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Entries in architecture (73)

Tuesday
Apr092013

Texaco: an early case of corporate identity

Texaco Service Station, 1939

Walter Dorwin Teague, the designer of the Kodak brand from logo to cameras to stores, was commissioned in 1937 by Texaco to design a corporate identity that included a standard gas station.  Texaco sold gas in each state of the USA, unique evidently, as well as throughout Canada.  Teague had gone to Europe in the late 1920s, seen Corbusian modernism and brought it home.  The Texaco Service Station was a clean, white vitreous enamel-panelled box with a canopy.  Three green bands tie the canopy to the box, red stars are affixed above this dado, the T of Texaco sits in the red star of Texas.  The stations are like three-dimensional line drawings, delicate, much like the vitreous enamel panels – the material of pots and pans, strangely durable and at the same time fragile if in the wrong place.
 
Because of the clarity of these stations, they sit in their landscapes much as Arne Jacobsen's station did: a precise bit of industrial sculpture.  20,000 were built between 1940 and 1960.  They linger, these white stations, although the company is gone from public view, as have gas stations: they are now, generally, self-serve pumps attached to convenience stores, part of an invisible, banal service landscape.  The Teague Texaco station in this neighbourhood, closed as a gas station in the late 70s, sold computer parts for a long time and now is used, by someone, for storage.  The wide plate glass windows are full of cardboard boxes.  

This image isn't the one in my neighbourhood, it is somewhere in New York I think, but no matter, they were all the same. 

Walter Dorwin Teague Texaco Service Station in a state of advanced decline.

Monday
Apr082013

Arne Jacobsen: Skovshoved gas station

Arne Jacobsen. Texaco Station, Copenhagen, 1936

Drawn in 1936, actually built, and now preserved as a museum. There is a quality to this drawing much like early Disney films, or George Herriman's drawings: so much space, such sunny landscapes, just three years before the start of WWII. 

Just had a look at Texaco's timeline.  It started as a company that shipped heavy crude and was already in Antwerp by 1905, shortly after it was founded in Beaumont Texas in 1901.  In 1936 it was supplying oil to the Nationalists in Spain and continued to do that throughout the civil war. It also joined forces with Standard Oil/Chevron in 1936 – using its Bahrain oil fields and refineries, to market throughout Asia and Africa.  In 1940 Texaco's chief was forced to resign over his connections with the Nazi Party after his support of the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War became public. 

In the 1950s and 60s, Texaco put on a public charm offensive with the jingle that told us 'you can trust your car to the man who wears the star'. For many of us, the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturday afternoons were just part of the landscape of each week.  That's the thing with oil, it flows everywhere.

 

Friday
Apr052013

Rapid 84: Cerritos, California

Kevin Oreck Architect. Rapid 84 for United Oil, Cerritos,California 2012

United Oil owns about 100 gas stations, leased to Chevron, Conoco 76, Shell and Arco.  This Chevron station in Cerritos, California was designed by Los Angeles architect, Kevin Oreck.

The canopy over the pumps is covered in double-faced solar panels which use reflected light from the ground as well as direct light from above.  The convenience store is a beautiful thing.  Here is the architect's description:  This gas station consists of a custom-designed steel canopy structure over the pumps that support clear glass solar panels that will supply the electricity needs of the station. The triangular convenience store is faced with strips of folded glass, reminiscent of cascading water, that terminate in reflecting pools. A generous portion of the site will be covered with drought-resistant landscaping.
The Fine Arts and Historical Commission of Cerritos voted to consider the convenience store public art.
 Landscape Design: Schwentker-Watts Design
Photography: Fred Licht


This is, perhaps, what branding should become: no more signs, local knowledge, recognition by beautiful architecture alone. I only think this, because of its absence.  

Thursday
Apr042013

United Oil gas stations

Kanner Architects, United Oil Gas Station, Los Angeles, 2009

United Oil, Carson, California.  Jeff Appel, CEO, loves architecture and has been commissioning architects to do spectacular gas stations, including this one, by Kanner Architects.  United Oil stations are clean, beautiful and the gas is on average cheaper than other stations.  This one, on Slauson and La Brea cost $7 million; usually a gas station, car wash and convenience store is about $2+ million.  So there is a strategy: load money into the front end, make a statement, build the brand and sell the product cheaply, breaking even on volume. For us, we get to look at something quite neat, we get to be in a bit of clever architecture while doing a very mundane and repetitive task.

