oddly imperceptible here,

14% MORE BIG!!

BIG’s design for Two World Trade Centre came online June 9 on WIRED, cascading onto YIMBY, Dezeen etc. Comments were mostly negative, clustering around the “universally reviled” end of the scale. I’m unsure why. At least it’s not a humungous number 2.

Those BIG people certainly keep the stories coming, don’t they?! I wondered what it would be this time. Vernacular 3.0? Hedonistic Placemaking? Turns out there’s no great idea, just a whole chocolate box of narratives that fail to synergise into an air of inevitable appropriateness.

The first thing that strikes me as odd is the huge disparity between the combined volume and density of the various narratives. Something’s being overstretched. Never in the history of architecture has there been a building with a different narrative for each corner and surface of its shape. The elephant in the room of course is volume that that shape defines, but let’s start with the corners and work our way around.


The south-west corner of the building is presented as a major design feature. It’s not much to hang a building off of, especially when it’s being called upon to represent an appropriate dignity, solemnity and respect at the same time. It’s too much to expect of something that is, after all, just a vertical corner.  

BIG are masters at generating reasons that, though not lies, are red herrings. This corner is presented as the z-axis that generates an angled setback at ground level the setback angle is determined by its vertex and, since sunlight is involved, that vertex happens to determine a vertical line all the way up. A wedge is a wedge, not a triangle.  


The performance condition of (symbolically laden) light penetration is thus responsible for the vertical line and not the result of it. What’s happening is that a mandatory performance criteria is being presented as clever aesthetic decision.

That single vertical links between vertical buildings on one side of the site and stepped ones on the other, “stitching two different neighbourhoods together.” Below, the image on the left is a collaged composite illustrating an assumed diversity? We’re led to believe different tenants occupy different buildings. The middle image illustrates the return-on-investment performance we associate with “boring” corporate buildings? The two good things of natural diversity and efficient enclosure of space have been reduced to aesthetic choices before being stitched together and reduced to an architectural proposition in the image on the right.


There’s some additional slight-of-media at work in these following quotes from the video release.

“The completion of the World Trade Center will finally restore the majestic skyline of Manhattan and unite the streetscapes of Tribeca with the towers downtown,” said Ingels in a video explaining the project.

This will create a visual link between the old and new districts where “the heritage city blocks of Tribeca meet the vertical towers of the World Trade Center,” Ingels added.


I don’t know who’s actually wanting the streetscapes of Tribeca united with the towers downtown, or a visual link between old and new districts. I’m wary of this sudden importance of Tribeca. My gut feeling is we’re being made to look the other way while something shifty happens elsewhere.

“From Tribeca, it will appear like a vertical village of singular buildings each tailored to their individual activities stacked on top of each other, forming parks and plazas in the sky.”


I’m also not comfortable with having to place so much trust in that vision – especially since the vision of a vertical village of singular buildings each tailored to their individual “activities” is a fiction we’re being led to believe. Two World Trade Center is not going to be let “box” by “box”.


The southeast corner is the stepped one on the right in the image below.

It's strong here,

We’re told this stepped outline is generated by the volumes allocated to the seven different volumes that allow for different types of tenant.


I’m not buying this either. Even if there were seven tenants for seven boxes, would they really have different length-to-breadth preferences for their office space floor plates? Can seven different tenants for premium Manhattan office space at this location even be regarded as diverse? Again, a false performance criteria is being claimed as the justification for the decision to step the building on the east side and overhang it on the north. A dubious diversity is being replaced by the representation of a diversity.  

The project’s redesign was warranted since financial firms had since migrated away from the Financial District, making leasing out the new buildings a struggle and further prolonging the World Trade Center’s redevelopment.

The fiction of the diversity narrative is proved in this quote from Curbed NY.

ny curbed

Half the 80-storey building (40 stories or at least three differently-sized usage blocks) is to be allocated to a single tenant.

And so we come to the south-east corner. 

“Two World Trade is almost like a vertical village of bespoke buildings within the building, that also can be seen as a single tower. It actually has an inclination towards One World Trade Center, so the two towers — even though they’re not twinning — by having a mutual relationship, the space between them is parallel, although at an incline.”[WIRED]

Parallel lines are contained in parallel planes and the only parallel plane of One World Trade Center is the isosceles triangle of the east façade. The parallel line is its southern edge. It’s shown correctly here.



The “mutual relationship” magicked by this effect will be apparent from anywhere those two lines can be seen simultaneously, but preferably against the sky. This means a maximum view angle of 225° determined by the facade angles in plan of One World Trade Center. From this, we must subtract those 90° which the “diagonal” of 2WTC can’t be seen, as well as the angle for which 2WTC obscures 1WTC. I think too much is being made of an effect that at best can only be seen from 125° out of 360°.

It ought to be strongest between the two buildings but it’s hard to tell. The right edge of the reflected triangle in the image below is the important one but if the effect is underwhelming in a publicity image then it doesn’t bode well for the reality. Perhaps we’re just being trained to see it. After all, we have to imagine this fantastic diagonal anyway.

023_2 WTC HeroShot_Image by BIG-thumb

When done right, the parallel diagonal effect is strong and compelling. The only other time I’ve seen it is the 2009 Sama Tower in Dubai. Its west facade is a partial isosceles triangle and its east facade an inverted one – making diagonally opposite corners parallel. Seen against the sky and especially from a distance, we perceive those corners more strongly than those not seen against the sky.

