Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for September 27, AT5

He's the big cheese, the man in control; decision maker.
As the active physical principle, he indicates a point in the spiritual journey of the Tarot at which the soul has mastered its worldly works. This card is about mastery of one's realm in all aspects.
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This card is so not me, so I'm guessing that it's telling me that I need to take my realm more seriously; i.e. clean the frakking house.
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What was that Scarlett O'Hara said?...
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Oh, yeah...
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'Tew-marrah is anothah day.'

Powell Hall's Ash Tray

Photo taken 9/26/8
This is the current art installation next to Powell Hall. I've tried googling it to find more information, but Grand Center seems by far more interested in selling tickets than promoting art.
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From a distance, it looks intriguing, but don't get too close. For starters, there's evidence that the gravel was raked, but no effort was made to grade it. The work itself is sloppily-constructed. The DNA helix is made of rope lights, plastic tubing, and plastic water bottles stuck together with messy globs of hot glue. The orange and yellow cylinder is bits of paper on ladder-type masonry reinforcing with paper clips, but the clips are not all put on the same way and the wire sections are tied together by their ends with no effort made to trim the exess. They're just coiled around each other until the wire ran out. The stack of discs has fingerprints and smudges of marker on the surfaces. The green cylinder is tubes of plastic sheeting randomly stapled or paper-clipped together.
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Is this the height of St. Louis's artistic talent--an intesting idea wasted on poor craftsmanship?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tonight at Powell Hall

First, let's get some housekeeping out of the way--literally. As I walked into the auditorium down the south hallway, I saw a housekeeping worker thru the half-open door of a janitor's closet and his cart in the exit way at the far end of the hallway. These things, the public should not see--ever.
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But wait, it gets worse. As I sat in my cheap seat on the right aisle [K30 for the curious], I heard several loud bangs during the first part of the concert. At intermission, I exited the side door on my way to the 'smoking lounge' and the cart was still there, where people had to walk around it to get to the exit door.
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And that's not bad enough. In the second part of the concert, after more bangs and just as the orchestra reached a pause in the music, the janitor decided to move the cart. The wheels were loud enough to overwhelm the last few notes of the movement in their atonal screech. Later, there were three thundering booms that sounded like the ceiling falling in, and more smaller bangs throughout the rest of the performance.
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As much as I admire the symphony as an organization, this is inexcusable. There is often noise from the hallway as people use the adjacent stage door, but it is intermittent and doesn't happen at every performance. To even have the janitor in the public spaces during the premiere performance is a management fumble of epic scale. At least give the man the dignity of a uniform that blends in with the ushers if he has to be there, and I'm sure there must be a more formal alternative to yellow rubber gloves.
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I noticed this as I was scanning the foyers for kodak moments. It's a velvet dixie cup dispenser! Maybe a velvet housekeeping cart could be justified in the budget...
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Finally, on to business.
Tonight's bill promised a spectacle, and it almost delivered. We heard John Adams's 'Guide to Strange Places', Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto with Yefim Bronfman on piano, and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. David Robertson conducted the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
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The concert started with a pleasant surprise in an appearance and short talk by Adams. The highlight of his brief speech was when he said [and I paraphrase] that one of the things about being a composer is that your work appears on the program with the world's greatest masterpieces. Adams's work stood up to the Rachmaninoff extremely well, in my opinion. Adventurous and mysterious, 'Guide to Mysterious Places' takes the listener on, according to Adams, a Fantasia-like journey thru sound. His minimalist style is distinctive for its bold rhythmic structure, but in this piece, the rhythm didn't drive the music as prominently as it does in his other works [many of you know his stunning 'Harmonielehre' from its excerpts quoted in 'The Matrix']. I was immediately reminded of Richard Serra's notorious 'Twain' and pictured myself running around the minimalist sculpture being assaulted by the corporate monoliths that surround it. Fortunately, this imagery faded as the music demanded other visualizations in its constantly-twisting sonic journey. The Symphony nailed the piece, for the most part. I'm no professional musician, so I'll spare you the pretentious musical references and analysis of the conductor's technique, but the musicians played as one just as we expect them to and Robertson did his usual excellent job of bringing the music to life. I just wish the horns would get their act together. I think they call it 'attacking' when the horn comes in too strong, but it's a recurring problem with the SLSO rearing its ugly head again [I missed all of last season, but in the previous season, the horns were perfect, so I'm wondering what happened].
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Rachmaninoff's 3rd has never been one of my favorite pieces of music, and this performance didn't change that. Bronfman was technically spectacular, but thru the first two movements, he was missing a lot of the nuance. A few times, he lost the melody in Rachmaninoff's luxurious runs of scales [there's a musical term for these, but I don't know what it is and expect my readers don't either]. But in the third movement, he hit a home run. It's as if he finally came alive and realized there was more to it than hitting the keys in sequence. Again the horns hit sour, and the standing ovation seemed a little over the top. I broke my normal respectful protocol and left before it died down.
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I quickly lost interest in the Bartok and slipped into my usual distraction of figuring out what shades they need to add to the paint scheme to do justice to the hall's beautiful plasterwork. However, the orchestra was noticeably more on its game for the Concerto for Orchestra. The horns were especially good and deserved their eager applause. The piece deserves it's reputation, I'm sure, but there's just very little from the 40's that interests me musically.
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The biggest surprise of the evening was the audience. It was the most respectful audience I've encountered in St. Louis. There was very little coughing during the Adams, most notably a woman behind me who couldn't be bothered to control herself thru the first five minutes of the piece. They were rapt thru-out the Rachmaninoff, and there was practically no coughing at all, but they made up for it somewhat after intermission. The talking was so quiet I could only barely hear it [and that just doesn't happen with a St. Louis audience]. On the downside, the walking ovation after the Bartok was a civic embarrassment as half the people surrounding me bolted for the door as soon as Robertson put down his baton. People in the aisle in front of me were even rude enough to strike up a conversation with the people they were crawling over.
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And if janitor noise and screeching brass wasn't bad enough, somebody just had to top off the evening by farting in the aisle. It lingered thru the entire ovation, and it smelled like a sewer.
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I wonder if there'll be Lysol on the new velvet janitor's cart.

