Last weekend I was fortunate enough to see my brother Ryan Baum graduate from SCI-Arc, an architecture school in downtown Los Angeles.
Each student was responsible for presenting their thesis in front of faculty and special guests. For his final project, my brother put some renderings together over the Stahl House to recreate the iconic modernist house built by American architect Pierre Koenig in the hills of Los Angeles in 1969. He also redesigned the interior dining room and living room with sculpture.
You may have seen the Stahl house in fashion ads and movies like the Big Lebowski, or most famously in black and white photographs taken by Julius Shulman who helped spread modernist Southern California architecture with his “one-point perspective.”
Inspired by the technological blurred paintings of Gerhard Richter, Ryan 3D painted the house’s corrugated facade.
As you can see, Ryan’s contemporary redesign purposely blends in his with the house, making it look authentic. But it his short, hilarious Lebowski-esque film that takes the masquerade metaphor once step further, adding to the mystery of why the home could never sell. The Stahl House was finally declared a LA-historic monument in 1999, before becoming listed as National History place in 2013.
“Ray Kurzweil wrote about the Law of Accelerating Returns back in 2001, suggesting that the rate of technological evolution grows exponentially. This means we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century. It will be more like 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate. His work explains why we can build amazing structures faster today than ever before. What it doesn’t explain is how this impacts us as makers: how the immediacy with which we can create changes us.”
The urge to keep making, to keep shipping, means more creations will be forgotten and therefore less likely to be timeless.
It recognized the imperatives for user-friendly populism in its great glazed, covered garden foyer, “the living room of the city,” a lobby space opening to all major parts of the building as well as to the outdoors and the street.
Done is better than perfect, in some cases, as in updating a web design or app. But in China, ‘almost’ is a pervasive and dangerous mindset. Known as ‘Chabuduo’ or ‘good/close enough,’ can have disastrous effects when it comes to building everyday things, especially infrastructure.
James Palmer is a foreigner living in China and writes about his close encounters with Chabuduo, including everything from shoddy apartment pipes to broken front doors, poisoned food, to half-built parking lots.
Carelessness leads to death; one government official says there’s a deadly explosion every month. State-controlled tv even suppressed the news after the Tangshan chemical plant explosion in March 2014, killing 55 and wounding hundreds.
The Chabuduo attitude may come in handy on a farm when you have to use an old cloth to stop a broken pipe, but its substandard practices fail at scale in cities and at chemical plants where building with modern materials and following safety instructions prevent catastrophes.
For all Trump’s scaremongering on China, he’d be better off pointing to the people’s willingness to cut corners, their attitude of “good enough for government work.” But he’s more concerned about the thing China excels: making iPhones.
Craftsmanship is about care and expertise, not about faking competence and skipping the fundamentals. Half-ass effort yields half-ass results. Poor quality reveals itself eventually.
“In the end, what perpetuates China’s carelessness most might be sheer ubiquity. Craft inspires. A writer can be stirred to the page by hearing a song or watching a car being repaired, a carpenter revved up by a poem or a motorbike. But the opposite also holds true; when you’re surrounded by the cheaply done, the half-assed and the ugly, when failure is unpunished and dedication unrewarded all around, it’s hard not to think that close enough is good enough. Chabuduo.”
“Almost everyone I spoke to says that a chair is a way of demonstrating an architect’s credentials as a designer to a wider audience.” — Agata Toromanoff, art historian
The chair represents the essence of work. It is where we put our asses down to get stuff done. Perhaps that is why famous architects have each been inspired to design their own chairs.
In her book Chairs by Architects, Toromanoff pairs the custom-made chairs of 55 modern architects next to building styles that inspired them. She says “that chairs afford architects an opportunity to distill their techniques, innovations, and style into a new medium.”
Toromanoff’s favorite chair is the Kuki Chair by Zaha Hadid. As you can see below, Hadid demonstrated her obsession with the movement of geometric curves that came to characterize her style–the chair looks similar to her dynamic yet fluid Galaxy SOHO building in Beijing.
Photos by Iwan Baan
“There are three hundred and fifty-nine other degrees. Why limit yourself to one?” – Zaha Hadid
Toromanoff’s book illustrates how architects can construct their design styles onto a different, much smaller format: in this case, a chair.
> “There are three hundred and fifty-nine other degrees. Why limit yourself to one?” – Zaha Hadid, RIP
Zaha Hadid never conformed. She never played it safe. She was born to challenge the status quo and she trained her eye to acquire different tastes.
You become what you think about all day. In Hadid’s case, her personality matched up with her craftiness and tireless work ethic. Perhaps she was addicted to design because it enabled her to live on the edges.
Like any true artist, Hadid aimed to appease herself first. She liked bold shapes and curves instead of stodgy rectangles and squares. Now she leaves her art behind for others to interpret.
Might sound a little far-fetched but what if airports were built more like museums instead of uninspiring shopping malls? Imagine that.
The irony was that the most astounding discoveries were usually made in the tattiest buildings. Whether it was Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, where Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA, or Los Alamos, where the first nuclear weapons were developed, the breakthroughs seemed to disprove the notion that there was any link between the purity of the building and the clarity of the thinking that went on inside.
It’s what gets created on the inside is all that matters. The environment should inspire quality work whether it’s messy or stable.
“The Skyscraper Index” which has previously predicted the rise of multiple financial crisis may also predict the rise and fall of powerful tech companies.
There is also, however, another correlation: that between corporations commissioning gargantuan headquarters and a peak beyond which there is only decline. Is the news that the world’s technology giants – including Apple, Google and Facebook – are planning ambitious buildings something we ought to be nervous about?