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

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.

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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.

When the Mayor Swears

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 17, 2014 - 1:56 PM

If you have trouble with this, you’re no fun. You’re a wet-blanket and a prude who denies the reality of today’s vernacular. Or so some think. Said the mayor of LA after the USA win:

“There are two rules in politics: they say never ever be pictured with a drink in your hand and never swear, but this is a big f—in’ day; way to go guys!” he said while holding what appeared to be an aluminum Bud Light bottle. A post on the official Twitter account for the mayor’s office reflected Garcetti’s comments: “There are a few rules in politics, one is never swear, but this is a #BFD”.

Well, it reflected them, but it didn’t repeat them. Almost as if the Official Twitter Account thought hmmm, standards for public discourse, right? So, initials. Totally scientific poll on the CBS website:

MOVIES Teller, of Penn and renown, defends “The Towering Inferno.” (Source: The Dissolve.) He thinks it’s well-written and compelling. There are times I almost agree and times I think no, it’s a flaming pile of shag that ends with a billion gallons of water dumping down on Fred Astaire and Red Buttons, but then you think: well, Steve McQueen is good. True. The theme is interesting; one of John Williams’ lesser efforts, but it’ll do. Google it if you're curious.

Related: why isn’t Steven Seagal in the Expendables? Follow-up question: why does anyone think he should be?

YUCK Terry Richardson’s work gives off a skeezy, pervy smell, and even if you didn’t know the stories detailed in the recent New York magazine cover you’d suspect something was ooky about the guy. Jezebel writes about the problems with the cover story’s premise, which should be obvious to anyone: “Is Terry Richardson an artist or a predator?” it asks, as if the two are mutually exclusive. As if the latter somehow excuses the former.

At one point, Wallace notes that there are now many "culturally engaged people, many of them young, who reject the sophisticated titillation that once greeted Richardson's work, seeing predation instead of transgression." He writes that this "is perplexing to the photographer, who finds himself maligned as repugnant for being the same person who was once broadly celebrated." This is a pretty damn specious way of looking at public rejection of Richardson's work: people aren't changing their views on the "sophisticated titillation" of his photos. They're learning that some of the women in them didn't consent to it.

True, but: it would also be good if people stopped applauding “transgression” because it made them feel naughty and modern and iconoclastic, when it’s the most boring default position available today.

The piece is here, and contains graphic descriptions of Richardson’s behavior, so don’t click if you’re offended.

URBANISM David Brauer sticks up for the suburbs in the SW Journal, and reminds people that the compact, walkable urban core wasn’t the result of a small-is-beautiful / anti-car philosophy. The piece is titled “Let’s stop the Suburb Shaming,” and good for him. BTW, as long as we’re on stopping things, let us ease off on the word “shaming.” It’s becoming a moral stance about people taking a moral stance about a moral stance. You should be ashamed for shaming.

SCIENCEThey’ve identified the most abundant mineral on the planet, and what they’ve called it might surprise you! Although the chances of that are quite low, since you have no preconceptions about mineral nomenclature one way or the other, and are just as likely to accept “plonkenite” as “manganorsterite.

It’s bridgmanite.

LIT To commemorate the immient release of “Grand Budapest Hotel” on DVD, a look at Stefan Zweig:

Zweig, who left behind an almost absurdly various and voluminous body of work, saw himself, at 60, as someone who belonged irrevocably to the past. He decided to stay there, and to those who seek him he can still be found, in an atmosphere of hedonistic refinement and intellectual passion, haunting the cafes and strolling the boulevards of a vanished city.

And with that said, I’d like to link or embed some music from the imaginary past, in the form of the “Grand Budapest Hotel” soundtrack. But it’s probably not authorized, and hence pirated . . . which is a BFD.

The F is for “Fargin’!” Roman Maroni, a great American.

New Internet Ad Idea to Annoy You Greatly

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 16, 2014 - 12:23 PM

Behold, online advertising’s absolute bottom: the ransom note.

