Garden Room: Transforming an Urban Mumbai Apartment into a Lush Oasis

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Just looking at the photos of these interiors, where would you guess this unusual verdant living space is located? The English countryside, maybe, or a rural land project full of experimental buildings made of natural materials? An apartment building in one of the world’s most heavily populated cities probably wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind, but that’s exactly where “Garden Room” is set, testifying to the transformative skills of India-based architectural studio The White Room.

Known for their propensity to experiment with organic forms and materials, even within urban settings, The White Room creates the feeling of a secret oasis in this unusual project. Sculptural in form, the space features lots of round windows, arches and hollows, with nary a straight line in sight.

Designed for “a flamboyant couple,” the “organically designed spaces seamlessly flow into each other, thinning the boundaries and bringing nature closer to the living,” explain architects Nitin Barchha and Disney Davis. “Thes paces take on a sculptural form with some wrapped in turquoise mosaic, some in mediterranean whites, while others in slate and green.”

The result feels more like a garden than an indoor living space, complete with stepping stones set into carpets of living grass. Plants are virtually everywhere you look, water cascades through multiple fountains and custom glass doors maintain views of the lush green spaces and allow natural light to penetrate the innermost rooms, like the bedroom and the incredible aqua-tiled bathroom.

“The White Room studio is built on the basic principles of exploring the bare beauty of materials. Here the focus has always been on exploring innovative ways of approaching fundamental problems of space, proportion, light and materials. The way in which a wall meets a floor, or how a door fits into a wall, flush or proud, are not mere details, they are as much architecture as the planning of a sequence of rooms in a gallery, or the composition of a facade.We consider architecture, of all the arts, as the one that most depends for its expressive power on rubbing up against the gritty constraints of every day life.”

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Rock’n Rolls: Retro Toilet Paper Roll Holder Radios

[ By Steve in Design & Products & Packaging. ]

Don’t touch that dial… these weird 70s bathroom music machines combined the utility of a toilet paper roll holder with the sweet sound of an AM radio.

Audio Waste Land

A visit to one’s parents or grandparents wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the “facilities”, where you stood (or sat, as the case may be) a fairly decent chance of finding a restroom radio. Encased in plastic dyed in unnatural hues apparently lifted from a 1958 DeSoto brochure, these incongruous yet ingenious multifunctional devices emerged at the end of a decade that witnessed one of mankind’s most historic accomplishments: landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

American Ingenuity

A mere 16 days after Armstrong and Aldrin left the first human footprints on another heavenly body, the United States Patent Office formally granted patent #214,839 to John F. Lewis of Hawthorne, CA for his “Combined Radio Cabinet And Toilet Paper Holder”. No doubt Lewis was greatly relieved, having applied for the patent almost ten months previously. As for Armstrong and Aldrin, presumably they were relieved as well once they could relieve themselves in Earth gravity again.

The Rolling Tones

It wasn’t long before a number of manufacturers (including “Stewart“, above) began pumping out restroom radios that generally hewed quite closely to Lewis’ patented design. Among the differences – some might say improvements – were same-sized Volume and Tuning dials and the relocation of the battery compartment to the top of the unit, protected by a snap-on cover. On the downside, the dials’ milled edges were tough to clean… yuck.

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Redesigning Notre Dame for a New Era with a Greenhouse Roof

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

It seems like proposals to restore the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris came pouring in before the blaze that destroyed its spire and roof was even extinguished. Grappling with devastating damage to a historic and architectural icon, observers around the world immediately began to debate whether the cathedral should be recreated as faithfully as possible in its former image (a serious challenge, considering the contemporary lack of massive old-growth timber) or radically reimagined.

One notable proposal released by Studio NAB takes the latter approach with a visionary reconstruction symbolizing rebirth, new growth and hope for the future. The design recreates Notre Dame’s silhouette in a framework of gold-tone steel and glass, transforming the uppermost levels of the church into a lush greenhouse, an active community space and an educational facility. A new “arrow” spire would house apiaries, producing on a large scale “the honey of Notre Dame de Paris.” The rest of the cathedral beneath this new roof would remain as it has always looked and functioned.

It’s a direct rebuke of the idea that we can or should attempt to recapture the past, adapting instead and acknowledging the need to change along with the world around us.

“On this fire and in the period of crisis that the country and the world are currently going through, we have the chance to build a place of reference where conservation, enrichment of an exceptional heritage and taken into account the challenges of societies ecology and equal opportunities. Protecting the living being reintroducing biodiversity, educating consciences and being in solidarity, all are symbols, faithful to the values of France and those of the church, that we could defend and promote for this project.”