A fleur-de-lis for Christian [sorry about the blur]

Photos taken 9/26/8

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Left Bank Books Downtown!

Soon-to-be home of Left Bank - on the Right Bank [of the Mississippi]

I'm so excited! Left Bank Books is opening a second store at the corner of 10th and Locust Streets. Finally, a conveniently-located cool bookstore. I feared Borders or Barnes & Noble would beat them to it and steal the market. There's more, but I'm not sure how much I can divulge. But trust me [you'll have to at this point], it'll be swell.

Loft developer Craig Heller, who has provided space for City Grocers, UMA, and a number of other local businesses and who was brave enough to stand up to the Slay machine on the Mistake of the Century [nice fictionalized smack-down, mayor], is leasing the space to the bookstore. Now can we please have a nice, locally-operated pharmacy downtown?

I feel the burden of the big box lifting off my shoulders as I type this!
Photos taken 9-23-08

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Baddite Proverb of the Day

Fluffy is as fluffy does.
[with apologies to Forrest Gump]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This Week in Timmianity

Baddites, rejoice! your Prophet is finally going to write something relevant to this blog's status as the Official Blog of the Church of Bad Tim of Latter-Day Reincarnates. We're going to start with the Greater Laws, and then go into the two ranks of Lesser Laws, which parallel the Greater. That's twenty-seven posts of material drawn directly from unwritten parts of the Book of Baddite [yes, dear Baddites, your Prophet is writing your Holy Scripture in a blog][deal with it].




