23 December, 2008

Merry Christmas!

See you in the new year cats and kittens, have a wonderful time with family and friends!

Le Corbusier, Mixing the Kool-Aid

I want to share what I believe to be the central theme from Le Corbusier's Towards a New Architecture (1924):

A great epoch has begun.
There exists a new spirit.
Industry, overwhelming us like a flood which rolls on toward its destined ends, has furnished us with new tools adapted to this new epoch, animated by this new spirit.
Economic law inevitably governs our acts and our thoughts.
The problem of the house is a problem of the epoch.
The equilibrium of society today depends upon it.
Architecture has for its first duty, in this period of renewal, that of bringing about a revision of values, a revision of the constituent elements of the house.
Mass production is based on analysis and experiment.
Industry on the grand scale must occupy itself with building and establish the elements of the house on a mass-production basis.
We must create the mass-production spirit,
The spirit of constructing mass-production houses.
The spirit of living in mass-production houses.
The spirit of conceiving mass-production houses.
If we eliminate from our hearts and minds all dead concepts in regard to the house, and look at the question from a critical and objective point of view, we shall arrive at the "House-Machine," the mass-production house, healthy (and morally so too) and beautiful in the same way that the working tools and instruments which accompany our existence are beautiful.
Beautiful also with all the animation that the artist's sensibility can add to severe and pure functioning elements.

Just read it a few times and realize that there is a significant body of architectural education that rests primarily upon this foundation. And yet there are those who would still insist that the state of architectural education in this country is not cultic in its abhorrence of anything daring to remember the past. I'll be working on a few posts based on this manifesto from Le Corbusier and I thought I would throw it out there prior to analyzing it to death.

19 December, 2008

One Perspective on the Big 3

While I'm no fan of needless simplification of complex, nuanced situations, this particular bit of imagery was still pretty funny. I don't necessarily endorse the message, but I applaud the messenger for quality satire.

Idiot's Guide to Architecture

An interesting piece from across the pond. It would seem that many of those in charge of urban planning policy in the UK are a little peeved that the public prefers "pastiche". If people don't like your ideas, define the opposition out of the game.

12 December, 2008

Chesterton on Christmas

Thanks to the Holy Whapping crew for posting a passage from Chesterton about the lure of Christmas. Check it out.

Pop Culture and Why I'm Sad

If I never have to work in an office with community music again I’ll be very happy. Today the office decided to take a break from the classic rock staples (I actually like a lot of classic rock, but every man has their tipping point. Upon hearing Stairway 4 times in one day I’m ready for Zeppelin to pull a Hindenburg) and we ventured, hipsters that we are, into the land of today’s hits on XM.

My God, what a complete load of crap. I swear that 8 out of 10 pop stars must be tone deaf. You know how I know this? Their producers got so tired of listening to the awful vocals that they immediately unloaded all of the reverb, manipulation, and digitalization they could muster from their considerable arsenal and successfully migrated the singer to a musicality just shy of Wall-E. As awful as this sounds, some poor soul had the gargantuan misfortune of producing said crap, necessitating long hours of listening to the original, unadulterated version of what passes for vocal skill. By the way, the other 2 out of 10 songs were ballads sung by angry white dudes who need some Cloraseptic or a cough drop something fierce. Come on buddy, you’re telling your girl that you love her in poetry that isn’t exactly Shakespeare; I’m reasonably certain she doesn’t want you yelling at her while you do so.

Speaking of those Shakespearian lyric masterpieces, apparently if you can’t figure out how to complete a musical phrase with enough words, just throw a Na, na, na! or a Hey! or a Hey! Na! in there to make it all good. I also noted that the emotional depth of our haunting lyrics was unlikely to drown a small insect. Case in point:

Girl I know, mistakes were made between us two
And we show our ass that night even said some things weren't true
I can't go and haven't seen my girl since then
why cant it be the way it were
cause you were my homie lover, and friend

I wanna make up right na na na
I wanna make up right na na na
Wish we never broke up right na na na
we need to link up right na na na

Hey, that verse doesn’t seem quite right. Surely he did not intend to say “…the way it were”, unless of course he desperately needed a word to rhyme with “lover” in the next line. He obviously felt he couldn’t get away with a random “Er?” seeing as how he’s already been pretty liberal with the "Na, na, na’s". As it turns out, there may just be some confusion as to the lyrics in this case. Two other founts of lyrical knowledge on the web construct the same verse thusly:

Girl I know, mistakes were made between us two/too,
& we sure, our ass that I even said somethings weren't true,
why'd you go? I haven't seen my girl since then,
why can't it be the way it were,
cause you were my homie-love-girlfriend...

