All posts tagged “pop culture

Very superstitious… writing’s on the wall


Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall,
Very superstitious, ladder’s bout’ to fall,
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass,
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past!

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,
Then you suffer!
Superstition ain’t the way.

Stevie Wonder. “Superstition.” Talking Book. Motown Records, 1972.

This photo was taken in the elevator of the “gold building” in New Haven, CT, on Church Street—you know, the one with the gold-tinted glass cladding. Every city’s got one. This gold building has a mezzanine, so the 12th floor… is actually the 13th.

(Did you listen to the link? Here’s more Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street.)

Who would have thought that dry wall could be so beautiful?

It’s always a delight to discover the sublime hidden in the pedestrian.

I caught an episode of Planet Earth the other night on Discovery HD theater. Episode 4: Caves. You can watch it in 10 minute chunks on You Tube, but take note: it’s the version with Richard Attenborough’s narration, not Sigourney Weaver’s, whose voice is more soothing. The episode takes the viewer through spectacular caves around the world, some adorned with gorgeous crystals and others endowed with severe environments populated by bizarre fauna. The largest of these caves is in the United States, Lechugilla Cave, in New Mexico. It measures 126 miles long and was discovered recently, in 1986. A mini-documentary at the end of the episode tells viewers it took two years for the film crew to get permission to enter the cave and travel as far along it as they did. Part of the reason is that the crystals in Lechugilla are extremely fragile, crystals made of gypsum… which brings me to dry wall.

Dry wall is what most walls are made of, in America. Is dry wall dry? Actually no, it isn’t. The name “dry wall” refers to the dryness of plaster board in contrast to wet plaster laid by hand. Early dry wall is just plaster encased in paper; current dry wall includes gypsum in the plaster matrix. Gypsum, or calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4·2H2O), contains two water molecules bound up by the mineral crystallization process. In a fire, this water is released. By incorporating gypsum into plaster, dry wall is in fact designed to be more wet. I happen not to be a fan of dry wall, or “gypsum board.” It’s a low quality material that easily turns moldy. I never would have thought that its primary ingredient could be so lovely.

Behold! the Chandelier Ballroom in Lechugilla cave, covered in so-called “alabaster” formations of the mineral gypsum. Here is a gypsum flower, and an aragonite tree. When I finally build my dream house, I want a room with towers like these. All these links go to the same website,, a home page for the photography of Peter and Ann Bosted. Fantastic. Read More

False Marias


We aired Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as part of our lecture series last week, and only two people showed up, which is a shame. I first saw it in college, perhaps in a class. I know I went out and rented it and made my two closest friends watch it with me over and over. I loved the imagery, the sets and painted backdrops in shades constructivist, futurist, and expressionist. The treatment of the main female character, however, left a lot to be desired. Maria embodies the traditional virgin-or-whore dichotomy, enforcing the notion that a woman is either one or the other; nothing in between. To be precise, Maria is the saint and her robot double, the false Maria, is the sinner. My two friends and I promised to start a band called The False Marias, but school got in the way. I like to think we’d sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Given a choice between the roles of good girl and bad girl, I’d choose bad girl every time. Actress Brigette Helm must have had so much more fun as false Maria than true. Just look at her delicious expression! Remember the TV show Jem and the Holograms? I liked the Misfits. Jem is particularly distressing to look back on. Why would a rich secret rock star be ruled by blind devotion to some jock preppy guy? 1980’s, I don’t miss you!

The next film in the lecture series is Jia Zhang Ke’s 24 City. I hope we have a better turnout.

Architecture pop songs

During the fall semester my graduate students engaged in an internal competition to design and build an outdoor pavilion using only recycled cardboard. One student, who owns a programmable remote camera, snapped pictures of the build at 30 second intervals. He then made a video by stringing the images together and setting them to music. I was hoping for “We Built this City [on rock and roll]” by Jefferson Starship (released by Grunt in 1985), but the students chose a different soundtrack.

I started to wonder, how many popular songs exist which feature architecture as a core lyrical element? I thought of “Our House” (Madness, The Rise and Fall, Stiff Records, 1982), and “Burning Down the House”  (Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues, Warner Brothers, 1983), but was at a loss for notable others. “Welcome to the Jungle,” Guns n’ Roses’ song about Hollywood, doesn’t count, because it’s more sociological then architectural (Appetite for Destruction, Geffen Records, 1987).

I’d like to gather a playlist of architecture pop songs. Please post your ideas.

The uncanny of Wes Anderson

Last night I watched Fantastic Mr Fox, directed by Wes Anderson (Twentieth Century Fox, released 2009). It’s based on a story by Roald Dahl, heavily altered by Anderson. Fantastic is a puppet movie, which is fun in itself, and it’s voiced by some great Anderson regulars (Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman), with a sprinkle of A-list actors, namely George Clooney and Meryl Streep who voice Mr and Mrs Fox. Most of the film’s characters, in fact, are woodland creatures, like Fox, Badger, and Weasel, who wear clothes and walk on their hind legs.

Anderson’s films are always quirky, and often dark, not unlike movies by the Cohen Brothers. After watching, I began to reflect on the uncanny moments in Fantastic. Take for instance the character of the Lone Wolf, who appears only briefly, and who doesn’t speak English like the other animals. Read More