Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

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My playground

15 January, 2009

VM Mountain Series by Kim Høltermand

Philosopher Michel Foucault once said, ‘architecture is not an object but a process; not a thing but a flow.’ Little did he know that nearly thirty years later, in the same city that helped launch his career, a group of teenagers would invent a sport that would not only bring his words to life, but it would also inspire an entire movement to re-examine the way we build our cities and view our urban landscape. The artful athleticism of parkour has swiftly taken the world by storm since the Yamakasi formed in Paris back in 1997. Led by its legendary founder David Belle and Sébastian Foucan, the trasceurs (practitioners of parkour) have become increasingly known for their mastery of overcoming physical obstacles in order to efficiently reach one place from another. It is this visually impressive, highly skilled discipline required in the undertaking of parkour and freerunning that has since inspired films ranging from Luc Besson’s Yamakasi – Le samouraïs des temps modernes and Banlieue 13 to the more recent Breaking and Entering by Anthony Minghella. In 2003, Mike Christie presented parkour to the English-speaking world with his Channel 4 documentary Jump London, in which Foucan coined the term ‘freerunning’ to describe the parkour off-shoot geared towards freedom of movement and street acrobatics.

What each of these films has in common apart from featuring high-action parkour stunts is that they all reflect upon urban life and how it’s shaped by the surrounding architecture. Even more interesting, however, is the way traceurs reach destinations made impossible by what ordinary pedestrians see as physical obstacles. And a brilliant demonstration of these views can be seen this summer in Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s highly anticipated upcoming film MY PLAYGROUND. Inspired by his previous documentary CITY SURFERS about the parkour scene in Denmark, Schröder set out to more closely examine the way that traceurs interact with architecture, honing in on movement, tricking and parkour in the urban space through the exceptional skill of Denmark’s Team JiYo. What makes MY PLAYGROUND so unique is that not only does Schröder provide the perspectives of the traceurs themselves, but he also includes interviews with the architects, politicians, planners and philosophers who determine how space is shaped within our cities. Bridging both modern and traditional architecture, Schröder’s choice of locations highlights the potential for traceurs and architects to learn from one another in order to pave the way for revolutionizing the functionality of our living spaces and the dynamics of our surrounding environment.

Shot in Copenhagen, the film features the award-winning VM Houses and neighbouring Mountain Dwellings designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). These buildings reflect the firm’s common interest in parkour and freerunning, ultimately stemming from its reputation as being a member of the new generation of architects combining innovative analysis, experimentation and social awareness in their work. BIG architects go beyond common convention in order to incorporate contemporary life in a manner similar to that of the famed architect Le Corbusier and his Unité d’Habitation. Pioneering functional, urban design in modern architecture, Le Corbusier had dedicated himself to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities — even going so far as to exclusively use the proportions of the human body for his scale of architectural proportion. Today, as Le Corbusier had done decades before, BIG seeks to understand the way humans live rather than merely building buildings to fill up space — all the while exploring new ways to create our living, commercial and social spaces. A philosophy summed up nicely by the words of parkour photographer Andy Day as featured in Canon’s 2005 ‘The Shot‘ campaign on-site at the London School of Economics: ‘[The urban landscape] is there for you to run across; it’s not there to contain you.’

Shot, edited and directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder. Music by The Notwist (‘This Room’, Neon Golden).

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: MY PLAYGROUND – Bjarke Hellden, Team JiYo

A Day of Few Spoken Words by Kaspar Astrup Schröder

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Diplomatic design

7 January, 2009

Oliver Lincoln Lundquist, Designer, Is Dead at 92
By Steven Heller
New York Times
January 4, 2009

Oliver Lincoln Lundquist, an architect and industrial designer who led the team that created the United Nations logo, died on Sunday at his home in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan. He was 92. The cause was prostate cancer, said his daughter, Jill Lundquist. In World War II, as a Navy lieutenant, Mr. Lundquist served in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the C.I.A. Until 1946 he worked directly with Alger Hiss and the architect Eero Saarinen, preparing visual presentations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as the Washington press corps. After the Navy, Mr. Lundquist attended the San Francisco conference at which the United Nations Charter was signed. His team was responsible for designing all the graphics for the conference and an official delegate’s badge, which became the prototype for the United Nations logo. The team did not set out to design the logo for the United Nations, but the badge became the prototype. It was initially designed by Donald McLaughlin, who worked for Mr. Lundquist as the director of graphics for the conference.

