Aesthetics of Everywhere

The urban scene, its people and processes. Based in southern California.

Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

Chicago’s neighborhoods and skyscrapers

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We took a little break from work and spent a few days in Chicago this past Labor Day weekend. My second time in the city was a new look at the skyscraper-filled Midwestern city on Lake Michigan.

My first visit, in 2007 for Pitchfork Music Fest, was a short roadtrip from DC. I stayed in a downtown Chicago hostel in a room with ten (!) people, listened to Sonic Youth, GZA, and others play great sets in the park, took a very informative walking tour of the city, and tried deep dish pizza for the first time at Pizzeria Uno.

Chicago skyline at brunch

This visit, 7 years later, I tried an AirBnB rental for the first time and loved it, attended the incredible blowout wedding of two good friends, explored the “finally up-and-coming” Logan Square neighborhood, took an equally informative river boat tour of Chicago architecture, and had deep dish at Lou Malnati’s.

And the first time I was in Chicago I had no idea that in the 19th century, the city (buildings and all!) had been raised and that the original flow of the river had been reversed, both for water sanitation reasons. Knowing this gave me renewed respect for Chicago’s history and its incredible feats of engineering, not to mention its architectural heritage.

Chicago river boat tour of architecture

We were sad to leave Chicago and city life behind, but glad to leave the humidity. Southern California living makes you soft.

Written by Crystal Bae

September 3rd, 2014 at 8:40 pm

Views of the Getty Center

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A long overdue new blog post. We finally made it out to the Getty Center to tour the grounds and explore their exhibits.

The Getty Center sits nestled in the mountains and they don’t allow you to drive all the way up to it. You exit off the 405 and enter a monstrously large parking garage – the sensors detecting open spots list numbers in the hundreds for a parking section – then hop onto a tram from this utopian station.

Tram ride from parking garage to Getty Center

The layout of the museum complex is designed to cast you outside as you browse the exhibits. Plenty of picturesque spots to sit, too.

Seating area between wings of the Getty

Getty cafe and lawn

We took a short architecture tour of the Getty and our guide pointed out a great variety of details that architect Richard Meier worked into the buildings and the complex.

Tour group admiring fossils

Fountain at the Getty Center

The Pollock exhibit was packed. But overall it didn’t feel crowded during our visit. The other wings of the museum were mostly quiet, especially for a place that has a parking capacity of over 1,000 cars.

Popular Pollock

Views of downtown LA

And the views towards downtown Los Angeles are very welcome. If the sky had been more clear, you could have made out another set of LA skyscrapers in the historic downtown core. Here you can see the skyscrapers of Century City and Westwood areas well.

Written by Crystal Bae

March 25th, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Blue Skies in San Francisco

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The sun actually came out today in San Francisco, making it an easy decision to walk over for the park to picnic away the afternoon, soak up vitamin D, and wander through the de Young Museum. We spent time catching up with friends who are both former DC residents and new residents to SF, having lived here less than a year each. I love discussing differences in lifestyle from east coast city living versus west coast city living. There’s much more homelessness here, some of it voluntary.

The Lawn Bowling Club was out, playing what looked to me like bocce. The signs, however, forbade playing bocce on the lawn bowling greens – so there must be some major difference. They invited us to come learn how to play during their free lesson tomorrow, but we’re back on the road then.

San Francisco Lawn Bowling

The view from the observation deck of the de Young Museum was improved by the lack of fog that is quintessential San Francisco. We could see all the populated streets fanning out on the hillsides.

View from the de Young observation deck

The museum was designed by the prominent architects Herzog & de Meuron and I felt that the building was as much on display as the collections of art. In the cafe courtyard, people were out soaking up the sun.

De Young Museum Cafe Courtyard

We made sure, of course, to eat enough Mexican food to fuel us for the last few days of our trip. Continuing south tomorrow, hopefully with fresh legs!

Written by Crystal Bae

August 14th, 2013 at 2:05 am

Recommended read: “Walkable City” by Jeff Speck

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The latest book by renowned city planner Jeff Speck is Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (2012). This is a follow-up to Suburban Nation, his popular work on sprawl in America’s suburbs.

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

“It turns out the way we move largely determines the way we live.” (55)

What I really enjoy about Jeff Speck’s writing is that he explains city planning concepts in a way that is universally relatable – to anyone with or without a background in planning, whether a resident of the city or the suburbs. It’s clear his writing is meant to grow mass support for urban living and walkable cities, and though he employs plenty of statistics to make his arguments, he keeps the material from sounding dry or inaccessible.

