Friday, July 31, 2009

Sketch: State Capitol "Flying Saucer" Bank

The Oklahoma State Capitol Bank was one of the more unique buildings to come out of the 60's. Built in 1964, this is the original look of the bank. It has since been pretty heavily modified for security and heating and air conditioning concerns. In searching for information about this bank, I came across a new blog called Oklahoma Modern. I rather like it, so I'll be linking to it. Apparently the author is also a big fan of Julius Shulman as well. Shulman, incidentally, is the one who took this photo.

My sketch, as usual, did not come out very well. I sincerely home my ability improves over time. As it is, my saucers are drooping, my details are scarce, and my car is pathetic. But I persevere in hopes that one day I won't completely suck at sketching buildings.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rest In Peace, Julius Shulman

I only recently found out that Julius Shulman died at 98 on July 15th, 2009. If you have not had the chance to do so, please read his obituary. He was to architectural photography what Annie Leibovitz is to people portraits, or what Ansel Adams is to natural photography. Shulman was a Photog, which is photographer lingo for "master of the lens." And among photogs, Shulman was a grand master, an icon, accomplished something few others can ever do: capturing the spirit of a structure in one frame. If you are an architect, or plan to be one, studying Shulman's work should be considered as important as studying Palladio, Wright, and Le Corbusier. The average layperson neither knows nor cares about golden scale, red and blue series, incolumniation, or anything of the sort. Shulman made the genius and spirit of great architecture accessible to the general public in ways that no architectural set of plans or books could ever do.

Most people don't appreciate photography anymore because when you have a digital camera and a memory card that can hold thousands of images, why bother composing? Why worry about whether you have the perfect image when you can pick the best out of 100 or 1000. Why not just use hi-def video and freeze-frame on the right moment, crop it, photoshop it, and print it? But there was a day and age when you often only had that one perfect moment in time, that would only exist for a split second before passing into regretful memory. A True Photog might wait days, months, even years for the right moment, at the right time, in the right light, weather, and conditions, to attempt to capture that moment on film. A Master Photog manages to actually accomplish this.

Shulman understood the essence of architecture in the same way that Leibovitz understood the essence of a celebrity. He understood the composition of the light, the time of day, the shadows, and textures in the same way that Adams did in nature. All three had the ability to capture the spiritual, mental, and physical essence of that moment in one perfect frame. And they did so with cameras that required manual focusing, guesswork on the proper f-stop for the lens, and rolls of film that rarely if ever exceeded 36 possible images. There was no photoshopping the final product. You had hard tangible film, and if an accident occurred during development of the negatives, that image was ruined forever. There are a number of tricks that could be performed with an enlarger, the machine that shines light through a negative onto the photo paper, but nothing on the scale of Photoshop. If an image was poor, the light not right, the shot overexposed or underexposed, there was very little one could do to improve upon the original.

This is what separated master photogs from amateurs: the ability to compose and capture the essence of a moment and place so skillfully, so expertly, with so few resources at their disposal, that they elevated photography from mere documentation to the level of art so profound it could be likened to masterworks of painters. Some might scoff at the idea of photography as an art, or if so, might begrudge it ever being equal to that of the brush and canvas, or the sculpture, but I challenge anyone to ever deny that what Shulman accomplished, over and over again, was anything short of artistic genius.

This is my very humble attempt to sketch one of his more famous photographs, Case Study House #22, in Los Angeles. It is also known as The Stahl House, and the architect is Pierre Koenig. I did not do a very good job on this sketch, but it's my own humble homage to this great man and champion of architecture. I had intended to visit Shulman after this summer semester ended, before starting the fall semester. I will now never have that chance. A hero of mine has died, after a very long, fulfilling life.

Rest in Peace, Julius Shulman, you will be dearly missed...

-Brandon Safford

Monday, July 27, 2009

The 3D Midterm (Re-Planning and Model)

As I mentioned in this previous blog entry, I've been working on my mid-term assignment. The general idea is that we would make an arrangement of geometric shapes that uses at least 3 of the rules of proximity and involves at least 2 basic pure geometric shapes. After the approval of our 2D layout, we are to make a 3D model of the result that explains the parti. In the last entry, my 2D model looked something like this...

