"’kill the modernist within’… this is a mantra that we say every morning we get into the fat office, ‘kill the modernist within.’ so here it’s obviously saying well, this is about communication it’s nothing structural, it’s a drawing of some structure"              

Jan 7, 2010

 la pietra – interno-esterno (1979)

there are two commonly known mantras of the international style: form follows function andornament is a crime.  modernists believed buildings could communicate their function through the materials used and the layout; ornamentation was a superfluous garnish.  certain buildings became practically androgynous with office buildings and apartments appearing seemingly the same.  it was this anonymity and repetitiveness ugo la pietra rejected in his 1979 piece interno-esterno.  the aim was to express on the facade what lies within the building, thereby creating a new mode of architectural communication.
  la pietra – interno-esterno (1979)

la pietra’s playful exploration of ornamentation as a informational signifier immediately reminded me of fat’s blue house.  these projects share a similarity in style and philosophy; both architects turn the buildings facade into a billboard denoting a certain characteristic of the building itself.  blue house’s front and side elevation utilize basic symbols of home, work, and park to indicate the program of the house.  fat principal sam jacob’s fantastic lecture at the university of kentucky illuminates many aspects of their work, but particularly the intention behind using iconography on the facade.  there is also an interesting and straightforward take on the way buildings communicate with people, summed up as another mantra – taste not space.
 fat’s blue house (2004)

informational ornamentation is a charming concept and would certainly produce amusing results when biking through a warehouse district with its mixture of lofts, work spaces, and vacant factories.  i could imagine a plaster mold of simple work benches, sweeping kitchen counters, or mice adorning the brick facades like putti on a rococo church.
enjoy the weekend.
posted by nicolas allinder

a universe in itself. "once you’re inside you shut the world out" says pedro. the neo-palafitte created by bernalte y león was christened "los locos". "we adore this place, especially when it’s raining and the metal curtains become a waterfall."              

Aug 12, 2009

“We adore this place… when it’s raining the metal curtains become a waterfall.”
This house → Bernalte y León and…
These sunglasses → BLESS…  oh, and David Horvitz sent this along.

And also, this → song.

Please enjoy your time and space.

nic visits olson sundberg kundig allen addendum              

Apr 28, 2009

Pic from Mark magazine
It was super nice of seattle firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen or OSKA to take a meeting with our intern Nicolas while he passed through town (see last post).  Here’s a great pic of firm partner Tom Kundig looking out at the beauty from one of their amazing projects.
Here’s to working together soon. THX Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen!
it’s a nice world to visit – Lee Hazelwood and Ann Margret
Please enjoy the time while it passes you by.

