frame and plane

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Heading East on US-82 / TX-114 one could easily pass St. Michael’s Park in Ralls, Texas without ever taking notice. This small plot of land south of the interstate bordered by light steel framing simply blends into the horizon.  What initially appears as a dumb grouping of metal sticks and corrugated roofing is a successful assemblage of implied rooms, subtle axes and one radical scale change.

Late afternoon with what appeared to be most of the town across the highway at the new ball park cheering on their team St. Michael’s stood silent with a stage, two bleachers and a series of stalls equipped with electricity.  Entering, I appreciated the chamfered corner threshold that brought me directing inline with the intersection of two axes, one running parallel with the highway the other perpendicular, created by the repetition of open stalls.  A quiet boundary wrapped the park formed only from metal roofing, posts and a few horizontal bars at thirty six inches.

Standing at the top of the bleachers, about 4′ above the Llano Estacado, I was introduced to an intimate yet connected space on this high Texas plain.  Noises and wind still reached me and I could see for miles but the roof was close and framing was to my back providing a sense of enclosure I had yet to experience outdoors.  I was above the ground while still being a part of land, I was exposed to the elements and sheltered overhead.

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Refreshingly the architecture of St. Michael’s park is not visually dense, loud or flashy.  This park is a combination of frames and planes, built by convention, accessible to the human and modifiable at will.  The scale and orientation is spot on and seasonal character is recorded in the weathering material.  Only a few discongruent components exist: terminated edges should be more continuous, the decorated gate is unnecessary, and stage is too isolated.  Yet all of those are secondary to the skeleton of St. Michael’s.  This is a place I easily imagine weekend markets, local performances, grilling, parties and play.  And when the park is not in use the architecture merges back into the horizon offering a reminder of the landscape that West Texans live and work in.

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overload and un-simplify

In “Les Grandes Epreuves de l’esprit” Henri Michaux states the human need “to overload and un-simplify” which Smiljan Radic refers when introducing his term dissolution construction technique and further illustrates as “unsteady joints, loose nails, oblique angles, rough measurements, splinters, fragility, oversizing, cracks, poverty.”

Valparaiso is an assemblage of dissolution construction techniques resulting in a rich collage of material and soft ambiguity of edges. Metal, wood and corrugated sheet metal are the prevalent city building materials and with portable tools are immediately modifiable, i.e. screw adds and saw edits. The following images are material examples of this directness in resolving what is at hand and one of the foundational characteristics of this city.

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References:
Radic, Smiljan, “Un Ruido Naranjo” BIArch Lecture, 2010
Michaux, Henri, “Les Grandes Epreuves de l’esprit”, Gallimard, 1966

leisure island

Leisure Island is a dangerous place.

It evokes complacency within an environment set in isolation from our physical landscape.

I like so many other people enjoy a good island, but an urging sense of disturbing proportions hovers around me as I sip my extra dry grande double shot cap cappuccino on the rocks.

Most North American commercial architecture, such as Starbucks, construct a surrounding landscape dependent upon vehicles while leaving any form of human-scale spatial engagement to the pushbar at their entry door.  The end of the surrounding pavement denotes a hard boundary between leisure island and “dead” terrain. Small clumps of coffee trash accumulate in the shadow lines of the concrete pavement edge, evident that these adjacent landscapes in development limbo receive little attention and exist on the fringes of human conscious.  In fact it is beneficial to pay attention to these forgotten landscapes of parking pavement and between lots as they too are valuable ecosystems, mysterious terrains, and potential destinations full of complex negotiations.

Within the last couple of years people across disciplines, such as architect Jason Griffiths in “Manifest Destiny” and the environmental journalist Emma Marris in “Rambunctious Garden”, are drawing attention to these overlooked spaces and pointing out the unconventional value often dismissed.  Earlier in 2008, the Walker Art Center held the exhibition “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes” showing a collection of work by artists, architects and writers reflecting on our quintessential built American environment.

More common to the architecture world is Alan Berger’s book “Drosscape” in which he documents and describes the “waste” space left over from expansive building / infrastructure, advocates for the value of Drosscape as an integral component of human civilization, and urges architects, city planners, and developers to realize the design potential.  Ignasi de Sola-Morales visualizes the between urban spaces as Terrain Vague, vacancies within the urban landscape full of imagination by remaining in descriptive limbo.

I consider these places Nameless Landscapes, and define the terrain as a conflation of suggested develop and natural states.  Nameless Landscapes display traces of human, machine and natural intervention.  They are an urban collage constructed of autonomously layered situations, sparsely populating a field of vaguely identifiable built elements.  They resist any single definable term and are often discarded because of ambiguity.  However, in the ambiguity lies the ability of multiple interpretation and simultaneous use.  Architects, as built environment connoisseurs, have a responsibility to recognize and acknowledge the mass accumulation of Leisure Islands within North America and respond to the indifference most people associate with subsequent “dead” adjacent terrains.

Unlike convenience and leisure, our landscapes are hardly predictable and enticingly complex.  Relationships any Architecture should make evident.

poché – pocket

In french poché means pocket

I recently learned this french meaning of the commonly used architectural term, poché.

This translation immediately caught my attention reminding me of the 2010 pecha-kucha five minute presentation I gave on pockets to an audience of architecture enthusiasts.  In that presentation I underscored the value of pockets as a construction capable of concealing and revealing contents.  At that time I didn’t make a direct argument between the hand size pocket and building size space but the scale comparison begged to be addressed.

So it is through this linguistic translation of poché as pocket that I begin my comparison of pockets and architecture with the interest of better understanding the conceal / reveal qualities of our built environment.

::part 1

Poché in architecture is a graphic technique of filling-in the mass of any cut material with a solid color.  The shading-in, as often seen as walls on a plan, eliminates technical information of construction. The intention of poché is to create a high contrast between the form of the space and the material elements that define that space. This distinction underscores an emphasis between the space people occupy and the enclosure delineating that space.  Baroque architecture, as seen in the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane plan drawing and photo below, have an intricate relationship between poché and space primarily because the form has dramatic reliefs which emphasize the play of light and shadow.

photo and plan drawing of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Francesco Borromini . left photo credit Lawrence OP

Here both space and material are sculpturally compelling as the positive of one is nests within the negative of the other.  Both vary in thickness, undulations and rotations resulting in a symbiotic relationship.  A 2009 sculpture by artist Mel Kendrick, “Markers”, offers a contemporary play on this balanced inverse of space and material.

Poché as a verb is a process in masking out or removing information, the act of filling in a wall accounts for the space the wall occupies.  The application of pochéd space can be applied differently to convey varying architectural conditions, such as the Nolli map, by Giambattista Nolli and Figure-ground diagrams.  One can also poché space which describes an element of controlled or restrained access. Spaces of secrecy or exclusion are selectively accessible and can be understood as pochéd for a select few.  The section sketchs below applies an inverse of poché, masking out the interior space of pockets, identifying the enclosures as a solid, only accessible by the owner.  The powerful thing about pockets is that they can conceal contents held within.  The element of concealing can leverage a disadvantaged situation or create anxiety in an already tension exchange.  Power of pocket poché is determined by the size and position of the opening to the shape of the pocket.  The mystery infuses the pocket, typically seen as a functional item, with suspense and play.



::part 2, will provide an investigation into pocket’s power of conceal and reveal in relation to architecture.