Sama Tower

Sama Tower works this effect across a mass but Two World Trade Centre sets it up with One World Trade Centre across a void. Whether there’s any poetry to be found in this I don’t know. What I do know is that to take One World Trade Center and appropriate it into a new visual composition involving a notion of “twinning” is a highly intrusive thing to do. But why even bother to draw our attention to an effect so weak and partial? I’d appreciate it more as a happy coincidence.

We’re reassured the footprint is the maximum permissible. Whew! In the diagram below, the red rectangle at the top is what’s left after various vertical setbacks are applied to the extruded footprint. It doesn’t tell us much other than that an infinite number of volumetric arrangements are possible. Why this one?


I’ll update this when I have more information on setbacks. An environmental impact assessment hasn’t yet been filed with the New York City Department of City Planning.

For now, the setbacks and overhangs are new surfaces created by this stepping of blocks and they too can’t be left unjustified. 

Trees are good. There’s nothing to say except “Why?”, “Why not?”, “Why now?”


There’s also some newly created undersides in need of a story. “Hey, anybody got a story for those undersides yet?” “Høld it – I’ve just had an idea! Let’s have News Corp headlines tickering over them!” News Corp headlines eh? Have you already imagined it? I have.


BIG’s team seem to have kept the same viz. people for the money shot but someone may have insisted upon this to continue the deception it’s all about looks.


The angle and foreshortening, by the way, are legit if you’re an X50 telephoto lens positioned midway along Port Jersey Boulevard. 

port jersey boulevard

As of 23/06/2015, the Two World Trade Centre Wikipedia page stated as follows:

200 Greenwich Street (Foster+Partners): The total floor space of was anticipated to include 2,400,000 square feet (220,000 sq.m) of office space and another 130,000 sq.ft (12,000 sq.m) for retail shops and access areas to the underground World Trade Centre station. That’s a total of 2,530,000 sq.ft (235,000 sq.m).

2 world trade center

Two World Trade Centre (BIG): The first three floors of the 2,800,000 sq.ft (260,000 sq.m) office building, including the ground level, will feature about 100,000 sq.ft (9,300 sq.m) of retail space. That’s a total of 2,900,000 sq.ft (270,000 sq.m).

That’s a 35,000 sq.ft (3,251 sq.m) difference or, to put it in terms a property developer can understand, the BIG proposal provides 14% more leasable space!

F+P’s website claims an area of 290,000 sq.m but gives no breakdown. On the other hand, it must be mentioned that Two World Trade Centre’s Wikipedia page has been revised five times a day since 19:38, 9 June 2015‎ (talk)‎ . . (22,748 bytes) (+480)‎ . .  (WIRED Magazine reported on 6/9/2015 at 9am, the new designs for Two WTC. The article details the exclusive first look at the designs as well as a video and interviews of all relevant parties associated with the change) (undo)”.  A few more revisions might be in order.

sky lobby onesky lobby

Here, Ingels speculates that the sky lobby in the F+P design “may have contributed to the old design not getting built”. Wikipedia presents this speculation as fact.

Financial firms were the intended occupants for Foster and Partners’ 2 World Trade Center, and the original proposal’s sky lobby design was not attractive to media tenants, who have been the leading tenants of the new WTC towers and are now expected to occupy BIG’s redesigned building.

Changing elevators is a bore for anyone, regardless of what type of company they work in. Not having a sky lobby would make the upper half of the building more attractive to any office tenant. Large and regularly shaped floor plates would also be attractive to any office tenant.


Instead of being seen as a design feature people were already attuned to by the masterplan,

000209the diamond-shaped features of the Foster+Partners design are now being presented as cramping floor plate performance. What a difference 15 years makes! Property development is like Nature in abhorring a vacuum, relentlessly working to fill empty spaces.


It must be said, F+P do have a history of highly contrived and inefficient floor plates.

We’re told the client wanted a bank-like building when it looked like one would attract a bank tenant, but changed their mind when they saw nearby buildings filling up with media types. It’s true that F+P designed 200 Greenwich as a bank building. There’s a mammoth trading floor gives it away.

The mystery is why no-one went back to F+P to redesign it in line with the changing market. In this story, it’s wrong to see UK tax-exile architect Baron Foster of Thames Bank as some sort of victim.

But Two World Trade Centre is much more than a redesign because construction of 200 Greenwich had already begun!

Many structural elements of the skyscraper came predetermined by the intricate underground architecture of the property, which was set in place by Port Authority and Libeskind’s master plan. Mechanical equipment, like air vents for Calatrava’s station, are positioned on the existing foundations and had to be incorporated into Ingels’ building. [WIRED]

two world trade center

BIG used the same engineers as F+P. I’d insist on this if I were the client-side project manager or property development manager. Continuity of structural teams is good, especially when there’s suddenly an asymmetrical loading creating a rotational moment that’s usually countered by an extra thick and heavy core. The fun of Twister is to resolve your rotational moment before it reaches your hands.


I’m no engineer but I think this means a big block of concrete resting on the foundations of another building. We’re told this is “expressive architecture” rather than something useful that stops the building twisting itself off its foundations.

The engineering is of course possible but it’s not cheap. The 14% MORE must come at an acceptable price. The WIRED article covers points ignored by other articles – namely the apparent instability thing.

Silverstein was initially skeptical of the architect’s stack-of-blocks concept. From some vantage points, such as North Brooklyn, the structure will look a little off-kilter—almost as if it is leaning. At the World Trade Center, the force of gravity is the last thing that an experienced developer like Silverstein wanted to bring to mind. 