Let’s get people to pay not to see ads. You don’t want to? Fine; sit through this 30 second ad before you see something that the site snatched off YouTube and slapped their watermark upon. That’ll build customer loyalty and many repeat clicks.

DEEP THOUGHTS Today’s editorial page has the Monday illustrated-quote cartoon by L. K. Hanson, whose Farley at the Fair cartoons are still missed every year. He usually picks a provocative statement; today has a Baudrillard quote: “Deep down, the US, with its technological refinement, its bluff good conscience, even in those spaces which it opens up for simulation, is the only replaining primitive society.”

Hmm. Well. Of course, he means figuratively so, because you have to be rather blind to believe that the US is literally primitive. He must have meant that the US culture channeled some primal forces other cultures had smothered or covered with the trappings of civilization.

Actually, with this guy, there’s no literal or figuretive. That’s far too jejune an idea. Baudrillard was a post-modernist and a post-structuralist, although you suspect he would have been a modernist and a structuralist if he’d been born a bit earlier. Wikipedia gives us a sample:

In Baudrillard's view, the (human) subject may try to understand the (non-human) object, but because the object can only be understood according to what it signifies (and because the process of signification immediately involves a web of other signs from which it is distinguished) this never produces the desired results.

I am looking at a coffee cup right now. It’s white; the style is mid-century Diner; it has a Krispy Kreme logo. Thus are the generic elements of his style immediately given locality and specificity by the corporate logo, signifying both the commodification of donuts and the evanescence of franchise agreements, which have the illusion of permanence but can be severed by legal means. There was a Krispy Kreme store in Eden Prairie. Now it’s gone. Life is futile. Why try?

That’s one way of looking at it. The other way is to point out that I have no trouble understanding my coffee cup, because it is a coffee cup, and that’s all there is to it. No one is paralyzed by uncertainty when they consider their coffee cup. The only people whose minds skitter off on a web of other signs are people who are paid to sit in nice rooms and think about things.

We continue:

The subject, rather, becomes seduced (in the original Latin sense, seducere, to lead away) by the object. He therefore argued that, in the last analysis, a complete understanding of the minutiae of human life is impossible, and when people are seduced into thinking otherwise they become drawn toward a "simulated" version of reality, or, to use one of his neologisms, a state of "hyperreality". This is not to say that the world becomes unreal, but rather that the faster and more comprehensively societies begin to bring reality together into one supposedly coherent picture, the more insecure and unstable it looks and the more fearful societies become. Reality, in this sense, "dies out”.

The job of many social philosophers is to point out how unhappy and delusional other people are. Especially the ones that seem happy and consider themselves well-adjusted. There has to be something wrong with them.

Oh but there’s more.

Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure's and Roland Barthes's formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood (and thus formless) version of structural semiology. The concept of Simulacra also involves a negation of the concept of reality as we usually understand it. Baudrillard argues that today there is no such thing as reality.

No man who has ever stubbed his toe against the leg of a table could say something so stupid, but Baudrillard’s career consisted of saying ridiculous things in a prose style designed to bluster the rubes into admiration.

n other unrelated news, WaPo Wonkblog:

There are roughly 11,000 Starbucks locations in the United States, and about 14,000 McDonald's restaurants. But combined, the two chains don't come close to the number of museums in the U.S., which stands at a whopping 35,000.

More museums than McDonald’s? C’est impossible!

ARCHITORTURE Via Things, a story about a building complex designed to host the G8.

The former Arsenal, partly planned by Stefano Boeri on the island of La Maddalena for the G8 in 2009, is one of the darkest moments of Italian politics in recent years - a polluted, abandoned and inaccessible site. The story of a disaster, symbolizing one of the largest financial and environmental squanders in recent years.

The trailer for a movie being made about the ruins:

VotD That’s a lot of geese.

