One of the best parts about jet lag flying west is that you wake up early and there is something magic in the empty streets, as if time had stopped. Above a few people begin their days near the Shinbashi train station 新橋駅; below the narrow streets that hum with human energy late into the night are shuttered and quiet.
Below, the world-famous shopping district of Ginza 銀座, empty on a Sunday morning. Nearby is the notorious Nakagin Capsule tower, 中銀カプセルタワー and also a fun shot of two shinkansen locomotives coupled nose-to-nose at Tokyo Station 東京駅, one stop north.
35mm film, December 2017
An hour northwest of Kyoto nestled in the valley of the kiyotaki river 清滝川 lies the little hamlet of Takao 高雄, home of three large temples, a small residential community, and a handful of soba restaurants. I visited in late December and was pleasantly surprised when the rain changed to snow as the city bus ascended the winding road into the mountains. Above you see the temple complex of Saimyo-ji 西明寺、with easily one of the most beautiful entry sequences I've ever experienced, especially if you consider it begins with this view of the three rooflines nestled in the forest before it bounds across the river and up a steep escarpment on the far side.
Below are some of the paths that cut through the forest surrounding Kozan-ji 高山寺 down the road, which is magnificent in its own way—with high vaulted forest like gothic canopy and brilliant komorebi 木漏れ日 that pours through. The view from the main hall, or kondo 金堂, is unequaled, and intentionally not pictured. I hope that you may visit and be surprised as I was.
Finally here are some images of the roads and paths and rivers of Takao, not explicitly part of any temple complex: a wall detail of someone's private drive; a view along the road toward Jingo-ji 神護寺, the largest of the three temples in Takao; a bust stop with a proper green roof; a soba restaurant 瓦そば 松右衛門 perched above the kiyotaki river, and finally a view along the footpath from the main road to the river below. During the peak season that little stand would be selling refreshments.
35mm film, December 2017
This project has been fourteen years in the making. The frame, made by Jeff Lyon in Oregon, was purchased for $300 from Recycled Cycles in 2003, but it started life on the professional cylcocross circuit many years before that. It was red with a single white panel (visible below). It also came with a matching steel fork which was destroyed in a car wreck, but somehow the frame was undamaged. I confirmed with Jeff that the tubeset is a blend of Reynolds 725 and Deda Zero-Uno, with a flattened top-tube for shouldering comfort and canti-specific wishbone rear seat-stays. There are gussets under both the top and down tubes where they abut the head tube, which is likely what kept it from crumpling in the car accident. The guys down at Austin Paintworks did a spectacular job—hand sanding the clearcoat from the fork and painstakingly trying multiple decals for the head-badge to get it right. Everything else is masked. The lettering began as a stock font but has been carefully modified as a vector path to simulate hand lettering.
30k SqFt for Austin Energy Green Building HQ
My goal is to turn buildings inside out. The built environment should consist of more than inhabitable, conditioned space and a purely visual relationship to the exterior surface. The outside of buildings, in other words, should be as livable as the inside. The problem is geometric: if the building is construed as a closed figure (however elaborate) its exterior angles will each, definitionally, be greater than 180 degrees — what is called a reflex angle — and where no one, instinctively, wants to be. The typical street condition across the country is made up of these spaces, almost exclusively. It could even be said that streets are geometrically hostile.
The most obvious solution is to use other buildings conjunctively to define unconditioned spaces. Below is a project I worked on with a classmate where we chose to subdivide two lots into four and turn the buildings toward the inside to create a courtyard. Naturally, the municipal street condition remains at the perimeter, but the interior problem at least is alleviated. Furthermore, by rotating the structures off the orthogonal site plan, view corridors were maintained even in tight quarters. The buildings thus face each other to contain the space without doing so directly, which I believe allows them fit more comfortably (as private residences) so close together.
This is a geometric solution to a social condition. And it is one that quickly begins to challenge the notion of private ownership so intrinsic to the American ethos, which, frankly, could be approached with a little more nuance than the generic strain of socialist antipathy admits. Buildings do not exist in isolation, but beyond fire code the policies that regulate their construction act much as if they do. I grant that the issue is complex but the point is the built environment is both an effect and a cause in the cycle of social alienation we experience today. Buildings are deeply complicit in the communal behavior of human beings; the failure to heed this at the political level is an insidious cultural hazard.*
Breaking away from the orthogonal grid creates fascinating relationships. We explored one above primarily in the horizontal plane. Another that interests me also regards light but in the vertical axis, namely how the shift permits penetration through multiple stories of the building (visable in these early sketch models). Above is a parti diagram I developed whereby the unconditioned staircase jumps across the ground level passage over atrial bridges that permit movement between the two halves of conditioned space. Breaking away from the orthogonal grid (especially twice) is also structurally mad, I learned, if you want to maintain a semblance of order. I was not at all prepared for this challenge.
The other unique aspect of this building is its experimental double facade system. The idea is to separate the solar load from the insulated envelope — quite simply to shade the building, especially from the late, violent western sun which no roof overhang can combat — so that the same material does not have to perform both tasks. Without this air gap between, a normal wall system is continuously stressed conductively by the solar load. What is worse, glass (which we love so much) is a miserable insulator, with only the most extreme quadruple-paned systems achieving R-value equivalents of greater than 4, and typical double-pane IGU's coming in around half that. In comparison a two-dollar 6" fiberglass batt is already at R-19 even without the enclosing wall system. In hot climates, it would follow, glass-in-the-sun is just stupid, and patently uncreative.