nic the intern visits olson sundberg kundig allen              

Apr 27, 2009

Photo: Tim Bies Delta Shelter
What makes something an antique?  Time or allure?  Last summer my mother and I visited a family friend in Nantes.  Nantes had just spent millions and millions of euros to create a robotic elephant that, to my mind, seemed like an antique.  The richness of the mohagany wood and the slow, deliberate movements of the elephant made me think the creators,  Les machines de l’ile, had recently unearthed a previously unknown Da Vinci creation.  While touring the Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen (OSKA) studio, based within an old shoe factory in Seattle, I had the same reaction. Their work, however recent, seems to me timeless and somehow antique.
Photo: Mary Randlett Earth House
it could have been the sturdy yet worn wooden boxes that tom kundig’s model sat on, or the allure of the top floor office in an old factory building, but something about oska is esoteric, and yet somehow comforting.  exactly like an antique.
photo: nicolas allinder
climbing up to the top floor of the factory, i felt like i was sneaking into the attic of an eccentric neighbor to spy on his inventions.  busy bodies rushed by as i was greeted by my tour guide, drew, who went to architecture school in louisiana like me.  drew first led me to what oska calls shoe box one and two – meeting spaces for staff.  the doors to each room were notched out of large, rotating walls.  everything moved slowly and deliberately. smooth and exact.  we then moved on to the next tour destination, a skylight.  drew calmly pointed out the coolest architectural feature i’ve seen in a while. grasping the knobs of two rotating circular handles and pulling them in opposing directions, drew explained matter of factly what was about to happen.  water, pressured only by the city, slowly filled the two five-foot pistons set on either side of the skylight window frame.  the steel frame skylight, which had to have been 15×30, slowly opened up, greeting a blue seattle sky; simultaneously the air conditioning in the office shut off, wasting no energy.  this massive window had just been opened solely by the city’s water pressure.  “if you open the windows a crack you’ll get an amazing breeze flowing through the office,” said drew.  for a moment i could imagine it.  He cranked the knobs back toward each other and the whooshing sound of water jettisoning out of the pistons filled the space.  “the water from the pistons feeds into a garden on the roof,” drew explained – a perfect mix of imagination and respect for nature.  nothing wasted.
tom kundig designed the skylight window with the help of relatively unknown engineer, phil turner.  many of the intricate engineering innovations in tom’s projects are the result of collaboration between kundig and turner.  rolling huts must be my favorite kundig project.  there is a degree of fantasy and practicality at play that makes these huts seem both familiar and ancient; his movable huts feel like the archeological remains of an old nomadic tribe that had wandered the Idaho valleys.  but there is also a quality that makes these visitor huts feel expensive, and therefore unattainable.  it’s as if these huts were designed by glenn murcuttfor the wealthiest aboriginal family, rather than his usual clients regular impoverished aborigines.  there is nothing philanthropic at play here.  rolling huts’ is pure indulgence.  i was somewhat amused to learn that the huts had to be movable, based upon a stipulation for purchasing the old r.v. campground.  despite the expensiveness, the huts still host an underlying appreciation for nature – the owner plans on restoring the site to its original meadow state.
respecting nature is an important facet of oska’s work, and has remained a central core value since the beginning of the firm.  jim olson started the firm in 1966, a time when people likewilliam o. douglasrachel carson, and were standing up for nature and bringing abuse of nature to light.  quite possibly my favorite project done by oska was olson’s earth house, constructed in 1968.  It has the feeling of an old temple tucked into nature. a building overgrown by nature’s course.  yet, it is still a very refined and elegantly design space.  there is nothing shabby or decrepit about earth house.
photo: mary randlett earth house
kundig and olson’s design seemed at first very peculiar different to me.  but as i followed drew around the office i began to understand their connection.  it’s a matter of antiquity and understanding the materials being used. kundig might be much more whimsical in his gestures and explorations of engineering marvels, but they both (along with rick sundberg ) have a strong understanding of the materials they employ.
lake minnetonka residence
towards the end of the tour i asked drew what sorts of projects oska was exploring now and how they were coping with the current construction environment.  i was elated to hear that they were having weekly meetings to explore ways of maintaining their high level of design while transitioning to less high end projects.  there is something endearing about this; i can’t wait to see what kinds of trinkets they will create for more philanthropic projects.
photo: eduardo calderon habitat for humanity – roxbury estates
photo: tim bies montecinto residence
drew and i wrapped up our conversation after looking over several beautiful and delicate models of past projects.  as i walked towards the elevator, a woman who has been working at the firm for 15 years picked up a wheel laying on the floor. “whose wheel is this? is this yours?” she asked, looking at me.  it seemed like a fitting end.
posted by nicolas allinder

nic the intern presents white out (an ongoing series of posts about recent modern residential Japanese architecture.) toyo ito / the white u              

