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Small Houses

This week is devoted to the process of making things by hand, and building houses fits the category. In fact, one of the most amazing aspect of the Laika exhibit that I described at the beginning of the week, was the details found in their constructed houses, inside and out.

In truth, though, today’s choice was also motivated by my wish to get the attached article into circulation. Much in it moved me and dealt with problems that we are all aware of but often feel helpless about.

Can Tiny Homes Solve America’s Homeless Problem?

Here is a quote from the article – a reminder of how privileged we all are.

In the planning stages of Emerald Village, there was a question about whether to include individual bathrooms in each home, which would have limited the number of units that could be built. While board members supported the move, the vote came in against them. The homeless individuals said they would rather have smaller units with communal bathrooms — because they wanted to provide housing for more people.

For photographs I thought I offer images of tools needed to make the stuff that fills the houses, furniture, floors, special beams etc. – when they are still made by hand.  I am lucky enough to know people who have the most amazing woodworking shops, in Philadelphia and in Germany. So you get a sampling of what caught my eyes.

And here is music for woodworkers – Joe Glazer did a lot of political songs, enjoy the lumberjacks!




Metal Work

I don’t even know what some of the words mean: “The early metalworker was familiar, for example, with hammering, embossing, chasing, inlaying, gilding, wiredrawing, and the application of chemicals.” But I do know that I like the finished products of all this activity, particularly when it is made out of wrought iron.

In fact I find myself chasing it with the camera wherever I can – although that is different from the one cited above…: “Chasing is accomplished with hammer and punches on the face of the metal. These punches are so shaped that they are capable of producing any effect—either in intaglio (incising beneath the surface of the metal) or in relief—that the metalworker may require. The design is traced on the surface, and the relief may be obtained by beating down the adjacent areas to form the background.”

I learned this and more from an overview in the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Ironwork is fashioned either by forging or casting. Wrought iron is the type of ironwork that is forged on an anvil. There are no fabrication similarities to cast iron, which is poured in a molten state into prepared sand molds.

Wrought iron is fibrous in structure and light gray in colour. It can be hammered, twisted, or stretched when hot or cold. The more it is hammered, the more brittle and hard it becomes; but it can be brought back to its original state by annealing (heating and then cooling slowly). It will not shatter when dropped.

The individual components of a wrought-iron design are often plain or twisted rods, with or without chisel-mark incisions. They are frequently composed as a series of straight, parallel members or in combination with scrolls, or as a repeat design of some geometric shape such as the quatrefoil. Where two curved members are tangent, they are characteristically secured together by bands or collars, rather than by welding. Where two straight bars intersect, it is accredited craftsmanship to make the vertical bar pierce or thread the horizontal member. Grilles consisting of two series of parallel small-diameter rods, one series at right angles to the other, were sometimes interlaced or woven.

For details and history you can read this:

or a short version, if you don’t want to have your nose in the book until 2019)

The evolution of decorative ironwork

In Europe wrought iron was used in decoration of churches since the middle ages; later, Victorian houses displayed a lacework of wrought iron grids and garlands ending in scrolls, leaf-ends or fishtails, offering a paradox of solidity and daintiness. It was meant to send out a message of a significant social power – confident in its stronghold, parading expensive artwork with a view of its property behind.

In the US, New Orleans reigns supreme when it comes to the art form, but frequent fences can be seen in Charleston as well.

I like the art deco (Jugendstil) works I photographed in Paris and Bremen, which are more elegant, less ostentatious.

In any case, I imagine what it meant to be a blacksmith working with all this, inventing patterns, methods to make it more pliable, designing forms, if it was to be combined with casting, and then erecting those balconies at houses that he could probably not afford in a life time….




To close out the week on “any house but my own” musings, while sitting in the cold since the front door has been gone all day to be repaired…. I’m turning to playful buildings which surely brighten anyone’s day.

The first was shown this year in Holland, a small hotel that can be reconfigured into any kind of shape, depending on site specifics or customer needs. (Done, by the way, by the same firm that designed the eye-shaped library in China.)

MVRDV presents a hotel you can reconfigure at Dutch Design Week

And here is the same building……

My own photographs depict a passage in Cambridge, MA  that echoed the plasticky feel of the hotel – maybe future graffiti will appear on the walls in Eindhoven as well.

The second playful building can be found in the home town of LEGOs, Billund, Denmark.  It is a building of legos, for legos, with legos or any combination thereof, made to get you back into play mode…..

