Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Southlake Town Square

Southlake Town Square is at the forefront of a new architectural and urban planning movement in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I'm not even entirely certain what to call it, because it's such a new concept in this area. I will simply dub it the Town Square Revival Movement, because to be honest, it's not like this is an entirely new concept to civilization, it just hasn't been used in so long that it's a lot like the Romanesque Revival Movement in the late 19th century. Anyway, in case it hasn't officially been named yet, I call dibs on inventing the term. XD

Southlake is a very upscale community in the Mid-Cities area of the DFW Metroplex. It's the sort of place where the residents drive a Lexus, Infinity, BMW, or comparable luxury brand of car. Seriously. You know who is a resident and who is just passing through by the car they drive, and what condition it is in. The houses typically start at the $1.2 million mark, which for California or New York would be more like $6+ million. So if you're a penthouse pauper, I recommend Southlake to get a comparable style of living for about 20% of the price.

In the spirit of building community and commerce, Southlake has returned to the idea of building a very highly social town square around their new City Hall. It's 130 acres of mixed-use development, consisting of low-density commercial, plazas, parks, and skirted by medium-density residences (like town homes and luxury apartments). With most modern cities, the center of town is the most old, polluted, decrepit part. Southlake's goal is to turn this idea on its head, and make the center of town the most attractive area by sacrificing density for aesthetics. This Town Center effect makes it as much of a place to hang out and socialize with friends as it is to shop.

"What is your bidding, Psycho-Cow?"

Just in case you thought your eyes were playing tricks on you in the previous photograph, yes, that is a psychedelic cow in front of the town hall. These strangely painted cow statues are deposited all throughout Southlake and are known as the Southlake Stampede Longhorns. They add a whimsical touch to one of the most revered symbols of Texas, and are one of Southlake's own unique cultural contributions, similar to the CowParade Cows contest that goes on each year.

"Yipee kai yai yay, Psycho-Cow!"

This particular cow features a rather well-rendered painting of, appropriately enough, Southlake Town Center, with the Town Hall in the background, and the large event gazebo in the foreground.

The event gazebo provides a covered stage for performers on special events, like the Fourth of July. The fountain makes a great center to the area, and becomes prime real-estate for seating when attending crowded events on hot summer days.

The residences that skirt the town center are just a couple of blocks away. The furthest building back that you see in this photo is one of the luxury apartment buildings, with a serene, tree-lined walk right down the hill to one's choice of cafes. Though the area itself is very high-traffic, it is almost unnoticably so. Parking spaces are quite ample along the side of the street, and the only "lots" that exist are in hidden lots bordered by the backs of buildings, hiding the site of them from view. Because the town center is designed to be walked along and explored, one need not park directly in front of or beside their destination. The encouragement is to socialize with others, check out new stores, cafes, and enjoy the atmosphere.

As previously mentioned, it gets HOT outside. Often well in excess of 100F, and temperatures over 110 are not uncommon in our hottest months. Evaporative cooling systems outside some of the stores provide inexpensive and refreshing respite from the heat, as well as moisture for the plant life in the area. Locally they are known as "Swamp Coolers", even though "Desert Coolers" would probably be a lot more apropos. But if you're ever wandering Texas and someone mentions a Swamp Cooler, this is what they're talking about.

For the most part, the buildings try to stay vaguely thematic on each avenue. I say "vaguely," because as you can see there was a bit of disagreement over what type of columns or arches would be used for the colonnades in front of these shops. It is an interesting effect, however. The combination of all these different styles are united exactly by how they differ from one another. There is a feeling of both the modern and old world thrown together in a way that just seems to work. It's like "business casual" for buildings, providing enough of an air of sophistication that a nice date in formal attire could be spent wandering the restaurants and colonnades, but casual and different enough for people in a t-shirt and shorts to be comfortable shopping there as well.

Of course there are a few spaces where this breaks down a bit, but even at it's worst, the gaudy or out of place is often screened by the lush trees, and even when the uglier buildings are directly in front of you, the eye is immediately drawn to the more upscale buildings to the side of it.