“Rupert Murdoch, still the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to his companies’ business, initially shared the developer’s concerns. “Once it was fully explained to him how the building works so well, so efficiently—brilliantly, I would say—then he got very comfortable,” Silverstein says. “As a result, quite honestly, I became comfortable too.”

Through the eyes of a Manhattan property developer, unexploited permissible envelope must appear like translucent green boxes in the sky. The F+P site layout no doubt provided the maximum possible footprint but only as determined within the constraints of multiple symmetries based on the edge of the wedge. This fixation with symmetry created two mini-wedges of light on the south-west and north-west corners. Nobody asked for those.


Silverstein may well have approached F+P for a re-think and F+P, sensing a PR disaster, may have refused. It’s bad enough to be accused of failing to have predict the future. Enter BIG. Their design occupies these mini-wedges. The south-west one becomes that sombre vertical and the north-west one is filled with boxes tracing the imaginary diagonal.

F+P’s design was resolutely vertical apart from its large trading floors where the BIG design now begins its climb. Thisis where most of that 14% more comes from. As it rises, the building contracts in one direction but extends in another, thus maintaining that gain for longer. The overhang is a logical consequence of maximising leasable area. It’s not an aesthetic decision.



Even if the achieved areas are the same, it still makes more sense to overhang the building towards the top and achieve more premium-office space, rather than step it back from the bottom and more sub-premium office space with yet more gardens.

“My first reaction, my second reaction, and my third reaction were: ‘Will this work?’” Silverstein says. “Will it be respectful of the other buildings? Will it be respectful of the memorial below?” 

Here, Silverstein is referring to the PR aspect of the problem, not its aesthetic one and certainly not any functional one. Like Nature filling a vacuum, the building designs itself and engineers itself to fit. What’s really needed is experience in winning over public opinion.

BIG step up to the plate.

Bjarke Ingels

Much skill must have gone into redesigning this building to monetise every cubic foot of permissible envelope and then engineer it so it stands on foundations constructed for a different building. This is nothing to be ashamed of yet we’re told none of it. In the new architectural dysfunctionalism, performance is completely detached from architecture even when it’s generating it.

The media star architect is a new form of architectural ornament. Their function is to invent and present decorative yet empty narratives. The actual building is conceived of and made possible by others. The only time the media architect is of use is to divert our attention away from the sordid political and economic machinations responsible for the building in the first place.

  • Talk about shape rather than volume is a classic example of how a dysfunctional architecture disguises real performance criteria as an aesthetic decision
  • Talk about vital engineering solutions as “expressive architecture” is another example
  • Representing diversity rather than encouraging it in any real sense, is merely architecture in motion. It’s the same process by which space and light were turned into aesthetic commodities.
  • It’s now possible to identify what exactly it is architects do to sustain this situation
  • Because of this, it’s now possible to explain the mechanism by which architectural fame is created. It’s a reward, basically. This explains not only the actual function of starchitects, but why they exist. The more an architect can get away with not justifying their buildings in terms of any aspect of real performance, the more value they have to a certain type of client. This is the source of many diseases presently plaguing architecture.
  • It now makes sense why media fuss and controversy of aesthetic appropriateness and symbolism is welcomed and encouraged by media, architects and clients alike. Everyone works overtime to confine the “debate” to aesthetics.
            “it’s none of my business” (Zaha Hadid)
            “the Building of The Year Award is about architecture not politics” (Deyan Sudjic)
    The more intense the debate about how a building looks, the more attention is diverted from how buildings are used for economic gain and political prestige. Architecture of this kind is The Shock Doctrine applied to economic and political exploitation.


In his presentations, Ingels spends a disproportionate amount of time and energy talking about Tribeca. There must be translucent green boxes hovering all over it.

1. Convince people the diversity of Tribeca can be represented in a high-rise building.
2. Replace Tribeca with representations of Tribeca.


The Japanese Machiya

The machiya (町家) is a Japanese urban housing type. Their name translates as “town-house”. They’re basically rooms around a two-storey lightwell. We’re familiar with Tadao Ando’s 1976 Sumiyoshi House that’s said to be a modern interpretation.

Waro Kishi’s 1987 Kim House is less familiar. 8_102 Having the bridge on the side makes its courtyard brighter and less oppressive than the courtyard in the Ando house. The machiya is simply one of those housing typologies that works irrespective of time, materials and construction. You’d probably have to be Japanese to appreciate the “closeness to the seasons” aspects of them that we, from a warm distance, see such charm in. 432-2 Despite the Japanese tendency to over-asetheticize the beauty of seasonal change rather than add some insulation, these little houses have much embodied intelligence. The annual average humidity in the Kansai region and Kyoto in particular is around 70% but when combined with temperatures above 30°C, is extremely oppressive. Moisture doesn’t need much prompting to condense. Evaporative cooling is your friend and thus so is cross ventilation. Luckily, wind speed picks up in summer. kyoto-climate-graph These tight-packed houses work better with a central courtyard that, like courtyards around the world, contains cool night air longer into the day and generates heat-shedding convention airflow at night. TKY200907030157 This recent detached house uses those same principles on its 55 sq.m plot with 50cm setbacks on all sides to ensure ventilation around and across. 9坪の家-3 Somewhat humbly, it reminds me of one of mine from years back except, in Gravesend, Kent, I was more concerned with overlooking than cross ventilation. These houses were capable of being either row houses or cluster houses but any window on an external wall was a bonus for daylight, ventilation and view.

