Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REALLY?: Boston's John Hancock Tower Wins the AIA 25-Year Award

I was surprised to read that Boston's John Hancock Tower received the AIA's 25-Year Award. Why surprised? Mainly because many people know this building more for its technical failings than its aesthetic triumphs. Designed by I.M. Pei, the construction of the tower was an unmitigated disaster. The temporary foundation walls buckled, damaging utility lines and nearby buildings,
including the adjacent Trinity Church. Once the building was up, it's trademark blue mirror-glass panels began failing, cracking in place, and frequently falling out of their frames and plummeting to Copley Square below. The problem was so bad that the building earned the nickname "the Plywood Palace," for all of its plywood replacement panels, and guards were hired to stand in the square and alert passerby of falling panes.After all the glass was replaced (at a cost of $5 to $7 million) the place finally opened, only to face yet another issue. The building's sway was so severe that upper floor occupants experienced motion sickness, necessitating the installation of a pair of 300-ton tuned mass dampers to keep office workers from vomiting at their desks. Even with these dampers, it was eventually discovered that the building might collapse under certain wind loading conditions, which demanded a fix involving 1,500 tons of additional diagonal steel bracing (and another $5 million.) All told, the building's opening was delayed from 1971 to 1976, and its cost ballooned from $75 million to $175 million. Hardly a success story.

But wait! The American Institute of Architects saw fit to confer a National Honor Award on the building in 1977. Granted, the building has its aesthetic successes, and many of its failures can be blamed on lackluster structural engineering, but can form alone make up for the debacle that was this building's construction? The building presents a novel form, makes some efforts to respect its historic neighbors, and did achieve a reflective monolithic appearance. Still the architects blew it with all the glass that made up that great monolith the first time around, and cost their client a fortune in the process.

And now, some 35 years later, the AIA has returned to lavish another reward on the building. It never ceases to amaze me how narrow the judgement of architects can be. It is reflective of a disconnect between the profession and simple common sense, where a project can't be considered an unmitigated success if it is as beset by problems as was the Hancock. Adding to this disconnect is the AIA's press release which heaps praise on the building, which it says, "has demonstrated excellence in function, in the distinguished execution of its original program, and in the creative aspects of its statement by today’s standards." Of course there is nary a mention of the many failings of the design. Perhaps though, all of the tribulations, the doubling of budgets, the infinite change orders, and design do-overs are worth it to achieve a great final product. But I don't think this building is all that great. And there must be better all-around projects that are far more deserving of this award.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New York's North Brother Island

Yesterday Flavorpill linked to a gorgeous photo essay of New York's North Brother Island by Brooklyn-based photographer Richard Nickel, Jr. (I can't determine whether Nickel, Jr., whose blog is subtitled 'Guerrilla Preservation and Urban Archeology is related to the legendary photographer, Sullivan-chronicler, preservation martyr Richard Nickel. Perhaps this modern Nickel chose a nom-de-guerre that identifies himself as Nickel's intellectual progeny? Update: It's a pseudonym.)

The island lies between Rikers Island and The Bronx, and was uninhabited until 1885, when the Riverside Hospital relocated there from Roosevelt Island. (Sidebar #2: Riverside Hospital does not appear to be the same institution as Roosevelt Island's Smallpox Hospital, which in addition to being much more accessible than the ruins of North Brother Island, is New York's only landmarked ruin.) The island had several brushes with fame, including housing Typhoid Mary in quarantine for a time, and it was the site of the General Slocum's fire, New York's worst maritime disaster. After serving variously as a hospital, emergency housing for GI's after World War II, and a drug rehabilitation center, the island has been abandoned since the 1960's.

Nickel's photograph's are incredible, and I am continually amazed by how such ruins can still exist so close to the hearts of our cities. It's a wonder that such spots are not snapped up developers and investors, and both a blessing and a curse that they are so hard to access. Nickel's post is definitely worth reading, and this video tour of the island also has some merits.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Karl Lagerfeld's Library is Pretty Awesome.

