McKim, Mead, and White Bollards

While visiting the Rhode Island Capital (designed by McKim, Mead, and White and constructed: 1895-1903) with my family recently, I noticed that the giant granite bollards that define the boundary of the Smith Street entrance plaza bear a strong resemblance to the bollards in front of the Boston Public Library (1887-1895) on Dartmouth Street.  Had I discovered a very early version of a one solution/scattered sites project delivery strategy?  Did McKim, Mead, and White tell their two clients that they were using the same bollard for both high profile projects?  Did they order the Bollards from a catalogue supplied by a granite fabricator (Splayed Imperial Eagle No. 13)? 

When I looked at the BPL bollards again, I was disappointed to discover that they were slightly different than the later versions in Providence.  Rather than a relatively au naturale eagle like the Rhode Island Capitol, the Boston eagles had been subjected to some artful checkerboard patterning and the eagles’ “knees” were up like they were sitting on stools (if I remember correctly, eagles perch and don’t sit).  Since the Boston Library came first, we can only assume that Charles McKim wasn’t happy with his eagles and told William Mead (partner-in-charge of the Capitol) to request improvements to the sculptural depiction of the birds. Any verification of my theory would be greatly appreciated. 


Boston Public Library eagle bollard with exposed “knees” and overlaid checkerboard pattern



Au naturale eagles at the Rhode Island Capitol


Bell Labs Charrette

Nina Rappaport, editor of Constructs and publications director at Yale, helped organize a charrette to determine the future of Eero Saarinen’s Bell Labs in New Jersey. The particular organizational logic of the building, conditioned like Kahn’s Salk Institute by conceptualizing functional labs as collegial communities of scientists (and architecturalized as such), presented both opportunities and challenges to the charrette participants.  The friction caused by the typological specificity of the building parallels our interest in defining and then tweaking contemporary and emerging market-driven types. 

Equally interesting were the proposals to “fill in” the geometry of parking lots and ring road with housing and other program. There is something very intriguing about creating an dense urban fabric for the Saarinen building after the fact.  Imagine finding Saarinen’s masterpiece hidden inside Palmanova or another similar ideal Renaissance city.



Sheila Gallagher Gallery Opening



Sheila Gallagher, Matthew Littell’s wife and important FOU*, is being exhibited in Chelsea gallery show opening on Friday. The exhibition features new and more comprehensive work from her “eye-catching” series, several of which are owned by Utile, Inc. 

From the Cynthia Reeves exhibition announcement:

Sheila Gallagher’s Hand-Eye series presents viewers with abstract, yet undeniably figurative, images of female athletes. The drawings appear elegant and yet their compositions consist of many choppy, broken, or disjointed lines. The graphite’s greatest build-up on the paper corresponds with areas where the figures’ bodies have the most detail, the face and the hands, for example.  In certain examples like Sada Jacobsen, above, the graphite’s heavy density totally obscures the figural details, helping create the tension between realism and abstraction, embodied by these works.

To create the “drawings”, Gallagher projects images of female athletes onto a large screen at Boston College’s Eye Tracking Lab. Every 20 milliseconds two infrared sensors record her eye movements as  x and y coordinates while she attempts to draw the figures directly with her eyes. The data is initially gathered as numerical text and then translated into a CAD program, which allows the temporal sequence to be plotted as a single unbroken line drawing.

*Friend of Utile


Mapping Urban Culture


In addition to the beautifully complex and original information graphics (to which we Utilians are endlessly attracted), Ward Shelley’s “Downtown Body” (courtesy of Pierogi Gallery, via Bomb Magazine) offers a valuable tool in defining urban place through the lens of culture.  More specifically, Shelley’s timeline charts the intersections of various cultural milestones through the decades in New York, tracked by disciplines such as literature and music.  As planners, urban designers and architects, we are predisposed to measure “place” in terms of physical space.  Shelley offers an alternative, more nuanced model for tracking non-spatial forces shaping “downtown.”  The beauty of this diagram suggests that we might, in our future analyses of program and use, add another layer called “culture.”



Greg Lynn/Jeff Koons convergence



Jeff Koons “Seal Walrus Trashcans,” 2003-2009



“We want your toys. If you are finished with any of these toys, we want to buy them from you.”  The splash page from the Greg Lynn Form website

Something about the weird and funny-in-the-making installations that Greg Lynn presented at the Yale public lecture in the spring had more than a whiff of a Jeff Koons exhibition.  Like Koons work, Lynn’s walls built of plastic toy “bricks” (see above) were cynical, archly knowing about the dark underside of kitsch pop culture, and well-crafted thanks to digital mapping and fabrication technology.  The recent opening of the Jeff Koons show at the Serpentine Gallery in London (through September 13) cements the art-historical connection and refutes once-and-for-all Peter Eisenman’s implicit claim, made during the Q&A session after the lecture, that Lynn’s recent work is still mostly about complex operational strategies (in the orthodox Eisenman tradition) and NOT about the overt representational strategy of using almost-creepy found objects from the detritus of pop culture.  Pop is back and it has gotten darker and uglier.


Upgrades to the Sears Tower include several glass box appendages. I like the transparent floors – they enable a real-time google earth-like experience, unlike traditional skyscraper viewing platforms. More here.



When in Rome


The mausoleum of Costanza, a structure from 400 AD with original mosaics


Aude Jomini, our summer intern from Yale, drew this amazing worm’s eye axonometric for Alec Purvis’ analysis/representation class in Rome.  We’re hoping that she does a version in SketchUp while working here, maybe with a series of diagrammatic overlays that can be toggled through in Powerpoint.  She asked her professor if she could use this technique in Rome and was turned down flat.