Speck moved to Washington, DC after leaving his home in South Beach, Miami, and has also lived in the various towns and cities he has helped plan. This means he can draw upon plenty of firsthand experience of what makes a city livable and capable of drawing new residents. (If you live in DC, you’ve likely seen his flatiron-style home at 10th and Florida Avenue NW.) His city planning experience also lends itself to his writing, and he pulls many real-world examples of the advantages of walkability and what makes certain cities so magnetic.

Speck centers the text on his “General Theory of Walkability” which centers on four conditions of what makes a good walk. It must be (1) useful, (2) safe, (3) comfortable, and (4) interesting. From this theory, he then presents ten steps for creating a more walkable city. As a self-proclaimed generalist, he recognizes that to design a city one cannot disregard cars, bicycles, transit, or the other elements at work. Speck makes sure to touch on these points in turn. The result is a book that is tuned into the physical and cultural landscape of cities today, as well as the demographic and geographic shifts currently at play in America. Jeff Speck didn’t write Walkable City for the planners, but for the people who live in these communities.

Jeff Speck’s Twitter feed is @JeffSpeckAICP.

Written by Crystal Bae

January 16th, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Approaching Max Density: Kowloon Walled City

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The 99% Invisible podcast recorded an episode about the Kowloon Walled City, a fascinating example of a city block that reached unrestrained levels of density. From the 1940s to 1980s, Kowloon Walled City (KWC) was largely ungoverned, “autonomous from both China and Britain,” run mainly by various criminal groups. People built upwards as well as into any open spaces – the chances of daylight reaching into the lower levels grew slimmer as more people moved in. At its peak, over 30,000 inhabitants lived in an area the size of a single city block. Without regulation, KWC continued to grow ever more complex and interwoven as residents flooded in. It was known as the “City of Darkness”. Trash was discarded out of the windows, electricity was pirated from the grid, and any business could set up without intervention from authorities. KWC was a massive city within a single block.

In the early 1990s, the Chinese and British governments agreed that it had to be torn down and the Hong Kong government began evicting residents. By 1994, Kowloon Walled City was demolished. Today there lies a neatly maintained park.

Kowloon Walled City (Photo by Ian Lambot)

Kowloon Walled City (Photo by Ian Lambot)

The 99% Invisible podcast episode on Kowloon Walled City is worth the listen, a good summary in only 15 minutes.

Further reading and more background available online:

Written by Crystal Bae

November 27th, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Views from St. Elizabeth’s East

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As part of the “Season of Discovery“, the historic 183-acre St. Elizabeth’s East was opened to the community to explore this past Saturday. This beautiful former mental hospital in Anacostia was constructed in the 1850s as the “Government Hospital for the Insane” but has since fallen out of use. Both the east and west campuses are now slated for development into the new unified headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and a variety of additional office, residential, retail, and civic spaces are proposed for the east campus. The first of the DHS projects is the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters currently under construction.

St Elizabeth's East Campus

We visited St. Elizabeth’s east campus on Saturday to take some photos, which continue under the cut.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Crystal Bae

August 27th, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Digital Preservation of Historic Places

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Preserving the world’s historic places is no mean feat. It is inevitable that buildings will fall, statues will be destroyed, and the structures of entire civilizations past will be mere memories. Buildings will erode, be reimagined and rebuilt in a new form. However, technologies such as digital photography are playing an increasing role in cataloguing and recording the world’s historically significant sites. With the advent of new methods of digitizing these places, our histories are better shared and the fabric of our cultures are better recorded.

Ben Kacyra is the inventor of a 3D scanning system that has been used to visualize historic sites. The projects of the CyArk archive use this system to collect millions of data points for each heritage site, capturing the sites in point clouds that together form a precise 3D model. You can browse the public online archive to see a point cloud, a 3D model, a Google Earth representation, and various photos of each site that has been digitally preserved so far. Also see his inspiring TED talk, “Ancient Wonders Captured in 3D.”

Our heritage is much more than our collective memory, it is our collective treasure. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, and the generations we will never meet to keep it safe and pass it along.

The Wonder Bread Factory in Shaw

Close to home: Google Street View screen capture of the Wonder Bread factory in Shaw.

In a way, the immense efforts of the Google Street View team are also a piecemeal digital cultural preservation of our highways and byways (as well as the life lived around these paths). Camera-mounted vehicles have driven across more than 30 countries, documenting the view from the streets. Small moments are taken out of time.

At an intersection in downtown São Paulo

At an intersection in downtown São Paulo

Those images above are just two of my finds this evening, but especially interesting Google Street View finds can be found at Jon Rafman’s project There you’ll see a wild slice of life as caught by these roaming photo cars: passersby waving, police officer pat-downs, caribou traveling down the highway, chaotic urban scenes and, every once in awhile, bits of serene bliss.