The Law of Unity



As you read this, picture the Fool from the Tarot; he is the Avatar of Unity.
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The Three Musketeers almost got it right; they should have said, "All is one, and one is all." The Law of Unity is the basis of all that follows it, and the key to true understanding. Everything you see, touch, hear, smell, and taste is part of the single organism of the Universe. It all emanates from the same Source, and taken to its most fundamental level, every thing is made of the same basic building block--a subtle pattern of energy that is the Universe Itself. The mystery of Unity is to understand that the things around you that seem like distinct objects are part of your being; that the person who angers you is you.
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The Law of Unity demands that you embrace the world and all it has to offer, since to understand yourself, you must understand those parts of your ultimate self that appear distinct in the mortal planes. Experience is self-realization; it is a vital part of your journey toward enlightenment. However, this is not to say that the world exists for you to use as you please, with no fear of consequences. As the Fool is both the first and last card of the traditional Tarot Deck, the Law of Unity is both the first and last of the Greater Laws. The ninth Law, Equality, at its most fundamental level, is a restatement of the Law of Unity. All is One, and all is Equal in the mind of the Universe. Because everything is composed of the same fundamental energy pattern, then on its most basic level, everything is the same. A pile of stone rubble is the equal of a sculptural masterpiece; a beggar is the equal of a billionaire; a bigot is the equal of a prophet. Therefore, what you do, you must do with the respect that you would expect to receive from the object of your action.
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In this way, the Law of Unity is the highest moral law. You are responsible for the consequences of your actions simply because what you do effects the energy pattern that comprises your being. What you put into the pattern is available for someone else to use toward you. Your frivolous action becomes some body's recklessness; your necessity becomes some body's livelihood. That plastic bag you let blow away in the wind is the plastic bag that a sea turtle will suffocate on in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; but that chicken Tyson killed for your sandwich is the chicken a coyote needed to survive. They are not perceptually the same objects, but the consequences they create are exactly the same.
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Likewise, the Law of Unity requires you to live in harmony with your environment. Because everything that surrounds you is part of your ultimate self, you must take care of it as you would take care of yourself. This is true whether or not you believe that you have a right of ownership or that a thing is useful, attractive, or valuable. When you allow waste, then waste becomes part of your vibration--which brings us back to the Garbage Patch. The negligence of humans jeopardizes the other inhabitants of the planet. It is the emissions from your car that cause global warming, just as it is your shopping bag that suffocates the sea turtle; responsibility starts with the individual.
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Moral codes that are not based on the Law of Unity fail because they are unable to make this connection to the whole. 'Thou shalt not kill' cannot be an absolute; 'thou best be respectful in what thou doest lest it cometh back upon thy ass' is more realistic.
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So, how does the Fool fit into this mess? He is both naive and enlightened beyond the need for understanding. He is as one with the Universe; whether that is from ignorance too deep to know the difference or from understanding too sublime to see the difference does not matter. Travelling the world with his few possessions, unaware of the precipice at his next step, he is carefree. His little dog jumps on his leg to get his attention, but in vain. The Fool is the dog and the precipice; either he will perish at the foot of the cliff or, in total unity with all around him, he will continue unharmed. Either he has achieved the highest level of understanding and is imperishable, or he understands nothing and will begin again. His card is numbered zero because it cannot be clear whether he is at the beginning of his spiritual journey or the end.
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By embracing the Law of Unity, you can become the Fool. Strive to see yourself in everything around you. Take care of all within your reach. Get yourself some reusable shopping bags and save a sea turtle. Use public transportation. Stand up for environmental reform. Plant street trees; the shade will reduce energy consumption and provide a refuge for birds and for your soul. Refuge for your soul is the same as refuge for the Universe.

Tarot Card of the Day for September 11, AT5

Poor financial decisions.

I know exactly what the cards are saying in this case. I'm putting all my rehabber money into a project that doesn't really need to be done right now. The problem is, I don't know what to do about it at this point. I can't cut the project off now, but I fear it's going to bleed me dry. I still have a wall that needs tuckpointing, so at some point, this has to stop. It's already getting critical.

Baddite Proverb of the Day

If poor taste were illegal, we wouldn't have Las Vegas.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for September 8, AT5

Page of Cups, Rev.
OK, so last week it was Pents, this week, it's Cups. At least the Pents were polite enough not to repeat themselves. But, I guess when you're as emotional as Water, repetition is considered a good thing.

Either I grossly misinterpreted yesterday, or I'm being willfully ignorant. I don't know.

pa-dump-dum

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Why Are These Buildings So Ugly?

The 100 and 200 blocks of N. 12th Street [aka Tucker Blvd.] are a civic embarrassment, nearly on the scale of the west side of the 300 block and the east side of the 400 block. This was once the city's grand ceremonial street; today, it's the armpit of downtown--or the stinky groin between the legs of the arch.

These buildings are shameful assertions of the International Style ethic. They lack any contextual relevance, and worse, are hostile to pedestrian activity. 210 presents a brick wall to the pedestrian on its north and south sides that extends unrelieved all the way up. 100 is only slightly better, having a little bit of glazing on the ends. Both buildings present ample glazing to the 12th St. sidewalk, but the few openings into the lease space are closed and the glazing in both buildings is obscure.