The distinctive blue in the design, Mr. Lundquist explained, was “the opposite of red, the war color.” He continued, “It was a gray blue, a little different than the modern United Nations flag.” The symbol of the globe was also slightly different in the original design, he said: “We had originally based it on what’s called an azimuthal north polar projection of the world, so that all the countries of the world were spun around this concentric circle, and we had limited it in the Southern sector to a parallel that cut off Argentina because Argentina was not to be a member of the United Nations. We centered the symbol on the United States as the host country. Subsequently, in England our design was adapted as the official symbol of the United Nations, centered on Europe as more the epicenter, I guess, of the East-West world, and took into account the whole Earth, including Antarctica. By then, of course, Argentina had been made a member.”

Mr. Lundquist was born on September 20, 1916, in Westbury, N.Y., the son of Frances Molly Lundquist and the landscape architect Louis Lundquist. He grew up in Peekskill, N.Y., and studied architecture as an undergraduate at Columbia University. In 1937, during his senior year, he was hired to work in the prestigious industrial design office of Raymond Loewy and was trained by Loewy himself. He later studied on his own for the New York architecture licensing exams, all of which he passed on his first attempt, in 1956. At Loewy’s firm, he worked on the Chrysler Motors Exhibition for the 1939 New York World’s Fair; Chrysler had developed the Air Flow car, and Mr. Lundquist was involved with designing a wind tunnel display that used smoke to show the smooth air stream. He helped create a “magic talking car” that spoke in the voice of the “Amateur Hour” host Major Bowes about the great autos created by Chrysler. He also installed a “frozen forest” to demonstrate Chrysler’s new air-conditioning system. The forest had palm trees made of steel with refrigerant inside. “This became a favorite refuge inside on the hot summer days,” Mr. Lundquist said.

In Arts & Architecture magazine’s Post War Living housing competition in 1943, Mr. Lundquist won top honors for a house he designed with Saarinen. Mr. Lundquist was a partner in the architectural firm Van Der Lanken & Lundquist and was later a partner in the firm Lundquist & Stonehill in New York. In addition to designing private residences, he worked on hospitals, schools and Parks Department buildings; the offices of the investment firms Bache & Company and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, and the drug maker Hoffmann La-Roche; and the renovation of the art auctioneers Sotheby Parke Bernet in the former Kodak Building in Manhattan. He was an early proponent of track lighting, doing many original designs for the lighting company Lightolier. Mr. Lundquist’s marriage to Betty Cooper Lundquist ended in divorce in 1975. He is survived by their three children, Jill, Timothy and Eric Lundquist, and five grandchildren. While he was at the Loewy office, Mr. Lundquist designed something almost as visible as the U.N. logo: one of the most widely known of product packages, the blue-and-white Q-Tip box.

