Tag: architecture

Headline of the Day

How Amy Coney Barrett and Barack Obama Transcended Petty Partisanship To Crush Community Activists in Chicago


This is an Architectural Atrocity

This details how Obama’s need for a monument to himself by way of his Presidential library will, as I noted about a year ago, desecrate one of Fredrick Law Olmstead’s crown jewels, and that his has been aided and abetted by one Federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett:

Proving that architectural narcissism isn’t a quality limited to the outgoing forty-fifth president, Barack Obama is currently attempting to erect a hideous 235-foot tower, a monument to himself and his presidency, in a park in Chicago, over the objections of community groups. Local organizations fighting the project recently suffered a defeat at the hands of a federal review, which concluded in Obama’s favor. But according to the Wall Street Journal, a key ally in the approval process last summer was then judge Amy Coney Barrett, who has since, of course, become Trump’s latest addition to the Supreme Court.

Obama’s papers will live elsewhere; this $500 million project is not a presidential library but a museum celebrating the former president, overseen by the Obama Foundation, whose board is made up of a distasteful gang of financiers, with private equity well represented. As Wall Street Journal opinion writer James Freeman sardonically noted last week, Obama is impinging on “treasured green space to realize his vision of a self-tribute in stone and glass.” The groups fighting the project argue that it will wreak environmental damage on Jackson Park. They argue that the project will destroy much of the natural life in the park, including four hundred trees. They also say the tower will interfere with needed sunlight during the day, cause light pollution at night, and interfere with bird migration (the park is apparently a well-known route for birds).

The community activists also fear that the project will lure a large number of tourists and car traffic, disrupting what is currently a relatively calm and natural retreat. They also find the design of the project garish and vulgar, at odds with the aesthetics of the Frederick Law Olmsted–designed park, a historic 1893 World’s Fair site which was restored back to naturalistic parkland after the fair. The activists have presented alternative designs and traffic plans, but the Obama Foundation has ignored them — as arrogant multimillionaires tend to do when faced with suggestions from the little people.

This is tremendously apropos of the legacy of a man why my brother calls, “Our President Harding.”

He looked the role, and he gave great speeches, but when push came to shove, he never put anything ahead of himself, and now, he’s going to befoul one of the great public spaces in the world, (plus a f%$#ing luxury golf course) because it’s always about him.

I’m Starting a Go Fund Me to Bid on This*

It appears that there is a charity auction for the rights to hit the button to initiate the controlled implosion of the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City on January 19. 

Bidding appears to be north of $50K right now, and I also want to raise money to commission Banksey to put a mural on the side before that date.

I think that he might appreciate the whole scene.

Proceeds go to charity.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to bid on the right to push the button to implode Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, NJ. As you may or may not know, the Trump Plaza has been scheduled demolition and leveled off the boardwalk of Atlantic City. For several years it has been sitting empty and now is the time to end an era and replace it with something new. We are selling the experience to push the button to implode Trump Plaza. This will be done remotely and can be done anywhere in the world as well as close to the Plaza as we can safely get you there! All Proceeds of this auction will benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City, NJ. Ever since the start of this pandemic they have seen an increase of young children and adolescents benefit from the services of The Boys & Girl Club and are in need of all the assistance they can get for the community. This will be a live broadcasted sale so we hope to see you on sale day and start the year with a Bang!

So, should I go with Banksey, or a local street artist?

*No, I’m not actually going to open up a Go Fund Me for this. I like to blow sh%$ up, but I do not want to be associated with anything with the Trump name on it.

The More Good from the Black Lives Matter Protests

BLM protests have resulted in the statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston being tossed into the harbor, and in Philadelphia, after removing the statue to Frank Rizzo, they have painted over a mural of Frank Rizzo at the city’s Italian Market.

Even if nothing else comes from the protests, and I fear that nothing else will come from this, this puts the protests on the plus side karma-wise.

Best comment about the Philly erasure, “It was a horrible mural; he was a horrible person, my eyes feel at peace now.”