Gas stations in general, not a good thing, of course they should all be re-charging stations.

As architecture, not sure if this is an ode to the glamorous 1950s when it was all starships, space and the future, when gas was 10 cents a gallon and the environment was where you went to go camping.  If so, not sure this needs valorisation.  Or it might be a paean to the optimism of early modernism that by the 1950s had made it down, so democratically, to diners, gas stations and motels.  

To build this way in 2009 is to signal something about the past, in the guise of the future. As a comparison, I live in a city that in its ordinary byways and highways is so exceptionally dreary that it is painful. Architecture here, outside a few projects found in magazines, has become simply a service industry: conventional, not cheap but cheap-looking, utilitarian, no delight. It isn't signalling anything than one can actually critique except at the most functional level, such as should we have gas stations at all.  Perhaps LA, the city of dreams and whizzy gas stations, is all botox and blonde hair, but it acts on its dreams.  It actually seems to have dreams. 

I'm not sure that the old binary that good architecture only comes from totalitarian systems, that social democracies never produce much that is 'exciting' – a discussion that horrifyingly is still alive, especially when discussing places such as Dubai, has any validity at all. Architecture can't just be the tag for exceptional buildings and large projects.  The everyday environment – going to the store, the library, the gas station, the bank –if there is no loveliness here, then architecture has failed, no matter what the political or economic system in place. 

Tuesday
Dec042012

on being brutal

Long & MacMillan Architects. Calgary Centennial Planetarium, 1966. Here, shown in 2009, during the construction of a new LRT line that sliced through the site. Stephen Barnecut photograph.

This past few weeks investigation into concrete started when I was asked why Calgary is over-represented by brutalist architecture.  This came as a surprise, as it hadn't occurred to me that it was, and I wondered why this very particular term was all of a sudden in common parlance.  As Adrian Forty mentioned, concrete can arouse great antipathy, and brutalism seems a fitting epithet.  

We do have a lot of semi-civic buildings done in the early 1960s for education boards, the library, the YMCA, a police station, a remand centre (torn down last year) which sit like dark suspicious toads at the east side of downtown.  Late 1950s / early 60s Calgary commercial towers, lovely office buildings of enamelled spandrel panels and opening clear glass windows, had none of the brooding qualities of the institutional architecture built at the same time. 

What were they brooding over?  Probably the threat of civil unrest that so dominated the United States at the time.  The concrete Calgary Board of Education Building is a version of the concrete Boston City Hall, which itself was a version of Le Corbusier's concrete La Tourette, a monastery for retreat and isolation, not qualities useful for either a city hall or an education administration building.  The line of influence from Paul Rudolph et al to Calgary came with the first oil boom.

Did we have civil unrest?  no.  Were we under threat from the USSR?  only geographically, as at the time everyone thought a US/USSR war would be fought over northern Canada.  Was the oil industry worried?  clearly not.  It built vulnerable, glassy, curtain wall towers, and still does.  

Our best building from the era was Long & MacMillan's Centennial Planetarium: a great eruption of roughly-poured concrete that looked as if the geologic substrata had cracked open the grassy prairie. It was topped with a moon-like dome that did all the stars and space stuff.  When space was no longer magical, it became the Telus Science Centre, which has since moved elsewhere.  The building might now become a city art gallery.  Somehow its architecture has become completely marooned, both formally, physically and conceptually.

Friday
Nov302012

Adrian Forty: the metaphysics of concrete (21 Feb 2012) 

For when you have 40 minutes, here is one of University College London's lunchtime lectures:

from the YouTube posting:

'Uploaded by on 27 Feb 2012

Professor Adrian Forty (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)

Almost three tons of concrete are produced every year for each man, woman and child on the planet. It is now second only to water in terms of human consumption. Yet how has the astonishing take-up of this new medium within little over a century been accommodated into our mental universe? While it has transformed the lives of many people, in Western countries it has been widely vilified, blamed for making everywhere look the same, and for erasing nature. Architects and engineers, although they have primary responsibility for 'interpreting' concrete, are not the only people to employ the medium, and many other occupations - politicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, churchmen - have made use of concrete for purposes of their own. The results are often contentious, and draw attention to the contradictions present in how we think about our physical surroundings.'