And the third building is closer to home, in Seattle, a distinctively wacky structure that has been renamed 5 times by the latest count. I guess currently it is the Museum for Pop Culture….. it used to be the Experience Music Project.

Images above are from the web.

If you are anywhere in the vicinity you should go on November 25 – they will be celebrating Jimmy Hendrix’ 75th birthday,  with rare documentary footage, oral histories, and films of some of his most memorable performances on their Sky Church and JBL theater screens. Several Hendrix artifacts will be on display, including the famous white Fender Stratocaster he played at Woodstock in 1969 and the beautiful kimono he wore at the Monterey Pop festival. (This per museum website…)

Here are my own takes on it, taken from the space needle.


Looks like difficult choices in deciding which ones of these to visit – I’ll probably end up in Holland, though, a quiet, colorful hotel room is an irresistible temptation this week.



Ex – Sacral Spaces

If past experience is a guide, praying to win the lottery will be of little help. It would come in handy, though, given how the house-repair costs are mounting. At least there are some amazing spaces where you could spend your time praying or doing the secular equivalent, if the spaces had been transformed.

Would you want to live in a house that used to be a church? Are there at least some hesitating blips in your brain before you commit to an answer? (Here are the mind boggling details…

What about having the church become a bookstore (700-year-old Dominican Church, Maastricht, NL by Merkx+Girod)

or a childcare facility? Different outcome?

What if the former sacral space becomes a pub or restaurant? (The Church Bar, Dublin, Ireland)

17 Churches Creatively Converted Into Modern Homes

If you click the link above, you’ll have a virtual tour of some of the many transformations of chapels across the world. Given the scarcity of real estate it is no longer a theoretical question – people do use churches for other purposes.

Below is one of my favorites, including the arranging of kitchen gadgets behind former altar…. not sure if it makes me laugh or cry.

klaarchitectuur transforms historical belgian chapel into a collaborative design office

Yes, those are microwaves.

Photographs of buildings are from the web; photographs of the interior chapel from a recent visit in Tuscany. I stayed in a house at the foot of an abandoned castle. Ignoring the trespassing signs was worthwhile: amongst the ruined rooms was a small house chapel that had obviously served the family for daily ritual, saving them the significant schlepp into the nearest town. It was a forlorn place, my mood lifted, though, by the discovery of outside graffiti – some local kids must have found an outlet for their creative juices….

Showpieces showing Pieces

Hamburger Kunsthalle

Today’s imaginary travel will explore something close to my heart: museums. And it is just fine that it is happening in my imagination, since some of these structures have not yet been finished. Like the new Polytechnic Museum in Moscow, for example, which is being built at the same time that the old one is being renovated. Stay tuned for reports in 2018 – maybe I’ll make it to Russia after all.

Here are images of the old one:

And here is the plan for the new one:

The $180 million centre will be built at the Sparrow Hills district of the Russian capital, close to Soviet-era monuments including Moscow State University and the Luzkniki Stadium, with copper clad surfaces supposed to look like “cut by the wind.”  Pretty amazing, don’t you agree?

Here is a science museum I photographed in Paris, and, as an aside, a montage from the Man at War series, that was based on the structure.é_des_Sciences_et_de_l%27Industrie

Then there’s this new planned museum for modern art in Catalonia, located in a working open cast mine; it’s first exhibit is opening this month in a converted factory building; the Fundació Sorigué plans to construct a building holding research facilities and over 450 works of contemporary art, to be completed around 2020.

Lots of time to plan that trip to Catalonia, should it not have blown up in an independence war by then. And planning IS required: since the museum is on a working industrial site  everyone needs to make an appointment to be granted access. Somehow they all think that the draw for Double Bind – the first exhibit here and last work of Juan Muoz who died in his 40s while being heralded Spain’s most important sculptor, will make the long pilgrimage to this outpost happen.


The link below describes the work, which is only shown for the third time since 2001, and will be on site for the next 5 years. I have seen this humongous installation when it was first exhibited at the Tate Modern, it is pretty mind boggling. Unfortunately it was years before I picked up photography.  As I said, start planning!

Here is another museum that is based in a factory, the Hamburg Museum der Arbeit. Until March 2018 it shows an exhibit commemorating Karl Marx’ Das Kapital, looking at the history and current relevancy of this important work.

My final choice leads me to China. The Red Brick Art Museum is a folk-based, non-profit art museum showcasing Chinese and world art, which was founded by collectors Yan Shijie and Cao Mei, and opened in 2014. I was taken by the simplicity of this building, compared to the ooh and ahh effects of the two previous examples, in terms of architecture (Russia) and site (Spain.)