One of the more unique features is the design of the street signs. They are clearly posted, clearly visible, with good contrast for reading the lettering at a distance, a lamp directly overhead to illuminate them at night, and a visually appealing aesthetic. They harken back to an age where signs were designed to be seen by people walking by at a slow pace, rather than driving through at high speed. Despite this, they remain clearly visible from inside the car. Poorly designed, maintained, and placed street signs are one of my biggest pet peeves when I encounter them, and it is rare when one actually impresses me as these do.

I feel like I saved the best for last in these photo. This plaza is one of the best-designed that I've seen in the DFW area, hands-down. Four free-standing porticos each use a trellis with lush, fragrant growth for shade. The placement of the columns, benches, the fountains, and the walks bordering it provide an excellent separation of space. Each encourages relaxation and idle conversation. Either end of the plaza is capped by a fine restaurant with patio seating, and the long edges are bordered by a walkway, then parking, the street, and then the stores. In this way, the stores themselves are available, but this plaza provides a refuge against the foot-traffic.

All in all, Southlake Town Center is an very well designed, laid-out, and built community. I sincerely hope this trend continues. Colleyville, another upscale city bordering Southlake, has already followed suit, and is currently in the process of building their own town center. I would love to see this trend continue in the smaller cities, as it is a beautiful, inexpensive treat to simply wander around and see the best of what each city has to offer in a casual outdoor atmosphere.

Tomorrow's post will feature the Southlake Town Hall itself.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Happened to Monday's Entry?

After such a great last couple of weeks I felt terrible about not getting Monday's entry out until 10pm. Each weekend I like to take the family out to a new location or three, and take as many photos as possible. Then, throughout the week, I'll organize them into separate entries and post them. Well, unfortunately, I smashed my toe up pretty bad early Saturday, which made walking around anywhere pretty much a wash that day. Sunday was already spoken for, so when Monday rolled around, I literally had not a single photo of my own to post. I figured, eh, I'll just do one of those stream of consciousness things, maybe type something up during the slow time at work. That's when I found out about the ant infestation at my desk.

Anyway, point being, we didn't get out to get any photos until tonight. So bear with me. I'll try and have Tuesday's entry up much earlier than today's, and by Wednesday we should be back on the usual 7:00 AM posting schedule again.

As for what this photo is, if anyone could tell me, I'd be curious to know. We just call them "Road Spiders" cause they always seem to be beside roads, and...er...they look kinda like spiders. But some of them have those four oil barrels on the pillars, some don't, and their use isn't entirely clear, though I strongly suspect it has something to do with paving roads with tar or something.

This week I'll be focusing on points of interest in the local Mid-Cities area.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Feature Interview: Archidose's John Hill

This Friday we have the honor of interviewing author, architect, and critic John Hill from what is perhaps the world's most popular architectural blog site A Daily Dose of Architecture which is nearing the 4.5 million mark on views. He also runs A Weekly Dose of Architecture and wiki-style architectural catalogue The Archi-Tourist. John comes to us from New York City, and some how in addition to all that, he is also currently curating a selection of lectures in and around New York City, along with select competitions and news articles.

BRANDON: John, thank you for joining us. Aside from being the most successful architectural blogger on the web, I see you are actually an Architect as well. Could you tell us a bit about your credentials? Where did you graduate from, are you RA and AIA, any other professional memberships?

JOHN: You're welcome, Brandon. It's my pleasure. I graduated from Kansas State University with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1996. From the following year until 2006 I worked for a large firm in Chicago, gaining Illinois licensure in that time. In '06 I moved to New York City to attend the Urban Design program at City College, graduating with a Masters in Urban Planning the following year. I worked in a small office after graduation until the end of last year. I'm not AIA at the moment, but was in the past when the pricey tab was picked up by my employer.

Lago Agrio project by John Hill

B: Urban Planning sounds pretty interesting. What exactly does it entail?

J: The City College program is for people with a professional degree, like a B.Arch, so it's not geared towards planning careers, per se. Many people from CCNY continue in architecture and landscape firms, incorporating urban design into their portfolios. The program is two semesters long with a design studio and three theory-based classes, be it history, anthropology, landscape ecology. It's more about learning how to think about the city, particularly in a well-rounded way that balances the natural and the manmade, than learning the tools for becoming a planner. There is no such thing as a Masters in Urban Design, so it's called a Masters in Urban Planning.

Lago Agrio project by John Hill

B: How expensive is AIA? I assume one has to subscribe to it annually. I've heard a lot about how it's not worth it by many, but a few say the jobs it gets them is worth it.

J: AIA membership increases each year, so the first year is pretty cheap and it close to doubles the next year, going up a smaller percentage each year after that until it levels at some point. My dues last year were approximately $700, paying for the national, state and local chapter. I was able to stay a member while in grad school, since the cost was waived. If I had my own firm I'd probably pay for it, since it would be a write-off and it might help bring in work, though I don't know how much the latter is the case in New York City.

Lago Agrio project by John Hill

B: Do you own your own firm? If so, what's the name and web site for it? If not, do you care to advertise your current employer?

J: No, I do not have my own office. At the moment I'm between jobs, as they say. Venturing out on my own is a possibility, but I haven't taken that plunge yet. I'm using this "free time" to do some freelance writing and undertake some projects that are an extension of what I do on my web pages. That's keeping me busy at the moment, while the economy straightens itself out.

Lago Agrio project by John Hill

B: Why did you decide to start blogging about architecture? What inspired you to keep at it for so long?

J: I started a weekly dose of architecture in 1999, when I was working at a place that did not look outside the firm's portfolio for precedents. That was something I enjoyed doing from undergrad; I'd head up to the library and flip through magazines and scan the stacks. What started as weekly sketches (a building, usually from a photo, accompanied by a description of what I could learn from it) ca. 1998 turned into the weekly web page when I realized that sharing what I was doing made sense. The name illustrated my wish to summarize things concisely and regularly. A daily dose of architecture followed five years later, when blogs were rising in popularity and a few friends of mine were starting their own. I planned on it being less formal than the projects and book reviews featured on my weekly page, with more critique and some lightweight fare thrown into the mix. My inspiration is my continued interest in looking at the work of architects, though instead of just magazines and book, web pages are the primary sources for this information today. Many blogs do it better than I do, but I try to bring a different perspective to things and to present projects and other things not "memed" on other sites.

Lago Agrio project by John Hill

B: About Daily Dose, almost five and a half million hits is pretty substantial. How well has that paid off in terms of money, contacts, and clients?

J: Advertising revenue pays for the server I use for my weekly page, to keep that one ad-free. (I started it on a site called Internet Trash, because it was the only free host at the time without banner ads. I realized this meant the server was sloooooooooow.) The ads not pay for much beyond maintaining the pages. I have many contacts from my years of posting on the web, be it architects, publishers, media outlets, PR folk, and other people doing what I do. Clients have been limited mainly to writing gigs, which I thoroughly enjoy. Once in Chicago somebody who liked my site paid me to meet him at a coffee shop and critique the design an architect made for his house. That was quite unique.

Lago Agrio project by John Hill

B: What have you found to be the most critical skill for someone to be successful as an Architect?

J: Being critical might be the best skill for success. An architect needs to be able to look at things, their work included, with a critical eye, in order to guide a project in the right direction. And given that an architect will eventually have people working below them, they need to be able to give those people a certain amount of freedom and then critically assess what they've done. Architects don't need to be micro-managing, hovering above their employees to make sure they're doing something a certain way. And with a certain amount of success comes the time constraints born of it: dealing with clients, trying to get clients, presenting projects, giving lectures, riding airplanes. Having good employees and knowing how to deal with them towards the best result is important.

Lago Agrio project by John Hill

B: Has being critical of a work every come back to haunt you? Like running into an architect whose building you gave a less than favorable review of?

J: I've had that happen with book reviews a few times, but since the buildings I tend to feature are ones that I like and want to share with other people, I'm usually not giving less than favorable reviews. That said I still occasionally rip on something I don't agree with and then have to defend my position in comments on the blog, but it rarely goes beyond that.

B: Given free reign on a project, what style of architecture would you most like to work with?