Mixed Emotions

These Are All Hideous Dehumanizing Crap

Boston City Hall

Royal Ontario Museum

Vitra Design Museum

J.Edgar Hoover Building

Donald Trump has issued new architectural guidelines for government buildings, specifically calling for new buildings to be designed in a “Classical” style.

I have mixed emotions about this.

The first, and most obvious area of concern is that this should not be a decision made by the President.   Standards on buildings and the like should be driven at the staff level by technical issues.

Additionally this decision has clear echoes to Adolph Hitler’s (and Albert Speer’s) edicts on buildings during Germany’s Nazi era.

On the other side, every single, “Innovative,” public building that I have seen has been complete sh%$ from an aesthetic perspective, and the functionality has frequently been complete pants as well.

Ever since improvements in architectural materials have removed many constraints from buildings, high end architecture has increasingly been an exercise in mental masturbation:

In 1962, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary at the Labor Department, prepared a memo on the use of federal office space for President John F. Kennedy. Into this document he tucked a succinct yet deeply considered set of recommendations for the design of U.S. government buildings. These “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture” were adopted as official policy shortly thereafter and are seen as axiomatic by American architects and planners.

Moynihan wrote that federal buildings must testify to “the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American government.” But he was silent about which styles would best express those qualities—deliberately so. “An official style must be avoided,” he cautioned. “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the government and not vice versa.”

That flow may soon be reversed. As first reported by Architectural Record and confirmed by The New York Times, the Trump administration is considering an executive order that will direct that U.S. government buildings with budgets greater than $50 million be designed in classical and other traditional styles. A draft document retains Moynihan’s ringing phrase about “dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability,” but stipulates that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style.” All federal courthouses and federal buildings in and around Washington, D.C., would have to follow the work of Greek and Roman architects and their emulators in subsequent centuries. The late-20th-century Brutalist and Deconstructivist styles, meanwhile, would essentially be banned from the federal projects covered by the order. The restriction would apply to renovation and expansion projects as well as new buildings.

Brutalism’s monumental concrete forms and the fractured geometries of Deconstructivism have attracted many other detractors, of course. But for the federal government to categorically discourage any architectural style is startling—and an utter misunderstanding of how architecture works.

The American Institute of Architects issued a statement saying it “strongly opposes” the move. Most architects today support using a range of styles for new buildings, as Moynihan did. But the AIA doesn’t speak for the cadre of die-hard classicists with whom the document originated. The National Civic Art Society (NCAS), a small Washington nonprofit, prioritizes the classical tradition in design and argues that contemporary architecture “has created a built environment that is degraded and dehumanizing.”

Contemporary architecture is crap, and even when it works functionally, it is corrosive to the very soul.

A Pox on Architects

It’s Also Ugly as Sin

The New York City Public Library spend $41,500,000.00 on its Hunters Point Library in Queens, which, in addition to being hideous, cannot function as a library, with severely restricted disabled access, insufficient elevator service, and significant portions of the building being too dangerous to be used in it’s intended manner.

This is what happens when you allow architects to design buildings according to their own masturbatory inclinations, as opposed to the actual needs of the people who will have to function in this space:

It has been heralded as an architectural triumph: A new $41.5 million public library in Long Island City that ascends over multiple landings and terraces, providing stunning Manhattan views to patrons as they browse books and explore.

But several of the terraces at the Hunters Point Library are inaccessible to people who cannot climb to them. A staircase and bleacher seating in the children’s section, judged too risky for small children, has been closed off. And the five-story, vertically designed building only has one elevator, creating bottlenecks at times.


It has also raised the question of how the pricey public building, nearly two decades in the works, made it through the lengthy planning process without more consideration for accessibility.


Some of the accessibility problems, though, are rooted in the design itself.

The placement of the adult fiction section on three terracelike levels between the library’s first and second floors was the first issue patrons noticed. A few complained that they couldn’t access the fiction books, because those levels were only accessible by stairs, Gothamist reported.


The disputed shelves are now bare; the library, responding to the criticism, has moved the 2,900 adult fiction books to an accessible area on the second floor, and is now figuring out how to use the vacated space.

