Stairs to nowhere are everywhere these days. Where are they taking us?
> We love to look down on other people, and we love it even more when they look up at us. The architect Morris Lapidus understood this when he designed the grand staircase of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. He called it the “Stairs to Nowhere” because they led only to a coat closet, where the beautiful people could leave their jackets and then swan down the stairs, catching the eye of everyone below.
> Sixty-five years later, the new stairs-to-nowhere are “stepped seating” — though it may look like the thing in high school you called “bleachers” — and it’s become one of the most Instagrammable and possibly the most overused architectural features of the decade.
“Building Meaningfully”: Burroughs Wellcome Corporate Headquarters, 1972
> In 1969, pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome commissioned renowned modernist architect Paul Rudolph to design its new corporate headquarters and research facility in Durham, North Carolina. The result was a visionary modular complex whose geometries created a futuristic melding of spaces and forms.
Living with a starchitect’s early work
> Young, ambitious architects are known for cost overruns, impractical layouts — and the occasional work of genius
A catalog of complaints, and some advice:
> Le Corbusier, never the most self-deprecating of architects, returned to the site and, looking around, is reported to have said: “You know, it is always life that is right and the architect who is wrong.” That was not an admission of error: Le Corbusier meant that his designs were able to accommodate change.
Mirrored Ceilings and Criss-Crossed Stairwells Give a Chinese Bookstore the Feeling of an M.C. Escher Woodcut
> Zhongshuge bookstores, designed by Shangai-based architecture firm X+Living, feature incredible rooms coveted by book and illusion lovers alike. Each location in this chain of Chinese bookstores has uniquely designed spaces with reflective elements that immerse guests in parallel environments. In the Chongqing branch, criss-crossing staircases and a mirrored ceiling double the room for an effect that seems straight out of an M.C. Escher woodcut or an infinite Indian stepwell.
X-ray imaging reveals the secrets of termite mounds
> Turner found that the assumptions of Pearce and others that the mounds’ complex tunnel systems serve to circulate air and remove heat to regulate interior temperatures isn’t accurate. The air mixing isn’t the result of the colony’s internal heat but air pressure from outside the mound. The termites build the mounds so tall to catch the wind, and their porous outer surface is what allows the air to move into and through the colony. Turner likens the effect to the alveoli in human lungs: the mound almost “breathes.”
After a winter restoration, the famed Hornbean Ellipse is almost back
> The historic garden at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown is a necklace of finely crafted spaces, but one garden room stands out as particularly special. The Hornbeam Ellipse is an enclosed oval terrace in the heart of the 16-acre garden, formal yet serene. Its soulfulness comes from its perfect proportions — it is both expansive and intimate — and from the strength and simplicity of its design.
The Bell Labs Holmdel Complex
> The Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in Holmdel, New Jersey was created as a new research and development facility for Bell Telephone when they decided to move operations out of Manhattan. Constructed between 1959 and 1962, it was the swan song of architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Center. Saarinen died a year before Holmdel was completed and six years before the six story complex would be named Laboratory of the Year by R&D Magazine. The outside curtain wall of mirrored glass that allowed in 25 percent of the sun’s light while blocking 70 percent of its heat led to the Holmdel Complex being christened “The Biggest Mirror Ever” by Architectural Forum, and the complex was used in universities as example of one of the crowning achievements of the modernist architectural style.
> Architect Alexander Gorlin allowed me to photograph Bell Labs shortly before the renovation began. Much of the interior had been stripped to the basic elements and the plants in the atrium were gone, but the architecture was still mesmerizing. I had visited the building when it was open many years ago but it was unfamiliar to me now. Many of the rooms were entirely anonymous after everything in them had been removed.