Yeah... that didn't happen, though the Professor liked the concept. She liked it a lot actually, but had a few cool ideas to toss in, like slicing the circles and honeycombs and rotating them 90 degrees. We also discussed perhaps making a beehive effect out of it. In the end, however, I realized there was no way I could make a good honeycomb model on my own, and I would need to simplify the concept considerably. But I still really liked the slicing effect.

As a result, this is what I turned in for the "final draft." Keep in mind that we can alter the draft slightly during the modeling phase, but for the most part, this is what I committed to. To make it clearer, here's the same layout, but with the guiding lines and grid added...
I call this the "gears" concept. Imagine 3 gears have rotated. The first gear is in the northwest portion of the parti. The large western hex has a slice rotated 90 counter-clockwise towards the north. The next gear, in the middle, slices a golden scale smaller hex, and smaller circle, and rotates them 90degrees clockwise (as if turned by the larger gear). The third gear is in the southeast, where the larger circle has been sliced and rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, as if turned by the smaller gear. For you gearnuts out there, no, I almost certainly did not get the correct gear ratio on these turns.

So now, grandious schemes develop as to how I'm going to translate this thing into 3D. The concept I came up with, much like the cube project earlier this month, was overly complex. I planned on having crystal pillars with lights inserted into them, and the two bottom bases elevated, a mirror. The structures would be plaster of paris, the central pillars would be clear plastic (or dyed). This would be an experiement in light along with the assignment. The professor nixed the lights idea. Thank g-d.

The final concept would look something like this. Each crystal pillar would support two floors at differing elevations. The elevations would increase by 2" for each floor, starting with the western structure and going up clockwise from there. Each floor would be a rigid, clear plastic sheet, so that one could look down from a top view and still see the 2D effect of the slice. The elevations tell the story of the slice directions. West, then North, then East, then South. The whole thing seemed quite beatiful in my mind, and I think had I a bit more time, patience, money, and skill, I could have pulled it off, even with the lights, and made something truly cool out of it. But no matter... leaving out the lights would simply mean more time to work on the actual meat of the project. Again, thank g-d that the professor nixed the lights idea.

After the first day, I had basically managed to get all my materials together, make a huge mess, and a really, truly, horrible attempt at a hexagonal structure. See that white thing that looks like a crumpled ball of paper in the upper left? That was the hexagon. It gets worse, but I'll spare you the details there. Suffice it to say I only had one day left, and all my previous work had done was to tell me how NOT to build a model. This would take a lot more simplification...and measurements.

The first thing I did was go back to the idea of using foamboard. Good old reliable foamboard, how I love thee. Only, building a complex shape out of foamboard required a good deal of math and also a lot of carving foam away from the corners so they would join properly. I also figured I'd shorten everything by an inch. I'm not sure how I forgot about that second part, because in the end, the floors ended up being 2", 4", 6", 8", with all the bases at effectively zero-elevation.

The 3/4 dome and 1/4 dome structures were actually far easier to develop, thanks largely in part to the hollow cristmas tree ornament I'd bought and cut for the job. Of course, I'd have to cut my PVC pipe a lot more precisely, so no more hand-saw. Instead, it was time to bring out the big guns.

This is a compound miter-saw, capable of cutting at nearly any angle needed. It's used to cut molding. In this case, I just bought a thin plywood-blade (~130 teeth) and that worked fine for cutting PVC pipe. However, a word of advice to those of you looking to but this wonderful little timesaver for your own work: get the 10" saw, not the 7.x". There's almost nothing you can fully cut through with a 7.x" miter saw. Not even a 2x4. I had to play all sorts of crazy-dangerous finger-arobics in order to cut what I needed, then flip it around and do the exact same thing, only in reverse. For every single piece.

Once my shapes were properly assembled, I gave them a quick layer of white undercoat to help hide all the scotch tape I used putting them together. If I'd had another day, I'd have painted the model very carefully to improve upon this. As it is, I only finished the thing an hour or two ago.