Chris McVoy, a senior partner at Steven Holl Architects, the firm that designed the building, said that too much emphasis was being placed on the inaccessibility of the terraces, which he called a “small wrinkle in an incredibly successful project.” Concepts of accessibility, he added, have changed in the years since the building was designed in 2010.

So the response of the architect is that the peasants don’t appreciate their genius, and so don’t deserve to browse books.


But the decision to build only a single elevator is also causing grumbles. The congestion is compounded by the placement of the main stroller parking area on a second floor landing, which is insufficient for the dozens of strollers sometimes seeking a spot.

The closure of the children’s wing stairs is adding congestion to the elevator. Patrons who want to travel between the children’s levels must now either use the elevator, or take a circuitous route around the library, up and down flights of stairs.

In his 2010 renderings for the children’s wing, Steven Holl, the project’s lead architect, had sketched images of children reading on bleacher-like seats that spanned from the lower level of the wing to the upper one, adjoined by an interior staircase.

But library officials, in a walk-through before the building opened, instead saw a potential liability for small children who could jump and fall on them. They have closed off the stairs and the top five bleachers until fixes can be made, said Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Queens Library.

Wood panels now block the staircase entrances and protective glass barriers have been added to the tallest bleachers. The bottom three bleachers remain open, however, and a security guard who usually stands there keeps an eye on them.

Seriously, architects need adult supervision.

Once Again Da Vinci Amazes

Subscale Reconstruction

Some wonks at MIT just did a recreation of a bridge proposal from Leonardo Da Vince, and, if their reconstruction from his notes is correct,* his bridge was centuries ahead of the state of the art:

Some 500 years after his death, researchers are still discovering just how talented and brilliant Leonardo da Vinci was. Architects and civil engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a 3D printer to create a replica of a bridge da Vinci designed, but never built. To their surprise, not only did it work, but it would have also revolutionized bridge design five centuries ago.

As the story goes, in 1502 A.D. the Sultan Bayezid II wanted to build a bridge to connect the city of Istanbul to its neighbor, Galata. One of the proposed designs came from Leonardo da Vinci, who had already made a name for himself in the arts and sciences at the time. In a letter he sent to the sultan, accompanied by a notebook full of sketches, da Vinci described a bridge that would span the proposed distance using a single, flattened arch design, supported by bases on either shore. Bridges at the time were typically made using a series of semicircular arches, and to span the distance between the two cities would have required at least 10 evenly spaced piers in between to support the entire structure. Da Vinci’s design, which would have easily allowed sailboats to pass beneath it, was radically different (and centuries ahead of its time), which is probably why the sultan decided not to take the risk. Half a millennium later, researchers were curious if it would have succeeded.


Not only did the bridge work, remaining strong and stable without the use of any mortars or fasteners, but the team at MIT also realized that da Vinci had even engineered a way to minimize unwanted lateral movements in the structure, which would have quickly led to its collapse. The footings on either side of the arched bridge featured designs that splayed outwards to add a considerable amount of stability. The bridge would have even survived most earthquakes, which were common at the time in that area, as the MIT researchers discovered by putting their replica on two movable platforms. It wasn’t indestructible, but it would have been an ancient architectural marvel.

There are a number of “Ifs” here:

  • Did the technology of the day allow for the construction of abutments to handle the not-inconsiderable thrust loads.
  • Does the material handling technology of the day allow for the handling of the stone blocks.
  • could the barge and scaffolding technology of the day effectively provide for the support of the structure when under construction?

My guess is that Da Vinci never looked at the nitty-gritty details involved in actually putting up such a bridge, because he was never really a details kind of guy.

*That is a VERY big if.

A Monument to His Ego

This is an Architectural Atrocity

I am referring of course to Barack Obama’s proposed Presidential library.

I think that his presidential complex would rip the heart out of one of Fredrick Law Olmstead’s most significant works, and the Federal Highway Administration’s review of the project has determined that it would diminish the integrity of the park.

Here’s hoping that this, along with the fact that Obama crony Rahm Emanuel is no longer mayor, will result in some much need accountability on this project.

