Author Archives: Tony Taylor

When Hills Hide Arches

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Landforms masquerading as architecture and vice versa seem to dominate a few sets of older images hosted at the Library of Congress.

Photos taken between 1865 and 1872, these are—photographically speaking—almost impossibly ancient, approaching a point of chemical age as comparatively old to us today as the structures they depict were to the military expeditions that documented them in the first place.

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The first shot—depicting the “ruins of the Mulushki Mirza Rabat near Khodzhend,” as the Library of Congress explains it—establishes something of a theme here: works of architecture built from modules of fired clay, their wind-pocked brickwork extracted from the hills around them and transformed by kilns into something artificial, “manmade,” now more artifact than natural object.

Ironically, though, it is exactly their resemblance to the earth that sets the stage for these structures’ later decay, falling apart into mere dust and minerals, little pebbles and grains of sand, literally forming dunes, blending imperceptibly with the landscape. Once they’re gone, it’s as if they were never there.

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Domes and extraordinary arches stand in the middle of nowhere, as if left behind by the receding tide of some alien civilization that once slid through here, depositing works of architecture in its wake. Like the slime of a snail, these are just residue, empty proof that something much bigger once passed by.

What’s so amazing about these pictures, I’d suggest, is that, among other things, they come with the surreal implication that, beneath or somehow within all the rolling hills and dunes of the surrounding landscape, these sprawling bridges and spinal forms are actually hidden, just waiting there for these hooded, 19th-century backpackers to rediscover.

These tiny figures are probably laughing in awe at the anti-gravitational urge that pushes these structures up above the sand line, into the photographs of these seemingly nameless expeditionary teams intent on cataloging every spatially exotic detail they find.

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Here, in the ruins of Murza Rabat, seen below, natural hills are actually catacombs of architecture, buildings fooling us for their resemblance to caves, structurally camouflaged as the surface of the earth.

But it’s not the planet—it’s not geology—it’s just architecture: a shaped thing, an artifact, something plastic and formed by human hands. Not hills but abandoned buildings.

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In the end, photographs of sand dunes might actually depict scenes of collapsed architecture; that landscape there in front of you might really be a city seen one thousand years after the fact, every wall cracked open and broken into pointless little mounds you’d probably stomp through without even thinking, the desert all around you giving no indication that this all used to be structure.

It used to be arches, bridges, vaults, and domes, huge mosques and cathedrals of human form before crumbling into mindless anthills of mud and clay.

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It’s almost like these photographs exist to remind you that everything you now think of as a room—as space, as volume, as creation—will soon just be a suffocation of sand grains packed together in dense, amnesia-ridden hills, landscapes almost laughably quick to forget they once were architecture.

How Can One Man Cut A Log Into Boards All By Himself? By Using A Logosol

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At the Holz-Handwerk show there are tons of circular saws, tons panel saws and tons of CNC mills. But there’s only one Logosol M8 Portable Sawmill. This crazy contraption is something like a chainsaw combined with a tracksaw, and one man (or one Swedish man, anyway) can unload the thing off the roof of his Volvo, carry it into the forest, and start making boards.

You’re undoubtedly wondering, from the photos above, how that lone dude got that big-ass log up onto the stand all by himself. It’s not just brute strength, there’s design involved, as you’ll see around 3:08 in the demo video:

You gotta love that Logosol being a Swedish company, the M8 is designed to be used in the snow.

And yeah, I almost wish I hadn’t come across this product; now I’ll never feel like a man again buying my boards at a lumber yard or Home Depot.

 

Mies Worship

Today would be Mies van der Rohe’s 128th birthday. This year Google did not opt to “celebrate” it with a doodle,but they did so two years ago:

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I probably wouldn’t have taken notice of this anniversary either, except for two recent projects – one built, one a competition – that both reference Mies in different ways.

First is the Allianz Headquarters designed by Wiel Arets and just completed in Zürich:

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Per the website of the architect who happens to now head the Mies’s Illinois Institute of Technology: “This new district’s master plan mandated that all building façades be composed of natural stone, yet it was chosen to frit this building’s full glass façade with an abstracted pattern of Onyx marble–from Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.” (my emphasis)

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The second project is OMA’s winning design for the Axel Springer media center in Berlin. Announced on the firm’s website today, the design that bested former OMA employees Bjarke Ingels and Ole Scheeren includes a photo of the model next to a drawing of Mies van der Rohe’s famous Friedrichstrasse office building proposed for Berlin in 1922:

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OMA’s model appears to use the thick and wavy vertical lines of the all-glass triangular skyscraper as an image on its façade, much like Arets printed the Barcelona Pavilion’s marble on the glass in Zürich. For decades, Mies influenced the forms of buildings, but if these projects are any indication, that influence has segued into graphics covering more complex (if still glass box) forms. These make me wonder if there is more “Mies worship” to come.

City Of Darkness Revisited

It was back in 2000 when I learned about Kowloon Walled City (via MVRDV’s FARMAX), and my interest in the vertical slum, as it’s been called, was great enough that I wrote a piece about it for a friend’s website that summer. Most of the photographs I used were pilfered from Greg Girard and Ian Lambot’s definitive account of the late KWC, City of Darkness. In the meantime I’ve discovered a number of books on KWC (most Japanese, for some reason), but none of them come close to the duo’s book in terms of capturing the impressive physical form of the place but also the lives of the people that called the place home (a focus on the former over the latter is the source ofmuch criticism over KWC’s ongoing popularity with architects).

I’m delighted to learn that Girard and Lambot are updating their “book of record” on KWC. Per their Kickstarter page, where they are trying to raise £50,000 toward the update, “City of Darkness Revisited, an all-new edition that will combine the best of the original book with several new sections that will fill in some of the gaps and bring the story up to date.” In addition to the Kickstarter page, much more information on City of Darkness Revisited can be found on their website.

B. Tschumi – Common Ground?

“Concept not form, is what distinguishes architecture from mere building.” “Architecture is not only what it looks like, but also what it does.” “Architecture is not about the conditions of design…

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