 

Wednesday
Oct312012

Lebbeus Woods: May 31, 1940 – October 30, 2012

No one as influential to my generation as Lebbeus Woods.  He did not build, he drew, he thought, he continually shifted, like light and shadow, through the space of architecture. 

Lebbeus Woods, an imagined wall that would protect Bosnia where others failed.

'The wall would be built very high, with a vast labyrinth of interlocking interior spaces, creating a structurally indeterminate system that would be extremely difficult to bring down by demolition charges or artillery fire. Tanks and mobile artillery could not be brought through the wall. Foot soldiers could not climb over the wall in large numbers, but would have to go through it. Once inside, they would become lost. Many would not be able to escape. They would either die, or, as it were, move in, inhabiting the spaces, even forming communities. Local farmers from the Bosnian side, could arrange to supply food and water, on a sale or barter basis. In time, they would move in, too, to be close to their market. Families would be living together. The wall would become a city.'

War and Architecture

Wednesday
Jun272012

aesthetics / anesthetics at Storefront

Aesthetics / Anesthetics. Storefront for Art & Architecture, New York

on birds, axonometries, children, green, comics and 30 Storefronts
June 27 - July 28, 2012

What is it that an architectural drawing does and how does it do it? How can we distill beauty from cosmetics? How can new modes of representation produce new architectures and new sensibilities? 

Aesthetics/Anesthetics is an exhibition about architectural drawings.

The above is from the press release.  There is a clever gif halfway down the Aesthetics / Anesthetics page on the Storefront site.

Frida Escobedo is part of this exhibition.  On Site, early early on, maybe issue 5 or 6, published two houses by Perro Rojo, which was Frida Escobedo and Alejandro Alarcon at the time.  Young Mexican architects, like Canadian ones, do some very interesting early work, then go off to the GSD or Yale and hook into The Young Architects Forum, Storefront.  Escobedo is in the Mexican pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year.  There is a kind of new internationalised trajectory for critical practices that are rooted in their own countries and participate in a slate of venues that really have no specifically cultural location, other than their culture of diversity.

Monday
May072012

oil in Khanty-Mansiysk

Erick van Egeraat. Chess and Billiard Club, 2008. Khanty-Mansiysk, RussiaKhanty-Mansiysk is something like the Calgary of Siberia: a glossy oil city.  Erick van Egeraat was one of the founders of Mecanoo, and now has one of those globalised practices with offices in Rotterdam, London, Moscow,  Budapest and Prague.  The Chess and Billiard club building was commissioned by the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Region in 2008, and underwritten by Gazprom.  It isn't large, just 8000 m2, but it is special, built for the 2010 Chess Olympiad.  On van Egeraat's website he says that Khanty-Mansiysk 'understood the need to deliver signature buildings that underline the prosperous state the city is in'.  

I've recently been writing about Calgary, which has Foster's behemothic Bow Building as evidence of its prosperous state, and an enormously expensive Calatrava bridge.  Sometimes one wishes that the prosperity was spread about a bit, in small projects such as chess clubs, throughout the city.

Friday
Feb032012

Alesia II

 

Bernard Tschumi. Alesia Museum, Burgundy, France, 2011.

This Tschumi drawing of Alesia looks like a Roman bracelet flung onto the ground a long time ago, grass and weeds growing through it.  There is something about this project that keeps raising these images of decorative precious adornments.

Bracelets, Roman Britain, buried in the 5th century AD, now in the British Museum. 
Found at Hoxne, Suffolk in 1992. Alongside approximately 15,000 coins were many other precious objects, buried for safety at a time when Britain was passing out of Roman control.

Monday
Jan302012

Tschumi's Alesia

Bernard Tschumi Architects. Alesia Museum, Burgundy, France 2011

Bernard Tschumi's interpretive centre for the battle of Alesia, 52 BC, where Julius Caesar's army surrounded Vercingetorix's Gauls: the site, in Burgundy, has this building referencing Roman wood fortifications, and will eventually have a second stone building up a hill, referencing the besieged Gauls. 