Photo by Todd Selby via the Observer.

New York City in Timelapse

This is a gorgeous series of timelapse shots from around NYC. The maker is doing some cool stuff with panning that I'd love to figure out how to replicate. I just started playing with timelapses over the last weekend, and am hoping to have something put together soon. Hopefully one day I'll be doing stuff as nice as this!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolutions 2011

Apparently, new research shows that women are 10% more likely to succeed in achieving their New Year's resolutions if they make them public. I'm not sure why this is only true for women in the study, but it seems to make a lot of sense. I don't think I've ever even written down a resolution. This can't be helping my success rate. I might even be achieving goals that I completely forgot that I set. Hopefully a good list, and the accountability of a never-read corner of the internet will allow me to realize all my dreams in 2011. So, here's a few things that I like to do in the coming year.
  1. Run in three road races of 5k or more. One of these must be the 10-mile, fun-looking Broad Street Run.
  2. Continue my Gmap-Pedometer Project through all of 2011. I've been recording all of my travels by foot or bicycle each day, using Gmap-Pedometer. I've got some ideas about how all of this data could make for some interesting projects in the coming year.
  3. Refinish the cedar chest coffee table. This could be a great piece of furniture if I can get it cleaned up.
  4. Visit Forest Hills Gardens in Queens. I've read lots about this garden city development, but never been, despite the fact it's only a couple of hours away. Let's get there this year.
  5. Read more than 15,000 pages. Based on the reading I've done in the last couple of years, I think that this is a reasonable challenge for 2011.
  6. Learn how to do time-lapse photography. I've always loved time-lapses, and I now have most of the tools I need to make it happen. I'd love to do one a month, no matter the quality, each month this year.
  7. Do a nice, big water color elevation of a historic building in Philadelphia. I never finished the one of the Lehigh President's House that I started during undergrad, and always regretted it. I love drafting by hand and I miss it. The Juniper seems like a great candidate for this.
  8. Make a great vegetable garden. Our attempts at windowsill gardening went pretty much nowhere last year, but we've got much more to work with this season, given the size of our back deck in Philly. Corollary to this one: make and use a worm bin, despite Audrey's protestations.
  9. Make a habit of blogging. Post at least once a week, on whatever I'm working on or just anything that's grabbed my interest during a given week.
  10. Do at least one big group bicycle ride. The MS150 was a lot fun the two years that I did it, and I'd love to do that, the ACS Ride, or the New York Five Boro Tour again this year.
  11. Make a tile and mirror mural on the back deck, a la Isiah Zagar. I've always loved this type of mural, and we have the perfect canvas, and even some of the materials to get us started.
  12. Finally, make a point of recording my ideas for projects or activities. Historically, I have not wanted for ideas, only for follow through. If recording ideas helps me to take even one of them from concept to reality, it'd be well worth it.

Counting Coins

When I was a kid, my father, grandfather, and I would gather around the dining room table the day after Christmas. Grandpa's change jar would get emptied onto the table, and we'd sort, stack, and roll the year's change for deposit at the bank.

Every six months or a year since then, I have emptied my own change jar onto the coffee table and done my counting for the year. As with everything else I do (reading, walking, etc.) I make a note of how much I deposit each year. My 2010 year end deposit was a small one, given that I deposited change in August, in advance of our location to Philadelphia and the fact that Audrey regularly raids the jar for quarters to do laundry. My deposit for the fall was a measly $18.00.

On a related note, I've often gotten a hard time for picking up found change on the street. I'm sure that picking up a penny seems pointless and not worth the effort of bending down, but I was always raised to value money, and when one does it every day, those pennies start to add up. So, for all my friends that like to critique my change habit, I'm going to try something new and start a jar just for the change I find. I think it'll be interesting to see what all that picking up is worth over the course of the year.