Monday, February 25, 2008

Political Architecture: Part Deux?

I’ve mentioned the idea of political architecture before. And that catch-phrase seems to bring quite a bit of you to this little blog. Especially lately, which makes me wonder if this competition has anything to do with it.

It is an intriguing proposal, isn’t it? To re-imagine such a powerful image of leadership?

It seems to be an exercise in extremes. Protection versus Access. Public Right versus Private Necessity. Authority versus Humility. One imagines the home of our President to be a place that commands respect, but still feels relatable to the citizen, at home in some suburb, in some state somewhere. It necessitates an air of pomp and circumstance, given the history-changing events that will inevitably happen. But, one thinks, it should also allow the President to feel at ease, as anyone does in the comfort of the place they call home.

Is the challenge harder today than some 200 years ago, when the first White house was designed? Perhaps, yes, given that the aesthetic of a government building, at that time, was usually clear; to express democracy, one needed a neo-classical structure to align itself with the noble roots of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance. Also, given the complexities that have arisen with regards to security and protection, one can forget the public access enjoyed during Andrew Jackson’s infamous inaugural celebration.

Yes, 200 years later, you have a myriad of issues that perhaps were never imagined years ago. As a prominent symbol of a nation that has, as of late, been reviled as much as we would hope it is revered, it is a prime target. The home is a bunker, the event hall is a safe house. Now, one imagines the White House needing the strength to withstand both the scrutiny of dignitaries and armed attacks.

Yet, as a symbol of what we wish for our government, our nation to stand for, images of bunkers and safe houses don’t quite cut it. One doesn’t read freedom in windowless concrete walls. One does aspire to liberty when they are coddled in a cage. I guess that’s why this problem intrigues me so much - the balance of dichotomies, the potential invention of a new way to communicate age-old values in a day when such values need to be broadcast.

So, whatever readers come here, I encourage you to take a chance, submit an idea, and expose the world to your way of thought. It might just change the world. Submissions are being accepted between March 1, 2008 and April 20, 2008.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I know. Another small scale urban place. You might be thinking, hey, that's all he likes.

photos by Daisuke Akita via frontofficetokyo

But, you have to admit, there is something appealing about these tiny concoctions. Their ability to so much with so little. Who says bigger is better.

I also am inspired by the blog. If you get a chance, look through the archives. The author/architect does a great job of documenting the process of building in a place know for precision and detail.

I could go on and on about the various elements of this house that intrigue me, but I have to say, the thing I like best are those stepping stones in the garden. Nice touch.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Every semester ended with the same ritual. After the weeks of sleepless nights, the ten minutes to shine, the brief and rapturous feeling of relief once crits passed, you faced the single heart-wrenching decision: what the hell to keep?

I was a pack-rat. I kept drawings, sketches, study models. I organized them by date, thinking to myself that, by doing so, I could capture the process, the development, the evolution of my work. I had elaborate plans to document it all, archive it for future reference, or store in some fantastic personal library, which I would be able to come back to, perhaps to one day show a future student, child, mentee, who I once was.

Plans like these often go awry. Archiving work gets complicated as the papers, drawing tubes, parti and concept models, add up. There’s always that issue of space, which is inevitably at a premium. Then there is the constant moving of stuff, as is the typical nomadic life of an undergraduate. And other things happen along the way; the storage space that is damp, which yellows trace paper and bleeds ink, the model that is kick over, accidentally stepped on, jostled a bit too hard. In the end, you find yourself throwing out the things you probably should have in the first place.

But, even if I don’t have it all, there are certain things I have gone to great lengths to keep - drawings, and more often, models, which I felt particularly strong about. They have followed me from the halls of CMU to a small garage in upstate New York, and inside a car on a journey west, coming to rest in locations scattered throughout the home of my parents. If my career, my path to becoming an architect, were distilled to only these items, I could at least look back and feel proud for the accomplishment - my limited legacy.

I think that’s one of the most appealing aspects to architecture, the eventual realization of your creativity. For now, mine has been limited to the models and drawings of my education. And, well, my first completed project. But, part of what keeps you going through school is the hope that, one day, your work will dot the landscape. A physical legacy to follow an academic one.

However, even this legacy is ephemeral. Buildings are not permanent things, despite their heft, their weight, their concrete existence. This act is underscored by the numerous historic buildings that have been lost over the years. But, what about recent buildings? Sure, some are destroyed by natural disasters, accidents. But, as this article shows, there is a precarious nature to our work. Can you imagine it, imagine being alive to see the purposeful destruction of your work?

There are so many things that disturb me about this particular situation. As many mentioned over on a discussion tread at Archinect, there seem many ulterior motives driving the call for demolition. Read the article. There are some wonderful quotes for the newsreel.

There are also number of issues brought up about the building itself, which call into question how architecture can and should be evaluated. Should architecture survive as an aesthetic symbol, despite its inability to serve its function? Should architecture be evaluated by function first, dismissing the unquantifiable because it is unquantifiable? It’s a complex and intricate debate that has raged for centuries, so tackling that issue will be left for when I have more room and more time. But for now, I think about what it must be like, to hear people call for the destruction of your work as flippantly as they might the removal of a weed.

Legacies are never everlasting. But, in this rapidly changing world, the fate of what we do falls into the hands of a great number of hands. The civic and institutional clients of the past, who footed the bill for many of our past monuments, are dwindling, becoming increasingly intertwined with commercial and economic interests that have very different values. Stability is traded for innovation, preservation traded for simulation and nostalgia. Architecture has been driven into a world of fad, of image and fashion. It has given our work greater public appeal and consciousness. It has decimated our work’s longevity, lifespan. We are dealing with our potential future and our potential demise. And the legacy, once the record of an Architect’s contribution to the world at large, may be erased while the Architect is forced to watch.