See also: Q-tips

United Nations

Arts & Architecture

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Gallery — DLR Series

12 December, 2008

DLR 1000619
by Sarah Badr, 2005
20 x 30 cm S8R print

DLR 1000619
by Sarah Badr, 2005
20 x 30 cm S8R print

DLR 1000626
by Sarah Badr, 2005
30 x 20 cm S8R print

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

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Proving grounds

8 December, 2008

Curt Teich & Co. Lithograph ca. 1951 – Mesa, Arizona

Urban development: City of the future
December 4, 2008
The Economist

A rare opportunity to build an urban centre from scratch

Scott Smith likes to introduce himself as mayor of “the biggest city you’ve never heard of”. Mesa is twice the size of Washington, DC, and has a population greater than Cleveland or Miami. This week the Arizona settlement annexed five square miles (13 sq km) of desert, on which a new urban centre will rise. The biggest city you have never heard of plans to become a lot bigger. Until it was temporarily halted by foreclosure and the credit crunch, Mesa was an extreme example of sunbelt growth. In 1940 it contained just 7,000 inhabitants, many of them Mormons. Then the explosion began. Driven by migration from the rest of America, Mesa’s population roughly doubled in each of the next five decades. It now contains almost half a million people and has sprawled into a metropolis centred around the similarly fast-growing city of Phoenix. It is the quintessential low-slung suburban city—what Yale University urbanist Dolores Hayden calls a “boomburb”. Mile after mile of strip malls and tract houses, whose evocative names and fanciful arches cannot disguise the fact that they are large, stucco-covered boxes, dominate the landscape. Aside from the city hall and a shiny arts centre, most of Mesa’s downtown district is only one storey high. When Mesa was growing explosively, the lack of a plausible downtown hardly mattered.

But the city has been battered by foreclosure and may now be losing residents. Although it is hardly the only casualty in the region, Mesa is in especially poor shape. Too old to seem very new, but not nearly old enough to seem quaint, its appeal has dimmed. Mesa’s solution is typical of the sunbelt: start building. Mesa’s “do-over”, as Mr Smith calls it, will take place south-east of the existing city. The land annexed this week is owned by a single developer, DMB, allowing for a unified vision. The opportunity to construct a new city centre is rare, and Mesa will become a test of modern urban design. It is looking both to the future and a long way into the past.The forward-looking part of the plan is that Mesa will be built around an airport. Rather than pushing air traffic to the fringe of the city, as most cities try to do, Mesa will build around its runways. It hopes to become what John Kasarda of the University of North Carolina calls an “aerotropolis”—a city as tied to air traffic as 19th-century cities were to railways. Mesa’s Gateway airport, a former military site with three runways, currently sees only a few commercial flights, many of them charters heading for Las Vegas. Arizona’s main hub is Phoenix-Sky Harbour airport, 28 miles (45km) to the west. But assuming that central Arizona eventually resumes its rapid growth, another airport will be needed. The city plans to build a big new passenger terminal. It also hopes to create a high-tech job cluster that will draw part of its labour force and some of its ideas from a polytechnic university that is already next to the airport.

The backward-looking part of the plan has to do with the new city’s appearance. Rather than dictating uses for neighbourhoods, as almost all American cities do—apartments here, light industry over there—Mesa’s planners will determine the appearance of buildings. They want to encourage a mixture of uses in one street, and allow for change (so a warehouse might eventually be converted into apartments). They hope that, by putting many of the essentials of life in a small area, people will walk around. Mesa’s scorching summers might be a problem here. Although DMB claims the new city will be an exemplar of “21st century desert urbanism”, it actually looks rather more like a city of circa 1900. The new Mesa will contain lots of neighbourhood parks, the better to encourage sociability. Its downtown will depart from the north-south-east-west grid that most Western cities follow. The tilt is reckoned to be better for catching solar rays, but it is also meant to be a nod to history. Some older Western cities (Denver and Los Angeles, for example) have downtown districts that depart from the compass pattern. The new city will be a major showcase for “new urbanist” theories, which have so far been applied most famously in much smaller towns like Celebration and Seaside, both in Florida. Mesa’s willingness to experiment is impressive. Yet Richard Reep, a Florida architect, is wary: “Any time architects start thinking they can influence social order, watch out.”

See also: Mesa Proving Grounds (DMB)

Arizona Department of Transportation

Mesa, Arizona (Government Portal)

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Musical chairs

9 November, 2008

Does This Song Match My Sofa?
By Kate Murphy
October 30, 2008
New York Times

IMAGINE walking into an airy Upper East Side apartment with 18th-century antiques, gilt mirrors and chintz upholstery. Now imagine Metallica playing on the sound system. Music can alter a space as much as lighting, fabrics and artwork, but until recently, most people relied on their own judgment when it came to sound. Now, though, an increasing number are hiring personal music stylists to pick out tunes for their homes just as they might hire an interior decorator to select furnishings. While Muzak has for decades created what it calls “audio architecture” for commercial environments, it is just in the last five years that a handful of music consultants, mostly in New York and London, have begun to specialize in creating custom domestic soundtracks. From Aspen lodges to bungalows in Belize, they are compiling playlists to match their clients’ décor.

“Hearing the wrong music in the wrong space can be very disorienting,” said Coleman Feltes, a music stylist in New York City. A D.J. known for creating mixes for Versace, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana fashion shows, Mr. Feltes began his bespoke music service for individuals in 2006. Mr. Feltes and other music stylists typically visit clients’ homes or look at photographs of them to assess their decorating styles and to understand layouts. They may also peruse clients’ music collections to learn the genres and artists they’ve liked in the past. “Sometimes it’s truly awful stuff,” said Angus Gibson, another stylist, like “love and moonlight” soundtracks from Meg Ryan movies. His London-based company, Gibson Music, furnishes custom sound systems as well as the music to play on them for clients in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Even if the music a client likes isn’t insipid, stylists warn, it might be all wrong for a given space. “You’re not going to have Johnny Cash playing in a fantastic retreat in the West Indies,” Mr. Gibson said. “It just wouldn’t work.” Though they consider clients’ musical preferences, stylists said they are paid to be the final arbiters of what songs work in a space. “When clients hire me, they are buying into the Coleman brand of taste,” Mr. Feltes said. Stylists typically charge between $50 and $250 per hour of music, which they usually download onto iPods but which can also be delivered on CDs. Joe Wagner, 50, a commercial real estate developer and investor, hired Mr. Feltes last year to provide music for two homes with very different styles — a rough-hewn stone, wood beam and stucco lodge in Aspen, Colo., and a white brick colonial in Palm Beach, Fla. “I wanted music for both places that set the mood and reflected the environment,” Mr. Wagner said.

Mr. Feltes compiled about 48 hours of music divided into playlists particular not only to each residence but also the activity and time of day, like, for example, Latin jazz tracks for a lazy afternoon floating in the pool in Palm Beach or opera selections for a morning reverie while gazing at snow-capped mountains in Aspen. “When someone walks in and hears great music, it’s like looking at a wonderful painting on the wall that gives you certain emotions,” said Mr. Wagner, who gets his playlists updated quarterly. “I love that I don’t have to think about what to put on. It’s already done for me.” With so many genres and artists, it’s hard to stay on top of everything that’s available. ITunes, the online music store, has a catalog of over eight million songs. And there are countless new performers whose work is not so widely distributed.

“Our clients are the type who send people all over the world to find the perfect spoon, or doorknob or type of marble,” said Jeffrey Reed, a club D.J. and a founder of Audio Sushi, a custom music service in London with an international clientele. “My job is to find the perfect music.” Another service, Audiostiles in New York, helped Jessica Goldberg, 35, three years ago when she wanted music to match the apartment she and her husband, Billy, a doctor, had recently renovated in the West Village. With two small children, Ms. Goldberg said, “I’m not going to clubs anymore to hear what’s new.” The Goldbergs filled out a questionnaire about their daily life and their musical tastes. In a phone interview, they described their home, which has wide-plank wood floors, large windows and modern furniture. “It was amazing how they extrapolated from that what we liked and would fit our place,” Ms. Goldberg said.

Most of the tracks on the 10-hour compilation that she continues to play are by acts she had previously never heard of, like the contemporary pop singer Joshua Radin and the folk artist Brett Dennen. The playlist has an overall warm sound, Ms. Goldberg said, which harmonizes with her apartment’s open floor plan and casual, contemporary feel. “It was like they could read my mind.” Ms. Goldberg hired Audiostiles again earlier this year to create a playlist to listen to at home while playing with her children. She said she wanted tunes that were “kid-friendly” and yet “wouldn’t make me want to tear my hair out strand by strand.” The resulting list included Stevie Wonder, the Barenaked Ladies and Simon and Garfunkel. “It’s calming,” she said. Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal and the author of “This Is Your Brain on Music” (Dutton, 2006) said background music, or “auditory wallpaper,” can not only change the way people see their environment, it can profoundly affect their mood. Pleasurable music leads to the release of “feel-good hormones” like dopamine, he said.