The crane docks of 210 actually improved the appearance of this bland slab, which is a sad tribute to its 'designer'. The post office moved its lobby to Olive St, which removed a storefront that had formerly provided a bit of pedestrian interest to 12th. The reflective coating on the glass of 100 renders it as useful as those massive, blind end walls on 210. With the removal of the Cupples curtain wall on 300 N. Tucker, these dogs' behinds stand out even more, a glaring intrusion on the views of the Civil Courthouse, one of my favorite interpretations of the tomb of Mausoleus, and the old Federal Courthouse, which is the most stunning Art Deco courthouse I could imagine--inside and out.

Unfortunately, both buildings have substantial structural systems that will keep them there for generations to come, and the city is in no hurry to require new construction to be sidewalk friendly. So, there's little hope that 12th St. will ever have a vibrant pedestrian presence, which is a shame, because that means there won't be anything to help feed active use of Poelker Park, even if the impressive plan for its renovation ever comes into reality.

[links and pictures to follow...]

Tarot Card of the Day for September 7, AT5

Cups represent Water; nourishment, emotions, healing.
Pages represent naivete, or a beginning.
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The Page stands in front of a turbulent sea holding a cup with a fish in it. Fish are a symbol of immortality and rebirth, so what I see in this image is a young man seeking the answers of eternal life by attempting to commune with a fish. It suggests seeking the knowledge of health and longevity, but implies a sense of naivete in the bud motif on his tunic.
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I think it came up in a more direct sense of naivete about health; or in my case, a cavalier attitude about health.

Yes, George, the Economy Is Fine. Uhhh Huhh.

On my trip downtown to take pictures yesterday, I happened across a few projects that reached well into the planning stage, but have not materialized. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the Jefferson Arms, so you'll have to picture it in your head. You can do it.

Interior Demolition was well under way on the Ford Apartments, then one day, they replaced the boards on the windows and just left.
The Arcade building had a few false starts and was finally under preliminary construction when Pyramid folded. This hotel, office, and condo complex would have been a vital component of the Old Post Office Square area. Not pictured because I didn't venture that far east are the buildings of Millennium Square: Stix, St. Louis Center, and the former home of the Mercantile Library.
Sky House, planned as a bold, modern apartment house, is now a meek rubble-filled hole in the ground.

Cinderella Story

Built as the St. Louisian Hotel [yes, it had that Frenchy extra 'i'] and notorious as the Days Inn, the Washington Avenue Apartments have rectified a prominent eyesore from downtown St. Louis. Klitzing Welsh Associates did an outstanding job of beautifying what seemed a hopeless case on a modest budget. As Plan Examiner for this project, I remained skeptical of their efforts until I saw the finished product. I especially like the checkerboard effect they achieved with windows, louvers, and spandrel glass. The design actually takes the modernist image back a few decades to a time when it was an aesthetic statement rather than a cheap way to build. E. M. Harris was the contractor.
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The ground floor retail space has been leased to a Bridge & Tunnel Pizza franchise, which is now open, and Downtown Diner, which will be operated by the owners of Copia Wine bar. The diner is under construction now; Copia is apparently mired in insurance claims from its arson fire last year.

My photo taken September 6, 2008
[with way too much foreground]

Tarot Card of the Day for September 6, AT5

Ten of Pentacles, Rev.
Tens are the theme card of each suit. In the masculine suits [wands and swords], the tens express the aggressive nature of their elements; the burden of a storm and the destruction of a fire. In the feminine suits [cups and pentacles], they express the nurturing nature of their elements; the emotion of water and the stability of earth.
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This card was indicating a change in routine, but it scared me enough last night when I pulled it that I actually went to the other computer and updated my accounts. It looks like I've made it thru financial crisis relatively unscathed, so I think it came up like this because I went out and took pictures yesterday. I've always found an excuse not to go out and do stuff, but yesterday I finally did it and the results will appear in this page over the next days as I report and rant on my findings...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Random Acts of Beauty

Seen at Courtesy Diner on Kingshighway:

We Could Make Beautiful Music Together...

Powell Hall as the St. Louis Theater

The St. Louis Symphony season starts in just three short weeks. Highlights this year include two works by John Adams, Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, and Beethoven's 7th and 9th Symphonies.

I missed every concert last season due to sleep apnea, including John Adams's Dr. Atomic Symphony, which I had been looking forward to since its postponement in the previous season.

Stay tuned for reviews and comments on the season, and hopefully pictures. I'm going to see if I can take my camera in for some shots of the hall. Every year, I walk into the hall hoping to see that they've freshened up the paint and added some much-needed highlights to liven up that dull 1960's minimalist treatment and pop out the hall's gorgeous Rapp & Rapp detailing. Some whites for highlights and deep browns or burgundies for contrast would change the decor from Cinderella bedroom set to palatial splendor on a 'Trading Spaces' budget.

One thing they could do that would really dress the old girl up is bring back that fabulous curtain, part of which is visible in the picture above. The St. Louis had the distinction of having the only known movie palace valances that had to be raised before the movie started. Miles of fabric swagged around a cameo of Louis IX on horseback. Fabulous!

Photo from the Theatre Historical Society's Annunal No. 10 - 1983: 'Grand Drapes Tormentors and Teasers' by Terry Helgesen, from the author's collection of historic theater photos.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for September 5, AT5

Oi, I should have seen this coming.

Wands represent Air; vitality, communication, intellect.
Kings represent mastery.

In traditional divination, wands represent physical and mental health. I think that's the message of this card. I haven't used the neti pot the last few nights and haven't been drinking enough water or getting enough sleep. In relation to yesterday's Eight of Pentacles, this reversed King of Wands is telling me there's an imbalance.

Mayfair Condos on the Rise

The Roberts Tower will start rising out of the ground soon. I'm a tad excited. We're finally getting a major building downtown that a] was not designed by HOK*, and b] exhibits some depth of thought in its design. It will be a good backdrop for Old Post Office Square, and add a bold architectural statement to the neighborhood. It will also take some attention away from the Garage Mahal and the hopelessly bland Renaissance Hotel garage. I'm hoping that it has the effect the Equitable and Boatmen's Bank buildings have on the Old Court House. By quietly receding from the historic structures around it, it will help to enhance them.

Time will tell. It will also tell what's really on the other side of this rendering. I know it's a blank wall, but is it a visible blank wall?

*Nothing against HOK; they've done some great work. Unfortunately, none of it is in downtown St. Louis.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for September 4, AT5

Eight of Pentacles
Yay! more pentacles! What the frak is this?

Pentacles represent Earth, blah blah blah...
Eights represent labor, work in progress, skill.
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Let's hope it's talking about skill, but I suspect it's taunting my work ethic of late.

The Future Is Behind Us

Last night, I had to drag myself to the first AIA continuing education seminar of the season. This is usually an exercise in irrelevance, since the AIA's target audience is architects in professional practice and I'm an architect in civil service. I've sat thru endless seminars on BIM and marketing for the sake of 2 points toward my licensing requirements.

Last night, tho, was fascinating. David Zach, futurist regaled us with an entertaining and educational speech on the nature of progress and the importance of tradition. It was refreshing to hear somebody talk about the importance of holding on to tradition in a roomful of architects. I'm not pleased with the direction of modern architecture and its obsession to violate any and every ideal of form and function. I'd even go as far as to say that I'm disgusted with a lot of the crap [one example] people are building these days.

Maybe you can guess where this is going...

Yes, I happen to have a pet peeve. I call it mindless preservation. Tradition is one thing; freezing everything in the past is another. Are the meticulously-restored ruins of the Parthenon really more important than the building it used to be? Let's face it, ruins are ugly and convey precious little of the importance of the building that used to be there. In the same vein, American preservationists expect additions to historic buildings to be clearly distinct. I could understand this if the building itself was pivotal in history, but the bank on Main Street probably wasn't, unless it happens to be the work of Louis Sullivan. An extension of the original design is not going to confuse history geeks. Then we have art museums... They used to display plaster casts and mock-ups of architectural styles, especially of the classical orders; you could visit a museum and actually learn about ancient art and architecture in its intended form. Now at the local art museum, we get fragments; pieces of sculptures, funeral goods in separate cases, the door of a citadel, all removed from their context. All you can appreciate is craftsmanship. I'd rather experience an intact Antinous as Bacchus, and know what it was like to walk thru that door now hanging lamely on the wall, without having to travel all over the world.

An extension of mindless preservation is the modernists' attitude that it's not acceptable to design buildings in the classical idiom. The History of Architecture professor at the University of Kansas would never waste any opportunity to condemn the revivalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then, in the very next breath, wax poetic about the renaissance. Hmmm... what's the frakking difference? Granted, the later revivals were often no more than shallow fads, but a great deal of revival architecture has its own merit--the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts comes to mind--and you just can't deny the charm of a small-town main street. I had a text book in my high school drafting that actually compared modern design to Victorian stereotypes. The rendering of the modern building was sleek and professional; the rendering of the Victorian building was a shoddy freehand sketch of a western false front. Propaganda at its basest, in a classroom where the teacher told us the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis was ugly and should be torn down. Buildings are products of their time and place, and should be judged accordingly.

I'm not saying that there should be a literal revival of classical architecture, but that we shouldn't throw away the lessons of Vitruvius just because they're old. A building isn't a great work of architecture just because an architect figured out a new way to twist steel or the engineer figured out how to extend a cantilever even farther. The Sidney Opera House is great architecture because it evokes the spirit of its site; the Bilbao museum is a novelty that has now been repeated ad nauseam. Fallingwater is great because it respects its site; the Sears Tower is just a skyscraper on steroids. The classical laws of proportion can be applied to contemporary design. We can respect our past and still look toward the future.

You might want to sit down for the sermon...

We'd be better as individuals and as a society if we would cherish our origins instead of stamping them into the dust in an effort to prove our individuality. Ultimately, any innovation will cease to be novel, and what is left if we eradicate the source of the innovation?

A comparison of the ancient Roman Pantheon, built by Hadrian, to the University of Virginia Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson. Both of which academics consider great works of architecture. The Pantheon draws it fame from its structural system and awe-inspiring interior space; architectural historians praise the Rotunda for its harmonious exterior [follow the link for cool interior panoramas]. So... are revivals good or bad?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for September 3, AT5

Pentacles represent Earth; abundance, stability, faith.
Nine represents completion.

In traditional divination, this card represents safety, prudence, and enjoying the fruits of one's labor. It depicts a woman of calm disposition in a lush garden, signifying a sense of satisfaction and groundedness. She has attained the gifts of Earth.

I think its significance today is about Cernunnos. I had an especially nice meditation with him last night, and have had a lingering sense of his presence despite a bad mood brought on by that negative manifestation of Earth, customer service.

I'm just happy it's not upside down.

Baddite Proverb of the Day

Whoever put 'fun' in 'da mental' had a sick sense of humor.

Intranssient Transit



So, Metro is once again struggling with budget problems and proposing drastic route changes.

This is disgusting.

No successful urban area can remain that way without good, reliable transit [we won't go there with metro in this particular post]. Without an effective, area-wide transit system, the region's economy is going to suffer. People who can't afford cars will not be able to work; people who can afford them but don't like them will be forced to deal with traffic or leave the area.

The more we become dependent on cars, the more sprawl we're going to see as people move farther and farther away from congested roads, thinking the congestion won't follow them. Traffic is like the cold virus. You might be able to escape it for a while, but eventually, it will follow you.

General Motors destroyed our street car systems for a reason. The less public transit, the more people need their cars. The more people who have cars, the more GM can convince the government to build more and wider roads, encouraging more people to use cars.

Traffic congestion is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more roads you build, the easier it is to use cars, so the more cars get used. This is documented urban design fact that the oil and automotive industries have lobbied our government to ignore to our impending doom. We've already seen the effects of our over-extended infrastructure in the Minneapolis bridge collapse and failing levees in New Orleans and thru-out the Mississippi/Missouri watershed. It's time re-evaluate our priorities and plan sustainably. That means heavy investment in public transportation, and increasing Metro service rather than cutting it.

New West Cahokia




The attacks against 'Twain' continue. Richard Serra's monumentally-scaled tour-de-force is under attack yet again, but these vandals have the city's blessing. Gateway Foundation and Shaw's Garden are building 'City Garden' in the two blocks east of 'Twain', using forms and materials that completely contradict the straightforward simplicity of the Serra sculpture.

