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Daily Archives: March 7th, 2009

Architecture, the pragmatic art of the possible, is always a compromise between the client’s demands; the exigencies of the site; the taste of the moment; and the constraints of budget, technology, and building regulations. Consequently, you might think that dogma would be the farthest thing from an architect’s mind. Not so. The history of architecture abounds in unbending pronouncements: “Form follows function,” “ornament is a crime,” “less is more,” “less is a bore,” and so on. These assertions are modern, but the doctrinal tradition is ancient. The first architectural treatise ever written, Vitruvius’ Roman handbook, is essentially a compilation of rules: This is the proper way to design a temple, a Doric column must have these proportions, and so on.


I think there are a few parallel universes out there – one for the international super rich, who are having rotating condominiums designed, and another for the rest of us.


“There are only two industries that refer to their customers as ‘users’.”
(Edward Tufte)


(arty photograph) – the hypodermic looks somewhat like a technical pen ….

“Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers.”
(Pablo Picasso)


CIA Gives the Soviets Gas (1982)

Cost:  Millions of dollars, significant damage to Soviet economy

Disaster:  Control software went haywire and produced intense pressure in the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline, resulting in the largest man-made non-nuclear explosion in Earth’s history.

Cause:  CIA operatives allegedly planted a bug in a Canadian computer system purchased by the Soviets to control their gas pipelines.  The purchase was part of a strategic Soviet plan to steal or covertly obtain sensitive U.S. technology.  When the CIA discovered the purchase, they sabotaged the software so that it would pass Soviet inspection but fail in operation.  (more)

“I would hope that the current housing market developments will liberate people from ‘resale value’ thinking, and allow them to engage in a serious conversation with their architects and builders about what constitutes true quality. Quality of life is measured in many more years and much greater pleasure than how best to sell one’s home as quickly as possible to the highest bidder. While reduced leverage among homeowners may make for smaller and fewer projects, it may also mean that those projects are more sincerely considered and more deeply appreciated.”

—Lynnette Widder, aardvarchitecture, New York City, and head, Department of Architecture, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I


“With this real estate situation, the first thing to go is the garden, since the mortgage crisis is putting people in apartments. Look at the pictures of houses in foreclosure; none of them have gardens. Americans don’t like to go outside anyway. Even my clients who have beautiful gardens are afraid there might be a bug, or it’s too hot or too cold. People will certainly downsize to afford the mortgage. They won’t build these lavish kitchens they never cook in. They don’t even make coffee in their kitchens. I’ve had many clients who, when I visited them in the mornings, were on their way to Starbucks.”

— James van Sweden, FASLA, Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, Washington, D.C.



Although the market looks very dire now, it offers a chance to break out of the free-market orthodoxy that hasn’t produced money for anyone and produced terrible architecture, for the most part. The real indictment of the current arrangement is that housing has failed even as a piece of free-market economics—its failure as architecture is all too obvious. Having been lectured and patronized by developers for the last decade, designers can now say, ‘And you guys didn’t even know how to make money.’

I hope we will now design houses that are:

    a) not seen as financial vehicles;
    b) environmentally sound; and
    c) beautiful.

We won’t make money from housing, but hopefully we will:

    a) not lose too much money, either, in a downturn;
    b) save the planet; and
    c) create a place of beauty worth any amount of money (just ask people who live in central Paris).”

—Alain de Botton, architectural critic and writer, London


Here are 10 ways to change the home:

  1. Create large white spaces with accents of strong, positive colors.
  2. Knock down walls that aren’t structural and open up spaces.
  3. Buy less but better furniture.
  4. Use materials that are easy to clean and that age well. Plastic floors (laminates, vinyl sheeting, or artificial rubber) are lightweight, inexpensive, and wear well.
  5. Don’t be a pack rat: Recycle newspapers and magazines as soon as you’re done reading them. Better yet, read them online.
  6. Use color to express yourself. Don’t be afraid of that bright orange chair. Paint your wall lime green. Be brave when it comes to carpets, countertops, and tables. Color is beautiful.
  7. Use biodegradable and natural cleaning products.
  8. When you buy something for your home, get rid of something else. Seek balance.
  9. Make your space reconfigurable.
  10. Embrace technology.”


—Karim Rashid, Karim Rashid Inc., New York City

Kaputt! is a group of 8 “young” architects.   This is a link to their design for a single family house.   It seems quite banal and ordinary, yet also different.  I suppose I like it.