It is unfortunate most of our buildings produce solid monolithic shadows to be casted across the land. Shadows are a great way to register a building’s characteristic, or lack there of. A quick pan for articulated shadows of Lubbock’s landscape in google maps revealed most compelling shadows are a result from industry or infrastructure structures. Structures with a combination of space and material, varying geometries, or pronounced building skins casted the best shadows in contrast to the standard house or commercial block that consisted of a single mass and simple shadow profile.
Shadow Cast map
One afternoon earlier this year I set out to discover shadows that recorded three scales of what occurred behind me: micro (of my hair), macro (structures above me), celestial (sunlight as the source). The result was a refreshing mixture of various patterns, density, order and tonality.
At 70 mph and timed right with the setting sun’s golden hour the wind turbine farm along HWY 84 between Lubbock and Dallas performs, and can be appreciated, just as Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field in New Mexico.
Only when placed in repetition, like one sees in wind turbine farms, Dia Art Foundation work, or harbor ports, do I appreciate the obstruction of a pole in the landscape. It is unfortunate then to observe installation of utility lighting as single steel stadium-like poles along the Marsha Sharp highway extension in Lubbock, Texas instead of lights suspended from lattice tower structures. The primary organization of these stadium-like poles is a factor of the road condition, such as highway overpasses increase light needs, instead for example the distance between poles determined as a factor of wind dynamics across turbine blades.
With lattice tower structures you have two opportunities of reading the structure:
one to see the object, and two, to see through the object.
One can not see through a utility pole. Instead you are left with a singular condition, just the object itself. Additionally lattice tower structures are able to use smaller steel members, such as 1.5″ angle iron, to achieve the open airy matrix. Lattice tower structures probably require more labor for assembly but the monolithic poles as objects alone offer no relationship of scaling between the person and environment. We are left with just the object, no space, rather than a relationship or material, space, and landscape.
Science writer Brian Hayes compiled a fantastic guide of utility systems in Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape. It is a perfect resource with detailed information of dimensioned, engineered, and practiced conditions that allow us to better understand, and see, the infrastructure in our environment.
Five lanes is the standard width for Lubbock main streets: four driving lanes and a medium or turning lane in the center. Standard street width of twelve feet over five lanes results in sixty feet total driving width. Although lane width and duplication may assist to keep traffic moving fast as soon as one exists their vehicle this city roadway system and corresponding urban building makes for an expansive, vacant, always full of potential but ultimately awkward environment.
Alleyways in Lubbock provide a polarizing opposite experience.
Alleyways in Lubbock collectively make an urban Secret Garden, that is the garden prior to being cultivated and groomed. Here the garden is sliced into strips, organized East-West and evenly distributed throughout the city. The larger orientation of seemingly endless views formed by urban alignment strikes an enjoyable balance with random plants and material edges. Spatially, meandering through alleys is more interesting because the width is a relatively narrow fifteen feet and variation occurs over smaller increments presenting a far more complex and diverse environment.
Lubbock alley infrastructure challenges typical urban front-back relations. Unfortunately Main street and buildings typically honor the vehicular facade where excessively vast and predictable street faces create visual continuity but passive spatial environments. Alternatively alleys offer more interest to the person because of the material collage, inventiveness, variation, and diversity. Wonder created from the context draws in one’s focus and offers dialogue with one’s imagination.
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.
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.
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.
Radic, Smiljan, “Un Ruido Naranjo” BIArch Lecture, 2010
Michaux, Henri, “Les Grandes Epreuves de l’esprit”, Gallimard, 1966