Dr. Levitin believes that the ways people use different rooms in the home may call for different music. For example, he likes to play Alison Krauss in his kitchen because her warm voice and melodic songs match the sense of “comfort and groundedness” he feels while preparing a meal. For relaxing in the living room, he prefers the “smooth and uplifting” music of Luther Vandross. Lori Hoffbauer, a personal music stylist whose company, Groove Gurus, is based in Brooklyn, said many of her clients want room-specific soundtracks. She recalled a bachelor who wanted particularly “cheesy” amorous music (like songs by Barry White, she said) for the bedroom of his vacation house in the Hamptons. “That was one of those times when you learned more about the client than you wanted to know,” Ms. Hoffbauer said.

See also: This Is Your Brain on Music

‘In personal stereo’ (pieces at random)

Groove Gurus

Gibson Music

Audiostiles

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Building acoustics

29 September, 2008

Sound structure I

Cairo is a remarkably concrete city — a single view from the window whilst circling over Cairo International will attest to the fact that there’s no escaping it. Perhaps the root cause of my disliking the skyline once the Nile is out of sight and all that’s truly worth seeing has faded into the distance, the concrete buildings that comprise most apartment blocks in surrounding residential areas are abundant to the extent of a visual monotony that still irks me after twenty-three years. Coated in dusty hues and often dilapidated after a few years of construction, many past summer of mine has been spent residing in such buildings, the sort my late grandfather designed in the great modernist fashion of the 70s and 80s. But even those with distinct architectural merit yield to the unrelenting hydrocarbon and lack of upkeep in the second most populous city on the continent next to Lagos.

What of the romantic legacy of historic relics remaining after French and British rule in the downtown and Garden City areas? Sadly, edifices other than embassies claiming climatic immunity (via cheap local labour whitewashing walls) have started to blend in with the rest. I must however admit that the picture is not all as run-down as I make it out to be, as such dour qualities of Cairo do tend to be exaggerated in my point of view when I speak of particular areas. It is unfair to overlook the glitz of countless five-star hotels scattered about in various constellations throughout the Greater Cairo area, lighting up the night and attracting Cairenes and tourists for some truly world-class sights. All the while, much expansion is ongoing in the surrounding region, drastically transforming the shape of the city in face of the heavy population burden and an increasing albeit limited demand for higher, more refined living standards.

At a glance, it would seem the next chapter of urban development has some positive potential rather than the routine negative if Cairo’s city planners and construction companies do a thorough job of it. Perhaps a prime example of things to come can be seen in the newly constructed Al Azhar Park, spread upon 74 acres in the Al Darassa desert area by the Citadel. For years, the lack of green space equivalent to Hyde Park or similar has been the brunt of many a joke and complaint in Egyptian conversation. Yet this answer to the hopeful populace landed a few years ago in the most unlikely of places: a 500-year-old rubbish dump. And thanks to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, a team of Egyptian, American, French and Italian architects, engineers and landscape and horticultural specialists (along with a sizable $30 million), the end-result of the transformation today sees thousands of visitors eagerly seeking refuge in the midst of tree-filled courtyards and pavilions overlooking water.

But so far we’ve only covered hotels, fancy homes, a single park and urban sprawl funded by the prospect of new money paid by the country’s new economic middle class. Indeed much to the misfortune of the average Egyptian, the ‘democracy’ of such access to structural rejuvenation of the local built environment falls short when only the few residents who can afford it flock to developments in nearby 6th October City and the Muqattam hills, seeking a habitat far removed from the smog and noise congestion that infiltrate the everyday city life that I myself am used to. Progress, yes, but irrelevant when really we’re talking about an anorexically thin top-tier of society. To ignore the old and focus solely on the new — or disregard the many poor in favour of the few rich — is too foolish in a city where already its very foundations are being tested by the pressure mounting from unwisely chosen construction destinations and profit-hungry commercial and residential engineering.

