Not Gonna Do It...

Damn, damn, DAMN!. I spent a significant portion of my weekend writing a twelve-hundred word blog post that I am not going to publish. There is a new building in town that is so heinous, so insipid, so…bad, that I momentarily resolved to suspend my standing policy of not critiquing the work of local architects. My post was hard but fair, truthful and funny. I even produced photoshopped images of Pitbull and LeBron to illustrate my points (in addition to gratuitous comparisons with the Fresh Prince).  Yet after taking a few hours to let it breathe before clicking “publish”, I decided "not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent at this juncture". Chattanooga is a small place and we all need to get along. I think it is best to try to shepherd our wayward brothers and sisters into the fold rather than berate them for their shitty work. Besides, what is the point of having a policy if you only follow it when it’s easy and convenient? (I can't resist leaving you a clue)

Anyway, I think I can make my point without having to call anyone out. The point, once again, has to do with how (in)effective design guidelines are. In this case, there is a new building in a well-known design review district. This new building presumably satisfies all of the design requirements. Yet, the building is a belligerent affront to reasonable sensitivities. I won’t describe what makes it bad, as that would betray the identity of the project. Let’s just say it’s like pornography- you’ll know it when you see it. (If you really want to read what I wrote, catch up with me at my Cherry Street office for the usual Friday session).

So now I’m left scrambling to think of something to write about this week…

As she has been the off and on butt of jokes in this space, I must observe that Paula Deen has received her just desserts. She can now eat some humble pie…(Insert your own bad food joke). If you haven’t followed, she has been outed as a racist and bigot and fired from the Food Network. The fact that the twitterverse developed one of the wittiest threads ever (#PaulasBestDishes) on Juneteenth is indeed delicious.

Being the avid football (soccer) fan that I am, the Confederations Cup has been welcome reprieve in the sporting desert that is mid-June in America. The Cup is being held as a warm up for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. You may have noticed that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Brazilians have taken this opportunity to take to the streets in protest. Seeing the protestors against the backdrop of Oscar Niemeyer’s work brought a smile to my face. How very appropriate. Neimeyer, a favorite architect of mine once remarked “ More important than architecture is protesting in the streets. That is the important stuff. When someone feels good…and believe that they’re not a piece of shit, that they can be useful.” Rest in peace Oscar, your countrymen are doing you proud.


Don't Go Cee-Lo

Apologies if I seem a bit edgier this week, I am without the moderating influence of the family who are either visiting grandparents (in God’s own Alabama) or traveling for work.

Yes, I’ve been negligent in my duties and have left you hanging. The dog ate my blog post…my alarm clock broke…something came up…I was abducted by aliens…Cee-Lo and I stayed out too late last week…yada yada yada. I feel bad for abdicating my writing duty, yet I haven’t come up with anything “important” to write about. In absence of a weighty topic, here are a few random thoughts…

First, as far as Cee-Lo goes, I’m not surprised at all. Being the hip-hop connoisseur that I am (was), I will always associate Cee-Lo with Goodie Mob (explicit) and various cameo's on (explicit) songs more than prime time TV. It is incomprehensible to me that he would be hired without fully understanding his full body of work. As for violating the family-friendly nature of the Riverbend, I submit that any patron walking around the venue at 10pm on that Saturday night would be subjected to more profanity and partial nudity from the assembled crowd than from Mr. Green. This, of course, is no excuse for his behavior. Had I known, however, that the old Cee-Lo was going to be here, I might have saddled up.

If you think Chattanooga has it bad with the expansion of US-27 (and we do), wait till you see what’s about to happen to the poor bastards in Detroit. What the hell is going on with these transportation engineers? I suppose they are going into their death throes and lashing out in an attempt to preserve their position as the ultimate arbiter of American urban form. In the spirit of this post, I would like to dedicate a certain Cee-Lo song (explicit) to all of the myopic transportation folk who would wield their craft in isolation to the ultimate ruin of our built environment.

As for Chattanoogans not eating food on a stick this week, there is this. I understand that it’s just an internet poll, and for the most part I agree with the results. I appreciate the fact that there are six restaurants in the top five and sixteen in the top ten. I will stick with my longstanding tradition of not bashing locals (whether they be designers or restaurateurs), but I will say that Meeting Place deserves a top five spot (at the expense of three in particular). The great news is that the community appears to be able to continually spawn and support excellent new restaurants- long may the trend continue.

Well, that's enough fun for one night, I will try to try to get back to business next week. Cheers.


Acknowledge, as you must...

‘Twas was nice to take off from writing last week. The weekend, however, was a blur of birthday parties, home brewing, yard work, grilling, and visiting family. I also spent a significant portion of my time scrambling to catch up on lesson plans for my architecture history class. Alas, this flurry of  activity pulled my mind away from our scenic city, so this week I am being introspective. My class is incredibly gratifying, the students are engaged and I’m passionate about the subject matter. I have, however, discovered a negative unintended consequence. I’ve been spending about three to four hours a day poring over the masterworks of architecture and urbanism. I enjoy this and it’s time well spent, but the transition from the realm of history to the here and now is always depressing.

A thousand years ago Incas were using rocks to shape larger rocks into pristinely jointed cyclopean walls that still stand. We now have a more advanced civilization, better technology, and thousands of years of human knowledge to draw from and yet rarely aspire to that level of dedication. Civilizations around the world were orienting their buildings to the cycle of the heavens, addressing the circadian rhythms of man, acknowledging their connection to the life-giving power of the sun, and establishing their place in the universe. Despite our advanced knowledge of how our bodies and the heavens work, we rarely consider these connections in practice. Designers throughout history have devoted themselves to the study of harmonics and proportion in an effort to achieve perfection in the design of space. Most designers of the day rely on programmatic elements and nominal material sizes to drive scale and proportion. The overwhelming majority of what we build is thoughtless; we have the potential to do so much better.

I’ve always been a bit self-conscious as a person and this trait is amplified in my design work (Although I have cultivated a beautifully designed fa├žade of swagger and self-assuredness). There have been a couple of times when it’s been hard to pick up the pencil after studying the masters. But rather than exclaim “I’ll never be as good as Louis Kahn, I guess I’ll curl up in a ball and die”, I’m hoping to use the examples of talents well spent as a challenge to do better.

As weird as it sounds, I often read cookbooks for fun when I have no intention of cooking. I suspect it has to do with format- recipes are a step-by-step descriptions of a process of creation and transformation. In a sense cooking is like architecture. A skilled chef/architect uses the innate properties of materials to create a final composition that seems more than the sum of its parts. In both cases, a fundamental human need is satisfied, but beyond that, the designer appeals to higher levels of human perception. When we eat a well-prepared meal, it makes us feel good- it appeals to our senses and our memory. The same is true for the built environment. Great chefs and great architects tend to think and talk about their crafts in almost spiritual terms. Yes, they must be proficient in base concerns, but it is the pursuit of the immeasurable and ethereal that drives them. I don’t know that my brain works like that, but I appreciate those that do.

My favorite cookbook is The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller (the greatest American chef). I hate to admit that I stole this book from my Mom’s kitchen…but I know that she would never use it, so it’s cool. To cook anything from the book requires an investment in time, and assumes a level of technique. The great thing about the book, however, is that it is not all about recipes. Sprinkled throughout the book are a number of short essays on various topics in the realm of food. At first reading I was amused at how he was describing ingredients, techniques and relationships in lofty, almost spiritual terms (get over it man, it’s just food). However, over time and with continued reading, cooking and thought on the subject, his words began to ring true. He is writing about design. Cooking is the same as painting, architecture, film and sculpture- just rendered in a different medium.

This weekend, as I was leafing through the book, I came across a passage that for some reason never stood out before (it screamed at me this week). After reading it and substituting the word “design” for “cooking”, I felt immeasurably better and ready to pick up the pencil again. His words:

“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.”