This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Architecture

"Fargo" is renewed

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 21, 2014 - 12:27 PM

So says AV Club. Wonder what the plot will be. More Marge? Actual Fargo? Almost wish they hadn't; there's no way they can top Malvo as a bad guy. 

LIT Sad piece on Harper Lee, the “Mockingbird” author who decided it was one-and-done. The only other thing I’ve read by her was an essay in Life magazine, preceding the publication of “Mockingbird,” describing a Christmas gift that allowed her to write without having to worry about rent. This was before anyone knew who she was. From the Vulture article:

If our country had a formalized process for anointing literary saints, Harper Lee might be first in line, and one of the miracles held up as proof would be her choice to live out her final years in the small town that became the blueprint for our collective ideal of the Small Town. But at 88, the author finds her life and legacy in disarray, a sad state of litigious chaos brought on by ill health and, in no small part, the very community she always believed, for all its flaws, would ultimately protect her. Maycomb was a town where love and neighborly decency could overcome prejudice. To the woman who immortalized it and retreated to it for stability and safety, Monroeville is something very different: suffocating, predatory, and treacherous.

Most eye-raising line about her sister:

Alice, who retired two years ago at the age of 100, had inherited her partnership in the family firm from their father

Yeah, you’re looking at 99, you might want to slow down. (Book Jacket from this Buzzfeed piece about how book jackets have changed over the years.) Related: Do you have a novel in you? Could be gas. Here are seven reasons not to write a novel - and one reason you should. (It’s not money.) 

TYPEFACES Font geeks will enjoy this piece about the typography of “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and how it helped create the bygone world of Zubrowka. A note about the little things you never saw:

I was talking to Ralph Fiennes one night and he was really appreciative of graphics work in film - he particularly liked the personalised notebook we'd made for his character to keep in his pocket. When we were developing it, he had asked that the pages be lined, rather than blank, as he felt that was more in keeping with Gustave's style. It's that kind of small detail that the camera is just never going to pick up on directly, but goes some small way in helping the scene, for example, in which Ralph is striding through the hotel lobby taking his notes. Every department pays the same amount of attention to detail - costume, set dec, make-up, props - and it all adds up.

And that’s why the movie is so convincing.

ARCHITECTURE Atlas Obscura looks at some statues rescued from a demolished New York skyscraper. The wikipedia page on the St. Paul building is rather cruel:

The St. Paul Building was a skyscraper in New York City built in 1898 to designs by George B. Post that repeated the same Ionic order for each floor, to little cumulative effect. At 315 feet (96 m) it was one of the tallest skyscrapers of its era. The building was 26 stories tall. It was demolished without public expression of regret in 1958 in order to make way for the Western Electric Building.

Bonus: the statues were the work of Karl Bitter, who did the Thomas Lowry memorial in Minneapolis.

NORKS The world’s most thin-skinned tyrant is not happy over this, and is demanding that China do something.

Note: that is not really Osama Bin Laden gamboling through a field. At least we hope not.

WEB CULTURE Our long national nightmare is over.

One of the world's largest cranes is here

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 30, 2014 - 11:57 AM

Wish I meant a bird. 

There are only 2 cranes in the world bigger than the one downtown right now. KFAN:

Piece by piece, the crane has already started arriving in town this morning, but there's no need to rush to the construction site to catch a glimpse. The crawler crane will be delivered by 70 different truck loads over the next week and a half and will take nearly 11 days to construct.

Hit the link for video on how it’s assembled. It’s like the world’s slowest Transformer. Speaking of which: did the Decepticons name themselves? That would have been unwise. It sounds like something they’re called by others who have experience with their untruthful ways. No culture calls itself the Liarbots.

HEY YOU Today’s hectoring, bossy-pants headline on an article I won’t read:

But I love this:

Thanks, totally neutral observer! From the piece:

The to-do list seems like such a necessary element of an efficient work day. Nearly everyone I know keeps a list of some sort, and those who don’t wish they did because it’s so hard to remember all that needs to be done. My heart’s in the right place, but still I constantly fail at maintaining a standard to-do list.

Am I doing something wrong? Maybe not.

Look, pal, if you don’t know if you’re doing it wrong, you’re in no position to tell me I’m doing it wrong.

It’s one of those sites with tips about improving your professional life; they range from obvious to useless. If you manage to scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll discover it’s part of a network of sites devoted to giving you tips and “news.” They get 6 million hits a year, they say.

In related news of things that are useless: "For five dollars, you get a thank-you email and a picture of a rock." Yes, it’s a Rock Simulator game. (I’d embed the vid, but it’s Biggie Smalls, so of course there’s cursing. If you can’t sing, you can always m-f your way to fame.) Looks like the game has enough funding, so let the exciting rock simulation begin!

Wonder if there’s a Death-Valley walking rock level. It would be great if it had social media built in, so you'd get a tweet that said "I unlocked the Move 1/4 inch achievement!" from someone you forgot why you followed in the first place.

ARCHITECTURE New York skyscraper-condos aren’t really for living. They’re for investing. New York mag:

20 Pine was developed at the height of the real-estate bubble. After the crash of 2008, it became an emblematic disaster, with the developers selling units in bulk at desperation prices, until opportunistic foreigners swooped in with cash offers.

”Opportunistic” sounds a bit derogatory, no? Other people who have more money who take advantage of a bargain: opportunistic. You, when you take advantage of a bargain: wise consumer. Anyway, here’s an interesting tidbit from One57’s Wikipedia page:

Entrepreneur Michael Hirtenstein and Gary Barnett, the building's developer, had a public clash regarding a unit Hirtenstein agreed to purchase in the building. Hirtenstein claims he would not spend $16 million for a unit without seeing it, and that the view from the unit he purchased was obstructed. Barnett has been strict about not permitting buyers to view apartments prior to purchase, and as Hirtenstein paid a construction worker to show him his unit, Barnett refunded Hirtenstein's funds and canceled the contract.

Good. Lord. “Can I see the unit? I’m paying $45 million, after all. And that doesn’t include the monthly condo fee, which is equal to the mortgage payment on a 10-acre Minnetonka lakefront property with a nine-car garage. Can I? Please?”

”No.”

”A picture, maybe? A computerized rendering?”

”Look, I don’t have all day. There are six Russian oligarchs in the office outside waiting to sign if you don’t want to. Make up your mind.”

If no one’s actually living in these buildings, aside from a few renters or relatives staying for a week, it makes you wonder how many new structures in Manhattan will just be tall empty things. A skyline of safety deposit boxes.

BTW, not everyone’s a secretive billionaire looking to park some money; Business Journal notes there’s a Fargo ND Vitamin Tycoon.

VotD Why? Are we running out of people?

CONTAGION IS SPREADINGWhat happens when a respected source of international policy discussion gets the click-bait fever? It’s not pretty.

That’s what the conversation needs. “Mean Girls” references.

How Not to be Trampled

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 23, 2014 - 12:38 PM

Chances are no World Cup game will end like this:

On an evening in January A.D. 532, pandemonium broke out in the Constantinople Hippodrome, a U-shaped chariot racetrack surrounded by stadium stands. Two factions, the Greens and Blues—the predecessors of today’s soccer hooligans—broke into a fight. When the rest of the spectators dashed to escape, many became trapped by the rushing crowd, couldn’t reach the exits, and were trampled and killed. That incident was the start of the Nika riots that almost ended the rule of Eastern Roman emperor Justinian the Great.

The article discusses what humans might learn from ants when it comes to not dying in a stampede, but i was struck by the reference to the Greens and the Blues. There were two others. From Roman Mysteries:

There were four major teams called "factiones": the greens ("prasini"), the reds ("Russata"), the whites ("Alba" or "Albata") and the sky/sea blues ("Veneti" or "Veneta"). Roman writers suggest that the colours were inspired by the colours of the four seasons of the year.

This tradition went back to the Republic, if I recall correctly - and that means that the names of the factions of a major sport were unchanged for over half a millenium. Which is like opening the newsfeed in 2514 and reading about the Vikings.