The earlier renderings I saw of City Garden showed an open, visually accessible landscape that extended into the 'Twain' block, integrating the sculpture into the section of the mall isolated by the Gateway One disaster. But what's going up is entirely different. Massive concrete walls clad in rustic random ashlar limestone and mounds.

Yes, Virginia, there are mounds in Mound City.

The result is that the view of the sculpture is completely blocked from the north side of the mall, and hemmed in by a mound on the south side. The horizontal emphasis of the sculpture comes to an abrupt end scarcely a hundred feet from its easternmost point. Instead of being an environmental sculpture, it is now a display piece; just as the Wainwright building has been framed-in with bland modern neighbors, 'Twain' is now framed in with dirt. The arrow pointing boldly down the mall now points meekly at a bank of earth. [For the record, the State's additions to the Wainwright are one of the city's great modern works; it's what surrounds it that ruins its context.]

Precious few people understand the subtle beauty of 'Twain'. I'd venture a guess that most of its detractors never truly experienced it. 'Twain' is about its context. To appreciate it, you have to walk around and thru it, observing the city and experiencing the way it frames your surroundings. Go inside, and the clutter and noise of traffic are cut from your perception, leaving the city around you as the sculpture. This is public art at its most humble, and it deserves better respect than it gets.

I don't know if Shaw's Garden [yes, I still call it Shaw's Garden, MoBot is too impersonal] had any impact on City Garden's design, but it's shaping up as yet another wasted opportunity in the history of St. Louis public space development, unworthy of the Garden's immense contributions to our city and to the world of botany. In stark contrast to the head-noddingly boring federal courthouse square [the English word for plaza], it appears overly elaborate. Its massive walls and berms already block views from the street, divorcing it from its urban context.

For urban spaces to work effectively, they must be welcoming, and they must have active adjacent uses to feed them. Neither the federal square or this New West Cahokia achieve these. I'll admit I may be premature on my assessment of City Garden, but indicators are not favorable. Old Post Office Square should prove successful for these same reasons, and should enliven their surroundings. I expect retail space around it to become prime property, and that it will fulfill its aim of emulating New York's Bryant Park. City Garden and Federal Square lack any active adjacent uses. One obstructs views and the other is a parched lawn with furniture that looks painful to sit on, even more so to look at. Workers who park south of downtown have not one single retail opportunity until they reach Olive Street; a wasted opportunity to have a vibrant urban neighborhood.

The Gateway Mall has been doomed from the start, when Corbusian urban design eradicated its relevance with its inward-looking corporate neighbors. It has been nothing but a somewhat-pretty lawn for corporate aristocrats who have since sold their holdings out of town. What it needs is retail space--real storefronts, and adjacent residences. 1010 Market by Harry Weese is a good building, perhaps even a great one. I.M. Pei's General American Building is a pretty street-killer. The rest of the private buildings facing City Garden are mediocre, and calling them street-killers is being generous, especially in the case of 'Gateway One on the Mall'. The city must require retail storefronts on all new downtown buildings, and should offer some serious incentives for the conversion of existing ground floors to retail. This is the only way the Gateway Mall and City Garden will have a chance of becoming relevant urban spaces.

Otherwise, we should just give it up and turn it into the Gateway Shopping Mall.

Now THAT'S Divine Retribution

On the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Gustav threatened a repeat performance on New Orleans. The GOP, assembling in St. Paul decided to take it seriously, and they deserve our respect for doing that, even tho it was mostly political posturing [I mean, seriously, was it necessary to shut down everything but mandatory business?].

Bush missed his grand swan song, and you have to know that McCain breathed a big sigh of relief at that, but I have to wonder...

Dubya's cronies were quick to call Katrina divine retribution for the sins of New Orleans. Dubya himself never did anything to counter that argument, and never showed any remorse for not ending his vacation as the storm barrelled down on the gulf coast. Gustav puffed up and got ready to blow down their convention, then ultimately petered out.

I like to think there's a voudoun Queen somewhere in New Orleans who evoked this particular spirit and shunted him aside before he could do any real damage, and she's sitting on a balcony today on Bourbon Street, sipping a hurricane and smiling knowingly at coverage of Dubya's video greeting card to the convention last night.

That, or the woman from the Parkay commercial is standing on the banks of the delta laughing her ass off.

Karma's a bitch, isn't it, Dubya?

Architecture of the World:

Hindu God of the Week: