Monday, October 29, 2007

expense list, pages 15,16

charlotte, ballard boys

For two weeks or so, I’m back in North Carolina to get an overdue dose of family and affiliated animals before I mosey back into the academic arena. The two diminutive gentlemen to the far right—Connor and Aidan—are the contributions of my older brother (to my left your right) and his wife. Apparently the latest Ballard installments were so excited about joining the clan that they popped out before they really knew what they were doing. Times have been a little tense since I left Chile but lately conditions have stabilized. Hopefully the twins will head home from the hospital relatively soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

rio de janeiro, aqueduto da carioca

(for the video, just view it without the sound for now....I'll work on that...thanks)
Originally intended for water conveyance, since the turn of the 20th century this hefty white arcade, also known as the Arcos da Lapa, has supported a streetcar (or bonde) which descends from the Santa Teresa neighborhood and crosses over to its downtown terminus. With the once-dense city fabric scraped from its flanks, today the aqueduct looks a bit out of place. Older photographs show structures clamoring up to the level of its lower arch. The aqueduct picks its way neatly across Lapa—which has seen safer days—to join the conical cathedral and the Petrobras cube (both visible in the center image) in the center city's curious scattering of monumental forms.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

rio de janeiro, pedregulho housing

Designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and built between 1949 and 1951, the Pedregulho housing development was intended as a model for subsidized lower-class housing. The 850 foot-long building, with its 272 apartments, met with effluent critical approval from such international figures as Max Bill, Walter Gropius, and Siegfried Giedion. It takes center stage in a broader development scheme consisting of four apartment blocks, an elementary school, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a health center, playgrounds, a laundry, and a daycare center.

Pedregulho’s third floor open corridor—the building’s main entry via bridges—provides communal space while allowing the building’s full seven stories to function without the aid of elevators. The building shares an intimate and sophisticated relationship with its sloping site. Perched on sturdy pillars, the building approximates a contour line with its floorplate and allows the ground to flow fluidly beneath it.

The project’s sinuous curve resembles Le Corbusier’s unrealized urban proposals for Rio de Janeiro while its proportions and monumentality mimic the Aqueduto da Carioca as described in the blog entry above.

Conceived as a white bastion of working class sanitation, Pedregulho is now more of a rotted hulk than Chandigarh’s Secretariat. It reminds me of that crashed spaceship in the first Ewok movie. The ground has accrued a healthy patina of rubbish and rats and its fragile parts—the terra cotta block screens in particular—have largely been broken, filled, or replaced with utmost pragmatism. But the legs still stand, the floors still span, and the folks living there still looked pretty happy (except for the ones yelling at me for taking pictures, of course). To the building’s right in the top image sprawls a typical informal settlement, which sports all the same colors and dimensions without conforming to Pedregulho’s tight, clean curve. Top-down asthetics relinquished, what was once a monolithic expression of the designer’s hand has congealed as a coordinated composite of messy families and private lives.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

rio de janeiro, ipanema sugar loaf and christ

(View the video without sound to avoid the wrath of the evil chipmunks....I'll get them under control shortly)
Rio is a can of Sao Paulo concentrate turned inside-out. Its dramatic topography shifts the order of inhabitation such that the informal neighborhoods (favelas) which skirt Sao Paulo’s peripheral lowlands here climb steep intra-city hills. Unconquerable mountains organize the city, centering on a dialogue between two of the city’s most breathtaking vantages: Pão de Açúcar and Cristo Redentor. The photographs at right and center were taken facing each other. Cristo is the bright white blip in the upper right corner of the night photo and the Pão is that dinosaur-egg-like protuberance above the bay.

The beach at Ipanema (image at left) wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I think I had in my head something more intimate; coves and palms and old men playing cards and drinking from coconuts, perhaps. And that untouchable girl walking to the grocery store or whatever. But in reality Ipanema is a substantial stretch of sand. It’s a sunbathing institution.

I fleshed out the beach’s remarkable social dynamic over three moderate-to-heavy sunburns. With my fellowship I’ve been looking at types of public spaces and Ipanema is certainly the epitome of its type. Without trees, without buildings (other than public bathrooms, flimsy tents, and the occasional kiosk), and even without paving, Ipanema presents unfettered (or, at most, scantily fettered) social space bounded by the ocean on one side and the boardwalk on the other.

The ocean is a dynamic boundary. The water is so cold it makes the sand feel like that granulated ice you get at Burger King soda fountains and the waves are sufficiently grand for surfing, so languid lounging doesn’t bleed into the blue like it does in more tranquil surfs. The rise of the tide acts first as a compacter and then, past a certain threshold, as an eroder. Reminded of their mobility, people eventually peel away to take their lunch or go on with their lives. With a handful of bills though, no one ever really needs to leave. An unceasing army of purveyors vending all types of food, drink, and trinkets overlays the corporal spectacle. They pass within five feet of any given point every thirty seconds singing songs of mate (tea), grilled cheese, beer, papery fried donut-like rings, and other curiosities. Some relish their patrol while others trudge along subdued but available.

Weekends usher out the entire undressed Brazilian world. The strip transforms into an unabashed repository for bodies of all ages, types, and timbres. Weekdays, however, are reserved for the specialists. There are two types of people on the beach during the weekday: men and women. Men stand and pose, women lie and bask. When the women do parade—a rare and beautiful thing—one can appreciate a unique spinal curvature that protracts the rear and ratchets the breasts horizontal. Less interesting (but very much interested) people such as myself rent chairs and wear sunglasses. The women I understand; I’m used to the idea of sunning on a beach. It’s relaxing and with a warm sun and soft breeze you can snatch an easy nap sunscreen permitting. But for the men, I can’t quite see the payoff. Well toned, chest-shaven youths will simply stand there for hours staring into space, not speaking to anyone but periodically shifting positions to self-consciously indicate various aspects of their upper body. It’s a rare brand of unrequited narcissism. Full-length beach mirrors would be a huge hit.

*center image courtesy of Ivan Valin

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

são paulo, branner colleagues

Please excuse this harmless bit of ecstatic self-indulgence and gosh-look-how-special-we-are-this-year-ness. Brazil marks the unique intersection of the year's three Branner trajectories; I overlapped with Ivan Valin in Japan, Italy, and France but this is my first time crossing paths with Yuki Bowman. Amidst all the jumping and joking and hooting and hollering I have found it profoundly enjoyable to hash out urban landscapes and architectural jewels with two minds enriched by nine respective months of itinerant architectural observation. Our discussions remind me that the fruits of travel—sensibilities stirred, assumptions unsettled—remain freshly inchoate but I've definitely had a blast sampling our distended reservoirs of newly acquired knowledge over carne and Caipirinhas.
*images courtesy of Ivan Valin and Yuki Bowman

são paulo, layers

São Paulo resembles Tokyo. I did not expect this. Both cities’ unbridled development has led to a fragmented metropolis; a sprawling mash of mid-rise modernism over- and underlaid with arterial networks….In Sao Paulo’s case, the city’s explosive growth after years of relative obscurity—compounded with property rights and a vocal geography—led to rampant organizational disjunction. In comparison to the Spanish colonial grid, São Paulo’s compact fortified Portuguese foundation did little to structure subsequent development.

The two differences between the cities (and look, I realize full well that there are about a million and a half differences between these two cities but I’m talking about experiences and impressions here so just come with me on this one) are (1) the modes in which the city accrues its layers and (2) the means by which the city supersaturates one’s senses.

In Sao Paulo, perforated plates replace Tokyo’s criss-crossing pathways. Conceptually and topographically, ground plays a vital role here. It warps and wobbles, sustaining massive cuts here and there but resisting puncture elsewhere. When the city’s plan needs stacking it goes about it in broad sheets, scalpeling out lozenge-shaped apertures to usher in light, air, and views. Like Brazilian women, the city favors a policy of visual disclosure along its nubile curves.

In the images above, note how this spatial sensibility plays out at progressively smaller scales.

At left, superimposed traffic lanes configure not unlike Park Avenue behind Grand Central in New York, although here roadway replaces railroad and the depression is deeded swaths of sky. Note the continuous band of elaborate graffiti running along the lower wall.

At center, a multilevel metro station (Estacio Se) endows the transit connection with generous monumentality and yawning efficiency.

At right, a multi-floor galleria gives the same priority to multi-level unification at much more intimate commercial dimension. Small shops, each one bay wide and more often than not packed with alternative lifestyle paraphernalia, line the promenade.

são paulo, copan building

Designed by Oscar Niemeyer and completed in 1953, the Copan Building is a megalithic tour de force of the brise soleil taken to its sinewy extreme. The façade’s slow undulation coaxes its grain into dynamism as hundreds of horizontal shelves draw the eye upward to the waving crest of its perspectival silhouette. The bulk of the façade masks some 1,160 individual apartments sectioned into blocks and perched over a Reubenesque galleria whose floor slowly slopes with the Sao Pãulian topography.

buenos aires, la recoleta cemetery

Buenos Aires is a very pleasant place and the folks there certainly know what to do with the wee hours of the night but I have very few pictures that capture the place’s particular flavor. My album is reduced to rare snippets of rich materiality; the little pockets where rot presses its earthy sincerity into the venture. This city could be New York were it not for a nagging suggestion of Paris....except I’ve been hard pressed to find pastries with chocolate in them, even in the diminutive croissants (media lunas) the bakeries pump out in scores. The mind amasses too many picturesque lanes and corniced crumbling halls without alighting on that special je ne sais quoi palpable in so many other cities I have seen this year. Buenos Aires elicits little more than a nostalgic “oh, that’s nice” from such an astute and noble critic such as myself.

Monday, October 1, 2007

la plata, maison curutchet

La Plata is located a bumpy 2-hour train ride from Buenos Aires, during which time Ivan and I were serenaded twice and given ample opportunity to purchase candy bars, scrunchies, elbow braces, flashlight-tipped pens, anti-inflammatories. As usual, Corbusier did not disappoint. Maison Curutchet hybridizes the Villa Savoye and Mill Owners’ Building to accommodate a doctor’s house and clinic. Two pre-existing houses flank the ambiguous airy façade (in the image, foliage largely obscures the house to the left) and Corbusier opportunistically knits the structure into context by carrying dominant horizontal lines--terrace floor slab from the right and brise soleil from the left--and by stepping his building’s silhouette. Throughout the project, Maison Curutchet’s massing caters to its neighbors’ respective heights in order to maximize sun and view penetration. In reference to the park across the street (note the rich foreground green) the house is intensely layered from front to back with thickened two-dimensional planes that cede to inhabitable volumes once the façade is breached. A tree rising in the interstice behind the clinic ushers greenery into the heart of the house (well, it will in a few weeks) and intensifies the framework's complexity.