I’m also partial to brick buildings, given where I grew up…..


Dong Yugan uses brick to form sculptural surfaces and playful structures at Red Brick Art Museum

I’ll pair it with the brick-faced Hamburger Kunsthalle – my go to, when I need cheer….




The Ultimate Bookshelves

How can you possibly read a book or concentrate on writing when they are ripping the sides of the house out? Time to mount the magic carpet and find the perfect library. It turns out to be in China and it is something else.

MVRDV completes library shaped like a giant eye in Chinese city Tianjin

The Dutch firm MVRDV (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs und Nathalie de Vries) built this futuristic concoction in a suburb of the important harbor town Tianjin. It has room for 1.2 million books, with the shelves clinging to the indented walls. The end of the shelves extend through the walls to the outside, providing some sort of privacy grid. The library can be entered in front and in back, as a connecting link between a future park and suburban apartment houses. That huge ball you see in the center of the library is reflective, making the hall look larger. It also contains an auditorium. Additional conference rooms and audio labs are located under the roof.

Come to think of it, I probably couldn’t read there any more than I can now here at home. I would be too distracted by the wish to photograph every single architectural detail.

Photographs of the building are from the web, the rest were taken this grey, cold March in Seattle’s Chinatown.


If you compare the new Chinese library to the one in Seattle, or, for that matter, the State Library of Hamburg, it is clear where the future lies.








Flying Carpet

The plan was to have the exterior of the house painted. The reality is our house now looks like swiss cheese after they opened up all the places where rot had set in from the rain and dampness of the last 20 years. Drilling, banging, ripping and patching. All I can do to save what’s left of my sanity is renting a magic carpet and flying to houses around the world that I have on my “to see” list. There is some breathtaking innovation out there, both in terms of how things are built but also what is, these days, considered award winning design.

I don’t know anything about architecture, be warned; what follows are just the musings of someone who looks at the wood/stone/steel/concrete and glass world and likes what she sees. Or not.

I believe the desire to impress with structures, to use them for psychological purposes as much as for practical ones, housing, worshipping, work or exhibition, is as old as humans’ desire to build. Think about how churches grew from humble meeting places to awe-inspiring cathedrals; how fences around your compound grew into fortified, walled castles. How the chief’s hut became the king’s palace. How the collections of patrons became exhibits in museums that proudly announce to the world what special cultural weight they carry.

I don’t mean to sound critical here – I think architecture has always been incredibly imaginative in pursuing its demanded purpose, and clever in finding ways of expressing individual ideas, making environments more habitable, more suited to any particularly groups’ needs; the innovation you see these days where money and technology are in large supply is stunning.

I’ll start with Den Blå Planet, the blue planet, a relatively new aquarium in Denmark outside of Copenhagen. It is on my bucket list to see one of these days. Indeed many of the buildings I’ll show this week are things that interest me but which I had not yet the occasion to visit. Photographs of these structures are from the web. Photographs of today’s jellyfish are my own, taken in Newport and Vancouver BC.

The building was designed by 3xN, a Danish architecture firm that also built the Danish embassy in Berlin (ugly) and the new museum in Liverpool (not overwhelmed.) But this spiral design here hits the spot. Wiki tells me that “the aquarium’s architecture was inspired by a whirlpool. From the entrance, guests step into the vortex of the whirlpool – the curved lobby – and from here are drawn out to the 53 aquariums and installations.”

For more details go to this link.

My fascination with this building comes from the combination of modern form somehow nestled just right in the surrounding environment while simultaneously representing some aspect of what it contains. For the aquarium that is of course the marine life – it did indeed remind me of jelly fish although one of their biggest attractions is apparently a shark tank. Some of the exterior resembles fish scales, and the curviness reminds of waves. In any case, I seem to react to echoes of sculpture in buildings, if I can put it that way. Not always, but often.

The spiraling complex is a large operation, not exactly a beacon of sustainability. But the link above explains: “Nevertheless the engineers have devised solutions to substantially cut energy consumption, for instance by using seawater in the cooling process, which is estimated to reduce energy consumption for cooling by 80%. The saltwater tanks also get their water from the sea while the freshwater tanks are supplemented by rainwater capture. In addition, the building is insulated to a high international standard and fitted with low-energy glazing.”

Worth a visit, don’t you think? Particularly when you flee construction noise.