Category Archives: Architecture

17th Century France in 3D

Hundreds of years before the advent of satellite photography and Google Earth, French monarchs used detailed scale models to micromanage their realm…

Not only is it fascinating these intricate models of cities and forts would have been commissioned in the first place, but quite amazing they’ve actually been preserved intact for hundreds of years.

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Filed under Architecture, Monarchy

9/11 Memorial Plaza

A detailed architectural look at the “heart” of the Ground Zero redevelopment project in lower Manhattan.

Seems altogether excessive when compared to past memorials of various sorts to the dead, but perhaps that’s not altogether surprising if one considers it a reflection on the ridiculously oversized sense of importance that present-day Americans attribute to their own lives.

Aside from its disproportionately wasteful scale, the memorial is full of obnoxious symbolism. The grotesquely unimaginative pools which are its centrepiece resemble nothing so much as two giant basin sinks with constantly sucking drain holes in the shape of square black voids. What a lovely metaphor that is…

Then there are other irksome features such as the bronze parapets bearing all 3,025 names of the attack’s victims being meticulously engineered to ensure that throughout the year they “remain comfortable to the touch” – a truly perverse and sterile concept that defies nature (as is the fact that the water in the “calming pools” will be slightly heated so as to never freeze in winter).

Who knows… maybe in years to come when the artificial forest of oak trees surrounding the Memorial Plaza has grown to maturity it could well be a wonderful public space (provided its elaborate mechanical life support systems haven’t broken down or been defunded), or it could just as easily wind up being a horribly designed park filled with minimalist piles of junk and half-dead trees, grafted onto the concrete roof of a neglected subterranean museum commemorating a tragic event that subsequent generations have long since chosen to forget about.

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Biomimicry

How can architects build a new world of sustainable beauty? By learning from nature. At TEDSalon in London, Michael Pawlyn describes three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun.

Maybe I’m naïve to believe that we can “invent” our way out what may currently appear to be intractable environmental problems by means of technological innovation and unconventional thinking, but talks like this help provide much encouragement to consider what may be possible, rather than simply dwelling on what is not.

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Filed under Architecture, Climate Change, Technology

Freedom Rising

In this week’s installment of Fox’s The Rise of Freedom series about ongoing construction at the former World Trade Center site, host Shepard Smith takes a look at the new $3.2 billion transit hub (PATH WTC) designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. When eventually completed in 2014 it should be a fantastic building.

Calatrava has done some work here in Canada in the past; most notably, the spectacular atrium of the Allen Lambert Galleria which connects Bay Street with Heritage Square.

What a refreshing change from the monolithic concrete drivel and apathetic glass boxes that passed for so-called “modern architecture” during the latter half of the 20th century.

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Shed World

Impolitical wonders “what the wider reaction to this pavilion will be once it is opened on the weekend”… Many words come to mind — none of them favourable.

Just for fun, here’s a picture of the Canadian pavilion erected at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco circa 1915 built at a cost of $400,000 (approx. $6.5 million in today’s dollars by my rough estimate).

And here’s the Canadian pavilion that will be constructed for Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. The cost of this baby is $45 million.

Pretty swank, wouldn’t you say? Meanwhile, Vancouver gets something that, as Rick Mercer said a while back, looks like an homage to the typical design of duty-free shops at the border.

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Top of the World

Exactly six years since construction began, today marks the opening of the $2 billion Burj Dubai, a ridiculous monstrosity that reaches half a mile into the sky. At a reported 2,717ft (slightly more than twice the size of the Empire State Building) the new “superbuilding” is now the tallest man-made structure in the world, surpassing the 2,063ft KVLY-TV mast in North Dakota. By comparison, the CN Tower is a piddling 1,815ft.

Meanwhile, more than nine years after the WTC was destroyed, America’s new “Freedom Tower” is finally getting off the ground.

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The Hermetic Code

Gee, if he thinks that Rockefeller Plaza is filled with weirdly cryptic symbolism, maybe Glenn Beck should take a tour of the Manitoba legislature…

It’s actually quite fascinating to deconstruct the iconography incorporated into architecture of previous centuries and deeply unfortunate that so-called “modernism” has completely stripped our buildings of their weirdly arcane and artful embellishments for the sake of mundane, but ultimately dehumanizing considerations championed by intellectual wankers of the hideous “International Style” of architecture that’s blighted many of our cites for the last 60 years with their wretchedly boring, glass-clad, minimalistic boxes and insufferable “machines for living.”

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Woolworths: Dead (Again!)

woolworth-gilded-age

Poor old Frank W. Woolworth must be spinning yet again in his trustworthy, bargain-basement “5 and dime” grave at the latest, and perhaps mercifully final death-throws of his century-old (nearly) retail chain.

The venerable outfit folded its operations here in Canada about 15 yrs. ago when it sold out most of its stores to Wal-Mart giving that chain a ready-made commercial network of anchor tenancies in shopping malls and plazas across the land. Since then, its vestigial remnants have been desperately thrashing about in foreign markets — sort of like the same way that slaughtered animals continue to stubbornly “live” for a bit of time, twitching in a rather disturbing manner long after the sentient parts of their bodies have been cleanly severed.

Oh well. Such is the way of things — retailers come and go. Who would have thought 25 years ago that Eaton’s would disappear overnight in a puff of smoke? Accountancy of the free-market and all that. Personally, I miss the grand department stores and stylish icons of yesteryear (i-Magnin, The Bon, etc.) as opposed to the sterile “big box” hyper-marts (or “Mega-Lo-Mart” as they call it on King of the Hill).

But back to old F.W. Woolworth… Apparently, he had an inordinate fondness for Gothic-Revival architecture, in particular the Houses of Parliament in London. The Cass Gilbert designed skyscraper that Woolworth built to headquarter his company was intended to be a “Cathedral of Commerce” — a motif that comes across loud and clear.

Constructed in 1913, the tower reaches a height of 241,2m (793.5 feet). Until the completion of the Bank of Manhattan tower and Chrysler building in 1930, the Woolworth building was the tallest building in the world. The tower has a 3 story stone base, 52 stories clad in terra-cotta and a 3 story roof topped with the crowning pinnacle. An observation deck at the 58th story attracted about 100,000 visitors each year, but it was closed in 1945.

The building’s height caused several challenges at the time: it was the first building to have its own steam turbines and it had the fastest elevators (30 in total). The tower was built to withstand a wind pressure of 200 mph (322 km/h). Special kinds of scaffolding were used to minimize the danger for the construction workers.

Below is a picture of the Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, AK.

Wal-Mart HQ

Perhaps there’s some message to be drawn from the contrast between the glorious, ridiculously fantastic, neo-Gothic “Cathedral of Commerce” that F.W. Woolworth built as a manifest paean to Capitalism and the rather drab, stridently buttoned-down, utilitarian bunker favoured by the current Masters of the Retail Universe.

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Filed under Architecture, Economy, Elitism

May His Sole Rest in Peace

Thomas Bata, the Czech-born businessman and industrialist whose name is a byword for shoes, died today in a Toronto hospital at the age of 93. He will, of course, always be uniquely remembered here.

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北京國家游泳中心

Originally designed by the Australian firm PTW Architects, the Beijing National Aquatic Center (aka “The Water Cube”) is comprised of a steel space frame clad with 100,000 sq m of ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) bubbles that are only eight one-thousandths of an inch in total thickness. This transparent plastic film absorbs solar radiation and reduces thermal loss allowing for more light and heat penetration than traditional glass, resulting in a 30% decrease in energy costs over conventional materials.

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