The table, with my tools, my drinks, and my replans. Before I continue, I must take a moment to thank my wife and son. I thank my wife, because she not only gave me the entire weekend to work on this project, she took care of all the chores, the boy, and and fed me as I toiled over this thing. She did so with a smile and grace I never would have been able to manage, even though she deserved so much more than what I was able to give her this weekend. I also thank my son, who occasionally forced my hand in taking a break and remembering the reason I was doing this in the first place. I feel terrible about missing out on time with him so much lately, but summer semesters are just like that. I thank him for trading his hours with Daddy for hours with Mommy. I just wasn't able to be a very good father this weekend.

So, here's my "Model Draft." I'm not really sure what we were supposed to call it. But you'll notice a few changes, such as the loss of the extraneous bases, the blatant circle to emphasize central slices, and the removal of the invisible lines. Here are the final results in 3D.

The western view is actually quite similar to the one in the original 3D planning phase. It's just lacking the extra bases and elevation differences on the bases. The final result is a model that has a 13"x13" datum, and golden height of 8". The crystal pillars in the center were a bit of a paradox. In some ways, they came out better than I'd feared, but worse than I'd hoped. I learned a number of valuable lessons.

The first is that if you are going to use polyester resign to form something, you need a leak-proof, non-pourous, easy to open and remove mold. One of my molds was made from aluminum cans and duct tape. The aluminum did peel off revealing beautifully smooth clean surfaces underneath, but the duct tape was a mess. Even worse, though, the "slice" had been created with a cut piece of paper towel tubing (actually model rocket tubing, but the point remains the same). Both leaked terribly, losing me about 3/4 the resign through the bottom and sides of the containers. After curing, when I removed them, not only did I end up having to cause a lot of damage to the exterior part of the crystal pillars to separate them (the carboard tube divided had leaked, remember, but the cardboard the tube was made of didn't come off. The stuff is bonded to it like expoxy. Goo-B-Gone, sand-paper, whittling with a razor...none of these things could fully remove the stuff. I resigned myself to having bad crystal pillars. There was no way to re-create them in my timeframe and budget. Which brings me to my second lesson...

If I think I'm going to use polyester resin again, I need to order it bulk, online, and not from the local hobby store. I also need to design smaller things for it. That stuff is expensive! Anyway, the actual strength and relative shape of the cured resin was pretty decent. It does not exactly match the circle they've been aligned with, but it's a close enough fit that it gets the spirit of the parti across.

Of course, I fully expect that the professor will want some things changed with it, though honestly I'm not sure how much I could actually change at this point. In any event, I look forward to the class discussion in a few hours.

Good lord, I need to go to bed!!!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Photos: Meyerson Symphony Center (Part 3/3)

The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX, is a Pritzker Prize masterwork by I.M. Pei and Russell Johnson, nestled in the heart of the Arts District. My class was lucky enough to be offered an in-depth architectural tour of it by architect Tom Cox. There are so many photos and so much information to cover, that I've split it into a three part series.

Part 1: The Exterior
Part 2: The Lobby
Part 3: The Concert Hall and Inner Sanctum

This entry will cover Part 3: The Eugene McDermott Concert Hall (which you would only see if you had a ticket) and the mysterious Inner Sanctum (here there be dragons!).

It is nearly impossible to avoid being impressed by the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall. Though Johnson had final word in the hall, most aspects were still designed by Pei, including the case that houses the massive pipe organ. Unlike most organs, the case is designed to allow one to see the full length of the front pipes, though of course there are hundreds more hidden from view behind a thin fabric scrim. The organ is certainly intended as the focal point of the entire hall. In fact, the organist's chair faces the organ. He or she takes their conductor cues from a small closed-circuit TV embedded into the organ. Immediately below the organ is a unique feature to most concert halls, the "choral terrace." Assuming the program in question doesn't feature a choir, one can actually rent a seat here for relatively low-price. The reason for the lower price is, of course, because the accoustics weren't designed to travel up and backwards from the orchestra.

Looking straight upward we see the incredibly complex light booth which also includes various other systems housed in a nearly indescribable shape. I like to call it "The Mothership." I have a feeling that term would not be appreciated in more technical circles, but there you are. It looks like a giant UFO is hovering over the orchestra seating. But it has a definite absolute purpose. Nothing is left to chance or guesswork in here.

