in Scotland, a visitor centre for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and a house made entirely of cork. …

“This year’s choice sends a clear message that, despite government cuts, it is eminently possible for brave councils to take the initiative and build proper social housing.”

Read more here.

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
An impressive coalition of funders, including Rhode Island Housing, collaborated on this 2015 award-winning mill restoration to house homeless veterans.

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Photo: Corinna Kern/Reuters
Girls from Eritrea play in an open area opposite Tel Aviv’s artsy but grimy “new” Central Bus Station.

Things change, and sometimes names don’t fit anymore. When I was a kid, I knew a girl called Bambi. Today she would be in her 70s, and I can’t imagine the cute name still works. How about the war-torn Middle East, once called the “Cradle of Civilization,” where if you are determined, you can visit the dried-up “Fertile Crescent”?

In today’s story, a bus station still called “new” actually opened for business in 1993 and is a derelict mess. Fortunately, there is nothing like a derelict mess to inspire artists to go into creative overdrive.

Ruth Eglash reports a the Washington Post, “It’s impossible to remain apathetic toward Tel Aviv’s ‘new’ Central Bus Station, a grimy, peeling concrete structure that spans five blocks and reaches seven stories in a run-down section of this bustling city.

“No longer new — it opened its doors in 1993 — and certainly not central, the bus station evokes sharp responses from anyone who steps inside. Some are fascinated with the urban eyesore, while for others, it instills fear after years of violent crime marred its reputation.

“Designed by renowned Israeli architect Ram Karmi, the hulking station, said to be the second largest in the world, was envisioned as housing an entire city under one roof. But Karmi’s brutalist style, with coarsely strewn stairwells, mezzanine floors, winding walkways, vast corridors and dark hidden spaces made the station impractical and impossible to navigate almost from the start.

“Twenty-six years later, its legacy is as rough and as unwelcoming as the abandoned stores and deserted floors inside it. Only a small part of the station is used today for daily travel, with most commuters hurrying through, hoping to spend as little time there as possible.

“But the expansive space has given rise to a cast of exotic characters and myriad artistic initiatives that take advantage of the unique charms of this gritty interior.

“The surrounding neighborhood is populated by a mix of African migrants, Filipino care workers and longtime Israeli residents, all of whom mill about the station’s ultracheap clothing stores, bargain electronic outlets, beauty salons and foreign food markets.

“Over the past five years, artists have realized the benefits of this unadorned space, brightening its walls with graffiti on the seventh floor or filling the abandoned stores on the fifth with modern installations. A Yiddish Cultural Center and a bat colony also call the station home. …

“A local theater group has adopted the bus station for its site-specific and immersive performances. In ‘Seven,’ an artistic interpretation of the seven deadly sins, the Mystorin Theatre Ensemble spotlights some of the station’s darkest corners: a former waiting area it has renamed ‘the red square,’ the oddly painted concrete staircase and even the dreaded first floor, with its abandoned movie theater, stores, cafes and ticket booths.

‘It’s an urban playground for artists,’ said actress and theater manager Dana Forer. ‘For us, this is an ideal space. We have seven floors, and the people who come here help turn our performance into a world of fantasy and reality.’

I need to ask my friend Kai what he thinks of this example of Brutalist architecture. He’s the only person I know who has a good word to say for Boston’s unloved Brutalist city hall. Because he’s a guy who has a way of bringing out the good side of almost anyything, I try to understand what he sees in it when I pass by.

I should also mention Kai has a gentle and lovable pitbull for a pet.

For some nice pictures of the art projects in the Tel Aviv bus station, click here.

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Photo: Fathul Rakhman/Mongabay-Indonesia
The traditional homes on the island of Lombok have survived several earthquakes over the years. Concrete homes crumble.

Often there is wisdom in the old ways. That’s what residents of an Indonesian island in the Ring of Fire learned after a series of earthquakes created havoc with modern concrete structures.

Fathul Rakhman has a report at Mongabay.

“Jumayar’s house fell early on Aug. 5, as the second of four large earthquakes in the span of three weeks ripped through the Indonesian island of Lombok, clobbering his village of Beleq in the process. …

“Although Lombok, which is next to Bali, sits squarely on the quake-prone Ring of Fire, heavy, concrete homebuilding is the norm. These rigid structures became death traps during the earthquakes. Only the handful of wooden traditional houses in Beleq, with their lightweight, flexible designs, emerged unscathed. …

“Though elements like floor height or wall width may vary in different parts of the island, all traditional Sasak homes employ the same basic design: Thatched bamboo walls enclose dirt floors, connecting them to roofs of woven reeds. … Wooden homes can sway, or ‘breathe’ when earthquakes strike, concrete houses cannot; they have no flex and topple easily.