The New Republic notes that the great Argentinian writer Borges hated soccer; many Romans hated the chariot races, for the same reasons. PBS:

. . . not everyone was such a fan. Like the gladiators, chariot races were popular sports for the Roman masses, not the social elites, who disliked the mob behavior of the fans and found the sport unremarkable and childish.

One exception was the Emperor Nero. He was passionate about horses and even drove his own chariot. Nero’s enthusiasm for such a lowly sport scandalized Rome's elite, but endeared him to the masses. The historian, Tacitus, sneered at the mob for this: "For such is a crowd — eager for excitement and thrilled if the emperor shares their tastes."

Typical Nero. He also scandalized the upper classes by appearing in theatrical productions, which simply was not done, and some later historians suggest that the reason he has such a mad-man reputation has to do with his conspicuous enjoyment of plebeian diversions. It was immoral and low.

Well, that, and the whole murdering-his-mother business. And burning Christians in baskets. But we’re talking about post-Augustus emperors, who didn’t exactly follow an upwards trajectory in terms of acumen and quality.

ART Gorgeous little video game based on 30s cartoons:

If this does well, it would be great to see Cuphead in other cartoon eras as well, right through the ultra-cheap Hanna-Barbera era. Even as a very small kid I noticed that when Fred Flintstone ran through the house the same table and chair repeated behind him about six times. So either Fred’s house was very long - something belied by the exterior shots - and he has spaced identical pieces of furniture down the long corridor, or they were just reusing the pictures.

In related news of the era, sort of: (well, not really), AVClub asks “A Century Later, Why Does Chaplin Still Matter?”

The article doesn’t really answer the question. Another question comes to mind: does he? The comments immediately get into the Chaplin vs. Keaton struggle, with the inevitable minority opinion for Lloyd. All were great, and each were different; no need to compare. Except that Keaton and Lloyd never really came up with anything like the ending of “City Lights,” which has been scientifically proven to melt stone. Although Chaplin never had a thrill like the last sequence of “Safety Last,” and -

Oh, never mind. Here’s some Harry Langdon.

Thrill comedy: a genre in need of revival.

SPACE There are four possible reasons the “Magic Island” has appeared on Titan.

Northern hemisphere winds may be kicking up and forming waves on Ligeia Mare. The radar imaging system might see the waves as a kind of “ghost” island.

Gases may push out from the sea floor of Ligeia Mare, rising to the surface as bubbles.

Sunken solids formed by a wintry freeze could become buoyant with the onset of the late Titan spring warmer temperatures.

Ligeia Mare has suspended solids, which are neither sunken nor floating, but act like silt in a terrestrial delta.

It looks like this.

Won’t we be surprised some day if Titan launches a rocket to explore Europa.

FUN Boston Globe: How the Amusement Park Hijacks your Brain. Warning: it doesn’t to anything like that at all. Let’s try another way of putting it: amusement parts are “perfectly engineered to push psychological buttons you didn’t even know you had. Here’s how.” Bottom line: did you know that a lot of thought and effort goes into amusement park design? It’s true!

Related: did Disneyland inspire better downtown architecture? I'd say no, because cities kept mauling downtowns for decades after it was opened. But it's a nice thought. 

VotD Close-call compilation. Yikes.

Good Building! And then there's another one.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 20, 2014 - 5:24 PM

More apartment / condo news. It would be an odd day when someone didn’t release a new project. This: good.

Brash enough for a crossroads destination. The rest of it brings to mind early 80s suburban apartments, and I suspect people want balconies more than recessed coves, but if they can get the neighborhood approval and built it, great. Next.

(strained smile)

It’s great to see the Advance Thresher / Newton Implement building get a new life, and a skyway connection? Aces. But the new building has nothing to do with its neighbor. There’s no visual integration whatsoever. The neighbor was built in two stages, and managed to integrate itself seamlessly; one has more stories than the other, but you can’t tell by a quick read of the exterior. You’d like to think the third wing would reinvent the hue and style and rhythm of its neighbor, because otherwise it’s like plopping an IHOP next to a Cass Gilbert temple.

GAMES Best 100 video games of all time! It’s a SLIDE SHOW. You have to work the URL to bounce around if you’re curious what’s #22 (System Shock) or read the comments just to see what they left off. No Half-Life? Okay. Number 1: Bioshock, which angers up the blood in the comments, because other games were more influential. But it’s “Best” not “which one spawned 49 underwhelming immitations. Also one comment says “Wolfenstein? Doom? Leather Goddesses of Phobos?” Doesn’t indicate whether they made the list, because I don’t think anyone made it through. But if the game doesn’t have Doom, it’s ridiculous. (Note: it also lacks Max Payne. Forget it.

CLICKBAIT It’s called “Nine Things Only People Who Went to Sleepover Camp Will Understand."

School’s out! So it’s time to think about all those memories from sleepaway camp. Here are a few things you’d only get if you spent your summers at camp.

1. There is a sorrow to the sound of bodies in the lake. 

How I love Clickhole.

Now the new building isn't big enough

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 18, 2014 - 12:32 PM

We'll get to that in a second. First, stuff:

ART Sometimes it’s just sufficient to say: mid-century British library posters. That works for you or it doesn’t.

URBANISM New Apartment, according to this story; here’s the site.


View Larger Map

Meanwhile, this Smithsonian story makes you wonder if we’ve reached peak peak. The term “peak X” usually means when we start to run out of something, or the high point of attainability and abundance. So it’s ridiculous to ask if we’ve reached “peak suburb” - except that it suggests there’s some iron law governing the process. I mean, peak oil means you start to run out of oil because there isn’t any more. We haven’t run out of suburbs. It usually means someone has come up with data that shows not that the range of choices is expanding, huzzah, but some people are deciding to live in a way that validates the author’s preferences.

A growing number of walkable urban areas suggests that the era of sprawling suburbs may be ending

Growing. Suggests. May. Case closed! Also, it’s a false distinction: just because “walkable” urban areas are increasing doesn’t mean that sprawling suburbs will disappear. I mean, when the “era of dinosaurs is ending” they die out. When the “era of whale blubber used as a source of illumination is ending” it means people no longer use any whale blubber for lamps.

Washington D.C., New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago took the top five spots. But the report also found that traditionally sprawling cities, including Miami, Atlanta and Detroit, are well-positioned for increased walkability based on current development efforts.

Good! If more people want to live in the city, let the market build what they need. If more people want to live in the suburbs for whatever reason they have, let them live in the suburbs. This would seem to be a point upon which all can agree, no? No. It’s a contentious fault line, because some people want to shape things to encourage the proper choice. The article ends:

But in some places, the shift to denser living might not yet we welcome, said Mangum.

"There's not an easy fix," he said. "It would involve giving up some of the things people like.”

If people want to surrender the things they like voluntarily, make a trade-off to enjoy the benefits of walkable cities - which, in this part of the country, means “slippable” half the year, then let them. But the article suggests that the “giving up” part must be required.

As for building dense neighborhoods, let’s see how that’s working out on the Superior Plating site:

It's a rare story in Twin Cities development these days: A neighborhood group telling a developer that his proposal doesn't add enough density.

But that's what happened Wednesday night during a meeting over a proposed 500-unit apartment project on the 5.4-acre former Superior Plating site in Northeast, a block from Surdyk's. A Florida based firm is pitching the mixed-use development in place of the just-demolished industrial building.

“The biggest problem we saw what that they were not proposing enough density in housing," said Victor Grambsch, board president of the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association. "They were proposing something like 500 units. We think it should be closer to 700 or more.”

Well, then, buy the site and build it yourself. Honestly. The block’s been a vacant eyesore for a long time, and who knows what hellish metals lurked beneath it. Someone comes along to put something up on the site and it’s not big enough. I agree: bigger would be better. I agree: another building that looks like all the other apartments going up is an opportunity lost. But:

Grambsch said they do not want the building to resemble the "second rate" wood-frame construction that has sprung up in their neighborhood and across the city. But building higher than five or six stories generally involves switching to a concrete frame, which is more expensive.

"[The developer] actually indicated that if it were required that they would build to this level of density, that they would walk on the project," Grambsch said.

Which is a new definition of “Walkable cities,” perhaps.

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