Written by Crystal Bae

November 26th, 2011 at 9:40 pm

First time in Austin, TX

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American flag and Texas flag

I spent this past weekend in Austin, Texas, filling up on lots of Tex-Mex and seeing more cowboy boots in two days than I usually see in a year. The temperature was in the high-80s and it was sunny, which was a little shock to the system in late October – I’d already been bracing myself for fall weather in DC. I’ve always heard good things about Austin and found it to be a pretty cool city. Although it has a higher population than DC proper, Austin is larger so things are more spread out. It also has a smaller surrounding metro area – less than a third the size of the Washington, DC metro area. This lack of density made parts of the city core feel somewhat empty at times. There are a few buses but not much other public transit to speak of. Didn’t see as many bicycles as I’d expected, either. I’d say most people drive.

Mechanical bull in an Austin barAustin has a lot of colorful murals, a constant schedule of events, and some interesting architecture (check out the Arthouse at the Jones Center, right in downtown). Muted tones under the hot Texan sun and fun art deco touches on buildings made up the unique aesthetic of the city. The bars are kind of quirky – we went to a dive bar with a huge jackalope replica that you could sit on and another place with a mechanical bull and an extensive list of shooters. South Congress Street has a row of boutiques and antique shops, including Uncommon Objects, the best antique store I’ve ever stepped inside. And the University of Texas at Austin has the largest college football campus I’ve seen in my life.

One highlight of our visit to Austin was seeing the incredible display of 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats flying out from the Congress Street Bridge to catch their dinner. We watched them from the bridge, but there’s also a park nearby where many Austinites and visitors gathered to watch the nightly ritual. Some others opted to take a tour boat, kayak, or paddle-bike on the river, which looked fun too.

Despite its slogan as the live music capital of the world, we unfortunately didn’t make the time to catch any shows. The streets (especially Sixth Street) are lively, though – you hear music streaming out from the bars onto the sidewalks. Since most of the bars have live music, it’d definitely be feasible to hear a band every night if you wanted to. Austin is also home to a couple of the most popular music festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits (ACL). The Austin Film Festival was ongoing while we were in town, and the city has several beautiful historic theatres.

But really, if you need one reason other than the music to visit Austin, it’s the food. Austin is at the top of the heap when it comes to Tex-Mex and BBQ. Most Tex-Mex restaurants had veggie options; one taco joint on South Congress even had a vegan menu. We ate so well – and so much. Everything’s bigger in Texas.

Written by Crystal Bae

October 27th, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Everyday Lessons Learned: July 2011, Week 1

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Daily lessons learned are back! And they’ll continue for the rest of the year, since I don’t have any big trips planned for the rest of the year 2011. It’s true you learn something new every day, and writing it all down helps. Here’s the latest installation, with the first 10 days of July.

01: China has opened a 26.4 mile over-water bridge, the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge, connecting Qingdao city with the island of Hongdao. Many of the world’s longest bridge projects are located in China, including the three longest.

02: The sensation of “brain freeze” you get when you drink an iced drink or eat ice cream too fast is a result of your blood vessels constricting quickly. Still, it strikes me as strange how the feeling’s experienced towards the top-back of your head.

03: According to a woman I met from Australia, Australian accents are considered similar to the Surrey accent in the southeast of England. This area of England may be where the Australian English accent first originated. I wonder if the Surrey accent also demonstrates the upward inflections at the ends of sentences that is so characteristic of Australian English.

St. Louis Gateway Arch against the skyline04: The St. Louis Gateway Arch is taller than the Washington Monument. Learned this from the game You Don’t Know Jack, which is a pretty entertaining game if you like quirky trivia. The arch looks like an impressive structure; never been to St. Louis myself. [Photo at right, which I snagged off the internet.]

05: The angklung is an Indonesian instrument made entirely of bamboo. It’s played by holding the instrument loosely by its upper section (the top horizontal beam of the frame) with your left hand, and moving it to the left and right with your right hand (holding the bottom tube). The sound is a pleasant hollow tone and each angklung produces a specific note – musicians need to play together in an ensemble to play all the notes of a song.

06: Not all bars give you a new glass or pitcher when you order another of the same beer. This was a relief to see because I had grown accustomed to bartenders performing the (seemingly) pointless act of giving you a new cup when you went up to the bar to get a refill on your beer. If it’s the same beer, I don’t see the point in giving a fresh glass every time. Just looks like it’s creating more unnecessary dishes… but feel free to chime in if there’s a counterpoint here.