J: I subscribe to the idea that no single style should predominate when it comes to architecture. Given free reign, what would arise would be dependent on the numerous conditions of the project (site, program, budget, client, etc.). Likewise, my favorite architects do not have a signature style. Previously I would have said Renzo Piano is this idea's ideal, but lately he's been stuck in a formal rut of sorts, even though standouts like California Academy of Sciences remind people about his diversity. Peter Zumthor is another name that comes to mind. Try to find a stylistic thread in his work; it's close to impossible.

B: What sort architectural and design "features" by others tend to annoy you?

J: I'm annoyed by second-rate design features that appear well after their prime. One that comes to mind are those oversized, multi-story portals for frames that popped up on what seemed like every other building a few years ago, in many cases for no reason. A recent SOM building at Harvard (http://www.som.com/content.cfm/harvard_university_northwest_science_building) has a couple of them, "living rooms" above building entries. This is not a badly-designed example, with terraces for lounging, but it nevertheless reiterates my annoyance in this feature proliferating.

B: Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick Two.

J: Good and Cheap. Fast is a quality helpful to developers and other clients, not architecture.

B: What's your dream project? The one that you lay awake at night and envision one day having a benefactor to pay for it.

J: Dream projects come to me when I see a site, a particularly distinctive vacant lot somewhere, for example, and then think about what would be ideal on that (usually small) patch of land. One that comes to mind is a site next to Giddings Plaza in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood, where I lived for most of my ten years between undergrad and grad school. The standard lot (approx. 25x100') was a parking lot for a big-and-tall store next door. So basically a parking lot fronted the plaza, instead of a building like the opposite side. I thought it would be possible to preserve the parking spaces for the big and tall folks buying suits next door by raising an apartment building on pilotis. The spaces would be next to the plaza and would double as market stalls when the store was closed. In the early morning it could be a farmers market; late at night beer and other late-night stuff could be sold that would enliven the plaza. Since living in New York I've learned a typical and very boring condo building has been built on the parking lot. (http://www.fountainview-lincolnsquare.com/) Yea, it's got a green roof, but just about every other new project in the city has one.

B: What's the hardest compromise you've ever had to make on a project?

J: This example might not be the hardest, but it's the most memorable. For a condo high-rise in Chicago we sculpted the silhouette of the top in a manner that one area became an ideal shared rooftop terrace, with views of Lake Michigan for all residents, not just the penthouse units. This space was eventually filled in with a couple more units to maximize the profit for the developer. I fought (or at least complained) to keep it a commons area, but alas the developer won and that is how it was built. Even on a project like this one, I think that what is believed to be its most valuable component (rooftop view) should be shared by all who own part of the building, not just those who can afford it. The hard part is convincing a for-profit client to go along with that thinking and make less money in the short term. Perhaps the selling price of other units increases due to this shared amenity, making a wash of the loss?

B: Are there any vital tools and/or skills you can think of that they don't mention in school that are monumental in terms of time and/or money saved?

J: Saving time is not a product of technology, even though it's lauded as such. With every advance comes new problems that take up the time saved in the benefits of CAD, or BIM, or whatever will supplant BIM. Saving time is about knowing what is NOT necessary, what does NOT need to be drawn, detailed, written, etc. This is learned, but keeping this in mind helps when faced with a deadline. Realizing later that the detail one put into one area of a presentation drawing is not visible when printed, for example, really wakes one up to what's important. Focused on the technology at hand, in this case, can lead one to missing the point. Likewise, saving money is being critical of technology and figuring out what can be taken out of a project, such as oversized mechanical systems. I have a dream where one day we will live in a world without mechanical engineers. This might sound harsh and unrealistic, but why can't we achieve the heating/cooling/ventilation with architectural means? It's been done for thousands of years. But now that we have this phenomenal technology we're in a specialization rut that makes all these extra roles needed, even though they shouldn't be. I don't think saving money is about spec'ing cheap products; it's about having an overall picture of the project and knowing what can be eliminated or reduced at all levels. And remember what looks minimal takes a lot of effort and therefore $$.

B: What did you do with all your old architectural models from school? Did you keep them as reminders, or did you recycle them with each project? Or something else?

