Color Veil

[Image: From Color Space by Yasmin Vobis of Ultramoderne].

For those of you near New York, stop by the Cooper Union before March 30th to see a small exhibition called Color Space, featuring the work of architect Yasmin Vobis of Ultramoderne.

[Images: From Color Space by Yasmin Vobis of Ultramoderne].

Color Space focuses “on working with new digital scanning techniques to draw space through the lens of color,” the accompanying text explains. “Relying on the camera as a simple perspective-machine, spatial coordinates and RGB values are combined to produce digital environments that connect color and space in a form of architectural pointillism.”

[Image: From Color Space by Yasmin Vobis of Ultramoderne].

The result are diaphanous islands of space, like partially transparent veils or loose skin peeled from a sunburn, ancient rooms afloat in the void.

[Images: From Color Space by Yasmin Vobis of Ultramoderne].

You can read much more context, including the project’s grounding in the difference between disegno and colore, over at Ultramoderne.

[Image: From Color Space by Yasmin Vobis of Ultramoderne].

For example, Vobis writes there, Giorgio Vasari once “characterized a fundamental split between drawing and color in artistic production, linking disegno to Apollonian rationalism and colore to Dionysian intuition and lack of control. Disegno has been taken up as the primary mode of architectural design ever since”—but color, reduced now merely to “a surface treatment,” Vobis adds, “deals directly with regions and gradients, fields and potential environments. By reconsidering colore in conjunction with disegno, fresh possibilities for architecture arise.”

[Image: From Color Space by Yasmin Vobis of Ultramoderne].

(Related: Previous BLDGBLOG coverage of ScanLAB Projects).

Stairway to Nowhere

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

The Estonian Academy of Arts continues to produce interesting site-specific installations in the nation’s remote and often extraordinary landscapes, the most-recent example being an observation tower and staircase built amidst the sprawling Tuhu bog.

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

According to the project’s accompanying text, “the design challenge was to provide a better view of the bog landscape and allow people to monitor the movement of moorland birds, raising observers above the landscape.”

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

The site came with some obvious constraints: “How to design an observation tower that takes its delicate environment into account whilst adding a layer of contemporary spatial design?” the school asked.

“What kind of space would hikers and ornithologists appreciate? What are the restrictions when constructing something for a location that is flooded several times a year, where the temperature can change from +25C to -25C, easily, and which is a home to a number of protected species?”

[Image: Photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

The piece does, admittedly, look much better in the snow, where it blends into the surrounding landscape and can even be difficult to distinguish against the quiet background; without snow, the structure looks a bit more ramshackle.

[Images: Drone photo by Tõnu Tunnel].

Nevertheless, the most interesting part of the whole project is perhaps the overall educational context: the department of interior architecture at the Estonian Academy of Arts has teamed with architects b210 and Estonian Forest Management Centre to teach “a special class on small-scale buildings… focused on nature infrastructure—resulting in a number of observation towers and shelters. The purpose of the educational process is to show how considerate spatial design can add to the beauty of natural landscapes through human-scale, site-specific structures, and to advance local spatial culture.”

If some enterprising multimillionaire or ambitious school administrator is reading this, please bring this sort of collaboration here to Southern California. Observation towers for the San Andreas Fault. Desert shelters for the canyons near Joshua Tree. Acoustic listening platforms for the coast near Point Mugu.

(Previously on BLDGBLOG: Forest Megaphone).

Rumored Chutes

For a piece published by The New Yorker back in October, writer Joshua Yaffa looked back at the history of his Moscow apartment complex, “a vast building across the river from the Kremlin, known as the House on the Embankment. In 1931, when tenants began to move in, it was the largest residential complex in Europe, a self-contained world the size of several city blocks.”

Among many other such stories and details, one stood out: the interior of the building, Yaffa learned, was allegedly used against the people who lived in it. He explains that, “throughout 1937 and 1938 the House of Government was a vortex of disappearances, arrests, and deaths. Arrest lists were prepared by the N.K.V.D., the Soviet secret police, which later became the K.G.B., and were approved by Stalin and his close associates. Arrests occurred in the middle of the night.”

However, it’s how the police were rumored to access individual apartments that caught my eye: “A story I have heard many times,” Yaffa continues, “but which seems apocryphal, is that N.K.V.D. agents would sometimes use the garbage chutes that ran like large tubes through many apartments, popping out inside a suspect’s home without having to knock on the door.”

This vision of vermicular control from within—of agents of the state sliding around within our walls and utility ducts like animals—is both unsettling and Kafkaesque, a nightmare and the setup for a surreal tragicomedy.

An undercover cop stuck in the walls between floors four and five for nearly three weeks is fed homemade soup by a young boy who takes pity on him, this unknown man caught in the fabric of the building and abandoned there by his superior officers out of embarrassment.

Gradually, the boy and this agent of the state strike up something like a friendship, sharing their hopes for the future, complaining about perceived limitations in life, confiding in one another about random things they’re both inspired to recall, and looking forward to future adventures—until, finally, one day after a shower leak raining down from a luxury apartment somewhere much further above, the man is able to slip free.

