Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Less is More?

Less is more. Less is more. Less is more. It is true that less is more. In a world of 24/7, always connected, Twitter and more, more, more, less is a welcome respite from the daily barrage. Homes, places of business need to be more efficient, more simple, more Dwell magazine, minimal and Zen. Living rooms and lobbies are furnished with planar, furniture sculptures within wide horizontal spaces to quiet life and business. Less clutter means more getting down to business and minimal elevates living to a rite of sorts. The minimal can also inspire and stir the imagination. Look at the Pyramids and their geometrical perfection. They are literally man-made mountains. Wow! Stonehenge with it's simple post and lintel construction. There must have been a very good reason to stack these elephantine stones that way. There is "Cloud Gate" in Chicago's Millennium Park. People are drawn to it's reflective and funhouse mirror surface. The Vietnam Memorial , with its somber list written in black stone of the those lost, guides us on the path to paying tribute and gratitude. Two elegantly placed pieces of etched stone help us to remember. Yes. Less is more.

Then there is Antoni Gaudi's "La Sagrada Familia". There is nothing less about this building. Here more is more. It is not a mass-produced thing, a cog, a car, nor a machine for living. It is tailor-made. It is pre-industrial. It is unique. And every piece of it appears unique. None is like the other. Gaudi built to glorify Nature. He was a Catalan builder. And proud of it. Is it overindulgant? Is it wasteful? Is it less because it is more? No. It inspires because it invites you to discover its messages. It is overwhelming with message and craft. It invites you to read its messages. It is a hidden grotto with hidden treasure. It glories in the hand-made or at least in the appearance of it. Inlaid mosaics. Tree-like columns. Sculpture. In fact the whole is a sculpture. It is humble in in capturing the everyday and the holy. Birds of the air and farm animals mingle with angels. It revels in its individualism. It blurs the boundaries between art and building. It is a building that showcases its personality rather than distilling it. And for this reason, it is a very human building. A living breathing thing that is far from shy. So yes, Less is More. But every once in a while you got to let go.

P.S. I love Dwell magazine.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Safe Trestles Competition April 2010

Above are images from my submission for the competition "Safe Trestles" hosted by Architecture for Humanity and Open Architecture Network, two groups that are making a difference in the world with their design as a tool. The program called for a safe crossing over, under and/or through a fragile wetland ecosystem and railroad. The site is the Trestles an exemplary surfing spot, from most reports. Below is my text for the design:

Conflict and contradiction exist at the site. The tampered and precious natural wetlands must be restored by building an unnatural and man-made safe crossing. Nature must be enabled to heal itself. We must allow it to do so. The design must be part of the site and work as counterpoint to it. It must work with the conflicts inherent in the site and the program and make something that is as poetic and powerful as nature itself. It must enhance and improve the site and provide non-intrusive ways to enjoy it.

Inspiration derives from the site. At the Trestles, nature has provided a canvas made by the wetlands with its grasses. Slashing through this canvas is an unnatural man-made railroad. Both these elements coexist. The bridge must draw from these inspirations. It must be a part of it. Also the design must capture the dynamism of the surfing sport. It must be bold. It must soar. In contrast to how the railroad cuts through the site, the safe passage will be a bridge, flying over it. Human foot traffic will be removed from the wetlands. From this bridge the wetlands can be observed. Views will be created. The bridge will be a place that will enhance the site, provide access to it and provide a sanctuary on high, literally, to worship the play of the waves, the setting of the sun, and the sway of the wetland grasses.

Through prefabrication technology, the bridge will be made of components, molded off-site, delivered as modules and assembled at the site by crane. In this way there will be minimal impact to the construction site. The technology of fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites and structural grade plastic lumber (SGPL) shall be developed to provide Green modular bridge components that are both resilient and recyclable. The bridge shall also create energy by harnessing wind. Solar panels shall also be installed to provide energy for any information points and lighting. Restrooms shall be provided underground and work with composting technology. Finally, the whole of the bridge shall be accessible.

The whole of the design is laid out on one spine. As the railroad cuts a line through the site, so will this bridge. The path starts some fifty feet above the Trestles at the drop-off point. An observation point to view the beach and wetlands from this height is provided. This point will also be a low-key point of orientation. Only a bench, drinking fountain, and educational plaque will be provided. From here a ramp will lead northeast then doubles back upon itself southwest delving underground where public restrooms will be provided. Moving towards the shore, the bridge emerges from the hillside and runs straight as a bullet towards the shore. On the left the bluff stands with the wetlands on the right. The webbed and woven structure of the bridge is intermittently broken by observation points with information about the wetlands and the Trestles. The criss-cross concept of the bridge structure derives from the mesh of the wetland reeds and grasses. The bridge stretches out and over the sea from which surfing events, and the surf itself, can be viewed. From here another ramp is provided down to the Trestles snaking around a main structural wall and enclosed in a metallic and reflective screen. A landing is provided at the beach, level with it, as another point of orientation. You have arrived at the Trestles.

Bridge Component 1

Bridge Component 2

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Chicago Needs Another Green River

Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway

Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway

"Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet ..." - Agent Smith THE MATRIX

Some years ago I started this blog with a proposal to make a high place for Chicago. Not a high place for religion or height. Although it could be. Not a high place of government. Although government would have to be a player. Not a high place of business. But who would pay for it? Lincoln Park, Grant Park, and so on would not exist if it were not for the philanthropy of Chicago's big business Olympia. Not a high place, or state, of being. This is not enlightenment. On the contrary, this can be a very real place for the City and for the non-City. Chicagoan and non-Chicagoan. Human and non-Human. It is for the better.

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not be realized" - Daniel Burnham

The idea of burying our highways is not new. Boston did it with its Big Dig, realizing a plan a quarter century in the making. Chicago has done it with Millennium Park, an expensive but priceless gift to the City. This proposal follows in the footsteps of these two great plans. It is not a little plan. It is a big plan that places a green roof over the entire interstate highway system of Chicago. These roofs will become a natural habitat. It's tendrils will connect all of Chicago's natural preserves creating a green network where there were six lanes or more of asphalt. The plan is a great grandchild of Burnham's boulevard system. Here, instead of a green that is Parisian manicured splendour, prairie grasses will be allowed to grow free. The roof will be designed with an exhaust filtering system that is more catalytic than mechanical. Cars will be put in their place. Thereby, creating a Green-network where forest preserves bordering the City and the Lake are interconnected.  Flora and fauna can once again migrate throughout the whole of Chicagoland. And Chicago will have a new Green River.