J: They're all gone, even the ones from my recent urban design studio. (I made a full-scale mock-up of a bamboo screen facade, and now I wish I kept it.) I donated one model in undergrad to the bookstore I worked at. They hung it from the ceiling as a way to mark the architecture section. I've never recycled the materials, though if I were in school now I might be doing that. Having taken plenty of photos of my models, I've never clung to the models themselves. This might also stem from my less than stellar craftsmanship. I love a well-crafted model, but I don't have the patience to build one.

B: Have you ever met or worked with any Starchitects, or other related celebrities, such as architectural photographer Julius Schulman?

J: Nope, not even close to doing that. I'd guess it's not as fun as it sounds, though working with somebody like Schulman would probably be more sane than a starchitect.

B: Do you have any parting words of advice for students pursuing a career in this field?

J: My only advice would be to make sure you really love architecture and its production before getting yourself into a lifetime of being paid below your worth, working long hours, and being particularly susceptible to economic lows. I would add that you should enjoy school while you're in it, as you won't have the same freedoms after graduation. And while later you might complain that school did not prepare you for the practicalities of working in a practice, that's what working in a practice is for, learning everything outside of design, theory, etc. School is a great chance to explore and experiment; take advantage of it.

B: How long are the hours, and how low is the pay compared to the cost of living?

J: In my experience the hours have always varied with deadlines, so for a few weeks I might have been putting in 12-hour days seven days a week, but then go back to 8-hour days five days a week for a month or so after. My last job had the benefit of very little overtime, helpful for a new father. When I was younger I could deal with getting home after midnight and being back at work first thing the next morning, day after day, but not anymore.

While the comparison of salary to house prices is not as valid in New York City (rentals are still very popular), if I take the same example, a 3-4BR in Park Slope, Brooklyn costs about $1.5 million, though in many cases much more. A licensed architect with 10 years can expect at least an $80,000 salary. That equates to about 5% of a house per year. I don't think I'm far off with that salary, though this does show how expensive NYC can be and why people rent here. It also shows why both heads of household need to work, and why if one is an architect the other needs to be a lawyer or some other high-paid white collar to be able to afford owning in the better 'hoods.

My contention that architects are underpaid is relative to professions like engineers that have much higher salaries. Part of this discrepancy is that an engineer's contribution is more quantifiable, for lack of a better term, while an architect's contribution is more vague, even though they both contribute to the end building, and they both have insurance and liability. The lack of understanding of what architects do and are capable of leads clients to pursue other avenues, making architects low-ball their fees and bringing with it lower salaries in the meantime. Not only do architects compete with each other for jobs, they compete with engineers, contractors and developers, anybody who can stamp drawings and obtain building permits.

B: Thank you again, John, I look forward to reading your next Dose.

John Hill's sites may be reached at the following URLs and are well worth the read:
http://archidose.blogspot.com (A Daily Dose of Architecture)
http://www.archidose.org (A Weekly Dose of Architecture)
http://architourist.pbworks.com (The Archi-Tourist)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lessons From Nature's Architects

Human hubris often gives the impression that great architecture is and was our idea. But animals have been pulling off architectural miracles hundreds of millions of years before humans decided to even build the first lean-to out of some fallen branches. In examining only a few natural feats of civil and structural engineering it only too often humiliates humanity's own humble efforts.

Everyone knows beavers build dams. Perhaps lesser-known is why. A beaver lodge, it's home, is a much like an igloo made of wood, mud, and rock, with the entrance underwater. The water surrounding the lodge serves as protective moat against the beaver's natural predators. But the pond in which a beaver builds his lodge often does not exist ahead of time, so the beaver builds a dam to divert enough water to a depression, fills it up, and then builds his lodge in the newly made pond. These dams are expertly crafted from nothing but wood, weeds, mud, and rock. The largest currently-known beaver dam is 850 meters or 2790 ft (over half a mile long), was probably built overnight, could be easily rebuilt overnight, and most likely beavers learned how to do this over 100 million years ago.

Irrigation techniques, dams (obviously), protective moats, amphibious habitat construction, hydrodynamics, use of a snow roof as an insulator.