Even Ando’s Sumiyoshi/Azuma house has paired small windows low down on the walls of each room to facilitate airflow, if not cross ventilation. You can see two of them in this next image. Please notice that rear corner while we’re around the back. o0461026012194373986 Waro Kishi’s 1986 Kim House was rebuilt in 2011 to have a central internal void rather than a courtyard. KIMHouse2011ShigeoOgawa03

Here’s another recent incarnation of the machiya as two joined houses. It’s close to perfect. I particularly like the distinction between the habitable rooms and the non-habitable spaces on the ground floor. 13-3_gif_5000x360_upscale_q85-2 Notice how it’s possible to go in one house and out the other without passing through a habitable room? You can see it’s an updated version of this next plan. It hasn’t changed much. In fact, it’s the same. 432-1 The room on the left is a shop facing the street and with an inner room that faces another inner room across a courtyard. Many machiya have shops on the street side – it’s the reason why they’re in cities.  In this next example, the front shop and the non-babitable spaces all have earthen floors. (You only have to change shoes once.) 1011-01 This next is a house above a restaurant for maybe ten people. Family meals are cooked in the shop. The central courtyard has become a void above the kitchen, topped by a skylight opening into a third-floor courtyard/lioghtwell/airshaft. plan Common to all of these is the separation of the kitchen onto the non-habitable side of the house (a shoes thing) and some type of internal double-height space that may or may not be a courtyard. This is a new-build machiya in traditional style and with all the traditional features.

There’s the shop at the front accessed from the lobby that leads into the house proper via the kitchen. Above the kitchen is a double-height space onto which all rooms face ensuring cross ventilation. Heat from the kitchen would generate a stack effect in that double height space to induce cross ventilation even when there was no wind. Much like Arabian wind catchers, it’s not that effective, but it’s better than nothing. The principles work and for some people they’re enough – but obviously not these people, as evidenced by the disguised A/C compressors. kento_06-2 We need more typologies like this. The closest we have to such perfection in Western/European architecture is probably the corridor-accessed one-bedroom apartment. This next example is perfect. Plan2 The circulation space isn’t an extra – it’s what makes it work. You can’t have more than six doors opening into 2 sq.m. The extra 1 sq.m comes from having to walk past the bedroom wardrobe and the kitchen units to get to two of the doors. It’s beautiful. There’s other things interesting about this project but “like clouds floating across the landscape” isn’t one of them. cha130714-102_dwellings_in_carabanchel-dosmasuno3 Some of the plans in this next project for social housing in São Paulo by Vigliecca & Associates are extremely evolved.

Their type C and type D are good

but I particularly like their 2-bedroom type A not least of all because its rigour reminds me of the Type A from the 1928 Types Study by the team led by Moissei Ginzburg and whose story we shall resume shortly. A four- and five-person Type  A


Rocket Science

The Rocket Stove is the application of pure thought to solve a problem that affects the health and lives of about one third of the world’s population.

Smoke from cooking fires kills two million persons per year, mostly mothers and small children. Stoves and open fires are the primary means of cooking and heating for nearly three billion people. In India, some 400,000 people die each year from the toxic fumes. In Africa, 500,000 children under the age of five die from pneumonia attributable to indoor air pollution, according to the WHO. Most of these deaths are attributable to cooking indoors over a three-stone cooking fire.


• • •


The Aprovecho Research Center

For over 30 years, Aprovecho Research Center (ARC) consultants have been designing and implementing improved biomass cooking and heating technologies in more than 60 countries worldwide. The Center was formally established in 1976, and is dedicated to researching, developing and disseminating clean cookstove technologies for meeting the basic needs of refugees, impoverished people, and communities in the developing world. For decades, ARC has been the world’s leader in open source development of all aspects of improved cooking stoves.


Dr. Larry Winiarski works for the Aprovecho Research Centre. He’s known as the inventor of The Rocket Stove but it’s more correct to say he identified the principles that a Rocket Stove makes use of to work as efficiently and elegantly as it does .


  • Air flows in from the fuel intake and is pre-heated for better combustion
  • The fuel partially blocks the air intake, allowing for a better fuel/air ratio.
  • The intake air is preheated for more efficient combustion.
  • Fuel burns horizontally at the bottom of the combustion chamber. Any smoke is drawn upwards through a high temperature zone, ensuring more complete combustion.
  • More complete combustion means less smoke.

  • The stove can burn relatively green wood. Moisture near the surface of the wood turns to steam that, when it comes into contact with hot charcoal, forms CO and H2 which are both combustible. Their combustion reaction further increases the temperature of the high-temperature zone, to ensure even more complete combustion, and even less smokeDr. Winiarski explains the mechanisms of combustion and heat transfer in this paper.

“One of the first things to recognize is that solid or liquid material does not burn directly. It must be converted to gasses in order to burn. Most biomass is hydrocarbons which, when heated convert to oil and oil vapors of many different types. Some oils such as fragrances, turpentine are visible or smelled even before the biomass is heated. Green, wet wood may contain as much as its dry weight in water and, in order to burn water, must be evaporated. Up to about 1000 BTUs of energy is used to evaporate each pound of water. At sea level and atmospheric pressure, the temperature of boiling water is limited to 212 degrees fahrenheit.