“This is the symbol of acceptance of the course of history and the metaphorical illustration that this ‘forest’ became burnt wood, can serve as a cradle to the new vegetation,” say the architects. “The design will feed the all-important conversation and add an element of reflection as to how the building could be transformed to focus on issues concerning today’s society. The greenhouse is imagined as a place to enable to professional reintegration of the poor by learning urban agriculture, horticulture and permaculture while connecting children to nature and educating them through workshops.”

It’s an interesting way to approach the problem of restoration, and one that will undoubtedly stir controversy. But Studio NAB’s proposal creates a ghostly yet optimistic memory of the lost parts of the cathedral, maintaining the silhouette to which Paris has grown so accustomed, without introducing any garishly contrasting contemporary elements. You can safely bet that proposals recalling Daniel Libeskind’s highly controversial Royal Ontario Museum Extension are forthcoming, along with calls to be far more conservative, using modern technology like engineered wood to replace the burned beams and reinforce damaged structural elements.

Though it comes early in the game, Studio NAB’s proposal will likely end up looking like a compromise between these two extremes by the time France’s competition to redesign Notre Dame selects its winner.

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Urban Hacking 101: Guides & Tutorials to Transform your City

[ By SA Rogers in Travel & Urban Exploration. ]

If your city isn’t meeting your needs, just hack it. Urban hacktivism is a form of creative, citizen-led problem solving that often goes behind the backs of officials and institutions to get things done. Instead of leaving the task of shaping a given city to governments and developers, who tend to ignore the input of people they’re supposed to be serving, urban hacktivists take matters into their own hands by combining crowdsourced knowledge and skills with cheap, readily available materials. That might mean transforming a long-vacant lot into a neighborhood park, adding public seating to an area where it’s lacking, enhancing the safety of intersections for pedestrians or just making urban environments feel more responsive and fun.

At the heart of this kind of guerrilla urbanism is the ability to see the potential of public spaces to better meet people’s needs, make small changes and possibly convince local governments to make those changes permanent in the process. After all, the people who use those spaces every day know best. If you’re interested in carrying out some DIY urbanism in your own city, the internet is full of examples, guides and tutorials to get you started. These hacks may or may not be legal where you live – whether you choose to find a way around that is up to you, and most of these tools come with an obligatory disclaimer that they’re not suggesting, teaching or condoning any kind of illegal action.

Create DIY Crosswalks

DIY crosswalks
Image via the Tactical Urbanism Guide

Illuminated crosswalk

Sometimes, cities just don’t seem to know where crosswalks belong. Maybe they’re not paying attention. Maybe there’s some kind of red tape involved. But a lack of proper crossings can be dangerous for pedestrians who simply aren’t going to take a stupidly long way around. If there’s a common crossing near you that isn’t marked, you can mark it yourself, whether by grabbing some paint and forming your own urban repair squad or setting up a temporary illuminated crosswalk, as laid out at Instructables. For guidance on paint selection and other aspects of this task, check out the Tactical Urbanist’s Guide To Getting it Done, a free resource you can download packed with tips for all sorts of projects.

Customize Street Signs

Some cities don’t have enough navigation signs to guide people to significant destinations. Some just aren’t adequately marked, like a misleading exit sign over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles, which one intrepid urban hacker fixed himself with a very convincing facsimile of official Caltrans signage (it stayed up for over eight years.) Street artists frequently “hack” signs just to make them more interesting and fun. And, just to say, electronic road signs are pretty easy to hack into just for the sake of making someone smile on their crappy commute, though of course you should never tamper with these signs, as instructions to do exactly that will warn you.

You can also produce your own street signs that look official at a glance, but actually spread positive messages in unexpected places. Seattle-based guerrilla artist April Soetarman sells her own rugged heavy-duty laminated aluminum signs that say things like “NOTICE: I never stopped loving you. I hope you’re well.” It’s easy to order your own custom street signs through any number of websites, all just a Google away, or you can do it through the Walk Your City Project, which links informational street signs “with web-based campaign management and data collection to complement traditional approaches to way finding.”

Hack Bus Shelter Advertisements

Brandalism, “a revolt against the corporate control of culture and space” by an international collective of artists, wants to help you intervene into ad spaces that usually celebrate consumption in favor of art, political messaging or whatever you’d rather look at instead. Carefully noting that the tools they offer “are handmade art objects and not intended for use,” the group maintains a site called PublicAdCampaign.com illustrating the types of tools required to get into bus shelter ads in various cities across the world. You can purchase these tools – er, art objects – directly from the website.

