Unfolding the City

Spectacle

Posted in Architecture, Journal, Theory by Chris on Sunday, September 27th, 2009

I’ve made it back from Oktoberfest all in once piece. It was quite a whirlwind, but I finally feel like I’m back in Paris. I’ll post about the fest later in the week; I don’t want to think much more about all the beer that I just drank. I’m starting studio and regular classes tomorrow; I’m really excited. I wrote this piece over the summer in New York City and I really enjoy what I’ve found.

Times Square Red StepsSo I am sitting over Times Square in the Marriott having a drink. I’m looking at the new TKTS booth – it consists of red, lit steps down on the street. One of the functions of the stairs is to take pictures of the street from an elevated level. This isn’t immediately apparent. In a particularly funny way, the stairs stand for what Times Square is all about. People on the street watch people take pictures from the steps and they are attracted to it. They want to go because so many others are there taking pictures. Once they get to the top, they realize the purpose of the stairs: to view the spectacle of Times Square from an elevated level. By being at a spectacle of Times Square and viewing the spectacle of Times Square, one feels a part of it.

I have recently talked to my friends in Paris about the moth instinct that we seem to have. It could be a human fear of darkness, but I’ve always found that when I am lost it is best to go towards the light. I don’t know if these steps have to do with that, but maybe the excess light is a comforting property of Times Square.

Bubbles of Understanding

Posted in Architecture, Theory by Chris on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Jean Nouvel's L'Institut du Monde ArabeWhen we enter a new place, whether in life, physicality, or emotion, a new mental space is entered. This space is implanted within physical space by the mind as a way to comprehend and ultimately understand its surroundings. Arriving in Paris has helped me see things this way. One night the people I came to Paris with and I were standing on our balcony talking, and I realized that, by speaking in a “foriegn” language, we were isolating ourselves from the Parisians outside. If we can isolate ourselves with language, we do not exist in the same place as those around us. I am beginning to assimilate into the Parisian culture, and as I do so, I will move towards a closer understanding of reality. It is the goal of the architect to understand this reality. This reality might be even closer to the conception Parisians have of their city, simply because we in the program will know how two large cultures react in a city space. Knowing the culture that built a place is important, but architects must also know the common denominator of humanity.

Duplicating Architecture

Posted in Architecture, Theory by Chris on Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Reading Kevin Lynch makes me think the answer to this question lies within memory associations. Psychologically I do not understand them, but I know them from my own experience. Why does designing fast food restaurants for a living sound terrible? We know that humans strive to be different, so is duplicated art and architecture a sin? The idea that one could expresses something exactly the same way as someone else is unnerving.

Let’s examine the nature of duplication. This concept lies within Typology; similar to Taxonomy. We have an item, and it has qualities. Let’s take a tree for instance. A tree has a trunk, roots, branches, and leaves (or some other method of gathering sunlight). So a tree is something with these things. A type of tree shares similar looking or functioning versions of these things in common. So a fast food restaurant has a particular style. The style is based on colors, veneers, the facades, etc.

What about the duplication of place? To a certain level, we all had our childhood hang-out spots, or have heard of them and understand their functioning. My childhood hang-out spot happened to be Oz Pizza, which is sadly closed now, but irrelevant to the point. The point is, that almost every day after school, I spent time in this place, Oz Pizza, and made memories there. These memories help me remember the place now, but also serve as an emotional connection to the place. Imagine if “Oz Pizza” opened yet again. I would probably be excited, and visit, but what if the inside were different? Could I count on the food to be the same? Hypothetically, if it was, it would be something that I like to call a local chain. This wording has little to do with proximity, even though it suggests more. A local chain has variation in place, but no variation in food. Six Feet Under is a restaurant that is a good example of this. This concept allows the consumer to create an individual sense of place for each location.

McDonald’s has a sense of place for each location, but that is by-and-large created by the surroundings. Say I can remember that something happened to me at McDonalds one time, such as, swinging back and forth in the swivel chairs and making a lot of noise. I was young; I probably did this at multiple locations, but if it were only one location, which one? The variation within the restaurants is not big enough to warrant an answer to the question. What if I remembered a really cool fish I saw on the wall in Six Feet Under? It could be either location, since both locations have tons of knick knacks hanging around. What if I remember that it was in a very large space? Well, It would have to be the Six Feet Under in westside Atlanta, since the one near Oakland cemetery is very small.

This type of concept fascinates me; the style of architecture McDonalds has is more or less the same everywhere, a static duplication. Most “chains” share this same characteristic. They must share this characteristic for ease of design and replication – the store represents something about the owner through its “style.” I wonder what a chain store would be like if the designer were to style it somewhere in between it’s owner’s tastes and it’s surroundings. My boss and I were supposed to do a design for Octane Coffee in Midtown that took Midtown’s sleekness and Howell Mill’s Octane Location and ran them together, but it never pulled through.