He slides into the boy’s room feet-first, covered in wood shavings and dust—where he promptly follows through on his initial mission and arrests the boy’s entire family.

Read Yaffa’s piece over at The New Yorker.

Planetary Scale

[Image: “CHRONOS: The Space-Time Planetarium,” proposed by Drew Heller, Isabella Marcotulli, and Ibrahim Salman, via Eleven Magazine].

With news of “the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth largest in the world” opening in New Jersey, I’m reminded of a design competition I meant to post about earlier this year.

A few months ago, Eleven Magazine hosted a quick competition to rethink the planetarium. It’s a great design brief: Eleven’s editors asked “if architecture itself could become—once again—a tool for experiencing and understanding space. How can architecture engage with and enhance today’s renewed age of space exploration and discovery? What does the next generation of planetariums look like?”

You can click around on the various entries here, but a few seemed worth mentioning.

[Image: “Microsphere” planetarium proposal by Christian Gabbiani and Elisa Porro, via Eleven Magazine].

The “Microsphere” proposal, for example, entails “a network of little planetariums scattered all over the world.” As the title suggests, each planetarium would be a small, single-occupancy sphere acting as a meditative space for viewing, studying, or thinking about the cosmos.

It’s an idea that only suffers from the unnecessary stipulation that these should be built directly next to existing, often very ancient sites of star observation, including Stonehenge. Not only does Stonehenge not need this sort of thing parked next to it, but installing these out in the suburbs, on city streets, on the roofs of low-income housing units, or even hidden in thickets in state parks would seem to be a much more interesting way for these structures to bring astronomy to the masses.

[Image: “Microsphere” planetarium proposal by Christian Gabbiani and Elisa Porro, via Eleven Magazine].

Another project is interesting for its attempt to reconceive what “space” really is and how a planetarium is meant to represent or engage with it.

[Image: “CHRONOS: The Space-Time Planetarium,” proposed by Drew Heller, Isabella Marcotulli, and Ibrahim Salman, via Eleven Magazine].

Acting as a “space-time planetarium,” a project called CHRONOS would allow visitors to “perceive astronomical scenes at different rates… through a labyrinth of six architectural techniques that invite the user to abandon earthly notions of space and time.”

The building thus requires a “space-time diagram.”

[Image: “Microsphere” planetarium proposal by Christian Gabbiani and Elisa Porro, via Eleven Magazine].

Whether or not the resulting building would actually resemble what the designers have proposed here, it sounds awesome. “The planetarium grounds users through abstract learning as they navigate the entanglement while warping their perception of space-time,” they write. “While traveling through a series of architectural space-time scenarios, users are enlightened with astronomical scenes that transcend human perception.”

[Image: “Microsphere” planetarium proposal by Christian Gabbiani and Elisa Porro, via Eleven Magazine].

As you’d expect, not every entry is particularly interesting and there are some real doozies in there, but it’s worth checking out. While you’re there, though, check out the other competitions—some still ongoing—that Eleven has hosted.

Cabin Fever

[Image: “Shear House” by STPMJ; photo by Song Yousub].

One more cabin! This one is designed by STPMJ architects for a site in South Korea.

[Image: “Shear House” by STPMJ; photo by Song Yousub].

Called “Shear House,” the project uses a shifted roof and angled interior walls to play with the geometric effect of each room. In the architects’ words, although the rooms “are rectangular in plan, walls are triangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids in elevation.”

[Image: “Shear House” by STPMJ; photo by Song Yousub].

As I’m simply posting a few projects I think are cool, you’ll find more information—including further photographs and plans—over at Dezeen.

Social Architecture

[Image: Photo by Haylie Chan & Zelig Fok, via Dezeen].

Students at the Yale School of Architecture have realized a really impressive residential project, noteworthy both for its refined appearance and for its social mission: intended to house local homeless families, the project kicks off “a five-year collaboration with Columbus House, a New Haven-based homelessness services provider.”

The two-family home is constructed from prefabricated units, and is “sited on a formerly vacant corner lot on Adeline Street” in New Haven. It includes “two units that are separated by a walkway, but under the same roof, and adorned with large windows that balance the needs of openness and privacy.”

[Image: Photo by Haylie Chan & Zelig Fok, via Dezeen].

As Dezeen explains, “The building was designed by students in the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, a programme established in 1967. The course involves designing and building low-cost homes in New Haven, the city where Yale is located. First-year architecture students are required to participate in the programme as part of the school’s curriculum.” Here is a house from 2015, for example.

This particular structure is the first in what I understand to be a series of projects undertaken with funding and planning input from Columbus House. In a press release, the organization’s president remarked that their goal “is to end homelessness, and we do that by getting people housed… Every unit that we add toward the affordable housing stock in New Haven helps us come closer to that goal. We are delighted with the house on Adeline Street and with the relationship with Yale School of Architecture that has grown out of this project.”

[Image: Photo by Haylie Chan & Zelig Fok, via Dezeen].

On the most basic level, it’s exciting to see a student project inspired by such a clear social mission, especially one that has also resulted in a building I’d be thrilled to live in myself.