Build Your Own Bike Lanes

DIY bike lanes
Image via the Tactical Urbanism Guide

A lack of proper bike lanes is dangerous for everyone on the road, whether you’re a cyclist or a motorist. DIY bike lanes are almost always illegal, but that doesn’t stop people from making them anyway in a form of political vandalism that often forces officials to sit up and pay attention. The tactic can definitely pay off, as it’s not unusual for these temporary lanes – made of traffic cones, flower pots, or even toilet plungers – to eventually become permanent. Tactical Urbanism has a variety of tips in this area, along with case studies that show how it worked out in various cities.

Make Modular Structures Out of Found Objects

DIY crosswalks
Image via the Tactical Urbanism Guide
Image via the Tactical Urbanism Guide
Image via Mifactori

Hacking cities needn’t (and arguably shouldn’t) involve the purchase of expensive, heavy, potentially waste-producing materials. DIY urbanists are encouraged, instead, to “hack” into existing modular systems to make them work for new purposes. Examples include Mifactori’s “Circular Street Waste” workshop, in which discarded furniture and other trash collected from the city streets is transformed into versatile multi-use parts that could become tables, benches, shelters and more.

Similarly, the 3erlin Grid (say “Berlin Grid”) offers a grid-based decentralized open standard for building objects and structures that always leaves a distance of 3cm between holes for nuts and bolts so all parts always fit together and can be combined in infinite ways. So if one person builds, say, a DIY table for a city, someone else can come along and add to it. They’re often based on children’s toys, found objects that can be easily modified, like fencing and scaffolding. The principles follow those of OpenStructures, which include using recyclable materials, designing for disassembly and making components as cross-compatible as possible.

Many tactical urbanism projects are self-explanatory, and easy to recreate just by looking at what other people have accomplished. Check out some of our previous posts on urban hacking for a whole lot of inspiration.

Tactical Urbanism: 15 Low-Cost City Hacks for Fun & Functionality

The Rotten Apple Project: Quick & Dirty Urban Hacks

City Hacktivism: 12 Fun DIY Urban Interventions

Hack Your City: Guerrilla Grafter’s Guide for Making Ornamental Trees Edible

Street Re-View: Hacking Google with Theatrical Performances

Abandoned Bridge Amphitheater Reclaims Public Space

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Stonehenge Secrets? MIT’s 25-Ton Boulders Can Be Moved By Hand

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Sculpture & Craft. ]

Enormous monolithic structures weighing as much as 25 tons are tilted, rotated and wiggled across a room by a single person in a new experiment by researchers at MIT, giving us a look into how the process might have been carried out by ancient peoples. “Walking Assembly” uses concrete masonry units (CMUs) to demonstrate how ancient knowledge could still be used to this day “to better inform the transportation and assembly of future architectures,” the creators explain.

Brandon Clifford, an assistant professor at MIT, directed the project along with Johanna Lobdell, Wes McGee and other members of Matter Design, a design practice and research lab. The trick to easily moving these massive CMUs and slotting them together so tightly is in their shape and where their center of gravity is placed. Made of concrete of varying densities, the units feature bevels, interlocking contours, pivot points and handles that give handlers a variety of ways to maneuver them.

In the video, you can see exactly how this works. The first few seconds show the handlers rolling the units, rotating them and then rolling them again; occasionally they add or remove a handle to change the center of gravity. The units lock into place with ease.

“If a brick is designed for a single hand, and a concrete masonry unit (CMU) is designed for two, these massive masonry units (MMU) unshackle the dependency between size and the human body. Intelligence of transportation and assembly is designed into the elements themselves, liberating humans to guide these colossal concrete elements into place. Structures that would otherwise rely on cranes or heavy equipment can now be intelligently assembled and disassembled with little energy.”

Of course, the components of massive ancient structures like Stonehenge and the Easter Island statues weren’t precision-engineered using 3D printing, and they were also moved over uneven terrain. So while “Walking Assembly” doesn’t exactly answer all of our questions about exactly how people moved colossal stones, it does give us some interesting ideas about how we could make the process of construction a lot safer, faster, less messy and more environmentally friendly.

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Footloose: Canada’s Abandoned Bata Shoe Factory

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

The former Bata shoe factory in “Batawa” – a company town located in southern Ontario – forged fine footwear for footloose Canucks from 1939 to the year 2000.

Kickoff

The Bata Shoe Company was founded in 1894 in Zlin, Austria-Hungary, by Tomas Bata and his two siblings. By 1932 the company had grown to become “shoemaker to the world”, boasting 16,560 employees, 1,645 stores, and 25 other non-footwear enterprises. That same year, an aircraft crash took the life of Tomas Bata, leaving the company’s fate and fortunes to his brother Jan Antonin and his son, Thomas John Bata.

Czech Your Privilege

The new generation of ownership continued to apply Tomas Bata’s proven business plans by expanding the firm’s footprint both in Europe and around the world. One of the company’s most innovative practices was the establishment of local “Bata-villes”. These vertically-integrated company towns had their own schools, grocery stores, and subsidized employee housing, all owned and operated by The Bata Shoe Company.

”A Place to Grow”

In 1939, with the clouds of war massing on the horizon, the firm built Batawa – a company-owned planned village situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario in what is now the city of Quinte West, Canada. Bata chose the location purely for economic reasons: it was close to navigable waterways, a railway, a highway, and an airport.

Sole Purpose

As was the case with other Batavilles, Batawa’s heart and “sole” was the shoe production factory. The state of the art (for 1939) five-story-tall facility dominated the peaceful southeastern Ontario countryside while enabling the firm to dominate the Canadian market for affordable footwear.

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Funorama: Bouncy Rainbow Net Suspended Above a Paris Shopping Center

[ By SA Rogers in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

Shoppers at Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann can climb to new heights within the building’s domed atrium, bouncing around on a suspended rainbow net and gazing up at the stained glass cupola. Set nearly 40 feet above the ground, the the playful neon net is part of an installation called “Funorama” celebrating the return of summer.

Featuring walkways that stretch out to adjacent balconies, the net invites shoppers to cut loose and have a good time, bringing an air of excitement to the department store flagship.

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@galerieslafayette #funorama

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Playing on nostalgia, “Funorama” also features a variety of “fun zones” including vintage arcade games and other retro-themed attractions. The net, however, is unquestionably the star of the program. Those brave enough to venture out onto its surface get to enjoy a whole new way to see the art Nouveau-style department store, which opened in 1912. Located in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, near Opera Garnier, the 753,000-square-foot store features panoramic views of the city.

Entrance to the bouncy net attraction is free, and it will remain in place through June 9th, 2019.

Photos by Benoit Florençon

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Mondrian Lives On: The Artist’s Influence on Architecture & Design

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

How is it that a simple, abstract composition of black and white grids and primary colors has touched our collective psyche so deeply? Dutch-born artist Piet Mondrian created some of the most reproduced designs in modern history with works like Composition II (1920), Tableau II (1922) and Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow (1929). A century later, you can hardly walk a lap around a city block without seeing something influenced by Mondrian’s signature style, and our fascination shows no signs of slowing down.

Composition No.II (1920) via Piet-Mondrian.org
City Hall Building in The Hague by Studio VZ

Mondrian co-founded the Dutch art movement De Stijl (“The Style”) in 1917, which consisted of both artists and architects and is characterized by its rejection of mimesis. Instead of trying to represent or imitate the real world, De Stijl valorizes pure abstraction, reducing a visual composition down to its absolute essentials. Known as neoplasticism, this philosophy “finds its expression in the abstraction of form and color, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary color,” as Mondrian wrote at the time.

Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow (1929) via Piet-Mondrian.org

DSC_0130

Though the first case of Mondrian-inspired architecture might appear to be Gerrit Rietveld’s 1924 Schröder House, the architect was actually a member of De Stijl and adhering to its principles. Rietveld collaborated with fellow De Stijl member Theo van Doesburg on a number of striking interiors in Amsterdam, too. But while the influence of De Stijl as a movement is certainly far-reaching, the tributes specifically referencing Mondrian’s paintings are the most readily recognizable to this day.

“It is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true,” Mondrian said.

This single quote may tell us all we need to know about why Piet Mondrian’s work strikes such an enduring chord. While it’s certainly true that efforts to preserve the artist’s legacy by his heirs, among others, helped lead to commodification of his work – you can find everything from Mondrian-themed underwear to cakes on the internet – there’s more to the story. People make and purchase those products because the work speaks to them. As simple as it may be, there’s something about it that still feels fresh and dynamic. There’s a tension between the lines, a sense of expansion when a block of color is bound only by the edge of the canvas, a sense of order despite the seeming randomness of the composition.

Eames House = Mecca

Case Study House No.8 by Charles and Ray Eames

Asymmetric and sparing, the artist’s grids, planes and careful use of color easily scale up, practically producing a blueprint for minimalist yet visually engaging designs. In 1945, designers Charles and Ray Eames demonstrated how well Mondrian’s style translated to emerging prefabrication technologies developed during World War II with “Case Study House No.8” in Los Angeles, and it worked so well, the brothers claimed the home for their own usage.

Appodeal Offices in Minsk by Studio11

It’s also easy to see how applying the subtle balance of Composition II to the facade of a building, as Studio VZ did in The Hague, can brighten up what might otherwise be an architecturally dull structure. Similarly, creating blocks of primary colors within a largely black and white interior, like Appodeal’s new offices in Minsk by Studio11, can lend to a space an air that’s simultaneously whimsical and sophisticated.

Villa Mondrian by Vasily Klyukin
Autosalon Mondrian by Vasily Klyukin
Piet Side Table by Hugo Passos
Charles Chair by Marcel Wanders

Some designers are so captivated by Mondrian’s use of lines, grids and color that they’ve envisioned houses, yachts and cars using his paintings as a framework or a skin. Vasily Klyukin’s “Villa Mondrian” translates the works to architecture in the most literal way possible and aims to turn vehicles into works of art. Other works, like Marcel Wanders’ Charles Chair and Hugo Passos’ Piet Side Table, find new ways to transmute the essence of Mondrian into functional objects.

Breakfast with Mondrian by Brani & Desi

If you’ve ever loved a work of art so much you wished you could crawl inside it and live within it forever, here’s one way to do just that. In “Breakfast with Mondrian,” an apartment interior by Bulgarian design studio Brani & Desi, you almost feel as if the designers have magically stretched Mondrian’s paintings into an inhabitable three dimensional space.

Most artists can only dream of making such an impact on the world of architecture and design. Perhaps, at some point, the world will tire of seemingly endless iterations of Mondrian’s most iconic works, but that day probably won’t arrive anytime in the immediate future. Is there an underlooked artist you wish could get the Mondrian treatment?

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Green Spaceship: Vegetated Library to Land in Madrid’s Villaverde

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

Using a constantly changing screen of ivy as a passive solar device, a new library planned for Madrid takes on a shape that’s out of this world. Architecture firm 3GATTI calls the unusual structure “Green Spaceship,” envisioning it as a living organism that goes beyond merely holding a collection of books to interact with the neighborhood and its inhabitants.

Set to land in the neighborhood of Villaverde, “Green Spaceship” features a transparent glassed-in lower level that will house noisier functions like meetings, while the dynamic upper level offers space for quiet study zones. The bulbous upper level appears to hover above the ground on its own, the mounds on its roof opening to the sky while its sides are punctuated by only a handful of windows.

The concrete and brick of the upper level supports a geometric red framework and net cladding upon which curtains of Virginia Creeper vine will grow. In the summer, this greenery will become thick and lush, keeping the building cool; in fall, it will turn spectacular shades of gold and red before dying back in the winter. Then, the dark gray color of the building underneath will attract the heat of the sun.

The library could potentially enliven a city block that’s currently looking fairly drab, while also creating new gathering zones tucked beneath the projection of its facade. Behind it, an outdoor space is left open to offer pedestrians a shortcut between to streets, and other open spaces will become vegetable gardens attached to children’s library rooms.

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Class Inaction: Eerie Abandoned Virginia High School

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

Central High School in Painter, Virginia was abandoned in 2005 but the 88-year-old red brick building still exudes plenty of Art Deco style and class.

Hollowed Halls

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is made up of two counties – Accomack and Northampton – occupying the scenic Delmarva Peninsula. A little over 33,000 people live in Accomack County but just 229 (as of the 2010 census) make their homes in the tiny town of Painter, where the abandoned Central High School can be found just outside of town on Lankford Hwy., aka US-13.

Feelin’ Blue

Painter never was very large (the 1970 census recorded 363 residents) but its location in south-central Accomack County made it an ideal place for a school serving the county as a whole. As such, the two-story, T-shaped, red brick Central High School opened in 1932 and provided a brilliant glimmer of hope for residents in what is still one of Virginia’s poorest counties.

Burnout

The father & son architect team of J.W. Hudson and J.W. Hudson, Jr. imbued the Central High School building with cutting edge (for the time) Art Deco style, though most of the key architectural cues are featured on the exterior. The most prominent example is the carved stonework frieze above the northeastern entrance depicting twin Lamps of Knowledge separated by the spines of three textbooks.

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