“Similarly heat energy must be provided to evaporate or distill each of the hydrocarbons formed from the wood. The lighter hydrocarbons are easier to change to the gas phase, heavier hydrocarbons like creosote take more energy, however if too much fuel surface is heated and the gases cool before they can intermingle and ignite with hot air or oxygen they will condense back into a fog our cloud of oil droplets. This is the smoke we see. It is analogous to the fog or cloud that forms when water vapor condenses. Heat must re-evaporate the oil droplets before they can burn. After the many different types of oils are combusted only charcoal remains. The hot charcoal first reacts with oxygen to form gaseous carbon monoxide. Then the carbon monoxide burns with the air to make carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the final result of a clean burn. Smoke and carbon monoxide are wasted fuel.”

  • Twigs and other types of low-grade wood scraps not normally classed as firewood have a proportionally larger surface area to supply fuel for these reactions.
  • Low-grade scrap wood works better than high-grade firewood.

  • The horizontal burning of the wood allows for better monitoring and tending.
  • The stove can be designed to have an angled gravity feed.
  • Variations can be made to have a secondary heating “element
  • The flue can be vented through a thermal mass element that functions as a heat storage device for space heating.


  • The stove can be made for practically nothing. 

  • You can make one yourself out of three cans.


  • Four concrete blocks.
  • About 30 bricks.


  • You can make a rocket-stove inspired architectural feature if you like.


  • But, judging by the size of that air/fuel opening and the type/size/shape of fuel, it won’t function as efficiently one made of mud and using twigs for fuel.


• • •


Dr. Larry Winiarski & The Aprovecho Research Center

for having an idea for an object that’s as perfect as an object can be
and for releasing it to the world to be used wherever it brings benefit

misfits salutes you!


Misfits’ 2015 Midsummernights’ Quiz

Welcome to misfits’ 2015 Midsummernights’ Quiz! I know I know, there wasn’t one in 2014 but don’t worry – misfits haven’t gone all biennale on you. The quiz is only ever a compilation of oddities and curiosities that hadn’t yet found their way into a post. So go on – enjoy it for what it is!

Q1. First up, what’s this?


Q2. Who all-capped this on April 10?

all caps

Q3. One of the signs of a dysfunctional architecture is when buildings have active online lives but don’t know what to do outdoors. It’s increasingly common for a building to be more image that substance. Images however, are all image and no substance and this is why they have become the purest expressions of a dysfunctional architecture. Which of the following images is the odd one out?

Q4. We’re so used to looking back at images of buildings we’re becoming less and less curious about the intended user experience. Part of that experience was to appreciate a view of one’s expansive property or the views it affords. Here’s some views. Name the buildings.

Q5. Country and approximate date please.


Q6. What do you first think of when you see the following photographs?

Q7. What’s the significance of this next? 


Q8. What do you first think of when you see this image?

ALM_Museum (1)

  1. Total harmony with surroundings as strong verticals resonate with surrounding forest.
  2. Touches the ground lightly.
  3. Unapologetically industrial aesthetic.
  4. Looks a bit like the previous building.
  5. For such a simple building, it manages to look extremely pretentious.

Q9. Who lives here?


Q10. What do you notice about this washbasin? [Clue: washbasin]



kth_engQ1. It’s Arata Isozaki’s once-famous Marilyn Ruler derived from, one can all-too-easily imagine, a shot or shots from Playboy’s 1949 Marilyn Monroe “Red Velvet” photoshoots. In his early buildings, Isozaki claimed to use this ruler whenever he wanted a “sensuous” curve …… such as in the Kamioka Town Hall 1976-78. If you weren’t alive then, be glad – they were horrible times.

all capsQ2. An easy one! The answer’s Patrick Schumacher on Facebook. The most important thing I’ve learned from this man is to stay away from the keyboard if I’ve had a drink. 

AGAQ3. The correct answer is C. It has been built and is the Art Gallery of Alberta. When winter arrives I’ll no doubt agonise over the real-world function of architectural invention as we currently understand it but right now it’s summer so I’ll let it slide.


Regarding Fallingwater, has anyone ever seen a photograph of the eponymous falling water taken from the living room terrace? Do we care?


Not really. Ol’ Frankie wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last, architect to get a wealthy client to pay for their media content.


It would be an interesting exercise to design a house – in the style of Wright – for the spot Mr. Kaufmann originally envisioned his house would be.


F-R.van't Hoff, Villa Huis ter Heide, Netherlands 1915

F-R.van’t Hoff, Villa Huis ter Heide, Netherlands 1915

Q6. It’s not a Rorschach Test, but your answer may indicate you’ve had too much architecture this past year. For want of a correct answer, architectons is the correct answer.

The early career of Zaha Hadid and, for all we know, THE ENTIRE FUTURE OF 20TH CENTURY ARCHITECTURE might have taken a different turn had Kazimir Malevich used sand instead of plaster. The physical impermanence of sandcastles is something we learn at an early age as our parents tell us pick up our buckets and shovels and get a move on. These sandcastles use an inexpensive and impermanent medium to allow us to enjoy gratuitous form-making for the fun of it. This is vastly more responsible than using the medium of architecture. Take a bow, Calvin Seiberg.


Q7 It’s Le Corbusier’s Villa Harris. Designed in 1930 for a Swedish-American Marguerite Tjader Harris. (For some reason, she’s usually mentioned as the Swedish-American heiress Marguerite Tjader Harris.) It was never built. She divorced Overton Harris in 1933. Le Corbusier designed this house for her in 1930. When their long-term affair began is conjectural. According to kiss-and-tell Tjader Harris, he “was not a complicated man, not even an intellectual, in the narrow meaning of the word. He lived by his faith and emotions.”

ALM_Museum (1)Q8 The correct answer is 5) It manages to look extremely pretentious for such a simple building. It does this by using few resources and simple techniques to do something that, if it needed doing at all, could have been done much more easily – by simply building on the adjacent ledge, for example. If this building is a lookout of some kind, one would have been looking out from just as high. The project is a zinc mine museum in Allmannajuvet, Norway.

peter-zumthor-allmannajuvet-norway-zinc-mine-project-ryfylke-designboom-01Here’s another building from the same project. Take an unpretentious building and, rather than build it on the stone wall, hang it off the edge. Peter Zumthor’s genius is to give complex buildings a devious simplicity. We know we’re looking at “architecture” but we quite can’t pin down where the necessary wastage is.

Bill-Gates-House_1Q9 Bill & Melinda Gates. The most unusual thing about this house is how little we know about it. It breaks the historic pattern of using architecture to flaunt wealth. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t used to flaunt other things. At the time of its construction, the media was flooded with articles describing its technical “innovations” that, curiously, have not come to pass.

809432_809432_Abisko-WashbasinQ10 The problem of overflowing has been ingeniously solved by making it impossible for the basin to ever fill! The English word ‘basin’ does not do it justice.


The Water Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful

Just like the communications towers in The Television Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful, water towers also have a job to do. Many are examples of performance beauty in that they have been designed to do what they need to do. 

Krasny Gvozdilshchik Tower

This first tower dates from 1930-31 and was designed by Yakov Chernikhov for the Red Nailmaker Steel Rolling Factory. It’s Chernikhov’s only built project.

16435_l (2)

Tower of the ‘Krasny Gvozdilshchik’ Factory in St. Petersburg

Knowing it’s by Chernikhov, it’s possible to find some similar beams-cantilevering-from-beams Chernikhovery in his 101 Architectural Fantasies.

Water Tower for the Socialist City of Uralmash

Usually, it’s never a good idea to combine a water tower with some other function. This water tower is an exception that proves the rule. The competition for its design was won by Moisei Reisher, a 25-year-old graduate of the Siberian Institute of Technology.

Yekaterinburg, Russia 1929

Yekaterinburg, Russia 1929

Nikolaev Water Tower

This was designed by master steel designer and polymath engineer, Vladimir Shukov. The first proposal in 1904 cost 146,235 rules which was too expensive. A Europe-wide competition took place in 1906 but the winning project would have taken too long to construct. Another competition was held two months later but, this time, the budget was only 40,000 rubles. Shukov’s design cost 25,200 rubles.


Nikolaev, Ukraine, 1907

Height: 26 metres; Capacity: 50,000 buckets

Kuwait Water Towers 1965

These 1965 towers were designed by Sune Lindström who was chief architect of the Swedish engineering company VBB that the government of Kuwait had commissioned to design a modern water-supply system for Kuwait City. There are thirty-one towers in five groups around the city. Each tower holds 3,000 cubic meters of water.



Riyadh Water Tower

The Middle East was once a natural place to find water towers. Here’s one in Riyadh. It seems to be of the Lindström design.


Roihuvuori Water Tower

Built in 1978, Helsinki’s Roihuvuori Water Tower has a capacity of 12,600 m³, a height of 52 meters and a diameter of 66.7 meters.


Roihuvuori Water Tower, Helsinki, Finland

Fiat Water Tower

This one’s by Pier Luigi Nervi, perhaps the first man to really understand concrete. Eber Ohlsson has many more images of water towers.


Torre Stabilimento Fiat, Mirafiori Pier Luigi Nervi, 1961

Misfit Water Tower

I spotted this one up the coast on the way to Ras Al Khaimah.


You can see the same tower elsewhere around the world.

It’s perfect. There’s nothing unnecessary about its structure. The base is the simplest way of countering certain forces. The approximately spherical shape does the maximum volume for minimal surface area thing, whilst the conical bit where it meets the shaft is the best way to segue to the shaft. It’s a huge droplet if you like – but it’s not trying to be one.

All these next water towers, however, are trying to be something they’re not.

There are many ways to overdesign something as simple as a water tower and make it into something ugly.

  • Just because it’s unpainted reinforced concrete obeying certain structural rules doesn’t mean it can’t be overdesigned.
  • Water is heavy. Making a water tower look weightless is an impossible task. Dishonest too. The anti-gravity flying saucer thing doesn’t really work.
  • It’s generally not a good idea to use a water tower as an excuse to build something else.
  • This water tower deserves special comment. It’s designed by Eero Saarinen for Bell Laboratories. 1959–1962. A water tower is a structure to ensure a constant water pressure, not some sacred receptacle either offering water to or receiving water from the gods. More to the point, lack of cross bracing suggests makes me think we’re looking at some serious over-engineering.

Water Tower at Bell Laboratories, Eero Saarinen

We should’ve seen it coming. Its forerunner was Eliel & Eero Saarinen’s 1945 GM Warren Technical Centre. Here it’s only trying to look like a sculpture. (Is the water tower heated?)


This next image has a lot of water happening. Does a facility with such powerful pumps really need a water tower?

There's a lot of water happening in this image.

“WATER – Our Friend!”

  • Surface paint jobs are never a great idea. The 1965 Kuwait Water Towers are included here now for trying to look beautiful, or at least fashionable. Both of these paint jobs are equally contrived. Both attempt to cover up some fact that can’t be concealed. MK1 uses colour to create an unconvincing difference between things that are obviously the same, while MKII uses pattern to create a superfluous similarity between things that are obviously the same. Two different aesthetic effects result, but both have an unnecessary design idea – MKI involving Colour and MKII involving Pattern.


