Monday Pin-up – Zaha Hadid


Well, not Zaha, haha, but

A water faucet she has designed.

The stock market made manifest in Architecture

Irrational Exuberance

Flat is the new “up”

Top: Disney Hall, Frank Gehry
Bottom: Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe

Do Art Museums make you climb the walls?


Or are these workers being asked to leave as art museums retrench from the economy?

Or a couple looking for meaning in Modern Art?

No, it’s a new Fitness Club in Japan, in Omotesando, Tokyo; by Japanese designer Nendo.


Threatened Mies gas station finds new use: expected to please old and young


Word comes from Quebec:

Mies van der Rohe peut reposer en paix: tout indique que l’ancienne station-service Esso de L’Île-des-Soeurs va rester debout.

Mies van der Rohe can rest in peace: everything indicates that the old Esso Gas Station on Nuns’ Island will remain standing.

(Wow, those high school French lessons paid off! Or was it those wonderful years I spent living in Paris? )

To translate the article:

The local council in Verdun, where the station is located recently unveiled a project called the «Maison des générations», “House of Generations” which will give a new use to this important piece of modern architecture in Montreal. It’s been closed and boarded-up since December.

(It’s unknown if Mies himself had anything to do with this particular design. But it did come out of his office a year before he died.)

A poll last year revealed that 73% of the residents of L’Île-des-Soeurs, Nuns’ Island, agree with this idea, said the Mayor of the area.

The plan is to integrate a Youth Center with a Center of Activities for the Elderly.

And to preserve the décor unique of the station-service.

The Director of the Restoration, Dany Tremblay,assures that the project will respect the historic character of the building, which will once again display its glass wall as Mies imagined in the original plans. Right now, zoning laws only permit uses for the building tied to automobiles. The new project will demand a change in the zoning, this will be put to the people with a referendum.

The City of Montreal is also studying the possibility of listing the gas station as a monument historique. It is expected to pass. The listing would not only make it esier to protect the building, but would also guarantee funds for future restoration projects.

Imperial Oil, which used the gas station and the land for 40 years, will decontaminate the place before it becomes the “House of the Generations.”

O Canada! You make everything so easy.


Chinese Capitalists outmaneuver architects!


Remember when Herzog and de Meuron thought they were being subversive in Beijing? They designed the provocative and hugely successful Olympic Stadium:

Herzog: … Our vision was to create a public space, a space for the public, where social life is possible, where something can happen, something that can, quite deliberately, be subversive or — at least — not easy to control or keep track of.

SPIEGEL: Your architecture as an act of resistance? Aren’t you exaggerating?

Herzog: No. We see the stadium as a type of Trojan horse. We fulfilled the spatial program we were given, but interpreted it in such a way that it can be used in different ways along it perimeters. As a result, we made everyday meeting places possible in locations that are not easily monitored, places with all kinds of niches and smaller segments. In other words, no public parade grounds.

Well now comes word from the Shanghai Daily that

The area around Beijing’s National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest,” will be turned into a shopping and entertainment complex in three to five years.

Plans call for the US$450 million stadium to be the anchor for a complex of shops and entertainment outlets in three to five years, according to the CITIC Group, operator of the stadium, which was the showpiece of the Beijing Olympics in August last year.

Tourists now pay 50 yuan (US$7) to walk on the stadium floor and browse a souvenir shop.

It attracts an average of 20,000 to 30,000 visitors every day, according to Beijing tourism authorities.

The CITIC Group will continue to develop tourism as a major draw for the Bird’s Nest, while seeking sports and entertainment events.

The only confirmed event at the 91,000-seat stadium this year is Puccini’s opera “Turandot,” on August 8 – the first anniversary of the Olympics’ opening ceremony. The stadium has no permanent tenant after Beijing’s top football club, Guo’an, backed out of a deal to play there.

According to the company, maintenance of the 250,000-square-meter National Stadium will cost 60 million yuan a year, making it hard to make profit.

From the same pre-Olympics interview with Spiegel:

Herzog: Over the years, we were often completely perplexed, because we couldn’t gauge how our design was being received. What was missing was a clear response. But everything fell nicely into place in the end. … It just happens to be the case that in China, you can never be quite sure how anything will turn out.


Frank Gehry tells all!


Conversations with Frank Gehry
is the result of twenty years of conversations between the brilliant Barbara Isenberg- she’s a friend of mine- and Frank Gehry. It’s revealing and entertaining; if you even liked the film, Sketches of Frank Gehry, you’ll love this.

Barbara Isenberg provides new and fascinating insights into the man and his work.

Gehry’s subjects range from his childhood—when he first built cities with wooden blocks on the floor of his grandmother’s kitchen—to his relationships with clients and his definition of a “great” client. We learn about his architectural influences (including Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright) and what he has learned from Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Rauschenberg.

We explore the thinking behind his designs for the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the redevelopment of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Grand Avenue in Los Angeles, the Gehry Collection at Tiffany’s, and ongoing projects in Toronto, Paris, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere.

And we follow as Gehry illuminates the creative process by which his ideas first take shape—for example, through early drawings for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, when the building’s trademark undulating curves were mere scribbles on a page.

Sketches, models, and computer images provided by Gehry himself allow us to see how so many of his landmark buildings have come to fruition, step by step.

Read it, to come to know a great artist better than you ever thought you’d know him. It’s the best book of the year. You won’t be able to put it down. Then you’ll wish for more.

Monday Pin-up – Jayne Mansfield as Athena


Jayne Mansfield at the Parthenon. 1957.

photograph by K. Megaloconomou


America’s Most Popular Big Cities

click to enlarge

According to this study just released by the Pew Charitable Trust. It’s worth reading.