For long there have been old wives’ tales about the area surrounding the pyramids encroaching upon the Giza plateau and threatening its stability. Bearing true to situational reality, the growth of new settlements at its base such as Nazlet Al Summan and Kafret Al Gabal are all impeding upon what was once deemed to be very stable bedrock (nummulite limestone from the so-called Muqattam formation) by the ancient ancestors. These housing areas are for the nation’s poor, driven to the edges of Giza by unaffordable housing elsewhere. Coupled with traffic, pollution, sewage overflow and the general populace density in many an area not suited for additional physical and environmental exacerbation, many see in it a catastrophe waiting to happen. As if there had ever been any doubt, the tragic and all too common landslide in Muqattam on 6th September led to the breaking off of a portion of the cliff overlooking a shantytown in the Duwayqa district, causing devastation and killing over a hundred residents in Manshayet Nasser down below.

Those who survived — some of the nation’s most poor and alienated — continue to live there beneath the volatile rocky terrain with little aid from the government and even less hope of a future worth living. This case illustrates a scenario that is in no way isolated: landslides in this area are common and believed to be caused by sewage flooding out from those elite luxury developments being built on Muqattam. According to Egyptian geologist Fakhri Labib, ‘[those in government] don’t care about poor people. They are left to build their houses in unsafe areas, and their death is cheap. The government has reached an unprecedented level of corruption. It openly protects the rich, and neglects the poor.’  And despite there being in recent years an effort to revive the old façades that make the Egyptian capitol one of the most architecturally varied in the world, I fear that many sites will be forgotten and left to ruin — along with the very people who live there.

So on the one hand, development continues in so-called ‘New Cairo’,  where one expects nothing short of homogenization in what may have potentially been a renaissance in non-commercial architecture but has fallen prey to quick money and uninspired wholesale design subject to inflation. Meanwhile, the shantytowns continue to pile up, the disparity between the rich and poor becoming evermore evident in a way that the brutal metaphor illustrates: rich fortresses on mountains looming over poor makeshift dwellings prone to instant demolition with no more prior notice than the sheer element of living in constant fear. With that in mind, I return to the most dirty and banal of buildings downtown and the ubiquitous concrete monoliths I so greatly despise in Nasr City and Heliopolis, and I realize that they are actually much better in comparison. They have character in their worn, dusty states of neglect, and the residents with exorbitant amounts of wealth are forced to show off their golden ornaments only inside their homes behind closed doors (or else, on streets in their flashy cars).

That said, as the government does make an extremely slow though gradual effort to clean up the streets, I hope that they also take the opportunity to infuse new life into the older areas, focusing more on the refurbishment of property (hopefully minimizing electrical faults) rather than spreading far and wide in order to build unsustainable, potentially destructive housing that a small fraction of the population can afford. Maybe only then can they realistically tackle that monumental task of finally finding feasible living accommodation solutions in the once-beautiful city where rapid population growth and shortage of affordable housing today is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode in a nationwide oblivion that will leave neither rich nor poor unscathed.

Habitat 67 is an apartment complex built as part of the housing theme of Montreal’s Expo 67. A design based on the architect’s master’s thesis at McGill University, Moshe Safdie aimed to demonstrate the amalgamation of diversity and variation in residential living, whilst in exploration of built concrete in space. An affordable economic solution to housing with the necessary provisions plus garden, it was expected to set the trend for the modern urban landscape in which an increasing population would call for more architectural creativity. In all irony, however, units in Habitat 67 today are expensive as a result of the very design that pioneered them (owned by tenants in limited partnership, purchasing the development from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1985).

Sound structure II

Back in July, I attended the BFI’s Noise of Art presents: Booka Shade over at the Southbank’s National Film Institute. A combination of sound and video installation in a single night’s performance, I found it thoroughly enjoyable, only I was left half-impressed overall by the coming together of Booka Shade’s latest fantastic work with slightly mediocre visuals (it could have been better, to say the least). What did have a lasting impact, though, was the use of a sequence involving a concrete block of residential buildings mirroring one another in high-contrast green monochrome, skewing and merging in rhythm as the Berlin hallmark minimal electro and glitch resonated throughout the dark theatre. And it made me reflect a while about the impact sound has on the perception of structure, e.g. buildings, and if such structures could impact the way sound actually sounds. Oddly enough in addition, it seemed it was those bland concrete buildings in particular that lent themselves rather well to various musical styles.