Finally, and to end, this last water tower is not trying to be beautiful. For their part, the trees aren’t trying to be beautiful. Nevertheless, someone has decided some trees might conceal and/or enhance something that doesn’t need concealing and/or enhancing. Nothing comes out of this looking good.



How Other Folks Live

The standard “Western-style” apartment block typology is fairly resistant to change. LMvdR hit it bang on at Lake Shore Drive. Central access core, a long corridor, party walls linked to structure, central bathrooms and kitchens mechanically-ventilated, peripheral habitable rooms with views. 

from a 1957 marketing brochure

from a 1957 marketing brochure


openable windows

And nothing much has changed since. This post is about how the apartment building typology is being improved upon in other countries. It’s not some condescending “critical regionalism” based on “others” trying to be modern in their own way – usually by adding lots of lovely hardwood shutters and shading devices to your standard white building. Instead, on the very basic level of architectural response to climate, these other apartment buildings are, on the whole, better – apart from in Australia. 

Bangalore, India. This is Mantri Tranquil. It’s not bad. Habitable rooms face outwards, non-habitable rooms face inwards. All are naturally ventilated as natural ventilation is all there is. This would be mostly induced by convection, but some due to general turbulence or a weakened Venturi effect.  The configuration itself is basically semi-detached houses on top of each other, arranged to share vertical access as efficiently as possible. It’s large surface area per apartment is expensive to build, but it’s what gives it its advantages. mantri_tranquil_floorplan_wing_J_floor_3_to_floor_14

There’s scope to increase surface area even more by, say, six cylinders accessed from a central seventh cylinder – “a honeycomb that’s all honey!”. But then you get six apartments, not eight – bummer. (Maybe go for 12?) Pune, India This is Sobha Garnet. It’s no longer a cluster but it still uses the same passive design principles – less effectively but with less surface area. Differential air pressure front and back would create stronger cross ventilation. garnet floor plan Variations don’t improve upon it, but introduce the idea of corridor access and lightwells/ventilation shafts.

Chennai, India This is Orchid Pearl. Spaces between the buildings have atrophied into lightwells but all rooms are still naturally ventilated. As soon as there’s corridor access to everything, those corridors can be made any length. Floor plans new size And they are. As long as the light wells are open at the bottom, we can expect the Venturi effect to create updrafts ventilating non-habitable rooms and cross-ventilating any adjacent habitable rooms.

Penang, Malaysia This is Camellia Park. All rooms are naturally ventilated but now, shrunken shafts ventilate and might illuminate a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and laundry drying area. Level3Layout1

Despite their various shortcomings, it’s still possible to live in all these apartments without mechanical ventilation or, if need be, elevators.  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia This is Cempaka Sdn Bhd.  Here it starts to get nasty! seri01 Mechanical ventilation is now essential for all apartments. Studio apartment sizes range from 38.6 sqm. to 52.6 sqm. (416 sq.ft to 566 sq.ft). Which isn’t bad. But it really is time for these small apartments to stop pretending they’re larger than they are. In Malaysia, people prefer to greet their visitors in a space with no natural light rather than let them glimpse where they sleep. seri03-2 Tokyo, Japan This is Roppongi Hills. Roppongi Hills is a big, urbany, mixed-use development much hailed as the shape of future living in Tokyo. Roppongi_Hills_from_Tokyo_Tower_Day-2 To be honest, it’s sort of what we expected living in the future in Tokyo to be like. But man, those plans are deep! The “LIVING • DINING” room is a very inefficient shape, as well as an unpleasant one. (It’s determined by office constraints above.) Accustomed to multi-purposing, immodest Japanese use the bed as extra seating. You’ve seen the future. 426 This next plan manages to make 67 sq.m two-TV apartment seem cramped. On the plus side, having two ways to get to the same place is a decadent way to make an apartment seem larger. It’s still possible to cook in a kitchen this size with only two hotplates and 30cm of counter. Refrigerators don’t seem to get much narrower than 60cm but the 30cm wide sink is shocking compared to the standard-issue Japanese sink. 10737001_20110413204631

Manchester, U.K. This is Abito by BDP. It’s a much better way of doing the same thing. Typical Abito Apartment Oops. There’s that ffs same sink! Japanese people I apologise sincerely while bowing deeply and longly. I know now. If I can rinse a lettuce, I can wash up! I must be old.

Sofia, Bulgaria Over there, they like ’em with one corridor, one stair and one elevator. End apartments may or may not be larger. A-5-floor

The corridor can be extended for up to the maximum fire-escape distance. Adding another fire-escape stair case dramatically increases that maximum distance. London, U.K. The one corridor, one-stair configuration features in Foster+Partners’ luxury development, Albion Riverside. Property development is classless, knows no borders. Here, splitting the building into four cores and corridors means each of those corridors are reassuringly shorter. It also means more six more double-sided apartments.


These double-sided apartments have advantages for cross-ventilation and do offer an alternate view but their main advantage is to shift bedrooms to the rear of the building, freeing up more of the main frontage for more, value-added but smaller apartments. At the time, it was marketed as “All apartments have a view of The Thames” but on this plan alone I can see eight out of 25 apartments – about 32% – that don’t. I’m getting cross now. Grrr. Do I have to tell people what to see?

New York, U.S.A. misfits’ has mentioned New York by Gehry before. As well as bringing a shaft-like shaft of south sun, the corridor window gives bonus glimpse of Upper Bay and Jersey for people who paid all that money to look the other way.


