Monday, April 30, 2007

dreamsite1: tree-dock

I've been making quick sketches of locations that feature prominently in early-morning dreams. Here is the first one:

This is a covered inlet at a river embankment. One can swim into this channel, covered by metal grating, and then climb stairs to gain access to the split shotgun house above. There is a small waterfall where the stream transitions into the river, and at that point also is a tree, its roots wrapped around a column going into the water. If I remember correctly, the yard of the house was filled with 10-gallon drums. Read into this as you may.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

modern heironymous

The ink drawings of Adam Dant are intricate, humorous, and dark, to name a few.

I like to imagine these are the inhabited prehistory of Paul Noble's deserted cities and landscapes, immense crowded landscapes of danger and strange obselescence.

This kind of omnitient-view drawing, like in the picture books of my childhood, is both thrilling and oddly sad. One can't really inhabit this space or connect with the inhabitants, there is only pity and a quiet terror that they will never escape this enclosure.

link friday

Two photo sites, disturbing and poignant in different ways. Both would probably not be served well by analysis. Both safe for work.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


This is going to sound a bit too much like BLDGBLOG, but it's late and it's what I'm thinking about.

Artificial intelligence researchers love to compare intelligence to animals. "Human intelligence is 50 years away," they might say, "but something equivalent to a rat or small dog is just around the corner." This is an easy analog that anyone can understand (and also acknowledges the subjectivity of measuring intelligence.)

While I still can't quite imagine my trash can or car exhibiting any kind of animal intelligence (or I am too afraid to really consider it), I find the idea that my house is as smart as my dog to be almost plausible. There are, after all, lots of places in my house that I've never seen, and plenty of things that it does that are beyond my consideration. It makes noise on it's own from only solar and wind energy (especially at night), and has lived for over 60 years. Probably half of the elements on the periodic table are in my house. In short, it is ancient, unpredictable, and immensely complex. For all I know it's doing the domestic equivalent of wagging its tail right now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

as i read mason-dixon

It seems to me that the craft of surveying has lost power as it gained resolution over the last 400 years. When the above-mentioned latitude was plotted, it was marked every five miles with "crownstones" marked on one side with Charles Calvert's coat-of-arms, and the other with William Penn's. This western ray began its path at the (contemporaneous) border between Delaware and the two warring states, which was declared, quite simply, as a "twelve mile circle."

Compare this with disputing inches of fenceline between suburban homeowners, and it may seem that the heroism in this profession has leaked away, or at least has been transferred into the lasers that measure the (ever-changing) distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

history by metaphor

Golf is of uncertain origin-- it may be of Scottish, Dutch or even Chinese in its inception. The slow evolution of the game, however, produced a sport that was symbiotically linked to an a priori Scottish landscape-- an ideal in curvature and greenery that, over time, has mutated into its own form, of earthworks, kidney bean shapes, and exotic grasses. What still exists, however, is the chaotic relationship of the player to the landscape-- the strategy, beyond a certain point, is almost entirely contingent upon the wind, the speed of the greens, and human emotional frailty.

Miniature golf, while of surprisingly ancient (19th century) origin, came into it's current "windmills and wishing wells" form only in the late 1930's, at the hands of Joe and Robert Taylor from Binghamton, New York. Here, the game of golf was compressed and mechanized, becoming more like pool. The greens were made plastic, and metal bumpers, tubes, and moving obstacles created a game in which pure physics play a greater role than the weather. All of the chintz and themery conceals a game which is played with needle's-eye precision.

In 1985, Nintendo released Golf, a video game. This game featured a simplistic computer modeling of the physical complexities of the live game, in which angle, club, and a few taps on a button were the input. Subsequent video golf games have added topography, wind, spin, player ability and even, with the recent development of the Nintendo Wii, physical aptitude and luck. It is, essentially, a game of perfect physics, purposefully marred by a careful modeling of naturally chaotic variables.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The NPR/NYT-addicted goon that I am, I have been fully bombarded with the latest news on the Baghdad Wall imbroglio. Before I go any further, to fulfill the obligatory comparison:

