Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The tiniest ecology..

I was in the midst of a small cleaning tirade after my latest disaster attempting to be an urban gardener. I had given up on the basil plant on my kitchen window sill (which I had assumed I had overwatered), and began to notice several tiny black flying insects, smaller than fruit flies beginning to dominate the kitchen. I started to panic a few days when the number of insects did not decrease and the adjacent rosemary plant started to brown and wither. I'm still not sure if the insects were a type of aphid, or some other plant eating pest, but for once I'm fairly certain it's not entirely my fault that the two plants are refusing to thrive.

Anyways this evening I moved the rosemary from the sill and gave the plant a gentle washing (since I'm not yet convinced that this one is gone for good). I returned to the sill to clean up the accumulated spilled dirt and mercifully put to rest the brown crunchy leaves that used to be basil. As I was sponging down the sill, I saw one very small spider scurry to a corner and there discovered the tiniest spider web in the corner by the window frame. The web was maybe an inch and a half at its longest dimension, but held trapped a few of my unidentified pests, along with another insect probably 10 times the size of the spider. Despite not typically being a fan of spiders, it was a welcome sight to see that I wasn't entirely alone in trying to rid the sill of pests, so I took great care not to disturb him or his tiny web. I hope the one or two remaining flying pests in the kitchen will now find their way into the web rather than back to the newly located, ailing rosemary!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ecological and Social Infrastructures...

A first pass at a first paragraph for the first research proposal I'm working on..

There is an inherent challenge in reconciling global environmental goals with the design and social function of urban environments. Cities rely on the natural setting of urban parks to bring their residents together on an equal grounding. However, since before the industrial revolution, cities have been developing in opposition to the natural ecology surrounding them. Architecture and communal man-developed infrastructures allow society to survive amidst harsh natural elements. Vast areas of pavement and a reliance on technology have allowed humans to control the natural processes of land occupied by cities to the detriment and obsolescence of local ecologies. In the worldwide concerns of global warming, the policies and habits of urban design now must be rethought. Reintroducing ecological elements to urban areas can redeem natural processing of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. With the return of natural systems, less strain will felt by human constructs which are subject to (and commonly suffering from) deterioration and use beyond original design. Further, this line of practice can serve in creating positive models for future planning of developing urban areas throughout the world. A cross cultural study of ecological urban planning brings together environmental concerns and sustainable solutions which can be employed in the world’s urban areas. It is to this end that I, as an environmentally concerned architecture and landscape professional, propose to enroll in the international Masters of Ecological Urban Planning program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Biking Manhattan

New York has finally taken initiative this summer to give some of the streets back to non-auto traffic. Granted the event is limited to periods of 5-6 hours on 3 Saturdays, but it provides an entirely new way for the pedestrian/biker/skater to experience the city.

Biking from 53rd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge along Park Ave, I was brought back to my third year in college. Our Urban Design studio took place in Italy, and our professor insisted on drawing street sections. The task seemed a reasonable excuse to walk around European cities and note differences between neighborhoods and urban atmospheres, but I never fully believed in the street section. It seemed to me that the problem with street sections, no matter the accuracy, is that the pedestrian can never perceive this - the proportions are nearly always distorted because a pedestrian typically stands on a sidewalk by a building. Simple perspective makes the foreground, adjacent building seem much taller and the distance across the street wider to the standing viewer. Summer Streets finally changes this relationship - the streets being closed to automobiles allow the pedestrians into the center of the street. From this position, true proportions can be seen, and over the length of the route, the differences are notable.

My favorite part of this short tour was riding over the raised street cutting through Grand Central. The height provides a unique perspective to the area in midtown. Also, there exists an amount of detail at the old guardrail walls and surroundings of the street that I presume go unappreciated by the typical car traffic passing through.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

In The Mission

Several things about San Francisco greatly impress me. The weather and surrounding scenery are beautiful, the city is easy to navigate and clean, and apartments are spacious (compared to New York) and nearly all have a terrace and/or garden space. The flora of California is extraordinary to me, having grown up and lived on the east coast. Walking around in The Mission it was easy to see that many people have a connection to nature and their small scale horticulture. Thriving and well maintained vegetation was placed to occupy yards, building facades, tree pits, and sidewalk planters throughout the neighborhood. The residents seem to visually compete over who can have the most lush and showy displays.

(Oh.. and they recycle and compost too!)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

San Francisco - Xanadu Gallery

So I have plenty more to write about after my long weekend in San Francisco, but before getting into the rest of the city I will start with one tiny piece of architecture - Frank Lloyd Wright's Xanadu Gallery.

I had heard that this gallery was a predecessor of the New York Guggenheim, and his first study of using a ramp as circulation and display. The most interesting aspect to me is that this is a functioning gallery - and was originally a store for V.C. Morris. I was curious about how an architect with the known character of FLW would deal with the design question of display - could he pull off allowing the architecture to come secondary to the merchandise? The Xanadu Gallery deals in precious and historic decorative arts from various parts of the world, predominantly Asia and Africa from what I could see. The pieces are impressive in themselves, though I found that, as suspected, they fall into the background of this piece of architecture. They become decoration to the building in groups rather than singular disconnected elements. The individual display cases which exist (I presume for the most valuable small pieces of the collection) are actually buried within the smooth curving wall and hidden from site until the viewer is directly in front of the glass pane.

Being an architect rather than a collector, I can say that I really enjoyed the space. The architecture was well executed and provides a ton of visual interest and small curiosities for those not browsing the antiques. The interior is far more comfortable and less severe than the stark white modernism of the Guggenheim, perhaps this is the difference for this architect between presenting art to the public in a sterile environment, and encouraging private connoisseurs to bring a piece back into their home.