Mar 28, 2009

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack, a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in”
from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem
There was a home in Tokyo built in mourning; a coping mechanism for a grieving family. You could spend an eternity searching for it today.  It no longer exists.  The histories of White U and Toyo Ito seem to embody Japanese architecture’s rapacious shift from past to present and the consistent role that homes play in Japanese society, houses as symbols and not just buildings.  I’ve been researching Japanese architecture for the past couple of months, and stumbled upon a designboom article mentioning a house, White U, which Ito had built in 1976.  After finding very little information about the house on the internet, I biked over to the local architecture library (located in a great building), and began digging through monographs about Ito.  I came across a series of stunning photographs and the crushing history of the house. Unfortunately, the library scanner was broken.  I was left with only one option, the photocopier, to document my findings. somehow I feel comfortable showing these images which were taken at least 12 years ago (though presumably much longer ago than that), printed by the photographer, then reprinted into the monograph, photocopied, scanned, emailed and now posted on this blog.  This journey has left these photos faded and distorted (much like the photos from yesterdays post); a distant memory, similar to the building.  If I could make the presumptuous statement that White U is the seminal white out building, I would.  In fact, until i’m proven wrong, I will.  Not only is the story of White U representative of the character of many white outs, but Ito, himself, represents a generation that influences today’s white out architects.
In 1941, Toyo Ito was born in what is now Seoul, which at the time was a part of Japan. thus, he grew up in the post WWII destruction.  By the time Ito entered college, metabolism was in its nascent stages and soon to develop into a highly influential movement.  After graduating, Ito began working for Kikutake  architects, a very highly regarded metabolist.  After spending four years under the wings of Kikutake, Ito set forth to practice on his own.  In 1971, he started his own firm Urban Robot (or Urbot).  The name, reflective of both an interest in cities and technology, hints at the core values of metabolism – large, innovative, urban technocratic megastructures.  Much of his early work was spent on exploring issues of mobility and transparency.  Eventually, by the end of the seventies he would change the firm’s name to the much more professional sounding, but not nearly as enticing, Toyo Ito and Associates.  This may have been a reflection of the personal change he felt the need to manifest.  In his essay “The Body Image Beyond the Modern” Ito states: “When I designed my first buildings in the seventies, I thought it was a virtue to take a critical attitude towards society… one can say that i saw that this kind of thinking persists since the new age.  I always took a negative attitude towards contemporary society since modernism has attempted to change society.  I have considered rejection by society to be a virtue.  But if architects do not take a more positive stand with regard to society, withdrawing their criticism, buildings without context will continue to be built.”

The seventies was an era of experimentation and transition for architecture in Japan, a link between past metabolist theories and a future of more democratic architecture – expounded by Koolhass and represented today in the work of MVRDV.  and it was in the seventies that Ito constructed White U for his grieving sister.

When Ito’s brother-in-law died, his sister and her family lived in a high rise – a life far from the dirt and far from private.  They asked for a building to bolster them through this tough transition, coping with loss.  Ito and his sister decided on the U shape, a symbol of exclusive unity, as the form of White U. the building turns inward and rejects the outside world, providing personal reflection.  Ito describes the design process resulting from White U’s form: “Since i had the conception of a uniform tubular space, the development began to move in a certain direction.  All openings were closed, and the natural light beams falling sparsely from above strengthened the impression of an underground labyrinth.  at the same time the white summoned more white, and the curved surfaces enhanced their own curvature.”
White U became a hyper space, the light piercing through cracks in the walls became heightened by the white and reflective quality of the curving surfaces.  Every quality seems to enforce itself and others creating a strong emotional vision; which is exactly what his sister wanted.  She enjoyed the concentrated emotion and intensity of light in George de la Tour’s paintings. She wished for the same in her new home, stating, “I did not long for a gentle soft light, but instead a strong light with the vitality to dispel the darkness.”  The strength of the building clearly originates from the form.  But then again, that was the point.  The building forces introspection and constricts the habits of living.  This truly was a home for mourning, for a family adjusting to a new life.
Eventually, the family adjusted and slowly left White U.  The eldest daughter left first. The mother, a musicologist who enjoyed the acoustical experience of living in a u shaped tube was the next to move away, leaving behind the younger daughter as the sole inhabitant.  The youngest daughter, who as a child enjoyed playing in White U’s dramatic lighting and curving room, came to enjoy White U and the way it enhanced her view of Paul  Klee’s work.  With the process of grievance long completed, the youngest daughter decided to move away.  She sold her home of thirty years to a developer. The house was razed.
I highly recommend looking into White U and the many Toyo Ito essays and please, if you will, listen to this perfectly fitting song while you do…  ok?

