The Wood-Masonry Line



This house on Beverly Street in Toronto is another variation of the masonry wall / wood frame combination.  In this case, brick walls run all of the way up to the eaves on the side elevations, but stop at the floor line of the second floor on the front.  A wood wall is inserted between two brick wall tabs that extend out beyond the face of the wall below. Several of our residential projects, including the rowhouses at 557 East Second Street and the unbuilt First and First (shown) also have masonry walls on the ground floor and wood walls above.


Why We Look at Precedent


The Integral House, Toronto, Shim Sutcliffe, 2009 / A recently-finished single family house that is now an essential precedent for any large-scale single family house that games a sloping topography in the tradition of the Douglas House by Richard Meier and Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Some musings as I prepare a short essay for the masters degree studio:

We ask you to look for precedent for the architectural agenda of your project not so that you will be “inspired” or “influenced” by the examples you find, but for another more nuanced reason. When we design a project that self-consciously raises architectonic issues that are once-removed from the immediate pragmatic demands of the project, your proposal is contributing to an on-going discourse.  For example, if your project features an undulating ground plane that dovetails into the existing ground plane but folds up to be a roof, your proposal is entering into dialogue with the Yokohama Ferry Terminal by FOA and the new opera house by Snøhetta in Oslo. If your proposal is organized around a continuously folding plane – that moves from floor/ceiling – to wall – and back again, then your project needs to develop a particular attitude about this strategy in reference to the Eyebeam project and the ICA in Boston, both by Diller Scofidio.  How is your project similar to the paradigmatic projects that deploy the same architectural strategy? How is it different and why? 

Some may argue that this kind of insider game has little relevance to clients and the public at large.  This is partly true, but all architects educated within the context of the university have a curatorial responsibility to learn the history and tradition of the discipline, with a particular emphasis on historical and recent/contemporary paradigms that continue to fuel theoretical discourse and the priorities of architectural production.   This intellectual-feedback loop is not an innocent evolutionary process but instead a highly manipulated system where rhetorical skills and deeply embedded power structures, wedded to influential media outlets, can influence the intellectual priorities of the discipline. Not simply a marketing strategy by savvy architects, this “campaign for relevance” has an ethical dimension since formal and social priorities, as defined by the discipline, can have a direct influence on the design of whole territories of cities.



À la recherche du temps perdu

We all watch the clock from time to time. For the past couple of months, I’ve been watching one in particular: the Filene’s clock hovering above the street vendors along Washington Street. This clock belongs to the now-unsupported facade of the former department store (and its basement!) whose stalled development has left a gaping hole in its wake. (I know this has been covered so I won’t comment further) The sad thing about these vestigial remains is that the actual time on the clock never registers – the hands are always frozen in the 12 o’clock position. One wonders: was this deliberate?  (I think so) Did the demolition crew leave the hands pointing towards the sky to eulogize the building’s time of death?  And if this is a record of the building’s demise, what would be the clock’s birth-time?

There’s a pretty straightforward answer for wristwatches. The hands of clocks and watches are most commonly set to 10 minutes past ten in an effort to best frame the manufacturer’s logo or emblem, which is often displayed on the faces of timepieces just below the 12.  Since building timepieces are likely a more custom item, I’m not sure there’s as obvious an answer. Perhaps a building clock both is born and dies when the hand strikes 12.

The watch I wear is favored by – in no particular order – Pierre de Meuron, my friend Peter, George Thrush (so I hear, though this is unverified), and my mom. Ironically, Swatch has called this model “Ligne de Vie” (i.e. “lifeline” en francais), which contrasts strongly with the Filene’s clock, a timepiece that rather than keeping time, serves as a daily remembrance of things past.

– Corey


Kelly Wilson Considers the Image


Kelly Wilson, Instructor at the Harvard GSD and other schools, very recently wrote to my with this thoughtful set of questions:

All these years and no one, in any context I have participated in, has ever, once, directly asked the question, “why does your building ‘look’ this way”.  I mean why does your building look like a sugar cube, or octopus.  No matter how many other issues that may exist in design, and no matter how much or what type of criteria we stack up for it or outline for a design, or for what George is always calling its performance criteria, that criteria remains abstract and illusive until the moment, in design, that we decide that it will look ‘like this!’, in part or in whole.  There is no truly critical assessment of the role imagery/iconography plays in design, and yet, you CANT DESIGN WITHOUT IT.  If I say ‘Gaudi’ and then say ‘anthropomorphic’, I am certain you will know what I am saying.  We also know that the imagery of architecture shifts about every 6-7 years, kinda at the rate of hiring cycles in academia.  Who gets to bust the new move?  And where does it come from?  Why would we use one set of images over that of another.  What is the meaning of using anthropomorphism, can it be mixed with, say, abstraction, and if so, why?  And where is the place of its invention, how does one come by that invention.  Needless to say I, and you, can supply answer to this (hell, I don’t know anything that you wouldn’t be able to supply a thought for), and this certainly feeds my interest that image invention is well explored within the art of drawing.

In any case, this is now what I have begun to critically focus upon, what is to me the 800 lb gorilla in the room of architecture.  It has been a game, for me, to listen to someone like Scott C. on a student review and imagine a Victorian building satisfying his critical demands by forgetting his imagistic preferences, just to prove how loose the fit is between critical statements about design and the imagery used by designers to help ‘solve’ their problems.  I have been fond of saying that an architectural design is essentially composed of three parts; Idea, organization, and image.  I know that most of us use, for imagery, other buildings that precede our design – but it is true that imagery initially foreign to architecture has been imported with success.  The question still remains, why do we use this, not that?  And, how does one invent, contemplate and distinguish the associations and meanings inherent in the images we use, where to make them accord with what is our conscientiousness as artists, as architects.

I show one of my new drawings that is a product of the inquiry.



Walkscore and LEED

This article from Treehugger dovetails with our recent discussion/competition regarding Walkscore. The article questions the usefulness of LEED-certified developments that are beyond walking distance from amenities and thus make it necessary for their residents to own vehicles. Specifically mentioned are LEED-certified homes built by Habitat for Humanity that register such a low Walkscore, they would be nearly impossible to inhabit by a family without a vehicle. In their own words: “So for the poor recipient of the Habitat for Humanity house in the middle of nowhere, do they give them a minivan as well as a house?” It would be interesting to compare the carbon footprint of a person living in a very efficient home versus that of a person in a very walkable neighborhood. Does the lower carbon footprint come from living in a LEED-certified suburb and owning a Prius, or from living in a downtown condo and owning a bicycle?

apartment therapy on East Second Street

Look for the great feature this month on apartment therapy showcasing friend-of-Utile Lawrence’s fantastic East Second Street loft. We’ve included a few of our favorite shots here, particularly the ones with great views of Boston and of the larger complex to which Lawrence’s unit belongs. (We’ll freely admit our bias here)

My favorite shot is the last one in this selection, primarily because I like the way the arc of the Castiglione lamp continues the line of the crane outside the window. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Like the look of this unit? You’re in luck – it’s For Sale.


FAT Heraldry


Quoting from Aude Jomini’s text describing her first project for her Spring 2010 Yale studio – taught by FAT from London:

This drawing uses the heraldic identities of a cluster of towns in the Nyon district of the Vaud canton in Switzerland as starting point.  The heraldic crests are scaled in relation to each other according to population size and placed to index their actual geographic positions on a planimetric map.  Because of the growth of small swiss towns over time, large regional agglomerations have begun to form; the original feudal entities becoming less distinct. This is expressed through the interweaving and joining of the crests as well as through their partial figural breakdown.



And to give you a sense of what her classmates are up to, I particularly enjoyed the description for this study by Adam Tomski:

I wanted to explore heraldic property of attitude, which (as far as I know) means the posture of an animal or person and whatever symbolic value it lends. In the left three columns, I’m trying to figure out what constitutes a “rampant boar”. (After a long description) I think in column 4, row 3, the rope-boar is still rampant. At the very least he is pissed off and going after something.


And this nicely executed but more earnest design by Christine Chang,

Catch more of the action on the studio blog!



Cul-de-sacs in 2020?

The end of the year always elicits a relentless outpouring of Top 10 lists.  Since it’s the end of a decade, we’re officially in Top 10 overload with a strong emphasis on obsolescence: obsolete technologies, fashions, professions, etc….  Rather than dwell on the past, it’s more interesting to consider things in the early stages of extinction in order to speculate what might be on those lists in 2020. For example: cul-de-sacs.

Are cul-de-sacs an endangered species? Maybe so according to an article in the NY Times magazine: “Virginia, under Governor Tim Kaine (Democrat), became the first state to severely limit cul-de-sacs from future developments. New rules require that all new subdivisions attain a certain level of “connectivity,” with ample through streets connecting them to other neighborhoods and nearby commercial areas. If subdivisions fail to comply, Virginia won’t provide maintenance and snowplow services, a big disincentive in a state where the government provides 83 percent of road services.” The message is clear: Pony up developers! You can build your beloved cul-de-sacs, but not on our dime! 

To satisfy my curiosity, I had to do a little research on how cul-de-sacs gained traction. Turns out cul-de-sacs can be traced to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City prototype. The first appeared in the Hampstead Garden suburb in England, albeit in an inchoate form: a short and narrow stick, but minus the lollipop ending. Leave it to New Jersey to bring the first cul-de-sacs to the US in 1924 (see master plan for Radner, NJ below).  American developers and the FHA saw cul-de-sacs as an answer to a suburban planning problem, a device for filling in the otherwise undevelopable nooks and crannies in oddly-shaped parcels.  The FHA, though well-intentioned, was actually acting as unwitting enabler, giving developers carte blanche to sprinkle their subdivisions with needless cul-de-sacs, who inevitably did so after discovering they could charge a premium for these lots.

The impetus for a cul-de-sac ceasefire began with a debunking of the safety effects of non-through streets. Turns out there are no such effects, leading smart growth planners to steadily campaign against them in favor of better connectivity.  But will cul-de-sacs really get the ax? As someone who grew up in a fairly typical suburban neighborhood, I have mixed feelings. (So, too, does NPR’s own Robert Siegel, who half-heartedly defends living on a cul-de-sac in his Virginia home) Gridded urban space requires the occasional idiosyncrasy in street morphology to be interesting or charming or both, but does suburbia?