“In North Lombok, the epicenter of the damage, 70 percent of the houses collapsed or were severely damaged. Rebuilding will require hundreds of millions of dollars, according to government estimates.

“In Beleq, families in traditional houses ran outside like everyone else, fearing for their lives. Not a single one of their traditional structures fell, even as the concrete homes around them crumbled.

‘If the government offers to rebuild here, we will reject the [construction of] concrete homes,’ said Sahirman, the Beleq village head. ‘We want to go back to our ancestral homes.’ …

“ ‘The ancestors bequeathed to us an architecture that is in harmony with nature,’ said Lalu Satriawangsa, chairperson of the provincial AMAN [the country’s largest indigenous rights nongovernmental organization] chapter. …

“The Indonesian government has typically looked upon the traditional houses as ‘slum dwellings,’ an indicator of poverty. But Lalu says the government should support the construction of traditional houses. Not only are they cheaper, but as the recent disasters proved, they are infinitely safer.

“For too long traditional homes have been seen to mark the persistence of poverty rather than the preservation of culture, ignoring their instrumental value, Lalu said.

“ ‘Now is the time for us to campaign for [the rebuilding of] homes that are more in tune with nature,’ he said. …

“As rebuilding plans take form, Sahir, the Beteq village head, believes the community should look to the past for inspiration.

“ ‘I don’t want to sleep in a concrete house ever again,’ he said.”

More at Mongabay, here.

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Photo: Boston Society of Architects
This open staircase is pretty cool. Unless you are wearing a skirt.

A recent twitter series gave me a laugh. It sure shows how your perspective may change with a change of clothes.

At the Los Angeles Times, Carolina A. Miranda wrote how she hit a nerve with one frustrated tweet.

“A couple of weeks ago, after viewing an architectural schematic that featured a pair of elevated glass catwalks, I posted a tweet that invited male architects to navigate their own designs in a skirt.

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Idea: All male architects should be required to navigate their own buildings in a skirt.

“The post ignited a flurry of responses from women, including Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times assistant managing editor and former television critic, who suggested adding heels to the mix. To that challenge, design writer Alissa Walker of Curbed added babies. …

“I took [a picture] at the Nicanor Parra Library at Diego Portales University in Santiago, Chile, in 2015. The building was designed by Chilean architect Mathias Klotz and was completed in 2012 — in other words, at a point in time when male architects should know better. Yet the library features glass floors in locations throughout the building. …

“John Hill, who writes the blog ‘A Daily Dose of Architecture,’ pointed out the use of see-through walkways in Rafael Viñoly’s building for the architecture school he designed for the City College of New York — which he completed in 2009. City College isn’t the only school of architecture to employ transparent walkways. …

“This not only affects the women who work and study in those buildings — according to the Assn. of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, 42% of accredited architecture degrees were awarded to women in 2013 — but it normalizes the idea among architecture students that transparent walkways are just a benign architectural feature. They are not. …

“In 2010, technology writer Joanne McNeil wrote about this very topic in a post that ran on her blog ‘Tomorrow Museum,’ later reprinted by Mediaite.

” ‘If I were commissioning the interior of any kind of store and someone brought me blueprints including glass staircases, I’d tell him to take a hike,’ she wrote then. ‘I wouldn’t give him a second shot. If he’s not intuitive enough to grasp that women in skirts will be uncomfortable walking upstairs, clouded glass or not, then what other errors has he made in his design?’

“So, if there are a few good men out there (within driving distance of Los Angeles) willing to walk around one their own or someone else’s buildings in a skirt — while wearing high heels and holding a purse and a baby — my lines are open.”

More here. Let me know if you have encountered similar architectural challenges. Although I wear pants more often these days, I have memories of negotiating the green staircase above in a skirt — uncomfortably.

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Photo: Rafael Herrin-Ferri/Architectural League of New York
“Eclectic Row, Briarwood, NY” (2017), from the exhibit
All the Queens Houses.

How much do you know about Queens, New York, a Big Apple borough located on Long Island? I think you’ll like this. A photographer, intrigued by the fiercely independent architectural self-expression of the borough’s denizens, recently showcased some of the quirkiest styles at the Architectural League of New York.

