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

weight of light

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During a December visit to the Saint Ignatius Chapel in Seattle, Washington I was reminded of the transformative power great architecture embodies. Below is a short letter thanking Steven Holl and others who helped realize this poetic assembly of space, material and light.


thank you for creating architecture that engages my imagination.  presenting textures that draw out emotions of my past, choreographing light to carry weight so heavy that alloys appear as a feather.  thank you for keeping ends open, for implying intersections and capturing the innate physical properties of material.  thank you for compressing my perceptible space through the rich saturation of details so that conditions twelve feet away disappear until I am directly adjacent to them, quietly transforming a modest 6,000 square foot chapel into a cathedral. 

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lubbock monuments

in honor of regional architecture in West Texas,

Unintentionally much time has passed since my last post so I felt it necessary this subject be of monumental proportions from observations on West Texas Cotton Sheds.

These engineered giants elegantly mark East Lubbock’s landscape at a scale far greater than the single story residential houses or sprawl commercial shops that make up most of this city.  Assembled from steel frame trusses and sheet metal cladding, these ancient archetypal forms tower roughly five stories high, with a roof shape based on cotton hull’s angle of repose.  The entire building footprint is free of columns or walls to accommodate the storage of shells and seeds after harvesting the fields.  Necessary circulation space exists between each shed as it sits in close proximity to the next staging an impressive rhythm of positive and negative forms.

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Some of these sheds are not volumetric at all only skeletal, implying a shape that will grow with the arrival of cotton seeds. It is the arid climate of this region and an air tunnel at the base of the cotton seed pile that allows it to be successfully stored outside.
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With the changing light these industrial monuments introduce a beautiful pallet of subtle colors.

Because of the scale these buildings command attention,
because of the material the shades are never the same,
because of the geometry these monuments dynamically register the shifting of the day,

enjoy.
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*Cotten sheds at Ave. A x 34th and 50th, PYCO Industries.

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.

domestic bollards

domestic bollards: describing a series of industrial equipment situated at the periphery of a corner lot residential building in Lubbock, Texas presumably to mitigate the “potential” danger of interference with a vehicle.

To find the quaint idyllic house juxtapose with vehicle stopping defense is both humorous and frustrating.

Humorous because the bollards, as one system, overcompensate for the inadequacies of another system, the light weight ballon framing construction of most Lubbock homes. These vehicular-defensive shortened columns stand guard out front the All-American dream house. I appreciate that the bollards are unadorned, true in their industrial honesty and material authenticity. It would be frighteningly disappointing to discover bollard systems plastered over with stucco both for the aesthetic misplacement of an artificial presentation and for the waste of material energy to acquire an artificial presentation.

Frustrating because bollards are a quick fix solution to a situation architecture can resolve. Fast driving and safe sleeping are a study in program proximity. Architects are trained to find creative solutions to program relationships and even advocate for program complexity. In “the Manhattan Transcripts”, Bernard Tschumi explores the event (program) and the potential for architecture to be rebuilt according to event relationships, the Parc de la Villette being a realized example.  In “Delirious New York”, Rem Koolhaas writes about architecture’s capacity in the skyscraper for program proximity as “the vertical schism, which creates the freedom to stack such disparate activities directly on top of each other without any concern for their symbolic compatibility”.

Domestic bollards are traces in this built environment of a reaction-focused object-driven quick solution mentality.  However humorous I may find this juxtaposition I prefer to walk a city of hybrid houses that creatively negotiate program proximities of the fast & furious to the safe & sleeping through space and architecture instead of defensive framing any day.