The Wall in figures*

Overall length : 103 miles

Length inside Berlin : 26.8 miles

Length between Berlin and the GDR : 70 miles

Wall passing through inhabited areas : 23 miles

Wall passing through industrial areas : 10.6 miles

Wall passing through wooded areas : 18.6 miles

Wall passing through waterway areas : 14.9 miles

Length of concrete wall (13' high) : 66.6 miles

Metal fencing (9-13' high) : 40.5 miles

Anti-tank ditches (16'6" deep) : 0.6 miles

Anti-vehicle ditches (8' deep) : 65.5 miles

Surveillance tracks (20-23' wide) : 77 miles

Tracks with sliding cables for dogs : 259

Number of dogs : 600

Watch towers : 302

Concrete shelters : 22

Border guards : 14 000

Number of shots fired by border guards : 1 693

Bullet marks in the West : 456

Persons successfully scaling the Wall : 5 043

of whom members of the armed forces : 574

Persons arrested in the vicinity of the Wall : 3 221

Fugitives killed : 239

Soldiers and policemen killed : 27

Persons wounded : 260

Attacks against the Wall : 35

Building any kind of border wall is obviously a violent and incendiary event; however I'm not sure that the Berlin Wall is the best analog. The people discussing the Israeli/Palestinian border "systems" are probably more on track (morphologically and operationally).

I have to say, however, other than being struck dumb at the (escalating) hubris of our military, the most striking moment of this story was the way in which the military tried to spin the news: by referring to the walled area as a "gated community."

Jokes about accuracy aside, the equating of this controlled military compound with an Atlanta suburb makes my mind reel. Not because of the implication that people that live in suburban enclaves are self-imprisoned. It's rather the opposite that is staggering, the application of psychology of exclusivity to this violent rupture of one street from another. It makes me think: are we exporting fear along with "democracy?" Does the officially proclaimed and branded "American Way" have an intrinsically xenophobic core? It's true that our society (from any side) seems to have a new found obsession with purity, privacy, and control, and a growing fear of the collective and unconstrained. But is it perhaps this mindset, as much as a blindly jingoistic Washington, war profiteering, or a national thirst for oil, that is undercutting any kind of diplomatic success in these last eight years? We've never been that good of a people at self-understanding. Maybe we're all more fearful of our neighbors than we let on to ourselves.

*All numbers are from the incomparably fantastic book "The Ghosts of Berlin" by Brian Ladd.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

am i that boring?

Talking to a younger version of oneself in books, films, and personal families has become so common as to need a name: how about "feedyack." In these events there is a lot of raised eyebrows and slow revelations, perhaps cryptic warnings; it's popularity has a lot to do with the fact that this is a guaranteed moment one can act like a sage.

I'm going to propose an alternate scripting. I think that talking to oneself would be immensely boring, and probably a waste of time. Do you ever write down word-for-word what you think in the shower in the morning, or right before you go to bed? When read back, 90% of the time it comes out mostly gibberish. Now imagine if one half of this self-conversation was even less mature, and there was the added confusion of time travel. After the (I can only assume) intense anticipation of the event, it would probably seem awkward and diminished. The fact that we naturally romanticize the past and future would also probably lead to a slightly disappointing self-impression as well.

So, should time travel become possible, stick to the dinosaurs and spaceships. As you've probably been told, one of you is more than enough.

Friday, April 20, 2007

off the cuff

If you've been paying attention to the links at the right, you might have noticed I've been looking at more product and industrial design news lately. I've had to swallow some of my architect-inferiority-complex-disguised-as-pride, but the more product-like nature of my work as of late has forced me into an eye-to-eye relationship, a very rewarding one that makes me need to examine why I've avoided this particular fiefdom of design for so long.

It's partially, of course, the collective pressure of the Dwell/DWR/Apple Store world that bounces off my naturally reactionary psyche. And I'm sure if I went deep enough I'd find some moralizing against conspicuous consumption. But I think the real reason I avoided looking at designs smaller than a house (or at least a taco truck) until recently was a (mis)perceived lack of depth-- I was always looking for the "real" innovation behind the scenes. I couldn't be convinced that something that was purchasable immediately and in mass quantities could be pushing the boundaries of possibility in any way. To put it simply (and kind of offensively), it didn't look difficult enough. This is condescension born of ignorance, I know. It took a gradual shift in a very stereotypical path - from furniture to lamps down into silverware - for me to realize that there are direct analogs that I was willfully ignoring. In some of these things there may be a lack of physical assemblage, but there is perhaps a greater mental assemblage, or at least a denser one-- more considerations, from ergonomics to copyrights, per cubic inch than in anything else in the world.

This is what makes these things suddenly so appealing -- to realize that they were forged, as it were, under intense mental pressures that extrude a unique object of ineffable value.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


We recently lost the bottom two thirds of a power pole on Palms Boulevard. Perhaps because it is only carrying house current and low voltage lines, the city has allowed the remaining portion to hang, dangling askew from its adjacent poles, the streetlamp still functional. Shattered creosote pole is strewn all along the road and there is apocryphal "CAUTION: HIGH VOLTAGE" tape lying around, as well as a single road cone. Here, Katy took a picture.

