art

ReSource Wars!

RW NQWT sign

RW NQWT sign

This past weekend we were part of a team that participated in ReSource Wars, a two-day design-build competition in service of the local building materials resource center here in Boulder.  The event was great fun and gave us the opportunity to design and build a quick project with a team of super talented friends and colleagues.

RW elevation

RW elevation

ReSource has been around for quite some time and they recently acquired a new building that needed some work.  The ReSource Wars event singled out 8 locations within the facility and assigned 8 teams to compete to make the most interesting, functional and awesome solution.  The team the we participated with - Not Quite White Trash - designed the Tool Library display wall.

RW bay

RW bay

The Tool Library allows residents to peruse from a large selection of common hand tools and power tools and borrow them much like a book from a library.  Challenged with fitting a lot of tools along a wall only 25 feet long, we quickly realized that we would need more wall space.  Using only recycled building materials from the ReSource yard, we created a series of doors that are hinged and project out from the wall adding over 30 feet of more tool hanging space and can be flipped through like pages of a book.

RW screwdriver sign

RW screwdriver sign

All the various hangers for the tools were made from items we found in the yard, from recycled old tools to welded brackets and shelves.  Like Grandpa's old tool shed with the painted outlines of tools on pegboard walls, we utilized the tools themselves, in full 3D form, to hold the tools of the Library.

RW saw rack

RW saw rack

The result we hope is a functional and funky display of the tools and their usage and will serve ReSource well.  However, maybe the greatest success of the two-day event was the forming and working of an amazing team.  The basic plan allowed for everyone to exercise their creative and technical skills and we completed the project with great camaraderie and only a little head-bashing.

RW initial sketch

RW initial sketch

Great and special thanks to ReSource to inviting us and to our SuperHero team mates:

Jim Walker, ACI Design Build, architect and builder

Mitch Levin, artist, metal worker extraordinaire

Aicha Menendez, landscape architect and designer

Brian Laak, furniture design and cabinet-maker

Mark Gelband, artist and builder

Guido Densler, master welder and metal worker

RW award

RW award

the architecture of heros - Goodness, Nature and Vengeance

fortress-of-solitude-superman

fortress-of-solitude-superman

I have written a post about evil lairs and wanted to follow that up with some thoughts on the special domains of superheros.  Of course we are not talking about real heroes here, but the pop culture protagonists of comic books and movies.  My initial impression was that these places were not as interesting as their counterparts evil lairs, as Dante's Inferno is significantly more interesting than Paradiso.  However, some repeating themes in these places are quite intriguing.

Whereas the villain's evil lair is often a secretive place brimming with technology, the hero complex (?) is most often dominated by the natural environment.  It is Nature herself that seems to be the well-spring of the superhero's powers or at least the space created by the natural world becomes both solace and solitude for the world-weary, misunderstood protagonist.

Batcave

Batcave

Even the Bat Cave, thoroughly techy as it is, is still very much a cave, all dripping stalagtites and gloomy expanses.  Like Superman's Fortress of Solitude, it is within the belly of Mother Earth herself, secretive, mysterious and another world away from the evil urbanity of the city.

Even the most technological of good guys, Ironman's Tony Stark, lives resplendent in nature, perched atop a stony precipice, tapping into the elemental earth, water and sky.

Ironman house

Ironman house

In the latest episode of the Bond franchise we even get a glimpse into 007's maudeline past in a visit, and of course subsequent destruction of, his ancestral home.  No London Regency townhouse of course, but an isolated Scottish manse, surrounded by endless moors and made of the stones of the earth.

Duntrune Castle Skyfall

Duntrune Castle Skyfall

These are all maybe uniquely American responses to the heroic genesis problem, positing the natural world in a Romantic American viewpoint.  Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory speaks eloquently about these perceptions of nature and the role of the imagination in Western thought.  The villainous bad guys resort to weapons and the lying deceits of mankind, but the superhero's ultimate power resides in Nature, stems from its dark, mysterious elements.  I will step over the Oedipal Mother Nature aspect of this for a future post.

Xavier's mansion

Xavier's mansion

The final photo I have is from X-Men - Xavier's stately mansion set in a typically English park-like setting, maybe the ultimate example of both the fundamental goodness of Nature and a rejection of Modernism, its rationality and anthropocentric dominance.  The X-Men afterall are not from outerspace or even some kind of unique genius, rather they are simply genetic modifications of us, a product of the same biology, same DNA, maybe some other stuff thrown in as well, but certainly not "foriegn" or "unnatural".

The hero is a man(usually) of action, he is not at home in the world of men, in fact, he should avoid the domestic sphere as much as possible as traditionally female roles of nurturing, cooking and cleaning are kryptonite to the male superhero.  He may be seduced by the sexy villainess, but he fights for everything good, apple pie (as long as someone else makes it) and Mom (but no Mamma's boy).

The man-cave trend in recent years has it right - it is not merely a private study, but a den or a cave, ensconced in the earth and the primal forces barely contained within. Where the villain may have a lair of high-tech toys and Modernist hipness, the hero's retreat is associated with nature, part of the Good Earth, unsullied by progress and the creations of mankind.

Jen Lewin exhibit, CU Art Museum

For a few more weeks there is an interactive light/movement/sound exhibit of some works by Boulder artist Jen Lewin at the CU Art Museum. Jen Lewin exhibit at CU Art Museum, blue field

The exhibit "It's Electric", has a number of works, all of which beg for interaction from the public.  The largest, poorly photographed by myself above, is a large field of plastic lily pads that have various arrays of lighting colors and patterns.  Walking across the pads, they respond by changing colors and patterns, sometimes simply reacting to your movement, sometimes prompting you, Twister-like, to make the next move.

Another piece looks like a set of fancy pendant lights over a chaise lounge.  The lights dim in a tight pattern as you move around the piece, making your movement cast a kind of reverse shadow on the lights.  The chaise is ironically placed directly below the lights, a icon of placidity and the lack of movement.

Jen Lewin exhibit at CU Art Museum, motion activated lights over chaise

There are a few other works that surprise and are at once whimsical and poetic so I won't play the spoiler and describe them.

The CU campus is fairly sleepy as it is summer, but hopefully your visit will be accompanied by enough other visitors that you can see their interactions with the works from a distance.  These works are pleasurable in the most basic, sensory ways that you you can't help but be in wonder at the simple joy of color, light and shadow.  I highly recommend a visit and take a crowd, especially kids, and have fun at the museum.

Jen Lewin exhibit at CU Art Museum, red field

Clifford Still Museum, some thoughts by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects

cs7

cs7

Siting quietly amongst its more noisome arts neighbors, the relatively new Clifford Still Museum in Denver is a wholly different kind of museum. Designed by Allied Works Architecture, the museum was designed to house explicitly the work the abstract expressionist painter.  Instead of the generic and changeable nature of the galleries of a typical museum, the architects have crafted a design that directly responds to the work of the artist.

cs1

cs1

The entire first floor houses the administrative and educational functions as well as the main entrance located along the side of the building facing a small park space. The entry sequence this sets up - street to park to entry to lobby, up stairs to galleries - creates a pleasing rhythm from outdoor sunshine to darkened lobby to top-lit galleries.  Along the way, the predominantly horizontal emphasis of the overall building gives way to a pronounced vertical articulation in the materials and detailing.

cs3

cs3

This vertical emphasis, found in the interior rails and details as well as the vertically-ribbed concrete, echoes the vertical lines found in so many of Still's paintings.  This synthesis of building elements with the specific artworks is the sensitive study of an architect taking full advantage of designing for a specific artist and is a far cry from the more generic gallery space of most museums.

cs5

cs5

However, what is most striking about the gallery space is the slightly labyrinthine arrangement of spaces with wide diagonal views between rooms.  As the galleries offer a roughly chronological procession through Still's career, these openings allow you to view each period in the context of the preceding and future work.  This lends an overall dynamic spatial quality to what might be an otherwise boring, unilateral maze-like march.

cs4

cs4

The top-galleries pull this assembly all together and clearly concentrate the viewer on the works of art rather than the museum itself, a not-so-familiar trend in cultural institutions these days.

I highly recommend a visit, both for the artwork and the museum, a paired ensemble that like any great performance, makes it look easy.

by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects

Lebbeus Woods, 1940 - 2012

LW04

LW04

Lebbeus Woods passed away last week.  It is almost impossible to overemphasize the impact that this "paper" architect has had on the world of architecture.  A long-time professor at Cooper Union, he directly influenced generations of students at one of the most important schools in the world, during its most profoundly influential period.  But it was his publications with their hauntingly beautiful images that have become some of the most seminal works in post-Modernist era.

His drawings of re-imagined urban landscapes are stunningly beautiful even in their dark, vaguely dystopian vision. His most widely read work, Anarchitecture: Architecture is a Political Act, is so visually striking that its message is easily lost amidst the revery of the drawings and models on display.  But make no mistake, Woods' work was not just so-much eye-candy.

Crucial question - what is an inconsistent pattern? The cities of an experimental culture will be formed on inconsistent patterns, and will produce them. These will be their chief products, the result of a way of living driven by the need for clarity on shifting landscapes of the ephemeral.

LW 02

LW 02

I attended undergraduate and graduate schools of architecture during the height (or maybe bottomless, self-flagellating, pit) of post-structuralist architectural theory.  Architects, insecure in their creation of forms, looked under every academic, esoteric rock to find some secure impetus to justify the nature of the work - imposing forms upon others.  I won't go on about the absurdity and idiocy of the near-abandonment of 3,000 years of architectural history and practice for the tawdry attractions of French philology.  It happened, I witnessed it, even dipped a toe in it.

"Politics of construction: who designs, who builds, who owns, who inhabits?"

LW 03

LW 03

Woods' work shattered it.  He, among others, placed architecture back in the realm of buildings, the act of building, and the meaning of actually making buildings.  And the images he produced cemented that argument with an outrageous glorification of forms, color, plasticity and imagination.  Though his vision of shattered cities and expropriated spaces were often dire and almost always devoid of people, what comes through is the joy and beauty of making.  That may sound contradictory to what I said above, but it is not.  Great architectural ideas have never been planted so firmly as when they are not merely texts or images, but the synergistic amalgam of both, like LeCorbusier's Toward an Architecture and Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.

I would avidly place Woods' Anarchitecture in that lofty neighborhood.  He was the most important and influential unbuilt architecture of the last century.  Not too bold a statement I think, and not befitting enough of his animating vision.

by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects