Monday, November 29, 2010


This woman seriously annoys the $hit out of me. Every building she does looks as though the future decided to eat every casino in Las Vegas and crap it out full force into every news source willing to publish it. It's not only her. The people who constantly push this type of architecture as progress are also to blame. It's a personal belief that people who laud these type of starchitects tend to fancy themselves "in the know" but deep down inside really suffer from an incredible sense of architectural inferiority complex justifying nonsensical creations with avant garde archi-speak. Can you say overrated?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The ART of the Addition

Two people meet. They get to know one another. They fall in love. They make lives together. And then the inevitable...let's have a baby! (Babies are to families as additions are to buildings.) This critic has plenty of experiences with both, although at this time, he's free and clear of the mandatory diaper changes from the babies and late night crying from failed additions. The other day, in fact, the critic and his spouse were having a discussion on what do to if someone they know has an ugly baby. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has to do the obligatory, "oh he/she* is soooo CUTE!" (*and by he/she I don't mean a sexually ambiguous baby...yuk.) Do you lie to the parent of an ugly child? Well, as the question was posed, this critic came to the firm conclusion that you certainly can't lie. No matter how nice and proud the parents are, you'll just have to ignore and deflect, and the best observation would be, "Ah yeah, your addition is so....pleasant".

Pleasant, as an observation, would be what would characterize this highway church, which was passed on the road on a return trip to the new metropolis of residence. It's neither breathtaking or hideous, but there was definite thought (at the very least) put into the design. As a structure, in and of itself, no problems. HOWEVER....the parental congregation of this structure decided at some point to add on. An addition, you say? Well, yes, an addition. Can we make it relate to what's already there? Sure. How about adding some metal? Check. How about adding some glass? Check. And maybe some the old building. Hell yes! And wouldn't you know! VOILA!!! Here's your new addition:

As this critic was taking pictures, some of the congregation scattered in the parking lot decided to have a conversation and inevitably the question was asked, "So, you're an Architect? Well, we did a lot of work trying to get this addition to really match the character of the old church. What do you think?"

Yikes. The first thought was, "wow that's horrible. Did Jesus make you do it?" The second thought was, "no...on second thought, it must have been Satan." The third thought was, "Don't lie. Whatever you do, don't lie. You're near a church for Christ's sake!" The main lesson garnered from such a probing question is that ugly babies and ugly additions are lost on people, who out of months of intense fermentation, have given birth to something so hideous that the sight of the offense is lost on their candy coated eyes. So this critic, mustering all his tact and not making any eye contact, slowly spit out, "'s....pleasant" before flooring the gas home.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I'm BACK and snarkier than EVER!

It's been a long long LONG hiatus from snarkitecture. What has this intrepid architectural adventurer been doing this entire time you ask? The biggest event this past year has been a move away from decaying midwestern city, to a frenetic maelstrom of a metropolis (also located in the midwest). And by frenetic, I mean full of bad (and good) architecture. Couple that with a new relationship, and other what-nots, and this critic has been happier than ever. That pretty much means that these recent rainbows of joy have slightly crippled his pervasive angst that constantly threatens to demolish the aesthetically offensive. HOWEVER, now that things have settled down and life has regained it tarnished character, this critical eye is ready to start anew. Follow the comeback V2.0....

Friday, August 28, 2009

Clark Kent Irony

Sometimes this critic needs to change venues and this morning went from suburb to city in one traffic ridden commute. The only thing holding me back from complete road rage meltdown at 5mph was NPR's interview with Quentin Tarantino. As a director, his movies feature terrific snippets of snarky, cheesy, but ultimately insightful dialog. Perhaps the best is in Kill Bill where Bill discusses with Beatrix the Clark Kent/Superman mythology. For those of you who just can't sit through a three minute dialog, the basic jist is that, "Clark Kent is Superman's critique of the whole human race." Ironic, since Superman is supposed to protect a race he considers far far far inferior to himself.

You're thinking, "what the hell does this have to do with architecture?". Well readers, this has EVERYTHING to do with architecture! Case in point would be this monstrosity of a house in Chicago, encountered during a late happy hour stop:

On a street with perfectly fine brownstones, someone, SOMEONE, decided it was in the best interest of their unqualified and unrecognized genius to add this nasty white Richard Meier-esq framework. NANANANANA....You've got four eyes Clark Kent!!!! This doesn't imply that the house itself was some sort of superhero creation originally, but damn if the designer didn't decided to intervene and put what is tantamount to glasses on this building's face (or as those in the know would say..."facade"...pronounced "FAH-SAAD"). What's the point? And further, what the hell are those little trees doing inside the fugly framework? What will happen ten years from now when the trees decide to get into a growth fight with the structure? It'll look like an untrimmed bikini line.

After much raging, we finally arrived at a urine smelling dive bar and drank drank drank the architectural woe away. Half a beer later, it was potty time and what's discovered in the loo but another architectural incarnation of the Clark Kent/Superman mythology:

Pabst Blue Ribbon as wallpaper on top of wood paneling? It's 70's architectural perfection covered by a random facade simply for the ironic effect! At least with this example, we were at a "hipster" bar and "hipsters" (air-quoting), seem to have irony in their blood so kitsch PBR wallpaper was strange but accepted, sneers, in this setting.

The point is there is a fine line between ironic serious and ironic tongue and cheek. The first pic clearly was meant to be serious but ended up ugly-fying a fine building. It's looked on with irony because it's unexpected and what's worse is that it's unexpectedly BAD. At least in the second pic, the "hipster" wallpaper is confined to a small space, in a setting glorifying irony, and can be destroyed by the self loathing of "dirty hipsters". No so with an actual built structure. With little thought they are so easy to create, but are so damned difficult to demolish...unless of course, you're some sort of Architectural Superman. Fountainhead anyone?

Monday, August 10, 2009

On overdesigning.

Just back from the land of movies and Michael Jackson (so the news goes these days)- namely the eclectic State of California. Growing up in the Midwest, where the weather determines the ability to show skin, I was accustomed to seeing slightly attractive people only during the summer where one could rightly expose bodies without fear of losing a limb to frostbite or the occasional abominable snowman.

With sunshine year round seemingly from God himself (or maybe the devil since it’s so f-ing hot there), California in contrast, was literally brimming with hot bodies and perfect faces of every racial background. It was an Elysium of flawlessness. Perhaps that’s why California is one of the top, if not the top state in the nation for surgeries that turn normal faces into perfectly plastic imitations of humanity. It’s this quest for perfection, a sense of overdesigning something already appealing, that often ends in plain ugly, not only in personal appearance but also architecture.

California’s two main cities San Francisco and L.A. seems to be rife with a mix of architectural styles that run the gamut from Mission, to Victorian, to Modern, to Contemporary, to Classical, all mashed together into one continually renovated whole. You’d think that for a state that’s so concerned about looks, architecture would mirror the Botoxed faces of so many celebrities and at least put up a good front on something old and rotten. Alas, no. Take this example:

Two perfectly handsome houses on the left and right, but what’s that in the middle? Why, it’s an ugly renovation that has no right being there because it’s so hideous that if it were a person I’d do everyone a favor and punch it in the face. Seriously, what were the designers thinking? Clearly, like ill advised plastic surgery, this was an attempt to modernize a perfectly good Victorian home. It looks as though in the midst of this historic block, the designers wanted to piss off every single neighbor and do some sort of homage to a Florida beach house in the MIDDLE OF SAN FRANCISCO. What in context hell?

Future architects and designers, this critic begs you to at least consider the building’s surroundings. At least try to create/renovate something so that it looks like it belongs in the neighborhood and something that looks like it was naturally supposed to be there. Not enough forethought while shooting for a skewed sense of perfection without understanding the surround area will end in visual disaster. Just think of Michael Jackson, the quintessential Californian, as the perfect lesson on how overdesigning turns into ugly.

Monday, August 3, 2009

West Coast Vacation

Folks, my apologies for the dearth of posts, especially since it's a new blog. But there was a vacation just aching to happen and it finally occurred with a three week tour of the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, both of which have never been trodden by this particularly happy camper. Without going into too much dirty details, let's just mention that it was a sun filled and eye opening trip filled with traffic, beaches, farmer tans, and most importantly, excellent architecture. So look forward to seeing more posts this coming week, but 'til then I leave you with a couple pics- The first is inspiring for its architectural reuse of an existing harbor dock building and the second is evidence that this poster sports v-neck shirts in the blazing Cali sun without SPF protection. Either way, let both be a lesson that lasting visual offensiveness can happen (tan line) but can also be avoided with proper aesthetic forethought (retrofit building).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Suburban fiction and reality

A brand new corner drug store in the middle of suburbia, at a busy intersection? Could this be a conscientious attempt at restoring the urban fabric of small town America? A possible response to the infamous acre huge Walmart stores? Mind you, I was driving by totally numbed by the strip malls and vacuous parking lots when I stumbled across this three story brick, somewhat classically detailed monstrosity. Before I knew it, my architectural interest had swung the car into a full scale u-turn, cutting off on coming traffic, and in the process, reassuring my friendly passengers that I had not gone crazy from too much July 4th sunshine, but instead was pursuing a potential building like rabid paparazzi on a Paris Hilton open mouth crotch shot.

First the designers didn't do that badly with the proportions. Things seem somewhat balanced, and props for the true corner entrance emphasized by the heightened tower. The building even sported a cornice on top, varying lintel details (wonderful window "eyebrows" for you newbies) and a series of nice red canopies to shade the first floor window displays. Now with these types of buildings, unless you're in a historic district, more than likely you'll find decent proportions but horrible details:
And this was no exception. It's not something to pick on too pointedly though, considering the setting. What's important was that this building actually made an attempt to have a mixed set of uses- retail below, with potential office/residential on top. That kind of thinking is flirting with the whole traditional New Urban thought process, and perhaps this one shining example of reverse sprawl construction would usher in a whole new paradigm that would wet the pants of Mr. New Urbanism himself, Andres Duany.

And yet, there was something off- similar to SBD gasses that emanate from my BFF when we have expensive garlicky meals together. What was going on with the upper floors? Where were all the happy officer workers looking down on the surrounding suburban blight knowing full well they were far apart that sort of contagion? Those windows looked suspiciously dark. Granted it was a holiday weekend, so I drove closer to have a look. To my utter bewilderment, the entire second and third floors were blacked out! No shades, no lights, no desks, no nothing. I went inside the CVS, to politely inquire what the hell they did with my dreams of mixed used retail buildings filling street corners of the world. Those dreams, dear friends, were shattered by the pimply, half bored, half pissed off cashier who offhandedly responded, "Upstairs? There is no upstairs. It's fake."

Fake, I can take. Hair color, toupees, implants, etc, those things are fake, and I don't mind. Those fakes actually substitute something for nothing. This building, on the other hand, had the problem substituting nothing for nothing! Would I hate this building more if it was one story, no detail, set in the middle of the lot with empty asphalt surrounding it? Probably. Would have I been as disappointed as my pimply prom night? Definitely not. This building was like my junior year prom date who after asking it out, promising it dinner, putting up with its useless conversation on the merits of sparkling nail polish vs. glossy, says that it's saving itself for marriage while chowing down on the most expensive meal you've ever eaten.

This was a classic case of architectural blue balls.

It's a mannequin of a building that on first view seems totally contradictory to the whole American sprawl way of thinking. And yet on closer inspection and daily use, it's nothing more than a glorified single story drug store we are all familiar with, albeit with bells and whistles to make it seem more urban friendly and upscale (thinking of Las Vegas theme hotels and Disneyland's Epcot downtown here, folks). So much for the paradigm of restoring small town America through mixed used buildings. Faced with the other dismal options, I guess I'd rather brave the blue balls by shopping here than cutting off irate soccer moms at the local Walmart parking lot.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A new blog for snarky design types...

Ever walk down the street, look up, and see hideous details on a house or a building? You wonder, "there's just something off. What on earth were the homeowners/designers smoking?". I get that thought all the time strolling through slob-urbia, where coincidentally, most design faux pas occur. Perhaps it's a McMansion's or stripmall's way of slapping on some sort of fake tan history to a building (see the use of classical columns on 90% of residential streets or gleaming white styrofoam "stone" details on gas stations), that irked me to start this blog. It's basically a rant against bad design, stemming from a lack of historical understanding. Stay tuned for slicing commentary on modern life, suburbia, soccer moms, and corporate America all in the guise of architectural criticism. After all, in these tough times, if you can't live affluently, you might as well criticize the gaudy.