Terraforming techniques. Beaver dams, and the ponds they create, have an immense potential to change the entire surrounding ecosystem, usually for the better. The wood that is chosen naturally by the beaver will more often than not truncheon (sprout) and form roots and trees that further enforce the dam and eventually form a permanent nigh-immovable part of the landscape. River salmon runs depend heavily on beaver ponds for their breeding pools. Rich farmland is created at the bottom of the ponds while at the same time excess nutrients and toxins are removed in the process. Denitrification helps recapture excess nitrogen in the atmosphere. Diverse biosystems for songbirds, frogs, toads, etc, are given a literal oasis of shelter, food, and water. Beavers have not only figured out how to terraform the land, often to nature's benefit, but do so without mechanized earth-movers, nanomolecular robots, or union labor. They do it with on-site materials, often overnight, and must live within the results of their labor.

The caddisfly larva creates a cocoon-like case around itself out of local materials as a combination of camouflage, protection, and as a means of seining water for food. In many cases, these cases are beautiful with intricate design. Unlike snails, they do not secrete their houses, but must assemble them bit by bit. Unlike hermit crabs, caddisfly larvae never outgrow their shells, but rather they build on to the outside of it as they grow larger, often creating a flared shape. The entire domicile is mobile, easily entered and exited, and achieves zenlike aesthetic that the caddisfly itself will never be able to appreciate.

Composite materials construction, camouflage, and mobile homes, use of the home as a method of obtaining food.

The same combination of the four that the caddisfly larva manages to achieve. Imagine the possibilities of a mobile infantry or even a planetary exploration vehicle that also serves as a home that can be easily crafted or repaired compositely from any local materials, is capable of being expanded upon when demand calls for it, is perfectly camouflaged, is mobile, and can be used to obtain food.

Web-spinning spiders polymerize one of the most amazing materials known to man. Strands of spider-silk are stronger than steel. It is estimated that a spiderweb woven with threads a pencil's width thick could stop a 747 travelling at full speed. The elasticity of the material allows it to stretch up to an incredible 40% before it breaks. It has amazing hygroscopic properties to keep it from drying out, yet is acidic, preventing bacterial and fungal growth. It is also edible, and its dernier value (the length at which a material will break under its own weight) is 5-8, compared to steel's paltry 3. In other words, you would need a length of spider-silk 45 to 72 kilometers long before it would break under its own weight. To top it off, the thickness of the strand is uniform across the web, and the precise distance measurements are based off of its own body size.

Suspension bridge construction, the strength of the Y and the arch, polymerization.

Advanced lightweight materials fabrication techniques. Certainly knowing how to make spider silk would be cool, but what would be even better is fully understanding the "how" of their formation, and how we can apply that knowledge to the creation of other, even more incredible materials. The advent of nanotechnology will almost certainly lead to this in time, and has already resulted in carbon nanotubes, which show amazing potential.

The social sparrow weaver creates enormous nests capable of housing 100-300 in a single colony. The nests are designed with long tubelike entrances from the bottom, and the thermal zone has a wide variance of ~15 degrees C from the outer edge to the inner edge. Made of different materials, in different layers, the nests are permanent structures, some lasting over 100 years or more. In the winter, the sparrows nest closer to the center, where shared body heat and the protection of layers insulates them from the harsh sub-zero temperatures. The structure itself saves the birds an estimated 7% of their body's energy in the winter--a critical amount when food is scarce. During the summer, to cool off, they move to the outer edges of the colony. Nests are chosen typically in high trees with smooth trunks and high branches. Telephone poles are in fact ideal for this. To compliment their gregarious lifestyle, weaver nests often house a variety of guests like falcons, owls, vultures, eagles, and finches.

Apartment quarters, cooperative living with other species, long-term urban planning.

More communal architectural techniques. Our basic apartment complex has changed little in the last few thousand years, and those who had different or unique ideas were quickly lost to the extremely overused and "blocks and courtyards" method of dense residential housing. The need for privacy, combined with the need for efficiency of space, is a battle that is continuously being fought between architects and developers. Profit typically wins in the end, though quality of living at a lower cost should be the true litmus test of a good "apartment". If we could figure out how to get an apartment complex to have the same sense of community as a suburban neighborhood, with the energy and space efficiency of a high-rise, the capability of housing guests, and an energy efficiency that far outstrips the cheap construction methods used for most apartments, then humanity will have made the next--and arguably most necessary--leap forward in housing.

