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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”