Friday, March 28, 2014

CAN BUILDINGS CHANGE AMERICA?

Check out this great PBS program (and its associated online content) called

10 Buildings That Changed America.


What do you think?  Can what we build elicit change?

Can buildings change:

  • how we live (sprawl)
  • how we work (manufacturing)
  • how we travel (stress)
  • how we see ourselves as Americans (not subject to monarchy)
  • whether we ourselves only as Americans or also as citizens of the world (internationalism)
  • whether we are prepared to accept complexity in place of perfection (postmodernism)
  • whether our community feels well-established or unstable (Romanesque)

             ?



Virginia State Capitol by Thomas Jefferson
Image courtesy of jimbowen0306 via Flickr


Three Notes:


1.  The film shows that Wright worked under Sullivan; but Sullivan also worked under Richardson and Venturi worked under Eero Saarinen.

2.   I learned something, too: I had no idea that the "regional indoor shopping mall" was originally intended as an alternative to sprawl.  Seriously?

3.   Postmodernism can literally offer a cartoon version of history: Graves's Disney HQ in Burbank casts the seven dwarves as caryatids.

-ally

Friday, March 21, 2014

NATIONAL PARKS: WORDS, PAINTINGS, POLITICS, BUSINESS & SONGS

John Muir, 1907
Image courtesy of Francis M. Fritz
via Wikimedia Commons
It took just the right kind of gumbo to make the National Parks the wonderfully protected national resource it is today.  The service was not an actual entity until 1916.  But, well before that, public opinion began to sway toward protecting--rather than dominating--the amazing resource that is Nature.

Words

I first heard about John Muir when visiting the redwood forests and beaches north of San Francisco, which are named after him.  From the late 1880's, Muir tirelessly explored and wrote about Yellowstone, Northern California, and the other natural places that he loved.  His writings were seminal to the creation of several early parks.
He is considered the father of the National Parks and the service has made a short film about him (in two parts, below).  He was a co-founder of the Sierra Club.

John Muir believed his mission was "...saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism." (Worster, Donald (2008). Passion for Nature)











Paintings

Mt. Rushmore, Roosevelt
Image courtesy of Scott Catron
via Wikimedia Commons
In the same time period as Muir was writing, others were also traversing the majestic wilderness and documenting it in paintings.  One artist local to Salt Lake City was H.L.A. Culmer*, who had emigrated with his brothers from England.  He painted red rock arches of southern Utah and the interior of Alaska that few had seen.
"Henry" even painted murals throughout the interior of his brother's home depicting these exquisite landscapes.
*follow the link for images of some of his paintings

Politics

Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to speak in favor of conservation, and he greatly expanded the system of national parks and national forests even before the creation of the service.  John Muir hosted Roosevelt when he explored Yellowstone; though they were both in favor of protecting the area, their ideas of what that meant differed.
Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons
Roosevelt was a frontiersman, a hunter, and a soldier, while Muir was an inventor and a naturalist. Not terribly surprising.

Business

Some who focused mainly on finances realized the monetary value of these pristine places as destinations.  Stephen Mather was the owner and president of the Borax company when he dedicated his time to getting the park service established, and was its first director in 1917.

The Northern Pacific Railroad knew that to encourage passengers to travel across country, there would have to be intermediate enticements.


Songs

Woody Guthrie wrote his most enduring song, This Land is Your Land in 1940, though it wasn't recorded until 1944.  
Although it is a story of a free land that belongs to the people, it is also a complaint about some areas of private ownership that were not "made for you and me."
Woody Guthrie in 1943
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.


Whose Land

Conservation has often raised questions about land ownership that cannot satisfactorily be resolved.
  • Public vs. private, 
  • federal vs. state, 
  • natives vs. conquerors, 
  • liberals vs. conservatives, 
  • laissez faire vs. government intervention,
  • academics vs. working class folk.  
Some would even say that land cannot be owned.  

I, for one, am incredibly happy that there are places that have been protected so that I can go and experience them, and bring my children and one day, my grandchildren!