07: In the U.S., certain fictional phone numbers are set aside for use in movies and television shows by the Motion Picture Association of America. These begin with “555” and are not usually given out by phone companies, so that real phone customers aren’t continually harassed by people trying to call their favorite stars. However, Universal Studios is a notable exception. They own the phone number (212) 664-7665, which they’ve used in a few recent flicks and allegedly just keeps ringing when you call it. (via Mashable)

08: The hagfish, misleadingly nicknamed the slime eel, is the only animal that has a skull but no spine. One species of hagfish is caught in the northwest Pacific and exported live to Korea as food – their slime used in similar fashion to egg whites.

09: According to the World Health Organization’s “World report on road traffic injury prevention”, 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents each year. Approximately 85% of these types of deaths occur in low- or middle-income countries. Whereas in most high-income countries car deaths take the lives of car drivers, in lower income countries, the deaths are primarily among pedestrians, passengers, cyclists, motorcyclists, and those taking other modes of transport such as buses. (Source)

10: Watermelon is originally from southern Africa. We had a few people guess on its origins at a picnic, and the most specific we got was my aunt’s answer of “Africa! Because everything comes from Africa.” Today, however, China grows the most watermelon worldwide – over 63 million metric tons were produced in 2008.

Written by Crystal Bae

July 11th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Everyday Lessons Learned: April 2011, Week 4

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24: Radiolab – one of my favorite radio shows with a focus on making science-heavy topics light enough for the general public to understand – is also very interesting for its production techniques. Radiolab has a unique sound design that layers and repeats clips of speech, strange noises, and timely pauses with the hosts’ commentary on topics ranging from overlooked day-to-day phenomena to more theoretical heights of philosophy. Speaking about the show’s sound design, Jad Abumrad is quoted in an interview: “The sounds should create a sense of subterranean movement. You know, like you’re hearing this surface narrative, but there’s some kind of turbulence in the depths deep below. That’s something that music can create, so I work really hard to create a bed of music that feels bottomless, but at the same time isn’t intrusive and manipulative.”

If you haven’t heard Radiolab yet, try this episode from March called “Help!” The part about the Russian ‘torpedo’ pill will make you cringe and say to yourself, “No way… really?” Questions aren’t always answered. But they’re certainly surfaced.

In the Hirshhorn

25: Ever wondered about the history of moving buildings? A brief history here.

26: The U.S. military’s been working with mobile app developers to find ways of implementing machine translation in situations where soldiers don’t have access to a live interpretors. Infantry units, for example, generally don’t have a human translator to help them. In PRI’s The World, a few of the demonstrated apps allowed a person to speak a phrase into the device and have it repeated back to them in the desired language. Some even have the ability to demonstrate proper body language, such as a hand gesture that may accompany a spoken phrase.

27: Rio Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame is considered Brazil’s top cop. Under his direction, the police force has managed to establish calm in the most crime-ridden of Rio de Janeiro’s many favelas (slums). A full 20% of Rio’s 9 million residents is housed in favelas; the largest, Rocinha, alone houses about a quarter million people. Beltrame’s approach to “pacifying” the favelas is highly resource-intensive – in one of the pacified favelas, the police-to-resident ratio is 1 officer for every 40 citizens – but effective: 

In four years under Beltrame’s control, police have “pacified” 14 slums, including Borel, the giant Complexo do Alemão, and the City of God—the flatland favela that inspired the eponymous drugs-and-thugs film. Dons of three competing crime factions are either in jail or dead. Nearly 1,000 rogue cops, including two former police chiefs, have been cashiered.” (Newsweek)

Barack Obama 'Hope' poster28: Street artist Shepard Fairey is probably someone you’ve heard of, at least in passing – he designed the famous Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster (at left) that was so prominent during the president’s election campaign. He started off with screenprinting, which has shaped his artistic style through necessary simplification of the colors and elements in his posters.

And Shepard Fairey’s been arrested 14 times, but takes a similarly freewheeling stance on these arrests. Fairey quotes Joe Strummer of The Clash in an interview: “Authority has no inherent wisdom.” (I have a photo of a piece in Philadelphia that definitely looks like Fairey’s style. Can anyone confirm?)

29: In the event of a flood, a colony of fire ants can cling to one another, forming a perfectly round raft that is so tightly woven that it forms air pockets which the ants can use to breathe. And this floating mass of ants can float for up to several weeks at a time.

30: According to my father, this dish is something of a delicacy in Korea: live octopus tentacles cut into pieces which are then dropped into a glass of soju (a clear Korean liquor) and taken as a shot (like a shot of liquor, not like a vaccine shot). The contact of the octopus legs with the soju makes the legs squirm around like crazy, which is what’s intended. I’m an adventurous eater, but I’m not sure I’d want to try it.

Written by Crystal Bae

May 1st, 2011 at 7:15 pm