The battle was actually a long freeze: Caesar's troops circled the base of the plateau with 18km of 4m high fortifications, blockading the garrison of 80,000 soldiers at the top.  Vercassivellaunus, Vercingetorix's cousin attacked the Roman fortifications with 60,000 men, but Caesar's forces held the line.  Aside from the delight in typing the wonderful names of the Gauls, it occurs to me that these were very large armies, in modern terms the size of the Canadian Forces in total.

Caesar's eventual victory marked the end of Celtic power in what is now the territory from France and Belgium to northern Italy.

The exterior screen of Tschumi's Alesia museum is wood, the shape and pattern bring to mind the Greek key meander tiara of Alice of Battenburg: there is something both victorious and celebratory about this circlet sitting on the Burgundian plains.  Its pattern puts the screen into motion, it dazzles.  


Tiara of Princess Alice of Battenburg, circa 1903, her marriage to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark.

From their fortress the Gauls could see the Roman encirclement, which would have been nothing as solid as this single-point museum, thus the museum roof has been turfed as a displaced ground plane to indicate the original view from the Gallic heights. 
The roof planted with trees and shrubs is also a reminder of helmets with leaves and branches stuck into a netted cover as camouflage: a military strategy as old as war and still in use.

Image from from the Axis Reenactment Forum, where hot battles rage over reenactments that put Italians into German camo and vice versa

Thursday
Nov172011

scaffold skins

Todd Architects and Civic Arts/Eric R Kuhne. Titanic Belfast section, 2010

Found the steel plate in a section of Titanic Belfast.  Ships, the sea, icebergs: lots to work with here.  In the 1970s going by ship was still the cheapest way to cross the Atlantic.  The last crossings were made by the Baltic Steamship Company, with the MS Alexandr Pushkin in 1980 and Polish Ocean Lines' MS Stefan Batory in 1988.  They were wonderful boats, very soviet, classless but strict social divisions between crew and passengers.  The ships clanked, food and wine was plentiful, one showered in salt water.  

Below is part of Titanic Belfast in construction.  The scaffolding sits lightly, almost a shimmer on the surface, a different system from the building envelope, but that hovers just inches away from that envelope.  There is a romance in this too: scaffolding is the sign of the hand, as it is there for construction workers who are literally hand-making the building.  Scaffold shows; the finished building is smooth and silent when the scaffolding comes down, finished.  Scaffolding is evidence of the process of building – an exciting thing.

Titanic Belfast in construction. Architects' Journal, 9 August 2011

Wednesday
Nov162011

hubris titanicus

Adding the cladding. Todd Architects and Civic Arts/Eric R Kuhne, Titanic Belfast, 2011

Wreaking triumph out of disaster.  From Todd Architects' description of the Titanic museum:

Titanic Belfast, the iconic centrepiece of the Titanic Quarter regeneration – 75 acres of waterfront to the south side of the River Lagan and adjacent to Belfast city centre. Designed with leading international practice Civic Arts/ Eric R Kuhne & Associates it is a multi–functional world–class tourism and leisure attraction, housed within a dramatic sculptural form, overlooking the birthplace of the world famous ship ‘Titanic’. With financial backing from government and Belfast City Council completion is targeted for the first quarter of 2012, to coincide with the centenary of the launch.

Oh, why not.  Valourise the iceberg that knocked the Titanic to pieces. 

What sort of narrative is going on here with the architecture?  Of course an iceberg offers a more contemporary museum-buildings-as-dramatic-sculpture look than piles of rusty steel plate, but isn't the whole Titanic brand a bit tainted?  a bit emblematic of a doomed over-confidence?  The 'world famous ship Titanic' was only world famous because it sank.  Its sister ship, Olympic, ploughed the seas in dazzle paint throughout WWI, and continued as a working ocean liner until 1935, but didn't sink and isn't famous.

It has its fans though:

Thursday
Oct132011

1024, Les Grandes Tables de L’île

Île Seguin, Paris, temporary garden and cafe on the site of a pending Jean Nouvel project.  Plywood box lodged in a scaffold covered in greenhouse panels.  Inside looks like a lunchroom on a construction site.  This being France, they have a brilliant chef, and this being 1024, the building extends itself at night with an array of video and lighting projections. 