There is also the matter that the Obama Foundation has refused to even consider a community benefits agreement, which would provide guarantees for the local residents regarding jobs and affordable housing:

Construction of the $500 million Obama Presidential Center will have an “adverse impact” on historic Jackson Park that must be mitigated, a federal review has concluded.

In a report triggered by Jackson Park’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the Federal Highway Administration homed in on the negative impact the four-building complex would have on the majestic Midway Plaisance and the Jackson Park Historic Landscape District.

The project would diminish the “the historic property’s overall integrity by altering historic, internal spatial divisions that were designed as a single entity” by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the FHA concluded.

It also concludes the “size and scale of new buildings” would “diminish the intended prominence of the Museum of Science and Industry building and alter the overall composition and design intent of balancing park scenery with specific built areas.”


The finding puts pressure on the Obama Foundation to find a way to “resolve adverse effects” and turns up the heat on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to order the foundation to make those changes.

“The Obama Foundation has yet to show any interest in compromising on any of this. It may take [Lightfoot] to bring them to the table,” said Margaret Schmid, co-president of Jackson Park Watch.

“It means there are lots of new obstacles facing this proposal. A big question is, does Chicago want to go on record as having allowed a project that has major adverse impacts on this important historic park or can the project be redesigned to be compatible with this historic landscape?”

It’s not a surprise that the Obama Foundation is refusing to do anything for the poor and minority residents of the neighborhood, that was pretty much the Obama administration’s policy for or the poor and minority residents of the country.

They were too busy, “Foaming the runway,” for the big banks.

Tweet of the Day

Someone noticed a decorative and historical oddity on the door frame of the Koch funded right-wing American Enterprise Institute:

this is the door to the american enterprise institute. does it look sort of odd to anyone else pic.twitter.com/R9tLznQjDY

— libby watson (@libbycwatson) February 14, 2019

I went on Google maps, and went to street view, and zoomed in, and yes, there are Swastikas on the door frame.

The door frame is an artifact of the original construction in 1917 of what is now called the Andrew Mellon Building, but this accident of history, along with the juxtaposition of the AEI and Andrew Mellon, is amusing as f%$#.

They really should have thought twice before moving there a few years back.

100 Years Ago Today

The Aftermath

The Headline

I am referring, of course to The Great Boston Molasses Flood:

For bystanders, the first clue something was wrong was a sound different from the usual thrum of the overhead train. The Boston Evening Transcript later described it as “a deep rumble.”

At around 1pm on 15 January 1919, a 50ft-tall steel holding tank on Commercial Street in Boston’s North End ruptured, sending 2.3m gallons of molasses pouring into the neighborhood.

Owned by the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, the molasses had been brought to the city from the Caribbean, then piped from the harbor to the vat through 220ft of heated piping. The tank was built in 1915 to accommodate increased wartime demand. But from its inception, it leaked.

On 13 January, it had been filled almost to capacity. Two days later, parts of the metal tank ripped though trusses of the elevated train track, 20ft below. Horses and people were swept away.


A class action lawsuit arose from the flood, Dorr v United States Industrial Alcohol Company, with 119 plaintiffs including families of victims and injured parties. They argued that the tank was too thin and poorly built. The company argued that Italian anarchist groups blew up the tank.

The investigation lasted more than five years, with over a thousand witnesses testifying. In April 1925, a state auditor ruled that company’s negligence led to structural failure of the tank. Victims and their families were granted $628,000 in damages.

The first class action lawsuit against a major corporation, Dorr paved the way for modern regulation.


One local, Stephen Puleo, was working on a master’s thesis on Italian immigrants when he began to research the flood. The North End neighborhood was more than 90% Italian back then, a working class area. In 2003 Puleo published a book, Dark Tide: the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.

Puleo told the Guardian: “The tank itself didn’t even require a permit to be built. I liked to tell people, the molasses flood did for building construction standards what the Cocoanut Grove fire did for fire standards across the country. You have these two disasters, and long-standing positive ramifications.”

Also the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

Why we need pesky bureaucrats.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

It turns out that one of the alleged benefits of an open office, greater workplace collaboration, does not exist.

