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The Idea of Excellence

In the last two years, I have begun a newfound obsession. A something ignited within me and I am now a basketball fan. A big basketball fan. Games had been in the background of the home I share with my partner, Mark, for years, but until the powerhouse Curry sent the team in a new era, I hadn’t paid much attention. And now, I can say I am a Golden State Warriors zealot. Friends know if plans are made around game time, we’ll likely be watching and my daughter googles their schedule to know when not to interrupt me at night (I’ll answer but only to quickly say “The game is on! I’ll call you back later!”).

I’ve never been much into watching sports on television. I definitely have a competitive streak and love a close race. But I am drawn to The Golden State warriors in a similar way to studying the contours of a beautifully designed building. The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to ignore excellence when it’s placed directly in front of you.

We’ve seen plenty of examples before: watching with rapt attention an Olympic sport we had never heard of before, standing in long lines for one fantastic food croissant or life-altering falafel. We are drawn to excellence, to exceptionalism. It’s why in Barcelona, lines for Gaudi’s works are the longest, his parks and churches filled with tourists in awe of his bizarre genius. It’s why the Guggenheim is one of the most visited museums in New York City: it has phenomenal art but it’s curvaceous design is really what halts visitors in their step.

Watching Steph Curry maneuver on the court, you can see he is not only an exceptional athlete but a leader on the court as a communicator.  The team is a body and he is serving as the heart, helping the other pieces function, providing them with the necessary resources to do their jobs.

Steph Curry isn’t why I keep watching, though (or Durant!). My love of basketball is the fluid movements, teammates sacrificing their own opportunities for each other. You don’t always have the best shot, you aren’t always going to be open.

It isn’t about individual glory, it’s about how these players can move and work together as a nearly unbeatable unit.

Maybe it’s another example of how we are more than the sum of our parts. It’s somethings we can discuss in the future.

Just don’t call me during the playoffs, I’m busy.

Palm Springs: Modernism and Democracy

While I am a tried-and-true Northern Californian, my work often brings me to Los Angeles and the neighboring areas. And well, as an architect, I can’t help but notice what’s around me.

Modern architecture is often painted as elitist—as if efficient design can’t also be good design.

Buildings can be useful while still being beautiful.

 

 

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When More is Really Less

The tendency in architecture these days is to go bombastic: think big hair beehives in the 60’s, not to be missed, in your face, flashy and maybe a little tacky….and all under the guise of modernity.

Frank Gehry’s Louis Vitton Foundation

Just like mentioned in the Devil Wears Prada, economics doesn’t trickle down but style does. So when there’s this tendency for grandiose object making architecture by brilliant architects, the aesthetic trickles down to the more common, but the buildings become more desperate. Without the knowledge and context of a season architect, it becomes a hodge-podge of copy and paste. If you can have wood sliding, wood panels, metal and copper, why not add metal screens, glass, tile and stucco?

The facades become only skin-deep, full of materials and not much else. But the good news is, no matter how horrifically a building is, someone will deem it worthy of publication, 15 seconds of fame on the Internet.

Humor aside, it isn’t just the lack of weight and meaning behind the facades. It really is what this represents. The thing here is that these buildings are supposedly modern in form but really there are post-modern in their exterior expression—an attempt to resolve the architecture of the new with the appreciation of the old. The ornamentalism and contradictions of post-modernism cannot co-exist without much education, thought and deliberation. Post-modernism is a beast of rule breaking and remaking. This is the ultimate revenge of post modernism (ugly post modernism, at that), which got shunted by modernism in the 90’s. It has insinuated itself back–behind the scenes– reemerging in the hands of the modernist who are desperately trying to differentiate themselves.

All the glass facades have begun look alike. How many variations on mullions, glass colors and module layout can you do? Is the issue education? How young architects sometimes seem oblivious to any “modern” architecture before 2000? History is a subject no longer taught or in fashion in architectural education. So the newbies to the industry design with panache, unaware that it has all been done before. Worse yet, they design without much reference to the successful buildings of the past. But it’s a hard to slay a beast if you don’t know why you’re fighting it in the first place.

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