1024 have this to say about perennial buildings, which this cafe is not – sitting so lightly on the land, dismountable and untraceable: 'As architects expected to build for eternity we found that the rules and limits of perennial projects are so far-fetched that they often limit possibilities and creativity. The fleeting dimension of our projects allows us to be liberated and open to larger and more stimulating grounds for expression and freedom'.

Instead, 'we use many simple, raw and standardised materials, most often from the world of construction or linked to industrialisation, transport, or packing processes. Scaffolding, containers, timber framework, pallets, nets from sites and thermo retractable plastic (used for mass packaging or in asbestos removal projects)... are found in our 'catalogue' of favoured materials. As for our favoured technology, obviously video projection and more specifically mapping, which consists of projecting directly onto a three-dimensional volume rather than a flat screen, but we are sensitive to all products which generate light, from LEDs and lasers to simple construction site neon tubes'.

Thursday
Sep292011

Hal Foster on the Shard

But what does it mean?

Hal Foster, who recently wrote The Art-Architecture Complex, talks about Renzo Piano's Shard, a blindingly tall building next to London Bridge station.  It is a post 9/11 tower, cognisant of the National Institute Standards and Technology report into the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers.

That it might be used as a wayfaring marker to orient one's way through the city is such a weak point: this is the language of marketting and branding. London is so dense and its mega-buildings with nicknames so relatively new, one wonders how anyone found their way to work over the last 500 years.

Tuesday
Aug092011

Fred Scott: re-using buildings

This is the accompanying image to a short text by Fred Scott on architectural recycling.

Oh Italy.

Scott's 2008 book, On Altering Architecture, (reviewed here by Graeme Brooker) takes interior work as the re-occupation of the architectural frame, adjusting the frame, bending a new programme to fit – a real act of spatial and material collaboration where neither the architecture is ascendant, nor is the activity within it, with all its clutter, subordinate.  

Of course this presumes that we have architecture, and the various programmes that are fitted into it over time have some sort of spatial identity.  I've been rather swamped lately with images of 3 story office park buildings where all that changes is the — well, nothing really changes much from one to the other.  The same goes for the inside.  It is all very inexpensive great grand-daughter of burolandschaft – tan if it is a middle of the road installation, grey if it is slightly cooler.  

Scott's re-use and re-occupation is a much more active, passionate, flinty relationship than unthinking co-habitation.  With no such thing as pure architecture, unless as a drawing or a model in a vitrine, the reality that all buildings live in a conflicted world of conflicted people in identity struggles with each other and their environments simply has to be acknowledged.  If this was considered our starting point, messy as it is, we would have much different architecture. 

Thursday
Aug042011

Italian Pavilion at Expo 67

 

model of the Italian Pavilion, Expo 67. Leonardo Ricci and Leonardo Savioli, architects

The wing-like roof of the Italian Pavilion at Expo 67 hovers over some very Italian béton-brut mass.  Ricci and Savioli, neither of whom were young in 1967, had a history of northern Italian concrete work.  Working in Florence, Savioli's Villa Bayon, 1963-67, slightly akin to Scarpa, and Ricci's earlier house and studio of 1952-62 indicate that era of postwar sculptural concrete that both anchored and jutted out from Superstudio's Continuous Monument of 1969, drawn just a couple of years after Expo 67.

Marino Zuccheri did an electronic piece for this pavilion, PareteUmberto Eco, who worked at RAI Milan, wrote of the time at RAI when Zuccheri was a sound engineer there: Illustrious figures in the history of contemporary music arrived there with State grants; but after many months, they still couldn’t figure out how to handle the machines. Then Marino (who, working with Berio and Maderna, had become a wizard), started mixing tapes and producing electronic sounds: that is why some of the compositions now being performed all over the world are by Marino Zuccheri. 

So that is how one becomes famous.  One must be a wizard.  Nonetheless, some parts of the Italian Pavilion must have been pretty exotic, architecturally and culturally. 