For the last two days I've had this freakish totem waiting for me on my daily commute, stopping traffic and causing general unease. And while it has enacted an enormous transformation on its small dominion of road, I am beginning to get used to it being there. It makes me wonder if, in the future (pronounced fue-TCHA!), when all of our streetlamps levitate, how long it would take me to start ignoring them completely.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Working like mad on a project tonight, so all I can do is quote a nested quote from the most completely awesome Eggleston trust website. The quote in question is photographer Robert Adams, quoted by John Szarkowski in what might be first great analysis of color photography as art.

"Over and over again the photographer walks a few steps and peers, rather comically, into the camera; to the exasperation of family and friends, he inventories what seems an endless number of angles; he explains, if asked, that he is trying for effective composition, but hesitates to define it. What he means is that a photographer wants form, an unarguably right relationship of shapes, a visual stability in which all components are equally important. The photographer hopes, in brief, to discover a tension so exact that it is peace.

"Pictures that embody this calm are not synonymous, of course, with what we might see casually out of a car window (they may, however, be more effective if we can be tricked into thinking so). The form the photographer records, though discovered in a split second of literal fact, is different because it implies an order beyond itself, a landscape into which all fragments, no matter how imperfect, fit perfectly."

The full text of the essay is here, and is chock-full of other readable revelations on photography that manage not to sound anything like Susan Sonntag.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Katy told me today about MoWACs. That's Moms With A Camera. This is apparently the order of events generating this phenomenon:

1. "Prosumer" digital SLR cameras become relatively affordable.

2. Said cameras are given as presents to housewives.

3. Hundreds of pictures of children are taken.

4. Clever web programmers make some great templates for fantastic looking and user-friendly flash-based photographer websites.

5. Said housewives show pictures to friends, get comments, improve their craft incrementally.

6. Housewives begin taking pictures of friends' children. Or maybe their pets.

7. Photos are posted on said fantastically easy websites.

8. Home-based child/pet photography business are born, by the thousands.

Hence a MoWAC explosion. Many professional photographers seem peeved by this phenomenon. While I can appreciate how it could be obnoxious for someone with lesser skill and training to be appropriating one's vocation, and it is definitely true in most cases that the MoWAC photos probably do not measure up to the professional standard, this seems a little bit silly. None of these people were going to blow a grand on a pro for their kids' 3rd birthday. The Wal-Mart photo studio is probably losing some business to this. Not you, Mr. Avedon.

This is happening across the creative spectrum-- things like garage band and digital cameras are making the ranks of enthusiasts (and subsequently appreciation in general) swell for music production, photography, journalism, etc. However, the people attempting to make cottage businesses out of the same enthusiasms is undercutting the lower end of the market, while simultaneously eroding professional quality at that same end. I'd still rather have a lot of interest and a little overcrowding than some kind of Pro Himalayas, high above the masses, preaching to the choir.

Will rapid prototyping and the rapid democratization of 3d rendering lead to a whole new community of prosumer architects? It's already starting to hit the world of 3d animation and motion graphics. I'd better build some cred and get licenced before the masses drag me down.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

hello, sidewalk

I apologize to both of you for the weekend-long pause; as one of you knows there was a wedding this weekend that took up a great deal of time. It did give me the opportunity to go home, however, and I got to play one of my favorite games: trying to see my hometown as for the first time. This is probably impossible, but having Katy in the car can be very helpful.

At one point I was lost in quasi-suburban Kansas City, and I mentioned that the area looked different than the one I was searching for. Fifteen minutes later, I remarked that I'd finally found the right neighborhood. "This looks more like it," I said. Katy told me she couldn't really tell the difference.

As I was driving home I started to think about what distinguishes one suburb from another. I'm not talking about whether the shopping center has a red tile roof, or the fancy water-jet-cut metal-and-stone welcome sign. I'm talking about the generic streets between subdivisions, the fabric of the area. And this is exactly what makes the difference. Curb cuts, streetlights, medians and retaining walls. Once you start looking for these things they begin to take over, as the secret language of exurbia. It makes me want to see a place where these typologies are liberated, where the curbs fly off into a field, escaping the road, and the streetlights suddenly are only 8 feet high, marching up a lawn and onto the sidewalk. If these things are going to define my hometown, I'd like for them to be a little less subservient.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

on the road

Andrew's wedding is this weekend! It's like the last six months never happened. I'm about to get packin', but before I do a tidbit on air travel:

The sky is measured with invisible lines called "Victor airways." These are direct vectors between points of navigation called VORs. From 1,200 to 18,000 feet, planes use these vectors like roadways. Traffic is stacked vertically, and opposite directions are alternated. The minimum vertical clearance is 500 feet. Jet travel is above 18,000 feet, and these planes generally have sophisticated enough avionics to be cleared for direct navigation, triangulating between VORs to make their own route.

This system is built on technology over 50 years old. In many cases GPS is just as accurate; with the direction things are going VORs will probably be obsolete within the decade. This marks a phase shift in navigation; we are no longer marking out lay lines on the globe; once again we are turning to the sky to find out where we are. The points of reference are in constant motion above, instead of fixed below. Distance is once again relative, not absolute.

The older VORs cone-shaped housings for antennas that spin at 1,800 revolutions a minute, changing its broadcast continuously to mark different directions. One of these sits just up the hill from our house at the Santa Monica Airport. Pretty soon it will stop marking the earth, and its continuous whine will stop, replaced by silent points of reference above.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

filled to the brim

The advancement of technology (and the parallel acceleration of the market economy) seems to be attempting to atomize everything from solid and monolithic to heterogeneous honeycombs. Everything that modern production touches is made less substantial and more complex. This is done in the name of sustainability and affordability and usability, and all of these abilities are great, but when one is taking toll of their physical presence in life, instead of a solid oak table with a brass lamp we have powdercoated aluminum and PTFE. It's not terribly original (and quite reactionary to boot) to bemoan the lost of "honest" materiality, but this abrupt change in the stuff of our existence is a little to pervasive to be unacknowledged. To my mind, it's the difference between standing on firm ground and shifting sand; the very reality of our surroundings is being challenged not only by allusion and mass production, but by the occult nature of the material itself. To not see the link between an object and its source is to lose a little bit of everyday poetry.

This is not to say that I need a rough-hewn iPod. Like i said, a sustainable and high-tech future is going to rely heavily on composites and advanced forms of production. But why is everything proprietary? I'd like to know what is in my plastics and alloys, no matter how complicated. What country does it come from? Who made it? What was left over? Anyone who doubts the intrinsic emotional value in this kind of data has only to go to any consumer product-rating website: we are obsessed with our stuff. We want to know every detail about our purchases, not only from an accountability standpoint (will this coffee maker give me thyroid cancer?) but because we are in love with our things. This is not the evils of advanced capitalism, this is human nature. Think of Excalibur, or the Maltese Falcon, the Holy Grail. Yes, these objects stood for something greater, but they also have faint echoes in every knife, cup and tchochke in existence. All I'm asking is that we forgive the things we own, and maybe get to know them a little better.

Monday, April 09, 2007

calling all crits

May I make a request? If you're reviewing a project (or completing one, for that matter), and a complex and tortured form/schema/representation is justified solely through talk of "liminal spaces," "seen/being seen" or any kind of celebration of complex social/antisocial interaction, mediated and intensified by the complexity of said form/schema/representation, ask them what their project does that the LA Farmer's Market/Grove Shopping Center does not do for profit every day. Spending a few hours suspended in froth can be enjoyable, but if you're really going to talk about something it should probably be better anchored lest it blow away or melt in the midst of conversation.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

i prefer mine in bronze

We got cut off on the 5 by a salt-rusted Explorer yesterday and Katy exploded. "Gold cars!" she said. Apparently they drive more aggressively than black, white, silver, or even red. Not only had I not noticed this statistical anomaly, but I hadn't before noticed consciously a gold automobile in my entire life.

In the last 24 hours, I have been accosted by 24k cars. Three more blasted by in the left lane on the way to Encinitas. Parking spaces have been crowded in by gilded Jeeps and Oldsmobiles. I think they're replicating behind my back, silent automitosis. Like killer bees, they will terrorize the country before eventually settling in Mexico and the desert Southwest. So prepare. The allergic will want to stock up on extra epi-pens and better insurance. They will attack in swarms, without provocation. No one is safe.

Friday, April 06, 2007

verify in field

I've been working on some as-built drawings, which tends to skew your mental state the same way playing Mario Kart change the way you drive immediately after you play it. For the last few hours, dimensions have been paramount. Actual thicknesses and distances, not ideal or even perceived measurements, are what rule the day. It makes me wonder what as-builts could be for a totally alien architecture... what if your existing measurements were of transparency and clarity, or trace minerals in the air? What if I was tabulating the existing smell?