As Allison Meier reports at Hyperallergic, “In 2012, Rafael Herrin-Ferri began systematically photographing the houses of Queens, the New York City borough he calls home. The Spanish-born artist and architect lives in Sunnyside, one of the many neighborhoods which make up one of the world’s most ethnically diverse urban areas. Herrin-Ferri noticed that the architecture of Queens reflected this diversity. ,,,

“Over 270 of Herrin-Ferri’s photographs of 34 neighborhoods [were recently] installed at the Architectural League of New York in All the Queens Houses. … The ongoing photographic survey can be explored on his project website, also called All the Queens Houses. There viewers can explore by neighborhood, typologies (like detached houses and apartment buildings), and architectural details (including stoops and gardens). There’s a map of where he’s surveyed houses, with about a third of the borough covered in 5,000 photographs.

“ ‘I have always been interested in houses and was impressed by how idiosyncratic — and unorthodox — the low-rise housing stock is,’ Herrin-Ferri said. ‘They express the personal preferences and cultural backgrounds of their owners without much regard for what is “correct,” marketable, or fashionable. … I started this series of house portraits with the idea that it would reveal something about the urban vernacular in the “world’s borough.” ‘ …

“He believes that the community demographics inspire an ‘urbanism of tolerance’ for more extreme experiments in architecture. …

“ ‘[Most] residents of Queens … accept multiculturalism and embrace a laissez-faire attitude about building,’ Herrin-Ferri said. ‘Homeowners that I have talked to understand that people from different cultures have different ideas about what their houses should look like, and there is mutual respect.’ ”

See more photos at Hyperallergic, here.

Photo: Rafael Herrin-Ferri/Architectural League of New York
“Splayed Brick-and-Stone Rusticated Entry Porch, Maspeth, NY” (2015), from All the Queens Houses.

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Photo: Wikipedia
The facade of the BIQ (Bio Intelligent Quotient) house in Hamburg has tanks filled with microalgae that produce biomass used to generate electricity.

It’s reassuring that there are always thinkers who are really “out there,” wildly inventing better ways to do things. For example, in architecture. Did you know there was such a thing as experimental architecture? Me neither.

Rachel Armstrong is a professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. You can read about her views on breathable buildings at the website Aeon.

“Traditional buildings are designed to provide protection against a savage world, with us safe on one side and our waste on the other. Architects have long relied on ‘hard’ materials such as masonry, aluminium and glass, specifically chosen to prevent the outside environment from getting in. Impermeability was, and is, a driving goal.

“It is time to rethink that approach. Our current built environment squanders too much fresh water and other vital resources, and tips too many poisonous substances into our surroundings. To develop a more sustainable relationship with the natural world, we need to allow chemical exchanges that take place within our living spaces, and between the inside and the outside. We need to embrace permeability. …

“In many offices, it is no longer possible to open windows manually to let in a breeze. Automated air-conditioning systems (often answering only to sensors and software) blast summer heat out into scorching walkways, amplifying the urban heat-island effect and contributing to heat-related health risks. Such buildings ignore the metabolism that is the dynamic scaffolding of living systems.

“During the 1970s, the ecologists John and Nancy Jack Todd and William McLarney founded the New Alchemy Institute – now the Green Center on Cape Cod in Massachusetts – to reconceive building spaces as part of a self-sustaining human ecosystem. Such spaces would not be hermetically sealed, but rather open to the flow of natural elements. …

“Incorporating permeability into architecture begins with a building’s composition. In the past 20 years, engineers have developed organic construction materials that have various degrees of permeability. Mycotecture – architectural building blocks that are formed from the fibrous material of fungal roots – are as strong as concrete and as insulating as fibreglass. BioMASON bricks are built by microorganisms; they do not need firing and are as strong as traditional masonry. Bioplastics are produced by bacteria using biogas from landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Since they are not derived from petroleum, bioplastics have lower carbon footprints. Like wood, they are ‘farmed’ into existence. …

“Semi-permeable ceramics in particular can be treated to provide binding surfaces for biofilms, large coordinated colonies of bacteria or other microorganisms. Biofilms can be grown to have semiconductor properties, akin to solar cells or computer circuits. When treated with manganese, biofilms can become filters that regulate the flow of air and water into a building. …

“The BIQ House in Hamburg has a façade of thin-walled tanks filled with microalgae. The algae harvest sunlight and carbon dioxide, and produce biomass that can be used to generate electricity. The translucent, living tanks also regulate the building temperature by absorbing more sunshine as the biomass increases. In this case, the glass of the tanks is impermeable to water but lets in sunlight – a different kind of permeability, which is critical for the organic exchanges within the façade.