Italian Pavilion roof. Bill Dutfield, photographerThe roof of the pavilion has some of the erasure of Continuous Monument, 1969 – there are so many references here: the absolute space of Italian neo-rationalism, the clarity of postwar Italian industrial design – however officially these three roof sculptures were meant to stand for 'Tradition, Customs and Progress', something which means absolutely nothing today. Pomodoro did many Sfera con sfera (spheres within spheres) like the large bronze globe on the roof.  They are evidently everywhere.  

Meanwhile back in Italy, arte povera, developing alongside the 1967-8 political upheavals all over Europe, was diametrically opposed to the pomposity of both Pomodoro's worlds within worlds and the white abstract roof plane with history sitting like a little wedding cake at one end.  I must say my heart has always been with arte povera, rather than what went before it, and certainly not what followed with the decorative, apolitical excesses of Memphis.

The pavilion looks not bad though, in this construction photo, compared to the stylistic rubble all around it. 

Expo 67 site in construction. Italian Pavilion in the foreground, 1966.

Tuesday
Aug022011

USSR Pavilion at Expo 67

John Newcomb sent a note to the mention I made a while ago to Frédéric Chaubin's book on late Soviet architecture, saying ' one of the more interesting pieces of orphaned USSR architecture in North America is the USSR Pavilion at Expo 67', which indeed it is:

model of the USSR Pavilion, Expo 67, Montreal.

In the name of Man, for the good of Man. USSR Pavilion at Expo 67. photo: National Archives of Canada

Looking at all the Expo 67 pavilions on an Expo photo-collection site, the USSR pavilion has worn very, very well.  Not in place of course, it was removed at the end of Expo and rebuilt in the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, a permanent trade show site in Moscow.  

This exhibition site has a nice history of names: 1935 it was the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition.  Renovated after the war, by 1959 it was called the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy with engineering, space, atomic energy, culture, education and radioelectronics pavilions.  It was renamed in 1992 as the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, a flat name without any of the glory and exuberance of the soviet era.  This is what globalisation does for us, it removes hubris and pride and makes everything a bit humdrum.   Not unlike Edmonton changing its historic summer exhibition, Klondike Days, to Capital-X, something that sounds as if it is a mutual fund.  However, I digress.

At the time the iconic Expo pavilion was the USA geodesic dome, designed by Fuller, with the monorail shooting through it.  There is something Sant'Elia-ish about elevated trains cutting though buildings at high levels, and the massive geodesic dome creating a controlled environment still appears in apocalyptic survival visions of earth when we've run out of air and water; neither are pleasant references. 

I know it is a kind of cheat to show buildings in construction as they are inevitably much more beautiful than when finished, but the USSR pavilion in construction is the perfect diagram of an optimistic transparency which, growing up in the lee of American paranoia, we never were able to acknowledge.

The USSR pavilion in construction. Montreal, 1966. photo: Bill Dutfield

Friday
Jul082011

Greg Barton: Sir John Soane's Venetian Cabinet

Thursday
Jun232011

delicate landscapes

Georg Gerster. Orchard in Jordan, 2004

Clifford Wiens, grand old man of Saskatchewan modernist architecture, did a campsite on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Maple Creek, that looked like this orchard.  I stayed in it in the mid-80s and all the trees were thin and weedy, indigenous species such as poplar and aspen, saskatoons and willows.  The layout was like a miniature version of the Dominion Grid, each camp site a section.  It was enchanting, so deeply rooted in a historic organisation of land, so proud of prairie trees that flutter in the relentless wind, so very orderly and in its way, unsentimental about what is needed when one pulls off the highway after a long day of driving. Strangely I seem to have forgotten completely the heroic concrete entry pavilion that usually represents this project:

Trans-Canada Highway Campground Maple Creek, 1964. Photo courtesy OFOF Clifford Wiens and John Fulker.

In 2001, driving back from Halifax, I tried to find it, actually to camp in.  This after a whole day of driving across Saskatchewan and finding the network of small towns that had existed just fifteen years before completely gone, and this campsite abandoned.  The trees were tall and untended, some had fallen, one ripped off my radio aerial as I drove in thinking I might stop there anyway.  But it felt haunted, a tragic failure of provincial pride.  A most uneasy site.   It had been a small thing, approached with a brave sort of rigour.