Take, for instance, the chairs. The wood is makore African cherry-wood. The upholstery is mohair. The reasons for this is that these two materials most closely resemble the acoustic signature of a human being when the chair is empty. You see, humans affect the accoustic sound of a concert hall just as much as everything else in it. If the chairs are not designed to mimic this signature, the sound will always be highly variable, dependent entirely on the size of the crowd. This way, you could have one person, or you could have one thousand people, and the sound should remain relatively the same.

In the back, up above the Grand Tier, near the ceiling are several grids in the walls. These grids hide a reverberation chamber of 72 concrete doors. If they wish to increase the volume and effect of a program, then doors are closed, increasing the reverb and echo effects. If more doors are opened, the sound is further muted. It's basically the reverse of a floodgate for sound.

Pei wanted a soft, thickly carpeted surface for the floor of the concert hall, but Russell was dead against it. To have truly rich, remarkable sound, the floor needed to be a hard surface. However, the type of surface was not nearly so important as the fact that it was hard. As the orchestral seating area would be the focus of anyone sitting elsewhere and not looking at the players on stage, Pei tiled the main area in Terrazzo. The stair bannister is brown marble. Along the walls are various curtains that may be opened and closed as needed. Typically when a symphony is rehearsing, they will close the curtains to better simulate the sound that the audience will hear. The walls behind the curtains are 12" of plaster covered with a thin wooden facade.

And up this staircase lies the inner sanctum.

The first level of the inner sanctum is either "The Green Room" or "The Greeting Room." Unfortunately I did not think to ask clarification. My guess is that it's actually the Greeting Room, because "The Green Room" would technically be the area behind the stage where the players are getting their costumes and props ready. However, since plays do not happen here, it's entirely possible that symphonic halls call this the Green Room. Regardless, this is where you go if you have a backstage pass and you want to meet members of the orchestra. There is a bar area provided...

...along with a comfortable sitting area, complete with a genuine Andy Warhol painting. Unless one is Meyerson staff or a performer, this is the deepest anyone ever gets into the inner sanctum...

Unless of course you happen to be an architectural class on a field trip! We continued through the back door of the G-Room and found a rather nondescript hallway referred to as "The Library." It is called such because of what is framed along the walls which, to be honest, I completely forgot to look at...
...because I was busy checking out one of the empty dressing rooms, which resembles a very small hotel room. In the photo on the left is my current professor, Ghada Mahasneh, and on the right is Arnie Radman, my professor next semester. Both have been excellent mentors to me so far.

I call this place "The Escape Route." On the left-hand side is the tuning room, where instruments are stored and musicians either prepare to go on stage, or recover from being on stage. On the right are two options. One can either head down "The Library" to the G-Room to greet guests, or alternately, they can make a clean getaway through a door that leads outside of the building.

I rather liked the painting on the far end of The Escape Route.

Looking backwards, and up, one can see the business offices of the Meyerson. I'm curious about the balconies. Is it so the staff can cheer on the performers before and/or after the shows? Is it so they can toss things down to the band, or have things tossed upward? Do they have water-balloon fights? What gives? Maybe it was just a nice gesture by Pei towards the unremembered, unthanked grunts who keep the place running like a well-oiled machine so that the rest of us can enjoy it.

Inside the tuning room, one finds the same exact kind of lockers one likely had in high-school. Unless of course your high school was like mine and simply used holes in the wall because the chronically under-funded band department could only manage to get a bit of donated plywood to make open shelves. But if we'd had lockers for our hundreds/thousands dollar instruments (you know like the kind the sports department got so they could protect those $3 kick-balls?), then they probably would have looked like this. Simple, unassuming, effective.

It should be noted that if you are a harp player, your instrument is so delicate that it requires a separate room for storage.

Through the tuning room, a serene corridor gives ample light and solitude to musicians wanting to go over their sheet music away from the noise, or simply to collect their thoughts.

Finally, the secret musician's lounge, where no music is allowed. This is their private oasis of space, away from everything and everyone. Off to the right is actually even a private courtyard where the remaining musicians who smoke could go out to nick a quick fix, if it weren't for Dallas now being a smoke-free city.

And that wraps up the complete tour. I hope you enjoyed reading this three-part article as much as I enjoyed the tour. Special thanks to Tom Cox for all the great access and information.

Photos: Meyerson Symphony Center (Part 2/3)

The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX, is a Pritzker Prize masterwork by I.M. Pei and Russell Johnson, nestled in the heart of the Arts District. My class was lucky enough to be offered an in-depth architectural tour of it by architect Tom Cox. There are so many photos and so much information to cover, that I've split it into a three part series.

Part 1: The Exterior
Part 2: The Lobby
Part 3: The Concert Hall and Inner Sanctum

This entry will cover Part 2: The interior of the building that includes the restaurant/bar, the lobby, and other areas generally available to the public that don't include the concert hall.

The first thing to green one as they enter the Meyerson is the Grand Staircase that begins the ascent into the Concert Hall. This is, and will remain the focal point throughout the lobby area, even when it is out of sight. Though it is difficult to tell from this photos, but will become increasingly more obvious, the travertine floor tiles radiate outward from the stairs. The other thing that immediately becomes apparent is the sheer size of the place. It is huge. From the outside, it appears small, even quaint. From street level, one cannot possibly understand just how large this building is, because so little of it faces the main entrance, but it is huge. You could probably fit my entire college campus in it. Seriously.

Glancing left, gives us a nicely framed view of Pei's Fountain Place, which was in no way, shape, or form an accident, though I would not dare to suggest this were in bad form. Every surrounding building of note is beautifully framed by the incredibly sound-resistant windows. Ah! Did I mention how quiet it is inside? Outside, the city noise is so loud one can hardly hear themselves think. Inside, nearly all noise vanishes. Enough so that footsteps may be heard clear across the otherwise quiet building...

...those footsteps being those of my lovely wife, who is framed by the view that I.M. Pei most loved about the place. Down the left-hand hallway, all the way in the back, is a little restaurant and a server-station at the far end. As far as jobs outside of the concert hall proper go, the most prestigious job is the head waitor who works at that wait station, for he or she has the best view of the entire place...even when my wife isn't standing there.

Heading back into the central lobby, a few features become more noticable, such as the large portholes, which I would have liked to know more about. I realize the photo cannot possibly do the size justice, but I'm pretty sure one could literally stand on the ledge and not have their head touch the top of the window.

Since I often find myself walking around staring at the ceiling these days, I noticed this really long, odd-looking bar stretching from one side of the massive inner arch to the other.

When I asked about it, Tom explained that the bar itself was actually a facade to hide the cables attaching the two ends of the arch. Because of the outward thrust that an arch exerts over time, the ceiling would eventually flatten and collapse. The cable keeps the opposite ends from expanding outward. In earlier days, a flying buttress or a heavier wall would be used, but they wanted as much space as possible.

This is, however, a good question about the aesthetic sensibilities of whomever developed this fix. At the absolute minimum, this bar should have been painted to match the roof, so it would blend in much easier. At best, it should have a proper fascade to match the limestone. But this stark, black support is the second ugliest thing in the place.

So what's the first ugliest?

See that little rusty pronged thingy in the middle of the photo? That's the ugliest thing. It was originally thought that additional support would be needed to keep the arches from collapsing over time, and that support would stem from this anchor point. However, it turned out not to be needed. So why was it left? Perhaps they thought they might one day need it, which is all well and good, so why wasn't it covered? Or painted? Or something?

Supposedly there was at one point in time going to be a large tapestry, or series of tapestries draped over the long black crossbar, but this never came to fruition.

I stand corrected. The ugliest thing in the building is actually, this guy standing in front of the Wall of Honor. But at least I leave at night. The rusty anchor doesn't. We have now headed to the right-hand side of the main lobby, and are looking at the large corner that goes downstairs. H. Ross Perot was the largest private donor, giving over $10 million of his own money to build the center. His stipulation was that it be named after his good friend Morton H. Meyerson. Since Meyerson had already been working on the center project, and was well liked by the arts community in general, this seemed like a perfectly rational suggestion, and so Meyerson became the name for this architectural masterwork.