Uniform and unremarkable apartment blocks (the Cairo-esque type as mentioned above) used in tangent with music is not exclusive to Booka Shade: take, for example, the audiovisual collaboration between Jan Jelinek & Visiomat Inc. in Modell Stadt Berlin. Or, as I recall now, the German video that most sticks out in mind for an optimally put-together selection of samples from Amon Tobin, featuring ‘Plattenbauten’ (buildings made with pre-cast concrete slabs) amongst the short film’s leading characters. Indeed I’m very much inclined to Tobin; after the tediousness of hearing Radiohead’s ‘Idioteque’ every time my phone rang, my replacement of choice was ‘At the End of the Day’. Now, months later, I have yet to grow tired of the track with which I fell in love on the album Foley Room. And I reckon that this is because Tobin’s music somehow effortlessly serves as a supporting background to various surrounding environments — regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, it always seems to sound right.

It appears I’m not the only one who thinks so, as one takes a look at Tobin’s discography re-manifested in dozens of videos and film shorts produced by avid listeners who appreciate his cinematic musical flare. An ‘audiovisual environment’ populated with sounds sampled from his field recording sessions is enough to transplant you into a foreign world, and the 36 year-old Montreal-based Brazilian musician and producer seems to achieve this in both beautiful and seamless fashion. Impressive, really, to have started out mixing and recording on a twin-cassette deck and now be fully exercising sampling’s potential digitally whilst still maintaining the sense of organic texturization on the channel spectrum. Characterized by ambiences blended with layers of sound pinched from a vast array of musical miscellany, his resonances and reverbs coupled with distorting effects help feed the metamorphosis of his musical composition in a form that’s entirely Tobin’s own.

It comes as no surprise that so many cinematographers should use Tobin’s music as the underlying backdrop to visuals in motion, catapulting his rise as a creator for music featured in films and adverts. Such work is as diverse as his music and much without restriction to a single screenplay niche or product, playing on the uniqueness and complexity of his creative use of sampling that inherently leads to a multi-faceted cross-genre effect. Consider everything from The Italian Job and éS Footwear’s Menikmati to Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory video game and the most recent release of Hungarian film Taxidermia in which Tobin’s entire score was featured. It all comes together in a single superior entity enhanced by old recordings of sounds heard on the average day-to-day, recycled for perception-altering consumption covering everything from motorcycles (Foley Room) to most notably the acoustics of buildings themselves (Out From Out Where).

It was wise of Dessau-based digital artist Jan Schoenwiesner to cut samples of Amon Tobin into the background of his brilliant Plattenbauten short — the one I viewed a while back and still refer to today (shown below).  The music video/graduation film is the product of his master’s thesis, built upon the transportation of abstract animation from the likes of Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren into the pseudo-reality of a man trapped in a dream shaped by concrete buildings that gradually fall apart. The computer graphics elements were modeled, mapped and animated in Cinema 4D, and were governed by the way in which Tobin’s samples equaled units of the buildings in order to propel the clip’s pace. Verily on the technicality of synchrony, it is most definitely spot-on at a level of calibre I’ve seen with few motion graphics designers other than the United Visual Artists.

Like Tobin, Schoenwiesner’s beginnings in his specialized field were quite modest: using a Commodore C64, he wrote code for the start of any given program with each time he turned the machine on. His techniques of story development, storyboarding, and design/build of a 35mm adapter to enable use of SLR lenses on a Sony HD camera in order to avoid the ‘dreaded video look’ go further to show how hands-on Schoenwiesner is. And the outcome is one with an unmistakably human aesthetic, yet again more proof of how imagery can really infuse life into the soundscape and vice-versa whilst translating motion caused by sound into ordinary objects such as the Plattenbauten. Structure and space are tricky things for both video and audio to achieve in the process of trying to maintain a true depth of field; but the marriage of Scheonwiesner and Tobin is a suitable fit.

With Scheonwiesner’s own design cachet of ‘visual music’ in multiple scenes and landscapes melding into Tobin’s own polyrhythms and soundscapes in his quintessential audiovisual environment, bland concrete architecture has never looked — or indeed sounded — better.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

Click to view at higher resolution (Quicktime)

See also: 12 Frames – Motion

Amon Tobin, Field Recording Excursion

‘Egypt’s TV couples compete for a home’ (Video, BBC News)

The Expanding Metropolis – Coping with the Urban Growth of Cairo

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Dynamic spin

29 September, 2008

Spin City
By Tom Vanderbilt
September 1, 2008
Modern Painters

Tom Vanderbilt is suspicious of plans for rotating skyscrapers in Dubai and Moscow, and of the mysterious architect behind them.

The revolving restaurant, that once-celebrated architectural form born from the rotating stages of auto shows, enjoyed a brief heyday in the West from the early 1960s to the end of the 1970s and then sputtered into a clichéd merry-go-round of overpriced cocktails atop second-tier hotels. But fascination with the gimmick never quite died—it merely moved East, to places like Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong, becoming a de rigueur symbol of newly burgeoning skylines and rising economic fortune. It seems appropriate, then, that Dubai, which has developed into a kind of World Expo of the architectural superlative—world’s tallest tower, world’s biggest mall and largest man-made island—should now be welcoming a curious new building typology: the “rotating skyscraper.”

As recently announced at a New York City press conference (though news of the project had circulated a year before), the “Dynamic Tower,” the brainchild of a Florence-based architect named David Fisher, features 80 floors, each of which can be set to its own rotational schedule, and is powered by wind turbines and solar panels. The effect is rather like one of those twisting wooden helix wind ornaments one sees at craft fairs—if, alas, they were made of steel and glass and rose some 1,380 feet into the sky. The promotional materials show the building quite visibly spiraling in the Dubai skyline, dazzling the emirati glitterati, though one suspects this is a bit hyperbolic; the architect says it will not move fast enough for its residents to sense motion.

Indeed, most of the spinning at the press conference seemed to be done by the public relations firm, which was forced to explain why Fisher had claimed to have earned a degree from Columbia University’s Prodeo Institute, which does not exist (Columbia itself also denied awarding him a degree). From the beginning, this project has had architectural wags smelling vaporware, a mirage in the Dubai heat. The story is admittedly strange: a “world renowned” architect that no one seems to have heard of, whose previous claim to fame (also obscure to most) was the “Smart Marble by Leonardo da Vinci,” a “preassembled bathroom system for luxury homes and hotels” (units for the Dynamic Tower will also be prefabricated); the architect who told one journalist, when the comparison was drawn, that he had never heard of Buckminster Fuller. Nonetheless, Fisher has been pitching the concept across the globe, and a second Dynamic Tower is planned for another city bursting with petrodollar decadence, Moscow.

Curiously, the Dynamic Tower was the second rotating skyscraper planned for Dubai. The first, announced a few years ago by the UK architectural firm of Glenn Howells, is a solar-powered, 30-story structure bearing a series of markings that match with notations on the ground, so the building becomes a “fully functioning timepiece.” Unlike Fisher’s building, the Howells project rotates en masse. At press time, groundbreaking on the Howells project, called 55˚ Time Dubai, was scheduled for August. Both structures, as did the revolving restaurants of yore—and as the proponents of (mostly unbuilt) “kinetic architecture” aspire to—upset two forces that in architecture have typically been stable: space and time. The singular view is replaced by a panoramic sweep, while time is no longer ordered as much by the position of the sun as by the position of the building, with residents oriented, like a clock hand, toward the panoramic “clock” of the city.

As the geographer Kevin Lynch once asked: “What time is this place?” Dubai, at the moment, is a city where time and place are very much in flux, and perhaps the Dynamic Tower is the culmination of what one psychologist once pegged as the appeal of the revolving restaurant: “You can achieve stability and still be going someplace.”

Dynamic Tower, ‘the first building in motion’

See also: Dynamic Architecture

‘Dubai plans “moving” skyscraper’ (BBC News)

‘Time For Dubai 55’ (Skyscraper News)

Cityscape Dubai 2008