Seven of the public’s 10 most popular big cities — Denver, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland and Sacramento — are in the West, and the other three — Orlando, Tampa and San Antonio — are in the South.

The five least popular big cities — Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Minneapolis — are all in the Midwest.

These attitudes reflect what government data indicate about the nation’s migration patterns: Americans are leaving the Northeast and the Midwest in favor of the South and the West.

30% of Americans say they would most like to live in a small town, 25% in a suburb, 23% in a city and 21% in a rural area.

By a ratio of more than three-to-one, Americans prefer living where the pace of life is slow, not fast. A similarly lopsided majority prefer a place where neighbors know each other well to one where neighbors don’t generally know each other’s business.

Click here, then download the .pdf.

Does this mean I can buy a great modernist house in Chicago, for cheap?

If Barack Obama were a building, Part III


what building would Barack Obama be?

A colleague writes,

I’d put the Harvard quad on the list…..he is Harvard, through and through…..

I chose this photograph of Harvard Yard because it shows one of the best buildings on campus, on any campus anywhere- H.H. Richardson’s Sever Hall. They say Obama likes to have varying viewpoints in the room, which he then synthesizes into what for him is the most correct response. Sever Hall does that. Each floor is different, and the details throughout seem to oppose each other, until Richardson somehow synthesizes them into something great.

I could look at this building for longer than I can look at most, and I’ve been known to look at buildings “until they begin to dance.”

Sever Hall, as teh parts work out their oppostions for you, seems to improve as you look at it. It has done this for me for many years. Let’s hope Obama does the same!

Christopher Hawthorne, the terrific Architecture Critic of the Los Angeles Times, has a must-read story today on The neoclassicism of Barack Obama. It’s must-read for its insight, and because he links to Hello Beautiful!

I thanked Christopher and wrote,

I’ve been meaning to write about the ideas Schinkel’s architecture
have for us in this new era, how he wished to pull Prussian society together in peace, and to uplift them and unite them physically and through culture. That is a role architecture could play today.

I’ve also been meaning to write about what we can learn from Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” – today in this era of belt-tightening. Mies shows us how with “almost nothing” (his words) we can live lives of dignity and beauty, with as much freedom as we should have on earth, and with a sense of a collective (enlightened) society.

Stay tuned. And read Christopher’s piece. And tell me,

If Barack Obama were a building, what building would he be?

Read parts one and two.
And back in October, I mused on Obama and columns


A "softer" Thom Mayne, for Pasadena

Caltech – The Cahill Center
Pasadena, California

Two questions: 1) What will Caltech researchers study in this new building?

Is that why the fissures and shifting planes and shakiness of the building?

No. This is Caltech’s new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. These photos are from my camera phone. This is the “softest,” loveliest (!) Thom Mayne building I know.

Second question: The address here is 1216 California Boulevard. To what does the 1216 refer? (Answer at bottom.) Let’s look at the building:

I like its scale, and how it meets the ground softly and with lightly, with glass, with transparency. I like how the earth slopes down before it meets the building, so you gain an extra floor with natural light, yet this maintains a nice height for the neighborhood.

I like the earthen texture of the facade, and its reddish-brown tone, an “academic red,” like brick. In fact, the facade is made of red fiber reinforced cement panels. But it looks like an Italian terra-cotta red, in this, the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s invention of the telescope, in 1609.

And think of this building as a telescope of sorts.

The Pasadena Independent writes,

The view from the lobby up an ever‐narrowing staircase to the skylight on the third floor … mimics the experience of peering up through a telescope.

You occasionally get views of the sky, celebrating astronomy and astrophysics. The glass is also meant to orient you in the universe, the universe of Caltech. These see-through hallways connect the viewer visually to the north and south campuses of Caltech.

And the stairways serve another purpose. Visual and vertical connections between the laboratory and office levels happen in the main staircase. People will meet, randomly. Perhaps a Big Bang of ideas will occur. “Nice ‘bumping into you.”

And every floor has “interaction areas and open break rooms” to provide more opportunities for chance or planned discussions to occur between the researchers. Morphosis designed this place to maximize the chances of interactions among the various occupants- the astronomy and astrophysics faculties, and their research groups.

We have seen other buildings designed to facilitate chance interactions. Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T. comes to mind; as does the suburban campus the Sears Corporation built when it determined that Sears Tower was not spurring chance meetings of employees. (“It’s lonely at the top.”)

It’ll be interesting to visit Cahill in a year and see who has bumped into whom in a stariwell, and what resulted from it. Hold on to your seats.

From the brochure: The 50 million dollar Cahill Center is 100,000 square feet of offices, laboratories, and common areas. It will be given gold‐level LEED distinction for the many features that reduce negative environmental and health impacts. The building’s design provides for reducing water use by 30 percent, reducing energy use by about 25 percent and providing access to daylight to a minimum of 75 percent of its spaces.

The entrances are welcoming enough,

If still a little too industrial for me,

as Mayne and Morphosis are wont to do.

I do like the urban move, when you exit the building, it points directly to its neighbors on campus, to the history of the place, to what came before it. Like a son, directing respect to a father.

And what a history Caltech has! Heisenberg, Lorentz, Bohr, Einstein; they all spent time here as the school came of age in the early 1930’s.

And now, they’ve this new home for the researchers – philosophers really- to contemplate the stars and the universe. A new building by Thom Mayne in which to try to figure out what it all means.

For them, it’s not enough to say, “it’s beautiful.”

Answer to the question at top: “1216” comes from 1216 angstroms, the wavelength of ultraviolet light emitted by hydrogen atoms. You knew that, right?