Bees practically invented compartmentalization. Using their own body as the unit of measurement, and the honeycomb shape as the most efficient use of space, bees have created multi-use compartments that can be used to live in, store food, raise young, process materials, and enact social structure. The hexagonal shape tiles the plane with minimal surface area, using the least amount of material necessary to divide space uniformly from wall to wall. The shape of the honeycomb is so perfect that master masons use it in their symbology.
Extremely low-budget housing construction. In some countries, the honeycomb shape is used to stack more coin-op "coffin beds" (think of a hotel room the size of a coffin), and in Slovenia there is already a low-budget housing project based off the honeycomb shape.

More uses for the honeycomb structure. Honeycomb architecture is being actively researched. Engineers, architects, and designers are scrambling to fully realize the modern possibilities of this shape, from the nano-molecular to the macro mega-structural scale.

Individually, ants are barely a step up from a virus. They are so stupid that ants will play tug of war with a twig for months on end, with none of them being aware the others are pushing or pulling. They are so stupid that a live ant coated with oleic acid will be repeatedly picked up and moved to the "ant graveyard" despite wriggling and protests. They are barely aware of one another's presence, and seem more like pre-programmed chemically-based stimulus response organisms than an actual life form. And yet, collectively, ants achieve some of the most brilliant feats of civil engineering, public works, and architecture that the world has ever seen. And thanks to a very little understood science called emergence, we have only barely come to realize it's by some strange combination of accident and repetition. Thanks to recent advances in ant bed research, we are only just now finding out how very neat and organized these nests appear to be, which lends only more questions to the already growing pile.

Hallways, traffic control measures, production lines, specialization.

Emergence theory. Swerve theory. Collective intelligence. Hive minds. These are already being investigated, but not yet fully understood, but it appears to happen all over nature, and even amongst cities. The idea is that if every organism's direction is purely randomly based, that eventually one organism will experience a positive event at a specific location, as opposed to a negative event or a non-event elsewhere. This positive event will then be experienced by another organism, and another, and another, while the other non-event and negative-event locations experience less traffic. The result is that a major thorofare develops between "home" and the "positive event". Similarly, the collective average guess of a crowd will--the vast majority of the time--be more accurate than the guess of any one individual in the crowd. Contrary to all popular belief, the larger the crowd, the more intelligent it appears to become, on average, on accident. The ability to apply detailed knowledge of this to architecture, urban planning, and traffic would allow for a complete revolution in the way cities are designed, how landscaping is handled, and how all are connected to one another.

If we can somehow manage to learn even a fraction of what nature has left to teach us, we can expand the horizons of habitability to new levels. As human population levels continue to increase and the Earth approaches the nigh-inevitable 10 billion count, we can no longer rely on tradition, aesthetics, and the assumption that only the future holds the solution. In many cases, the solutions to housing the world are all around us, we merely need to stop long enough to discover and appreciate them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

E. Fay Jones: Marty Leonard Chapel (Interior)

(All rights reserved 2009) The following photos are all my own work, but are free for non-commercial use so long as I am credited. Larger, uncropped, higher resolution images are available upon request. Please contact me if you have a desire to use them in any commercial work.

In part two of this week's main photo spread, we explore the interior of E. Fay Jone's "Marty Leonard Chapel" and witness the sublime beauty within. If you have not yet seen the exterior photos of the chapel, please see Part One of this spread by clicking here.

As one steps through the door of the Marty Leonard Chapel, there is an ever present aura of peace and light. The glass ceiling and crossbeams overhead illuminates the floor with a light grid all the way from the nave to the bema. The saltire "X" pattern is used to great effect in nearly every glassed area of the chapel, the exception being the slanted casings shown in yesterday's exterior footage. From within, at this angle, the slanted window casings give each side a complimentary column of half-chevrons made of light. The effect of the concentrated light is unmistakable: the focus should be upon those who walk up or down the aisle, and those who stand before it. Though the congregation is certainly not left in darkness, their presence is quietly muted from eyesight.

This is achieved through an extremely intricate pattern of crossing saltire beams in the vault. Rather than using arches, Jones has supported the weight of the ceiling through an incredible number of precisely placed triangles which from one angle appear organic and chaotic...

