1. Versus Ugly Infrastructure and Useless Monuments

    Every reputable blog has been posting these amazing mockups for Choi and Shine Architects’ The Land of Giants project.   Such images instantly evoke that gut feeling of ‘why the hell haven’t we been doing this all along?’

    The chronicle of the infrastructure achievements of the 20th century will surely include the phrase ‘done on the cheap’.  Whereas once public works were a canvas for artisans and a symbol of the munificence of the rulers who ordered their construction, rarely has something functional been built in the modern age that has been a delight to behold.  Functionality with minimal adornment has been the  norm, replacing craftsmen with workers and leaving the most grand and inspiring of plans on the drawing board or, at best, the pages of architecture journals.

    Bursts of public beauty can be found in the trend across cultures to invest in monuments, often in remembrance of people or events.  It’s a strange contrast to infrastructure though, in that it seems almost taboo for a monument to serve a purpose other than memorial.  Perhaps it’s religion that inspires this disconnect.  After all, many religions apply a strict separation between sacred and profane places.  Think of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple and the restrictions many indigenous religions place upon who and how one may ascend sacred mountains.

    Perhaps this is the lead we follow in making our monuments as a break from the function of our living spaces.  We carve out a small section reserved as the domain of the gods, of heroes, of victims or of ancestors.  This has its worth when such a space creates a contemplative mood vital for meditating upon the significance of the thing referenced, such as the Vietnam Wall or the Battery Park East Coast Memorial.  However, quite often monuments are not contemplative spaces.  Manhattan is littered with statues, obelisks, and granite gardens with no place to sit or worse, fenced off from any interaction with their viewer.

    By building anything, we are sacrificing a natural space or the potential for the recreation of one.  If we are to forever alter our landscape (and our mindscape with it) by building, isn’t it imperative upon us to make something at least as functional, beautiful and inspiring as a stand of trees, a river or a beach?  What kind of people could we create by giving them a landscape alive with beauty that still cleans the air, filters the water and generates the power necessary to support human life?

    What especially impresses me about the project is its marriage of attention to the practical needs of production with the grandeur of a landscape of colossi:

    Despite the large number of possible forms, each pylon-figure is made from the same major assembled parts (torso, fore arm, upper leg, hand etc.) and uses a library of pre-assembled joints between these parts to create the pylon-figures’ appearance. This design allows for many variations in form and height while the pylon-figures’ cost is kept low through identical production, simple assembly and construction. (from Choi + Shine)

    What would have to change in our values and in the way we live our lives to demand that the aesthetics and artistic worth of structures be accounted for alongside their mere cost-effectiveness?


  2. Structure Synth is the DNA of the Machine That Will Consume All of Our Tomorrows

    I woke from a dream of a 3-D printer that had gained sentience, hooking itself to a digester unit to feed its ravenous hunger for the raw materials of creativity.  Its mind was stuck in a loop, printing boxes that gained in size then shrunk, ebbing and flowing like a sine wave was at its center, guiding the flailings of its insane electric mind.  Buildings were struck down like a hand moving through water, then fed into its maw and spun out into these new, terribly precise shapes that soon filled the land from horizon to horizon.

    I’ve been playing around in the software genre of Things That Make Shapes, with little straightforward success but a pleasant amount of brain fermentation.  There’s the old stand-by Processing, of course, with its familiar code structure and broad scope to mess with 2-D, 3-D and audio.  And Terragen is a fun way to blow time on Amtrak and feel real Old Testament, making the mountains and plains then flying by them, frame by frame.  I also admit to ogling City Engine.  (Anyone got a few grand lying around?)

    But the one that seems to have some potential as the homicidally rational core of some sort of grey goo scenario-style compulsively transforming AI fabricator gone awry is Structure Synth.  I don’t have much new to say about it, as that I am presently at the “poke and see if it breaks” stage of exploring its potential.  Still, it gives me visions of a force that is compelled to build and build, tearing at the land like a wild beast to assemble nonsensical arrangements of concrete, rebar and glass, continents full of empty halls built for little reason beyond the process of building them.

    Or is that just the human race?  Build, fray, bulldoze, repeat.  When’s that next real estate bubble getting here?


  3. Colossi on the Brain

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    For whatever reason, I’ve been stuck thinking about massive statues of the human form lately.  I think a great deal of the enduring appeal of colossal humanoid statues is some kind of innate human tendency toward idolatry.   Somewhere in these crazy primate brains there’s a fixation on the idea of directly building a god.

    Is this how termites feel about building their mounds?  Do honeybees approach their hives with the same fascination we feel when catching a glimpse of the 305 ft Statue of Liberty?  Maybe if it was a functional structure…

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    One of the most compelling visions of colossi as infrastructural elements would be the nearly unwatchable 1997 movie Batman & Robin.  Waiting for the next scene to feature a sixteen story colossus holding up a winding highway overpass was all that kept me from walking out of that one. Odd that supervising art director Richard Holland doesn’t appear to have worked as an art director since.

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    My assumption is that these dreams of Gotham are not reflected in real world urban design because they’re not practical (right triangles are more stable architectural elements than the human form) and don’t seem to stand the test of time all that well.  The Colossus of Rhodes was felled by an earthquake.  The colossus of Barletta and Rome’s bronze Nero were repeatedly repurposed and eventually used as raw materials for other projects.  They won’t let me build an A&W in Thomas Jefferson’s head.

    The 12 Jin Ren have a similar origin story to the Colossus of Rhodes (defeat enemies, melt their weapons into statue makings) but very little is out there in the way of further info.

    Practicalities aside, there’s something about living in an environment with a lot of epic statuary.  Some kind of inspiration floating in the air, a reminder of human potential that makes a city feel more then a several billion dollar heap of brick, plastic and electricity.

    Stills from Batman & Robin via Batman Unmasked


  4. I Googled 'Narcotecture' So You Don't Have To

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    Yes, that’d be the house that rocks built.  Look close.

    Since first coming across that delightful term ‘narcotecture’, I’ve had an eye out for examples of how drug lords are playing Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in their fiefdoms.  Here’s some clicky things with minimal commentary:

    -P.J. Tobia’s photos from Kabul.  Highlights: a ‘For Rent’ sign on one (‘Roommate wanted. Must like cooking base and Wii Tennis tournaments.’) and what appears to be the headquarters of the Green Lantern Corps.

    -RE: Columbia’s white powdery boom years:

    The business brought fast and easy money to a hungry society and the money brought power. Those who had it flaunted it and a whole new aesthetic bulldozed its way into Medellin, spreading out across the world.

    El-Cartel investigates this aesthetic and defines ‘Narcotecture’.

    Plus a blurry MPEG of some nightlit narco-ruins.  Warning: site comes complete with a barking dog on the main page for some reason.  Taste is the enemy of narcotecture, after all.

    -C-Monster gives a quick tour of Miami ‘narchitecture’, defining it thusly:

    Narchitecture is the pit bull of architecture. It grabs you by the (eye) balls and doesn’t let go, marrying a bevy of Mediterranean styles—neo-Classical, Spanish Revival and Fascist—with the vernacular American school known as Contemporary McMansion. The structures are big, overly-decorous and unabashedly gaudy, and, in their placement, show a complete disregard for their environment.

    Apt.  Swap in some more-favored styles–Persian, comic book, Bond vilian–and that could work just as well in Afghanistan.

    -A cool little story about savoring beer and pork sausages in Afghanistan with interludes of discussing navigation by narcotectural landmarks.  Fella named Gregory Warne knows a good butcher in Kabul, apparently.

    -On a tangent, here’s BLDGBLOG’s excellent post ‘Geology in the War on Terror‘.  Remember the giddy thrills of diagram porn when every major news outlet was churning out those drawings of Bin Laden’s secret mountain caves of evil?  One can assume that at least one opium baron saw that, looked at his own digs and got thinking about a Pashtun playboy’s life in a location more defensible.  Say inside a mountain.  One can only wait for the day when that guy pops up on the narco lifestyle channel equivalent of Cribs.

    - – -

    Beyond narcotecture, I’d be interested to study up on the sort of public goods, communication, transportation and facilities that either result from the drug trade or are built by public image conscious drug lords.  A study of ‘narcostructure’ if you will.