“The Living Architecture (LIAR) project, funded by the European Union among others, is a fruitful effort to create showcases of semi-permeable design. For instance, the project aims to transform bathrooms, kitchens and commercial spaces into environmentally sensitive, productive sites. …

“The LIAR project is still in a prototype phase. Quantitative inputs and outputs have not yet been formally established. But project leaders expect to see integrated bioreactor wall systems in real homes within the next 10 years.” More at Aeon, here.

All I can think of right now, having recently experienced a week of below zero Fahrenheit degrees, is, “Will the solar properties be enough? Can buildings turn off the permeability?”

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A friend from my childhood called Caroline has been following this blog, sometimes making comments related to her field, which is architecture.

Today Caroline sent me a link that she knew would be a perfect fit here. The story is about a design competition to address New York City’s rising seawater.

Kayla Devon wrote about it at Builder Online, “In the next 30 years, roughly 30% of Manhattan is expected to sink below sea level, according to a climate study by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Instead of trying to stop the inevitable, Brazilian architect Walmir Luz focused on embracing it.

“After studying climate predictions from the United States Landfalling Hurricane Probability Project and the history of Manhattan’s edge, Luz designed a utopian/dystopian future for New York (depending if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person).

“Luz’s NYC 2050 concept makes flooding a part of city life by taking inspiration from Venice. Luz designed structures as levels that could allow water to move through lower levels as the sea rises. Streets would become permeable so water can wash over the roads instead of flooding them, and more barriers would surround the city’s edges.

“Luz completed the concept as his thesis for his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University, and won a Silver award in the urban planning and urban design category at the A’Design Award & Competition. He now works as an architect for Gensler.” More at Builder Online.

I love it when people who read the blog come upon topics that they know will fit and then send them along. I like being able to share the cool stuff with a wider audience. Thank you, Caroline.

Design: Walmir Luz
Luz won a design award for a concept making the best of rising sea levels in New York City.

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A while back, I showed a photo of a very skinny building near my workplace. Now I have some professional photos from the Providence Revolving Fund, and I think they convey the uniqueness of this building better than my photograph.

I love how Providence works so hard to repurpose old and interesting buildings. This one is only a piece of an old building. Once condemned, it is now lovely and functional.

Here’s what the Providence Revolving Fund had to say before the dedication in May. “The partnership of David Stem, Lori Quinn and the Providence Revolving Fund announce the completion of the formerly-condemned George C. Arnold Building (built 1923).  The Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) also played a pivotal role in the revitalization of this unique building.

“The mixed-use building houses two commercial units (Momo and a soon-to-be-opened [Asian] market) and three residential units.  Two of the units are rented at affordable prices.  The historic building rehabilitation was self-financed by the partnership and utilized Federal and State Historic Tax Credits and City of Providence Home Funds.”

I’ve noticed that most Providence buildings have names and people use the names, as if the buildings were pets. When you call something by its name, it strengthens your bond to it.

I’ve had the teriyaki chicken crêpe at Momo a couple times. Messy but delicious. I’m eager for the Asian market to open.

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I really like the architecture in downtown Providence, otherwise known as “downcity.” I like that the façades of old buildings are often preserved to enhance next-generation buildings and that some old buildings are adapted in their entirety for new purposes. Even if a building is rather pedestrian, some artist will add a flourish.

And isn’t it great to live in the time of the Internet and be able to find answers to almost anything that’s puzzling? For example, what’s with the guy wearing a turban on one downcity building?

Well, Wikipedia says that in the early nineteenth century, a shopkeeper called “Jacob Whitman mounted a ship’s figurehead above his store. The figurehead, which came from the ship Sultan, depicted the head of an Ottoman warrior. Whitman’s store was called ‘At the sign of the Turk’s Head.’ The figurehead was lost in a storm, and today a stone replica” is found on Turk’s Head Building’s building’s 3rd floor façade.

Wikipedia also notes that when the 16-story building was completed in 1913, it was the tallest in the area and considered a “skyscraper.”

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I checked Gwarlingo not long ago to catch up on Michelle Aldredge’s thorough, sensitive meditations on art and literature.