The goal is to permit light while reflecting heat. This is the basic challenge of all insulated, inhabited structures.** The brise-soleil (exterior louver) is a classic solution. Additionally, there exists a panoply of ingenious materials and systems that are being developed to facilitate this exchange, many of which use mechanical, chemical or even biological mechanisms to modulate the solar energy to which they are incident.*** The trouble is that no matter how clever a system is, architecture makes a poor prototype upon which to deploy it.**** The structures are too big, too expensive and too enduring to warrant the risk. Thus I do not find that the primary obstacle is technological, but rather the inability to exploit technology in an architecturally relevant way. The problem, essentially, is to make architecture prototypically feasible.
To this end I devised an external system of bays into which could easily be installed new or existing, passive or active, chemical, biological or mechanical shading systems without compromising the integrity of the building's structure or aesthetics. The system I chose to represent in the model below was basic foliage (I imagine bamboo screens in easily serviceable trays) but the point is any number of things could be used. Different systems could be employed on different solar aspects, or even patched together on the same facade in mosaic or collage, behind all of which a lightweight glass storefront could be employed, happily unstressed. As the headquarters of the Austin Energy Green Building department it would be a beacon for innovation, even allowing the public to circulate along the open corridors between the two 'envelopes' to participate in the experiment. The building would be able to grow, to adapt, to remain relevant.
PROCESS: Despite what the photos below indicate the majority of my time was spent in Rhino, modeling in the digital environment. One of the downsides of this approach is that little evidence remains of the work other than screen shots. Below you can also see the formative sketch of a figure-eight staircase that circles in two directions, which I determined to be an interesting way to resolve the collision of the two twisted grids. At the other (east) end of the building I was able to use the stair landings in a more typical uni-directional staircase to bring the two irregular halves together. The foam models are early; you can see the development of the double-twisted grid as a strategy for opening up the corridor. What was apparent at this stage is that those terraces would be scorched from the west in this southern climate. Since the site begged for this orientation, it became apparent a vertical shading system was needed.
* Ironically, the positive side to this is that we are less morally responsible in an immediate sense for our increasing social alienation than some more empathic types might tend to think.
**In cold climate the heat source is different and the direction of heat transfer is reversed, but the problem is the same.
***Cf. Michelle Addington & Daniel Schodek, Smart Materials & Sustainable Design, 2005.
****Cf. The well documented 'failure' of Jean Nouvel’s kinetic facade on the Institut du Monde Arabe is of particular interest because it is so astoundingly beautiful, and we really want it to work. It could easily be said that it was just "ahead of its time" — which is to say that the technology was too advanced for the architecture: the very crux of the issue. Architecture, by nature, will always be "behind." It is a thing rooted in the past and this is one of its finest and most beloved qualities, but it can also present a challenge when the rest of the post-industrialized world is steaming madly ahead.
The winter sun is low in the Seattle sky, casting long still shadows with dry, shimmering highlights (see how the blades of grass and the tips of the bare branches glisten). Capturing these ancient trunks in the rare winter sun and in the winter of their lives, as it happens, is a gift, especially for all the memories spent among them over summers past. I also enjoy seeing these trees — so famous for their verdance and their champagne shades of pink — stripped to the raw form in black and white.
The contrast with the built structures behind is overt and that pleases me, too. For me, the meaning of art suffers with obscurity. I'd much rather find depth in what is simple and direct. I will be chasing that forever.
Photo-speak: I wanted to emphasize this effect (focusing on the trunks) with a close crop by shooting with a mid-range lens (probably a 50 and an 85). The exchange is that in this middle length, which is better suited for separating the subject, I start to lose depth of field, especially at hand-held shutter speeds or on slower film like the Delta 100 above (notice the blurred background—an 85mm at its happiest). Although bokeh like this can be lovely, I think images in full focus are more difficult to compose and ultimately, more interesting. With the Tri-X 400 (below) I did my best by sacrificing what I could in the front. A tripod, as always, would have helped! (Longer exposures / larger f-stops / greater DOF.)
Last summer I went to the Ujigawa to learn how to sketch. I needed to learn so I bought a book on the subject and planned every week to visit this picturesque spot a short 45 minute train ride from my house. It didn't work as planned. I only made one sketch.
I did, however, fall in love with pottery. I walked into a studio across the street and one an hour later signed up for ten more classes on the spot. This was the opposite of drawing. Drawing felt like running my brain in reverse; ceramics seemed hardly to involve my mind at all. For better or for worse I never brought my sketchbook back to the manicured banks of the Uji.
Below are my first two matcha bowls and a cup that turned out particularly well. The effects are a result of a liberal application of iron oxide (rust) above and below a single body glaze.
One of the most exciting things about making in clay is I never know what is going to happen. After I center it only takes a few minutes for the inchoate to take shape, like some infinitesimally minor Platonic flower blooming—similarly when I trim, similarly when I glaze—each step is a fantastic surprise. I was lucky enough to have one of my plates reduce for example: the red and the light blue glazes are the same, only the red one fired in a region of the kiln with less oxygen. I look forward to experimenting more with glaze application, and to playing with other substances like iron oxide which react in unpredictable ways.