Cat ladders: a creative solution for felines in flats
> Strategically placed ramps and ladders for urban cats are all the rage in Bern. Brigitte Schuster’s photo book Swiss Cat Ladders documents the phenomenon
The 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument Hidden in Plain Sight
> On the western flank of the Hoover Dam stands a little-understood monument, commissioned by the US Bureau of Reclamation when construction of the dam began in 01931. The most noticeable parts of this corner of the dam, now known as Monument Plaza, are the massive winged bronze sculptures and central flagpole which are often photographed by visitors. The most amazing feature of this plaza, however, is under their feet as they take those pictures.
> The plaza’s terrazzo floor is actually a celestial map that marks the time of the dam’s creation based on the 25,772-year axial precession of the earth.
Too Ugly to Be Saved? Singapore Weighs Fate of Its Brutalist Buildings
> Others see them as important markers of national identity because they were designed by a generation of up-and-coming local architects just after the city-state’s founding in 1965, when the area’s growth was fueled by large-scale urban renewal projects. But a few prominent Brutalist landmarks are on the verge of being sold to private developers, which has prompted a last-ditch scramble by enthusiasts to have the buildings protected by conservation laws. It has also set off a thorny debate about what type of architecture is worth saving in the first place.
Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge: World's longest sea bridge in pictures
> The 55km bridge and tunnel linking Hong Kong to mainland China via Macau has opened, years late.
There are pictures.
> Evolving Floor Plans is an experimental research project exploring speculative, optimized floor plan layouts. The rooms and expected flow of people are given to a genetic algorithm which attempts to optimize the layout to minimize walking time, the use of hallways, etc. The creative goal is to approach floor plan design solely from the perspective of optimization and without regard for convention, constructability, etc. The research goal is to see how a combination of explicit, implicit and emergent methods allow floor plans of high complexity to evolve. The floorplan is ‘grown’ from its genetic encoding using indirect methods such as graph contraction and emergent ones such as growing hallways using an ant-colony inspired algorithm.
FIU had grand plans for 'signature' bridge. But the design had a key mistake, experts say
> The unconventional placement of diagonal supports in an uneven zig-zag pattern along the bridge produced a complex structural web with a glaring weakness at a key connection point, apparently overlooked by designers at FIGG Bridge Group, say three independent structural engineers who reviewed nearly 2,000 pages of calculations for the bridge at the Miami Herald’s request.
Westminster is rotting from within
> An eccentric masterwork of Victorian genius, its dual chambers for lords and commoners are the living, breathing heart of constitutional monarchy, the home of Parliament, and one of the most photographed buildings in the world. But Westminster is a wreck, its caretakers say.
The captions are pretty good, too.
> This rusted out pipe is no longer in use.
Vernacular Economics: How Building Codes & Taxes Shape Regional Architecture
> From basic materials to entire architectural styles, building codes and taxation strategies have had huge historical impacts on the built world as we know it.
San Francisco’s Skyline, Now Inescapably Transformed by Tech
> Salesforce Tower, which at 1,070 feet is the tallest office building west of the Mississippi, will be inhabited in January, signaling tech’s triumph in the city.
Some nice pictures, too.
Design flaw in Apple flagship store
> A few months ago, Eleven Magazine hosted a quick competition to rethink the planetarium. It’s a great design brief: Eleven’s editors asked “if architecture itself could become—once again—a tool for experiencing and understanding space. How can architecture engage with and enhance today’s renewed age of space exploration and discovery? What does the next generation of planetariums look like?”
> As a very brief aside, meanwhile, one of many things that remains amazing to me about the architectural world today is that these sorts of buildings—grandiose brick megastructures, from water towers to old tobacco warehouses to classic New York brownstones—are immensely popular as domestic renovations or large-scale residential conversions, but they otherwise seem to be completely beyond the pale for architects to consider designing from scratch in the present day. Even when contemporary architects do take on such commissions, they seem to leave their creativity at the door.
Worth the Weight
> It’s like some undiscovered Italo Calvino short story: an agency physically deformed by the gravitational implications of its secrets, its buildings now bulbous and misshapen as the literal weight of its mission continues to grow.
In regards to the NY Times article about NSA and CIA breaches.