What caught my attention was her review of a movie about restoring an old house in Japan.

“It is rare to find a film that is pitch-perfect in its cinematography, story, pacing, and length,” Aldredge writes, “but Davina Pardo’s short film Minka is such a gem. (I owe writer Craig Mod a thank you for turning me onto this quiet masterpiece.)

“Based on journalist John Roderick’s book Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan, the film is a moving meditation on place, memory, friendship, family, and the meaning of home. Most remarkable, this haunting story plays out in a mere 15 minutes.

Minka is the Japanese name for the dwellings of 18th-century farmers, merchants, and artisans (i.e., the three non samurai-castes), but as Wikipedia explains, this caste-connotation no longer exists in the modern Japanese language, and any traditional Japanese style residence of an appropriate age could be referred to as minka. The word minka literally means ‘a house of the people.’

“The story of how AP foreign correspondent John Roderick and his adopted Japanese son Yoshihiro Takishita met, and then rescued a massive, timber minka by moving it from the Japanese Alps to the Tokyo suburb of Kamakura is full of small surprises and revelations (the biggest one comes at the end of the film).

Minka is a film that celebrates stillness. Pardo’s camera lovingly lingers on sun, shadows, and dust. But the peaceful home is not just a restored space full of beautiful, personal objects, it is also an expression of the deep connection between Roderick and Takishita and of familial love.”

Read about that at Gwarlingo, where the filmmaker will let you watch the entire 15-minute movie.

Photo: Davina Pardo & Birdlings LLC
A still from the film
Minka

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The first pictures feature berries, shadows, rain, and snow. I took them in Massachusetts.

The others are from Providence, which has long exuded an artistic vibe. I liked the sunrise on rooftops in one photo and a beautiful ornate building, sadly neglected. More-contemporary art pops up in unexpected places: the robot-like sculpture at a busy intersection and the robot in the ladies room at Small Point Café.

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John sent a link to an Atlantic article by Rose Eveleth on how mosses and lichens are being using in building design.

“For most architects,” she writes, “moss and lichen growing up the side of a structure is a bad sign. … But a new group is trying to change all that. Instead of developing surfaces resistant to moss and lichen, the BiotA lab wants to build facades that are ‘bioreceptive.’“BiotA lab, based in University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, was founded last year. The lab’s architects and engineers are working on making materials that can foster the growth of cryptograms, organisms like lichens and mosses. The idea is that ultimately they’ll be able to build buildings onto which a variety of these plants can grow. Right now, they’re particularly focused on designing a type of bioreceptive concrete.

“Marcos Cruz, one of the directors of the BiotA lab, says that he has long been interested in what he sees as a conflicted way of thinking about buildings and beauty: ‘We admire mosses growing on old buildings, we identify them with our romantic past, but we don’t like them on contemporary buildings because we see them as a pathology,’ he says. …

“Richard Beckett, another director of the BiotA lab, says that he’s interested in the project flipping the usual way that buildings are designed, at least in a small way. “Traditionally architecture is a top-down process, you decide what the building will look like, and then you build it. Here we’re designing for a specific species or group of species …

” ‘Every architect you speak to talks about the skin of the building,’ says Beckett. … Instead of skin, the lab wants people to think of the exterior of a building as bark. ‘Not just a protective thing, a host; it allows other things to grow on it, it integrates as well.’ ” More here.

I love the concept, but the story left me wondering what the designers’ main motivation might be. They say it’s not about green and sustainable buildings. It seems to be about aesthetics, being “attractive.” They do want the mosses to be self-sustaining and the look to be purposeful.

Photo: Dinodia/Corbis

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Dezeen magazine has an article on an apartment building in Australia that seems to change color depending on your viewing angle.

“The triangular window bays that project from the facade of this Sydney housing block by MHN Design Union appear either red or yellow, depending on the viewing angle.”

The apartment block was designed “for local developer Crown Group on a plot in Waterloo, a former industrial area that is gradually being redeveloped into a residential neighbourhood.

“The architects based the design of the facade on the sculptures of Yaacov Agam, an Israeli artist who is known for his brightly coloured kinetic and optical illusion works – which also influenced a series of rugs by London studio Raw Edges. …

“The building’s form tapers to a point at the rear, creating triangular floors that range from 10-high at the front to seven at the back. …

“The building is shortlisted for two awards at this year’s World Architecture Festival, which will be held in Singapore at the beginning of November.” More here.

Photo: John Gollings

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