The Wall of Honor is quite beautiful. Most places are content to engrave their donors in some half-hearted fashion on a brick or rock, or a plaque, and are stuck somewhere no one will ever find unless they look for it. Nothing of the sort here; the donor's list is quite the work of art. The materials are important to note, for their quality. The walls are made from Indiana limestone, cut horizontally (not vertically, as is the norm). The floors are highly polished Italian Travertine Tile. The white bannisters atop the limestone are white marble. What little concrete exists here and there to join these parts together is a special architectural blend that matches well with the rest of the colors and is hard to find, much less to notice. The lamp shells are Onyx.

And speaking of the lamps: the original design didn't even call for them. There were various empty spaces that needed something. Hence the birth of these lamps. But they were another unplanned upgrade. The Meyerson was 40% publicly funded, and 60% privately funded. And after construction had begun, and materials got upgraded (such as from brick to limestone), and the lamps got upgraded, and costs began to rise, that was about the time the oil-based economy of Dallas collapsed. At the time, oil was what kept Dallas afloat--not culture. But luckily for everyone involved, all donors involved saw the value, and the potential for what this meant. The Meyerson wasn't just to be a symphony center... it was to be a cultural icon. The sort of place that, decades, perhaps even centuries from now, humanity would look back on with awe and wonder in much the same way that we now look upon the Paris Opera House, or the Sydney Opera House, or Radio City Music Hall. It was the gateway through which Dallas passed from oil glutton to cultured patron of the arts. It was a very wise choice indeed.

Down the stairs the rest of the way is a much more functional, subdued space. Though still quite beautiful, it is much plainer, less expensively made than the floor above it. The reason is that this floor exists only as a space to move from Point A to Point B. To the far right (off-camera) is the parking garage I showed in the exterior photos. Ahead on the right, behind the column, is the box-office. On the left, way in the back, is the gift-shop. To the left (off camera) is the stairs leading up to the lobby. There is otherwise very little reason to be down here.

Back up, and continuing on towards the back, we see that even the desks maintain the same form, material, and quality as the rest of the building. This desk form is repeated at least three times throughout different places in the lobby area. I get the impression that the steel trash cans, much like the shiny matching steel hand rails of the stairs, were not originally part of the plan.

Finally we reach the far right-hand side of the lobby, and looking back, find the entrance has disappeared far off to the right, and in fact, so has the Wall of Honor. Straight ahead, you can just barely make out my wife sitting on a bench. Then let your eyes slowly drift up the photo. If this doesn't give you an idea of the scale of the place, nothing will.

Eventually I get around to heading up the stairs to see what's around, and immediately find the Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe nicely framed by the window. The whole idea of the building is to be a social field for the surrounding business community to enjoy the finer things in life. Including the site of their own buildings, many of which have won architectural awards as well. Dallas has an incredible number of these. In fact, commit this fact to memory:

Dallas will soon be the only city in the entire world to have Four Pritzker Prize winning buildings in one continuous block.

That's like having four Pulitzer Prize winners all come from the same neighborhood. I honestly never appreciated Dallas in this way before. The per capita number of award winning buildings is such that I cannot help but wonder if one day in the distant future people might look at Dallas architecture the same way that we currently look at Greco-Roman architecture.

On the left-hand side is one of "the razors," incredibly sharp-angled walls that are often photographed. I was more interested int he view the hallway provided.

Speaking of, the other side of the upper balcony gives a great view of "The Dallas Panels" by Ellsworth Kelly. Note how this is really the only color in the place aside from that green tree in Pei's spot. This is very much by design. Pei wanted the eye's attention drawn to the crowds of people. Remember, this was to be a social place. He wanted people's eyes to be looking at each other to find color, contrast, and interest, not the building.

But really, to someone like me, the building is the best part. Unless my wife is there, then she's the best part. But other than her, I'm usually more interested in the building itself rather than the people in it.

And now we proceed to Part 3, the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, and the inner sanctum!

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