Girl I know (know, know)
Mistakes were made between us two
And we show (show)
Our acts that night, even said some things werent true.
Why'd you go? (go)
I havent seen my girl since then (then)
Why cant it be that way it was?
Cause you were my homie, lover, and friend

I feel that further commentary would only lessen the golden humor to be mined from these three paragons of 21st century American courtship literature. While I’m smiling on the outside, I am, much like the Joker of Batman fame, crying on the inside. Won’t you join me for a weep?

02 December, 2008

Palin and the Bartlet Psychosis

I’m going back to the old standby of The West Wing as a means of belatedly critiquing the political landscape during our recent election. Thankfully, the circus has left town and I was hesitant to even drag the tired subject back up to the surface of my mind, but I think there is an interesting discussion to be had around these issues. As the Republican Party begins the herculean task of reconstituting itself I feel compelled to vent my fear of a looming Palinocracy within the party walls. A few scenes from The West Wing came to mind and I’ll share them here:

Let's go ahead and say the Republicans nominate Ritchie.

They will.

First of all, I'd stop for a moment and say, you know, 'why?' I mean they got some serious guys in the field. Kalmbach, Daniel, Wesley?

Democrats had a lot serious guys in the field, and they nominated you.

That's true.

[moves a chess piece] Check.

[responds with a move] You think the strike against me is nobody likes the smartest kid in the class.

I don't know, sir. Being a smartest kid in the class is a pretty good pitch, it's not a strike unless you watch it as it sails by.

I don't do that.


And I'm not a snob.

I don't believe you are.

If a guy is a good neighbor, if he puts in a day, if every once in a while he laughs, if every once in a while he thinks about somebody else and, above all else, if he can find his way to compassion and, and tolerance, then he's my brother, I don't give a damn if he didn't get past finger-painting. What I can't stomach are people who're out to convince people that the educated are soft and privileged and out to make them feel like they're less, then, you know, 'he may be educated, but I'm plain-spoken, just like you!' Especially when we know that education can be a silver bullet, it can be the silver bullet, Toby! For crime, poverty, unemployment, drugs, hate...

Who are you trying to convince?

I'm saying I don't watch the pitch go by.

Bartlet pours himself coffee at his desk.

Abbey told me this story once. She said you were at a party once where you were bending the guy's ear. You were telling him that Ellie had mastered her multiplication tables and she was in third grade reading at a fifth-grade level and she loved books and she scored two goals for her soccer team the week before, you were going on and on... And what made that story remarkable was that the party you were at was in Stockholm and the man you were talking to was King Gustav, who two hours earlier had given you the Nobel Prize in economics. [laughs] I mean, my god, you just won the Nobel Prize and all you wanted to talk about to the King of Sweden was Ellie's multiplication tables!

[approaches to sit across from him] What's your point?

You're a good father, you don't have to act like it. You're the President, you don't have to act like it. You're a good man, you don't have to act like it. You're not just folks, you're not plain-spoken... Do not, do not, do not act like it!

I don't want to be killed.

Then make this election about smart, and not... Make it about engaged, and not. Qualified, and not.
Make it about a heavyweight. You're a heavyweight. And you've been holding me up for too many rounds.

Toby lays down his king on the board to retire. Bartlet stands and turns to walk out.

Pick your king up. We're not done playing yet.
Later in the same season President Bartlet runs into Governor Ritchie at a play that both men are attending to support Catholic Charities.

Mr. President.


You enjoying the play?

I am. How about you?

We just got here. We were at the Yankee game. We were, you know, hung up in traffic.

Yeah, I know. Listen, politics aside, and I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but you probably insulted the church, and you can head it off at the pass if you speak to the Cardinal tonight.

Well, I didn't mean to insult anybody.


And it's a baseball game. It's how ordinary Americans...

Yeah. [beat] No, I don't understand that. The center fielder for the Yankees is an accomplished classical guitarist. People who like baseball can't like books?

Are you taking this personally?

No. Something horrible happened about an hour ago.

The two find a place to sit across each other.

C.J. Cregg was getting threats so we put an agent on her. He's a good guy. He was on my detail for a while, and he was in Rosslyn. He walked in the middle of an armed robbery, and was shot and killed after detaining one of the suspects.

Oh. Crime. Boy, I don't know.

[sighs] We should have a great debate, Rob. We owe it to everyone. When I was running as a governor, I didn't know anything. I made them start Bartlet college in my dining room. Two hours every morning on foreign affairs and the military. You can do that.

How many different ways you think you're gonna find to call me dumb?

I wasn't, Rob. But you've turned being un-engaged into a Zen-like thing, and you shouldn't enjoy it so much is all, and if it appears at times as if I don't like you, that's the reason why.

You're what my friends call a superior sumbitch. You're an academic elitist and a snob. You're, uh, Hollywood, you're weak, you're liberal, and you can't be trusted. And if it appears from time to time as if I don't like you, well, those are just a few of the many reasons why.

Music plays inside the theater.

They're playing my song.