Architecture, as it is taught, is obsessed with dimensions. This is rightfully so; the first step to telling someone how to build something is to tell them how big it is. But, given my current employ as a midcentury modern crusader, I am left wondering if perhaps we're not a little too obsessed with precise alignments and modules. When architects talk about "flushing things out," they're not discussing ritual purging. In all of this painstaking work nudging surfaces into position, we might be missing something equally vital about other characterizations of the space. Like, for instance, what it is for. Or how it sounds.

Or maybe we should just go metric so I don't have to deal with sixteenths.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

three semi-universal truths dicovered, in company, while mildly drunk

1. If you vehemently believe that the rest of the world hates you and is out to screw you over, than the converse is probably true, in reality.

2. The negative traits you notice most vocally in other people, and with the most particular revulsion, are most likely the ones that you exhibit yourself.

3. The Pixies get better the louder they are played. If there was a stereo that could be infinitely loud, than they would approach infinite awesomeness.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

quantifying introspection

The arbitrary post-a-day quota I've imposed upon myself leads to some odd self-judgement. If I don't step outside of routine task-solving or blank consumption within a given 24 hours, does this mean that I have failed? If I don't extrapolate my morning oatmeal or evening ice-cream into a judgement on the human condition, should I feel guilty?

It reminds me of a subway ad I used to see all the time for a school of "applied philosophy." It seemed to imply that there is a lesson-planned way of escaping what it called "habitual existence." As opposed to "occasional existence?" I do like the idea that through philosophy I might be able to escape existing altogether, but I'm not sure that's what they meant. In any case, if I go a day without introspection, I'm going to feel guilty, but I probably shouldn't. Case in point.

Monday, April 02, 2007

some blinds in my life

W. 110th Street, Leawood, KS: Wooden Slats with nylon ropes, blue and white striped upholstered valence, double-hung, view of the driveway.

Jones College, Rice University, Houston: blue-tinted film over single-pane, overlooking courtyard under construction.

W 119th Street, Leawood KS: Some odd plastic/fabric hybrid shade, milky white, blocking a golf course.

North Blvd, Houston: Homemade muslin curtains, tea-dyed with tiny brown spots, vinyl with snap-in muntins, parking lot beyond.

37a Bedford, NY: none. flaking overpainted wooden frame with fan. brick courtyard.

Rue Taylor, Paris: fraying yellowed gauzy grandma-drapes, ancient full-height windows, third floor, rainsoaked asphalt.

Beethoven Street, Los Angeles: vertical blinds hidden by gold drapes with a red pattern that is sometimes flower shapes, sometimes intersecting circles. guava and limes, ferns and flowers and chainlink beyond.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

portraiture and techno-beach

First off, Katy needed a quick portrait taken today, and I think I did a fabulous job:

Afterwards, we went to our new favorite beach, where Katy took this picture. Yes, our favorite beach is at the end of the LAX runway. Planes take off at predictable intervals: 2 1/2 minutes when it's not busy and around every 20 seconds when it is. Due to the magnetic effect of Manhattan and Venice Beaches (and the near-constant rumble), this little stretch gets very few visits, and that suits me just fine. Jetwash and wave action make a remarkably meditative sound combination, and watching steel float is sublime in a complementary way to endless saltwater and powdered seashell. Add in the distantly visible power plant, and a parade of barges and sailboats, and this it's like being in the jaws of some industrial recreative machine.


The White Album (esp. Back in the USSR) = my parent's old basement, with Mexican tile that was cool to the touch with rough grouting that tore at your feet.

Mid-Period REM = the upper half of my white laminate stereo cabinet in my old house. Acrid smell. Middle School.

Soul Coughing = My high school Volvo. At night.

First two Modest Mouse albums = my freshman year dorm's lofted bed.

Gang of Four = KTRU. 2am. Looking out the tiny window while eating a granola bar.

Allman Brothers = Katy's car, long road trips in the Western U.S.

Any This American Life Episode = any delicate model work involving tweezers. Overcaffeination.

Belle and Sebastien = See above

Built To Spill, Perfect from Now On = Dodge Neon, pine forest smell, windows open.

Neutral Milk Hotel = sublet apartment in Houston, neighbor would play Two Headed Boy at 2am on the piano and trumpet.

Johnny Cash = pretty much anywhere post-freshman year of college.

Velvet Underground = NYC (obvious but true)

Otis Redding = the kitchen in my current home.

I could go on but I think you get the point.