13 Angels Standing Guard ‘Round the Side of Your Bed by A Silver Mt Zion from the album He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms…

Have a great weekend.posted by Nicolas Allinder

graduate design studio visit              

Sep 24, 2008

bob ganser asked me to sit in as a critic on a grad level design studio he’s teaching at the university of mn this fall.  it’s the kind of thing i don’t think i really have the time to do but, i’ve done it before and it’s such a great experience that i’ll always make time.
i was really impressed with the conceptual premises and interesting things the students learned and revealed through their work.  i talked a lot though, about finding a point of departure from the literal, idea based end of their projects and leaping off into something else… something more visual or musical or… i mean, i think you can only learn so much from an idea.  i always like it when discipline and rigor take you to something experientially that has nothing in common with either one of those words.
one of the student installations got pretty close to great for me.  it instantly transformed the space and i know i’ll never see it quite the same again if i return, which means, on some level, it really worked.
my co-panelists were christian dean of citydeskstudio and jeff mandyck of ms&r architecture for the first part of the afternoon and then we were joined later on by martha mcquade of redlurered.  they were all absolutely amazing to listen to… intimidating, thought provoking and inspiring.  add their teacher to the mix and… i sure hope the students appreciate these great minds and, in their midst, i’d feel lucky and honored if anything i said was helpful at all.
jeff and christian weren’t quite as enthusiatic about this one as i was but i really, really liked it.  i got abstract and went off a bit about how something solid can appear fragile, how a color might be described as loud but also soft and how and why the violin and piano work together in this piece…
spiegel im spiegel by arvo pärt

field tripping              

Dec 10, 2007

Rapson Hall U of MN Arch School
In my last post i mentioned a great field trip i had to the univ of mn the other day.
Besides being an honor, it was fun to sit as a critic again. This time for some grad students’ final projects in an arch design studio.
it was like taking a class for me too since the fellow jury members were all so impressive.  i wondered if the students really appreciated their presence…
the jury?
bruno franck is a structural engineer who has worked with folks like david salmela and vincent james.  he framed things in fascinating ways that i’m not used to considering.
dale mulfinger is one of the founders of the great sala architects, is an author and a teacher.  he’s absolutely brilliant and a pleasure to listen to.
bob ganser is the instructor of the class.  he’s also one of the founders of citydeskstudio a great minneapolis firm.
gayla lindt is an architect and teacher who recently collaborated on a book about the great ralph rapson called “come closer, i have a story to tell”.
pretty good bunch huh?
and the students were great too…
all year they’ve been working on designs for a train/commuter rail station to be located at the new twins stadium in downtown minneapolis.
they’d all been up for days working on their models and renderings…
i think they were really glad to be done.
some of the work really stood out…
there was something cool about every single students project too…
in the below photo, dale mulfinger talks about the work in the above photo…
he’s talking about how, as upright walking creatures, we feel some tension when certain angles are present in structures that make them feel as though they may fall over. (if you look closely in the background, bruno franck has slipped on his sunglasses due to brightness.  this coupled with his accent and scarf made him seem almost impossibley cool to me.  if i was a student?  i’d have been so, so intimidated)
a few of the students work drew some pretty serious praise from the jury…
this students work was surprisingly original, inspired and inventive.  it’s fun to wonder where she’ll end up.i responded by rambling about weaving, math, music and the artist xylor jane’s work.
they all looked at me with what appeared to be a polite confusion.
some of the projects were so sophisticated too.
a couple students really reminded me of myself when i was young…
listening to criticism was very hard for me…
i was impressed with how well they all took it.
i stayed pretty quiet and let others do most of the talking. (rare for me)
so many creative ideas and young energy.
it was great to have watched them develop over the last few months as this was my third visit to the class.i wondered how you would go about actually assigning a letter grade to them…
me?  mostly i talked to them about ideas as stories, buildings as symphonies, material choices for them… as language is to the writer, cinematic, epic gestures…
i wanted them to believe in something even if it was wrong to the jury.
i tried to hint about developing the kind of mindset that might enable them to say, “I pick up my pen and a building appears” someday.
i worry that they’ll be met with reality before they’ve had enough time to disregard it.
so i left them, feeling inspired and thoughtful.
the building was deserted and i liked looking at the stairs.
stairs everywhere.
six flights more to my car…
as always after a field trip, everything looked a little cooler than usual…
and i left the school thinking again about letter grades.
and how could you not…guess which level i was parked on.

