Archive for August, 2009

Shallow Begets Deep

We at archinect received this email in response to the Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition that we’re hosting at the moment. As a competition that was intended to challenge the ability of architecture to respond to the overwhelming intricacy of contemporary identity, I think this email may be the best (if unintended) entry yet. Architects: what are you if not religious?

———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 4:54 PM
Subject: Is the Michael Jackson Competition legal?
To: archinect

Dear Archinect:

It is my opinion that your “Design Competition” is illegal.  The fact that this type of contest is commonplace does not alter the laws that are in place.

I do not intend to enter this contest, nor do I expect you to agree with me or to change anything. Nor is this email a threat of legal action by me.

But the simple fact is that ARCHITECTS ARE NOT ARTISTS under California law. Fine artists engaged in expressive activities – such as painters, dancers, musicians and sculptors – are not regulated by statute.  Architects ARE regulated under the Business & Professions Code, the California Civil Code, and others.

Basically, we are building engineers. A filmmaker may decide that she needs a disabled, 65-year old, African-American, lesbian Hindu and offer $500 to anyone who fits the bill, but an architect may not make similar distinctions in the course of professional activities.

Architectural style, however, is religious expression.  It appears that your contest involves the making of a distinction based on an expression of religious belief.  You are offering money in exchange, and this is being done by people who claim to be architects or are otherwise offering professional opinions.

Just something you might want to think about?


In Search of Magnificent Things

Light bouncing off those trillion tiny molecules of water in the body of a fog: this is reading San Francisco in the original. Every place has its own way of expressing volume to its visitors, of showing us how to think about the act of containing and being contained. London has its parks, New York has its grid, and San Francisco has its weather. On my last of four nights in the city I’m glad to have had one that was not clear. Empty skies are the enemy of anyone who hopes to visit San Francisco; without fog it’s just scenography.

Tall buildings caught in the volumetric light of a San Francisco night have me pondering whether it is the land that gives foundation to the towers, or the towers themselves that began with penthouses and shaped the topography by growing downward. Pushing and cracking the earth of the bay into hills and valleys in an act of hyper literal settling.

Twelve hours later, along the hollow center of an anonymous corporate campus: steady winds render the surface of an artificial lake into a conveyor belt moving fast and consistent against the shore. Water ends cleanly in land and perpetually keeps doing so with no margin or edge. The illusion is pulled off through a careful balance of sight lines, retaining walls, and a natural-looking distribution of “shore material” that erase any break of the waves.

Although efforts to lump San Francisco into some larger Bay Area are overzealous, these vignettes bracket my time in Northern California well: a pure beauty, a beautiful artifice, a careful contest.

Unexpected, but we seem to be getting back to the old sort of writing that used to be on this site.