See the Sites this Spring


Get a pass to the National Parks and see America!  $80 for an annual pass, free for military, disabled and volunteers.  $10 lifetime pass for seniors.

Here's a nice tribute performance of This Land:




-ally

Friday, March 14, 2014

RUDOLF STEINER IS STALKING ME (EVEN THOUGH HE’S DEAD)

I’m not too good with names.  Or faces, for that matter.  For me to remember your name, you’d better have me over for dinner or actually be my friend or my relative.  I’d have been hopeless in Victorian society.
There’s one name, though, that keeps popping up so often that even I can't forget it.

Early Childhood Learning

The first time I noticed Rudolf Steiner’s name was in reference to a local Waldorf preschool that I was considering for my children.  I didn’t know much about Waldorf*, other than that it reminded me of the Montessori approach: very hands-on and practical skills based.
Ruldolf Steiner circa 1905
Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Looks like Jeremy Irons.

A little research yielded a Waldorf sample schedule for Kindergarten aged children:

8:00         household chores
8:30         morning walk
10:00 snack time, classroom time & story
10:45 creative play or project based on the story
12:00 lunch preparation and lunch
1:00         rest time
2:00         outdoor or indoor play
3:30         craft activity or painting
4:30         read aloud followed by supper preparation

Forget preschool, this is a great schedule for meeeeee!

Steiner believed that learning in early childhood is largely experiential, imitative and sensory-based.
*Note: the name Waldorf comes from the company in Stuttgart for whom Steiner’s first school was built.

Emphasis seemed to be placed on

experiencing fewer things more deeply (or for longer)
keeping focused learning in the morning
allowing a flexible schedule
involving children in chores
using snack time to teach food preparation and thanksgiving
storytelling (not just reading), singing, poetry, music

Most of Steiner's philosophy about education was outlined in "Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy" way back in 1909.


In the Light of Anthropowho?


The next time I ran across Steiner was in an old copy of the Journal of Healthcare Design (Volume VIII).  You know, a periodical that architecture geeks read when they want to design a hospital…

Waldorf School, China
Image courtesy of ☼ うみ 目覚めたら via Flickr.
Anyway, there were two articles on “New Design Technologies,” one being called Healing Architecture—A Case Study of the
Vidarkliniken.  The article is the result of seven years of research on the architecture of Erik Asmussen in Järna, Sweden, completed in 1988.
The Järna buildings are part of the Rudolf Steiner Seminar, a “small anthroposophical college.”  There it is again.

Waldorf School, Santa Fe
Image courtesy of BDUngard via Flickr.
The design process took 20 years and involved collaboration with artists, doctors, and therapists of every kind.   I’m having a bit of difficulty describing what kind of place it is.  It is not a hospital, with its sterile doctor-centered environment.  It is not a spa, with overpriced mud treatments and indulgences.  It’s something between a retreat and a rehabilitation facility, or perhaps neither of those.  It’s a place of healing.  The idea is to reestablish the balance of the body, soul, and spirit.
What kind of a building can you do that in?
(exterior pictures here.... and though I could do without all the Miami Beach pink, I am intrigued by the principles.)

First of all, every room has a a view.  There are no straight cell walls, but gently curving and embracing shapes.  Color and texture are apparent on every wall and daylight moves slowly across the interior spaces touching each surface.

I first read about the Vidarkliniken (Vidar Clinic) while in hospital.  As a patient, I was completely disoriented.  I’d been brought into the room unconscious; and, though there was a window, its placement meant that I could not see out.  The air was stale and chemical and the fluorescent lights buzzed and flickered.  There was constant noise, even in the middle of the night and the nurses seemed to think it was more important to comfort themselves by waking me up to check my vitals than to let me sleep.  I wanted to be in Järna for recovery, if not for orthopedics.

Healing Architecture

I'm intrigued with a concept of architecture that can be healing.  Hospitals, long- and short-term rehab facilities, birth centers, assisted living facilities, spas, retreats... these all need to be healing to the body and uplifting to the spirit.

The home should also be a place of healing; some would say even a sacred place.


But Isn’t Steiner Dead?


