Monday, March 28, 2011

RR10: Mixing it Up

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Blog Post 10: The Water Bottle

The object from my life that I chose as an example of revolution is a simple one. I always have a glass water bottle that I carry with me everywhere (I like to be hydrated). Recently I've been using a Joe Tea bottle, as shown above. 

So, water. It's everywhere. It covers the majority of our planet, cleans us, refreshes us, separates us, rains down on us. We use it for recreation and for necessity, it is something we never tire of watching. It cycles through all levels on our planet, from the ocean tides to the clouds in the skies to the light summer rain. This same water has passed through all of our history and will continue to bring life to future generations. In our early history humans would drink from streams and rivers like this one. On some level I think we all like to think of the water we drink rushing through some pristine landscape. Water bottle companies seem to try and convince us of that through their advertisements of secluded bodies of water with "purity" beyond compare. 

However, before bottled water, we seemed perfectly content with the convenient technology that allowed regulate, filtered water to flow into our households on demand. Even with the development of tap water I feel like we were somewhat displaced from the origin of our water. I seldom ponder where the water I'm drinking was taken from, where it was cleaned and how it came to be in my bottle. It seems to capture the feeling of society, how everything is at an arms length. The convenience of our lives is overwhelming. We have the capability to stock up on what we need for a week or more, and even when we need something it isn't usually more than a ten minute drive away. 

Convenience is taken to a new level with bottled water. Not only do you not have to worry about pouring the water yourself, but now you can simply dispose of the container when you're done. These manufacturers take water from communities and filter it, or just use tap water (yes, the same tap water readily available to us at home) and put it in cheap plastic bottles for us, and we pay for it. Why do we pay for this tap water in sleek plastic wrapping? Because they tell us to. Through the development of advertising, water bottle companies have convinced us that their water is more pure, more refreshing, and more natural than the water we have in our homes. These companies are taking something the earth gives us freely and selling it back to us. I feel this just illuminates the power of corporations on our lives.

However, a movement in a more "green" and environmentally friendly direction has caused people to start seeing through the illusion of bottled water. They see the pollution that results from this not-so-disposable plastic and are realizing the price of convenience. With this realization there was an explosion of other snazzy, reusable options to replace plastic water bottles (although I prefer my own).

I think it is amazing to look at this one simple object that I take for granted and think of the journey water has made and the power humans hold. Humans have always built societies around water, an essential element of survival, and now I can go anywhere with the confidence that I will have clean water to drink. The water bottle is a tangible example of how we have come to see the earth; as a thing we can mold to our liking. We take water from Fiji, oil from the Middle East, cheap souvenirs from China; we take what we want from where we want it.It is this revolution of mentality that the water bottle shows us. We have changed from thinking of ourselves as a stewards of this earth, going where the land guides us, to trying to command the earth and its resources as we deem appropriate. Now we are attempting to fix those problems that we created with our reckless power over the land. As our landfills grow higher with forgotten plastic bottles we aim to revolutionize the way we drink water again with bottles designed specifically for runners or for babies or for fashion icons. Water bottles that filter the water as you pour it it in. Bottles that glow and expand or mold to your hand. The revolution of water bottles streams onward. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

RR9: Revolution

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Blog Post 9

Architecture is a language united by common elements in syntax and structure, but differing in lilt and tone. This common root is apparent in the transfer of design ideas between the United States and England. Just like our common language, early colonial American architecture started off copying the style popular in England. However, throughout time, the interest in imitation dropped, just like the accent.
Canterbury Cathedral (England)
The National Cathedral (Washington D.C.)

Recently I revisited the National Cathedral, and I think this recently constructed Gothic style cathedral is a perfect example of the influence of Western design. The National Cathedral imitates the almond arches, Gothic aspects, and stained glass that were so popular in Europe's medieval time period. Although the structure is clearly based off Western precedents, it is American in essence. George Washington commissioned Major Pierre L’Enfant to design the capitol and he expressed a desire to build a grand church, however the first stone was laid on September 29, 1907. The cathedral took 83 years to complete, finishing in 1990. This building was a project handed down from generation to generation and serves as more of a monument to this nation than I think it gets credit for. It manages to reunite us with our roots across the sea with its primary design, but delves deeper into American culture as it evolved. The gargoyles capture American history with a hippie and Darth Vader and others hidden amongst the rest. Our space race with Russia is immortalized in a space stained glass window with a lunar rock. 220 people were laid to rest in the cathedral, including Helen Keller. This cathedral has witnessed so many important events in our history, from the great depression to the Vietnam War to the tragedy of 9/11. I find it a perfect example of the influence our origin in England through the similarities of the National Cathedral and the Canterbury Cathedral. American has also explored landscape design that was present in England, which is present in American household gardens and yards. The National Cathedral grounds also has a garden that could probably be traced back to Western landscape designs. England is only the birthplace of America, but the U.S. truly is a mixing bowl of people and cultures. From the Statue of Liberty, a gift of France; the Cherry Blossom festival, made possible by trees given by Japan; to China town, to celebrate that culture here; we are a collage of the world.

These three images show foreign influence in an inherently American place. The first picture is the Statue of Liberty lit up by a celebration of American Independence. The second image is of the capitol under the coverage of Japanese cherry blossoms. The final image is the China town in San Francisco, California. 

That's not to say that America has nothing to contribute. Ideologically we set in place a new social view with the Declaration of Independence. We established equality for all men, and through later revolutions, made this statement accurate by given women and African Americans their rights too. This same document did more than put everyone on the same page, it formed a republic that divided the governmental power.This object still has influence today. Although it has been modified it is still our American rule book and we strive to get other nations to play our game. 
Besides the Declaration of Independence and all the ideology that comes with it, America has made great steps in advancing technology. The steam engine, car engine, airplane and electrical power were all invented by American minds. These objects helped spur the industrial and transportable revolutions and are used all over the world today.
American technology in Italy

American technology in a German car

Electricity lights up the London skyline

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Pattern Language

a theory reading

I related this reading to my own home and others I have spent a lot of time in, and was surprised at how accurate this theory reading was at defining a comfortable living space. I thought it was funny how far dorm life strayed from this ideal living space. Here are some words of wisdom I picked up from the reading:

the intimacy gradient 
The basis for any space should be dependent on the intimacy gradient. The entrance is the most public area as well as the most impressive and formal area of the house. Most casual acquaints and visitors will stop here for a conversation and leave. Following the intimacy gradient, next is a common area and kitchen, a place for friends and family to gather to eat and talk together. These common areas are at the heart of the building, and should be a comfortable meeting place. Finally, in the most intimate area of the house should be rooms for each resident to have to themselves. Bathrooms find their place between the common and private areas of the house, a comfortable distance for each.

Ideally, the sun should shine at the southern side of the house. The amount and location of the sunshine determines the overall mood of the house, and therefore is a very important aspect of the design. The porch would be well suited for south-west, whereas the bedrooms are best in the south-east, and the common room in the full south. The kitchen should also have sun, as it is a place where a lot of people should gather.

Movement/ the Common Room
The movement between the  rooms is crucial to the social fabric of the house. The common room must be tangent to and centered on the main pathway. That way those who walk by to get somewhere have the opportunity and excuse to enter, but are not forced to stop. Main rooms should be equally accessible to all areas of the house (from visitors to residents) and be a place of destination. Common rooms should have elements of interest like a fire, television, seating, an exit to the outdoors, and close proximity to the kitchen.

The entrance should have windows that allow the resident to see who awaits or acknowledge the visitor with a friendly wave before they open the door. An entrance should provide shelter outside for the visitor to wait under in case of poor weather conditions. Also, because goodbyes can be awkward, there may be a separation or "break" between the door and the actual departure, like a porch with a wall or step. This creates another level to make the exit less harsh. Another good idea is a shelf near both the entrance and exit for placement of things like packages, keys, purses, etc. to help the person remember their belongings on the way in or out. The entrance should also have some sort of obstruction that allows the door to remain open with out allowing people to see into any rooms. That way the idea of an open, welcoming household is achieved without taking away from the privacy of the family. Near the entrance should be a "dead corner" for storage of shoes, coats, etc.

Hallways between rooms should allow generous movement that encourages a person to move from room to room. To create friendly hallways one should make them spacious and give them natural light. Passages should be short, light, flow together with the other rooms, and be furnished to create the feel of a room. They should feel lively, not the uncomfortable spaces between rooms. Even better than passages are loops that tie rooms together and that allow for ample movement. 

Stairs are important because the connect the levels of the house, but they are more than just a passage. They should be open and embrace the room below, becoming part of the room as they descend. Stairs can serve as a stage, for a speaker or a dramatic entrance, or an extra seat for company. They should be visible from the entrance, but set apart to keep the distance between the intimate and the visitors. The staircase "forms an axis for people to keep in their minds."

The beautiful views the house's location offers should be put in areas of transition. That way, people are forced to find them and enjoy them in short term intervals, which prevents them from being absorbed as part of the house. By framing exquisite views in large windows, the view becomes like artwork in a house, not the stunning landscape that surrounds.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Blog Post 8: architecture in a nautilus shell

Architecture has evolved greatly throughout time. There seems to be a pattern of rejecting the architectural guidelines instilled by the previous generation. For instance, the Renaissance dismissed the architecture of the Medieval time period as "Gothic;" a period of darkness. Later, the Baroque architects discarded the rules the Renaissance had established and went in the opposite direction; trading in simplicity and balance for complexity and ambiguity.
However, these transitions did not happen in a day. The styles emerged from existing architecture. The stones set vertically in Stonehenge are mirrored in the columns of ancient Greek architecture. The Stonehenge focused on the skies and similarly, the Gothic cathedral designs strive upward as well to capture the sunlight. The Renaissance designers looked to the ancients to learn and find inspiration from them. The Baroque styles exaggerated and distorted those same elements which the Renaissance strove to achieve. They blew up the scale and stretched their circles into ovals.
Styles change, but like people, they do so in a measured way. The elements of circles, stacks and groves can be traced back to the first attempts of design. The goal of  producing commodity, firmness and delight remains the same. 

RR8: If it's not Baroque, don't fix it!