Architect Turner Brooks came to speak in our lecture series last week. He was surprised to find out his work had been discussed that morning in my theory class, as part of a section on critical regionalism. He told me that he’s decidedly un-theoretically focused (though his brilliant wife, the architect and historian Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, certainly is). In response to the—shock I think it was—of being included in a theory class, he mentioned in his lecture that his favorite piece of reflective writing on architecture is Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, along with Franz Kakfa’s The Burrow, the latter of which he read with his undergraduate students, delighting in the increasingly crazed story arc of the neurotic auto-entomber. He showed slides of Goodnight Moon, one of the most movingly illustrated children’s books of all time, to talk about the relationship between the safe, small, cozy space of the home and the untamed wild of the infinite outside the window. Being able to speak to both simultaneously seems to be one of his aims, and I believe he’s succeeded.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Brooks’s architecture is his inclination towards intimacy. Intimacy in architecture, for me, is built space that’s radically personal. An archetypal example is the “ancestral reliquary” Brooks built into a house in Vermont. It’s a cabinet placed within the wall above the bed in the master bedroom filled with trinkets of little monetary value, Brooks says, but great personal significance. He showed a slide of three children enacting a play in which a ghost flies up to rest in the ancestral reliquary. Secret passageways fall into the same category, particularly if child-sized. Another example is this staircase built by Tom Luckey for his children, which becomes a slide.
Childhood is a particularly magical time for the creation of personal spatial archetypes. The “hidden space” is one of mine. In the drawing above, I try to depict the gap between our front door and the radiator in our hallway, a hidden, dariel-sized space I’d run to after getting out of the elevator where I’d wait for someone to unlock the door. The purpose was to be the first person inside after the door had barely cracked open, but looking back it was also nice to find a space that fit just me, and no other member of the family.
My dreams are extremely vivid, visual, and tumultuous. I often write them down. They describe intricate narratives—many fearful—which have me running down twisted corridors or along bizarre city streets. These dreams are certainly architectural, even hyper-spatial. Sometimes I see the earth below in a distorted fish-eye perspective, blocks laid out as though pressed against a sphere, like in Zaha Hadid’s early paintings.
Stairs feature prominently in these dreamscapes. Last night’s dream found me at a gem store where everything was free for the taking. Or that’s what I thought. Grasping my stolen treasures, I ran down the stairs to escape but they kept going on and on, father and farther down, with no way out.
As a child, every night when I got into bed I turned to lay on my side. My father thought I’d fall asleep faster if I adopted the right sleeping posture. When I put my ear to the pillow, I could hear a faint throbbing, like the beat of a distant drum. As I drifted off, I would imagine that the drum was really the sound of someone in the stairway. The old wooden steps still creak with every foot fall. I would listen to the beat as the steps disappeared into the distance and drift off to sleep.
I suppose now that the throbbing noise was the sound of my own heartbeat, which I can’t hear as distinctly any more. The steps, however, remain. They are quite plain, the steps themselves. I went back to photograph them just recently. Yet however common, I know that for me they are iconic. The image of these particular steps and their balustrade will never leave me.
The incoming architecture graduate students at the University of Hartford were treated to a day in New York City on August 26th. I led this third annual tour of the city’s cultural institutions, joined by 17 students and 3 other faculty from the department. This tour was similar to the previous two, though I attempt to make variations with each iteration. Our itinerary included the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Center for Architecture. We ended the day at Saigon Grill on University Place, having worked up a healthy appetite.
The images above are of the installation by the Starn brothers on the Met rooftop titled “Big Bambú.” I tried to see it earlier in the summer but was turned away due to rain, so I was really excited to finally visit the growing structure-as-art looming 50 feet above the roof. You can walk along the pathway built into the structure with special, get-up-at-7am-to-wait-in-line tickets, so long as you meet certain criteria (over 4’10”, under 400 lbs) including not being drunk. The only irony there is that alcohol is readily bought and sold on the Met rooftop. Big Bambú is really fantastic, and working on it has to be the best summer job ever. It’s not built the way an architect or engineer would build it—it’s not efficient. Rather, it’s highly fetishized, with extra bits of string hanging down from all the lashings, footings rendered useless by continued construction that leaves them dangling a half-inch above the ground, reams of cloth tied up to provide shade to the mountain-climbers-turned-builders, and wrapped objects likes stones embedded into the bamboo network. It is awesome. And it’s only up until October 31st, so go see it.
The first year grads will be working on an addition to the Whitney Museum, the one Renzo Piano tried to do directly adjacent to Breuer’s building, but the neighborhood said “no” too many times. Read More