Bartlet stands and heads to the stairs, but he turns to Ritchie before reaching them.

In the future, if you're wondering, "Crime. Boy, I don't know" is when I decided to kick your ass.

I certainly hope that the Republican Party chooses not to head down the Ritchie path with a coronation of the same Sarah Palin we observed in this election cycle. I don’t have a problem with ignorance, but I have a big problem with flaunting ignorance as a virtue, as if being intellectually engaged in world affairs was somehow a mark of elitism rather than prudence. Even David, who was certainly “unengaged” at the time of his anointing, was elevated because of humility, not because he saw his lack of gravitas as a blessed diamond to show the world.

01 December, 2008

On Humanist Fashion

The Steampunk post generated some chatter, so I’m working on some variations on a theme by Clark, opus No. 2 in the return to blogdom.

Playing the worthy role of perpetual thorn in my neo-traditionalist backside, Clark has skillfully baited his hook by referring to humanist design elements as mere fashion. I will, of course, rise to the bait and hilarity will ensue as Clark proceeds to beat me with his puritanical stick. For some odd reason we enjoy this little Kabuki dance so here we go…

Just about everyone has heard the axioms by now:

A) “Form follows function.”

B) “Form and function are one.”

C) “Function follows form.”
(for the Gehry-ites out there)

Surprisingly enough, I tend to think more along the lines of Option A. While every aspiring architect loves to spout off about how their design is oh, so critical and every single piece only adds to the function of the whole, it tends to reduce the design to such a level as to be clinical in its sterility. Being trained as a Bauhaus modernist made me strive long and hard to achieve that perfect synthesis of form and function that just made you melt it was so sexy. Unfortunately, as I encountered more and more of these masterpieces “in the wild” I realized that the livability of the spaces was compromised by the puritanical desire of the designer for unadulterated functional forms. They lost their sexiness in a heartbeat as soon as a lowly human worked up enough courage to actually inhabit the space and try to put all of their stuff, their cultural detritus, into the environment. I didn’t so much see “Machines for Living” as “Living for Machines”.

I have no problem admitting that form follows function. In fact, I revel in it. It’s the form that contains all of the bits and pieces that make the thing fun. Take the somewhat nonsensical problem of identifying linens in the household. I have never in my life owned a monogrammed towel, nor do I have any desire to do so. Just for the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that my wife and I had the irrational and admittedly effete desire to differentiate our identical bath towels. The puritanical American streak would tell me to grab a Sharpie and put our initials on the seam, supremely functional and utterly artless. If I were a suburbanite yuppie I would get the monogrammed towels from Pottery Barn and my attractive towels would match entirely too many other suburbanite yuppie towels. For me personally, if I had to have a way to tell some towels apart, I would hop on Adobe Illustrator and bang out a family crest to use on anything I wanted. I’d buy some nice quality towels and have them embroidered with the family crest and our initials underneath. Yeah, it’s completely goofball, but it sure would be fun and I’d have a connection to my towel that I wouldn’t get by using any other method. There would be a symbolism to the function that would provide satisfaction beyond the function. And now you know exactly why I DON’T have monogrammed towels.

Let’s look at a more plausible conundrum for me. I have the desire to eventually get into brewing my own beer. In fact, I’ve already identified some of the styles that I like the most and I even have some names picked out for my versions. I’d love to brew a good Helles Lager, and when I do it will be called Dante’s Nine Helles. I’ll probably end up kegging the beer and trying to get some good tap handles to use for it. Once again, the puritanical approach would be to hook a picnic tap right onto the keg, cheap and effective. The fun for me, however, would be designing the logo for the custom tap handle or the cool label to put on the bottles. None of this would change the flavor of the beer one iota, but it would greatly impact my appreciation of the beer and hopefully that of everyone else who got to experience the imagery along with the taste.

There is so much more art for me in putting those personal touches onto the things which impact my life on a regular basis. They are almost always decorative, meaning that there are invariably cheaper and simpler methods to perform the same task with similar results. While it may be fashion, I would not rid my life of it for any reason, and I have no doubt that many fashions will still manage to long outlast me. I love the old English apothecary logos as examples of decorative art that are still classy and effective hundreds of years after their creation. I would venture to say that this sort of “fashion” never really becomes “unfashionable”. If it’s good design it will last, even if it isn’t directly tied to function.

That’s the long way for me to get back around to the idea that fashion (or decoration) doesn’t necessarily put an expiration date on aesthetic appeal, as I still find the Parthenon to be incredibly appealing as a structure. I find that decoration often enhances the appreciation of a thing, and that to me is incredibly important for things I come into constant contact with. It’s exactly why I would get more satisfaction out of an artfully designed keyboard, no matter what style, than the mass produced crap I type on every day. It isn’t all about the function or how the form enhances the function, for me it’s about how I perceive the thing as it performs its function.