Monday, November 17, 2008


It won't go away.

My Stormhouse project apparently came to the notice of the company that produces one of the higher-end computer modeling and rendering applications, and they quite generously provided me with access to software products that are either more expensive than I would ever purchase for myself or simply unavailable commercially at this point.

And the result? (Compare to the published versions, in this earlier post.)

Startling, as far as I am concerned. I am impressed with the seeming "photorealism"...what an amazing tool.

Now my little apocalyptic fantasy looks build-able, as fresh as a sparkling new toy just out of its shrinkwrap. Fresher than it ever could look, built.

But it was always, even when rendered less realistically, something that could be built, or at least it was close, in terms of design, to that generally sought-after condition. I spent some effort, like a good little architectural designer, on researching materials and building technology. It might not be the most practical item to erect on a storm-strewn, iceberg-threatened Antarctic island's coast, but there is no reason why it wouldn't stand up and provide a certain amount of decent shelter, there or anywhere, until a world-ending Something really did smash it flat.

Should it look build-able, though? Should it be an assembly of things culled from a building supply catalog, given my "program"? As if there is a special chapter in the Sweets catalog for cataclysm-resistant products!

Of course, the Stormhouse program arrived long after the idea for the building, which was (I am almost certain) suggested by a near-ruinous Quonset Hut-style structure I saw fleetingly through the smudged-fingerprints-window of a train I took down the coast nearly a decade ago. I adapted the general form to several programs, initially as a quasi-public boathouse that was part of a poorly-imagined and quite-unlikely project assigned by a callous instructor in a dingy architecture school. Later, after I made my own soul-sucking accommodation with the monstrous agglutination of institutions and "professional" regulations that produces architectural cannon-fodder in my country, I redrew it and reworked it as a callous instructor in a dingy architecture school myself, as a design and illustration example for my tyrannized students. It wasn't until someone (not an architect) saw this rendering of an interim version from three years ago

and wrote me, "What? Is this waiting for the Hurricane?" that I began to understand what I had imagined and the black tide of the Eschaton it was meant to resist.

I'll ask again, Should it look build-able, though?

By "looking build-able," I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong--at all, at all--with the design and rendering of architectural projects using those not-so-new-fangled computer programs. Only senectitude and fear could lead anyone to spurn tools that allow one to view and adapt a design from inside--from outside--from multiple sides and in multiple ways at once--for the old smeary haptic tools of graphite and ink on ground-up trees. I've come to despise several architects I once admired, after reading their unexpected Luddite diatribes upon the crippling effects of the use of computers in architectural design. The common fear among the supposed greats of learning something new--of adapting to new circumstances and techniques--is simply more crippling, and more fatal, than any tool.

I am crippled as a designer, but not by my tools. I'm crippled by all those years of dungeon-work in that dingy concrete hell of an architecture a lowly drudge-serf intern in some big a maker of pretty pictures of steel-framed cathedrals to crony neo-Con theo-Con capitalism! I only think in terms of structural-steel-arch roofing systems and reinforced fiberglass pilings...when I should be thinking of other things entirely. Why would anyone wait for the world to end in something like this? Coast Guard-approved fiberglass pilings? I should be specifying the bones of murdered giants! Steel roofing? It should be woven spiderweb stiffened with a generous coating of mummia, the embalming lacquer used on the corpses of dead Pharaohs.

How do I get the grand dead weight of architecture--soul-crushing education, regulation, institution, profession--out of my imagination?  What computer program will help me work out that?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Typical Conditions

Yet more labyrinth project. Chad Smith, editor of Tropolism, recently suggested to me that reading of a narrative blog can actually be similar to the experience of a work of architecture itself...that "meaning accrues" over time. I strongly suspect I have begun to devote myself to some kind of architectural meta-project with this narration.

There are several landmarks I seem to have preemptively declared necessary for this project, such as the afore-mentioned tower and the "monument to minotaurs." But what of more generic situations? Wandering through a maze or a labyrinth, what conditions (in that italicized architectural sense) does one encounter?

...passages (possibly of more than one type, on more than one level)...
...major and minor intersections...
...dead ends (in a maze, not a classical labyrinth)...

(It seems to me that there should be professional "cant" terms for these conditions, and for their variations, similar to the butchered and misapplied French terms that English-speaking architects use to obscure their own craft . Contemplate the term parti, for instance, so often used when the word "scheme" or simply "idea" would do just as well. For that matter, what is the appropriate designation for a designer of mazes and/or labyrinths? A daedalus--a non-proper noun, to make the distinction from the antique Minoan inventor--perhaps?)

What have I not considered? And how should those conditions be demarcated, if at all? I originally began this list of conditions with an idea of understanding my progress, if any, towards some point where I might consider myself reasonably done with this project and therefore free to move on to something else. But what if there are no conditions to typically satisfy? What if every crystalline moment in the Labyrinth--whether the result of a deliberate, strategical move or a twilight-confused wandering--is a unique and previously undefined situation that shares little identity--of the sort usually indicated with the abbreviated adjective "Typ." (for typical) in architectural drawings--with any other ahead or behind. If the sort of Labyrinth I am projecting is in fact a sort of puzzle (a maze) while having a metaphysically unique path like the Labyrinth of Knossos in the myth of Theseus, would it not be a more effective situation to have no typical conditions? Would it not be more effective for conditions to only sometimes--occasionally--seem repetitive or typical, while in fact they are all truly, cryptically unique?

In this case, how will I ever know when I am done?

...or for that matter, when I actually started?

In my own house, at the top of a flight of stairs where a short corridor ends, is a sculpture I made years ago that refers to a place-marker I had noticed in a different sort of maze/labyrinth from any previously discussed. When I made it, I was originally thinking about the kind of minor shrine one finds in (or even over) small squares and intersections in that most labyrinthine of famous cities, Venice. Like this one, from the sestiere of San Polo:

It has occurred to me, very recently, that these sculptures of saints, messiahs, and their mothers are in fact a kind of non-literate way-finding: Here I am under the Madonna of This, as opposed to that calle that runs by the shrine to the Saint of That: an effective technique for deliberately converting the quotidian (an otherwise anonymous and unremarkable urban confluence) to the exceptional (Il Campo della Madonna della ThisThatOrL'otraCosa).

(As an aside, I should note that possibility of that I must design a permanently-inhabited labyrinth--i.e., a city--further immensely complicates my attempt to define the scope of this project...a whole potentially-infinite range of habitation might be required. Does a Labyrinth require homes, shops, markets, public squares, service alleys, hospitals, prisons, cemeteries? Why not parks, pastures, ruins, and wilderness too? Or even unique spaces that are less readily categorized...less typical? )


Now, I made that sculpture or relief or whatever it is out of scrap building materials and broken electronic components left at a construction site in 2000, long before I considered this Labyrinth and even before I decided, in my early middle age, to go to architecture school. I don't actually know quite how this sculpture became a replica of some begrimed corner shrine displaced from some technologically-minded medieval period. In my sketchbook it is clear that this began as simply a housing for a stylized mask originally destined for another sculpture but left unused.

Is it possible I was already working on this labyrinth project?

And no, I don't know what it is that I am drawing at the end of the passage, at the dead-end....yet.