In fact, open offices actually reduce cooperative behavior:


Organizations’ pursuit of increased workplace collaboration has led managers to transform traditional office spaces into ‘open’, transparency-enhancing architectures with fewer walls, doors and other spatial boundaries, yet there is scant direct empirical research on how human interaction patterns change as a result of these architectural changes. In two intervention-based field studies of corporate headquarters transitioning to more open office spaces, we empirically examined—using digital data from advanced wearable devices and from electronic communication servers—the effect of open office architectures on employees’ face-to-face, email and instant messaging (IM) interaction patterns. Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction. In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM. This is the first study to empirically measure both face-to-face and electronic interaction before and after the adoption of open office architecture. The results inform our understanding of the impact on human behaviour of workspaces that trend towards fewer spatial boundaries.

So not a surprise.

I’ve lived most of my professional life in cube farms, and, aside from the cost savings from packing people in cheek by jowl, the benefits of open office are a myth.

Tories Are Lucky That the Grenfell Fire Did Not Happen Two Weeks Ago

By now, you have doubtless heard of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, where perhaps as many as 100 people in a public housing tower died in a ferocious blaze.

The facts at this point are that the residents had been complaining about potential fire hazards for years, and the fire was likely made much worse by the addition of cosmetic cladding that was both flammable (so flammable that it has been banned in the US) and functioned as a chimney for the flames.

The indications are that the cladding was added because the building was located in the very tony Kensington borough, and they wanted to improve the views.

Theresa May should be thanking her lucky stars that this didn’t happen before the election, because her housing/fire safety minister specifically argued against better fire regulations, and when May initially went to the scene of the fire, she refused to meet with the former residents of the apartments.

By comparison, Jeremy Corbyn visited with the former residents, and promised that they would be told what happened.

Heck, even the singer Adele went to talk to the fire victims.

If this had happened a week before the elections, Jeremy Corbyn would now be the Prime Minister.

BTW, Corbyn has already made a proposal to help the people displaced by the fires, he wants to put them in the empty flats in the area that are owned by rich people who use London real estate to launder their money:

Empty flats in North Kensington should be “requisitioned if necessary” for people left homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire, Jeremy Corbyn says.

The Labour leader has also said he is “very angry” that so many lives were lost in a deadly tower block fire.


And he told MPs on Thursday: “The south part of Kensington is incredibly wealthy, it’s the wealthiest part of the country.

“The ward where this fire took place is, I think the poorest ward in the whole country.

“And properties must be found, requisitioned if necessary, in order to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.

“It cannot be acceptable that in London you have luxury buildings and luxury flats kept as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live.”

It a good solution, and it is precisely the sort of action that makes Tory heads explode, which makes it even more delicious.

This is Obvious in any Cursory Reading of Dilbert Cartoons

It turns out that the whole open office setup, ditching offices for cubicles, or worse open desks, is damaging to worker productivity:

Four years ago, Chris Nagele did what many other technology executives have done before — he moved his team into an open concept office.

His staff had been exclusively working from home, but he wanted everyone to be together, to bond and collaborate more easily. It quickly became clear, though, that Nagele had made a huge mistake. Everyone was distracted, productivity suffered and the nine employees were unhappy, not to mention Nagele himself.

I need to make a note here: American management sees employee misery as an independent good.

It is believed that if your employees are happy, the consultants believe that you are leaving money on the table.


Numerous companies have embraced the open office — about 70% of US offices are open concept — and by most accounts, very few have moved back into traditional spaces with offices and doors. But research that we’re 15% less productive, we have immense trouble concentrating and we’re twice as likely to get sick in open working spaces, has contributed to a growing backlash against open offices.

Since moving, Nagele himself has heard from others in technology who say they long for the closed office lifestyle. “Many people agree — they can’t stand the open office,” he says. “They never get anything done and have to do more work at home.”


What’s more, certain open spaces can negatively impact our memory. This is especially true for hotdesking, an extreme version of open plan working where people sit wherever they want in the work place, moving their equipment around with them.

This does not surprise me.  It has always been my experience.

Of course, it’s cheaper in the short run, and as I noted above, it makes workers miserable, so it is like catnip to so called business experts.