Reminds me of “The Flood” level in the first Halo game.

NIMBY: a new definition

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 11, 2014 - 12:34 PM

Criticizing new buildings has to come with a disclaimer: it’s good to have a boom. Better to see cranes than wrecking balls; better to have ordinary new buildings go up than live some place where the economy is flat on its back and the only thing anyone built in the last ten years is a buck-sucking big-box chain on the edge of town.

But this . . . well.

Never mind the hue, which appears to be product placement by French’s mustard. The yellow hue works off the tint of the Varsity theater down the block, so that works, and it’s laudable that someone tries to bring vivacity to the corner. Residents need never give their address; they can say they live in The Yellow One? in Dinkytown, and that’s enough.

There are two problems. One: the windows. Thin windows.The corner windows are nice, even if it looks like a hinge on a door that never opens, but the thin windows have that punchcard / bunker-slit look from the late 60s / early 70s, and staggering them doesn’t absolve all the sins.

Second: that . . . protrusion on the roof. The meaningless stylized angled protrusion, or MSAP, is practically required on all buildings these days, a stylistic tic that says “modern apartment building with an urban vibe and a gas fireplace in the lobby and it’s not a dorm even though seriously you guys someone barfed in the elevator after the last Gophers game. But otherwise we’re totally adults.” It’s like the brim of a baseball cap.

Then there’s this, a planned three-block development on West Broadway: It replaces a string of old tired buildings. Who could complain?

Well, I will. With qualifications. First of all, it should be built. If someone wants to sink money into that neighborhood and bring it up, applause. The design has enough variety to give it cohesion, but at least it pretends to be different buildings, instead of one long faceless glass thing or faux-historical brick mega-development doomed to fail.

Nevertheless, it’s a missed opportunity. No one’s saying the buildings it would replace have great architectural distinction. They don’t. Mostly one-story commercial structures from the Coolidge era. But a few buildings doomed to die for the development have a quality their replacement can never have: style, size, history, presence. This one:

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These buildings deserve to live. They deserve to be incorporated into a new project, and would lend the new project instant credibility. A newcomer, but not an interloper.

It’s not always done well. “Facadomy” was a term used to sticking big projects behind the fronts of old buildings; 2000 Penn in Washington DC, where I used to work, is a fine example. The buildings have nothing to do with the office building behind them, which looks like a cruise ship that steamed from one suburban office park to another. But it’s better than demolition.

The small-scale brick buildings abound around the city, but there are fewer now than before. We discount them because they’re common. They’re like the old men who hang around the barbershop: they contain the vernacular memory of the neighborhood, and are irreplaceable. You have to pick and choose, which is why the House of Hanson in Dinkytown was not worth saving, but the Simms Hardware building is. Why the middle-of-the-block buildings that would have gone down for a Dtown hotel weren’t worth preserving, but the Old College Inn and Gray’s Drug are.

“You can’t save everything“ isn’t an justification for tearing down anything.

Nice to meet you,  Mr. Strawman, you say. But push comes to shove, yes or no? Knock it down, or wait for a rehab, even if if means the neighborhood has to look at boarded up windows for another 15 years? Because the boom will end, as they always do.

I don’t know. It’s not an easy choice. The people who want to preserve these buildings often seem opposed to any development, and it seems to have less to do with preservation than Change. No Trader Joe’s on Lyndale! People will come here. No apartment building on Franklin and Lyndale! People will come here and it will take longer to get through the stoplight and the building will cast a shadow. No hotel in Dinkytown! Because, well, because. No dense structure in Linden Hills! People will move there and it won’t feel special and there might be noise.

If developers were talking about plopping big blocks in the middle of residential neighborhoods, I’d understand - but these locations are all commercial modes, streetcar stops. Density is in their DNA.

(Oh, the new definition of NIMBY? Never Intentionally Maul Buildings, Yo.)

(Okay, it needs work.)


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