Melbourne, Australia Recent apartment developments force one to question Melbourne’s right to be consistently voted one of the world’s most liveable cities. The East End Apartment breaks old ground anew. The pink apartment features a windowless sleeping alcove behind, yet open to the kitchen (breakfast in bed?) elegantly solving the light/impropriety conflict. Adjacent yellow apartment has a habitable room with no window at all – and in doing so stretching the definition of habitable room to breaking point. In all apartments, kitchens atrophy into niches in either the living room, the corridor or the corridor/living room. ace15695e04344c493df5f9f3dd64e45 The cruelly-named Aspect has Bedroom 2 windows looking onto lightwells adjacent to corridors and shared by bathrooms and kitchens. Stare for long enough at the plan and you will see the light wells are shaded blue in mocking homage to sky. level-1 Standard practice in Bangalore and Penang is the current reality in Melbourne. Here’s piss-poor Malvern Hill. malvern hill It continues. Here’s another disturbing development. See how the middle apartments have bedrooms tucked behind other bedrooms? decor_apartment_02 Such low standards have prompted “discussion” of regulations but those discussions seem to focus on the amount of space rather than better use of it. This next diagram highlights the differences between a 42 sq.m apartment and a 50 sq.m apartment. Despite the extra ffs cupboard, the kitchen still fails to cut it. Increased circulation in the hallway doesn’t help cat swingers. The living room, basically, is still shit. The extra 8 sq.m hasn’t changed much and the lack of expectation is stunning. image-20150515-8739-1iynsklThere’s worse. Here’s the despicable innovation of the ‘saddle bag’ bedroom. The illumination lux reality is the same as for the internal bedroom two drawings up. With the saddlebag bedroom, the link between the window and the internal space it supposedly services is a legal one rather than anything with practical meaning. Well done Australia! image-20150515-8739-18egoqe Here’s a link to the guidelines for Higher density residential development for the Australian state of Victoria. There’s much on the feely stuff like

  • urban context
  • building envelope
  • street pattern & street edge quality
  • circulation & services
  • building layout and design
  • open space & landscape design

but little on the bits people actually live in. The most relevant section only offers suggestions for what ought to be good practice anyway. suggestions Along with the usual bollocks we’re used to ignoring.


Sheds Without Shame

And Peter Behrens saw the shed was naked so he covered it up. 


And so the shed was made to feel shame. Taking something virtuous and forcing it to wear an aesthetic statement of questionable value is the original sin of architecture, its genesis. It’s as if architecture loves to see good ideas killed through a process of aestheticisation – the real meaning of Death by Architecture.

Why I dislike The Eames’ House

The Eames took a shed and decked it out with the arty pretentiousness of Mondrian colours.

Eames House - 05

They were also responsible for the intellectual dishonesty of using cheap components to build on a fairly decent slice of well-located real estate. What’s going on? Did one of them inherit it? I’m guessing Ray did for, by all accounts, Charles was a bit of a  bounder, possibly a cad.


Reasons to dislike Case Study House #21


“Despite saving all that money on construction and finishes, they dressed up yet stayed in, joylessly enduring each other’s company.”

Reasons to dislike Case Study House #22

Reasons to like Case Study House #22. 

It’s a shed.


It’s still a shed and, after seeing what their renewable neighbours have done to their site or were made to do to their site, it’s just as well it’s a shed.

still a shed

34° 6’2.81″N 118°22’13.59″W

If the Case Study House program was really about the beneficial use of industrial components to enclose space quickly and inexpensively, then we’d expect to see the north elevation used to illustrate this a lot more than we do. The useful idea apparent on the north side, is only important because it enables the aesthetic idea on the south side. Once inside, it’s all about the view. We’re always invited to look out of the house or through the house rather than linger at any time inside it or, God forbid, behind it. What Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, but she could just have easily said it about the Stahl House – “There’s no there there.”

But sixty-six years on from The Eames’ House has anything really changed?

  • Many people would still like a nice parcel of land in the Pacific Palisades – or the Hollywood Hills for that matter.
  • But many more people still have an aversion to prefabricated “off-the-shelf” building components.

Even today, if anyone wants to build a shed and live in it, it has to be justified in terms of “fitting in with the local character”. This is as true for the UK

country shed

where architect James Gorst has a nice line of sheddy houses alluding to some false memory of a rural vernacular,

and it is in Australia where Glenn Murcutt has also.

Sheds are everywhere but it seems they’re only acceptable when their obvious advantages are overlaid with a veneer of aesthetic pretentiousness. We like sheds but only when they hide their shameful nakedness.

Japanese architect Waro Kishi knows a bit about sheds without shame. Here’s his 1987 Kim House in Ikuno, Osaka. Less baggage than that other one. And no cutting of corners.

Here’s Kishi’s 1995 House In Nipponbashi, Osaka.

One might say “sheds without shame” is Lacaton & Vassal’s motto but this would be to turn their method of designing into a style. If L&V’s early houses such as Lapatie House and Dordogne House are small-scale sheds and their Nantes School of Architecture one of the larger applications of their thinking, then the middle ground is their 2013 two-sheds-are-better-than-one FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais art space in Dunkerque, France. The only design idea was to build another shed next to an existing one. The design idea is practically absent – and what remains of that design idea is probably something we construct in our heads.

lacaton & vassal

I thought FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais was about as shameless as a shed could be but no. Behind bdonline‘s paywall, Speller Metcalfe’s Western Power Distribution depot pushes the envelope with its 102% BREEAM score.