...and yet from another angle, snap into orderly patterns that mesmerize and crystallize. The subtext of finding order in chaos, of patterns in nature, and the sanctity of space.

As the crossing is approached, the transepts are beautifully realized, and yet remain far enough off to the side that they are hidden from view except for those actively looking at them. The power of the "light grid" on the floor is such that the eye wishes to look at the altar, not those sitting to the far left and right of it.

The corner of the transepts use a great deal of indirect lighting to counteract the contrasting darkness of being outside the nave. One way this is achieved without drawing attention to either side is by turning the corners into long windows with the slanted panes seen earlier. Then, a subtle brick column in front lends depth as well as a block against the direct light. The space also creates a quiet spot for an usher to wait comfortably, or perhaps for a congregant to unobtrusively move from the nave to the transept, blocked from view by both.

Past the crossing, upon the bema, looking forward towards the nave, the officiant is treated to nearly as beautiful a sight, with the slanted window casings creating full chevrons to either side just before the transepts begin. And if one looks upward from this angle...

...the most beautiful, illuminated view of the vault is seen. Again, the symbolism of the layout and position of the sun cannot be lost. From the congregation's point of view, the focus is on the officiant and the altar. From the officiant's point of view, the focus is on the heavens. It stands to reason that one who devotes their life to their god would have a better view of the heavenly demesne.

Much like Frank Lloyd Wright, E. Fay Jones designed every aspect of the building, down to the even the light fixtures. This theme for the light fixture remains consistent throughout most of the chapel, and is used to great effect as an object of beauty, light, and shadow.

To either side of the balcony is a pair of windows that carries another very thematic shape through the structure. On the house left, pictured above, is a tiny sound and lighting booth where tech crew can keep an eye on the house to catch their cues.

On the house right, the window helps to illuminate a stairwell leading up to the balcony.

The door frames leading to the balcony are a great counterpoint to the windows, while at the same time being vaguely recognizable as a religious shape, without being specific enough to decide what kind.

The view from the balcony is incredible, even more colorful than the view from the primary level.

Even the tiny stairwell leading up to the sound and lighting booth, is planned with great care to provide the utmost aesthetic quality, while at the same time providing ample light to see by.

From the sound and lighting booth, yet another perspective on the ceiling helps one to appreciate just how intricate a work of art it is.

The Marty Leonard Community Chapel
provides a serene setting where the
youth of Lena Pope Home can give and
receive acceptance and forgiveness,
develop character, understand the
unexplainable, accept the unaccept-
-able, forgive the unforgivable, de-
velop and refine a moral values
system, and seek peace and a new

The Chapel provides a peaceful place
where the youth can let down their
walls and where they can surrender
and relinquish control of their lives
to a higher power that will not aban-
don them, will not abuse them, will not
judge them, but will love them no mat-
ter what, and forever.

This interfaith chapel provides an
uplifting environment that inspires
people to think their highest and best
thoughts. It is a place for worship, in-
spiration, prayer, guidance, celebra-
tion, joy, meditation, hope, relaxation,
research, education, music, and spiri-
tual enrichment.
Mission Statement

The office on the lower level even has a desk and trash cans designed by Jones as a part of its furnishings.

The reception hall within is modest, unassuming, and elegant in its simplicity. Indirect lighting above gives a soft, relaxing light. To the left are three photos of the Thorncrown Chapel, also designed by E. Fay Jones.

Lastly, the exit leading to the ambulatory is well-shaded, designed such that the mind is focused, and given a sense of purpose before leaving the sanctuary within. All around, The Chapel is probably one of the most beautiful works of architecture in Fort Worth, Texas, and is made even more so for me in that my wife and I were married here three years ago. I would heartily recommend this site for any ceremony, for its beauty, convenience, and friendly staff.

If you have not yet seen the exterior photos of The Chapel, please see yesterday's blog entry for the first half of the photo session.

Special thanks to the staff at Marty Leonard Chapel for the tour, warm welcome, and tolerance of my countless photographs. Anyone wishing to know more about The Chapel can visit their website at http://www.martyleonardchapel.org

My Shelfari Bookshelf

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog