I recently took WATG's Seattle office on a trip to document the soon-to-be demolished visitor center designed by WATG in 1967. The group spent a few hours sketching and photographing the building before it closes for good in October.
I used the day as an opportunity to engage our younger staff with not just the history of the company, but also the effects that their design decisions will have on a building over its useful life. It has been known for some time that the building would be demolished, and therefore maintenance on the 40 year-old building has been minimal in recent years. This created an opportunity to study two critical factors that affect a building's integrity long after an architect's involvement has ended. The first is the wear and tear on the materials chosen for the interiors which are subject to nearly 2 million visitors a year, and the second is the effects that a harsh climate (a record of 93.5 feet of snow during the 1971-72 winter season) can have on the exterior.
The following is a sampling of the staff's documentation efforts.
After spending about a week in Lisbon, I finally had my baggage and I was off to Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. Porto was amazing. There, I saw more of the same attention to handcraft that I saw in Lisbon. The azulejos were there and the hand-cobbled streets were too. The people were friendly and the Port wine was great, but there was something else in Porto that I couldn’t have possibly expected: the Casa da Musica.
I stumbled off of the double-decker tour bus to see the Casa da Musica before me. It’s sometimes described as a meteor that fell from space and landed hard in Porto, creating shockwaves in the plaza. I could definitely see why. The Casa da Musica is a music center/performance hall designed by OMA. It was completed in 2005 and its two concert halls and various other spaces have been in use ever since. It has quickly become an icon of Porto and Portugal.
I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the building. Inside were countless interesting spaces and materials. Aside from being awed by the huge diagonal door entry, and the acoustic and structural properties of the Casa’s corrugated glass, what I found most interesting was when the building made connections to the craft I had seen in the older buildings of Portugal. There were a few rooms in the building that were covered in azulejos, similar to what I had seen elsewhere, but what was great to see were new patterns, made with machines, nodding to the past but exciting in their own way.
I still prefer the hand-painted azulejos, but I was intrigued to see an attempt to do a similar thing, using modern building practices and technology. Somehow the green-foam pyramids and the bored-out red wood panels reminded me of patterns I had seen elsewhere on my trip. I don’t know if I would have noticed this had the Casa da Musica not been situated so near these beautiful, tile-laden, Portuguese buildings. But maybe that was the idea. How can something that looks so foreign to the rest of its context relate to the craft and ways of traditional building to its neighbors? I think the Casa da Musica did this nicely.
The curse of the education system: you either know the answer or you don’t! This might be by far the most important reason why I chose architecture as my education. In architecture, you don’t need to know the exact answer. As a matter of fact, most of the time there is no right answer because what you’ll create does not exist!
Through design school I’ve learned that mistakes are a natural phenomenon when an idea meets reality. That said, the perfect idea is worth just as much as a dream if we cannot practice its logical content. In the case of architecture, the physical process of developing a concept is much appreciated by professionals. The essence that a ten minute watercolor can capture can sometimes be missed in an accurate 3D rendering and vice versa. But the combination of both is what we use as tools of communication.
I grew up as a minority in the Middle East, where I was toughened up and then shipped to the U.S. in pursuit of a better life. The transition paralyzed me with the possibility of every opportunity someone in my position would ever want. I’ve tried to achieve and achieve and achieve. Years later, I look back confused about what just happened. As I leave school and start a new stage in my life that probably will continue in some way or another for the next 40-50 years, I realize that humans are made to be anxious all their lives. We accomplish one thing after another, working toward our goals and dreaming of the day we’ll get a hold of them. What sometime we miss is that a goal or accomplishment is just the result or perhaps the beginning point. What makes life worth living are the struggles, experiences and the process we go through. And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years. I got a degree from the best architecture school on the West Coast, but the most precious thing I achieved are the friendships and the moments I made along the way.
As to what I expect from the practice of architecture: to teach me the rules of the game. At this stage in my life, this pursuit has nothing to do with any sort of goal or achievement. Here's an analogy:
If you’re invited to a basketball game but you have no idea what the game’s rules are, you might automatically end up enjoying the game just because you see others around you jumping up and down and showing emotions. But once you get educated with the game’s rules and regulations, you will be able to judge the players and show your own joy or disappointment. Once you know the game, you get to know the players and you’re able to make logical decisions and therefore further your interest.
Realizing that as an intellectual youth with the responsibility of creating a better future for me, I understand that half the reason why we are taught is to teach later on. For example, becoming LEED accredited doesn’t mean that we have more titles for our businesss cards, but that we understand and “believe” that every time we dig a hole or build a column we are changing mother earth in some way.
It’s 10:10 p.m. and I’m sitting in Los Angeles International Airport waiting for a flight. Now if that’s all you knew, what kinds of questions would come to mind? Where is she going? What’s she typing on that laptop? Why is she traveling alone? Why does her phone keep ringing and why doesn’t she answer it? I’m busy! Not really, but I like to look like I am.
Airports are probably one of the most entertaining places to be, at least for me. There are so many different people, all from different cultures with a lifestyle all of their own, all traveling for different reasons. It’s by far the best place to people watch. When I look around the airport sometimes I get caught up wondering where everyone is going, who they are traveling with and if they normally eat a combination of McDonald’s and Starbucks late at night. It’s almost like creating a mini reality TV show of your own… “Tonight on ‘People of LAX’ we take a look at those stranded and desperately looking for a flight.” Sometimes it’s so entertaining I wouldn’t mind missing my own flight!
Back to my main question though…where are all of these people going? Obviously you can look at the flight they are about to get on and figure it out, but is this their last flight or just the first leg of their travels??? Is it a connecting flight? How long have they been gone...or how long will they be gone? All sorts of questions come to mind when I’m sitting in an airport, but there is one question that only started popping into my head since I’ve worked for WATG…Is their final destination one that will lift their spirit? I would like to think that it is; that they are off to some wonderful place in the world (maybe one we designed) where they can relax and escape.
Last week I accompanied Susan Frieson to Bardessono for a site visit in Yountville, California. I was thrilled to see how the project was taking shape - even the grape vines have now been planted in the 40 foot-deep berm along the main road! It is going to be a very special place.
No, it's not the Pantheon. It is actually the skylight (pre-glazing) in the main building's rest room. Individual "co-ed" toilet rooms with lavatories are arranged around an oval pedestal designed as a base for sculpture and sitting. That is our Susan Frieson eyeing the oculus!
The materials on the guestroom buildings are beginning to sing a great song! I especially love the contrast of the big-bolted weathered steel panels with the ground face CMU and locally-sourced Cypress wood siding. The painted steel fascia channel ties in nicely with all the fence posts. Landscape and decorative railings will add the finishing touches to the exterior.
On a recent client trip to Korea, we were able to take a breather and visit some of the interesting places in Seoul. I was struck by the diversity of the different neighborhoods, and how they seem to connect seamlessly.
First we visited Samcheongdong. Dubbed "the SOHO of Seoul" Samcheongdong is lined with hip shops, restaurants and galleries and features some cool architecture.
Insadong featured interesting traditional Korean hand-made products and food including traditional tteok (see video).
And finally, we visited the W-Seoul Walkerhill and checked out their much publicized interiors.
| Blog Home |