Yes, he died in 1925, but he was also a spiritualist…. The kind that liked to commune with the dead.  Maybe he picked up some tricks.  It's pretty easy to make fun of someone whose science isn't very sciency.  But there is also genius there, and he fascinates me.



"Ghost" Image courtesy of
The Daring Librarian via Flickr
Steiner shows up again and again: tiptoeing around in my favorite book on Daylighting, as an expert on Goethe & Nietzsche and as an early target of Hitler.  He practically invented modern organic farming.

I’m just waiting for him to friend me on Facebook.  Is he crazy or crazy-like-a-fox?  I need to know whether I should run or invite him over for dinner.

--ally

Friday, March 7, 2014

THE TRUTH ABOUT LUXURY

Footnote

After last-week’s post on voluntary self-restraint, you may be wondering what sort of flagellation is on the menu for today.
I’d like to clarify: material simplicity is part of the journey of happiness.  Everyone says so.



Let’s talk about Luxury

Many people think of luxury as the exact opposite of simplification.
According to Webster, the term even comes from the idea of EXCESS.  Too much.

Others think of luxury as a reward for hard work.


"That’s a good muffin.”Adaptation


And that reward is not a bonus; it’s DESERVED: an entitlement*.
*Tangent: here's a great comment on the concepts of welfare and entitlement. 
Whew.  That concept has gotten me into trouble from time to time, especially with spending.



"What is LUXURY really about?"


Today I want to talk about luxury from an entirely different perspective.  I was intrigued by an old episode of Top Gear [season 2 episode 2] that addressed exactly this.  While reluctantly test-driving a Rolls Royce,  Jeremy Clarkson surprised himself: (@3:15) “It seems this car represents an old fashioned approach to luxury motoring, and I rather like that.” At the end of his drive, he added, “Mostly a majestic, inspiring, serene and glorious blend of style and engineering.“ (@8:20)
Back at the studio, (@9:30) James May wanted to know, “What is luxury really about?  It’s not about gadgets and shagpile everywhere. It’s about peace & quiet and light and air and space. Big space!“


Simplicity, not complexity or flashiness. Quite frankly, the very wealthy can’t be bothered to sort through tons of gadgets and extras that have a learning curve and a tendency to break. They want well-designed quality, simplicity, and ease of use.


Because they do not have to focus on the day-to-day of bringing home the bacon--or trying to impress anyone-- the wealthy have the luxury of distilling down a million wants to a select few things they feel like they need to pursue their dreams.  Even the wealthy are only afforded 24 hours in a day.

Most of us don't have that kind of luxury.  But we can dream, too.


Instead of Listing Wants, List DREAMS

For example,

STUFF I want for my home:


  • a new rear addition from the parking area
  • a beautifully cobbled, covered parking area
  • a second bathroom
  • a kitchen overhaul 
  • a guest bedroom
  • a securely fenced yard
  • a shaded patio big enough for a large outdoor table 
  • enough storage for kids' toys & outdoor equipment
  • a library
  • a solarium/greenhouse

I had a DREAM my life could be...:


  • a welcoming home
  • an extra toilet for the urgent scheduling conflicts occurring with a family of five
  • enough counter space to teach my children to cook
  • a more usable yard 
  • friends over for supper more often
  • kids who clean up after themselves and hiking more often
  • a quite place to to read
  • more sunshine in the winter
If I can focus on exactly what I need for my dream life, it's less about buying stuff and more about building the life I want.


the sides of luxury
My kitchen functions better than some, and the appliances are alright as well.  But the materials are cheap, the layout is horrific, and the flooring is warped from damp.
To me, luxury is the privilege of getting exactly what you want the first time (and not having to go through several iterations of not-quite).  It's doing things right.

One of the more beautiful things about architecture is customization.  You do not have to do it like everyone else; you can do what works for you.


"This New House" spread from Mother Jones Magazine, March/April 2005.  Image courtesy of kjell via Flickr.



Be Grateful

Whether your idea of luxury is a well-swept floor or an olympic sized pool, one thing is certain: you'll only feel rich if you are happy with what you have.










-ally