holyoke cabin – in depth              

Nov 17, 2007


a while back, i wrote about a visit my wife and i and some of our freinds made to the not quite finished shipping container cabin that paul stankey and sarah nordby are building in northern minnesota.  it was a great day.
paul wrote about their adventure so far over on the hive blog and there’s a bunch of great pics so…  chk it.

posted by matt

discovery, discernment and room              

Nov 16, 2007

this project called indeman, by the firm maurer united architects [mua] will be a observation tower and, obviously, a landmark when it’s done.  aesthetically, it’s the type of thing that creates a complicated, somewhat uncertain reaction in me and, that doesn’t happen that much.   what is it about this structure?
i look at it and say, “yes” loudly…then back away a bit… “is it too…?  will it age well?  is it too…. hipster?”.  no.  i like it.
it looks like it could’ve been one of the pavillions at expo 70 or something. (speaking of that, here’s an unbelievably cool run of expo 70 pics in flickr, and furthermore, i always wanted a reason to post this video so…)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UypfpcuVckw

and yeah, it turns out i love it, or i probably will since i love the expo 70 vibe.   with fashion, music, art and now architecture/design stuff, i’ve learned to respect anything that causes this kind of complicated reaction in me and  i’m a guy who’s prone to quick, intuitive, loud, sweeping proclamations too, so i had to learn the hard way.
i can remember way, way back, when it was still open for discussion, arguing with my friend bruce about the band sonic youth.  my claim was that no one really liked them.  of course, it embarrasses me now and as you can imagine, after a few of those you learn to…
it’s actually one of my favorite things, the act of dis________.
so projects like indeman and work by firms like fat architecture are great fun for me.  they’re playful and yet challenging.  they have attitude.  a little humor… they feel young and inspired.  i encourage you to dig around a bit on their sites.  it brings to mind this post i wrote a while back about the show clip/stamp/fold that is currently up in london.
it reminds me of a dream i had about five years ago too.  i was in the midst of putting together an art show with a couple of brilliant, but intense people who were also friends.  i got into an argument with one of them and things got pretty tense for a while.
in the dream, i was standing on top of a steep hill… i couldn’t see the bottom, and off in the distance was a city skyline.  my dad came running up the hill at me with a concerned look on his face.  when he got to me, he grabbed my arm just hard enough to let me know he was about to say something very serious.he said, “i’ve been thinking about you.  you need to give your friend more room.  you need a lot of room,” then pointing at the city, “they need a lot of room.  it’s takes a lot of room to become who we’re becoming.” he looked me in the eye and said, “alright?” i said i agreed and… the dream was over.

it really helped me get through the fight with my friend.

that’s really it too, giving things room.dig in and wonder about it.  decide you’re going to like something you don’t and try not to talk your self out of it.  i feel like i’m getting good at giving things the room to become what they’re becoming.

not only is it fun to force a context on things, it can help to keep you in a state of dis______, which is kinda the goal right?  it is for me anyway.

make any sense?  i think i’m rambling so…
let’s see what the Magic 8-Ball Jukebox has to say about it.
type in the word room and here’s the mix:
  1. in my room – beach boys
  2. white room – cream
  3. waiting room – fugazi
  4. candys room – lifter puller
  5. two people in a room – wire
  6. gatekeeper (one hour one room mix) – feist
  7. small rooms – papas fritas
  8. the colony room – the sea and cake
  9. this room – the notwist
  10. the room got heavey – yo la tengo
  11. guest room – the national
  12. in my room – the blow
  13. in gary’s room – lucky dragons
i removed the following albums with the word room in the title for balance in the mix: 
  1. songs from a room – leanord cohen
  2. he has left us alone but shafts of light sometimes grace the corner of our rooms – a silver mt zion
  3. from our living room to yours – american analog set.
i think it’s going to be a pretty good weekend.
posted by matt