Read more courtesy of Yale University or Dezeen.

Conversion Moment

[Image: Proposal for a converted residential water tower in Utrecht, by Zecc Architects; rendering by 3D Studio Prins, based on a photo by Stijnstijl Fotografie].

While we’re looking at work by Zecc Architects, it’s worth checking out their proposed renovation of a water tower in Utrecht.

A circular room with panoramic views of the city, and a modern fireplace in the center? Yes, please.

[Image: Proposal for a converted residential water tower in Utrecht, by Zecc Architects; rendering by 3D Studio Prins].

I even love where the tower’s original brick core is revealed, despite appearing in something as mundane as a restaurant.

[Image: Proposal for a converted residential water tower in Utrecht, by Zecc Architects; rendering by 3D Studio Prins].

As a very brief aside, meanwhile, one of many things that remains amazing to me about the architectural world today is that these sorts of buildings—grandiose brick megastructures, from water towers to old tobacco warehouses to classic New York brownstones—are immensely popular as domestic renovations or large-scale residential conversions, but they otherwise seem to be completely beyond the pale for architects to consider designing from scratch in the present day. Even when contemporary architects do take on such commissions, they seem to leave their creativity at the door.

As a former New Yorker, it always blew me away that incredible building stock existed in neighborhoods such as DUMBO—that is, huge warehouses featuring recessed arched windows, ornamented brick, and, at times, gorgeous exterior buttressing—or that even the most random online image search for historical warehouse districts pop up such incredible and evocative buildings. Yet there seems to be no appetite, either amongst developers or architects, to explore what architects could do with these same styles and languages today.

Even just imagining a 21st-century brick super-warehouse (or circular tower) built from scratch in New York City—or Boston, or Bermondsey, or Hamburg—featuring modern interiors and finishes, and designed to avoid the headaches of older building stock, makes my head swoon, and there is no doubt in my mind that elaborate, architecturally complex brick megastructures could be realized today without falling into kitsch or postmodern quotation. And there is also, in fact, no inherent reason why creating brickwork residential super-projects should lead to an emerging financial ecosystem for absent investors in the process.

But, hey: I’m not a real estate developer and I have no way to change the game.

Shuttered

[Image: Cabin by Zecc Architects and Roel van Norel; photo by Laura Mallonee, courtesy Dwell].

Here’s another cabin, this time by Zecc Architects and Roel van Norel for a client in the Netherlands.

[Image: Cabin by Zecc Architects and Roel van Norel; photo by Laura Mallonee, courtesy Dwell].

“Building atop the foundation of a previous greenhouse was a cost-cutting measure,” according to Dwell; this “allowed the project to be considered a renovation and thereby qualify for a temporary tax reduction. Its traditional, gabled form also pays homage to the original structure.”

[Images: Cabin by Zecc Architects and Roel van Norel; photos by Laura Mallonee, courtesy Dwell].

The shutters are awesome, I think, and the effect at night is otherworldly, like an inhabited lantern.

[Image: Cabin by Zecc Architects and Roel van Norel; photo by Laura Mallonee, courtesy Dwell].

For more photos of the project, check out Dwell or ArchDaily.

(I am under the impression that these photos were taken by Laura Mallonee, but the attribution at Dwell leaves this somewhat ambiguous; apologies if I have misattributed someone else’s work).

Lodge

[Image: The “Bjellandsbu” cabin, named after its client, by Snøhetta; photo by James Silverman, courtesy Snøhetta].

I have cabins, retreats, and small houses on the brain, and this remote Norwegian hunting lodge designed by Snøhetta, complete with green roof and local timber, is one of many recent projects that caught my eye.

[Image: “Bjellandsbu” by Snøhetta; photo by James Silverman, courtesy Snøhetta].

According to the architects, the structure is “accessible only by foot or horseback,” and apparently features enough bunk beds to sleep up to 21 people.

[Image: “Bjellandsbu” by Snøhetta; photo by James Silverman, courtesy Snøhetta].

While at first glance, you might think it’s a relic from a J.R.R. Tolkien-infused 1970s counterculture, it was actually completed in 2013.

[Image: “Bjellandsbu” by Snøhetta; photo by James Silverman, courtesy Snøhetta].

For more shots of the cabin in the wild, meanwhile, check out the #bjellandsbu hashtag on Instagram.

(All photos in this post by James Silverman, courtesy of Snøhetta).

Worth the Weight

In the midst of a long New York Times article about the serial theft of offensive cyberweapons from the National Security Agency, there’s a brief but interesting image. “Much of [a core N.S.A. group’s] work is labeled E.C.I., for ‘exceptionally controlled information,’ material so sensitive it was initially stored only in safes,” the article explains. “When the cumulative weight of the safes threatened the integrity of N.S.A.’s engineering building a few years ago, one agency veteran said, the rules were changed to allow locked file cabinets.”

It’s like some undiscovered Italo Calvino short story: an agency physically deformed by the gravitational implications of its secrets, its buildings now bulbous and misshapen as the literal weight of its mission continues to grow.